Making Magical Thinking


Magical Thinking contains a total of 77 ingredients. This shows about 50.

Reading about the Black Plague that struck Medieval Western Europe in the mid-1300s, I learned of the elaborate potions created by physicians to dose the plague-ravaged populace. These concoctions were based on the tradition of Theriac, developed by the 1st century Greek physician Andromachus. Theriac was a cure-all consisting of 64 ingredients, including various minerals, herbs, poisons and animal flesh pulverized with honey. Theriac’s precursor, Mithridate, was an ancient multi-ingredient preparation used as an antidote for poisoning, said to be created by Mithradates VI, King of Pontus (134 to 63 BC), whose numerous experiments eventually led him to declare that he had discovered an antidote for every venomous reptile and poisonous substance. Mithridates is said to have fortified his body against these poisons with antidotes and preservatives mixed into a single potion. In the Middle Ages, Theriac-type curatives were marketed as patent medicines and entered official dispensaries. It was not until the l8th century that Theriac was excluded from medical use.

This piece, Magical Thinking, one of five works in my Remembrance series, draws upon the history of Theriac as well as Nepenthe. Nepenthe was a medicine for sorrow, a "drug of forgetfulness" mentioned in ancient Greek literature and mythology, depicted as originating in Egypt. The word “nepenthe” has been on my List-of-Interesting-Words for a long time and I was pleased to be able to use the concept in the creation of Magical Thinking.

Magical Thinking presents a compound created to increase a body's ability to reverse the damaging effects of stress and restore normal physiological and psychological functioning; to counteract the physical, spiritual, and political onslaught that is our daily fight. In my selection of certain ingredients, I used the familiar idea of “hair of the dog.” Consider how the ingestion of silicon computer chips could protect you from the darker side of the internet and things of a malevolent digital nature. Let us never underestimate the power of the mind to assign cause-and-effect to instances of coincidence, which can be strongly buttressed by anecdotal evidence from your cousin’s best friend.

Magical Thinking includes traditional and folk medicine ingredients from around the world. I borrowed from Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, which as practiced in India, is one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world. Magic and occult websites were consulted for ingredients of magickal import and ritual. Also included are substances important to Alchemy, a form of chemistry practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and an elixir of life. The glitter is included as protection/blessing from beings of a supernatural nature. The potion holds symbolic and metaphorical antidotes to existential dilemmas. Some ingredients are personal and representative of my own specific needs. For good measure, there are literal poisons and mind-altering substances mixed in.

Most ingredients in Magical Thinking were reduced to a powder through the use of an herb grinder, mortar-and-pestle, or a steel metal-smith’s dapping-block that was used as a mortar-and-pestle. The ingredients were then sifted through a fine mesh screen to create a uniform powder. Each ingredient was carefully weighed – no two weights are alike. Certain ingredients contribute only hundredths of a gram to the whole concoction, diluting them to homeopathic levels of effect.

I like this quote by Pliny the Elder (ca. AD 77)

"The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients, no two of them having the same weight, while of some is prescribed one sixtieth part of one denarius. Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? No human brain could have been sharp enough. It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science."