I’ve been soaking lavender flowers in high-grade alcohol for about three weeks. Last night, I strained the flowers from the alcohol. Then, I tried to set the lavender flowers alight … As you see here… And the alcohol burned off, but the lavender flowers themselves did not burn in my big coffee cup of an athanor. What did I do then?
In my case, I turned on the broiler, and set the flowers in a Pyrex dish under the broiler. In a short time they were smoking. When I opened the oven, they burst into flame. All through the burning process, they gave off an odor, half delicious and half nasty, as the impurities burned away into ashes, and then cooked – calcined, really, to gray-white dust. I ground those ashes up, and the whiteness became gray-black. Then I added the ashes to the sorta-translucent infused alcohol, and…
I have a black, utterly opaque, runny goop.
My mint spagyric turned out beautifully. It’s strong, minty, fresh. It has a beautiful color, and it’s translucent like liquid emerald. By comparison, this lavender tincture was an ugly mess even before I strained out the flora, and now that I’ve added the calcination back in… Well. It looks bad. It may be ruined.
But. I’ve put a note into my calendar for three weeks from now. At that point I’ll decant the mixture, strain it, and we’ll see. Alchemical theory says it should be an orange color like a Buddhist monk’s robe, or a translucent, liquid carnelian stone. We’ll see. As Frater Albertus says, “Patience!”
Some of my readers from the teaching side of things may wonder why I’m fooling around with alchemy. Some may think, “it’s just primitive chemistry… why bother?” Some are thinking, “you’re a history teacher… you don’t teach chemistry, and you won’t teach chemistry. Why bother?” And some are thinking, “this is silly: he’s finally gone off the deep end. Magical preparations of herbs by planetary day and hour? Where does he think he teaches, Hogwarts? He’s no Severus Snape, and even if he was, it’s not a middle school curriculum… Why bother?”
I’d like to posit, though, that what I’m doing is actually more in line with science and inquiry than you might think. After all, I’m performing experiments. Some of those experiments are failing. Not just in a “oh, I forgot step two from the textbook,” sort of way, “and so my results will be different from my classmates…” but more in a sense of, “Is the design of this experiment wrong? Are my tools adequate to the task I’ve given myself?” And, of course, the big one: “have I made a medicine or a poison?“
In a world with increasingly limited options — out of control college debt, tightening restraints on energy and physical resources, political stalemate, and more — it turns out that real-world experimentation matters at a younger and younger age. I’ve learned, through direct experience, how to make a tincture of two herbs, and I’ve learned how to make a spagyric of another, and it’s possible that I’ve learned how not to make a spagyric of a third. I think about the world differently now: as a practical chemist, who has a better sense of what practical chemists do, and don’t do, to be successful. I’m learning the same lessons from the Kavad — how to be a storyteller, and a carpenter, and incidentally how to be a model-builder, that I couldn’tm have known as an ordinary pen-and-paper kind of teacher.