This site is a presentation of two entwined recent projects:
The Alchemical Chess Set I have created from bronze, glass and clay; and the new Music Video I have made in relation to the symbolism thereof, inc. stop-animating the pieces and animating some of my 2D imagery which originally inspired its creation, and some live action performancy.
Following the video is an exegesis of the symbolism of Alchemical Chess along with images of each individual piece...
Above: Still from a cross-fade in the video, showing Alison Rockbrand as White Queen and Orryelle as Red King
from a live performance at Exeter Uni, Aug 2015; and Orryelle singing the song with bronze Uraeus head-dress.
The Video (embedded below) I have been working on obsessively for many moonths -the sound being a new direction for me in layered audio recording as well as the intricate visuals being an extension of previous film experiments- and I am happy to now share most of it here, embedded below
Please don't do this intricate work the injustice of looking at it on a phone -go for full screen, and use external speakers on your computer if possible, there's a lot of bass.
The Ending -unveiling the White Queen as anima in the Alchemical Marriage, and showing the stop-motion union of the Red Lion and White Eagle, has now been added to this video.
Because I was presenting it at events in US and Europe/UK earlier in 2016, in which I performed the music live in costume while working with one of the actual Alchemical Chess sets onstage, I had not wanted to ruin the conclusion. However now that this performance cycle is complete the full video is online.
ALCHEMICAL CHESS PERFORMANCES 2016:
'The UnVeiling' -as a part of Orryelle's musical performance at Washboard Art Cafe
Antwerp, Belgium. 7th Oct '16. Support by Crysopa Occulta (BE)
Trans-States: The Art of Crossing Over, Sept 9-10, Northampton Uni (keynote speaker Alan Moore)
Star and Snake, Center Harbor NH USA 18th June as a part of Orryelle's Solstice Performance
Catland Esoteric Bookshop, New York June 24th
Lovecraft Bar, Portland Oregon USA. July 7th, with Tuvan throat-singer Soriah.
IN Arts NW, Seattle WA, USA. July 14th
Trondheim Norway July 21st, Hugin & Munin Oasis OTO. With Orryelle's 'Book of the Spider' dance-theatre performance.
Copenhagen Denmark Aug 12th, at Nekropolis Bookshop.
'Time, with its tyrannous rhythm of Day and Night, is but a painted board whereon men play.' ~ Richard Wagner, Tannhauser
My Alchemical Chess Set -made of bronze, clay (Rooks/Furnaces) and glass (Pawns/Vials, hand-blown by Cas Davey) is an edition of 8 copies only.
2 complete sets remain available (July 2nd 2016), for $1600 US (or equivalent in your currency of choice).
A signed and numbered small illustrated booklet about the symbolism is also included with each set, along with a DVD of the complete high-resolution video (a very small number of these booklets and DVDs are also available separately- see the bottom of this page).
Additionally a limited number of 4 of each of some of the individual Alchemical Chess pieces are also available (only 1 remaining of most of these Dec. '16). Prices are given for each with their individual descriptions and images below the following introduction:
Currently some of these individual bronze pieces are being offered at a discounted price as a part of my 'SOLVE et COAGULA' esoteric film crowd-funding campaign HERE
There is a lot of Alchemical and Magical symbolism inherent in the game of Chess. It is my intent with this set to bring out these esoteric undertones, and by making them more extant also transform the game itself and its metaphorical context in relation to our civilisation.
It seems that modern western chess has become primarily a game of war -it is based on strategies derived from battles and is highly competitive. It does however have deep philosophical subtexts and was originally devised in India by a sage to give a king new insight into the profundities underlying social roles and interactions. The form of the game and many of the pieces has changed considerably since then. Here I aim not to change it back, rather return some of the magical symbolism but within a western as well as eastern esoteric context.
The most obvious parallel between the game of chess and the quest of Alchemy is that it deals with opposites and duality, and ultimately transcendence thereof.
What I discovered when applying alchemical symbolism to the set is that it transforms into a game of Love rather than a game of War. In alchemy the aim is to unite rather than conquer opposites, so all the dualities in the game are resolved and dissolved in sacred Conjunctio.
One of the primary quests of Alchemy is to unite the Red Lion and the White Eagle, so they become the Red Eagle and the White Lion.
Like much alchemical symbolism this can be read on many different levels. One of the most obvious and manifest is as a reference to the mixing of sexual fluids, of semen and menses- the creation of the magical child, alchemically transubstantiated, and all the metaphors inherent in this union of opposites. In lab alchemy it would be various other representational substances also, in sexual alchemy more literal.
And yet more generally red symbolism represents the solar male (conscious reason and will) energies in western esotericism, while white represents the lunar feminine (intuition, the subconscious, aesthesis) -so this mixing is macrocosmic as well as microcosmic within human unions. Such metaphors switch and change in different cultures and dynasties (eg. Ancient Egypt also had Sun Goddesses and Moon Gods), so already the dualities begin to shift and the Alchemical axiom of the changing colours of the eagle and lion is evident.
In Alchemical Chess the aim of the game is intrinsically the same as our standard modern chess game -as are the rules- except metaphorically the 'Check Mate' isactually about mating rather than fighting over territory.
Similarly if in a game the pawns contain red and white fluids (they are designed to be able to) these can be mixed when they 'take' each other. The fluids can also be 'drunk' or consecrated by other pieces who 'take' pawns, transubstantiating their essence through consumption.
A simple oppositional dualism of black and white or else red and white (depending on the set) is the traditional premise of chess. For this set it seemed obvious in some cases to use red and white -eg. the Red King and White Queen, primary alchemical archetypes.
However I began with black and white swans. White swans are a primary symbol of the Albedo or White Phase of Alchemy, and being Australian where we have black swans on the opposite side of the world these seemed an interesting counterpoint which could also be related to the Nigredo or Blackening phase.
After some consideration I realised that if I combined red and black symbolism on one side, I could also combine the white of the other side with the blues, greens and turquoise of the 'Cauda Pavonis' (Peacock's Tail) or Colours phase of alchemy, even as this vibrant band of the spectrum splits from white light.
Thus all the major alchemical colour phases are represented in the combinations of the two sides of the game.
Above: The floor in the 14th-century palace where I performed with my Alchemical Chess set in the Venice Biennale (July 2015) was perfect
The chess board of black and white checks also suggests the interplay of duality, and the board I painted for my set this is represented as day (white clouds with some traces of pale blue) and night (black and deep indigo speckled with stars). This was created originally as two separate day and night canvases which were then cut up and juxtaposed. In the day square where the Red King stands at the start of the game there is a golden sun, and a silver moon in the night sky square opposite where begins the White Queen. There is also a subtle 'midnight sun' and daytime moon on the starting squares for the White King and Red Queen.
Individually hand-blown by Cas Davey of Flameglass to Orryelle's basic design template, these glass pieces reflect the symbolism of laboratory alchemy in esoteric alchemy, as reified in this physical chess set. Miniature alchemical vials, they can actually contain fluids. While those of the 'white' side are transparent, those of the 'black' side are a silvery black from a process of 'silvering' executed with interior feathering. During performances or other rituals with the Alchymic chess set I fill the clear vials with milk and the black ones with red wine (the 'blood of Dionysos'). These colour fluids (also sexually symbolic) can be mixed when one vial 'takes' another, i.e. they are alchemically united.
As with traditional pawns, Vials can become any other piece by reaching the opposite edge of the board. The alchemical aspect of this is one of profound transmutation: even a lowly 'pawn' can become a Queen or other 'higher' piece, as through the Magical Arte we can transform ourselves beyond our allotted social role to claim our inner royalty. This is even more inherent here where the pawns are actually the very vessels of transformation.
This is also implicit in the fact that the pawns are hand-blown -rather than in most sets where the pawns are all from the same mould and exactly uniform like good little soldiers, the size and shape of those in this set are irregular- they all have a unique character and potential.
The Vials can also be contained in/by the Rooks/Furnaces (see below) to emerge in a game. In traditional Chess this is like a soldier coming out of a castle, while in Alchemical Chess it is the alchemical vial within the furnace or alembic from which it is crafted or heated for distillation, as illustrated below.
These are the most stable pieces -even as a Castle is apparently an object rather than subject, these are Alchemical Furnaces. They are thus made of clay or earth -yet can be vivified by the fire within them which can heat the liquid in a Vial (pawn) when they sit within it. This can even be created physically with small charcoal-burners and incense in the bottom 'shelf' if desired.
They are also in the basic shape of rooks, birds which are in the same Corvus family as ravens and thus share their symbolism as black birds of the Nigredo ('blackening') phase as does their medium -clay as the prima materia or 'Al Khem' (black earth) of Egypt. Yet in the set there are also white furnaces/rooks -the matter purified into the Albedo phase, even as the usual avian symbol of the Albedo (Whitening) phase the Swan also has a black counterpart in this set. Apparent dualities are mixed, merged and exchanged.
The initial inspiration for this symbolism was a visual one- the shape of a swan's neck being similar to the curve of a chess knight. Eminent also is the fact that there are both black and white swans, and they are polarised geographically also, relating to the day/night polarity I have set up on the chessboard: Australia's black swan experiences day at the time when Europe's experiences night, and the greater seasons (summer/winter) are also similarly reversed for them.
In alchemy the white swan represents the Albedo or Whitening stage, the Purification or Distillatio. This makes the black swan (as yet undiscovered by western civilisation when the classic medieval and renaissance alchemical texts were created) something of an anomaly as it has the colour (or rather lack thereof) symbology of the Nigredo, a much more raw and unrefined stage of the process, yet the form and attributes still maintain Albedo symbolism. So it could represent also the convergence of apparent dualities that is the goal of alchemy.
I also find it significant that with the gold beak of the white swan and the red beak of the black swan added we have all the major colour phases represented.
The grace of a swan was related symbolically to chivalry in England so is a good match for the knights in this way, and the movement of the water bird reminiscent of the piece, gliding gracefully then making a sharp turn.
I was glad to later discover that Wagner’s opera about the Swan Knight 'Lohengrin' is the source of the song 'Here comes the Bride', ironic considering the Alchemical Marriage implicit in this game.
A limited number of 4 black and white Swan Knights are available individually (with signed and numbered certificate of authenticity) for $56 each.
4 black and 2 white remaining Dec. '16:
The Red King is a prominent figure in Alchemy, representing the Sun and the solar masculine energy. He polarises the lunar White Queen opposite him on the board (which has a golden sun where He is initially placed).
Here the Kings are depicted as leonine, for there is a major alchemical axiom, 'The Red Lion and the White Eagle unite and become the Red Eagle and White Lion'.
This shows how apparent polarities may merge and take on each other's qualities. Most obviously in the act of sexual union, where significantly menstrual blood and semen have the opposite colours to the usual male-female solar-lunar symbolism; but the mixing of different substances in lab alchemy is also implicit.
Ultimately it is also about the transcendence of duality. No symbol or metaphor can cover every permutation, and feminine and masculine qualities are sometimes indistinct and often variable. Many ancient cultures have solar Goddesses and lunar Gods also. So we also have the White Lion and the Red Eagle.
A limited number of 4 Red and 4 White Kings (16cm tall) are available individually (with signed and numbered certificate of authenticity) for $140 each.
Just one Red and two White now remaining (Dec.'16):
The White Queen of Alchemy is usually representative of the lunar feminine. This piece is based on the many-breasted Ancient Greek moon Goddess of Ephesus, Artemis Multimammia(Diana to the Romans), for the 'Lac Virginis' or Virgin's Milk is also a pertinent symbol of the Albedo (White phase of Alchemy).
She also has an eagle headress added, for 'The Red Lion and the White Eagle unite and become the Red Eagle and White Lion' (see Kings summary for more on this) -and so we have the Red Queen also.
The aim of the Queen as in traditional chess is to 'take' the King of the opposite colour, so this union is the goal.
'Check Mate' here is more explicitly about mating, and mixing the red and the white.
A limited number of 4 red and white Queens are available individually (with signed and numbered certificate of authenticity) for $140 each.
Just one of each now remaining (Dec.'16):
The peacock is primary symbol of the Cauda Pavonis ('Peacock's Tail') or Colours phase of Alchemy, in which the material -particularly when working with metals- takes on the vibrant blue, green and turquoise hues of the stage's namesake.
So it was natural to include this spectacular bird in the set when it is primarily made from bronze which being 93% copper naturally patinates into these shades. From this came the idea of combining the Cauda Pavonis and Albedo phases on one side of the board -even as the colour spectrum splits from white light (there are also white peacocks); and the Nigredo and Rubedo phases on the other.
Copper is also the metal associated with the love Goddess Venus/Aphrodite, and the Cauda Pavonis is also associated with the vibrant colours of the planet Venus especially at dusk and dawn as morning and evening star.
Even as bishops are the only piece which can jump over others, peacocks have short bursts of flight.
A limited number of 4 Peacocks (with signed and numbered certificate of authenticity) are available individually for $69 each.
1 remaining Dec. '16:
Black and white swans and rooks were obvious pairs, as were Red and White Kings and Queens. However neither black nor red peacocks made any sense to me even in the surreal amalgams of alchemical zootypes, so the bishop/priest is the only piece which varies considerably in more than just colour/s on each side of the board.
The Basilisk or 'little king' of medieval bestiaries seems to be a hybrid of a serpent (usually a cobra) and a cockatrice.
It fixed opponents with its baleful glare disabling them to move, and in fact in researching this set I discovered some unusual chess sets have a basilisk as an extra piece having this power of freezing others (like its serpentine kin Medusa). It seems an apt power for a bishop also.
According to Da Vincy from Pliny's writings on the Basilisk
'It resembles a snake, but does not move by wriggling from the centre but forwards to the right' ie. it moves diagonally.
A limited number of 4 Basilisks are available individually (with signed and numbered certificate of authenticity) for $66 each.
2 remaining Dec. '16:
My Alchemical Chess Set -made of bronze, clay (Rooks/Furnaces) and glass (Pawns/Vials, hand-blown by Cas Davey) is an edition of 8 copies only.
Only 2 complete sets remain available (July 2016), for $1600 US (or equivalent in your currency of choice).
A wooden box hand-made by Malcolm Curtis, with layered starry night black-square oil and tempera painting by myself on the chess-board it becomes (as seen below) can be added for an extra $180.
If interested in purchase please email email@example.com to check availability.
Deposits with gradual payment plans are accepted.
A signed and numbered small (16pp) illustrated Booklet on a beautiful 100% cotton rag paper about the symbolism is also included with each set, along with a DVD of the complete (inc. the ending) high-resolution video (plus some extra features).
24 copies only of these Booklets and DVDs (signed and numbered) were also available separately from the Chess Sets, for $24 each
Above: The original image which inspired the Alchemical Chess set, song and video.
Created for DISTILLATIO the final volume in Orryelle's Tela Quadrivium series published by Fulgur (UK)