The Alchemy of Storytelling

Photo by Adrian Lang
Photo by Adrian Lang on Pexels

Alchemy: level the furnace, add the ingredients, prepare the catalyst and the harmonizing agents, seal the cauldron…and then begin the firing process. These are the demands of the work, and once begun, timing is everything. The work itself is volatile, but that’s why the results are transformative.

Stories are worth making, worth telling. They say much in a few words, because in fact they are not made of the words themselves. Instead they become a vessel in which their words have meaning, presenting a context that brings their words to life. But the storyteller is to stories, what stories are to words: a cauldron that gives them life. But this process doesn’t just happen by chance.

The work is difficult, but worthwhile, because once accepted, stories change minds, redirect flows of thought, spark new ideas or create interactions between old ones. They can be rejuvenating, or potent like a medicine (an imbalance to correct an imbalance), or they can become infectious. They are an alchemy of thought from which perspectives arise, and not even the teller will come away unaffected. In this they are like the dangerous work of internal alchemy.

So what is leveling the furnace? It’s making sure of your ground, of your basis. As the alchemist, you have the most at stake. Your thought should be in accord with reality as is or it will not hold up. A false story will reveal you; your bias will show. You should be sure of this beforehand: will you come out of this process with your sanity, or will you lose something? If it’s level, the cauldron won’t spill.

The ingredients are what is to be transformed. They are the behaviors or thought patterns you want to affect. You must know them as your own, and be able to choose them wisely: the wrong ones will turn out badly, and too many saturate the brew. How well do you know the subject matter you are working with? There cannot be any guesswork or the elixir will be ruined.

Preparing the catalyst and readying the harmonizing agents is a practice; it is the apothecary’s craft. It takes time to develop these, because it is already difficult to be a vessel for evocative ideas, let alone being capable of administering them to others. Catalysts ignite, harmonizing agents make receptive: have you refined your ideas, tempered them, worked them out with others? Will they be medicine or poison? Regret will be useless once the firing process has begun.

When the contents are ready it’s time to seal the cauldron. The work is delicate: it must proceed without interruption, and you must be vigilant. You must respect the work, commit to it: you are the alchemist, you cannot look to others or it will boil over and the ingredients will be wasted. Are you ready to embrace the fierce internal pressure of the transformative work? It depends on you alone.

Finally, there is the firing process itself, where it all comes to life. This may be in the writing or in the telling, but it has a life of its own. The writer draws from her living connection, the storyteller from her source and the listeners themselves. There is no room for doubt or further considerations at this point: light the fire, stoke the flame, cool and hot, listen and watch, add the mercury, stabilize it with the lead. If the furnace is level and the cauldron sealed, the work will progress, and the elixir will take form. Are you ready to risk the alchemical process?

The alchemy of storytelling is your own task of self transformation.

Published by Caelan Rowan McCuen

Poet and writer of imaginative fiction; lover of ancient wisdom literature and mythology; one most passionate about the vibrant world, and all life, and all is all I am.

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