The Alchemist Part-8
On the following day, the first clear sign of danger appeared. Three armed tribesmen approached, and asked what the boy and the alchemist were doing there.
“I’m hunting with my falcon,” the alchemist answered.
“We’re going to have to search you to see whether you’re armed,” one of the tribesmen said.
The alchemist dismounted slowly, and the boy did the same.
“Why are you carrying money?” asked the tribesman, when he had searched the boy’s bag.
“I need it to get to the Pyramids,” he said. The tribesman who was searching the alchemist’s belongings found a small crystal flask filled with a liquid, and a yellow glass egg that was slightly larger than a chicken’s egg.
“What are these things?” he asked.
“That’s the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life. It’s the Master Work of the alchemists. Whoever swallows that elixir will never be sick again, and a fragment from that stone turns any metal into gold.”
The Arabs laughed at him, and the alchemist laughed along. They thought his answer was amusing, and they allowed the boy and the alchemist to proceed with all of their belongings.
“Are you crazy?” the boy asked the alchemist, when they had moved on. “What did you do that for?”
“To show you one of life’s simple lessons,” the alchemist answered. “When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.”
They continued across the desert. With every day that passed, the boy’s heart became more and more silent. It no longer wanted to know about things of the past or future; it was content simply to contemplate the desert, and to drink with the boy from the Soul of the World. The boy and his heart had become friends, and neither was capable now of betraying the other.
When his heart spoke to him, it was to provide a stimulus to the boy, and to give him strength, because the days of silence there in the desert were wearisome. His heart told the boy what his strongest qualities were: his courage in having given up his sheep and in trying to live out his destiny, and his enthusiasm during the time he had worked at the crystal shop.
And his heart told him something else that the boy had never noticed: it told the boy of dangers that had threatened him, but that he had never perceived. His heart said that one time it had hidden the rifle the boy had taken from his father, because of the possibility that the boy might wound himself. And it reminded the boy of the day when he
had been ill and vomiting out in the fields, after which he had fallen into a deep sleep. There had been two thieves farther ahead who were planning to steal the boy’s sheep and murder him. But, since the boy hadn’t passed by, they had decided to move on, thinking that he had changed his route.
“Does a man’s heart always help him?” the boy asked the alchemist.
“Mostly just the hearts of those who are trying to realize their destinies. But they do help children, drunkards, and the elderly, too.”
“Does that mean that I’ll never run into danger?”
“It means only that the heart does what it can,” the alchemist said. One afternoon, they passed by the encampment of one of the tribes. At each corner of the camp were Arabs garbed in beautiful white robes, with arms at the ready. The men were smoking their hookahs and trading stories from the battlefield. No one paid any attention to the two travelers.
“There’s no danger,” the boy said, when they had moved on past the encampment.
The alchemist sounded angry: “Trust in your heart, but never forget that you’re in the desert. When men are at war with one another, the Soul of the World can hear the screams of battle. No one fails to suffer the consequences of everything under the sun.”
All things are one, the boy thought. And then, as if the desert wanted to demonstrate that the alchemist was right, two horsemen appeared from behind the travelers.
“You can’t go any farther,” one of them said. “You’re in the area where the tribes are at war.”
“I’m not going very far,” the alchemist answered, looking straight into the eyes of the horsemen. They were silent for a moment, and then agreed that the boy and the alchemist could move along.
The boy watched the exchange with fascination. “You dominated those horsemen with the way you looked at them,” he said.
“Your eyes show the strength of your soul,” answered the alchemist.
That’s true, the boy thought. He had noticed that, in the midst of the multitude of armed men back at the encampment, there had been one who stared fixedly at the two. He had been so far away that his face wasn’t even visible. But the boy was certain that he had been looking at them.
Finally, when they had crossed the mountain range that extended along the entire horizon, the alchemist said that they were only two days from the Pyramids.
“If we’re going to go our separate ways soon,” the boy said, “then teach me about alchemy.”
“You already know about alchemy. It is about penetrating to the Soul of the World, and discovering the treasure that has been reserved for you.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about transforming lead into gold.”
The alchemist fell as silent as the desert, and answered the boy only after they had stopped to eat.
“Everything in the universe evolved,” he said. “And, for wise men, gold is the metal that evolved the furthest. Don’t ask me why; I don’t know why. I just know that the Tradition is always right. “Men have never understood the words of the wise. So gold, instead of being seen as a symbol of evolution, became the basis for conflict.”
“There are many languages spoken by things,” the boy said. “There was a time when, for me, a camel’s whinnying was nothing more than whinnying. Then it became a signal of danger. And, finally, it became just a whinny again.”
But then he stopped. The alchemist probably already knew all that.
“I have known true alchemists,” the alchemist continued. “They locked themselves in their laboratories, and tried to evolve, as gold had. And they found the Philosopher’s Stone, because they understood that when something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well.
“Others stumbled upon the stone by accident. They already had the gift, and their souls were readier for such things than the souls of others. But they don’t count. They’re quite rare.
“And then there were the others, who were interested only in gold. They never found the secret. They forgot that lead, copper, and iron have their own destinies to fulfill. And anyone who interferes with the destiny of another thing never will discover his own.”
The alchemist’s words echoed out like a curse. He reached over and picked up a shell from the ground.
“This desert was once a sea,” he said.
“I noticed that,” the boy answered.
The alchemist told the boy to place the shell over his ear. He had done that many times when he was a child, and had heard the sound of the sea.
“The sea has lived on in this shell, because that’s its destiny. And it will never cease doing so until the desert is once again covered by water.”
They mounted their horses, and rode out in the direction of the Pyramids of Egypt.
The sun was setting when the boy’s heart sounded a danger signal. They were surrounded by gigantic dunes, and the boy looked at the alchemist to see whether he had sensed
anything. But he appeared to be unaware of any danger. Five minutes later, the boy saw two horsemen waiting ahead of them. Before he could say anything to the alchemist, the two horsemen had become ten, and then a hundred. And then they were everywhere in the dunes.
They were tribesmen dressed in blue, with black rings surrounding their turbans. Their faces were hidden behind blue veils, with only their eyes showing. Even from a distance, their eyes conveyed the strength of their souls. And
their eyes spoke of death.
The two were taken to a nearby military camp. A soldier shoved the boy and the alchemist into a tent where the chief was holding a meeting with his staff.
“These are the spies,” said one of the men.
“We’re just travelers,” the alchemist answered.
“You were seen at the enemy camp three days ago. And you were talking with one of the troops there.”
“I’m just a man who wanders the desert and knows the stars,” said the alchemist. “I have no information about troops or about the movement of the tribes. I was simply acting as a guide for my friend here.”
“Who is your friend?” the chief asked.
“An alchemist,” said the alchemist. “He understands the forces of nature. And he wants to show you his extraordinary powers.”
The boy listened quietly and fearfully.
“What is a foreigner doing here?” asked another of the men.
“He has brought money to give to your tribe,” said the alchemist, before the boy could say a word. And seizing the boy’s bag, the alchemist gave the gold coins to the chief.
The Arab accepted them without a word. There was enough there to buy a lot of weapons.
“What is an alchemist?” he asked, finally.
“It’s a man who understands nature and the world. If he wanted to, he could destroy this camp just with the force of the wind.”
The men laughed. They were used to the ravages of war, and knew that the wind could not deliver them a fatal blow. Yet each felt his heart beat a bit faster. They were men of the desert, and they were fearful of sorcerers.
“I want to see him do it,” said the chief.
“He needs three days,” answered the alchemist. “He is going to transform himself into the wind, just to demonstrate his powers. If he can’t do so, we humbly offer you our lives, for the honor of your tribe.” “You can’t offer me something that is already mine,” the chief said, arrogantly. But he granted the travelers three days.
The boy was shaking with fear, but the alchemist helped him out of the tent.
“Don’t let them see that you’re afraid,” the alchemist said. “They are brave men, and they despise cowards.”
But the boy couldn’t even speak. He was able to do so only after they had walked through the center of the camp. There was no need to imprison them: the Arabs simply confiscated their horses. So, once again, the world had demonstrated its many languages: the desert only moments ago had been endless and free, and now it was an impenetrable wall.
“You gave them everything I had!” the boy said. “Everything I’ve saved in my entire life!”
“Well, what good would it be to you if you had t6 die?” the alchemist answered. “Your money saved us for three days. It’s not often that money saves a person’s life.”
But the boy was too frightened to listen to words of wisdom. He had no idea how he was going to transform himself into the wind. He wasn’t an alchemist!
The alchemist asked one of the soldiers for some tea, and poured some on the boy’s wrists. A wave of relief washed over him, and the alchemist muttered some words that the boy didn’t understand.
“Don’t give in to your fears,” said the alchemist, in a strangely gentle voice. “If you do, you won’t be able to
talk to your heart.”
“But I have no idea how to turn myself into the wind.”
“If a person is living out his destiny, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
“I’m not afraid of failing. It’s just that I don’t know how to turn myself into the wind.”
“Well, you’ll have to learn; your life depends on it.”
“But what if I can’t?”
“Then you’ll die in the midst of trying to realize your destiny. That’s a lot better than dying like millions of other people, who never even knew what their destinies were.
“But don’t worry,” the alchemist continued. “Usually the threat of death makes people a lot more aware of their lives.”
* The first day passed. There was a major battle nearby, and a number of wounded were brought back to the camp. The dead soldiers were replaced by others, and life went on. Death doesn’t change anything, the boy thought.
“You could have died later on,” a soldier said to the body of one of his companions. “You could have died after peace had been declared. But, in any case, you were going to die.”
At the end of the day, the boy went looking for the alchemist, who had taken his falcon out into the desert.
“I still have no idea how to turn myself into the wind,” the boy repeated.
“Remember what I told you: the world is only the visible aspect of God. And that what alchemy does is to bring spiritual perfection into contact with the material plane.”
“What are you doing?”
“Feeding my falcon.”
“If I’m not able to turn myself into the wind, we’re going to die,” the boy said. “Why feed your falcon?”
“You’re the one who may die,” the alchemist said. “I already know how to turn myself into the wind.”
On the second day, the boy climbed to the top of a cliff near the camp. The sentinels allowed him to go; they had already heard about the sorcerer who could turn himself into the wind, and they didn’t want to go near him. In any case, the desert was impassable.
He spent the entire afternoon of the second day looking out over the desert, and listening to his heart. The boy knew the desert sensed his fear. They both spoke the same language.
On the third day, the chief met with his officers. He called the alchemist to the meeting and said, “Let’s go see the boy who turns himself into the wind.”
“Let’s,” the alchemist answered.
The boy took them to the cliff where he had been on the previous day. He told them all to be seated.
“It’s going to take a while,” the boy said. “We’re in no hurry,” the chief answered. “We are men of the desert.”
The boy looked out at the horizon. There were mountains in the distance. And there were dunes, rocks, and plants that insisted on living where survival seemed impossible. There was the desert that he had wandered for so many months; despite all that time, he knew only a small part of it. Within that small part, he had found an Englishman, caravans, tribal wars, and an oasis with fifty thousand palm trees and three hundred wells.
“What do you want here today?” the desert asked him. “Didn’t you spend enough time looking at me yesterday?”
“Somewhere you are holding the person I love,” the boy said. “So, when I look out over your sands, I am also looking at her. I want to return to her, and I need your help so that I can turn myself into the wind.”
“What is love?” the desert asked.
“Love is the falcon’s flight over your sands. Because for him, you are a green field, from which he always returns with game. He knows your rocks, your dunes, and your mountains, and you are generous to him.”
“The falcon’s beak carries bits of me, myself,” the desert said. “For years, I care for his game, feeding it with the little water that I have, and then I show him where the game is. And, one day, as I enjoy the fact that his game thrives on my surface, the falcon dives out of the sky, and takes away what I’ve created.”
“But that’s why you created the game in the first place,” the boy answered. “To nourish the falcon. And the falcon then nourishes man. And, eventually, man will nourish your sands, where the game will once again flourish. That’s how the world goes.”
“So is that what love is?”
“Yes, that’s what love is. It’s what makes the game become the falcon, the falcon become man, and man, in his turn, the desert. It’s what turns lead into gold, and makes the gold return to the earth.”
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” the desert said.
“But you can at least understand that somewhere in your sands there is a woman waiting for me. And that’s why I have to turn myself into the wind.”
The desert didn’t answer him for a few moments.
Then it told him, “I’ll give you my sands to help the wind to blow, but, alone, I can’t do anything. You have to ask for help from the wind.”
A breeze began to blow. The tribesmen watched the boy from a distance, talking among themselves in a
language that the boy couldn’t understand. The alchemist smiled.
The wind approached the boy and touched his face. It knew of the boy’s talk with the desert, because the winds know everything. They blow across the world without a birthplace, and with no place to die.
me,” the boy said. “One day you carried the voice of my loved one to me.”
“Who taught you to speak the language of the desert and the wind?”
“My heart,” the boy answered.
The wind has many names. In that part of the world, it was called the sirocco, because it brought moisture from the oceans to the east. In the distant land the boy came from, they called it the levanter, because they believed that it brought with it the sands of the desert, and the screams of the Moorish wars. Perhaps, in the places beyond the pastures where his sheep lived, men thought that the wind came from Andalusia. But, actually, the wind came from no place at all, nor did it go to any place; that’s why it was stronger than the desert. Someone might one day plant trees in the desert, and even raise sheep there, but never would they harness the wind.
“You can’t be the wind,” the wind said. “We’re two very different things.”
“That’s not true,” the boy said. “I learned the alchemist’s secrets in my travels. I have inside me the winds, the deserts, the oceans, the stars, and everything created in the universe. We were all made by the same hand, and we have the same soul. I want to be like you, able to reach every corner of the world, cross the seas, blow away the sands that cover my treasure, and carry the voice of the woman I love.”
“I heard what you were talking about the other day with the alchemist,” the wind said. “He said that everything has its own destiny. But people can’t turn themselves into the wind.”
“Just teach me to be the wind for a few moments,” the boy said. “So you and I can talk about the limitless possibilities of people and the winds.”
The wind’s curiosity was aroused, something that had never happened before. It wanted to talk about those things, but it didn’t know how to turn a man into the wind. And look how many things the wind already knew how to do! It created deserts, sank ships, felled entire forests, and blew through cities filled with music and strange noises. It felt that it had no limits, yet here was a boy saying that there were other things the wind should be able to do.
“This is what we call love,” the boy said, seeing that the wind was close to granting what he requested. “When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you, and even men can turn themselves into the wind. As long as the wind helps, of course.” The wind was a proud being, and it was becoming irritated with what the boy was saying. It commenced to blow harder, raising the desert sands. But finally it had to recognize that, even making its way around the world, it didn’t know how to turn a man into the wind. And it knew nothing about love.
“In my travels around the world, I’ve often seen people speaking of love and looking toward the heavens,” the wind said, furious at having to acknowledge its own limitations. “Maybe it’s better to ask heaven.”
“Well then, help me do that,” the boy said. “Fill this place with a sandstorm so strong that it blots out the sun.
Then I can look to heaven without blinding myself.”
So the wind
blew with all its strength, and the sky was filled with sand. The sun was turned into a golden disk.
At the camp, it was difficult to see anything. The men of the desert were already familiar with that wind. They called it the simum, and it was worse than a storm at sea. Their horses cried out, and all their weapons were filled with sand.
On the heights, one of the commanders turned to the chief and said, “Maybe we had better end this!”
They could barely see the boy. Their faces were covered with the blue cloths, and their eyes showed fear.
“Let’s stop this,” another commander said.
“I want to see the greatness of Allah,” the chief said, with respect. “I want to see how a man turns himself into the wind.”
But he made a mental note of the names of the two men who had expressed their fear. As soon as the wind stopped, he was going to remove them from their commands, because true men of the desert are not afraid.
“The wind told me that you know about love ” the boy said to the sun. “If you know about love, you must also know about the Soul of the World, because it’s made of love.”
“From where I am,” the sun said, “I can see the Soul of the World. It communicates with my soul, and together we cause the plants to grow and the sheep to seek out shade. From where I am–and I’m a long way from the earth–I learned how to love. I know that if I came even a little bit closer to the earth, everything there would die, and the Soul of the World would no longer exist. So we contemplate each other, and we want each other, and I give it life and warmth, and it gives me my reason for living.”
“So you know about love,” the boy said.
“And I know the Soul of the World, because we have talked at great length to each other during this endless trip through the universe. It tells me that its greatest problem is that, up until now, only the minerals and vegetables understand that all things are one. That there’s no need for iron to be the same as copper, or copper the same as gold. Each performs its own exact function as a unique being, and everything would be a symphony of peace if the hand that wrote all this had stopped on the fifth day of creation.
“But there was a sixth day,” the sun went on.
“You are wise, because you observe everything from a distance,” the boy said. “But you don’t know about love. If there hadn’t been a sixth day, man would not exist; copper would always be just copper, and lead just lead. It’s true that everything has its destiny, but one day that destiny will be realized. So each thing has to transform itself into something better, and to acquire a new destiny, until, someday, the Soul of the World becomes one thing only.”
The sun thought about that, and decided to shine more brightly. The wind, which was enjoying the conversation, started to blow with greater force, so that the sun would not blind the boy.
“This is why alchemy exists,” the boy said. “So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself into gold.
“That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”
“Well, why did you say that I don’t know about love?” the sun asked the boy.
“Because it’s not love to be static like the desert, nor is it love to roam the world like the wind. And it’s not love to see everything from a distance, like you do. Love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World. When I first reached through to it, I thought the Soul of the World was perfect. But later, I could see that it was like other aspects of creation, and had its own passions and wars. It is we who nourish the Soul of the World, and the world we live in will be either better or worse, depending on whether we become better or worse. And that’s where the power of love comes in. Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are.”
“So what do you want of me?” the sun asked.
“I want you to help me turn myself into the wind,” the boy answered.
“Nature knows me as the wisest being in creation,” the sun said. “But I don’t know how to turn you into the wind.”
“Then, whom should I ask?”
The sun thought for a minute. The wind was listening closely, and wanted to tell every corner of the world that the sun’s wisdom had its limitations. That it was unable to deal with this boy who spoke the Language of the World. “Speak to the hand that wrote all,” said the sun.
The wind screamed with delight, and blew harder than ever. The tents were being blown from their ties to the earth, and the animals were being freed from their tethers. On the cliff, the men clutched at each other as they sought to keep from being blown away.
The boy turned to the hand that wrote all. As he did so, he sensed that the universe had fallen silent, and he decided not to speak.
A current of love rushed from his heart, and the boy began to pray. It was a prayer that he had never said before, because it was a prayer without words or pleas. His prayer didn’t give thanks for his sheep having found new pastures; it didn’t ask that the boy be able to sell more crystal; and it didn’t beseech that the woman he had met continue to await his return. In the silence, the boy understood that the desert, the wind, and the sun were also trying to understand the signs written by the hand, and were seeking to follow their paths, and to understand what had been written on a single emerald. He saw that omens were scattered throughout the earth and in space, and that there was no
reason or significance attached to their appearance; he could see that not the deserts, nor the winds, nor the sun, nor people knew why they had been created. But that the hand had a reason for all of this, and that only the hand could perform miracles, or transform the sea into a desert… or a man into the wind. Because only the hand understood that it was a larger design that had moved the universe to the point at which six days of creation had evolved into a Master Work.
The boy reached through to the Soul of the World, and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul. And that he, a boy, could perform miracles.