I just realized that I really didn’t know what Alien Steve has been studying. We spoke often in my second winter here, but not that much since then. And even when we did talk a lot, we were mostly discussing identity, belonging, and what it was like for him to be an alien, not mundane matters like school. So, today I asked him.
“I’m an alchemist,” he told me, as if I should have known. I should say that ‘alchemist,’ as we use the term here, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with turning lead into gold. Instead, it’s about transforming the self so as to effect practical change in the world. Something like that.
“But you’re not working with Greg, are you?” Greg, as you may recall, is the alchemist on staff.
“No,” he told me. “I mean, I’ve talked with him. He’s helped me, some. But I’m working with Joy on magic and spirituality. They’re the only two areas I need.”
“But I didn’t think Joy was an alchemist.”
“She’s not, not especially, anyway. But there are alchemical dimensions to her magical practice.”
“Why not? What else is an alien going to do?”
“Ok, what does that mean?” I was confused.
“I’m different,” he told me, grinning a little. “Different people are disruptive by definition. Think about a dance, like a group dance, like square dancing? If there’s somebody in the dance, just one person, who is doing something different than anybody else, then the entire pattern changes. Do you see?”
“I suppose so.” I was imagining, not a dance, but a traffic pattern—somebody drives the wrong way and everyone swerves around and crashes.
“So, the question is, how do I insert myself in a system to effect the change I want?”
“How do you?”
“Be very careful about what I compromise about and what I don’t.”
“Consider; Frederick Douglas became free, without compromise, before he even ran away from slavery. And he helped free all the slaves. Mahatma Gandhi also made himself free, without compromise, and helped free India. If you don’t move, everyone else has to.”
“I bet you don’t include Jesus on your list,” I teased him. Jesus was the first person I thought of adding to the list, but Alien Steve is slightly hostile to Christianity.”
“I’m not sure he existed.”
Steve is pagan, but with the subject up in my mind I remembered that he’s specifically Jewish pagan.
“Hey, you just had a holiday, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Rosh Hashanah. No really my thing, religiously speaking,” he told me. “I did go home to my parents’ for a big dinner.”
“Are they ok with your being pagan?”
“They don’t care. They’re both atheists.”
“Huh,” I said, because I couldn’t think of anything else. Then—“hey, there are a lot of Jewish people here, aren’t there?” There aren’t a lot who identify as Jewish now, though Steve does, are nine or ten students, plus Aaron, who were raised Jewish and sometimes show up at campus Seders and such. That’s about ten percent of the student body, which is much higher than the national average. “Is that odd? I thought most neopagans used to be Christian.”
“No, it’s the other way around. Most of Christianity used to be pagan. The rest was Jewish.”
“I knew that part. I mean now. Individuals. The holidays are so similar, it just seems weird to me, Jewish pagans.”
“It shouldn’t. European magic has deep ties to European Jewry.”
“Yeah. Remember Nicholas Flamel?”
“Was he real? And Jewish?” Nicholas Flamel, you may recall, was one of the couple who created the Sorcerer’s Stone in the Harry Potter book.
“Real, yes, Jewish, no. He was something like a clerk, but he endowed a couple of churches and hospitals and things. How did he do that, if he didn’t have some unusual way of making gold? He claimed to have created the philosopher’s stone. But when he was first figuring out alchemy, the first thing he did was to go to Spain to look for a Jewish scholar who could teach him the Qabalah. The first thing that occurred to him.”
“I mean, if you think about it, we, too, are different and so change the world.”