“You are an alchemist; make gold of that” William Shakespeare

Every now and again, a word, phrase or quotation hovers, disappears only to return again and again, until it becomes almost a mantra on many writer’s minds. A while ago, I became fascinated by the word Labyrinth and it cropped up in reading matter on several occasions, until I found myself compelled to write about it. This time it was the word alchemist and its magical connotations. An alchemist, supposedly, can turn dirt into jewels, cure illnesses…make one actually believe in magic…And then the penny dropped as I recalled the book I’d read about, but not read, called ‘The Alchemist’ written by Paulo Coelho and my curiosity was further aroused. His story is an amazing one!

Paulo picBorn in 1947 to devout Roman Catholic parents in Brazil, Paulo, it seemed, was an unusual, slightly disturbed child, who happened to enjoy writing. For some reason, his parents did not agree that their son should be a writer, but should choose a more ‘worthy’ vocation in life. His rather questionable behaviour thereafter, lead his parents to have him committed to an Asylum for three years. Upon release, he travelled and became a hippie, and then a songwriter and political activist, which lead to imprisonment and torture. His thinking gradually then changed, and he walked the gruelling 500 km pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and felt a spiritual awakening, which lead him to write The Pilgrimage, which eventually sold well, after a slow start. His second book, The Alchemist, was a simple, while inspirational story, about an Andalusian shepherd boy. Sales were also weak, and it was said that he literally begged people to buy a copy….Incredibly, over time, it grew in popularity, until astronomical sales figures were reached and it was translated into 70 languages!.

book - smlPaulo met and married an artist named Christina Oiticica and they bought two homes: one in Brazil and another in France. He became so successful, sales of his books reached 65 million and he started a Charity for deprived children and needy elderly people, much to his credit. One wonders whether his parents lived to see their son’s amazing achievements? He has now written 26 books – one every two years, and continues to prosper.

The true alchemists do not change lead into gold, they change the world into words (Anon)

Oddly enough, though fairly happy with what I had read about alchemy, the word cropped up again in two places and so, I dug deeper, as I sometimes do…(curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat.) Wow!

the-alchemist-discovering-phosporus‘Alchemy’ (from Arabic and ancient Greek) is complicated and obscure and goes way back to an ancient branch of natural philosophy, historically practised in India, China and the Muslim world and in Europe in Western form. It was first attested in a number of texts written in Greco-Roman Egypt during the first few centuries. New interpretations of alchemy merge with New Age or radical environmental movements. Freemasons have a continued interest in alchemy and its symbolism, and in Victorian times, occultists interpreted alchemy as a spiritual practice and the merging of magic and alchemy is a popular theme.

Alchemy also has a long-standing relationship with art in texts and mainstream entertainment. William Shakespeare certainly mentioned it, and Chaucer, in the 14th century, began a trend for alchemy in satire, and alchemists appeared in fantastic, magical roles in films and on television, in comics and video games.

When it comes to medicine, how often has an accidental splash of liquid – or even a tear – combined in a Petrie dish with other mysterious substances, to produce some near miraculous cure? Now that is something to ponder on.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2022

The Book of Hours

Rummaging around in old files, I came across a letter I received from The Mayor of Havering, Councillor Harry Webb (Borough office 1999, Essex, UK) regarding the designing of A BOOK OF HOURS to commemorate the imminent arrival of a new century. (Interested and chosen writers had already been instructed to keep a diary of a week in their life to feature – 52 in all). Illustrators and Calligraphers, plus a professional book binder had already been selected too.

The following is the first entry – which I was honoured to write – the premise of which had to include mention of members of your family/friends, a brief history of something relevant and present//future plans, or anything noteworthy. As a later contributor dropped out, I also wrote for another week in April, which was a gift as it included St. George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday. The photograph is of an enlarged copy of the final entry, beautifully illustrated by an artist.

Book of hours - sml1st January, 1999

Being a keen diarist, I felt a strange sense of awe as the realisation dawned that it was the first day of the LAST YEAR OF THE CENTURY!

Memories linger of our first Christmas abroad with close family near Lake Garda, and of fascinating Verona, and a foggy, mysterious Venice.

Cherished recollections of less indulged childhood Christmases surface: of Dad’s Air Force blue socks bulging at the foot of our beds with fewer goodies, and a pillow case containing modest toys. But oh the excitement! There’s our beloved mother hiding sixpenny pieces in the pudding and icing the cake… Love was never in short supply.

The sun shone and several Happy New Year phone calls punctuated the housework. Husband Eric cooked a delicious meal of chicken in a piquant sauce before a televised football match claimed him.

Midnight witnessed the birth of the Euro (worth approximately 70p) introduced and accepted by eleven European countries, excluding Great Britain.

Sorting out bills etc., while listening to Classic FM , came across some scribblings about evacuation to Wales during the last war. It is hard to imagine that flour only cost 3 pence per lb. and cheese 11 pence in 1940, whereas today flour is 20-40 pence and cheese around £3 per lb!

Eldest son, Jason, an artist, rang re the Aubrey Beardsley Exhibition at The Victoria & Albert (coming over Saturday to look at my computer – it may have caught a virus!)

Worked on the third Odes for Joy Poetry Club Newsletter. Must type a piece on Louise Finer – who has M.E and writes poetry fit for a philosopher’s eyes!

Son Robert’s desired ’holiday in space” could become a reality in his life-time (an unmanned space-ship yesterday left for MARS.) An amazing concept!

Wednesday: shopping. Pondered on how much Romford’s 752 year-old market has changed… Can still conjure up the sights and smells… of pigs and cattle in pens as I shopped there as a child in the 1930s.

Will 1999 see son Damon again the proud owner of the Snooker or Pool Post Office trophy?

And will Eric and I ever hear the patter of miniature Dr, Martens?!

Thursday- Yoga – my salvation!

***

You can imagine the amount of work involved as illustrators and calligraphers got cracking and produced some brilliant work. And, as the pages were large, the result was most impressive. When complete, the book was put on display for the public to see and enjoy. Sadly, because of some complicated reason, I never did get to see the finished product as husband and I moved to Spain in the year 2000.

THE BOOK OF HOURS was a religious book, originally written and illustrated by Monks in Monasteries in the Middle Ages, but over the years was sometimes diluted as more of a general diary of people’s daily lives, where religion was pertinent, or not, so the emphasis on religion was optional. Ours was a mix of the two.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021