phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Strange alchemy

Posted by TheFallen on April 27, 2003

In Reply to: Mysterious alchemy posted by Anders on April 24, 2003

: : : : At I came upon this beautiful expression: "By some mysterious alchemy." Google gives 58 hits, the first of which is the quote appearing at Amazon (albeit from another website). What's the origin?

: : : : BTW, on the same page at Amazon, there's yet another fine expression: "To seize the passing dream." Sounds Shakespearean. Is it?
: : : : Thanks
: : : : Anders

: : : Regarding alchemy, if you expand the Google search a little, you'll get 558 hits for "mysterious alchemy". However, your question is a good one, because "by some mysterious alchemy" is a phrase I recognise as havign seen before, so it must be in use. However, I can find no attribution for it - but I'll bet someone else here can.

: : Nice phrases. But I can't find either in my quotation books.

: Thanks for your replies, guys. Yes, I like those phrases too. In terms of 'by some mysterious alchemy' vs. 'mysterious alchemy', there's a huge difference. Alchemy in itself is notoriously mysterious, and a well-covered subject, so really there's little mystery to the fact that 'mysterious alchemy' yields a lot of hits. 'By some mysterious alchemy', on the other hand, - this wonderfully mysterious adverbial! - now that's something else. I am sure it will eventually creep into my vocabulary, and do so, yes, verily, by some mysterious alchemy! :-)

: I did a search for 'seize the/a passing dream' in a Shakespeare search engine. No hits. It echoes, of course, the Platonic notion of life as but a dream, which is present in many places of Shakespeare, as it was in the Renaissance generally.

: Anders

I'd been racking my memory over this phrase because of its familiarity, but still couldn't come up with anything. It suddenly struck me that I also recall the phrase "by some strange alchemy". A little further Google research revealed:

"By some mysterious alchemy" = 63 hits
"By what mysterious alchemy" = 3 hits

"By some strange alchemy" = 192 hits
"By what strange alchemy" = 18 hits

The "strange" variant is clearly more widely-used, but the very fact that (at least) two variants exist made me think that the original phrase was not English and therefore has been subject to the vagaries of translation. So it may well be that we've been trying to chase down the wrong variant.

I keep coming back to the works of the early Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung as a likely source. Jung used mystical imagery - and specifically that drawn from alchemy - to attempt to describe both the collective unconsciousness and the internal human process of becoming an individual. His writings are jampacked with alchemical references, with "Psychologie nnd Alchemie", or "Paracelsus, Alchemie und die Psychologie des Unbewussten" being just two very typical examples.

I'd bet a small amount of money that the original phrase was coined by Jung and that it has become known in English via translation. Someone who knows Jung's works in detail in the original German might be able to confirm or deny this.