I’m almost done with this second painting in the “black pillar” and “white pillar” series. I’ve put a coat of varnish on the inside/right side of the painting, so it will have a bit of a sheen or glimmer to it. I plan to do the same to the “White Pillar” too. I still haven’t decided if either painting needs any texts around time. My original thought was no, now I’m leaning toward “yes”, which means picking those texts and a contrasting color to paint them in.
19 May 2013
18 May 2013
This morning I was teaching an hour-long workshop, and I was hugely sleep-deprived. I’d had coffee too late in the day, so that I could work on a poster for today’s session…. But then I was up until 3:30am, tossing & turning.
So, when I awoke officially, I didn’t dare go back to sleep. I might have missed my workshop. I drove down early (so I wouldn’t get lost) and did my tai chi at the workshop site.
I’ve been badly affected the last few days by the pollen counts. I never get seasonal allergies — or at least, not until now. Argh. The last few days I’ve been a snot machine. And it’s not been pleasant. Nothing has really worked to keep my breathing passages open.
Today though was finally better. Things eased up a bit as I did tai chi in the garden at the workshop site. And now that I’ve had a nap and some food, post-workshop, I think that maybe my allergenic reaction is finally slowing down. Thank goodness.
16 May 2013
I’ve been on the phone a few times in the last few days, talking to Librarians.
Librarians are your friends.
Especially on projects like this civil war project. We have thirty Union soldiers, along with small pockets of data: some diary entries, military records, census bureau data sometimes, and so on.
And so far, we’ve uncovered an actual diary in a Connecticut library of a man’s civil war experiences; a collection of letters and prison records from Andersonville Prison in Georgia (and one of the librarians at the special collections at the University of Georgia went above and beyond the call of duty yesterday to provide us with those letters — wow!).
The stories are fascinating and wonderful and horrific and beautiful.
15 May 2013
So, one of my students doing this Civil War project just discovered that his soldier fought at the Roulette Farm at Antietam. He advanced from Roulette Farm across the fields to “Bloody Lane“, where he was probably injured with a bullet wound to the neck.
The guy’s buddies carried him off the battlefield, before being ordered to dump his body in a pile of mortally wounded men, and return to the battlefield. This soldier then realized he was in a stack of the dying, and picked himself up, and walked eight miles to the hospital, occasionally passing out from blood loss along the way.
He made it to the hospital, and lingered eight days under the uncertain care of surgeons, alternately writing to his wife that he was near death and feeling better, before actually dying. The letter from his best friend to his wife survives, and gives us a sense of the funeral arrangements — as it was September and relatively warm, the friend arranged for a funeral with money sent from home, and this soldier is buried in Clarksburg, MD somewhere, rather than at Antietam National Cemetery.
Another kid, working at the next computer as it happened, learned that his person had fought at Antietam… But he was quite disappointed to learn that it wasn’t on Bloody Lane. He wasn’t in the right Connecticut regiment. Alas.
Then we checked out the Antietam Union order of battle article on Wikipedia. And it turns out this guy fought at Burnside’s Bridge, before being detached to go the long way around to Shapsey’s Ford. Then he was part of the contingent that tried to advance to cut off Lee in Sharpsburg, but was driven back.
Fascinating stories emerging!
9 May 2013
Last year, the historian-parent of one of my students assembled thirty portfolios of documents on thirty Civil War soldiers from Connecticut — photocopies of letters and diaries and newspaper articles, links to Google ebooks, links to PDFs and websites, addresses and phone numbers for archives and historical societies in Connecticut which had the original papers, and so on. Quite the undertaking, and I’m incredibly grateful to her for the work she did.
Now this project is in its second year. The kids this year have the materials assembled by this historian-parent, and they have the materials assembled by last year’s seventh graders. And they’re already making discoveries quite different from the kids who worked through this material last year.
Working with one kid yesterday, and with the help of Google Maps, we located where one such Connecticut soldier was when he wrote his last letter to his wife before marching out toward an unknown destination. By tracing the information in his letter, we were able to identify the location of his campsite (within about a mile) the previous night. Using Wikipedia, we were able to find his commanding general, and using various historical atlases we were able to trace the route of his march.
The march that brought him to Antietam battlefield.
Based on the assigned positions of his commanding officers, we were able to get a rough idea of where he was standing during the morning of the battle, and where he was firing from. We were able to guess from his letter after the battle, roughly where he was wounded.
And we were able to ascertain where his friends carried him, to lay him down among a pile of other wounded men. Where, after being ignored for a day or two, he picked himself up from, and walked eight miles toward the nearest hospital.
Which we were able to roughly locate, using Google Maps and the man’s own letters, and the letters of his friends.
And where he died.
Officially not one of the wounded of Antietam, but nonetheless killed by it. A man who marched twenty-odd miles to be wounded in the neck by a passing bullet, and then marched another ten miles, many of them alone and leaking copious amounts of blood, to die in a hospital bed from lack of medical care and sepsis.
And from this I had a vision of what American education could be. Not an endless round of tests and preparation for tests, but a chance for the discovery and the digitization of the historical lives of thousands or millions of people — pioneers and homesteaders and explorers and scientists and immigrants and all sorts of writers and painters and workers from all sorts of walks of life, where they were and what they were doing while great and terrible events unfolded around them. And it’s extraordinary that I could go to Maryland and Virginia, and walk the roads that this man walked, or see those roads in satellite photographs, and actually live out the short, extraordinary military life of one man in the Civil War — Enlisted August 7, 1862, Died September 25, 1862 — and see where and how he lived and fought and died — in the space of an hour’s class.
Do we not live in extraordinary times?
21 April 2013
I’ve gathered together all seven of these Neo-Orphic Hymns that I’ve written, to the seven planets as they’re understood in the Hermetic philosophy. And they’re now available on a single page for your reference and readability. If you do make use of them, please let me know!
20 April 2013
Like the Digital Ambler, I’m pretty interested in Geomancy. Geomancy is one of the divination systems of uncertain origin, although Ron Eglash and others believe it originated in west Africa, possibly among the kingdom of Mali, Ghana and the like. It eventually became part of medieval European lore by translation through Dar al-Islam and Caliphate-era Spain. Thanks to Alphonso the Wise and other medieval royal patrons, it entered the Western magical vocabulary, and was in use frequently from Spain to Slovenia up through the mid-1500s, when its use began to decline. There was a brief revival in the mid and late 1800s, but now it seems to be making a genuine comeback.
Which means that it’s the perfect time to launch a poem about the sixteen signs of Geomancy, this Double-Quatrains on Geomancy. Each of the unrhymed stanzas deals with one of the sixteen signs of Geomancy, and serves as a way of encapsulating the lore and information about each sign. Enjoy.
BOY more strong than good, beardless sword-swinger
acting before thinking: heading for trouble.
Fire-headed ram: martial, heady, rash,
blood-spattered white-head, questing here and there.
LOSS — escaping wealth, purse emptying fast;
transience and loss, all things pass away…
Earthy-throated bull, loving yet losing.
yellowing white-neck: all beyond your grasp.
WHITE chalice upright, mind’s peaceful wisdom,
favors intellect, rarely works alone.
Twins of strong shoulders, stable quicksilver,
pure white spotted red, mystical madness
PEOPLE mill in crowds: multitude muddles
without goal or plan: stable inertia.
Crab full of sweet milk: watery full moon:
unfocused sea-green — no real direction.
GREAT FORTUNE coming: fair river valley!
inner strength achieved; stabilized glory.
Great-hearted Lion noble in Sunlight:
green, yellow and gold…press onward: succeed!
CROSSROADS diverging: multiplied choices,
ranges of options, many paths open.
Virginal belly — Mercury’s swiftness
honest purple earth: temperance restored.
GIRL of bright beauty: desire’s mirror,
fickle happiness, impermanent joy.
kidneys on the scales, breath born of Venus —
white and bright greenness: impermanent joy.
RED and hot-tempered, shot-glass upside-down
passion, pleasure, sex: drunk on life and love.
big-cocked scorpion: wild-running Mars
red, for town-painting — hard-partying star!
GAIN, the full wallet: fat purse of bounty,
successful prudence, profitable care.
Hips of the archer, Jove upon firey throne;
red, yellow and green, material gain.
PRISON, cold jail cell: lonely enclosure.
binding, restriction, impairment, delay:
the kneeling sea-goat beached on Saturn’s lead;
fixed russet and dun: focused work alone.
SORROW, in the pit: illness or failure,
grudging permanence — woe, pain and trouble.
hobbled water-man breathing Saturn’s myrrh:
dirty, tawny, dark, grounded in mourning.
JOY, singing, laughing, raw vitality,
creative genius, health and inner light,
koi swimming ’round feet — Jove swimming in pond,
glittering emerald — health, success and smiles.
DRAGON’S TAIL — endings, completed efforts,
concluded cycles, and finished labors.
Left-handed archer, Moon in south station
robed in dark crimson, endings wreathed in flame.
DRAGON’S HEAD — blessings, beginnings, grand starts,
benefic outset, change for the better.
Virgin on her throne, Moon in north station.
pure white with citrine: well-made beginnings.
SMALL FORTUNE — lucky, happy accidents
man on mountain-top, luck comes from outside.
Fast-leaping Lion, breezes of summer,
yellow fickleness, unstable success.
ROAD — Journey begins, change can’t help coming,
travel and motion, nothing stays the same.
Crab swims in Ocean, Moon has full stomach.
White flecked with azure, Pilgrim walks alone.
This piece bears more in common with the Rune Poem than most of the poetry I’ve ever written. It’s a mnemonic device more than it is a poem, although the sound of the lines being read aloud is kind of cool. And I suppose that it could be turned into a mini-book of sorts. I may have to work on that. A note on the text: in English, it’s customary for the Geomantic signs to be given their Latin names, e.g. Puer, Amissio, Albus, Populus, Fortuna Major, Conjunctio, Puella, Rubeus, Aquisitio, Carcer, Tristitia, Laetitia, Cauda Draconis, Caput Draconis, Fortuna Minor, and Via. I belong to the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn, and we learn the Welsh names of the signs: Mab, Colled, Gwyn, Pobl, Bendith Fath, Cyswllt, Merch, _____, Gyr, Carchar, _____, ______ , Bendith Fach, and Ffordd. I was tempted to work those names in. But something John Michael Greer said recently in a private list made me realize how much of this lore is hidden behind the
19 April 2013
CISPA passed the U.S. House of Representatives. This makes me mad, but I’m unsurprised that it would get through eventually. So I wrote to my U.S. Senators today, Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy of Connecticut. I’m posting the letter here, for three reasons: 1) for feedback on how to make it better the next time I send it (and I will have to send it again); 2) as a model for other people to use, and to examine follow-up comments to make their own alterations to their future letters; and 3) to provide a public record that such an e-mail was sent to them, and that this could become a political issue for them in the future.
Dear Senators Murphy and Blumenthal,
As you may know, today the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR624, otherwise known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or more popularly as CISPA.
I am writing to you to ask that you vote against any Senate version of the bill which may somehow make it to the floor of the U.S. Senate, and that you use your powers as a Senator to place a hold on any Senate version of this bill — or filibuster it as necessary — to prevent any version of this bill from passing the Senate.
I also ask that you work to include in any Senate version of this bill, a formal restatement of the principles of the fourth and fifth amendments of the United States Constitution, which explicitly defines the digital data of individual persons (not just citizens) as “Effects”, and thus protected from unreasonable search and seizures without a warrant — and to require companies which hold such data to insist upon warrants from law enforcement personnel before releasing information to local, state, or federal authorities.
We live in a time of greatly-expanded law enforcement powers. Today, the New England city of Boston is effectively “shut down” while a massive manhunt ensued for the alleged Marathon bombers. Yet a study of history has shown, time and again, that where citizens can be spied on at will, and their letters and materials can be studied at length and with impunity for any reason, that there is a corresponding reduction in political and economic freedom. Such powers, unregulated, lead to the criminalization of thought as well as deed.
I urge you, at this moment, to take a stand for individual liberty and the rights of the people as enshrined in the fourth amendment to the constitution, and block ANY Cyber Security Act which does not treat people’s data as private and protected from search and seizure.
It’s not perfect. I’d be happier if there was a version of a Cyber Security bill I could support, instead of having to keep objecting to the same bad ones. I also note with some pleasure that my own Congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro, and all of my nearby congressional representatives, voted against the House version of the bill. Thank goodness that I don’t have to start writing angry letters to them about their votes on those bills, and I can instead write to them to say thank you.
3 April 2013
Thanks to Christopher Warnock, I know that Friday the Sun will be in its astrological exaltation, at Aries 18-19 degrees. There’s a whole bunch of ceremonial instructions appropriate to the day, and for the image of the talisman — something about a dancing woman with staff and various symbols around her… You can look it up on his site. For myself, I’m working on one of the most complicated sketches I’ve done to date. I have to admit, I’m not sure it will be worthwhile when it’s done. The learning is important, sure, but sometimes the product is important too. Both, in this case.
In the meantime, though, I have to write poetry for the day, too. And I have a particular poem in mind for this, an invocational ode for the Sun’s exaltation. But they’re harder to write. So I began early, and I’ll finish it during the local time window on Friday, which for me is local solar noon. Thanks to Freeman Preson, I know this is 12:38-12:55 pm for me, but it may be different for you.
[update: I've been reminded that April 8 is the day that the Sun is actually in its Exaltation... But that there is not a suitable hour of the Sun on Monday, April 8. So you can use this on Monday or Friday just before 1pm local time, wherever you may be.]
Hail to you, great Sun, in Exaltation!
Prince of planets, agile and clad in grace!
You stand in beauty, lord of Creation,
And every world around you keeps its place:
You are Lord and we but followers are —
Intemperate when you are in a rage,
Yet calm when you stoop to ripening grapes;
firey when you set forth in Dawn’s car,
weary as you approach old Twilight’s cage:
Thus has it been since our fathers were apes,
And spirit had not deigned to touch mortal!
Great Eye of Nature and the Seasons’ King —
Dancing lady supreme in your power —
As your chariot passes this portal,
And all your supplicants your praises sing:
Cause all our works to sprout and then flower.
Drive us on like your own coursers of flame,
To work with majesty, power and skill —
To mirror below, your own Ageless Name,
With deeds of illumined unwearied will.
Let those who empower our work this day,
And meet you, Sun, with our own best deeds—
Cause kings and princes to kneel at our doors!
Propitious bless our works with gracious ray,
Make fortunate our quests for wants and needs,
And guide us through rough seas to golden shores!
Mighty are your works, Source of Ageless Light,
Giver of justice and the good one’s guide:
The life of all living grows in your sight,
and none can match your celestial ride.
I may make some changes between now and Friday, but I think that’s the core of it. Altering poetry with both rhyme and metrical schemes is always hard, but it’s sometimes worth future editing.
2 April 2013
Last night, I delved into a book called The Traditional Healer’s Handbook, by Hakim G.M. Chishti, which is a partial modern re-imagining of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, which was THE medical textbook from the Ganges to the Straits of Gibraltar, from Oslo to Kerala, for about a thousand years. Avicenna is only the most famous of the proponents of the “four humours” theory of the body, in which disease is the result of interactions with the environment becoming imbalances of the four humours. These imbalances are cured first with diets and particular exercises, second with rest, third with medicine, and fourth with philosophy. This book, which unfortunately is not Avicenna, is nonetheless based on his work.
Oft have I wandered between woe and weal,
refusing medicine though ached and pained,
for mostly I thought the body would heal
any portion that felt broken or strained.
Yet no foundations did I feel beneath
my bland decree that no drugs would I take;
til Avicenna, crowned with laurel leaf,
caused feckless mind from sluggish dreams to wake!
For in these writings of an ancient sage
I saw the elephant I had touched blind,
how heated digestion cools as we age;
and in the pulse of blood can healers find
the signs of all our ills. At once I saw clear
how crowds seek in vain for something quite near.
This of course, is 2/30 for April… I did much better today than I did yesterday. And curiously enough, it had to do with learning some new things, namely about the four humors and the pulse-diagnosis system. It doesn’t come across in this poem, of course, which is only a taste of Avicenna — and only based on reading one of his modern-day disciples, rather than the Prince of Physicians himself — but the notion that doctors should have an idea of what healthiness is, and what it looks like, and know how to diagnose imbalances away from that healthy image using only three core tools, a very particular range of cooking spices, and a small range of simple medicinal plants… wow. I was impressed.
It also gave me a sense of what alchemy is for. I’ve made some spagyrics, which are tinctures of various herbs with the ashes/salts added back in, according to ancient alchemical formularies. Some haven’t gone so well, but they’re interesting objects and tools for understanding something of ancient chemistry and medicine. However, I’ve never had a sense of why one should bother, except as manifest thought experiments. However, once one compares Avicenna with the methodologies of Paracelsus and Avicenna, though, one discovers that there’s an underlying theory of health and disease, and an underlying theory of diet and the uses of medicine, which is part and parcel of a view of the universe quite different to modern scientific materialism — that produced effective-enough results for a thousand years. Hakim Chishti doesn’t say “don’t go to Western/allopathic doctors” or any such nonsense. Rather, he says, “for many of your basic health issues, there’s a range of remedies in your grocery store that work to maintain heath so that you don’t have to go to the Western doctors quite as often.”
There’s a lesson in here somewhere, actually, for schools, too. Maybe it belongs in the history curriculum for a World History class, or maybe in a science class. But I can’t help thinking that I’d love to teach a World History class that teaches Geomancy from West Africa, a guide to basic health and diet from Islam, Geometry and Architecture from a western European point of view (ad quadratum geometry), astronomy/degrees from a Sumerian/Babylonian perspective, and so on. Teaching some (im)practical arts from past cultures might be much more effective at helping to fix ancient and medieval cultures in the minds of our students.