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September 21, 2020
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Alchemy to Your Ears

Alchemy. The ancient art of transmutation, the philosopher's stone, the elixir of life, occult pseudo-science. Turning base metal into gold. Who doesn’t like a little alchemy? Any Harry Potter fans out there?  

To be clear, alchemy was an early kind of proto-chemistry.  Practitioners, using some of the same lab equipment we do today, experimented with transforming matter from one state to another. Melting metal, turning liquids into gas, reducing solids to ashes.  They also believed they could transform matter. Many even dabbled in alchemy on another level – the spiritual. It is the alchemists who gave us, in my opinion, a great road map for life, in one simple sentence. Salvation is the journey, not the destination.  

Many of us know that alchemy. But there is another form of alchemy. Music. In the early 1600’s, German alchemist Michael Maier joined the court of Emperor Rudolf II. He became Rudolf’s physician and counselor.    

During his time with the emperor he wrote the now infamous alchemical book called “Atalanta Fugiens.” Published in 1617, the book is full of alchemical symbols and incantations.  It also contains 50 fugues. We don’t know exactly what they were for, but it’s fair to speculate that this was music to be sung or performed during alchemical experiments or meditations. Maybe to be chanted while drinking the Elixir of Eternal Youth, which was invented for the Emperor Rudolf II by his personal doctor Tadeas Hajek. Its contents purified the body from harmful substances and negative thoughts. It was composed of 77 herbs and alcohol. Usage: 1 teaspoon every morning. 

Take a listen to all 50 fugues here. Who knows? They may bring transformative powers.


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Drug Store Alchemy in the Ozarks

crystal meth
When anthropologist Jason Pine traveled to rural Missouri, he wound up spending a lot of time observing underground meth labs. And he came to a startling conclusion: that the meth cooks of the Ozarks are today’s alchemists.
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Was Sir Isaac Newton 'The Last of the Magicians'?

Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton wrote more than a million words on alchemy over his lifetime, conducting decades of alchemical experiments. But he did it all in secret. Why? The question fascinates historian Bill Newman.
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Tommy Orange on 'A Confederacy Of Dunces'

Tommy Orange
Tommy Orange says he wasn't much of a reader in his early years. But a chance encounter with an absurd, experimental novel by John Kennedy Toole showed him a path to writing a novel that was truly his own.
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Jericho Brown on 'The Witches Of Eastwick'

Jericho Brown
As a black, gay poet, Jericho Brown considers it “hilarious” that he discovered sex through one of the whitest writers in American history — John Updike.
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