Archive for October, 2014

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Antares – The Golden Shot

October 29, 2014

A fortnight after I posted up this

In the north west corner of the first field, on the opposite side of the road from the farm house, is where the Royal Star Antares fell which marked, no doubt, the foundation stone of the whole layout of this nature Zodiac, dating it by the Autumnal Equinox as between 4000 and 2000 B.C. The Stone was probably of the lovely Orange Oolite found here.

Maltwood, K.E. 1947. Itinerary of “The Somerset Giants” Abridged from King Arthur’s Round Table of the Zodiac: with Map. Victoria, B.C.: Victoria Printing and Publishing Company.

Then this happens…

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Coincidence, or what?

Antares is the brightest star in the constellation, Scorpio and is known as ‘the heart of the scorpion’.  Hornblotton Church is situated in the Scorpio figure of the Glastobury Zodiac, which Katharine Maltwood writes of above.  Looks like they’ve really blown it.

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F.A.Y.

October 28, 2014

Tonight I’ve realised that I’ve probably got more books by Frances Yates than any other author (with the exception of Alan Garner). The Rosicrucian Enlightenment was the first book of hers that I bought, though I was attracted as much by the amazing cover (by Justin Todd) as by the novel theme.

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Until last night, when I looked something up about her online, I’d clean forgotten what I’d read in a biography a few years back – that Yates was born in Southsea. A pre-arranged visit to Southsea today was the ideal opportunity to find her Blue Plaque.

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I was taken by the architecture and decorative repertoire of a house a couple of hundred yards down the road from Frances Yates’ birthplace, pertinent to her writings on Renaissance ‘Theatres of Memory’ and the image magic of Giordano Bruno .

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The preponderance of heart and hexagon motifs was intriguing, and it brought to mind a piece I’ve been busy writing up in the last week and a half, that structures a conjunction between the megalithic art of the Neolithic and Renaissance image magic. Of course, I’ve had to resort to the books of Frances Yates.

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Since the divine mind is universally present in the world of nature (continues Bruno in the Seal of Seals) the process of coming to know the divine mind must be through the reflection of the images of the world of sense within the mens. Therefore the function of the imagination of ordering the images in memory is an absolutely vital one in the cognitive process. Vital and living images will reflect the vitality and life of the world… unify the contents of memory and set up magical correspondences between outer and inner worlds. Images must be charged with affects, and particularly with the affect of Love, for so they have power to penetrate to the core both of the outer and inner worlds… We are here within range of Bruno’s Eroici furori with its love conceits which have power to open ‘the black diamond doors’ within the psyche.

Frances A. Yates. 1966. The Art of Memory. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 257-258.

In case there is any doubt about the significance of the hexagon, look at this illustration from “Das Alchemiehandbuch des Appenzeller Wundarztes Ulrich Ruosch,” an alchemical manual published by a Swiss physician of the seventeenth century, Ulrich Ruosch (1628-1698).

Ruosch cube

The image is from The Ritman Library.

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Sun-Kissed Hornblotton Church on the Eve of the Autumn Equinox

October 15, 2014

Hornblotton (Horn blow town), where there is an old bell tower detached from the restored church built of the sun-kissed orange Oolite stone that the worshippers of golden light surely loved.

Katharine Maltwood (1935) A Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars

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Heavencry at earthcall

I thought it was an opportunity too good to miss when I realised that a scheduled trip to Minehead last month coincided with what I thought was the Autumn Equinox of 22nd September, for our journey would take us close to the mysterious church at Hornblotton in Somerset, itself implicated in an equinoctial alignment perceived to determine the geometry of the famous Glastonbury Zodiac. According to its discoverer, these earth giants correspond to the celestial constellations of the Zodiac when the planisphere is superimposed upon the map to scale (Maltwood 1935: xvi). Transposed to the chaosmos of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake this concordance of heaven and earth is ‘the beatenest lay I ever see! And a superpbosition! Quoint a quincidence!’ (FW* 299.7-8). While the physical reality of this entity has been a matter of dispute for nearly 100 years, as a work of active imagination it has surely assumed such a physical reality. This serpentine ramble is the result of what was, after all, the most fleeting of visits…

I was alerted to the church’s significance in an anthology of essays I’d picked up in Glastonbury, during a short stay in the town earlier in the summer. In particular, it was Yuri Leitch’s essay, ‘The Discovery of the Melkarth Line’ (Leitch 2013) which places Hornblotton church upon a landscape alignment ‘exceptionally important’ to Katharine Maltwood’s scheme of the Glastonbury Zodiac, forming ‘the equinox line that the entire Star Temple is built upon’ (Leitch 2013: 129). This line (briefly described here) is the marker indicating the Vernal (Spring) Equinox in the sign of Taurus the Bull, which allows Maltwood to suggest a creation date for her Temple of the Stars in 2700 BC (ibid.).

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At the centre of this ’round table’ of earth effigies is Park Wood, which Maltwood perceives as the head of a serpent: ‘This serpent is the guardian of the stars (the golden apples) which hang from the Pole Tree in the Garden of Darkness, or Garden in the West, the Garden of Hesperides’ (1935: 62). For her

‘The Wisdom of the Serpent’ must refer to the knowledge which Draco possesses of the Nutation of the earth’s axis, and Precession of the Equinoxes, or the change by which the equinoxes occur earlier in each successive sidereal year. The contemplation of seven successive pole stars was bewilderingly upsetting to the calculations of astronomers; no wonder Draco became the “Devil!” but the ‘Seven Glorious Ones’ have had many more good names than bad, for pole stars never set (63).

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A modern impression of an Akkadian cylinder seal from Tell Asmar, Iraq, depicting two gods spearing a seven-headed dragon. The original is feared looted. Picture from here.

Maltwood mentions, excitedly, a find which accords both with her chronology of the Zodiac and with the iconographic tableau represented by the figures which determine the equinoctial alignment:

The Illustrated London News of July 22nd, 1933, contained a reproduction from an Akkadian Cylinder seal of the seven headed fire-dragon that ‘Hercules’ killed 2500 B.C.! The expression used by Dr. Henry Frankfort in describing this discovery was: “astonishing in its implications.” Its seven heads would be the seven pole stars

(Maltwood 1935: 64).

Here also is a prefiguration of the Seven-Headed Dragon ridden by ‘the Mother of Harlots’, Babylon, in The Book of Revelation; in Thelemic magic, she has been rendered as the goddess, Babalon:

to steeplechange back once from their ophis workship and twice on sundises, to their ancient flash and crash habits of old Pales time

(FW 289.7-9).

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Babylonian serpent adopted as the motif of the COBRA group of artists.

In terms of the iconography of the Zodiacal giants in the landscape around Glastonbury Leitch’s Melkarth Line is drawn by the ‘golden shot’ of the mounted Sagittarius-Archer effigy – identified by Maltwood as Hercules-Melkarth, the Phoenician god of Tyre – an alignment which passes through ‘the Pole Star Tree of Life’ (Maltwood 1935: 60) and the head of the serpent Draco at Park Wood, Butleigh, before proceeding through the bull’s eye of the Taurus the Bull effigy. Extended eastward this alignment passes through Hornblotton Church, leaving the circle to run a steeplechase through Bruton Church, the triangular folly known as King Alfred’s Tower, the Temple of Hercules at Stourhead, Wiltshire, and onward to Canterbury Cathedral, notable for its Zodiacal pavement. Extended westward this alignment proceeds to St Nectan’s Church, Hartland, ‘the Cathedral of North Devon’, close to Hartland Point, believed to be Ptolemy’s ‘Promontory of Hercules’.

An old holiday snap of a summer sunset at Hartland Point

An old holiday snap of a summer sunset at Hartland Point, creating a ‘shining path’ across the sea.

‘Phoenican wakes’

I think there are remarkable parallels between Katharine Maltwood’s imagining of a wheel of landscape giants revolving around the mill of the universe and the cyclical history embodied in the decline, rise, and decline of the Herculean character, HCE, in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake. Like the mounted Sagittarius figure in Maltwood’s Zodiac – ‘high chief evervirens and only abfalltree in auld the land’ (FW 88.2, emphasis added) – there’s a recurrent equine/equinox conjunction echoed ‘from each equinoxious points of view’ (FW 85.27) of the ‘oppositional coincidence’ motivating the ‘Magis landeguage’ (FW 478.9-10) of Finnegans Wake. It is a book seemingly frozen in the timeless hypnagogic moments between wakefulness and sleep, in which mythological elements proliferate as abundantly as those woven into decades of interpretation of the Glastonbury Zodiac: ‘same super melkkaart’ (FW 538.8), ‘with archers strung, helio, of the second’ (FW 5.8), ‘he crashed in the hollow of the park, trees down, as he soared in the vaguum of the phoenix’ (FW 136.33-35).

French enamel painting on copper depicting a rider on horse galloping throught foliage as he blows a horn

French enamel painting on copper depicting a rider on horse galloping throught foliage as he blows a horn

Clive Hart argues that Finnegans Wake begins and ends at the Vernal Equinox (Hart 1962: 73), on ‘a white horsday… along about the first equinarx in the cholonder, on the plain of Khorason’ (FW 347.1-3). Roy Benjamin elaborates upon this, examining the role of the precession of the equinoxes and the myths that it has produced in Finnegans Wake, arguing that the great year that corresponds to the precessional cycle and the myth of replacement that arises from the replacement of one pole star with another are another way of telling the story of generational conflict and cyclical return. He identifies ‘heroes of the precession’ as Noah, Manu, and Arthur who become, in the Wake, ‘avatars of HCE in his struggle to rear his kingdom on the ruins of time’ (Benjamin 2010: abstract here).

As the embodiment of imperial and patriarchal authority, mounted on his ‘big wide harse’ (FW 10.21), HCE is – like the Sagittarius figure in the cosmic mill of the Glastonbury Zodiac – unseated by the turning of fortune’s wheel:

he, conscious of enemies, a kingbilly whitehorsed in a finglas mill

(FW 75.15, emphasis added).

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Painting of the Sagittarius figure by Osmund Caine, frontispiece to Mary Caine 1978. ‘O my shining stars and body!’ (FW 4.12-13).

Is there an allusion to the ’round table’ of the Zodiac in Joyce’s description of the illuminative spear of equinoctial dawn light, in which the initials HCE are again spelt out (forward and reversed)? This shining path of light becomes, in the Wake, a ‘hallucinian via’ (FW 478.13-14), and ‘if it was Hannibal’s Walk it was Hercules’ work’ (FW 81.3).

The spearspid of dawnfire totouches ain the tablestoane ath the centre of the great circle of the macroliths of Helusbelus in the boshiman brush on this our peneplain by Fan-galuvu Bight whence the horned cairns erge, stanserstanded, to floran frohn, idols of isthmians. Overwhere. Gaunt grey ghostly gossips growing grubber in the glow. Past now pulls. Cur one beast, even Dane the Great, may treadspath with sniffer he snout impursuant to byelegs. Edar’s chuckal humuristic. But why pit the cur afore the noxe?

(FW 594.21-29, emphasis added).

Given the solar significance of the arrow’s flight and its extension as an ancient Vernal Equinox alignment, I wonder whether the activity of the Archer Yi in ancient Chinese cosmogony can be perceived here, in relation to the myth of the Ten Suns that would arise alternately from the Mulberry Tree. This cosmic tree, the Fu Sang, sheds light on the spectrum of solar myths revolving around the axle-tree of Park Wood, centre of the Zodiac. A shaman-poet in the Chuci corpus who ascends into the other world declares “I ordered Xihe [the mother of the Ten Suns] to stop the passage of time… I watered my horses at the Xian pool and tethered my horse to the Fu Sang” (Allan: 34). References to these motifs are signs of the shaman’s ascent and supernatural power. The Tian wen, or ‘Heavenly questions’, refers to the Fu Sang myth in an enigmatic form when it asks, “from brightness until darkness, how many miles is (the sun’s) journey?” (Allan: 36). According to the myth of the Archer Yi, one day all ten suns arose from the Mulberry Tree at once, withering the crops and killing the grasses. At this, Yi is sent to shoot nine of the ten suns, leaving one which rises every day (37).

后羿射日 Houyi shooting the suns

后羿射日 Hou Yi shooting the suns (Wikimedia Commons – Shibo77)

From each equinoxious points of view

It was a flying visit to St Peter’s church at Hornblotton on the 22nd, concerned as we were about getting to our destination in good time, with just a few hours of daylight left and an imperfect idea of how long our journey would take. As it turned out, the actual Equinox was on the 23rd, but this seemed like perfect timing.

I was primed as to what to look out for by Yuri Leitch’s description of the church’s lavish restoration, curiously out of proportion to the tiny, out-of-the-way parish, but linked by Leitch to a putative esoteric mystery tradition active in Maltwood’s day, to which Leitch suggests she was in some way party (Leitch 2013: 137). I have to say that the more I’ve been reading around Maltwood’s presentation of the Zodiac and the more I’ve looked into the connotations of some of the motifs and themes depicted inside Hornblotton church (hours and hours more than the ten-fifteen minutes I rushed around the church), the more I am open to such an idea.

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It is decorated throughout with a technique called sgraffito, whereby a red layer of plaster is overlaid by a white layer, which is then carved away to reveal the red colour beneath (ibid.: 127). I noticed straight away ‘the ecstatic overdose of twelve-rayed sun symbols’ across walls otherwise ‘ablaze with foliage, flowers and birds’ (ibid.). The church was commissioned by the Rector of Alford and Hornblotton, designed by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson, and built between 1872 and 1874. No expense was spared (ibid.: 140). The ‘Tree of Life’ mosaic floor was created by James Powell & Sons; the tiled reredos above the altar was created by William De Morgan; and the sgraffito work was rendered by artist and antiquarian, Heywood Sumner (ibid.).

The first thing I noticed was  the sgraffitoed rendition of the Ten Commandments from Exodus XX (above). Not so unusual in a church, of course, but assuming additional significance through its association with other figurative depictions in the church.

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Of particular interest were the two scenes depicted in the nave, showing Moses presenting the Brazen Serpent and Moses striking the rock with Aaron’s Rod to bring forth the spring. While we were in the church for less than twenty minutes, it is the hours of reading and thinking since then which have led me to consider the depiction of the Brazen Serpent entwined around the Tau Cross as cognate with Maltwood’s Draco serpent entwined around the Pole of the Zodiac at Park Wood. In searching for the significance of the Brazen Serpent and the Tau Cross, I was amazed when I stumbled across this description of a Masonic Rite – the 25th Degree: Knight of the Brazen Serpent – in an archive at the University of Bradford, which entwines Serpent, Vernal Equinox, Zodiacal symbolism and the decorative repertoire of Hornblotton (quotations from this text from hereon in will be marked ‘Bradford’):

The Degree of Knight of the Brazen Serpent relates to the time when the camp of the Israelites was pitched at Punon, on the eastern side of the mountains of Hor, Seir, or Edom, In Arabia Petraea, on the confines of Idumaea, after the death of Aaron, when the new moon occurred at the vernal equinox, in the fortieth year of the wandering of the children of Israel in the desert.

(Bradford).

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The plague of fiery serpents have been sent because of the breaking of the First Commandment: ‘thou shalt have none other Gods but me’. This affliction and its cure is the theme around which the 25th Degree ritual revolves:

I have prayed for the people, and Adonai hath said unto me: “Make thee an image of a venomous springing serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.”

The plague of serpents is stayed; and as they have fled to their caves, so the celestial serpent flees, with the scorpion, before the glittering stars of Orion. The great festival of the vernal equinox approaches, and it is time to prepare ourselves by purification for the Passover. Light will soon prevail once more over darkness; and the pulses of life again beat in the bosom of the earth, long chilled by the wintry frosts.

(Bradford).

This Biblical episode is rendered significant in this Masonic context in that

The duties of a Knight of the Brazen Serpent are: To purify the soul of its alloy of earthliness, that through the gate of Capricorn and the seven spheres It may at length ascend to its eternal home beyond the stars; and also to perpetuate the great truths enveloped in the symbols and allegories of the ancient mysteries of Faith.

(Bradford).

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Stephen Crowe’s delightful rendition of page 9-10 of Finnegans Wake  ©Stephen Crowe 2010 (From here)

That ‘the gate of Capricorn’ is mentioned evokes for me the image of the horse and rider of Sagittarian Hercules in the Glastonbury Zodiac, ‘hrossbucked on his pricelist charger’ (FW 535.8-9), stumbling and falling into the back of the Capricorn figure (visible in Osmund Caine’s painting, reproduced above). The text – which seems to be a verbatim transcription of pages 358-366 of 33° Mason, Charles T. McClenechan’s book on the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry of 1884 –  may also explain the significance of the colours red and white in the sgraffito decoration of Hornblotton church:

The order is a crimson ribbon, on which are depicted the words, one under the other, Osiris, Ormuzd, Osarsiph, Moses; and under them a bull, with a disk, surmounted by a crescent between his horns. This is worn from left to right; and across it, from right to left, is worn a broad, white, watered ribbon, on which are the words Isis, Ceres, over a dog’s head and a crescent. On the right breast, on the left breast, and at the crossing of these orders, is a star of gold. Under that on the right breast is the letter A [for Aldebaran]; under that on the left breast the letter A [for Antares]; and under that at the crossing of the orders, the letter F [for Fomalhaut]. On the crimson cordon is the word [Gevurah-Valour]; and on the white, [Aun – Virtus], meaning active energy or generative power, and passive energy or capacity to produce.

The apron is white, lined and edged with black; the white side spotted with golden stars, and the black side with silver ones… On the flap is a serpent in a circle, with his tail in his mouth, and in the centre of the circle so formed a scarabaeus or beetle. Over this is a star of gold, with the letter R [Regulus] over it…

(Bradford).

The letter A on the right breast is in fact ‘the fiery eye’ of the constellation, Taurus, the star Aldebaran, the very bull’s-eye through which the bow-shot of Maltwood’s Herculean archer passes to mark the equinoctial line! Antares, on the left breast, is the brightest star in the constellation, Scorpius, and is often referred to as ‘the heart of the scorpion’ (here). Hornblotton church is situated in the Scorpio figure of Maltwood’s Zodiac, fleeing ‘before the glittering stars of Orion’, according to the 25th Degree ritual alluded to in the church. As Maltwood explains, in her thirteen-page Itinerary of “The Somerset Giants” (1947), Antares marks the foundation stone of the Zodiac, at the same time implicating Hornblotton Church in this scheme when she enthuses over ‘the lovely Orange Oolite’:

We continue along the main road to the first turning on the right, and cross the bridge at the Mill over the river Brue, where we notice how the river outlines the top of the Scorpion’s body and right claw. Then drive down the right side of the Scorpion, via Hornblotton Green village to the Roman Fosseway. Here we turn sharp right along the Fosseway to the first turning on left, to Stone. Stone lies in White Stone Hundred. In the north west corner of the first field, on the opposite side of the road from the farm house, is where the Royal Star Antares fell which marked, no doubt, the foundation stone of the whole layout of this nature Zodiac, dating it by the Autumnal Equinox as between 4000 and 2000 B.C. The Stone was probably of the lovely Orange Oolite found here.

(Maltwood 1947).

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Fomalhaut has had various names ascribed to it through time. Its modern name derives from Arabic fum al-ḥawt, meaning “mouth of the [Southern] Fish” (فُمْ اَلْحَوْتْ), a translation of how the classical astronomer Ptolemy labelled it. The star marked the solstice in 2500 BC, contemporary with the time Maltwood suggested the Zodiac was created. And Regulus? It is the brightest star in the constellation, Leo, the first of the Zodiacal figures that Maltwood claimed to have found, reflecting the first of the Twelve Labours of Hercules.

The Masonic connotations of Hornblotton Church are echoed in Finnegans Wake in that the main protagonist, HCE – ‘this man of hod, cement and edifices’ (FW 4.26-27) – is himself a Mason. Furthermore, just as in the Wake ‘the traits featuring the chiaroscuro coalesce, their contrarieties eliminated, in one stable somebody’ (FW 107.29-30), so its principle of oppositional coincidence – ‘The twicer, trifoaled in Wanstable!’ (FW 485.24-25) – is also explicated in the 25th Degree:

The first sages who sought for the cause of causes saw good and evil in the world; they observed the shadow and the light; they compared winter with spring, old age with youth, life with death, and said: “The first cause is beneficent and cruel. It gives life and destroys.”

Are there, then, two contrary principles – a good and an evil?” cried the disciples of Manes.

No! the two principles of the universal equilibrium are not contrary to each other, though in apparent opposition; for it is a single wisdom that opposes them one to the other.

The good is on the right, the evil on the left; but the supreme good is above both, and makes the evil subserve the triumph of the good, and the good serve for the reparation of the evil.

(Bradford).

He stottered from the latter

Personally, I was most keen to see the William De Morgan tiled reredos above the altar. I have to declare an interest here because my Great Aunt married into the family of De Morgan’s kiln-master. I’m told that much fine De Morgan ware passed into her family, but has now been lost through the attritional process of washing up: it lends a domestic dimension to the Kabbalistic myth of ‘the shattering of the vessels’…

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On which motif, I marvelled at the glass mosaic design on the floor, leading up to the altar. Yuri Leitch suggests it looks like a stylised Kabbalistic Tree of Life, and compares the central area to the Cosmati Pavement in St. Paul’s Cathedral, the central sphere resembling a well-head (Leitch 2013: 127).

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It wasn’t until I blew up the pictures days after the rushed visit that I noticed the paired fish edging the pavement – ‘a myrioscope, two remarkable piscines and three wellworthseeing ambries’ (FW 127.34-36).

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Here Comes Everybody

I cannot look at Katharine Maltwood’s configuration of Hercules-Melkarth-Arthur without being reminded of Joyce’s contempt for ‘the whole structure of heroism’ which ‘is, and always was, a damned lie’ (Ellmann 1975: 54). In common with Arthurian themes, Maltwood’s equestrian ‘champion of the aevum’ has been mobilised as part of a fantasy of some kind of ‘national renewal’: ‘Send Arctur guiddus!’ (FW 621.7-8). Finnegans Wake, composed over the same timescale as Maltwood’s composition of the Zodiac, is a subversion of such fantasies, where HCE, too – ‘His clay feet, swarded in verdigrass’ (FW 7.30) – is configured as a sleeping landscape giant, according to Euclid’s definition of a line from Book I of his Elements:

Length Withought Breath, of him, a chump of the evums, upshoot of picnic or stupor out of sopor, Cave of Kids or Hymanian Glattstoneburg… a manyfeast munificent more mob than man

(FW 261.13-22).

*All quotations from Finnegans Wake are prefixed by the initials, FW, plus page and line number.

References

Allan, S. 1991. The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art, and Cosmos in Early China. Albany: SUNY Press.

Benjamin, R. 2010. What Era’s O’ering?: The Precession of the Equinoxes in Finnegans Wake. James Joyce Quarterly Vol. 48 No. 1 pp.111-128.

Caine, M. 1978. The Glastonbury Zodiac. Torquay: Grael Communications.

Ellmann, R. 1975. Selected Letters of James Joyce. London: Faber and Faber.

Hart, C. 1962. Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake. London: Faber and Faber.

Joyce, J. 1939. Finnegans Wake. London: Faber and Faber.

Leitch, Y. (ed.). 2013. ‘The Discovery of the Melkarth Line’, in Leitch, Y. (ed.) Signs & Secrets of the Glastonbury Zodiac. Glastonbury: Avalonian Æon Publications, pp. 119-146.

Anonymous (Katharine Emma Maltwood). 1935. A Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars. London: John M. Watkins.

Maltwood, K.E. 1947. Itinerary of “The Somerset Giants” Abridged from King Arthur’s Round Table of the Zodiac: with Map. Victoria, B.C.: Victoria Printing and Publishing Company.

McClenechan, C. T. 1884. The Book of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. New York: Masonic Publishing Co.

The Web of Hiram, University of Bradford: http://www.brad.ac.uk/webofhiram/?section=ancient_accepted&page=25knightofbs.html. Retrieved 10, 11, 12/10/2014

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Čiurlionis’ Fairy Tale Castle: A Metaphor for the Inner Temple?

October 6, 2014
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Fairy Tale Castle, oil on canvas (1909) by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis

Mikalojus (1875-1911) was a Lithuanian painter, composer and writer. He is known for his contributions to art nouveau and symbolic art and is regarded as one of the pioneers of abstract art in Europe. A prolific artist, he produced more than 300 paintings. He even has an asteroid named after him, the asteroid 2420 Čiurlionis. His paintings featured in many exhibitions in countries ranging from Japan, Germany and Spain. Together with works by Kandinsky, McNeill Whistler and Paul Klee, a selection of Čiurlionis’ works was displayed at the ‘Visual Music’ festival in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The exhibition was a tribute to the phenomenon of ‘synaesthesia’, which also attracted the attention of psychologists in the 1880s. According to Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891), synaesthesia was a form of higher perception and clairvoyance which proved that there indeed existed a world beyond the physical realm. She related the phenomenon to the aura, arguing that the colours seen by people susceptible to synaesthesia were auratic. People with this ability are able to ‘see’ an oval extra-sensory aura surrounding every human being, which reveals their feelings, moods as even their very nature.

Čiurlionis’ artwork ‘Fairy Tale Castle’ depicts one of the most famous and recurrent elements of the fairytale: the castle. Esoterically speaking, the castle is a metaphor for the inner temple that is sought by the Adept in order to realign with his divine Soul and marking the completion of the Great Work. In the legends of the Grail, the castle is where the Holy Grail is hidden which knight Perceval seeks. In alchemy the castle metaphor was used by the English alchemist Sir George Ripley (1415-1490), who perceived the Great Work and the Art of Alchemy as a twelve-gated castle. Each gate corresponded with an alchemical process. Together they offer a ladder (Scala philosophorum) to the Philosopher’s Heaven (Coelum Philosophorum).

Text from The Ritman Library

Sinjar James Gordon Flickr

Yezidi Temple, Sinjar. Photograph via James Gordon, Flickr

Seeing Čiurlionis’ painting, Fairy Tale Castle, for the first time, evoked for me images of the fluted spires of Yezidi Temples and Shrines which I’ve seen a lot of in recent months. I have no idea whether he had ever seen the like – in books or on his travels – or whether it was a product of his imagination, or whether it emerged by some process of clairvoyance. Whatever, it is a beautiful and striking image.

1920s postcard showing the Shrine of Sheikh Adi at Lalish

1920s postcard showing the Shrine of Sheikh Adi at Lalish

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The Scarlet Woman

October 4, 2014
Javier Pinon, The Scarlet Woman, collage 2010

Javier Piñón, The Scarlet Woman, collage 2010

 

 

 

 

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Blinged-up Wahhabism: Building the Temple of Permitted Consumption

October 4, 2014

Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.

Henry Ford My Life and Work 1922

The worship of the One God, codified in standardised texts which allow the extension of monotheism to a variety of contexts, has proved amenable to the reproduction of a society of commodity production and consumption which itself relies on a standardised measure of equivalence. The coextension of the homogeneity of capitalist social relations with Christian missionary activity, particularly that aligned with evangelical protestantism, is a commonplace. In Central Asia, even the historical spread of Buddhism – not a religion usually associated with the institution of capitalist social relations – homogenised a variety of distinct, earth-based spiritual biographies, linked to particular places which were associated with pre-existing shamanic or animistic practices.

Now, with the ascendence of a militant asceticism which is driving the destruction of the lives and communities of those labelled ‘heretics’, ‘non-believers’ and ‘devil-worshippers’, as well as the destruction of places and things deemed as the focus for idolatry – including the tomb of the Biblical prophet, Jonah, in Mosul – some commentators perceive the conspicuous brutality and imperial ambitions of those who propagate the austere, Wahhabised version of Sunni Islam as a mere throwback to ‘mediæval barbarism’, mediated only by the modern technical means at its disposal.

an illustration in a 14th century manuscript by Rachid al-Din Tabib, a Persian physician and historian of Jewish descent.

A depiction of Jonah and the Whale in a 14th century manuscript by Rachid al-Din Tabib, a Persian physician and historian of Jewish descent.

On the contrary, I wonder whether this ‘so-long-as-it-is-black’ tendency of militarised Wahhabism in Iraq and Syria (whose acronym takes in vain the name of the great Egyptian goddess), with its disavowal of and hostility to the idolatrous particularities of local colour, isn’t in fact an expression of the same process of capitalist development identified by Max Weber in northern Europe:

Puritans upheld their decisive characteristic, the principle of ascetic conduct… Sport was accepted if it served a rational purpose, that of recreation necessary for physical efficiency. But as a means for the spontaneous expression of undisciplined impulses, it was under suspicion; and in so far as it became purely a means of enjoyment, or awakened pride, raw instincts or the irrational gambling instinct, it was of course strictly condemned. Impulsive enjoyment of life, which leads away both from work in a calling and from religion, was as such the enemy of rational asceticism, whether in the form of seigneurial sports, or the enjoyment of the dance-hall or the public-house of the common man.

Max Weber (from here).

Faced with the methodically-recorded and shameless propagation of the evidence of their crimes – the mass executions, beheadings, the abduction, rape and trafficking of women – it is easy to resort to the language of visceral disgust to describe the perpetrators, as ‘scum’ and ‘filth’. Yet given their obvious contempt for the ‘unclean’, lived human body, I feel that to level these terms of disgust at ‘the self-righteous brothers and sisters’ obscures the fact that these takfiri – as they are termed by many of their Muslim critics – seem truly to believe they are doing God’s work, characterised as acts of purification and cleansing, as they raise aloft their index finger to declare there is only One God, a gesture which looks like moralistic finger-wagging to anyone unfamiliar with the body language. In these purifying acts of extreme violence the metaphor of ‘bleach’ seems more fitting to the sterile zealotry of those who characterise as ‘filth’ the heterodox, earthy aspects of human life which support a fertile imagination, an ensouled spiritual ecology inhabited by diverse spirits of place, be those places springs, trees or mountains. Likewise, to respect the living human body as a ‘temple’ is surely haram, surely idolatrous, or shirk to the purists who follow the letter not the spirit.

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So, three hundred-odd years on from the industrial revolution, driven in part by the asceticism of the protestant work ethic, the rational asceticism of Wahhabised capitalism continues the work of ‘disenchanting the world’ with its destruction of shrines, the banning of the idolatrous practices endemic to ‘folk Islam’, and the repression of the undisciplined impulse to enjoyment. While protestant asceticism was individualised, in keeping with a Cartesian subject/object dichotomy, Wahhabi asceticism is propagated in the context of the Umma, the global Muslim community. Yet it pursues its mission in the novel context of a spectacular society where the image of consumption is, bizarrely, the  dream-to-be-realised-in-this-world promised to those who ‘buy into’ their ideology, transforming the community of believers into the false community of consumers. It is bizarre because it actually appears to promote the capitalist dream of abundance – the bright lights, the glitz, the conspicuously displayed wealth – so long identified as ‘the American dream’. Early publicity pictures for Mosul under the rule of the so-called Islamic State presented it as if it was the new Dubai.

In this aesthetics of capitalism they follow the lead of Saudi Arabia which has overseen the Disneyfication of the pilgrimage sites of Mecca and Medina through the destruction of tombs of prophets and their families and their replacement by shopping malls and luxury hotels to service the needs of pilgrims who are now deemed indistinguishable from tourists. In reproach, residents of Mecca have even taken to referring to their city as Las Vegas, a Mecca for the rich. As one architect has put it:

It’s not Makkah. It’s Makkah-hattan…The truth of the history of Makkah is wiped out … with bulldozers and dynamite. Is this development?

From here

Mecca

One wonders how long before the Black Stone itself, tolerated with suspicion in Wahhabi scholarship, will become the target of the iconoclast’s sledgehammer. Already scholars have recommended the destruction of the prophet Mohammed’s tomb and the removal of his remains to an anonymous grave.

Old Mecca is a microcosm of a world being engulfed, progressively, by the glass, steel and concrete of “The same bourgeois magic everywhere” (Rimbaud). How apt that there is another theology to facilitate and justify the ultimate divorce from earthly life, in which respect for mother nature and history is nothing but idolatry.

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The City as Refuge for Her Rebellions

October 4, 2014

And whoever becomes ruler of a city accustomed to living freely and does not destroy it, let him expect to be destroyed by her, because as refuge for her rebellions she always has the name of liberty and her old customs, which neither through the length of time nor for any good deed will ever be forgotten. And whatever one does there and whatever one provides, if it is not to persecute or disperse the inhabitants, this name and these customs will never be forgotten.

Machiavelli, The Prince.

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Thinking a lot about the siege of Kobanê and its inhabitants, victims of the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of the international powers – including Turkey and the USA – implicated in the inhuman cruelty of ‘ISIS’ fascism.