Isaac de Lucena, 1630-1707.
Brilliant alchemist and magi-botanist, pioneer in many techniques in growing, augmenting, harvesting, and transmuting magical plants in North America.
Born in the Dutch colonial city of Mauristaad (now called Recife), Brazil, Isaac de Lucena was the youngest sibling in a large Sephardic Jewish family of distinguished magical lineage that they traced back for centuries to Spain. They carried on that tradition in the New World as well, becoming one of the most prominent magical families, involved particularly in business and trade.
Isaac was the most scholarly of the family; having no interest in business, he spent most of his time studying under the leader of the local Jewish and wizarding community, Rabbi Moses Aguilar. (Both the Aguilar and de Lucena families have descendants in the Magimundi today, the former mostly in Baja and the latter mostly in Destiny.) At that time, the boundaries of secrecy around magical communities were less strict than they are in most places in the Magimundi today, so the de Lucenas and Aguilars were both well-known in Mundane Mauristaad society as well; everyone simply assumed that the de Lucenas were a very pious family, which explained why they spent so much time in Rabbi Aguilar’s company. In addition to the latest European post-Renaissance-Reform magical practices, Rabbi Aguilar trained Isaac in the Solomonic traditions, and the hermetic theories of Spain, Persia, and the Arabic-speaking world.
Isaac was incredibly quick to learn: by his early teens he had already mastered several runic alphabets as well as several advanced hermetic texts. He was also deeply curious about all aspects of magic — often, too curious for his own good. When he was fifteen, he discovered an unfamiliar plant in the rainforest near his home, and decided to test its magical potential by using its flowers in a potion. Unfortunately for him, it was actually the poisonous parabotanical blossom commonly known as moth-wings, and Isaac nearly died from the toxin. The quick thinking and expert alchemy of his tutor saved his life, but Isaac was physically weakened ever after.
Where some people might have been so frightened by such an ordeal that they changed the course of their studies, Isaac instead became even more fascinated by alchemy and botany. How could the same plants both heal and harm? What other magical potential could be found in the natural world? Once he had recovered enough to work again, he dedicated himself to gathering samples of as many plants as he could and investigating their magical properties.
Mauristaad’s location at the edge of the rainforest had already made it one of the leading centers of study for European wizards who wanted to use New World plants in their potions and artificiery, and de Lucena took full advantage of that. He was the first to successfully cultivate the Brazilian peppertree, which opened up the potential for a new range of potions that sharpened the user’s senses; and he devised five new uses for variegated cats-claw leaves, including luminescent ink, and a now widely-used levitation potion. The European colonists might have made even more progress had they shared their knowledge with — or even acknowledged the presence of magical traditions in — the local Tupí peoples who already lived in that region, or with the African people who were enslaved on Mauristaad’s sugar plantations.
In 1654, Mauristaad fell to the Portuguese, who were notorious in their persecution of non-Christians, witches, and the occult. If the magical community of Mauristaad had kept itself separate from mundane society they may have been able to stay, but the de Lucenas were forced to flee north to New Amsterdam with a few other Jewish families, both magical and mundane. Isaac managed to take a few of his precious seeds and plants with him; of course, he was much more grateful that his family was safe than that his seeds were: he loved his relatives deeply, and worked hard to support them in both their old home and their new one. Once he arrived in North America, he immediately started to explore the botanical and parabotanical potential of his new environment. When he saw the crumbling stockade around New Amsterdam, he experimented with magical ways to strengthen the wooden fortifications; when he experienced his first northern winter, he set about finding ways to help his plants endure the cold.
He reserved his bolder experiments for places outside of the tightly-bounded New Amsterdam settlement and away from mundane view. In one small area of Manhattan Island, he crafted an intricate network of trees and flowers, each plant drawing arcane strength from its neighbors. He had begun the project as part of his work on the fortifications, trying to find new ways to strengthen wood, but it turned into a space where the trees themselves offered sanctuary to people in need. He even shaped the land itself, trying to infuse greater magic into the plants by enhancing the magical resonance of the soil in which they grew. The resulting landscape was so tangled and complicated that it was difficult to navigate, but the earth and plants retained their magical resonance for centuries to come. Almost 200 years later, Frederick Law Olmsted recognized its magical potential and incorporated it into the arcane landscape of Central Park as the Ramble. Well into the 20th century, New Yorkers in need of sanctuary found a safe space within the boundaries of the Ramble.
Such ambitious endeavors could not help but draw the attention of the rest of the magical community in Destiny — mostly, to tell Isaac to stop before the mundane authorities noticed. He needed to learn to negotiate a new social environment within the stricter boundaries between magical and mundane society in North America. Since the de Lucena family had found no respite from persecution among the mundanes in Mauristaad, they found the notion of greater separation refreshing.
Yet the refugees had no more safety in New Amsterdam than they had in Portuguese Recife. The governor, Peter Stuyvesant, was hostile to Jewish settlers and did everything he could to make their life difficult, short of direct deportation. Several of Isaac’s siblings headed back to Europe rather than struggle in such an antagonistic environment, but Isaac did not want to give up on the potential discoveries that he might make in his new home — and also, perhaps, would not have been able to endure the physical rigors of a journey across the sea.
Fortunately, not all of the attention drawn by Isaac’s bold experiments was negative. Peregrine Myles Brewster recognized the great skill and talent that must have gone into such ambitious creations, and invited Isaac to join the faculty of Imperial Magischola as a professor of alchemy, founder of a new Court, and reformer of the university. He was only 28 — a prodigy, and also the youngest of the founders by several decades.
All of the prospective Court founders were challenged to perform a Great Deed to prove their worth as wizards. The area where Providence Preparatory Academy and Imperial were ensconced was, like all magical schools, at the confluence of major ley lines, rivers of underground magical energies that are also great Scarrings, powerful places where the boundaries between realms or planes can break or become damaged. A Great Corruptor had been plaguing Imperial for over a decade, attaching itself to Chancellor Leodegrance. Once Agrippa Court Founder H.P. Steinkraft discovered the presence of the Corruptor on campus using his phantasmology, de Lucena recognized the connection to ley line disturbance. The plants and grasses in a particular area of the grounds grew differently, and emanated magical energy that intoxicated those who took it in too deeply, sometimes with healthy motivation, sometimes with unchecked ambition. De Lucena realized that for his Great Deed, he would need to repair the ley line and heal the Scarring caused when the Great Corruptor broke through. This was imperative to stabilize the school grounds and to reaffirm the boundaries between realms, thereby preventing other Corruptors from slipping through to infiltrate other mages’ minds.
Upon inspection, it was discovered that the ley lines had not opened by chance. Someone — or a group of someones — had deliberately torn them, not with a single slash or a natural tearing, but with a kind of shredding, as if they had been rubbed across a grater. Their natural order was destroyed, the lines splayed and in no discernible pattern. Combining his knowledge of alchemy, parabotany, and classical hermetics gathered from the many traditions he had learned under Rabbi Aguilar, Isaac chose to inscribe a living labyrinth in the earth in the shape of a complex hermetic seal. He used runes from the Anémou Glóssa or the “Wind Tongue,” a magical protolanguage of antiquity, which he inscribed into plants and stones, or shaped through the grass itself. At the center of the labyrinth is the rose rune, at the intersection of the complex and precise concatenations of the labyrinth’s lines. When he was finished, the ley lines were reset, repatterned into harmony and a natural order, no longer chaotic and seeping. The Labyrinth stands at the heart of Imperial Magischola’s campus to this day; it must be maintained in order to keep the seal intact and keep the Corruptors and Chaos at bay. Paracelsians are charged with this important duty. It is said that if you walk its maze from end to end under a new moon, you will awake the next morning knowing the answer to a difficult question. To this day, especially when exams fall during a new moon, the labyrinth is full of students walking its paths. Some worry that the answer received on the labyrinth are the voices of Whispers, seeking to come to this realm. The phantasmological connections to the labyrinth keep some students away, but to others that is a further attraction to its depths.
When it came time to choose a namesake for the new Court, de Lucena made a wise and diplomatic choice. Paracelsus was one of the leaders of the Renaissance wizarding reforms that Leodegrance had hated. At the same time, Paracelsus was distantly related to Leodegrance through the Bombastus line, so Leodegrance’s supporters among the Praestantes couldn’t object too strongly. Also, in keeping with de Lucena’s approach to the world, Paracelsus believed in independent inquiry, skepticism, harmony, and looking more to the future than to the past.
As a professor, Isaac de Lucena continued to look towards the future. He planted his precious seeds and cuttings in the new greenhouse, where their descendants still grow today, and found ways to get his South American plants to grow alongside native species. He corresponded with his family in Europe to obtain the latest texts in alchemy and hermetic theory for the Imperial Magischola library. He proved to be an enthusiastic if slightly erratic teacher of botany and alchemy. He much preferred teaching upper-level classes, where he could not only cover more advanced material, but he could also learn along with his students, recruiting them to join in his continual experimentation. Only reluctantly did he take on the duties of teaching the youngest students — although the Praestantes generally preferred him to take those classes because he caused much less damage to the alchemy lab when he was teaching beginners.
He also made sure that Imperial Magischola was a welcoming place for Jewish students of all ages, even talking to the parents of the younger students (of the ages that would now be considered primaschola students; then, it was all a single campus) to help set their minds at ease about the new environment. It was in that context that, in 1670, he met Esther Campanal, the widowed mother of one the younger boys. She had skill in alchemy herself, and she and Isaac recognized almost immediately that they were kindred spirits: both quick-minded and deeply curious about the natural world. Yet it still took them several months to realize that they were enjoying their long conversations for their own sake, rather than for the sake of helping Esther’s son Moses get accustomed to magic school.
They married shortly after. Isaac became a loving stepfather to Moses, and later, a loving father to four more children. Family had always been important to him, and he found a great deal of joy in being able to raise children and pass on his legacy to a new generation.
Esther was a skilled alchemist in her own right; in fact, her ability to concoct and analyze potions far exceeded Isaac’s. Although she could not teach at the school, she could often be found in the alchemy labs of Imperial working in the late hours after classes, doing her own research. In the mid-1680s, she tried to publish a treatise on sensory-augmentation potions, but was refused from every European press because she was a woman. She decided that it would be better to have her work published under someone else’s name than not to have it published at all, so she re-submitted the book (with Isaac’s full knowledge) under her husband’s name — and it was published immediately.
Thus began a willing conspiracy between the de Lucenas. While Isaac did have a prolific scholarly career in his own right, mainly in the field of botany and parabotanical creatures, many of the alchemy texts once believed to have been by him were actually by Esther instead. Modern scholars of the history of alchemy are only now beginning to sort out which spouse wrote which books. They believe that several anonymous works can be attributed to Esther de Lucena as well, most notably On the Distillation of Natural Ingredients, and On the Principles of Alchemy and Potion-Making, the latter of which is still used today. However, Isaac de Lucena is confirmed as the author of several of the key works attributed to him, including Elements of Parabotanical Cultivation and The Arcane Plants of Destiny Province in the New World.
This recognition of Esther de Lucena’s prolific writing also resolved scholars’ confusion about how Isaac de Lucena had been able to maintain such a rigorous publication schedule despite his fragile health. He had never fully recovered from the poisoning in his youth, and the laboratory accidents brought on by his overly-ambitious experiments did not help matters any. Many of his colleagues were surprised that when Isaac de Lucena died, it was not from some dramatic laboratory mishap or the poison from a parabotanical creature; but rather, it was a peaceful end, when his body simply gave out. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery in New York that his family had helped found. Isaac could often be seen accompanied by his familiar, a vivacious and loyal aloe pup.