Modernizing Alchemy

True, the alchemy of Gosplodey is based on medieval alchemy – the symbols, the equipment, the styling of the booth, the costuming – but it has to be accessible to modern people who want to simply enjoy watching it. It also has to be accessible to those who want to participate.

I, personally, think it’s fun to spend 2 years creating a vegetable stone and I understand the language and terminology used in alchemy. But MedFair is a totally different situation. The people there want to be entertained, amazed, and delighted in 15 minutes. That means it needs to be quick, flashy, intriguing enough to want the audience to want more, and most important – understandable.

Distillation and calcination are the most visually engaging processes of alchemy. The creation of pigments and fireworks the most exciting, so those are probably the best options for demonstrations. I just purchased a copy of Dennis Hauck’s “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy”. It arrived today. A quick glimpse through it doesn’t seem to be as simple and introductory as I wanted, but perhaps with it as the guide, I can craft something usable for MedFaire and put together a chapbook for the apprentice alchemist.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t planning on being ready before 2012! I thought, when this first started, that it would take that long to create stock and design the booth and sew the robes and all. While all of that will certainly take time, it’s the selection of suitable processes that will take the most time.

It is said that the qualities of a good alchemist are found in the person who can cook an egg perfectly. Common tools in alchemy can also be found in most kitchens: glass bowls and cookware (some people wondered why I was so very excited when Pyrex created the Visions cookware – now you know), plastic strainers, cheesecloth, wooden spoons, mortar and pestles, baking stones,scales, glass measuring devices, wine and beer bottles, and corks. Also common ingredients are used: dried herbs, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, salts, lard, vinegar, alcoholic spirits such as vodka, wine, or brandy, and cooking oil. Add fire and with these, we can make tinctures, essences, elixirs, and vegetable stones.

For pigments and fireworks, we’d need slightly more ingredients. Artist sites have better pigment recipes than modern alchemy texts, perhaps because the alchemical processes of making pigments has remained in the artist community while falling into disfavor among modern alchemists.

Making fireworks also falls under the “no longer interests modern alchemists” but was a fascinating part of medieval and Chinese alchemy.

Some of the experiments on this page could fit into an alchemy booth, and this page has links to more. Now to pore through all this material and select the ones that would fit the project the best.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. venera4
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 17:52:34

    A couple of experiments that always worked well for us at the museum were “Water into wine” and “Pennies into gold“. Both are very visual, easily done at home, and make the audience think while they have fun.

    You could also show people how to clean copper usign lemon juice and salt – they are always amazed at how well that works.

    Reply

  2. venera4
    Oct 25, 2010 @ 13:52:51

    I keep telling him we need to find a version we can drink.

    And I kep telling you that we cna use red cabbage juice. It works pretty well and gives a rainbow of colors. The only problem is that it isn’t clear to start.

    Reply

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