In 2002 I built a website “Arte et Labore” which was hosted by BT. It was built very painstakingly in Dreamweaver and featured Art, Poetry, and The Great Work in all its guises. It never occurred to me that when I changed service providers, my website would be lost without a trace! But indeed it was, in 2007.
I’ve decided to rename this blog from Supersede to Ars, Arte et Labore, as my aims are still the same – to provide signposts along the path of the Seeker.
The Curious Case of Hermetic Graffiti in Valladolid Cathedral – Eric W. Vogt
“Turning now to closely examine the frontispiece of Valladolid ms. 40/8 (Figure A), the investigator meets a wonderful confluence of related hermetic symbols. The total number of sides (twelve), the interpretation of the two symbols, the title and lyrics, form a complete whole. Reading from the outside inward, three nested squares frame the title and the hermetic symbols. The three squares allude to the marriage of ‘tertiary and the quaternary’. These concepts are familiar to students of number symbolism: the four elements distributed in groups of three among the twelve signs of the zodiac (four sides X three squares = twelve). The groupings of signs of like element are known as the triplicities; the lines connecting the conjunctions form four trigons, or equilateral triangles, around the zodiac. The conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter, to which we will return presently, describe these lines during their nearly 800-year cycle of conjunctions.”
‘Withdraw into yourself and look; and if you do not find yourself beautiful as yet, do as does the sculptor of a statue … cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is shadowed … do not cease until there shall shine out on you the Godlike Splendour of Beauty; until you see temperance surely established in the stainless shrine-(Ennead, 1, 6, 9).
Dafydd ap Gwilym was described by his fellow-poet Madog Benfras as Eos Dyfed, “the nightingale of Dyfed”. Dafydd was born sometime between 1320 and 1330 and died around 1380. He was a member of one of the most influential families in South Wales, and was buried at Strata Florida like many of the princes of Dyfed. Consequently he felt no need to look up to the English conquerors. Neither was he dependent on the patronage of noble families, unlike most of his contemporaries. This was to have a profound effect on the subject matter of his poetry, which is lighter, and more playfully risqué than the other works of his age.
It is believed that he was educated in the court of his Uncle Llywelyn ap Wilym ab Einion, a man of great learning. He was to be surrounded by the greatest European works of the time, from which he borrows a great deal of his subject matter and style. Dafydd skilfully ties this in with the Welsh tradition – a master of ‘cynghanedd’ and the ‘awdl’ he was to create works of great beauty and merit. His poems are often merry and playful. His tales of the adventures experienced whilst trying to court young ladies, Morfudd and Dyddgu in particular, are truly hilarious. Dafydd also wrote extremely beautiful nature poetry, and there is a general consensus that he is one of, if not the greatest of Welsh poets and of European stature.
Dafydd ap Gwilym, Wales’ greatest poet (and lover!), is a fascinating yet shadowy figure from the past. He was born in the early part of the fourteenth century, a contemporary of Boccaccio and some thirty years older than Chaucer. He spent his early years in Llanbadarn with his parents and with his uncle Llywelyn in Castell Newydd Emlyn. He spent much of his later life in exile, and, so popular belief has it, was buried in Strata Florida, near Tregaron.
Llywelyn was described by Dafydd as a warrior, as Lord of Dyfed, and also as a poet, a scholar, a linguist and a teacher. Llywelyn and Dafydd were learned and cultured: they probably spoke several languages and were versed in both contemporary and in classical literature. Dafydd describes Llywelyn’s house, Cryngae, as a white-washed house perched on a hill, with lamps burning brightly, with seats covered with silk brocade, and in which fine French wine was drunk from cups of gold.
Dafydd was recognized as an exceptional poet in his own day, and his position as Wales’s greatest poet has remained unchallenged over the centuries. He was a master of traditional Welsh poetry, but he was also an innovator in form and in content. His work includes funny and bawdy tales of amorous (mis)adventures, meticulously observed and original nature poetry, accomplished formal elegies and eulogies, strikingly passionate love poetry, provocative and inspiring religious and metaphysical poems – all presented with humour and compassion. His work is enjoyable and relevant – as if it had been written yesterday and not nearly seven hundred years ago.
Both the presentations and the show weave ribald tales of adventure, tongue-in-cheek stories of misadventure, formal poems to the idealized Dyddgu and powerful love poems to the fiery Morfudd into a narrative leading from the adventures of youth to the reflective sadness of old age. They also suggest the difficult times in which Dafydd lived – shortly after the loss of Welsh Independence as the English were appearing in Wales.
The readings reveal many of the qualities of Dafydd’s work: his gift as a story-teller, his fantasy, his humour, his passion and his understanding of the deepest emotions. Although it is almost seven hundred years since Dafydd was born, his work is remarkably relevant for it deals in a wry and compassionate, albeit sometimes disabused, way with love, alienation and disillusionment, and with intense and sometimes stormy relationships. From: Dafydd ap Gwilym
His family originated from the cantref of Cemais in Pembrokeshire, and it had in earlier generations included several officials who had held positions of high authority in the same area under the English crown. The few datable allusions which Dafydd makes to contemporary events all point to the middle years of the 14th century as his period of maximum poetic output: he may thus have been born about 1320 – a slightly older contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Tradition places Dafydd’s birth at Brogynin in the parish of Llanbadarn Fawr, a few miles north-east of Aberystwyth, in a substantial mansion or plasty which lay adjacent to a farmhouse still retaining this name. It is believed that he lies buried not far away, near Pontrhydfendigaid, within the precincts of the monastery of Strata Florida. Several poems indicate that the neighbourhood of Aberystwyth and north Ceredigion was more familiar to Dafydd than any other part of Wales, yet he appears to have travelled widely throughout the length and breadth of the country, and to have been well-acquainted with places in Anglesey such as the borough of Rhosyr or Newborough, and with Bangor and Caernarfon in Gwynedd. He may also have visited Chester, whose famous Cross is the subject of a poem which has latterly come to be accepted as belonging to the canon of his work; but there is no indication other than this that Dafydd ever travelled beyond the borders of Wales.
He describes himself, no doubt fancifully, as a member of the clêr: these were the Welsh equivalents of the clerici vagantes or “wandering scholars” of other countries, and Dafydd may indeed have qualified at an early period in his life for minor religious orders – a not uncommon practice. But the indications are that he was a man of birth and breeding, and of no fixed occupation, who had sufficient means to travel at will through town and country, visiting the taverns in the Norman boroughs, and the homes of his cultivated friends over a wide area of Wales. And in both tavern and plasty there were no doubt to be found audiences fully capable of appreciating the cywyddau which, in their different kinds, he composed for their entertainment.
Dafydd’s range of personal contacts included his fellow-poet Gruffudd ab Adda, Madog Benfras, and Gruffudd Gryg – the last being an Anglesey poet with whom Dafydd exchanged a sequence of cywyddau in the form of a debate concerning the proper subjects to be treated of in the newly-introduced cywydd verse-form. Among his friends and acquaintances were also uchelwyr or men of hereditary station in Ceredigion and further to the south – men such as Rhydderch ab Ieuan Llwyd of Glyn Aeron and his family, and his uncle Llywelyn ap Gwilym, the constable of Newcastle Emlyn, who appears to have been a powerful educational influence upon the poet’s early life.
Dafydd’s uncle may, perhaps, have been the first to have introduced Dafydd to the “two cultures” – that is to the native bardic tradition as well as to the language and poetry and romances of the Anglo-Norman world. There was in addition Dafydd’s friend and patron Ifor ap Llywelyn or “Ifor Hael” of Basaleg in present-day Gwent. To all of these men he addressed praise-poems which by the very fact of their existence provide an authentic framework, however exiguous and inadequate, for the bare facts of the poet’s life. For in all his other compositions but these few poems, fantasy intermingles with fact to such an extent that it is impossible to distinguish the one from the other, or to estimate the degree of reality which lies behind what Dafydd ruefully presents as his perpetually thwarted love-affairs.
Love and Nature are the prime subjects of his poetry, and the two are very frequently blended, for he presents his love-theme most characteristically in an idealised woodland setting, in which he imagines himself as building a deildy or house of leaves and branches in which to shelter with his chosen sweetheart – “Morfudd” or “Dyddgu” or some other un-named girl, making his retreat with her in the wilderness, as an escape from the hampering restrictions of conventional society.
There is a website dedicated to his work, and it can be a little fiddly to navigate initially, but it’s easy once you familiarise yourself with it. There is a choice of language on the home page, so for English speakers, select English. Then select “The Poems”. You are then asked to choose a poem, and there is a drop down list, but the list is in Welsh! Once you select the poem however, there are options along the bottom of the page; one of which is “English Translation”. On selecting this option, the poem is shown in Welsh on the left hand side of the page, and in English on the right. For non-Welsh speakers, it’s pretty much pot luck selecting the verse, but as his verse is very beautiful, you can’t go wrong.
Sky-wind, unhindered course,
mighty commotion passing yonder,
you are a harsh-sounding minstrel,
world’s fool without foot or wing.
It’s amazing how wondrously you were sent
from the pantry of the sky without any feet,
and how swiftly you run
now across the hilltop on high.
Constant hymn, tell me your destination,
you north wind of the valley.
You fly the length and breadth of the world,
hilltop weather, be on high tonight,
oh man, and go to Uwch Aeron
nice and gently, a clear song.
Don’t wait, don’t restrain yourself,
don’t be afraid despite Bwa Bach,
[he who] serves a malicious accusatory complaint.
The land and its nurture is closed to me.
[One who] steals nests, though you winnow leaves
no one indicts you, you are not restrained
by any swift troop, nor officer’s hand,
nor blue blade nor flood nor rain.
No mother’s son can kill you (false expression),
fire won’t burn you, deceit won’t weaken you.
You won’t drown, you’ve been forewarned,
you won’t get entangled, you are smooth.
There’s no need for any swift horse beneath you,
or bridge over estuary, nor boat.
No official or retinue will arrest you
to bring you to judgement, winnower of treetop foliage.
No eyesight can see you, huge open lair,
thousands hear you, nest of the great rain.
You are God’s blessing over all the earth,
roaring, fierce shattering of oaktree tops,
swift-natured notary of the sky,
fine leaper over many barren lands.
Dry nature, powerful creature,
trampler of the sky, immense journey,
shooter on snowfields up above,
noisy disperser of chaff-heaps,
storm agitating the sea,
high-spirited lad on beach waves,
you are a fine author of an awdl who scatters snow,
you are a scatterer, a pursuer of leaves,
free laugher [on] hilltop,
thruster of the wild-masted white-breasted sea.
Woe is me that I placed deep love
on Morfudd, my golden girl.
A maiden made me an exile,
run on high to her father’s house.
Knock on the door, make it open
to my messenger before daybreak,
and seek a way to her, if there be one,
and sing the voice of my sigh.
You come from the splendid stars,
say this to my noble faithful maid:
as long as I be in the world,
I am a true servant.
Woeful is my face without her,
if it is true that she is not untrue.
Go up on high, you will see the fair girl,
go down below, sky’s favourite.
Go to fair-haired Morfudd Llwyd,
come back safely, you are the sky’s treasure.
The Tarocchi of Mantegna is one of the earliest known tarot or Tarocchi packs, “being dated to c.1465, contemporary with the Visconti-Sforza deck of the mid-fifteenth century which is recognised as the earliest tarot.”
In the words of Adam McLean:
The symbolism of these cards, or perhaps we should say ’emblematic figures’, would seem to derive from the Hermetic tradition which is now recognised as underlying the Italian Renaissance of the mid-fifteenth century. It was during this period that the Platonic Academies of the Medici’s were set up and Ficino and other scholars began translating texts such as the Corpus Hermeticum and the works of Plato, some of which were brought to the Court of Florence from Constantinople by Gemistus Plethon (c.1355-1450), a Greek scholar who was probably an initiate of a ‘Platonic’ Mystery School in the East. This reconstruction of hermetic and neoplatonic esotericism is reflected in such ideas as the Muses, the Liberal Arts, the Cardinal Virtues, and the Heavenly Spheres, and it is my view that the Tarocchi of Mantegna should be seen as an ’emblem book’ of this hermetic current. The fact that its designs show parallels with the later tarot decks should therefore be of the greatest interest both to students of tarot and of Hermeticism.
“The Kibbo Kift (archaic Kentish dialect for ‘proof of great strength’) has been described as ‘the only genuine English national movement of modern times’ and was certainly very different from Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts.
Based on the woodcraft principles of naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton that had been a key part of the early Scout programme, the Kibbo Kift was to be not merely a youth organisation but was to involve all ages and, very daring for the times, it was open to both sexes. The ideas of world peace and the regeneration of urban man through the open-air life replaced the nationalism and militarism Hargrave had detested in the post-World War I Scouts.
Formed in reaction to the perceived militaristic nature of the Scouts, the Kibbo Kift Kindred were formed by social reform activist and artist John Hargrave in 1920, who drew on influences as disparate as Anglo-Saxon and Ancient Egyptian mythology, contemporary art and fashion design, the occult, and of course, woodcraft.
In 1920 Hargrave explained what the distinctive words meant:
Kibbo Kift is an old English expression meaning literally proof of great strength – or The Strong. So today, in the woodcraft camp we speak of:
KIBBO KIFT – meaning the Idea and Ideal of the Great Outdoor Trail and Open Air Education
THE KIBBO KIFT – meaning the Woodcraft Kindred, or the people who follow the great Woodcraft Trail
TO BE KIBBO KIFT – meaning to be a good camper and woodcrafter, to be a clean, strong, upright man (woman or child)
The Kibbo Kift were never more than a few hundred strong. Kinsmen and Kinswomen included the Suffragettes Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, Mary Neal and May Billinghurst, the journalist Henry Nevinson, the photographer Angus McBean, and Ruth Clark. The Advisory Committee included Havelock Ellis, Maurice Maeterlinck, the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, H. G. Wells and Professor Julian Huxley. D. H. Lawrence took an interest in the Kindred and it has been suggested that Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover is based on an archetypal Kinsman.
Nayia Yiakoumaki, co-curator of an exhibition in the Whitechapel Gallery said of the society: “Today we can interpret them within the context of art history, but at the time their focus was to be an open air campaigning educational group, and to create a new society. Their influence from the world around them was so profound, they were so open minded. First with the social aspect and the belief they had in changing the world, and secondly, because of their graphic design. They were mainly middle class people, some were working in advertising, some were designers, photographers… they were very aware of the visual influences of the era that they were in.
They also believed that you had to go through various stages of cultural development to then become the Kibbo Kift person. That’s why there’s all these influences, from Ancient Egypt to Anglo-Saxon through Futurism – they thought that you had to go through everything in order to re-emerge as this new person who will change the world. On that journey through culture they picked up visual elements, but they didn’t have much discrimination between a work of art as an object or a piece of woodcraft as an object. They were just doing things all of the time.”
The growth of the Kibbo Kift was not without its setbacks. Members had passionately believed in the pastoral life of the British countryside, and sought it as a chance to rebuild society. When it became political, radical, and in a way more interesting, a lot of people were put off by that in comparison to what they had before. But John Hargrave was the leader, and in the end he became interested in the idea of Social Credit as the way to create an economic utopia.
In 1924, the South London co-operative lodges challenged Hargrave’s leadership, and seceded from the movement. They established their own organisation, The Woodcraft Folk, which outlived its parent organisation and still exists.