July 18th, 2010

The Gulf Holocaust: An Alchemical Sublimatio

“For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming into birth.” Arthur O’Shaughnessy

A week after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion I scanned the above emblem of the swimming King, added the black blotches of ‘oil’ and printed the picture on paper to prop on my desk and contemplate. The illustration is from the legendary Atalanta fugiens series, by the 16th century alchemist Michael Maier, and like most alchemical imagery, the scene seems lifted from a dream or nightmare.  A forlorn king, removed from his throne, floundering and bellowing for help. How does his story end?


A metaphorical link between Maier’s drifting King and the Gulf Coast holocaust — the largest ecological disaster in the United States’ history — seems obvious. But what has Maier depicted? What stage within alchemy’s many elaborate processes is this one? Is there a clue for us to follow in the brew. And how does that formula turn out?

It’s best to start at the beginning. Read more

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