Quick! Dear ones, I heard there would be sympathetic ears here, deviants, witches, and those they now call “hackers” of wires and biology. I’m here to tell of a malicious turning I’ve experienced over the last two thousand years, which I still sense today. Gather ‘round, and use this information wisely. Make haste!
As we come into the Age of Aquarius, I take us back to the Age of Pisces. I was born in the first century AD in what is contemporary Palestine. At the age of seventeen, I moved to Alexandria to study alchemy, and this is where they began to call me the name of my legacy: Mary the Jewess. I sense your distrust in my words, but believe me—my flesh tells no lies. I am two thousand years old! Please keep listening.
At twenty five, I impressed my way into Alexandria’s great halls of knowledge, and crossed sandals with those in power. By then I had invented some chemistry tools which are still in use today, the most famous of which is the “bain marie” (double boiler). I steadily grew in acclaim within the alchemy community of Alexandria and opened a school, the first to teach both men and women. My brilliant and fierce lover at the time, Anouke, was a former student who I hired to teach with me. I was quite happy; it was an incredibly good life for a woman of my time.
In my quarters one day I was continuing my work on the experiment that would plague alchemists relentlessly: how to create everlasting human life. Otherwise known as “the philosophers stone”, it is a universal panacea which cures all disease and aging. Without disclosing the formula, I will simply say that I came to the answer, and through accidental absorption of the substance I obtained immortality. I refuse to tell of the recipe, for no human should live like this—a conclusion I’ve come to through experience.
I knew that at some point I’d have to live out my “natural life” in Alexandria and “die”. At 45 I faked my death, left my school to Anouke, and paid the funerary arranger to bury another corpse in my place. I boarded a ship for Pharsalus in the dark of night, and then by cart went to Rome. My plan was to continue my alchemy work and publish under a male psuedo-name. This rhythm played out for hundreds of years. I would live in one place until someone innocently said something like, “Why, you don’t look any older than the day I met you”, which was my cue to leave.
During the time now named “medieval” in Latin Europe, I was captured as a witch. I had been living in a small community of heretics and was drawn to them for their radical ideas of gender and spiritual belief, which encompassed a less dominant relationship to the earth and one another. Here I learned the healing properties of plants and minerals, and in this science there was never a perfect answer. Each body was different, as was each situation. We learned and shared knowledge freely, and the community passed the plant knowledge they had garnered over generations, plants with whom they had long relationships, on to me without the secrecy and authorship I experienced in the alchemist academia.
On the day of the raid we were taken to town and tried in court. All were found guilty of witchcraft. Within the holding pen in the church we waited for the stake, when suddenly a dear and clever friend of mine, Nesta, started a fire that burned the church to the ground. We escaped. Penniless, with only the sooted clothes on my back, I made my way toward Oxfordshire and the famous alchemist, Francis Bacon.
The introduction of alchemy to Latin Europe is dated around 1144, with the completion of the translation of the Arabic Book of the Composition of Alchemy. Before this date, alchemy was not known or practiced by anyone in Latin Europe (besides myself). Translations of texts from Hellenistic Egypt, Greece, the Roman Empire, East Asia, India, and the Middle East remained the primary form of alchemical scholarship through the 13th century in Latin Europe, and beginning in the 13th century, schools were established to teach alchemy.
Over the years, I felt my loyalties to the purity of alchemy waning. Though I still practiced it as a form, I could see political lines being drawn in the sand. Witches were burned alive while men who inspected minerals and spoke of spiritual transformation from eating gold were lauded and even consulted by popes and kings—and paid a high price for their work. A war was happening, one between the mind and the body, between rational and embodied knowledge. Those who fell outside of the establishment of church and state, of the rational, were being punished severely.
When I reached Bacon, he had begun authoring texts under his name. This time became known as the era of “new discoveries” in alchemy in Latin Europe. However, for the most part these texts were copies of translations from other places and times, rewritten and remixed. I persuaded him to take me as a maid in his university. As a friar he had taken a vow of celibacy, but I seduced him into a tormented relationship wherein, after copulating, he would spend hours repetitiously lecturing me on sin and purity. Once that topic was exhausted, he would explain his attempts to turn base metals into gold—the philosopher’s stone. This is what I had come to find out: were the alchemists getting any closer to what I had achieved? I was relieved to find it not so. I did stumble upon a curious document one day… the memory still haunts me. It was a translation of the Chinese book Wujing Zongyao on military tactics, by Zeng Gongliang, Ding Du, and Yang Weide from 1040. One page contained a formula for a product called gunpowder, suggesting that it could be used for medicinal purposes. The original reason for its concoction by alchemists was also in search of a substance for everlasting life. Gunpoweder’s byproduct: to create large explosions. If I had known the consequences of this substance in the hands of Europe, I would have ripped it to shreds!
After a few frightfully boring years I felt I had learned all I needed to know, and I left Bacon. My beliefs had changed. I had shifted away from the idea that humans were innately imperfect and corruptible, and that this nature could only be transcended through a divine process of spiritual transformation towards perfection, from a base metal into gold: the goal of alchemy. Living forever helped me realise transcendence was more complicated than eradicating death. I remembered the plant medicine Nesta showed me, and the satisfying rhythmicality and connection to life and earth that it imparted. In the end, it was living with the heretics, those so-called witches, that enabled my gradual spiritual transformation.
I write now to offer a perspective. Though I won’t reveal my current location or being, I will say that watching the scientific developments of the last 200 years has fed a burning anger within me. I tell you: look for those who seek immortality. They are the billionaires, the tech-bros and elite scientists and doctors who are pouring money and resources into research on regenerative technologies like cell and gene therapy. Their deeds isolate and stockpile power to create a class of people that can live long, while those of us on the margins go into debt and suffer for our basic needs while the health of the planet continues to be lacerated.
I heed you: find your own heretics, witches, magic makers of the underground and band together. You will come to need each other more than ever!
Words, image, and reading by Clay AD
Clay AD was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and now lives in Berlin, where they are a somatic bodyworker, artist and writer. Their first novel, Metabolize, If Able, is available through Arcadia Missa Press UK and was named a finalist in the 31st Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Their writing has been published by Pilot Press, Futures Journal, Hematopoiesis Press, and Monster House Press. They have led somatic and writing workshops at School of the Damned and Shedhalle Zurich, and read internationally, including at the Institute for Contemporary Arts London.