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Sunday, 2 February 2014

Chinese Alchemy

In a second-hand shop a few years ago I picked up a large-format book called Ritual and Magic, which consists of material recycled from Peter Brookesmith’s partwork The Unexplained from the 1980s. It’s really very good, and full of things I’ve never seen mentioned elsewhere. Here’s an example from the very first page of the first chapter:

“Sexual symbolism was in common use among alchemists and some of them interpreted such symbolic phrases as the marriage of the Red King and the White Queen not only chemically but also sexually. Some went so far as to attempt to manufacture the philosopher’s stone – the mysterious substance that would transmute base metal into gold – from human semen. Thus 18th century German records tell of an alchemical group that engaged in experiments of this sort. The leader of the group, an officer of high rank in the Austrian army, collected the raw materials for this curious research by paying soldiers to masturbate. The soldiers under the officer’s command were so enthusiastic to supplement their meagre pay that they neglected their military duties in almost incessant masturbation.”

The idea of collecting semen for use in the transmutation of metals seems a bit far-fetched, to say the least. But there was another side to alchemy, which was concerned with the prolonging of human life rather than the production of gold. In this context, the use of semen – as the basis for an elixir of life – makes a lot more sense. Enough sense for a work of fiction, anyway.

There’s just one problem with the scenario. Without going into gratuitous detail, if the secret of eternal youth simply involved the consumption of human semen, someone would have noticed by now. So there has to be some gimmick that makes the elixir of life really difficult to synthesize in practice.

Something else that’s been on my list of potential story ideas for ages is Chinese five-element theory. The topic has fascinated me ever since I first came across it in the 1990s – particularly as it relates to the interaction between different personality types (as illustrated in simplistic form in the accompanying picture). I produced my Zen Dynamics website more than 12 years ago, but I always thought the five-element cycle would make a good framework for a story as well.

Chinese element theory comes from Taoism, and the Chinese form of alchemy also comes from Taoism... so things were coming together. Taoism even makes a big deal about semen (see Wikipedia if you don’t believe me)... but it’s all about the retention of semen, not its collection. Needless to say, semen retention doesn’t have the same narrative potential that semen collection does. The great thing about fiction, however, is that you don’t have to tell the truth – in fact the whole point is that you’re supposed to make things up. So I made up my own form of Chinese Alchemy.

Chinese Alchemy (ISBN 978-1-611529-69-2) is available in Kindle format from and Amazon UK, and in other ebook formats direct from the publisher JMS Books – and hopefully from other retailers as well. Here is the blurb:

The secret of eternal youth is known to few, and attained by even fewer. It involves the preparation of an elixir, made from the sperm of five copulating couples, under conditions that make the undertaking all but impossible. The couples must represent specific physical and personality types, and ethical constraints rule out all the more obvious approaches to the task. Horny young bisexual Kelvin stumbles across the secret and decides to embark on the quest that has defeated so many before him. A fast-moving romp with a bizarre cast of characters, ranging from students and professors to porn stars and Satanists.


Peni R. Griffin said...

Review site for you:

I bet somebody, somewhere could come up with a story using the original semen retention principle, but it would tend to attract a different audience.

Andrew May said...

Yes, I agree. I guess I was implicitly thinking in terms of a humorous adventure story, since that's the kind I find easiest to write!