Jaye Wells

Tag Archives: Alchemy

Alchemy and The Prospero’s War Series

Even with all the blog posts I’ve written about the Prospero’s War series, it occurred to me this weekend I never wrote anything about the stages of alchemy. See, the magic in the series is loosely based on alchemy (called “bathtub alchemy” in the books). Loosely basing it gave me a lot of leeway, but I still had to do a ton of research into alchemy in order to make the magic believable. Unlike other forms of magic, alchemy has a long, documented history and, as a psuedo-science, has some basis in scientific fact versus more arcane or mystical magic systems.

Because I knew next to nothing about alchemy, I started with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy to become familiar with the basic concepts and nomenclature. I moved on to more esoteric texts after (see list below), but the most important book ended up being not about alchemy as a science, but alchemy as a metaphor.

See, the coolest thing about alchemy is it’s a multi-layered concept. On the surface it’s a pseudo-science used to turn lead into gold. But alchemists weren’t merely scientists, they were believers. Thus, alchemy has a rich symbolic language, i.e. the language of birds, and uses many archetypes and metaphors that use alchemical processes to explore the theme of human individuation. Enter: Anatomy of the Psyche by Edward Edinger.

Edinger was a psychiatrist who was a preeminent Jungian analyst who taught at the C. G. Jung Institute. In the book, he breaks down each of the major steps of alchemy through analysis of the prevailing archetypes and symbols associated with it and uses them to explore the symbolic meanings of myths and the dreams of his patients. Further, it used each stage to explore the idea of self individuation, which, if you’ve studied any Joseph Campbell (also a student of Jung) you know that myths are symbolic representations of the journey a human takes to evolve into their true self. It was reading this book that gave me the spark for one of the biggest ideas in the Prospero’s War series.

I decided to base each book in the series on a different alchemical process.

Doing this accomplished several goals at once. First, it provided me with a framework for each story because I’d have a preset list of symbols and themes to explore in each story. Second, it gave me a really nice progression of character growth for Kate. Third, it allowed me to do something I really enjoy, which is taking preexisting myths and symbols and twisting them in a new way.

A side note about alchemical processes: Depending on your source, there are anywhere from three to one hundred and nine (!) stages in alchemical transformation. In addition, depending on the source, the stages can occur in different orders. To simplify things, I chose a seven-stage formula because Edinger and several other alchemical sources identified them as the major stages.

Seven Stages of Alchemy (from Anatomy of the Psyche)

1. Calcinatio

2. Solutio

3. Caogulatio

4. Sublimatio

5. Mortificatio

6. Separatio

7. Conunctio

For a complete list of symbolic correspondences for each stage, click here.

While I used Edinger’s list of processes, I varied the order based on the progression I felt was best for the stories. Thus, Dirty Magic is based on Calcination and Cursed Moon (out Aug. 12) is based on Solutio, but Deadly Spells (out Feb. 2015) is based on Separatio.

Since CURSED MOON is the next book out, I thought I’d list the major theme words associated with the story. But first, here’s the book blurb:

When a rare Blue Moon upsets the magical balance in the city, Detective Kate Prospero and her Magic Enforcement colleagues pitch in to help Babylon PD keep the peace. Between potions going haywire and emotions running high, every cop in the city is on edge. But the moon’s impact is especially strong for Kate, who’s wrestling with guilt over her use of illegal magic.

As I mentioned, Cursed Moon is based on the alchemical stage of Solutio.

Here is a list of words associated with the Solutio (also called the Dissolution) stage:

Water, Blue, white, Id, subconscious, emotional blockages, nightmares, moon, excess, greed, Dionysus, tears, intoxication, stalking, personal power, sexuality, sea.

Contained in that list is the plot for this book, as well as the key’s to understand Kate Prospero’s personal story arc for the novel. You might not knowing it from the list alone, but I guarantee if you read the book and then come back to read this post, you’ll have a major AHA moment.

Working with this sort of symbolic riddle for each book is really fun, and, I think, results in a really layered and rich story. If you’d like to learn more about alchemy as I’ve discussed it here, check out the following books and web sites.


  • Anatomy of the Psyche by Edward Edinger
  • Ego and Archetype by Edward Edinger
  • Real Alchemy by Robert Allen Bartlett
  • Spagyrics: The Alchemical Preparation of Medicinal Essences, Tinctures, and Elixirs by Manfred M. Junius
  • The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook by Karen Harrison
  • The Alchemist’s Handbook by Frater Albertus
  • The Path of Alchemy: Energetic Healing and the World of Natural Magic by Mark Stavish
  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy by Dennis Hauck
  • The Alchemists’ Kitchen: Extraordinairy Potions and Curious Notions by Guy Ogilvy

Web sites:

On the Language of Birds 

AlchemyLab.com: Great resource for alchemical information, including the chart of correspondences for each stage listed in this post

Alchemical and Archaic Chemistry Terms: Huge glossary of nomenclature

The Chymistry of Isaac Newton: A University of Indiana at Bloomington project on the alchemical experiments of Sir Isaac Newton