Alchemy

When I was a child, I had a fascination with potions. I don’t know if it stemmed from my reading habits, video games, or something else, but as far back as I can remember, I was always mixing something.

I developed a love for tiny bottles, test tubes, apothecary jars, anything that looked like a fictional witch might have it hidden in her lair for mixing concoctions. I also went through phases of fancying myself to be one of those witches, hovering over a cauldron, mixing up some sort of brew. But like Glinda, I was going to be a good witch. More like a fairy, really; just maybe with a gauzy black dress instead of pink.

I spent a lot of time gathering ingredients for my potions. I dug up roots and picked odd looking plants, plucked petals off of flowers and sorted everything meticulously. I dried things out, pretending they were herbs for my potions, and practiced grinding herbs into pastes and seeds into powders, using two particularly nice rocks. I made my own dyes and inks from things I found in the yard and stored them in all sorts of nooks and crannies, under the back porch or in the crook of a tree. Mostly I just stained my fingers, but I occasionally tried to use feathers found in the yard to make tiny quill pens. The only one that ever worked came from a vulture.

Mortar and pestleSome aspects of this interest stayed with me, manifesting in the form of my collection of odd bottles and jars, my beautiful marble mortar and pestle, and the home-grown herbs drying in my kitchen. But as I grew up, I learned to attach another word to this interest: Alchemy.

Despite its connections to modern chemistry, I was never interested in plain old chemistry, taught in every school. I was interested in something older, something that helped lead us to understanding chemistry in the first place, something that helped us find medicines. And despite my interest, I’ve never devoted much time to actually studying alchemy.

I’ve been reading a little the past few weeks, never in-depth studies, but casual browsing while I wait for ideas to pull themselves together in my head. If you’ve been keeping up with my flash fiction Fridays, you’ve probably noticed that one of the characters appearing in the short stories is an alchemist. She’s the reason I’m finally looking into alchemical things more seriously; her and the book she will be in.

Superstition attaches the name “alchemy” to a bad reputation, something perceived as fantasy or plain old flim-flam. Part of it comes from old beliefs about what alchemy was and what it could do, but a larger part comes from that “chemistry” and “alchemy” were declared separate things, with chemistry taking everything useful to its name, leaving only falsehoods to its mother.

Being that the book I’m writing is a fantasy tale, I can attach alchemy to something else, coloring its results with shades of magic. It’s not a new idea, but it’s still fun to explore, and studying the history of alchemy in our world is certainly an interesting trip. I don’t know yet where this story is going to take place; magical alchemy might not fit into Ithilear any better than it fits here.

But that’s part of the journey, and part of the fun of being a writer is creating something that indulges that small part of my inner child, quietly working the idea over between two grindstones in the corner of my mind.

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