The Prima Materia in Cynthea Masson’s The Alchemists’ Council provide the mythological and alchemical origins and underpinnings of the setting, and serve as a prelude to the prologue, which I will discuss in the next part of the Rebel Branch Initiates’ Guide.
In the beginning, there was no Alchemists’ Council. Such a thing was unnecessary, for the Lapis and its ruby Flaw coexisted in perfect harmony as the Calculus Macula (CM), sharing quintessence in a world where everything simply existed without intention. This state of affairs continued until somebody named Aralia became conscious of themselves as a being capable of acting intentionally.
This Aralia subsequently got the notion that they were superior to all others, and claimed the CM for their own. Another being, Osmanthus, followed Aralia’s lead. Naturally, the two opposed one another for two beings possessed of ego and sure of their own superior can’t possibly coexist or share.
Matters rapidly degenerated from that point as other people became conscious of themselves as individuals, chose sides, and went to war. Their combat affected the CM itself, as Aralian victories shifted the balance toward blue and Osmanthian successes pulled the balance toward red.
Eventually Aralia and Osmanthus put aside their arms and reconciled, becoming One again through the first alchemical Conjunction, but it was too late. Nobody else was willing to relinquish ego and intention. Worse, their chemical wedding fractured the world, the Prima Materia, into three dimensions. The Aralian faction took one faction. The Osmanthians claimed the other. They retained access to the CM and understanding of the world’s true nature. Everybody else in the third dimension became the province of whichever faction controlled the CM, while remaining ignorant of the true nature of the world.
Paying Attention? This Will Come Up Again
On the immediate story level, this myth can be used to explain the origins of the Alchemists’ Council (Aralians?), the Rebel Branch (Osmanthians?), and everybody else (muggles?). The third dimension is the real world, and those who live there are mainly ignorant of the alchemical machinations behind the scenes. A scholar might get a quick peek behind the curtain, only to dismiss their insight as one brought on by fatigue.
Digging deeper, a reader familiar with both the Judeo-Christian myth of the Garden of Eden and the tenets of Buddhism may notice that Masson used a synthesis of the two in the Prima Materia origin story. She makes no mention of sin or of disobedience, but it is plain that Aralia changed when they gained intention. Assuming this is a story that initiates of the Alchemists’ Council learn as an explanation for the necessity of the Council’s Great Work, it implies that the Council frowns upon individual intention and free will.
Furthermore, the emphasis on conjunction, where the essence of one person merges with that of another to create a single being where two once existed, will recur throughout The Alchemists’ Council and the results of conjunctions between Council members can determine who lives, who dies, and who gets initiated into the Council later on.
For some reason, the name Aralia reminds me of Aradia, a figure currently important in Wicca and some neo-Pagan traditions. However, Aradia originally appeared in the work of American folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland, who published Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches in 1899.
According to Leland, this book was a religious text belonging to Tuscan covens who venerated Diana as the Queen of the Witches. No doubt Hecate had somewhat to say about Diana muscling in on her turf, but gods supplant each other all the time. Just ask Zeus about his dad Chronos.
However, googling the names Aralia and Osmanthus reveals that these are the names of two plant genera. Aralia is a genus consisting of 68 species of trees, shrubs, and perennial herbs native to Asia and North America. Osmanthus is a genus of 30 flowering plant species ranging in size from shrubs to small trees, all evergreen. I don’t know if Prof. Masson was aware of this connection, but I find it interesting.
So, You Want to Be an Alchemist?
The Alchemists’ Council must occasionally replenish its ranks by reaching out to an uninitiated individual whose presence their texts foretold, and initiating them. Once initiated, an alchemist leaves the mundane realm and takes up residence in Council dimension, where their lives are extended through access to quintessence, the fifth element, obtained by proximity to the Lapis. All members of the Council are endowed by the Lapis with the ability to speak with one another and be understood, and live in beauty and splendor.
However, they don’t spend their time turning lead into gold, or creating the Philosopher’s Stone. Rather, the initiates of the Alchemists’ Council, who walk the line between science and magic, chemistry and mysticism, work to maintain the elemental balance of the world and ensure it remains hospitable to life.
A hundred and one initiated members constitute the Alchemists’ Council, though the number of actual members can vary due to conjunctions and erasures. More on both later, but when either happens, the Council must recruit new initiates from the mundane world into a pocket universe referred to throughout the novel as “Council dimension”.
Like any esoteric order, the Alchemists’ Council possesses varying degrees of initiation. In fact, the Council’s orders roughly correspond to the hierarchy of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which in turn borrowed the structure from the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, who derived it from the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross.
One progresses through the ranks through study and accomplishment of the prescribed work for one’s rank, though an individual’s progress can be interrupted if an initiate conjoins with another, and their essence is consumed. Likewise, should one transgress against the council, they may be subject to erasure and permanent removal from Council dimension.