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
21 February 2013
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.
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.
29 January 2013
Gordon’s post about Al-Andalus from several months ago (update: ok, 2+ years ago!) has been on my mind (he has a great post today about 24 phone apps that can change the way you live and work, and I’ve already downloaded several of them).
Anyway, about Al-Andalus, Gordon writes:
Of course, it’s only an advantage on a group level but that is one of evolution’s many, many grey areas… Grey areas that Darwin himself freely admitted were there.
How does this relate to western magical history?
Because magic is like the gay giraffe. Whenever it has shown up -and it shows up everywhere- historians have brushed it aside. “That’s not a magic book. It’s an astronomy book.” And in the ninth century the difference was what, exactly? (By the way, pause to enjoy the mental image of a historian literally brushing aside a giraffe wearing lipstick and eyeliner.)
Whenever you see an historian referring to an ancient text as medical, mathematical or scientific you need to train your nose to smell out the conjure. Because, chances are, it’s right there under the surface.
So why is this old entry from two+ years ago on someone else’s blog tugging at my mind today? Well, it begins with a plan for a book. A colleague of mine is annoyed with how a specific project in her class has been going for a while, and I had the idea that I could assist her by combining it with the technology from all these pop-up books I’ve been buying about how to make pop-up books.
Pop-up books are an interesting technology. They’re easily made of simple paper, and yet with a combination of geometry and glue, you can make a 2D-ish surface become 3D-ish. The bends in the page become walls and roofs, and when combined with drawing and collage they can become tremendous vehicles for storytelling and imagination. (By names and images are all powers awakened and reawakened).
So of course, I had to provide “proof of concept”. And so I made this little layout as an exercise in creating a Spanish abcedarium, “A est por al-Andalus, y La Alhambra.” My Spanish is terrible, but you get the idea: her students would learn to build pop-up books by building fourteen pages akin to this one — each of which would teach a different pop-up structure, and one of the provinces or regions of España. Interesting proof of concept, no? Teach kids some engineering skills related to hinges, tabs, and folds; some mathematics and geometry; some paper-folding and drawing techniques; and a little bit of a language and culture that may be critical to their long-term survival…
Sounds familiar, no? Sounds an awful lot like grimoires, no? Or maybe more like a particular grimoire, one from al-Andalus at the height of that place’s power. No, we’re not going to brew goat piss and dog’s blood and mercury into an incense that will give eternal life; but maybe we combine art and mechanics and basic materials with a decidedly-odd symbol-system in order to teach kids things they didn’t know they needed to know — things about color and graphic design, about story and engineering, about mathematics and geometry and relationships and right angles, and wars in other times and places, and who are you, really? Are you the sort of person who gets stuff done? Or are you the sort of person who hangs back and lets others do all the work?
A Digression to Magic
I read somewhere that Israel Regardie, the mid-20th century magician, heard that someone was building the Enochian tablets as three-dimensional objects, with physical pyramids on the tablets, carved and painted and symbolified in a way that gave the powers of the tablets. He was horrified, and wondered why anyone would give the Enochian powers that much room — he said they were difficult enough to deal with as two-dimensional beings, much less having actual space in which to move.
My friend Scott says, “A picture is worth a thousand words; but a part is worth a thousand pictures.” And it turns out that a pop-up card can be sigilized just as easily as your notebook. In fact, it’s more so. It’s like squeezing your word-set into a machine: a machine that works every time you pop open the hinge. And so a how-to-build pop-up books pop-up book is potentially a very powerful grimoire indeed, because it will give you techniques for making your sigils three dimensional.
My life has gone into overdrive the last two weeks. The two weeks I’ve spent dabbling with pop-up cards.
Returning to Educational Theory
Gordon says, and I re-quote:
Whenever you see an historian referring to an ancient text as medical, mathematical or scientific you need to train your nose to smell out the conjure. Because, chances are, it’s right there under the surface.
Which means that most of the books in the Design Lab are actually magic books. They’re books about how to make mathematics do your bidding; they’re about how to make healing salves for your hands, and how to learn the stars. They’re about how to draw, and how to learn to memorize, and how to learn to relearn, and how to build machines that talk and fly, and how to cast metal, and how to build mechanisms that can move the world.
I’ve stocked a library for children (and adults) with books that belong in the Restricted Section at Hogwarts. And if your school has a design lab, or a design library, or even a how-to section in the regular library, so have you. You have a library shelf filled with grimoires, that will summon powerful spirits to aid and assist your students.
Of course, the challenge is that these books must be used. You can’t simply wave students at a group of books on the shelf, and say, “follow the directions in those books to the letter.” It doesn’t work that way.
No, the challenge is that you, the teacher, have to go through the grimoires laboriously, and demonstrate that you are learning the skill. You are learning how to learn. You are building and managing the process that you are hoping to teach them. You are showing students, in front of them, that the skill with knife and glue stick and cutting board and rotary cutter and T-square, can be learned and practiced and improved upon.
… And the Palace
And yet. And yet, to have the grimoire is not enough. The medieval daemon-summoning books had a context, and so do we (whether as wizards like Gary Stager or as teachers like Jason Miller. Or did I mix those up?). One has to go into the palace, too. The Palace of Memory.
None of what I’ve told you about pop-up books is useful if you haven’t got something to say or show. One of my kids learned the basic technique shown in this Alhambra card in two minutes. It’s easy: make two parallel cuts equal in length to each other, perpendicular to the fold line of the page; and then score and fold the “hinges” at the outer edges of the cuts. Congratulations, you now know the basics of the box cut. Cut the upper line slightly longer than the lower, and pinch the triangle: you’ll get a triangle or a roofline.
But. But — currently — he doesn’t have the imaginative chops to take the basic box-cut and turn it into something else. I make the basic box cut, and the triangle cut, and a world of options opens before me: this can be a house… oh, if I cut the paper right, this can be an arcade of a monastery, or a palace… oh, it can be in Spain… oh it can be the Alhambra, in Andalusia… which makes me think of that entry by Gordon… And as various potentials emerge, the potential for the reënchantment of the world comes along with it. There’s a whole collection of stories that can be inspired by, and built by, the box-cut… but you must know the stories to tell them this way.
So, if you haven’t been teaching students how to retain information and store it in memory, both visually (by image) and by geography (by place), they’ll only have one piece of the necessary strategy for learning this engineering… this magic. Memory allows kids to have the ingrained symbolic context to read this as the red stone of the Alhambra and the fancy Moorish arches of the Court of Lions, no matter how poorly my penknife executed the work. The green paper becomes the paradis, the walled garden; the blue paper becomes the sky, with the surrounding lands of Al-Andalus forever hidden from the servants within the walls; the white, the mystery; and the square pavilion at the center, the place where the page folds, is the canopied space where imagination runs riot.
WIth the right Palace of Memory, you can say to students, “build me a pop-up book that shows the first seven Presidents of the United States” or “the ten Native American tribes you know” or “Seven stories from the adventures of Lewis and Clark.” You have fewer options if all they know is Pokemon and the prepositions.
Politicians, parents, students, colleagues, and “reformers” expect us teachers to be wizards – capable of protecting students from difficult truths, attacks on their physical bodies, and assaults on their mental capacities.
It sounds like we need to be wizards. So… let’s be wizards.
One of my colleagues teaches a foreign language unit on the regions or provinces of Spain. The kids make posters for the various regions. I thought, what if they made pop-up books instead? This is Andalucia, inspired by the Alhambra.
23 January 2013
I’m teaching a class on paper-craft and in particular pop-up books during summer school this year, and I wanted to start working on my skills so that I can teach my students some new skills when it comes time. There’s a colleague of mine, as well, who’d like to teach her students some pop-up structures, for making cards and mini-books about Native American peoples they’ve studied this year.
I figured, it was time to teach myself some skills. So, I brought home Carol Barton’s book, and I made the first six of her designs: a straight box (purple and yellow in the upper left of the photo), a stepped box (purple, white and yellow in the center back left), a freestanding box-support (back right), a weird “carved box” shape (lower left), a modified box (the shield shape in lower center), a heart, (right hand side, in red), and a scallop shell (center, and hard to see).
About two hours of work. Taught me a lot about following directions, about learning to see possibilities and potentials. I’ve already decided that I want to make a mini book for someone, detailing the Five Elements, the Seven Planets, and the signs of the Zodiac. Call it a mini-kavad in book form. Not sure when I’ll get to it. It’s clear that knowing the structures is one thing — having a clear sense of the book you might produce with such a thing is another. The technology and the vision are separate from one another; learning the methods will not help you come up with creative ideas of how to use the construction techniques. You need the mysteries, or access to the imaginal realm, or the ability to travel astrally, to get access to those sorts of things.
Carol Barton’s “boxes” from her book The Pocket Paper Engineer: Vol. 1.Am I getting ideas for the kavad? Of course. Are all of them practical? Of course not.
This is about two hours of work. I learned a great deal in the process about design and structure of pop-ups, and how challenging its going to be to teach some of this in a class this summer. Knives and rulers and protractors and pencils oh my!
One of my aphorisms for design is my friend Mark’s saying, Tools dictate solutions. If all we give students is lined paper, graph paper, three ring binders and pencils and pens… All of their solutions start to look like that. Even the addition of a knife or a pair of scissors is something.
I look forward to tackling triangles soon.
16 January 2013
Ananael (Scott Stenwick) has an article up today about vigilance and paranoia. How, if he had millions to spend and a safe place to put them, he’d put up some mysterious stone structures with ancient-sounding commandments carved in ten languages. And he’s referencing the Georgia Guidestones.
It seems like a useful exercise, actually. If you could put up a monument that might last 50,000 years in eight languages, what would you write? Scott claims that one needs two ridiculous ones, one completely unworkable, and seven platitudes.
And yet. And yet, it turns out that any list carved into stone in so many languages, can help inspire movements in art and science, religion and imagination. They can have consequences far beyond the normal realm of events. So, here’s mine. If I had millions to spend on such a project, and access to high quality stone from around the world, and could build such a thing, then this is what I’d inscribe in three-inch high letters 3/4″ deep, in eight living languages and three dead ones (Hebrew, Sanskrit and Sumerian):
- Nature will have its way: work with it or be destroyed in the long run.
- Humans sometimes mate for life, but it’s not a sure thing.
- Reënchant the world with stories; make magic for the healing of the world.
- Kill no one in the name of your idea of God.
- A picture is worth a thousand words; a part is worth a thousand pictures; a machine is worth a thousand parts.
- Teach children to read, write, draw, play outside, and make. Don’t be upset if not all lessons stick.
- Constrained democracy is the best government, but it’s often disappointing.
- The tools available determine all possible solutions.
- Don’t be a party to villainy by government, religion or science.
- Nothing lasts forever, not even this list.
I think it contains the right mix of ridiculousness, generalized platitudes, and important advice. (I’ll leave it to my readers to decide which ones are unworkable, which are ridiculous, and which are platitudes). And the use of contractions would help add this feature of the English language to the realm of grammatical correctness in time. I may come up with my own monument design in time, but I’m thinking a building in the shape of two cubes stacked on top of one another, with a half-sphere dome on top, and black and white marble pillars in the corners. On top of a foundation shaped like a turtle with elephants on its back.
Would it help build a new society in the event of the apocalypse? Possibly. It might even be one in which I’d like living.
What’s on your list?
29 December 2012
I’m working on the Ninth Mansion of the Moon image, called Al-Tarf after beta Cancri. It’s… ahem… an image of some delicacy, because it’s a man covering his eyes and wanting his genitals. I suppose I could draw or photograph a Ken doll. But a different image both suggested and presented itself, so I’m working on that. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s going to appear here. Lines have to be drawn somewhere.
Plus, it’s an image for “causing discord among men” and causing trouble in travel and limiting harvests. So I’ve interrupted myself several times in the drawing of it, to consider whether it’s a good idea to finish it. And now, I’m stuck in Atlanta at the airport.
The modern American teacher, typically a modernist and a materialist and a rationalist (no matter what church they belong to or what god or gods they believe in), is likely to regard this as unlucky coincidence. I mean, here I am stuck in an airport, and it’s no big deal — travel at the holidays, this time of year, is likely to be complicated. It’s winter — weather incidents are likely to get in the way.
Nonetheless, here I am under a full moon, on the day that the Moon is in the Ninth Mansion of Al-Tarf, and the number of people who are showing up at the gate to fly back “home” who I know is growing and growing. There’s a whole family that lives just up the hill from my lady, and a guy I know from a festival in eastern New York called SpiritFire. I have this feeling that others I know will be showing up shortly to take this same “last flight from Atlanta” to get back to New England. Astonishing.
And part of me wonders if part of it is that Barbiel, the angel of the ninth mansion, wants his/her image finished and opened to the world? Is that why we’re all here? It’s a lot of odd coincidences piling up on top of one another. Folks from my magical life all appear at the same gate at the same airport?
Of course a typical American teacher — from a rationalist, materialist, modernist viewpoint — would insist that this is ridiculous. Angels are not particularly supposed to be in American public schools at the very least, and how would drawing a picture of Barbiel’s image and reciting a prayer or declaration on his behalf get me home any sooner? Would publishing his image make it easier or harder for me to get home? Would it have any effect at all? Again, the rationalist, materialist, modernist teacher in me would say, no, of course not.
Am I always those things, though? No, not really. Not so much. I’m mindful that we know more than we realize, and that we affect more than we realize. There’s more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. And so it’s an easy matter to resolve. If Barbiel wants his image revealed to the world, he’s going to have to wait — holdign me up is not going to get me to give out a tool for causing discord among men or causing infirmity.
But let me release a different kind of tool to the world, a poem. Let me unlock my word hoard, and remind Barbiel that we mortals are not utterly powerless to the machinations of the spirit realms.
Hail, al-Tarf’s Barbiel, honest and sure,
who of twenty-eight mansions rules the ninth.
Give me strength, infirmity to endure,
and help me through a long journey day’s length.
You halt winnowers on the threshing floor,
and hinder travelers at the portal,
and strand the ships on sandbars far from shore,
while warning the youthful that they’re mortal.
“Prince of unpleasant truths” thy epithet,
while Heaven’s Cancer defines thy mansion:
Leave us untouched, and now kindly forget
to gift us with trials of your invention.
Distance me from men of malignant will,
and go on thy way without doing ill.
They’ve just announced the gate for my flight, and we’ll see whether Barbiel lets me go home. But let me ask this of myself and my readers, O materialist, rationalist, modernists that we are… IF I do get home, is it because Barbiel helped me? Or that my poem hindered him? Or that he’s punishing me for my audacity? Or that his power is waning now that his time is ending and the next mansion is beginning?
OR… is it just that the weather cleared up and the airline got their act together, and so on?
These matters are not cut and dried. They are not settled, though we believe them so. When we take on an alternate mindset, like “magic is real and there are spirits that work in the world,” we start encountering murky but consequential evidence that this is on. When we take on a materialist mindset, and adopt the idea that this physical body of meat and minerals is all that there is, we encounter murky but consequential evidence that this is so. When we perform experiments to determine if there are spirit-beings, like writing these poems, and determine their results— we encounter evidence that they exist and that they can be persuaded or guided or governed. When we deny their existence, we likewise encounter evidence that they are not real, and that travel delays and weather challenges are just part of the ordinary circumstances and difficulties of travel. Welcome to the world. Life is hard. Oh well, get used to it.
As Yann Martel pointed out in The Life of Pi, though, the world benefits from a degree of magical thinking from us. We reënchant the world, in some sense, by believing in it and making it so. My life is enriched and beautified by writing poetry in praise of an angel that most people in this airport would be hard-pressed to believe exists — “an angel who acts to hinder travelers and cause infirmities? Isn’t that a bit much for a God who is absolutely just?”
And yet, in writing this poem, haven’t I enriched your life? Haven’t I done what I could to bring my companions and colleagues and fellow travelers closer to home? Haven’t I done my best to enchant the world so that they arrive at their intended destination? Let us hope so.
Barbiel, may you prosper our way by forgetting about us for now.
8 November 2012
Art and Design, History, Magic & Spirituality, Media, Palace of Memory, Philosophy, Teaching age of exploration, astrolabe, astrological symbol, astrology, astronomy, build to learn, creativity, design, design thinking, history, imagination, paper prototyping 1 Comment
Here are two photos of my fifth astrolabe. And here’s what I’ve learned about building astrolabes. If you don’t start with the simplest one, you’ll never have the patience to build this most complex one.
The simplest one is the quadrant. It’s four parts: a straw, a string, a cardboard, and a weight. It can be built in 15 minutes and employed in 25, if you wait a little while for the glue to dry. This took more than an hour, and I didn’t realize until the end that I’d built it of the wrong materials. If I’d discovered that in the first fifteen minutes — I still would have done it all the way to the end, but it might have taken less time.
This one, I built out of foamcore. Wrong material, first of all. It cuts wrong and it’s unreliable. Heavy cardstock or light cardboard would have been better. The rete is a sheet of acetate; but again, a thin sheet of cardstock with some holes cut in it would have been a better choice. The rule and the alidade — again, heavier cardstock would have been fine. Easier to get a precise point.
On the other hand, this model is weightier than the others, befitting its more complex design. I can calculate the unequal hours of the day, also called the Chaldean hours or the Planetary Hours. I can calculate the position of the Sun if I know the date, or the position of major stars to tell the time at night, or the Mansions of the Moon, or the height of a tower or flagpole or tree.
And all this with the cruddy “first draft” of the model I made using the printouts from astrolabeproject.com. (This astrolabe, by the way, is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. The lines and traceries are elegant, the directions on how to use it are clear, and the modeling is exquisite. It’s just… difficult… to get it to come out right on foamcore. Better luck for me next time, right?
That said, there are some improvements I would like to make. I’d love to see the Mater verso and rectoproduced as an .stl file for a ShopBot to rout out. I’d love to see a rete produced the same way, that could “nest” inside the mater, and thin but rigid alidades and rules. Cardstock and cardboard may be ok in the next draft, but I’m really thinking metal or wood next time around.
My friend Daniel S. says it is critical to build your prototypes all the way to the end. Doing so has taught me a lot about materials and about cutting precision lines. I have a much better sense of how I’ll build these next time: thick cardboard mater; lighter cardboard rete, cardstock rule and alidade; sharp knife and scissors, smaller hand drill, steel ruler.
If and when I ever guide students through this process, build all five astrolabes… And build a compass and a model caravel, too. Come to think of it.
30 October 2012
Yesterday, while ‘stuck’ (very pleasantly, despite the fact that it was due to expected inclement weather which never reached us) in Massachusetts with my lady, I had the opportunity to play a new game with her called The Room. ”You’ll like it,” she said. ”It’s about solving puzzles while opening a magical box. The box is kinda like your kavad, but it’s a lot more fun to open.”
She’s got a point about that. It’s a beautiful, amazing, elegant game, and I love it a lot. I’d buy it for my own iPad, except I have a 1st generation model, and it looks like you need at least an iPad3 to play it.
But it did inspire me to consider re-building the kavad with some moving parts beyond hinges and drawers. I’m not sure that my technical skills are up to the challenge, frankly, but the play-through last night of The Room offered a lot of interesting possibilities — from re-imagining the box with a steampunk aesthetic only, to actually including an iris window to cover over the built-in table of practice on the top. Incorporating puzzles into the design will also keep onlookers intrigued or interested…
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I can’t keep designing things if I don’t finish them. And right now, I need to finish the kavad as is, rather than think about how to redesign it using engineering skills I haven’t even begun to develop. At least half of every project involves knowing what things you can’t do, so you can concentrate on what you can.
20 October 2012
It’s well worth reading, and I hope you will. It’s worth notice and special attention.