There seems to be a lot of reference to the elements in the literary alchemical process in the forums on blogs and tumblr posts available online but I haven’t seen another comprehensive and understandable explanation of how it is being used as an underlying structure of storytelling on True Blood(TB) and in its source material The Southern Vampire Mysteries.(SVM)
The originator of AncientPythoness.com(TAP), introduced the concept of literary alchemy process and how it relates to (TB) and (SVM) to the online fandom of both the television show, TB and the books the series is based on. Renee posted an essay on November 16, 2009 detailing the origins of the literary alchemical process. Renee also wrote extensively on this subject at the original HBO/True Blood website threads, prior to HBO’s redesign of their website, The Red-Wiki, Sookieverseblog, True Blood Underground and the original Ancient Pythoness blog and here at TAP. In 2010, I participated in an online webcast interview and question session with Charlaine Harris(CH) on EricNorthman.net, where I outright asked Ms Harris if she was using the literary alchemical process in her books. I received a terse response without a real answer. She neither confirmed nor denied her use of the process. Having watched videos of interviews and spent some time on CH’s website, I was not unaware that she has mastered the art of smiling as she says “fuck you.” It really goes down much better with a southern accent. All quotations are from Renee’s original posts on alchemy, unless otherwise noted.
“Authors from Chaucer to Shakespeare have been co-opting alchemy, The Great Work, a process said to create gold, offer immortality, and develop spiritual purity. The process and the symbols associated with it are used to enhance the emotional catharsis in many great works of literature.”
Alchemy is a process that can be described as wheels within wheels. The wheels represent the progression of scientific experiment. There are the three major wheels which Renee explains and relates seasons 1-4 to each process. One wheel arcs over the entire series, another wheel arcs over two and a half seasons, and third wheel is an annual wheel that arcs over the day to day events. In addition, each character has a wheel that arcs over their character development. Each of these independent wheels converge and overlap to weave together to tell the story. Sometimes a wheel comes abruptly to an end when all of the alchemical elements are not obtained and new wheels begin. All of these wheels churning together provide the framework that supports Sookie’s narrative. Sookie told Bill and the viewers in the very first episode that she hears people’s thoughts and sometimes it’s just images. Renee and I speculated years back that Sookie is telling the TB story. When and where she is not present she fills in the story with what she hears in other’s thoughts or the images she sees in the form of the parallel side stories.
Please take a moment to read the alchemy posts Renee began in 2009 and the references under the hotlinks: Vampire Alchemy, The Three Alchemical Wheels of True Blood, Doppels and Those Wheels They Are A Turnin’. Many of the TB storylines Renee predicted in these posts have actually occurred within the series.
Renee’s use of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter book series (published.1997) and the Twilight book series. (p.2005) as reference points helped me gain my understanding of alchemy that I had learned in school years before. I had even recognized the references to alchemy while I read the Harry Potter series but I did not have the depth of knowledge of the literary alchemy process that Renee has to understand what I was reading. Renee’s references to these other book series helped me to relate what I had learned in school and read in other books to TB and SVM (p.2001). Recently there was a discussion in the TAP forum that allowed me to review my thoughts on just exactly how deep alchemy runs through TB. I began to see more wheels within the wheels. Renee recently reminded me that “What you typically find in alchemical works, is many examples of the process in various stages. Think of an alchemist going through countless experiments, 99.999% of which fail at various stages.”
“J.K. Rowling reintroduced it to modern literature with the Harry Potter series. As Rowling employed it, literary alchemy is an arcane catalog of symbols but it can also be compressed into three colors: black, white, and red for each step in the alchemical process.
As explained in Wikipedia:
The Great Work; mystic interpretation of its four stages
Nigredo (-putrefactio), blackening (-putrefaction): corruption, dissolution, individuation
The alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter. In analytical psychology, the term became a metaphor ‘for the dark night of the soul, when an individual confronts the shadow within.
Albedo, whitening: purification, burnout of impurity; the moon, female
Following the chaos or massa confusa of the nigredo stage, the alchemist undertakes a purification in albedo, which is literally referred to as ablutio – the washing away of impurities. In this process, the subject is divided into two opposing principles to be later coagulated to form a unity of opposites or coincidentia oppositorum during rubedo. The albedo as the end of the lesser work, corresponding to a spiritualization of the body. The goal of this portion of the process is to regain the original purity and receptivity of the soul. Psychologist Carl Jung equated the albedo with unconscious contrasexual soul images; the anima in men and animus in women. It is a phase where insight into shadow projections are realized, and inflated ego and unneeded conceptualizations are removed from the psyche.
Citrinitas, yellowing: spiritualisation, enlightenment; the sun, male
It was one of the four major stages of the alchemical magnum opus, and literally referred to “transmutation of silver into gold” or “yellowing of the lunar consciousness. In alchemical philosophy, citrinitas stood for the dawning of the “solar light” inherent in one’s being, and that the reflective “lunar or soul light” was no longer necessary. Psychologist Carl Jung is credited with interpreting the pseudo-scientific alchemical process as analogous to modern-day psychoanalysis. In the Jungian archetypal schema, nigredo is the Shadow; albedo refers to the anima and animus (contrasexual soul images); citrinitas is the wise old man (or woman) archetype; and rubedo is the Self archetype which has achieved wholeness.
Rubedo, reddening: unification of man with god, unification of the limited with the unlimited.
Both gold, and the philosopher’s stone were associated with the color red, as rubedo signalled alchemical success, and the end of the great work. Rubedo can be interpreted as achieving enlightened consciousness and the total fusion of spirit and matter. The three alchemical stages preceding rubedo were nigredo (blackness) which represented putrefication and spiritual death, albedo (whiteness) which represented purification, and thirdly citrinitas (yellowness); the solar dawn or awakening. Rubedo is also known by the Greek word, Iosis. The symbols used in alchemical writing and art to represent this red stage can include blood, a phoenix, a rose, a crowned king, or a figure wearing red clothes. Countless sources give mention to a reddening process. The seventeenth dictum of the 12th century Turba Philosophorum is one example:
O Turba of Philosophers and disciples, now hast thou spoken about making into white, but it yet remains to treat concerning the reddening! Know, all ye seekers after this Art, that unless ye whiten, ye cannot make red, because the two natures are nothing other than red and white. Whiten, therefore, the red, and redden the white!
In the framework of psychological development (especially followers of Jungian psychology) these four alchemical steps are be taken as analogous to the process of attaining individuation: In an archetypal schema, rubedo would represent the Selfarchetype, and would be the culmination of the four stages. The Self manifests itself in “wholeness,” a point in which a person discovers his or her true nature.
After the 15th century, many writers tended to compress citrinitas into rubedo and consider only three stages.
The end result of the alchemical marriage of opposites in the red stage is an androgynous child, which is the ultimate goal of the process. In addition to gold, the product of the warring couple is immortality and spiritual perfection. This is the reason why Romeo and Juliet ends, not with the lovers’ deaths, but with the erection of a gold memorial statue.
John Granger, one of the first to identify the alchemical structure that the Harry Potter series is based on and has recently written about the alchemy found in the Twilight series.
Granger noted the red, white, and black colors in the cover art are linked to the alchemy within. He identified New Moon as the black stage, which breaks down Bella emotionally and psychologically and includes a spiritual death. Eclipse, with Bella’s spiritual resurrection and new determination, is the white work, and Breaking Dawn, with its sacrificial death and alchemical wedding of opposites, the red. The marriage of Bella and Edward, mortal and immortal, god and human, produces the ultimate work of perfection, which is more precious than gold, the androgynous child, Reneesme, neither human nor vampire, but both.”
I posted Renee’s comment in our Dead Ever After forum topic where she wrote of her prediction long ago that Sam would be Sookies HEA by using the literary alchemical process on my tumbr. Bear in mind that I have been aware of Renee’s prediction since 2009 so I was not surprised by the revelation that sent our fandom in a tail spin. Because CH chose to stick with her original alchemical process after she extended her contract out to 14 books, she kept us and Sookie in endless alchemical cycles with Eric until we felt she dropped her biggest bomb in her garden, Sam. Where many “see an artistic failure, hence no artistry. Renee sees a failed attempt to use artistry successfully.” I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately for the fandom, TB, if it continues to follow the alchemical process will end the same. The opening scene of the TB series tells us just where this story is ultimately going.
With this in mind, go and look at the Wikipedia page for alchemy. And I mean really look at it. What you see before your eyes is CH’s and Alan Ball’s crib notes. With this one page we learn where the writers mined all the esoteric references that they have planted in the both series and books for us to find. Jason’s police exam written in hieroglyphs, field notes reporting results of scientific experiments hidden in Sookie’s scrapbook, Greek and Egyptian statuary in Bill’s home, Hermetic statuary in Russell Edgington’s home. The mythological Maenad creature. Sookie’s Cupid and Psyche t-shirt. The depiction after depiction of DiVinci’s last supper, even the silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock in Fangtasia. The visual references we see to Hitchcock’s movies. The Tarot. The feudal structure of vampire society. The political machinations of governments and religious organizations. Eric being the son of God(ric.) Buddhism. The Shock Doctrine. My money is on the Cluveil D’or being the Philosopher’s Stone. And my personal favorite, William Compton, the Keeper of the Stool for Henry VIII.