A previous essay looked at alchemical silver, silver magic and silver magicians. This essay does the same for alchemical iron, iron magic and iron magicians.
Iron represents the masculine, in contradistinction to the clay of the feminine. It arose as an adaptation to scenarios in which clay was too soft, although like the clay, and unlike the silver and gold, iron is also base. Iron is heavy, like the clay, but unlike the clay it is hard and unyielding. This makes it an ideal substance from which to shape tools – and weapons.
This metaphorical use of iron is everywhere. Iron is used almost universally as a metaphor for men who are firm, determined, strong, protective – the kind of guy who would win the Hawaiian Ironman. This is why a person will say to a young man that he needs to “harden up” if he should adopt an attitude appropriate to war. Ozzy Osbourne, revealing his occult education, described things well in the lyrics of Iron Man, a song about a being that doesn’t seem to be alive and doesn’t seem to think (i.e. it lacks clay, silver and gold).
Iron is best found on the outside, protecting the three softer elements within. This is necessarily the case, except for very simple forms of life, in the biological world, which has evolved to reflect these fundamental principles. In creatures such as crabs, the iron forms an exoskeleton, on the outside. In humans, the iron takes the form of bones and muscles, which serve to protect the clay (in the torso), the silver (in the head) and the gold (the spinal column).
Even on the macro level this is the case – as below, so above. Groups of early proto-humans and even of primates are capable of organising themselves so that strong young men are on the outside, facing other iron magicians in the form of enemy warriors or dangerous creatures, and leaving the women and children on the inside. More notably, it is the instinct of almost every man to step in the way if he observes a physical threat approaching his wife or children.
In some ways, this is a tragic position, and a thankless one. It could also be considered an honourable position that demanded sacrifice, in the sense that it is the duty of a man to protect his wife and children from wild animals and from the elements etc. In this sense, iron is synonymous with masculine strength and virility.
A person who can be described as ‘anaemic’ is one who is physically weak and lethargic, and this condition arises from an absence of iron. So above, so below. A doctor might note that a person’s body lacks iron, but an alchemist might point out that a person’s spirit might also be lacking iron.
The elementary action of iron is to divide. This starts by dividing the clay. A lion that tears up the body of a zebra is essentially acting as iron naturally acts – to divide the clay. Iron is so good at this that it can also divide silver and gold – which is a point long understood by the creatures of silver and gold, who prefer to stay well out of the way of creatures of iron.
Iron magic, therefore, is the magic of dividing, of bringing chaos to order while preserving one’s own order – otherwise known as the art of war. After all, war is little more than maintaining structure while weakening or breaking the structure of the enemy. Indeed, the first time a group of natives saw a firearm discharged in their direction they usually thought it a form of magic.
A professional boxer or soldier is an example of a top-class iron magician. The boxer can throw his fists and cause chaos to a their opponent’s physical structure – a soldier does the same but with bullets. In either case, the methodology used to get past to opponent’s defences and take him out with a shot to a vital area is iron magic.
The Conceit of Iron is that might makes right. It’s easily possible for a man of iron to think that, just because he’s capable of beating everyone up if they disagree with him, that he must therefore be the right one to be in charge. The danger of this conceit is that it can reduce human interaction to an essentially chimp-like level, where power is little more than a matter of force.
Iron can clash with clay, and with silver, mostly because of the Conceit of Iron but also for other reasons. The hardness of iron can feel like fire to those it touches, and this can lead to extreme agitation. It’s common for iron to unwittingly cause discord with the softer elements through a lack of subtlety or caution. For its part, iron can easily become paranoid, and afraid of revenge for past brutalities.
Silver can intimidate iron with its brilliance, which is the main way iron loses to the precious elements. Furthermore, silver is not immediately yielding like clay and gold, and this resistance is usually enough to cause iron to think twice. As any seasoned fighter knows, simply having to think twice is often enough to cause a man to lose the will to fight, and in this sense silver magic can trump iron magic.
For fear of counterattack or future reprisals, iron tends to be wary about moving into silver or gold. If iron is capable of learning, it will quickly learn that silver is capable of anticipating its actions and accounting for them. Therefore, risking a direct attack is unlikely unless the silver already looks weak, or tarnished for some reason. It will also quickly learn that attacking gold invites massive reprisals from all quarters.
When it does, silver tends to become very resentful, because they may be forced to harden up in order to deal with the aggressive intrusion (and, in hardening, become more material and therefore less intelligent). Silver likes to think that iron serves it and works according to its direction. When the opposite happens it feels like a violation.
Traditionally speaking, men of iron were associated with the colour blue, because iron swords and armour have a blue tinge. This is the reason why Police forces in Western countries that have followed the Western alchemical tradition have blue uniforms – the Police are the wall of iron between the soft elements of women, children and the elderly ruling class against the criminal element.
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