alchemy, hermetically-sealed trump, zosimos of panopolis, and other stuff

A lot of folks I know are baffled by Comrade Trump’s apparent popularity among Republicans. As of this week, 84% of Republicans approve of his job performance. That’s huge. How is it possible, they wonder, for them to support a president who blatantly tells lies, who has repeatedly cheated on his wife, who routinely bullies and vilifies his critics, who brags incessantly, who claims to be a Christian but is ignorant about Christianity, who deliberately undermines the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence services for his own political purposes? How the hell is that possible?

The simple answer is…wait. Hold on. Have you ever known me to give a simple answer? No fucking way. So allow me to digress. And I mean seriously digress. I’m going to explain Comrade Trump’s apparent popularity by turning to Zosimos of Panopolis.

Zosimos of Panopolis, with an alembic.

You’re almost certainly asking yourself (well, you’re actually asking me, but…wait, never mind), Who the hell is or was Zosimos of Panopolis? He was an Egyptian alchemist and mystic who lived at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century AD. Zosimos wrote one of the earliest books on alchemy. In it, he describes several devices invented by an earlier alchemist known as Mary the Jewess (who was also known as Mary the Prophetess…because apparently only men can be prophets, which is a whole nother thing I haven’t time to get into, along with that whole ‘Jewess’ business). One of those devices was a…okay, wait, I feel another tangent coming on. The early alchemical practices were known as the ‘hermetic arts’, for Hermes, the Greek god of science and art. One of the devices invented by our Mary — not the one I’m going to mention in a bit, but a different apparatus — was an airtight container. This is where the phrase ‘hermetically sealed’ comes from. Cool, huh? I now return you to the original digression.

Zosimos’ book credits Mary with inventing the alembic (although this is probably not so). What’s an alembic? It’s a sort of gourd-shaped container with a hollow half-ball thingum on top, from which a tube runs…well, hell, just look at the illustration below.

An alembic.

An alembic basically works like a moonshiner’s still. You put a liquid in the container, heat it until it creates steam or vapor, the steam rises into the upper ball where it cools by contact with the walls and condenses, the condensation then drips down the tube into another container. This is the process of distillation, and it works whether you’re trying to create alcohol or perfume or medicine.

That distilled liquid is the essence of the original liquid. If you take that essence, put it back into the alembic and distill it again — and do it a total of five times — you end up with a quintessence. A very pure form of the original liquid.

Right. Now apply that concept to political parties. In 1944, 38% of U.S. registered voters identified as Republican (41% were Democrats, 20% were Independents). As of July 11th of this year only 26% of voters identify as Republican. Although the numbers have fluctuated, there has been a steady decline in Republican numbers (as well as a more gradual decline in those identifying as Democrat (30%), with a corresponding increase in Independents (41%)).

We’re talking political distillation here. A slow process of separating out impurities. Both political parties have been distilled, though Democrats, who’ve historically been more tolerant of ideological impurity, remain considerably less pure. Both parties have boiled off Independents, though at radically different rates.

But here’s the thing: after the distillation process — after all the good stuff has been boiled away — there’s still stuff left in the bottom of the alembic. That, you guys, is the modern Republican party. After a few decades of boiling, Republicans are left with a residue of mostly older white Christian uber-nationalist racists. Among whom Comrade Trump is immensely popular.

Faust, with an alembic and your basic homunculus.

Oh, and back to our boy Zosimos of Panopolis for a moment. In his book, he includes a series of mystical dream/vision sequences (remember, we’re talking 3rd and 4th century Egypt here; they were hot for that dreamy-visiony stuff). In his dream, Zosimos meets “a priest of inner sanctuaries” who proceeds to chop Zosimos up. boils the bits, and from the steam he creates a creature that is “the opposite of himself.”

The idea of an alchemically-created homunculus is said to have influenced an alchemist named Johann Georg Faust, who was possibly the inspiration for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s drama of a man who made a pact with the devil. The notion also intrigued another alchemist named Johann Conrad Dippel, who was born in (and I swear I am NOT making this up) Castle Frankenstein in the village of Darmstein. Dippel was almost certainly the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s character Victor Frankenstein, who created the monster that…well, this could go on forever, couldn’t it.

The residue left at the bottom.

Anyway, it’s all down to alchemy, Zosimos, Mary the Jewess, Mary Shelley, and…and at this point I’ve totally lost track of my point. But that’s why Comrade Trump is so popular.


5 thoughts on “alchemy, hermetically-sealed trump, zosimos of panopolis, and other stuff

    • In the lab, you wash the sludge out. In Congress, the sludge relies on gerrymandering and voter suppression to remain in the bottom of the alembic.

      And isn’t sludge a wonderful word?


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