When you are born, you have no concept of the power that is to be wielded by those who brought you into the world. Even if you do not subscribe to the full ramifications of the validity of the nature aspect of the eternal "nature vs. nurture" argument, one has to admit, even cosmetically, that we are the byproduct of our parents.
Personally, I think that the argument for nature goes much deeper than just cosmetics. For those of us fortunate enough to be raised by our parents, the deep-running genetic behavioral potential is brought up from the internal depths through constant external reinforcement. The potential for behavior we inherit is tempered and honed by the parents who gave it to us. In my experience, this effect transcends even willful attempts by the parent to remain constantly aware of the act of raising their child, to “raise the kid right” – which is to say, opposite or differently than they themselves were raised. Some even subscribe to a school of thought that there are generalist rules of behavior one can apply to all children at a point in their early development. Despite my strong belief in nature and nurture playing a very strong effect in the formation of one’s self later in life, I do not believe that this process can be so codified that one could create blanket rules which transcend cultures, environments, and on the most rudimentary level, the potential of the individual.
I do not see the ethereal genetic traits we inherit as a form of biological predetermination; I do see it as a behavioral hedged bet, sometimes with some startling neurological, chemical, and statistical evidence to back the trends.
Alchemy is a deep and broad metaphysical science (and I call it science, because, truly, it was the father of modern chemistry, amongst other things). A part of the science (which is unfortunately underscored again and again in pop media as the root of the system) is the transmutation of matter from one state to another. The “miracle” of alchemy, supposedly, was the creation of the philosopher’s stone, which, when plied correctly, could, among other things, transmutate metals from one type to another (most notably, lead into gold).
Samuel Jacob Hayyim Falk, a follower of Shabbetai Zvi’s messianic movement, and self proclaimed sorcerer, once claimed to have created a “smallish creature, like in height and proportion to a dwarfe, caste completely in gold.” His metallic homunculus was supposedly capable of articulate movement and independent action, and was of much use to him in his studies. Falk, also known as “the "Ba’al Shem of London”, went to his grave frustrated that he was never able to give his creature a voice. The alleged automaton disappeared shortly before Falk’s demise, and no accurate archeological record of it has ever been made, aside from Falk’s own writings, and the journal of one of his apprentices. Falk flew in the face of his alchemical (and Judaic) forebears by crafting his golem out of gold – not only was it something is constituents believed could not be done, it was something his faith told him should not be done. Clearly, Falk believed he knew better than those who came before him, yet, for all his efforts and notoriety in life, history has cast him as just as much of a charlatan as many of the self-proclaimed sorcerers and alchemists of his day.
Parents, biological or otherwise, are both alchemists and byproducts of alchemical experiments.
Parents do not cast their creatures of clay or gold, but, in many ways, are far more successful than Falk ever was. Some never study a bit about parenting, yet their hearts produce children who grow into beings far beyond the naïve imaginings of teenage lovers. Parents, through the magic of biology, create small creatures of blood and spirit which grow from their small proportions, and eventually find voice and independence. When the whole of our world, for a time, is encompassed by the horizons of those who raise us, they hold a very real power over the formation of our lives yet-to-come.
In those times, our parents are like gods found flesh – golden avatars whose pleasure or displeasure dictates our very survival, not to speak for our mental and emotional well being. As time goes on, we learn that they themselves are servitors to a greater echelon of divinities, part of the great web of the world beyond. Gradually, we come to understand our own divine nature, our potential for singularity amongst the throngs of other gods about us, is what makes us all equal, despite the very inarticulate way our society has come to expressing this fact. It is at that stage that the first alchemical plateau is reached.
Once you can distinguish between self and others, the ability to discern the differences in others comes swiftly. The external attributes of a person form lasting “fingerprints” of impression and identity which we attribute to individuals on a visceral level, even if they sometimes fly in the face of deeper exposure to an individual. As an infant or toddler, this leads us to the basics of knowledge and the formation of self-awareness. As yet, however, all we have are behavioral impulses to act on, and the guidelines of those who raise us (which may or may not reinforce the impulses).
Inevitably, a crack appears in the seam of the avatar flesh that is the center of our world. The cause of the crack is never exactly the same for each person, but the effect is fairly universal. We realize our parents are not, in fact, cast of pure gold, but, are, in fact, gold plated, with all manner of metals and complexities beneath that shell. One of those complexities is the ability to be fallible, despite having held the seat of ultimate authority in our worlds for however long a span of time prior to this realization.
For some people this realization sparks a chain reaction of other contemplations or realizations, depending on the context within which the initial insight is gained. For myself, the day I realized my father could be wrong was the same day I realized that neither my parents, nor myself was, as I had previously though, immortal, and clearly, my parents were not omnipotent.. Looking back, I think the awakening of a sense of mortality was far more perturbing than a loss of omnipotent gods short term, but, at four, one has such a tender hold on the handle of reality, I don’t think the ramifications of the second realization sunk in until much later.
If we look inwards, we realize that we are very similar to our parents, yet different enough in many ways to not truly be full avatars ourselves. We are burnished bronze instead of gold– our inability to act completely on our impulses in youth denies us the terrible burden that freedom bestows upon us later in adulthood. Despite the differences in shell, our internal workings are often made of exactly the same elements, sometimes in different proportions, or cast in a different shapes and sizes, with nearly identical elemental balance. The transition of pure gold to other metals has occurred, both inward, in our understanding of our shell, and outward, in our awareness of the innards of the avatars about us.
Life progresses from that point onwards with a balance of self-will and authority. All conflict with children comes over tests of will. As infants, these contests of our will against the will of our caretakers are simply outcropping of our biological needs. As we grow older, so do the complexities of these exertions of self over the environment. This process continues with varying degrees of severity from person to person until the onset of our hormonal transmogrification.
Changing bronze into gold is a very messy process, one which involves all sorts of potential complications and side effects. For some the process is complicated but not messy – for others, it is explosive and short lived. Regardless of the speed or virulence of the effect, moving into adulthood crates poignant changes, both in ourselves, and out relationships with our parents.
Adolescence is the pits, but it is when we establish ourselves as individuals. It is where the process tears on many planes – physical, emotional, intellectual, and the scars provide the new foundation for what is to be coated in gold.
Some people are exposed to the mortality of their parents well before they go through this change. Some people are faced with it before they even become aware of themselves (losing a mother in childbirth). Some people never even know their own parents.
I have had the good fortune in life to not only know my parents, but my grandparents, on both sides. I have seen ,firsthand, how much each generation has wanted to break from the last, keep some virtues, but change the things they don’t like, yet, at the same time, manage to wind up right back where they never wanted to be.
I fear this cycle in me, having seen the potential on more than one occasion.
What has piqued my awareness of this traits is the realization that my parents are not made entirely of non-ferrous metal, and rust is beginning to show through at some of the joints. I, myself, and 20-30% of the way through my allotment (assuming I make it to “expectancy”) and perhaps quite a bit less. I try to embrace the central tenet of Buishido, which claims that the trifles of life are far less when you consider that you might die any day, any minute.
That is not always the easiest mindset to keep.
As I watch the worn gold plate of my parents blend to aged platinum, and the rust spots grow darker or flakier, I wonder if I will hold up as well to the tests of time. I wonder what, if any part I will have in the process of forging a new generation, and playing more of a firsthand part in the issues of nature vs. nurture.
My mortality is never far away – anyone who knows me knows that I have come a long way in terms of curtailing morbidity from making my life one endless string of pessimism. However, the foundation of what I have built seems to quake whenever I consider the dependence of another life, an innocent life, in whose world I would be an avatar…
I am not afraid of being a parent. I have embraced the role in my past, and though the opportunity to follow through on my commitment did not bear fruit, the calluses, scars, and memories I gained in the attempted cultivation have more than assured me that I _can_ do it.
My fear, or curiosity, is if it is the right thing to do.
That is where the alchemy comes in, I guess – changing metals from one to the other is only a small slice of a veery big school of thought, with a great many aims. For many alchemical schools of thought, the central focus is the attainment of immortality or enlightenment – the lead to gold bit is just a pleasant byproduct along the way.
I am not preaching to convert here, and I know the bucket my experiences doesn’t hold enough to cover the variety of liquids out there in other people’s lives, but it is all I got to truck liquid in. Take it or leave it.