DIY Homunculi

Into the world of alchemical reproduction and mother trees
Nat Mengist
Ioan Butiu
Ioan Butiu

The Beginning of an End

Accidental pregnancy is a term most people in this world no longer remember. After the thawing and revival of a highly infectious, 35,000 year old Neanderthal virus in the year 2037, entire continents began experiencing dramatic increases in miscarriages and other reproductive complications.

Due to a lack of inherited Neanderthal genotypes to exploit, populations of primarily African descent remained largely immune to the virus.

Corporate bioengineering firms tried pushing the production of ectogenetic technologies to solve the problem, but these solutions were prohibitively expensive to scale globally. As a result, birth rates outside of Sub-Saharan Africa began declining significantly in the mid-century. The global population was projected to plummet, dropping over 50%—from 9.7 billion in 2050, to just 4.7 billion in 2100.

Unexpectedly, salvation would be found with the translation of a small collection of pseudonymous Coptic manuscripts in 2068. These writings seem to have been produced or preserved by a group known as “Theosebia’s Circle.” This gathering of women were all learned in the hermetic science or natural artisanry of their time, and all traced their philosophical lineage to the 3rd century figure of Theosebia, sister to the legendary Egyptian alchemist Zosimos of Panopolis, who often praised her as an adept in her own right.

One suspected disciple of Theosebia’s Circle was the infamous Anna Zieglerin (c. 1550–1575), who claimed that she could carry a pregnancy to term every month. Zieglerin was eventually executed by fire for numerous crimes related to the defrauding of a duke, but scholars speculated that her formula for a reproductive accelerant named “lion’s blood” drew from a Theosebian manuscript. This peculiar text foretold of a magnum opus—a feat of natural magic, referred to only as the “Lilith Tree”—a mutated willow from which a garden of marvelous homunculi might be generated.

The Eden Willow

Unfortunately, we know very little about these women. What we do know is that their work inspired an interdisciplinary team of physicians, historians, activists, and engineers to revive the mythic Lilith Tree in the form of Salix edeneriana. After nearly a decade of trials, the first “Eden willow” was bred by a consortium of researchers and community members at the University of New Cascadia, which brought together UNC’s department of reproductive technology, an African delegation of experimental agroecologists, an advisory council from the Amerindian Nations, and representatives from the Global Alliance of Nurses, Midwives, and Doulas.

Perhaps the most valued stakeholder was a small, QTPOC cooperative farm. Eager to start families, these folx became the center of a pilot study to test botanical birth in 2079. Their dreams were actualized with the help of an ingenious, on-site assistant. Behold, the “matrixial vase.”

The Matrixial Vase

By exposing peripheral blood samples from two or more parents of any sex to a specially formulated reprogramming factor, certain hematopoietic stem cells can become induced pluripotent stem cells, ultimately developing into viable gametes. These hybrid haploid cells are then absorbed by an Eden willow cutting within the matrixial vase, where they are fertilized and incubated from the convenience of the home. Once this ‘impregnated’ cutting is grafted back onto the Eden willow from which it came, the tree will require intensive care. If all goes well, the lucky parents may welcome their child into the world in roughly nine months.

As the dawn of the 22nd century approaches, botanical birth has allowed agrarian communities to more permanently intertwine their futurities with the fertilities of plants. However, children born this way are no longer simply human. They are forever to be more than human— like plant-people, or a people recreated in the image of plants…