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!
21 April 2013
21 April 2013
I have it in mind to write seven planetary odes— hymns for the seven classical planets of the ancient world, and the principal divine forces of the “seven heavens” as laid out in classical Hellenistic/Roman philosophy, and as later used by Medieval Christians, and as later used by Renaissance humanists.
Today being Sunday, the hymn in question is for the Sun. This is the last of the seven!
Great golden titan, lord of light and heat,
agile and vital, our great king, the Sun—
only from your warmth, does our life stay sweet,
and when you bless our work, it’s well-begun.
When your golden chariot mounts the sky
at break of day with four stallions of flame
you fill the world with harmony divine!
Not even the darkest cloud can deny
that it is day, and worthy of your name!
Yet lend an ear, and to my prayer incline
For all of earth and sky receive your light
and you rule each season in its turn.
The wicked fear you, but you guide the kind,
for all things bend toward justice in your sight.
Throughout all ages you are doomed to burn
ripening both grape and creative mind,
rising and setting in your ordered way—
father of night and the sower of stars,
teach us to quit the night and seek the day:
for you bring an ending to baseless fears.
Come, valiant Sun, and to my prayer take heed:
awake your noble influence in me!
For nothing lives or does that does not need
your glorious golden divinity:
Bright source of all existence, lord of noon,
whose golden lyre holds the melody
that joins as one the music of the spheres,
Phoebus almighty, brother of the Moon,
help me to play with the great harmony,
that psalm eternal which gladdens all ears!
I’ve had this poem kicking around for a couple of weeks, and I’ve made a few edits along the way. But I wanted to release it on a Sunday, because, you know — it’s the Sun and the energies of the Higher Self which the Sun represents. You don’t want to release those sorts of powers casually into the world. You want to make them happen on the right day!
3 April 2013
I sat in the Design Lab with a colleague today to write today’s poem. She produced an incredible poem — all about money, and counting, and busyness at school… and it ended with an absolutely incredible triple of lines about the magnificence of spring, just outside the drawn window blinds. Amazing.
Here’s my entry for the day:
No matter how this month turns out for verse,
whether I write immortal lines or trash,
at least I will have gone from none to worse,
and shifted my heart from frightened to brash.
Critics may deride me with all their darts;
friends may cry, “a poet?!?” and turn away
from my rough lines, these fragmentary starts —
for moonlit praise turns ash by break of day.
Yet some muse may waken to siren song,
and turn golden ear for these words of tin.
Though silent at first, her edits, ere long
she’ll speak back to me. My task, then, through din
of weary chores that grind me day to night,
is to heed her call. And until then — write.
There’s a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert that I quite admire (although I know there’s some controversy regarding TED these days [thanks, Gordon]), in which she says that imagining a muse outside of herself gave her courage to write… and then she cites classical and Renaissance ideals of having a genius or guardian spirit rather than being a genius. It’s a useful distinction, I find… but as I indicate in the last few lines, it’s still important to do the work. The muse doesn’t show up casually if you’re not prepared to do the work. It’s Maker Time vs. Management Time, again. We have to give the muse — whichever muse we work with — at least some Maker Time to be successful; it can’t be all Manager time, because that’s not how muses work.
14 March 2013
The eighth grade was writing poems and creating illuminations or illustrations of them, after having read a number of poems by Rumi in a book called The Illuminated Rumi. The idea was that by asking them to think about the visual images in the Rumi poems, and comparing them to the illustrations, they would see how important visual imagery is to the development of poetic language.
Then, of course, they wrote and illuminated their own poems. It was a great little design thinking project — how does a set of word provoke a set of images? How does a set of images provoke a set of words? How can words and images together provoke new feelings?
I didn’t wish to make a poster for one of my own poems, but I figured I’d illustrate one of the poems that I have memorized, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” by John Keats who died in 1827. My deal with the English teacher in question was that I would leave in the pencil guidelines and planning marks, so that students could see my design process to some degree, and have a sense of my construction process. As I described it to her and to her class, the poem is about a book, so the illustration includes a book. On the pages of the book itself are two illustrations which are themselves illustrating the second half of poem. Both of the images are about the astonishment and amazement of discovery of unexpected sights in the natural world, so someone — the current reader, perhaps? — has illustrated the margins of the book with examples of local plants and a dragonfly. The cycle of discovery continues and grows richer and deeper. Thus, Keats’s words inspire SEVERAL layers of discovery: the possibility of delving into the writings of an ancient Greek poet; the willingness to investigate history (the “Cortez” image) and astronomy (“Watcher of the skies”); and finally the natural world and the skill of drawing (the plants in the margin notes of the book, and the poster itself).
I recently said something dumb on Balthasar’s blog which I shouldn’t have said, and I apologize here, publicly… For as I made this poster, I was uncomfortably aware of the degree to which this poem — which I’ve always liked — can be read in another way as part and parcel of a bit of cultural appropriation. Keats’s poem comments on an English translation of an ancient Greek epic, and in the process of describing that work… Keats claims both Homer, and several islands dedicated to Apollo, for the English language and the English-speaking peoples. The astronomer is in one sense gazing upon the sky in wonder, but in another he’s laying claim to the heavens. And Cortez — well. It was actually Balboa who stood at Darien in Panama, and gazed at the Pacific — but the cultural -appropriation (and -destruction) of the power- and wealth-hungry captain of the Aztec conquest should be self-evident.
But I’m not sure I would have read this poem that way without drawing it out first. I needed the opportunity to create the poster before I would have seen the cultural complexities the poem raises. And in good design fashion — the solution to one problem also raises several new problems on its own. As my friend Josh says, “There’s no better or faster way to generate problems than to create a solution.”
We discover things about the world through the thought processes we use to investigate it, and any means that we use to do that — writing, or reading, or drawing, or visualizing, or ritualizing, or glamorizing — will help us make new and deeper discoveries. It’s remarkable the things that we uncover as we go through these processes. As the poet said, “pull a thread, and find the whole world attached to it.”
27 February 2013
There’s a book in the how-to section of the Design Lab called Making Things Move which contains a whole series of electronics and robotics exercises. And there’s also this other book with lots of electronics exercises called Vacuum Bazookas, which I’ve been experimenting with.
But something that Bill said at the Eli Whitney Museum during my last visit has really triggered me. He said he was using these books as inspiration. Batteries were really expensive, of course, as were electric motors and wire, and soldering opened up all sorts of cans of worms — especially in a risk-averse culture common among parents today. And electronics is a whole set of skills which I don’t yet have (So I dumped most of that problem, in the form of the Make: Electronics book, onto my science-teaching colleagues.)
Yet, as Bill helped me to understand, most of the machines discussed in these books can be built or at least approximated using other methods that don’t involve electrical systems at all — wooden dowels and rubber bands and ribbon and cloth, instead of metal and plastic parts and elaborate gearing systems. (There’s also Mini-Weapons of Mass Destruction, which is awesome for teaching some kinds of mathematics, but also will so grossly upset the culture of my school, I’m reluctant to really use it or push it).
So I’ve been trying that, in part to experiment with Andrew Carle’s point about “breadcrumbs” all over the school — you have to leave things lying around your school that encourage students to come to the Design Lab or Maker Space or Collaboratory or what-have-you… that make them understand that there are mysterious forces at work in the Universe, and that certain kinds of toys celebrate and help unfold that mystery. More
21 February 2013
Castellano’s first book on magic is called The
Arte of Glamour. The foreword is by Gordon
White, of the blog Rune Soup.
Glamour is a complex concept in magic. Originally, the word meant
or means something like “enchantment or magic,” and then gradually
morphed toward “outward seeming”, and then morphed still further
towards its current meaning, along the lines of “the quality of
being beautiful, exciting and attractive, which excites attention
and notice,” as in a way for the external appearance of something
to fail to match its internal reality. One casts a glamour spell,
in other words, to delude the observers into believing things about
yourself or another that simply are not true. The Fairy Godmother
in Cinderella, for example, casts a glamour
over her charge, to make a prince fall in love with a woman who
isn’t quite real. Except. Except, of course,
that the glamour cast is so effective, because it raises
Cinderella’s own self-worth, and breaks the chains that bind her
mind. Her self-worth is battered by ugly stepsisters — whose
glamour serves to clothe the outward form of beauty, but does not
cover over or hide inner self-worth; and yet the glamour makes the
outward appearance of Cinderella match the inner beauty. It makes
her confident enough to dance with princes, to be the belle of the
ball, and to leave on her own terms — not as concubine to a spoiled
prince, but as suitable quarry for the royal hunt for a queen —
embodying both the power of the throne and the future bearer of
royal heirs. This is not to suggest that Cinderella’s sole
power is as a baby-making machine, of course — only that this
option is open to her as to no one else at the royal ball…
because her outward appearance and her inner character have been
brought into alignment. Glamour, in other words, is a magic
not exclusively to change outward appearances, although it can be
used that way. Even more so, though, it is a magic to bring
the inner character and the outward appearance into alignment.
As the Steve Martin character says to Rick Moranis
in My Blue
you gotta change from the outside in!” The Fairy Godmother’s
glamourie on Cinderella is one such bit of
serious spellcraft — change the outward appearance so the inner
beauty shines through; change the outward accessories so that the
inner character is revealed; change the mode of travel so that the
capacity for regal mercy is apparent to all. So, to say that
glamour magic is only about fixing up one’s outward appearance is
to cast aspersions on the whole art. And this glamour is not
about transforming pumpkins into coaches, or mice into coachmen, or
rags into sumptuous gowns, but about transforming one’s magic with
sumptuousness and sensuality — not, strictly speaking, sexuality,
but rather the play and interplay of senses and sensory experience
upon one’s daily life. And THAT
is what Deb is about doing — to your magic, to your
life, to your friends (and, in my case to my students), and to your
world. Accordingly, there is only one pumpkin in Deb’s book.
And for her, the spell here is a vehicle for transforming
one’s arrival at a party from awkward guest to mistress of the
seasonally-appropriate sensory-overload experience. No mice,
but plenty of ideas about how to transform rags to riches on a
budget. For there is a Cinderella story threaded through what she
writes in this book. In Cinderella’s time, to be the
fireplace-ash collector was to be lowest among the low; today, we
don’t think much of people whose job it is to handle baby fluids
like puke and burp on a regular basis. And yet, Deb shows us
how she’s been able to transform such complicated and demanding
labor through a ritual and spiritual practice that raises her
quality of life, that makes her queen of her own
dominion, and look good doing it.
That requires vision. It requires even greater vision — and
more than that, a degree or three of self-discipline — to bring
that vision to fruition in a way that others can read it and learn
from it and experience it themselves. As I read through
The Arte of
Glamour the first time, I thought of
six or eight people I knew whose magical practice would be
strengthened by reading it. Then, as I finished it, I thought,
“Actually, all those people already practice their magic
this way. I just never quite noticed before, that this is how
they work…” It was as if Deb helped me take the
blinders off, and helped me see that magic didn’t have to be one
way alone, all candles and incense and stentorian commands — it was
also cocktails in a wood-paneled bar with a live jazz quartet, it
was learning to tie a new knot in a beautiful silk tie, it was
helping to paint a friend’s house on a weeknight alternating with
poetry and food and conversation
because COLOR! and SENSUALITY! and POETRY!
and FOOD! matter. They
matter a lot. One of Deb’s big concepts is La Dolce
Vita — The Sweet Life. The Creamy Life, almost.
A lot of the Puritan values we grow up with in New England
are ritualistically opposed to anything resembling the sweet life.
Instead, we get a long litany of work hard, be
content with your lot in life, if things are rotten you must have
deserved it, God wants you to be miserable here so you can have a
happy life there, you were destined for what you get.
If Deb serves to remind me of anything today, it’s that
there’s huge value in recognizing that the 4o-hour work-week is a
magical construct which serves almost everyone else except you, the
one who has to live in it. Yet the quality of our lives matters. It
doesn’t matter if we’re peasants in 14th century France or
modern-day wage slaves — the girl who buys a tortoiseshell comb
from a wandering pedlar’s pack is after as much glamour as I
am when I buy a new purple and dark blue tie for Thursdays.
We need a bit of richness in our lives, and we need a bit of
sensuality and color and… frankly… splendour. We don’t
have to live beyond our means to achieve this kind of magic; we DO
have to find ways to look for it, to manage it, and to create it
where it is lacking. And Deb gives you permission to fail at this.
Not every spell will work. Not every glamourous outfit
will survive contact with the party (grease drippings and paint on
a new pair of pants, alas!) Not every delicious potluck party will
go according to plan. You won’t like every cocktail, and the
jazz quartet is playing too loud. There are days when you
will be a hot wreck of emotion because something you planned
meticulously and deliciously to be a feast for the senses is in
fact a bunch of rapidly-cooling food at a party that no one showed
up for. But Cinderella would have gone to the ball anyway. Even if
her fairy godmother hadn’t shown up, to cast a spell and throw a
glamour over everything she glanced at, Cinderella made her own
plans. She had a dress picked out from the Salvation Army, and
modified to suit her needs. She wouldn’t have been the
bellest belle at the ball, but she would have gone. Her shoes
were shined, and she had a tip for the bartender ready in her Vera
Bradley purse (that matched the fabric of her belt in color). Deb’s
best gifts are these, though she hardly calls them that: pluck,
courage, risk-taking, risk-management, adventurism. What my
mother’s mother used to call sportiness. ”Go on, girl.
Go out. Be a sport. Who knows? Maybe your date tonight
has a tall friend.” There are always risks to take in calling
something magic when it doesn’t look especially like “woo”, and
even in calling it magic at all. But Deb,
and Deb’s book, says, “Go on, be a sport. The Ladies are
waiting. The bartender tonight makes a great cosmo, and the
saxophonist is awesome. This is your life. Live a
little. Find your own sweet life.” A Note for
Non-Magical Teachers I don’t know how much or how
many of my readership left have been sticking with me since 2009,
and the days when I was an up-and-coming teacher-blogger (I’ve left
a lot of that behind in the last few years, haven’t I? Thanks for
sticking around). You may be wondering about the relevance of
a book about magic to your classroom, where there’s no magic unless
someone does a Harry Potter book report.
Here’s my thoughts on a takeaway on that. One of the big
thoughts I’ve exported from magic to my own classroom is the
concept of Darshan: we benefit in
our daily lives by being in the presence of a great teacher.
Being in their physical presence helps us absorb their habits
and modes of thought. And the research on teachers bears this
out — students in great classrooms, in the company of great
teachers, make amazing progress in a relatively short time.
(We’ll leave aside the other research that shows that
teachers can have an awesome year one year, and help their kids
make great progress; and be absolutely appalling the next year — as
my friend Sou says, “sometimes the chemistry can be amazing, but
the timing is wrong, and it just can’t work out”). But I
think that we, as teachers, have to believe that a kid in our
classroom takes away from us some of our ideas about success, and
dress, and habits of life. If we bring a brown-bag lunch to
school with a bag of potato chips and a sloppily made sandwich,
that conveys one message; a bento box with quality food conveys
another. And parents and school districts expect us, in part,
to convey quality messages to our students even through our
non-verbal cues. So, in part, Deb’s book is about learning to ramp
up the quality of one’s non-verbal cues, both to yourself and to
those around you. I don’t think you have to do any of the
altar work or the magical spells work she suggests in order to
radically improve the quality of
the Darshan energy you put out; you
don’t have to do “woo” magic to benefit from the kind of mind-set
rearrangement she suggests here.
And doing the lesser levels of
work she suggests will help you do better at speaking to your own
students about the non-verbal cues they send to themselves and to
each other through what they wear, how they dress, and how they
choose to live. If you find yourself wondering how you’re
going to make ends meet, or wonder what’s becoming of the culture
in which we live, then I think Deb’s book has some important things
to teach us, as teachers — she’s saying (as much through what she
doesn’t say as what she does) that as the educators of today’s
youth, we have a responsibility to teach kids that their outer
messages can reflect or even change inner character — as much as
inner character is broadcast through our outward glamourie.
The average teachers’ guide doesn’t ask us to think about
that or teach about that, and yet we have to teach “that stuff” on
a fairly regular basis, through dress codes and our own outward
presentation to our students. Deb is saying, it’s important for
folks individually to be thinking about this stuff for ourselves.
I’d add to that, it’s important for us as teachers, that we
try to be thinking about the effects of our non-verbal cues upon
the children we teach. For they will inherit the earth, and
our non-verbal messages wind up becoming part of their long-range
symphony of the senses. We should be conscious about how and
what messages we broadcast, and Deb’s book is a great way to begin
thinking about the issues anew. Rating:
★★★★★, for practical advice and for a sense of an overall theory of
17 February 2013
At right is a photo of a symbol set for thumb nailing — rough
outlines of Titles, Map, Subheadings, borders, bullet lists, text blocks, portrait and landscape images, graphs and symbols and piecharts, and so on. All the rough parts of a student’s visual presentation design in rough, easy to draw symbolism.
And below, just few samples of more than a dozen designs for posters that I produced (along with another sixty or so that my students produced) in the space of about fifteen minutes, using basic thumb-nailing skills.
I showed students these symbols, and then set a timer. As the timer wound past every two minute mark, I asked students to switch from portrait to landscape and then back again. Each student created about a dozen thumbnail sketches of visual presentations that they might do in the future.
The Challenge of Preliminary Work
One of the things that’s really hard for students is to get past the monkey-mind fear-of-failure. There is so much concern about doing a specific assignment “right” that they can’t often let go of themselves enough to do a lot of interesting preliminary work. So we have to model or imagine that work for them and create opportunities for them to do that work despite themselves. How do we get students to do enough preliminary work that they can imagine more possibilities for themselves than just their “first go” at a problem that we the teachers set for them?
We have to create opportunities for them to brainstorm multiple pathways forward.
Which is what I did on Friday. I taught kids to brainstorm using thumbnail drawings, and to generate multiple possibilities in four minutes or less.
It’s a great way forward. Require them to produce quantities of work, without giving them too much time to think about the quality of any one piece. It’s a radically different kind of training, of course. Rather than asking for one piece of work, I asked them for an indefinite number of pieces of work. And the result is that they (and I) generated about a dozen possibilities each for their (and my) work moving forward.
In essence, I taught them to brainstorm without telling them they were brainstorming. I gave it a name that even took away the fear of brainstorming. But by generating all these thumbnail drawings, I gave them the possibility of solving problems in multiple ways.
We’ll see if it last through vacation.
12 February 2013
Today, while the Moon was at the Midheaven and in the 28th Mansion, I completed the write-up and the image-making of the “Belly of the Fish,” and in the process learned a bunch of things about copying art, and making art.
First things first. This image is a rough parallel of the work of Nigel Jackson, as seen in the book Mansions of the Moon by Christopher Warnock, esq.. It’s hardly an exact copy — Nigel has much more skillful line and dot work than I have, and he presumably had a much larger canvas on which to work, which I don’t have. I did borrow the rough outline of his work — dhow in the middle, rocks on either side, fish below the boat, stars above. And some of my figures were done with reference to his. I don’t think I could have drawn the smaller fish around my big fish without reference to his image, for example.
But one of the things I’ve said before about this work, of course, is that doing it once has a tendency to connect you artistically and energetically to the picture and to the forces it represents. I feel fairly confident that I’ll be drawing this one again sometime, and that I’ll have an increased sensitivity to the image, and that, gradually, I’ll be able to compose the image on my own. It’s really the nature of the path of this kind of magical/artistic work — first you copy the masters, then you improve the quality of your Seeing, and then you improve the quality of your Working. The Copying is a preliminary to the Seeing, the Seeing is a preliminary to the Working, and all three are preliminary to the Mastery of the Work. One cannot produce the masterpiece before one has served the apprenticeship.
Completed the 28th mansion of the moon today. This marks sixteen completed images, which means I have twelve to go, to complete all of them.
Amnixiel is the angel of the 28th mansion. He’s for completion, for harvests, for increase of merchandise, for peace between spouses, for besieging cities, to travel safely by road (but to bring evil to sailors), or to hide or destroy treasure.
I took the dhow and some of the design for the stars from Nigel Jackson’s version of the image, and the arrangement of the rocks, and the rough shape of the fish. However, I used more of my own work in the process of laying out the water around the fish.
4 February 2013
I’ve been working on this pop-up book for a while, and I used Vine (thanks for the recommendation, Gordon!) to make a miniature video of the images in the book. The interface seems a little clunky for Vine; frankly, though, the interface of a pop-up book is pretty clunky, too.
Anyway, here’s the still images from Flickr:
Are there things wrong with these books? Sure. I think that I would re-design them next time so that the background panel is the same color as the Element itself; and I would do a better job of building the landscape suggested by each of the four Elements: the dawn meadow, the summer greenwood, the beach at autumn, the winter forest. I’d also try to do a better job of suggesting the other symbols related to each element, like the signs of the Zodiac, and such. But hey, it’s a pop-up book, and my first such book completed, and I’m pretty proud of it. Sure, you can’t exactly read it to your kid over an iPhone or a Kindle, but it’s not bad.
Along these same lines, I ran a class today in how to use the 3D printer at school, and I taught seven kids the drawing schematic suggested by Dave Gray (which I call the Semigram). If you haven’t taught yourself this basic set of drawing instructions, and taught at least one other person how to use it, YOU ARE MISSING OUT. None of what you see in the photographs attached to this blog post would have been possible without that visual training, however brief, however simplistic. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have at least some basic drawing skills built into a Design Thinking plan at school, and you cannot get past this particular hump if you keep telling yourself, “Oh, I’ll never be able to draw.” This book was drawn with scissors and glue, as much as with pen; but it took the knowledge of the drawing aptitudes to be able to construct the book. It involves a way of seeing the world.
Oh, yeah. And magic. Without magic, and some intentional investigation of the Mysteries of the Western Tradition (like alchemy, and magic, and suchlike) this book wouldn’t have been possible, either.
3 February 2013
The difference between creativity and imagination has been much on my mind lately.
Imagination appears as the ability to become ‘dreamy’, for lack of a better word, and visualize or ‘see’ things within the mental realm. It’s the capacity to form new ideas, or bring forth ideas based on things not presently or currently seen. Copying someone else’s vision — as I effectively did in these two drawings, largely based on the work of artist Nigel Jackson, from the book by Chris Warnock on the Mansions— is one thing.
But creativity is not really the same thing. I mean, we might think of them as the same thing, but they’re two different capacities. This, to me, is the power to call forth something from the imagination, and make it real or sensible or visible to someone else. I know plenty of imaginative kids, for example, but I know a lot of imaginative kids who aren’t very creative — they’re sort of lost in a fantasy realm where they are capable of dreaming themselves the heads of corporations or the most amazing rock guitarists. But those same kids don’t actually do the work that gets them moving forward toward that dream.
Likewise, I know plenty of creative kids who aren’t very imaginative. They do all sorts of little drawings, and they’re very productive — these kids wouldn’t dream of not doing their homework, because they’re actually eager to ‘create’ something, to bring something into being. But they’re not very good about bringing forth something new or unique to themselves.
There’s of course a third category, which is people who are both imaginative and creative. I wish that I fit consistently into this category, although most of the time I think I’m only one or the other; it takes a lot of time and effort to be both, and some days it’s just very hard to get anywhere near that combination of powers. It requires an incredible amount of practice to build up to the point where one can be both productive, and capable of summoning forth a vision of “things not seen” so that others can also participate in that vision.
So imagination is largely a mental skill, but creativity is largely the skill of taking mental-to-material. Where one is largely a matter of dream or day-dream, the other is a matter of tool use — whether memory or imagination or skill, or the use of actual physical tools, be they knives or drills or scissors or glue or word processors or graphics software programs or t-squares…
And I’m not at all sure that anyone would agree with these definitions, which only makes the problem harder. But I think in general that our culture makes much of imagination, without making an equal fuss over creativity. And yet, without creativity as I’ve defined it here, all the imagination in the world won’t actually get anything done.
I’ve noted in the past that paper doesn’t seem to hold a magical charge for very long…. and yet it turns out that you can make quite an interesting power simply by folding the paper in half. A friend of mine is having difficulty with her health, so this evening I made a pair of the Mansions of the Moon for her — Egibiel to drive away the bugs that make her ill, and Amutiel to bring her health. These two mansions are not normally used for matters related to health, particularly not lung-health (which is her particular issue), but she wanted something immediate. This, plus some good cold-care tea, seemed to be a good combination.
It’s worth saying that a Moon Mansion, or any sort of tool like this, is not a useful substitute for actual health care. This only serves the purpose of bringing spiritual forces to bear on a physical problem; but the realms of being are discrete and not continuous. Simply having a pair of angels watching out for your health in no way obviates the need for genuine health care.