Terry Haass – The forces that shape the universe

 “One may say that she orchestrates her etchings like a musician, letting them “sound”—the sweeping brushstrokes like strings over the sombre and blocklike depths of the winds.”  – Ole Henrik Moe

“This brilliant description by Moe draws attention to the resonating depths of Terry Haass’s work. As an artist she is drawn to the mysteries of the cosmos and of the psyche, regarding the play of light over matter as a kind of sacred equation which will solve the riddles of space and time. This can be seen especially in her two most important livres d’artiste, Inanna, which ventures into the darkest recesses of the female psyche to explore the ancient Sumerian myth of the descent of the goddess into the underworld, and Mein Weltbild, a kind of hymn to Einstein’s intellectual curiosity, and to the forces that shape the universe.”

Haass-Inanna2
Inanna II, 1961

 

 

Haass-Einstein7
Albert Einstein: Mein Weltbild VII, 1975 (Terry Haass’s last etching, evoking the flight of a bird)

 

Albert Einstein Mein Weitbild I, 1975
Albert Einstein Mein Weitbild I, 1975

 

Albert Einstein Mein Weltbild V, 1975
Albert Einstein Mein Weltbild V, 1975

 

Her 1975 exhibition Homage to Albert Einstein, which travelled around Europe for four years, and the associated artist’s book Mein Weltbild, marked the end of her work in the graphic arts, and since that time she has devoted herself to sculpture in plexiglass and stainless steel. – Building Blocks of Space and Time

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Cubeer Burr, the Great Banyan Tree, and the Gymnosophists

Cubeer Burr The Great Banyan Tree by James Phillips
Cubeer Burr The Great Banyan Tree painted by James Phillips

Reposting this from 2011

A famed Banyan tree called in India “Cubeer Burr” was found on an island in the river Nerbedda, “ten miles from the city of Baroach, in the province of Guzzurat, a flourishing settlement formerly in possession of the East India Company, but ceded by the government of Bengal at the treaty of peace concluded with the Mahrattas in 1783, to Mahadjee, a Mahratta chief.

“Cubeer Burr is famed throughout Hindostan for its prodigious extent, ntiquity and great beauty. The Indian armies often encamp around it; and, at certain seasons, solemn Jattras or Hindoo festivals are held here, to which thousands of votaries repair from various parts of the Mogul empire.
Seven thousand persons, it is said, may easily repose under its shade. There is a tradition among the natives, that this tree is three thousand years old; and there is great reason to believe it, and that it is this amazing tree that Arrian describes when speaking of the gymosophists in his book of Indian affairs. These people, he says, in summer wear no clothing. In winter they enjoy the benefit of the sun’s rays in the open air; and in summer, when the heat becomes excessive, they pass their time in moist and marshy places under large trees, which according to Nearchus, cover a circumference of five acres, and extend their branches so far that ten thousand men may easily find shelter under them” – from Cultus Arborum by Anonymous published privately in 1890, sourced from Project Gutenberg

Read more from this book on tree worship at Project Gutenberg

The Banyan as Temple to the Gymnosophists

1825. — “Near this village was the finest banyan-tree which I had ever seen, literally a grove rising from a single primary stem, whose massive secondary trunks, with their straightness, orderly arrangement, and evident connexion with the parent stock, gave the general effect of a vast vegetable organ. The first impression which I felt on coming under its shade was, ‘What a noble place of worship!’” — Heber, ii. 93 (ed. 1844).

Kristen Szumyn in her article “The Barbarian wisdom of the ‘theoi andres” : a study of the relationship between spatial marginality and social alterity” writes (after Clement of Alexandria): “Herodotus associates the possession of ‘wisdom’ (sophias) and ‘knowledge’ (philosopheon) with one who has extensively ‘travelled’ (planes) to foreign lands. Such a person is counted amongst the saphistai, the wise men or teachers. The Greek philosopher’s visit to foreign countries was a doxographical and biographical topos specifically associated with the attainment of wisdom.

The philosophical and religious wisdom attained by such travellers was essentially ‘barbarian’.

As Diogenes Laertius noted:

The later Neoplatonic tradition held that ‘the study of philosophy had its beginning among the barbarians… the Persians have their Magi, the Babylonians or Assyrians their Chaldeans, and the Indians and their Gymnosophists; and among the Celts and Gauls there are the people called Druids or Holy Ones. These marginalised religious teachers and transmitters of spiritual wisdom are associated with the geographical and social periphery of society. This geographical marginality of the wise man is particularly evident in the Neoplatonic tradition of late antiquity; however this notion of the association between the sage and oriental or barbarian wisdom was a concept well established even in early Greek thought.”

Gymnosophists is the name (meaning “naked philosophers”) given by the Greeks to certain ancient Indian philosophers who pursued asceticism to the point of regarding food and clothing as detrimental to purity of thought (sadhus or yogis). 

The Digambar Jain monks in India even now remain unclothed; they have been identified as the gymnosophists by several researchers. Xuanzang mentions having come across Digambar Jain monks in Taxila during his 7th century CE visit to India in the same Punjab region where Alexander The Great encountered the gymnosophists.”

Plutartch wrote of Alexander’s meeting in the First Century with 10 Gymnosophists in the Punjab:

“He (Alexander) captured ten of the Gymnosophists who had done most to get Sabbas to revolt, and had made the most trouble for the Macedonians. These philosophers were reputed to be clever and concise in answering questions, and Alexander therefore put difficult questions to them, declaring that he would put to death him who first made an incorrect answer, and then the rest, in an order determined in like manner; and he commanded one of them, the oldest, to be the judge in the contest.

The first one, accordingly, being asked which, in his opinion, were more numerous, the living or the dead, said that the living were, since the dead no longer existed.

The second, being asked whether the earth or the sea produced larger animals, said the earth did, since the sea was but a part of the earth.

The third, being asked what animal was the most cunning, said: “That which up to this time man has not discovered.”

The fourth, when asked why he had induced Sabbas to revolt, replied: “Because I wished him either to live nobly or to die nobly.”

The fifth, being asked which, in his opinion, was older, day or night, replied: “Day, by one day”; and he added, upon the king expressing amazement, that hard questions must have hard answers.

Passing on, then, to the sixth, Alexander asked how a man could be most loved; “If,” said the philosopher, “he is most powerful, and yet does not inspire fear.”

Of the three remaining, he who was asked how one might become a god instead of man, replied: “By doing something which a man cannot do”; the one who was asked which was the stronger, life or death, answered: “Life, since it supports so many ills.” And the last, asked how long it were well for a man to live, answered: “Until he does not regard death as better than life.”

So, then, turning to the judge, Alexander bade him give his opinion.

The judge declared that they had answered one worse than another. “Well, then,” said Alexander, “thou shalt die first for giving such a verdict.”

“That cannot be, O King,” said the judge, “unless thou falsely saidst that thou wouldst put to death first him who answered worst.”

—Plutarch, Life of Alexander, “The parallel lives,” 64.,

A selection of references to the Banyan tree:
c. A.D. 70. — “First and foremost, there is a Fig — tree there (in India) which beareth very small and slender figges. The propertie of this Tree, is to plant and set it selfe without mans helpe. For it spreadeth out with mightie armes, and the lowest water-boughes underneath, do bend so downeward to the very earth, that they touch it againe, and lie upon it: whereby, within one years space they will take fast root in the ground, and put foorth a new Spring round about the Mother-tree: so as these braunches, thus growing, seeme like a traile or border of arbours most curiously and artificially made,” &c. — Plinies Nat. Historie, by Philemon Holland, i. 360.

1624.-
” … The goodly bole being got
To certain cubits’ height, from every side
The boughs decline, which, taking root afresh,
Spring up new boles, and these spring new, and newer,
Till the whole tree become a porticus,
Or arched arbour, able to receive
A numerous troop.”
Ben Jonson, Neptune’s Triumph.

c. 1650. — “Near to the City of Ormus was a Bannians tree, being the only tree that grew in the Island.” — Tavernier, Eng. Tr. i. 255.

1667.-
“The fig-tree, not that kind for fruit renown’d;
But such as at this day, to Indians known,
In Malabar or Decan spreads her arms
Branching so broad and long, that in the ground
The bended twigs take root, and daughters grow
About the mother-tree, a pillar’d shade
High over-arch’d, and echoing walks between. ” Paradise Lost, ix. 1101.

1691. — “About a (Dutch) mile from Gamron … stands a tree, heretofore described by Mandelslo and others… . Beside this tree is an idol temple where the Banyans do their worship.” — Valentijn, v. 267-8.

1717.-
“The fair descendants of thy sacred bed
Wide — branching o’er the Western World shall spread,
Like the fam’d Banian Tree, whose pliant shoot
To earth ward bending of itself takes root,
Till like their mother plant ten thousand stand
In verdant arches on the fertile land;
Beneath her shade the tawny Indians rove,
Or hunt at large through the wide-echoing grove.”
Tickell, Epistle from a Lady in England tò a Lady in Avignon.

1771. — “… being employed to con- struct a military work at the fort of Triplasore (afterwards called Marsden’s Bastion) it was necessary to cut down a banyan-tree which so incensed the brahmans of that place, that they found means to poison him” (i.e. Thomas Marsden of the Madras Engineers). — Mem. of W. Marsden, 7-8.

1810.-
“In the midst an aged Banian grew.
It was a goodly sight to see
That venerable tree,
For o’er the lawn, irregularly spread,
Fifty straight columns propt its lofty head;
And many a long depending shoot,
Seeking to strike its root,
Straight like a plummet grew towards the ground,
Some on the lower boughs which crost their way,
Fixing their bearded fibres, round and round,
With many a ring and wild contortion wound;
Some to the passing wind at times, with sway
Of gentle motion swung;
Others of younger growth, unmoved, were hung
Like stone-drops from the cavern’s fretted height.”
Southey, Curse of Kehama, xiii. 51. [Southey takes his account from Williamson, Orient. Field Sports, ii. 113.]

1834. — “Cast forth thy word into the everliving, everworking universe; it is a seed — grain that cannot die; unnoticed today, it will be found flourishing as a banyangrove — (perhaps alas! as a hemlock forest) after a thousand years.” — Sartor Resartus.

1856.-
“… its pendant branches, rooting in the air,
Yearn to the parent earth and grappling fast,
Grow up huge stems again, which shooting forth
In massy branches, these again despatch
Their drooping heralds, till a labyrinth
Of root and stem and branch commingling, forms
A great cathedral, aisled and choired in wood.”
The Banyan Tree, a Poem.

Re-enchanting the Winter Solstice: an invitation – The Art of Enchantment by Sharon Blackie

“Turn on the radio or the TV, and we’re deluged by ads urging us to buy, buy, buy. Burn the planet, so that for one lunatic day of the year we can wear red hats and snowflake-embroidered sweaters and drink and eat more than is moral, frankly, and imagine everything is perfect and there’s nothing wrong with us – we’re all quite sane, honestly, and we’re sure the planet will be just fine. But we don’t need to ask for whom the jingle bells toll: they’re tolling for us – have been for decades – and still we can’t seem to help ourselves. Buy, buy, buy. If ever we needed to reinvent our approach to this season, it’s now. Because that’s what we’re supposed to be acknowledging and celebrating here: the season.”

“Whatever other religious rites and symbols might have been bolted onto it, this winter holiday is about winter, and all of the things that are happening around us at this time of the year. Very specifically, it’s about a real astronomical event which happens every year: the Winter Solstice. Winter Solstice happens during the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun’s elevation in the sky is at its lowest. The word ‘solstice’ literally means ‘sun stands still’, for at this time the sun appears to halt in its incremental journey across the sky and to change little in position. ‘Winter Solstice’, then, actually refers to a single moment; for this reason, other words are often used for the day itself: ‘midwinter’, or simply ‘the shortest day’.”

At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards;
at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

from ‘Burnt Norton’, T.S. Eliot

“The significance of Winter Solstice is two-fold: it’s the darkest point of the year, and yet it’s also the moment at which we begin the journey back from that long darkness and into the slow, sometimes painful but ultimately joyous, return of the light. For most people today, Winter Solstice is at best a curiosity, and at worst a complete irrelevance. But it wasn’t always so.”

“There are many myths and stories about the birth and rebirth of gods which occur at this time, and about battles between the darkness and the light. Here on the westernmost fringes of Europe, we know that Winter Solstice was significant to our ancestors because of the great monuments which were built to acknowledge it: monuments which were aligned to the sunrise on the day of the Solstice (at Newgrange in Ireland and Maes Howe in Orkney, for example). Fires used to be lit at midwinter to welcome the return of the light: the death of the old sun and the rebirth of the new. And lighting those fires was an act of faith, because Winter Solstice occurs at the height of what was historically a time of great uncertainty: starvation, disease and death was common during the cold and barren winter months.Our ancestors may have lived in the long-ago faraway, but the great cycles of the planet and the great cycles of the natural world are just as relevant to us today as they ever were.”

“‘Modern’ as we imagine ourselves to be, there is something in each of us which still fears the long dark, and Death seems always to stalk us here, in these shadowy days between Samhain and Imbolg. Once we understood these patterns, and the teachings which follow the rise and fall of the year. But once we were married to the land, and understood many things which now are lost.I think it’s time we began to understand them again.Perhaps we’ve abandoned our focus on the season because we fear the long dark. And the long dark is fearful because we’re afraid that one day, the light won’t return after all. Our logos-obsessed intellect tells us that it couldn’t be so – but the mythos which lives on in our imagination and physical senses knows that it’s perfectly possible that it won’t. In this time of global darkness, that fear is more visceral than ever.

And on a more personal note, we know full well that one day we won’t wake up to the light; one day we’ll get permanently stuck in the dark, and die.The dark might be fearful, but it’s part of life. And like all parts of a well-lived life, there’s a richness and a beauty in it which offers both revelation and transformation. Our unease in the dark reflects our fear of endings, as well as our anxieties about new beginnings – and it’s a natural enough response. It’s not something to be avoided: it’s a sign that we’re still breathing, still alive to the world around us. It’s time to stop shuffling through the dark days, medicating ourselves with excess. It’s time to become fully alive to the world around us. It’s time to fully engage with the season.

And yes, for our ancestors, midwinter was very much a time for feasting. The animals had been gathered in, and after months of hard work in the spring, summer and autumn fields, now it was time to rest. But although they might have known the value of a good feast, our ancestors also knew when to stop. They knew when enough was enough, and how to hold the sacred balance between give and take which maintains life for all.”

“We do not know these things any longer; we’ve forgotten, and forgotten well. We buy our toys and gadgets, and use them like sawdust to fill up the gaping emptiness at our centre. And then we wonder why Christmas is always such a disappointment – why it never quite seems to live up to the promises the advertisers made to us. Where was the snow, and where were the reindeer, and the glittering stars in a truly dark night sky? Where was the real, fully lived magic?

And, focused as we always are on assuaging our own all-too-human alienation from the living world around us; and fixating at all costs – at any cost – on our messed-up relationships or emotional ‘process’ or our tortuous pathways to personal ‘wellbeing’, we certainly don’t make time to grieve for the polar bears starving in the Arctic due to man-made climate change, or to think about what we might conceivably do to stop it. We just buy another plastic-wrapped bauble, and say to hell with the oceans: it’s Christmas.”

“So it’s okay to feast – but only if you understand when enough is enough. And only if you’ve thought about how you’ll survive once the feasting is over, and it’s the famine road which stretches ahead. More than anything, then: before the feast, always make sure that you understand what it is to fast. Because survival depends on preparation, and preparation depends on knowing what is essential. It depends on knowing how to find out what is essential, and that means letting the long, cold dark strip you down to the bare bones. Let winter strip you bare like an old oak tree. Let the final leaves that you’re clinging onto fall. Let it all fall, and see what still keeps you standing.”

“Winter Solstice is a time of renewal. It’s a time to immerse ourselves in the cycles of nature: of death and rebirth, of darkness and light. It’s a time to think about change and transformation, and to appreciate the still point in the rich, fecund dark before the next cycle gets fully underway. Above all, it’s a time to step out of your head sometimes and let your body – that soft, honest animal part of you – fully embrace the long, cold dark. Without that, you can have no real understanding of what the light even means. So promise yourself this, today: that through the rest of this winter season, you’ll stay awake to the land around you, and to the nonhuman others who inhabit it with you. And that, when the light returns and the famine days are over, and the great cycle of growth begins again, you’ll braid yourself a wedding ring from newly cut rushes, and marry yourself to the land.”

By Dr Sharon Blackie: writer, psychologist, mythologist

Source: Re-enchanting the Winter Solstice: an invitation – The Art of Enchantment

The Secret Alchemy of Poetry – Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

“Their language is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension, until the words which represent them, become, through time, signs for portions or classes of thoughts instead of pictures of integral thoughts; and then if no new poets should arise to create afresh the associations which have been thus disorganized, language will be dead to all the nobler purposes of human intercourse. These similitudes or relations are finely said by Lord Bacon to be “the same footsteps of nature impressed upon the various subjects of the world” 1—and he considers the faculty which perceives them as the storehouse of axioms common to all knowledge. In the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry; and to be a poet is to apprehend the true and the beautiful, in a word, the good which exists in the relation, subsisting, first between existence and perception, and secondly between perception and expression. Every original language near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem: the copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of grammar are the works of a later age, and are merely the catalogue and the form of the creations of poetry. ”

Portrait_of_Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Amelia Curran,_1819
Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran, 1819

“Language, colour, form, and religious and civil habits of action, are all the instruments and materials of poetry; they may be called poetry by that figure of speech which considers the effect as a synonym of the cause. But poetry in a more restricted sense expresses those arrangements of language, and especially metrical language, which are created by that imperial faculty, whose throne is curtained within the invisible nature of man. And this springs from the nature itself of language, which is a more direct representation of the actions and passions of our internal being, and is susceptible of more various and delicate combinations, than color, form, or motion, and is more plastic and obedient to the control of that faculty of which it is the creation.”

For language is arbitrarily produced by the imagination, and has relation to thoughts alone; but all other materials, instruments, and conditions of art have relations among each other, which limit and interpose between conception and expression. The former is as a mirror which reflects, the latter as a cloud which enfeebles, the light of which both are mediums of communication. Hence the fame of sculptors, painters, and musicians, although the intrinsic powers of the great masters of these arts may yield in no degree to that of those who have employed language as the hieroglyphic of their thoughts, has never equalled that of poets in the restricted sense of the term; as two performers of equal skill will produce unequal effects from a guitar and a harp. The fame of legislators and founders of religions, so long as their institutions last, alone seems to exceed that of poets in the restricted sense; but it can scarcely be a question, whether, if we deduct the celebrity which their flattery of the gross opinions of the vulgar usually conciliates, together with that which belonged to them in their higher character of poets, any excess will remain.

“Poetry is ever accompanied with pleasure: all spirits on which it falls open themselves to receive the wisdom which is mingled with its delight. In the infancy of the world, neither poets themselves nor their auditors are fully aware of the excellence of poetry: for it acts in a divine and unapprehended manner, beyond and above consciousness; and it is reserved for future generations to contemplate and measure the mighty cause and effect in all the strength and splendouPercy Bysshe Shelleyr of their union. Even in modern times, no living poet ever arrived at the fulness of his fame; the jury which sits in judgment upon a poet, belonging as he does to all time, must be composed of his peers: it must be impanelled by Time from the selectest of the wise of many generations. A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why. The poems of Homer and his contemporaries were the delight of infant Greece; they were the elements of that social system which is the column upon which all succeeding civilization has reposed. ”

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound Artist Joseph Severn
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound Artist Joseph Severn

“Poetry turns all things to loveliness; it exalts the beauty of that which is most beautiful, and it adds beauty to that which is most deformed; it marries exultation and horror, grief and pleasure, eternity and change; it subdues to union under its light yoke all irreconcilable things.”

It transmutes all that it touches, and every form moving within the radiance of its presence is changed by wondrous sympathy to an incarnation of the spirit which it breathes: its secret alchemy turns to potable gold the poisonous waters which flow from death through life; it strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms.

” All things exist as they are perceived: at least in relation to the percipient. “The mind is its own place, and of itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” But poetry defeats the curse which binds us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions. And whether it spreads its own figured curtain, or withdraws life’s dark veil from before the scene of things, it equally creates for us a being within our being. It makes us the inhabitants of a world to which the familiar world is a chaos. It reproduces the common universe of which we are portions and percipients, and it purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being. It compels us to feel that which we perceive, and to imagine that which we know. It creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration. It justifies the bold and true words of Tasso:

Non merita nome di creatore, se non Iddio ed il Poeta.”
translation: None merits the name of Creator but God and the poet.

Read “A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays, by Percy Bysshe Shelley” online at Project Gutenburg

A short film about artist Leon Spilliaert

Spilliaert was born in Ostend, the oldest of seven children of Léonard-Hubert Spilliaert, who was a perfumer, and Léonie (née Jonckheere). From childhood, he displayed an interest in art and drawing. A prolific doodler and autodidact, he was predominantly a self-taught artist. Sickly and reclusive, he spent most of his youth sketching scenes of ordinary life and the Belgian countryside. When he was 21, he went to work in Brussels for Edmond Deman, a publisher of the works of symbolist writers, which Spilliaert was to illustrate. He especially admired the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

Watercolor, gouache, pastel, and charcoal—often in combination—were the means by which he produced many of his best works, among which are a number of monochrome self-portraits executed in the early years of the twentieth century. Spilliaert’s expressive use of black finds parallels in the work of Odilon Redon, who was a significant influence.[2] Frequently depicting a lone figure in a dreamlike space, Spilliaert’s paintings convey a sense of melancholy and silence.

His later work shows a concentration on seascapes. He died on 23 November 1946 in Brussels.

Among the best-known works of Léon Spilliaert are the images “Digue la nuit” and “Clair de Lune et Lumières”. Both works are in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Most of Spilliaert’s works are marked by an oppressive alien and elegiac atmosphere. In “Digue la nuit” (1908), the painter removes any naturalistic characteristics of the landscape depicted in the image and creates a stylization in which the location, that serves as a template, is redesigned to become the mirror of a state of mind. Solitude, mystery, and hallucination are suggested by the landscape.

In “Clair de Lune et Lumières” (c. 1909), the colonnade and arcades of the façade of the Kursaal ballroom on the seawall in Ostend served Spilliaert as a basis for the composition of an urban landscape. In this pastel painting he catches the eerie transformation of the architecture at night and the strangeness that comes from artificial lighting. With its cosmic, metaphysical traits “Clair de Lune et Lumières” reveals the influence of Van Gogh, and is reminiscent of “Starry Night”.

Self-portrait before the mirror (1908)

In the period 1902–1909 Spilliaert concentrated on creating complex, profound self-portraits of introspective nature. His self-portrait of 1903 (Portrait de l’artiste par lui-même) is a dramatic self-presentation with ghostly apparitions in the background and a wry face in three-quarter pose. This image can be identified as a prototype for the three-quarter-portraits Spilliaert created later.

-wiki

This short, evocative film is a great introduction to his work, some examples of which I’ve added below.

Duizeling-INV-696-300
Vertigo (1908), Léon Spilliaert. Mu.ZEE, Ostend. Image: © Sabum Belgium 2016
Spilliaert-De-windstoot
The Gust of Wind (1904), Léon Spilliaert. Mu.ZEE, Ostend. Image: © Sabum Belgium 2016

 

leon-spilliaert-branches-1912
Leon Spilliaert Branches 1912

 

Leon Spilliaert, Marine aux voiles oranges, 1909
Leon Spilliaert, Marine aux voiles oranges, 1909

 

leon-spilliaert-night
Leon Spilliaert – Night 1908

 

spilliaert_clair_de_lune_et_lumic3a8res_1909
Clair de lune et Lumières, 1909 by Léon Spilliaert

 

spilliaert
Léon Spilliaert – Bathing Woman

 

dog-art-gouache
Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946) Chien dans la neige,1913 (dog in the snow)

Names of the Wind — Nick Hunt

 

ELSEWHERE – A JOURNAL OF PLACE recently featured a piece by Nick Hunt who’s book “Where the Wild Winds Are” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) was published in September 2017.

 

PHOTO: THE BORA IN FULL SPATE ON THE SLOPES OF MOUNT MOSOR, NEAR SPLIT, CROATIA, BY NICK HUNT

 

Nick “set out to follow four, which seemed an appropriate number for winds, drawn by the romance of their names but also intrigued by their effects; Europe’s great aeolian forces are said to influence everything from architecture to mythology to psychology.”

It’s fascinating to discover just how much mythology and folklore is attached to the wind, and how Nick found some of these stories to contain truth, and was a witness to their effects.

The Helm – Britain’s only named wind – blows down the western slopes of Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, with enough force to destroy stone barns in the nearby Eden Valley. According to local legend the summit was formerly known as Fiends Fell, until the air-dwelling demons – whose howling caused such terror in the parishes below – were exorcised by a wandering holy man.

The Helm itself takes its name from a long white cloud called the Helm Bar (a helmet for the mountain’s head) which acts as a harbinger of this freezing north-easterly. I camped for four days and nights up there, scanning the desolate moorland and waiting for the cloud to form; when it did, the demons returned to haunt me with a vengeance.

My second wind was the Bora, which led me down the Adriatic coast from Trieste in north-east Italy through Slovenia and Croatia. Fierce enough to sink ships and hurl fish from the sea, the Bora is also credited with helping defeat the last major pagan army to oppose the Christianisation of Rome – turning the arrows of the troops back towards them in the air – despite the fact that it takes its name from the pagan god Boreas, ancient Greek avatar of the cold north wind.

It is celebrated for bringing good health, in stark opposition to the southerly Jugo, which muddies the sky with a yellow haze (taking its name from the Slavic word for ‘south’, this is the local variant of the many-named Sirocco, whose other appellations include the Khamsin, the Ghibli, the Sharav, the Marin, the Leveche and the Xaloc).

During my three-week walk I found myself in a tug-of-war between Jugo and Bora, north and south, clear skies and humid haze. At last I met my quarry on a snow-covered mountainside above the Croatian city of Split; appropriately enough for a god, Boreas froze the blood in my veins and knocked me off my feet.

The etymology of the Foehn, which I chased across the Swiss Alps, perhaps also stems from the divine – it may derive from Favonius, the Roman god of the west wind – but locally it has earthier names: Schneefresser, ‘Snow-eater’, Maisvergolder, ‘Corn-goldener’, and Traubenkocher, ‘Grape-cooker’, in tribute to its warming effects. Associated with clear skies, sunshine and the coming of spring, it is also blamed for causing headaches, nosebleeds, insomnia, anxiety, depression and a host of other ailments; antique maps depict the Foehn as a puff-cheeked face blowing out not air, but showers of human skulls.

I tracked this ill-omened force for a fortnight from one deep valley to another, acting on meteorological tip-offs and snatches of local lore, until eventually catching it in the heart of Haslital. After experiencing three days of relentless roaring heat – incongrously thundering from snow-capped summits and glaciers – I woke one morning so depressed that I could hardly move. It felt as if everything in my life had gone disastrously wrong, and it took me most of the day to understand the cause and effect. The legends and old wives’ tales were true: I had fallen victim to Föhnkrankheit, the notorious Foehn-sickness. As soon as I escaped that valley, the symptoms disappeared.

My final wind was perhaps the best-known, being something of a household name far beyond its native range: the bitter breath of the Mistral, which blows, according to superstition, for three, five, seven or nine days southwards down the Rhone Valley from Valence to the Gulf of Lion. Its name comes from the Latin magistralis, which means ‘masterly’, and it certainly dominates the land; the farmhouses in its path are built with windowless north-facing walls to protect against its blast, and lines of closely-packed cypress trees are planted as living windbreaks from east to west.

Like the Bora and the Foehn, the Mistral makes a clean sweep of the sky and helps create the vibrant light that has attracted generations of painters to the south of France. But there is a price to beauty; this ‘wind of madness’ is notorious for driving people crazy. Vincent Van Gogh, who lived in its path for two years in the town of Arles – during which time he cut off his ear and committed himself to the local asylum – referred to it in his letters as ‘a nagging malice’, ‘pestering’, ‘merciless’ and ‘the devil’, even as the conditions it brought inspired some of his greatest works.

I followed its trail for ten days down an ancient pilgrims’ path on the western bank of the Rhone, ending my travels on the Plain of Crau, a little-known and desolate region classified as western Europe’s only steppe. Two thousand years ago the geographer Strabo travelled there, describing ‘an impetuous and terrible wind which displaces rocks, hurls men from their chariots, breaks their limbs and strips them of their clothes.

Source: Names of the Wind — Elsewhere: A Journal of Place

Nick’s website can be found here

Francis Bacon’s use of ancient myths in Novum Organum

Francis_Bacon,_Viscount_St_Alban
Francis Bacon

The Novum Organum, fully Novum Organum Scientiarum (‘new instrument of science’), is a philosophical work by Francis Bacon, written in Latin and published in 1620. The title is a reference to Aristotle’s work Organon, which was his treatise on logic and syllogism. In Novum Organum, Bacon details a new system of logic he believes to be superior to the old ways of syllogism. This is now known as the Baconian method.

For Bacon, finding the essence of a thing was a simple process of reduction, and the use of inductive reasoning. In finding the cause of a ‘phenomenal nature’ such as heat, one must list all of the situations where heat is found. Then another list should be drawn up, listing situations that are similar to those of the first list except for the lack of heat. A third table lists situations where heat can vary. The ‘form nature’, or cause, of heat must be that which is common to all instances in the first table, is lacking from all instances of the second table and varies by degree in instances of the third table.

The title page of Novum Organum depicts a galleon passing between the mythical Pillars of Hercules that stand either side of the Strait of Gibraltar, marking the exit from the well-charted waters of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic Ocean. The Pillars, as the boundary of the Mediterranean, have been smashed through by Iberian sailors, opening a new world for exploration. Bacon hopes that empirical investigation will, similarly, smash the old scientific ideas and lead to greater understanding of the world and heavens. This title page was liberally copied from Andrés García de Céspedes’s Regimiento de Navegación, published in 1606.

The Latin tag across the bottom – Multi pertransibunt & augebitur scientia – is taken from the Old Testament (Daniel 12:4). It means: “Many will travel and knowledge will be increased”.

Houghton_EC.B1328.620ib_-_Novum_organum_scientiarum

Bacon’s work was instrumental in the historical development of the scientific method. His technique bears a resemblance to the modern formulation of the scientific method in the sense that it is centered on experimental research. Bacon’s emphasis on the use of artificial experiments to provide additional observances of a phenomenon is one reason that he is often considered “the Father of the Experimental Philosophy” (for example famously by Voltaire). On the other hand, modern scientific method does not follow Bacon’s methods in its details, but more in the spirit of being methodical and experimental, and so his position in this regard can be disputed.

Importantly though, Bacon set the scene for science to develop various methodologies, because he made the case against older Aristotelian approaches to science, arguing that method was needed because of the natural biases and weaknesses of the human mind, including the natural bias it has to seek metaphysical explanations which are not based on real observations.

Novum organum, as suggested by its name, is focused just as much on a rejection of received doctrine as it is on a forward-looking progression. In Bacon’s Idols are found his most critical examination of man-made impediments which mislead the mind’s objective reasoning. They appear in previous works but were never fully fleshed out until their formulation in Novum organum:

-wiki

“Francis Bacon’s monumental work, Novum Organum, is an attempt to establish a new status for mankind. Using some of the most prominent myths—particularly those dealing with the gods Pan, Dionysius, Perseus, and Prometheus—Bacon hoped to inaugúrate a new era of success and happiness for his fellow man. In Book I of Novum Organum, Bacon involves these gods and their significances, juxtaposing them with man as he might and could be. In this essay, the author examines about twenty of the “Aphorisms” in Bacon’s work, showing the possible impact of the ancient god who is most appropriate for the “Aphorisms” under discussion. This article is clearly a work of utopian proportions, revealing fascinating journeys into the realm of romanticism.”

Wendell P. Maclntyre
University of Prince Edward Island

Click here to read the full pdf article http://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/6045/1/RAEI_07_10.pdf

The Unsolved Mystery of the Tunnels at Baiae – did ancient priests fool visitors that they had crossed the River Styx and entered Hades?

Did ancient priests fool visitors to a sulfurous subterranean stream that they had crossed the River Styx and entered Hades?

“There is nothing remotely Elysian about the Phlegræan Fields, which lie on the north shore of the Bay of Naples; nothing sylvan, nothing green. The Fields are part of the caldera of a volcano that is the twin of Mount Vesuvius, a few miles to the east, the destroyer of Pompeii. The volcano is still active–it last erupted in 1538, and once possessed a crater that measured eight miles across–but most of it is underwater now.

The portion that is still accessible on land consists of a barren, rubble-strewn plateau. Fire bursts from the rocks in places, and clouds of sulfurous gas snake out of vents leading up from deep underground.

The Fields, in short, are hellish, and it is no surprise that in Greek and Roman myth they were associated with all manner of strange tales. Most interesting, perhaps, is the legend of the Cumæan sibyl, who took her name from the nearby town of Cumæ, a Greek colony dating to about 500 B.C.– a time when the Etruscans still held sway much of central Italy and Rome was nothing but a city-state ruled over by a line of tyrannical kings.

Sibyl Cumae by Andrea del Catagno, Uffizi gallery

The sibyl, so the story goes, was a woman named Amalthaea who lurked in a cave on the Phlegræan Fields. She had once been young and beautiful–beautiful enough to attract the attentions of the sun god, Apollo, who offered her one wish in exchange for her virginity. Pointing to a heap of dust, Amalthaea asked for a year of life for each particle in the pile, but (as is usually the way in such old tales) failed to allow for the vindictiveness of the gods.

Ovid, in Metamorphoses, has her lament that “like a fool, I did not ask that all those years should come with ageless youth, as well.” Instead, she aged but could not die. Virgil depicts her scribbling the future on oak leaves that lay scattered about the entrance to her cave, and states that the cave itself concealed an entrance to the underworld.The best-known–and from our perspective the most interesting–of all the tales associated with the sibyl is supposed to date to the reign of Tarquinius Superbus–Tarquin the Proud. He was the last of the mythic kings of Rome, and some historians, at least, concede that he really did live and rule in the sixth century B.C.

According to legend, the sibyl traveled to Tarquin’s palace bearing nine books of prophecy that set out the whole of the future of Rome. She offered the set to the king for a price so enormous that he summarily declined–at which the prophetess went away, burned the first three of the books, and returned, offering the remaining six to Tarquin at the same price. Once again, the king refused, though less arrogantly this time, and the sibyl burned three more of the precious volumes. The third time she approached the king, he thought it wise to accede to her demands. Rome purchased the three remaining books of prophecy at the original steep price.

What makes this story of interest to historians as well as folklorists is that there is good evidence that three Greek scrolls, known collectively as the Sibylline Books, really were kept, closely guarded, for hundreds of years after the time of Tarquin the Proud. Secreted in a stone chest in a vault beneath the Temple of Jupiter, the scrolls were brought out at times of crisis and used, not as a detailed guide to the future of Rome, but as a manual that set out the rituals required to avert looming disasters. They served the Republic well until the temple burned down in 83 B.C., and so vital were they thought to be that huge efforts were made to reassemble the lost prophecies by sending envoys to all the great towns of the known world to look for fragments that might have come from the same source. These reassembled prophecies were pressed back into service and not finally destroyed until 405, when they are thought to have been burned by a noted general by the name of Flavius Stilicho.

 

The existence of the Sibylline Books certainly suggests that Rome took the legend of the Cumæan sibyl seriously, and indeed the geographer Strabo, writing at about the time of Christ, clearly states that there actually was “an Oracle of the Dead” somewhere in the Phlegræan Fields.

So it is scarcely surprising that archaeologists and scholars of romantic bent have from time to time gone in search of a cave or tunnel that might be identified as the real home of a real sibyl–nor that some have hoped that they would discover an entrance, if not to Hades, then at least to some spectacular subterranean caverns.

Over the years several spots, the best known of which lies close to Lake Avernus, have been identified as the antro della sibilla–the cave of the sibyl. None, though, leads to anywhere that might reasonably be confused with an entrance to the underworld. Because of this, the quest continued, and gradually the remaining searchers focused their attentions on the old Roman resort of Baiæ (Baia), which lies on Bay of Naples at a spot where the Phlegræan Fields vanish beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea. Two thousand years ago, Baiæ was a flourishing spa, noted both for its mineral cures and for the scandalous immorality that flourished there. Today, it is little more than a collection of picturesque ruins–but it was there, in the 1950s, that the entrance to a hitherto unknown antrum was discovered by the Italian archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri. It had been concealed for years beneath a vineyard; Maiuri’s workers had to clear a 15-foot-thick accumulation of earth and vines.”

Antrum entrance. The narrow entrance to the tunnel complex at Baiae is easy to miss amid the ruins of a Greek temple and a large Roman bath complex.

Read more from the source: The Unsolved Mystery of the Tunnels at Baiae | History | Smithsonian

Nehemiah Grew’s Anatomy of Plants (1680) | The Public Domain Review

In the 82 illustrated plates included in his 1680 book The Anatomy of Plants, the English botanist Nehemiah Grew revealed for the first time the inner structure and function of plants in all their splendorous intricacy. Find out more in Brian Garret’s article for The Public Domain Review – “The Life and Work of Nehemiah Grew” – which explores how Grew’s pioneering ‘mechanist’ vision in relation to the floral world paved the way for the science of plant anatomy.

Source: Nehemiah Grew’s Anatomy of Plants (1680) | The Public Domain Review

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

These are selected extracts from a longer article that appeared on September 21st 2017 on Rubedo Press – link can be found at the bottom of this page

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi

GARY P. CATON.

ANTHROPOLOGISTS suggest it was a “creative explosion” of primal art, such as cave paintings and figurines, which formally marks the transition to what we consider to be modern humans during the upper Paleolithic period. So, it is first our image- and later our symbol-making capacities which stand out as distinctively modern human adaptations and characteristics.

[…]In the 2010 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a researcher is interviewed confessing that the lions painted on the walls of Chauvet cave had invaded their dreams with such a powerful and profound presence that they had to stop going inside the caves in order to process the profound emotions stirred by the experience. This encounter truly exemplifies the raw primal psychic potentials capable of evocation through images.

The zodiac itself is a circular image, the word in Greek meaning “circle of animals.” While the zodiac as a formal coordinate system originated with the Babylonians around the seventh-century BCE, it has been hypothesized that the 17,000 year old paintings of animals in the Lascaux caves represent the constellations in what could be described as a kind of proto-zodiac. This proto-zodiac hypothesis is difficult to prove, however it is generally accepted that at the very least the cave paintings represent a form of “sympathetic magic,” wherein painting the animal becomes a kind of spiritual communion between the souls of the animal and the painter.

Evidence suggests that early modern humans existed in an undifferentiated state of consciousness and lived by a worldview which anthropologists call animism. For these people, there was no separation between the spiritual and material worlds, and so animals were naturally seen to have souls too. In fact, in an animistic consciousness, everything has a soul—including rivers, mountains, valleys and plants, minerals, etc. So, the ritual act of creating the image of an animal is practiced to enable the artist to invoke the sympathy of the animal’s soul—either to gain its sacrifice in the hunt or to take on some of its attributes and power.

Perhaps this sympathetic magic is also partly what was intended in the creation of the zodiac, and helps explain its continued popularity. After all, who has not occasionally wanted to roar like a lion in the face of life’s trials?It is one thing to wistfully wish for the presence of one’s inner lion, or even to accidentally stumble upon and arouse it, but it is quite another thing altogether for someone to consciously and deliberately summon such a presence.  Outside of a children’s story, many modern people might find the concept laughable. And yet, ironically, we can regularly see humans engaging in behaviors that make those of a wild lion seem almost tame.

Is it possible that suppression or repression of our more primordial urges has only fated us to become possessed by them, forcing them to reveal themselves to us in a more perverted form? […]

Philosopher Jean Gebser theorized that humanity has transitioned through several modes or structures of consciousness. The problem with what he calls the mental structure that humanity is transitioning away from is that it seeks to deny the other structures with its claim that humans should be exclusively rational. However the structure that we are transitioning toward is integral, and carries the need to “make present” all the various structures of awareness. When all structures are recognized and accepted this enables a person to see and live through the various structures simultaneously, rather than be subjected to, possessed or “lived by” one of them.

Perhaps this tells us that an openness to and understanding of an animistic perspective or worldview may help (or at least begin) to provide or reconnect us with conscious access to the ancient instinctive resources shared by all human beings, and might also help prevent these same instincts from taking over our lives through unconscious animalistic behaviors.

Although it is quite common for people today to think of god in terms of a trinity, it seems seldom that modern people dare to think of themselves, their lives or their world in these same terms. Yet, some familiar with more ancient forms of awareness know that animistic cultures have long considered there to be three worlds. In many ancient religious systems, there were three cosmic levels: not only heaven and earth, but an underworld as well. Rather than simply the nightmarish vision of hell imagined by Christianity, the underworld was seen by many cultures as a place of natural riches and ancestral wisdom. In this worldview, the axis mundi, the vertical feature of the cosmos, was seen to be at the center of the world and served to link together all three cosmic levels. This axis could be represented by various symbols such as a mountain, tree or ladder. From an animistic perspective, all three of these worlds are not only connected, but also accessible to, and indeed part of every human being.

From an animistic perspective, because there is no separation between the material and spiritual world, we can also conceive of three “selves” with which to navigate these three worlds. For the animist, what most people think of as their entire identity, the every- day awareness of the conscious ego, or what Kahuna shamans call the “talking self,” is actually far from the totality of being. Our “higher” spiritual self has access to transcendent spiritual wisdom, and our basic self accesses our “lower” animal/visceral intelligence, the instincts and inherited tribal wisdom that have kept us alive as a species for many millennia. From this perspective, the admonition to “know thyself” takes on new complexity. There is a need to comprehend, understand, and harmonize all three essential aspects of being human and to bring our three “selves” into alignment and integrated partnership.

In this way, the triple-alignments of Mercury, occurring in the same degrees and also linking the above and below, can become a kind of axis mundi—a sacred linkage, connecting the three worlds and three selves. Remember, from a visual standpoint, the image of Mercury’s retrograde journey is that of a disappearing act: from above to below, and back to above. Images often tell a story. The visual transformation process that Mercury performs every four months, of disappearing in the west and later re-appearing in the east, also happens to the other planets at various intervals and was mythologized by the Babylonians and Egyptians as the journeys of various gods through the underworld.

Of all the Greek gods, only Hermes was able to fully traverse the axis mundi and visit the heights of Mount Olympus as well as the depths of Hades. Sky astrologers can use these visual and mythical perspectives to better understand Mercury retrograde.[7] After Mercury passes evening elongation, his highest appearance above the horizon in the west at dusk, he is in the process of slowing down and descending. Later he turns retrograde and becomes invisible, disappearing in the west. After making the invisible inferior (below) conjunction with the sun, Mercury re-appears in the east and then makes his highest appearance above the eastern horizon at morning elongation. Visually, Mercury is “switching skies,” appearing in the same degrees three times: first as evening star, then becoming invisible and making the inferior conjunction, and finally crossing for the third time as morning star.

Source: Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

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