Tuning Up - Autumn 2021

Creative Destruction

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The spiritual quest of the alchemist

By Jennifer Sinor | September 7, 2021
The Alchemist by William Fettes Douglas (Wikimedia Commons)
The Alchemist by William Fettes Douglas (Wikimedia Commons)

When you arrive at the Spagyricus Institute, also known as the Pacific Northwest School of Alchemy, no sign indicates you have made it. No house number. No sprawling green lawn. Those who attend the Spagyricus Institute, one of the few such schools in the United States, are not here to be pampered. Any good alchemist understands that you come to the art ready to work. In fact, our modern word laboratory comes from an alchemists’ mantra: ora et labora. Pray and work.

Everything is alchemical, or so a quick Internet search would suggest. Alchemy has become a modern buzzword—you can find the alchemy of herbs, the alchemy of yoga or revenge or self-doubt, the alchemy of stones, of the heart, beeswax, even air. Practicing alchemists, though, would decry the casual use of the word. For alchemy, as an art, engages in processes that are thousands of years old and handed down, often in secret, from teacher to student. And although, broadly speaking, the certainty of change is central to alchemy, the transformation sought is very specific and applies to both the matter at hand and the alchemist herself.

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