The Alchemist-Hero: Forging Destiny From ‘Bad Luck’

In the Conan The Barbarian movie, the young Conan sees his parents killed and tribe destroyed. Then he is taken into slavery. Likewise, in ancient European mythology, Volund the Smith is captured by a greedy king, lamed, and set to work in the forge. He, like Conan, rises up to get his revenge. Again, in the Icelandic Poetic Edda, we hear of the hero Sigmund, whose father is killed before his birth, and — after his mother remarries — is sent as a foster to the treacherous and greedy Regin. This is not an auspicious beginning.

None of us hope that things will go wrong. We see those born into privilege — being handed chances at lucrative careers that are denied to others, marrying the beautiful and the equally wealthy — and we want to be lucky too.

But, from the perspective of self-actualization, for most people, good luck and bad luck are the same. They are carried along by circumstance, one individual into riches, another into the gutter. But neither really questions who he really is or what he is capable of, good or bad.

Some even find themselves in circumstances that most people could only dream about but are incapable of doing the minimum to make it work or even sabotage their good fortune. We need think only of the lottery winners who wind up broke or committing suicide a few years later. What did good luck do for them? Was it “good luck” at all?

I have probably always lived with some intensity. As a very young man I became interested in neopaganism and the esoteric and fully immersed myself in that world, becoming a member (possibly the youngest member ever) of the Illuminates of Thanateros at the age of nineteen.

My work life had been a struggle. I had seen other people around me land cushy, well-paid positions, while I was struggling to make it.

My former girlfriend (who I was living with as roommates) had become a stripper and made more cash than she knew what to do with. I was working in a factory, coating copper metal wire with tin, while meditating, reading, and painting in every spare minute of my life. My hands were often burned or cut from handling the wires at work, and, frequently, the cuts would become infected. My throat was swollen often. Financially, I was struggling. And I moved around a lot and lived almost a transient life (I spent five months living on a friend’s couch at eighteen). I did not see a future. And I did not expect to reach old age.

At twenty, one night, I woke up one night unable to breathe. Two mornings later, I spat into the sink and saw nothing but blood come out. My lungs — as I already realized — were bleeding.

At that moment, however, I resolved to change my life. I left the I.O.T. Less than a year later, I was studying at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London (one of Britain’s most prestigious art schools). I shaved my long hair (which reached almost all the way down my back). I started staying in a Benedictine monastery and later took up Kung Fu. A few years after that, I moved to the USA. Living on visas for years, that, too, was a struggle — though one that I welcomed.

If I had had good luck in my early life, I might have found a sensible job and lived a nice, middle-class life. (There is nothing wrong with that.) I might even had written some books on the esoteric. But they would have been a pale reflection of my Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician or my upcoming Path of the Warrior-Mystic: Being a Man in an Age of Chaos. I would not have met all of the interesting people that I have known, exhibited my art in galleries in the US and Britain, practiced martial arts, moved country (more than once), faced as many existential struggles, thought as deeply, or developed myself to the same degree — discovering who I am deep down in the struggle for self-betterment.

Today, a tiny number of young people are made into stars or become so through “good luck.” But they make all young people want to be like them, or to be successful in some field at a young age, adding their unique voice to it. These role models are molded, by record companies, Hollywood, or model agencies, into multi-million-dollar icons.

Some years ago, Peaches Geldof (daughter of singer Bob Geldof and television presenter Paula Yates) was given a column in Nylon magazine. Her article was ruthlessly trashed in the comments section, online. A.A. Gill, a seasoned British journalist (more than twice Peaches’ age) even left a comment, saying, among other things, “Get some life experience, keep your head down until you do and save us from this insipid, vacuous social commentary that justifies the dislike of you.” 

Was Peaches’ article a great literature? No. Definitely not. But, leaving aside the pages of unnecessary, unpleasant comments, the problem was she had had the good luck of being given a column before she had matured and had anything worth saying. But who wouldn’t have taken the opportunity? I am sure that, at her age, I would have. I am sure A. A. Gill would have as well. 

Besides writing for various magazines and newspapers, Peaches — who died of a drug overdose a few years ago at the age of 25  — dabbled in music, modeling, and TV presenting as well.

To me, such a death really is a tragedy. Perhaps, if she hadn’t have been given opportunities to be in the limelight before she had really found who she was (opportunities we would probably all have taken) then she might be now, or in the future, creating art or culture of value.

Good luck too early is often bad luck in disguise. Yes, bad luck early on can disempower many, crippling them financially, emotionally, and so on. But, for a certain type of person, at least, bad luck early on turns out to be good fortune. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that most of the heroes of legend and myth are either born into dire circumstances or suffer great misfortune before becoming discovering their inner power.

Struggle builds character, it pushes the person on. It forces us to face our inner and outer challenges and turn disadvantages into advantages. Such a person is better equipped for life, to make a difference, to become an artist with something worth saying, or to become a thinker with a different way of seeing things, helpful to his or her time.

The lotto winner who ends up financially destitute a year or so after winning millions is far from unique. Human beings have a strange ability to self-sabotage: destroying opportunities, relationships, friendships, careers, and businesses, etc. The inverse of alchemy, many of us will turn our gold into lead. The alchemy of struggle is to turn the proverbial lead into gold; to discover our inner resolve and true Self in the struggle, to discover our aim in life, and to attain the holy grail of gravitas. 

If you’ve read this far, then, perhaps, you too are struggling with something. Undoubtedly, it is hard. But, keep going. Keep learning. Keep addressing your weaknesses and overcoming them. Be adaptable. Look forward and upward. It is only through the alchemy of struggle that you can forge yourself anew, becoming what others think you incapable of being. But which you can be.

hypnotist and author Angel Millar
Angel Millar is the author of ‘Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician’ (2020) and the forthcoming ‘Path of the Warrior-Mystic: Being a Man in an Age of Chaos’ (November 2021). Angel is also a mindset coach and goal-focused hypnotist, working with individuals to help them overcome challenges and achieve their aims in life.

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