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Authentic, spiritual magic!

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — from conjuring to gospel truth — third in a series ]
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Kwakiutl winter ceremonial mask, closed and open

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Here’s magic, as in my best recollection, a Pacific Northwestern shaman explained it to an anthro friend..

It’s my recollection that [Tlingit / Kwakiutl winter ceremonials] were both entertainment for the long winter nights and “schooling” for the young, and I have a vivid recall of reading somewhere a shaman’s admission to an anthro of the exact nature of the dramatic means by which the shaman’s capacity to defeat death was demonstrated.

I read this in the early eighties, but searching on the web I’ve found something that comes close — Clellan Stearns Ford’s record of Charles James Nowell’s memories in _Smoke from their fires: the life of a Kwakiutl chief_. Around p 120, there are two stories, the first about a girl who “turned the wrong way” during a dance, the second about a girl who is put in a box and burned. In both cases, the nature of the trickery is described but in the version I read all those years ago, the two stories were one — the girl who was put in a box in the fire pit and “burned to death” escapes through a false bottom to the box along a tunnel into the adjoining room, and her voice then issues as if from her ashes, via a kelp tube that goes from the tunnel to the adjoining room where she’s now standing.

She describes her descent into the sea realm, where she is chastened and eventually granted a boon to return to the tribe. A canoe sets out to fetch her, but by the time the audience sees it set out, she’s already secured by rope to the far side of the boat, and at a suitable distance is hauled aboard and brought back to shore, alive.

A child seeing this would be mightily predisposed to believing the shaman had healing powers, and by the time the ruse was revealed, that underpinning of faith is already in place.

In the Nowell version, even the adults, who “know” the deception involved, are deceived: “The fire burned and the box burned, and she was still singing inside, and then the box go up in flames, and they can see her burning there in her blue blanket, and all her relatives just cry and cry. Although they know it is not real, it looks so real they can’t help it. It was all a trick. There was a hole under the box with a tunnel leading out of the house, and the woman went out of the box and put a seal in her place wrapped in a blue blanket, and then someone sang into the fire through a kelp tube, her song. Oh, it looked real!”

One source I found recently online:

Tom McFeat, Indians of the North Pacific Coast: Studies in Selected Topics

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I would like to suggest to you that magic, if you think of it as imagic, has to do with image, and is usefully considered as another term for or related to, imagination..

There are a couple of other categoies I’d like to bring to your attention: (i) coincidences or synchronicities, which can border on (2) the miraculous, at its finest a sacred business, (3) poetry, at its most beautiful, true and good, (4) sacraments, defined as revelations of “an inward an spiritual grace” my means of an “outward and physical sign” — and (5) the Eucatastrophe as described by JRR Tolkien in his masterful essay, On Fairy-tales..

The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels — peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, selfcontained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

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Magic: there’s more to it than advertising, but advertising may deploy it.

The erasure of boundaries — also, findings at the K/T boundary?

Monday, April 1st, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — Tolkien illuminates Arthur C Clarke, Robert DePalma may have made the discovery of a century or two, previous posts on borders and the liminal ]
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Arthur C Clarke, #3 of Clarke’s Three Laws:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Perhaps a bit facile.. when seen silhouetted against..

JRR Tolkien, quoted by John Garth in War in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, 1916 thus:

‘From the greatness of his wealth of metals and his powers of fire’ Melko constructs a host of ‘beasts like snakes and dragons of irresistible might that should overcreep the Encircling Hills and lap that plain and its fair city in flame and death’. The work of ‘smiths and sorcerers’, these forms violate the boundary between mythical monster and machine, between magic and technology.

That’s a DoubleQuote!

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There’s a parallel, if greater, boundary violation Tolkien points us to in his essay On Fairy-Stories, where he writes of the Gospel that “this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation” and declares, “Legend and History have met and fused.”

That’s true alchemy here — a sacred marriage, hieros gamos..

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Sacred marriage, too, is the topic of the 17th century predecessor of Tolkien’s work in fearful yet blessed spiritual fantasy, The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz (1616) — beautifully translated bv Ebenezer Foxcroft (1690), and richly annotated in John Warwick Montgomery’s Cross and Crucible: Johann Valentin Andreae (1586–1654) Phoenix of the Theologians.

Other books on magic / imagination worth considering:

  • Lee Siegel, Net of Magic: Wonders and Deceptions in India
  • Ioan Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance
  • Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi
  • **

    Take a deep breath..

    **

    While we’re on boundaries, there quite possibly may have been a seismically major discovery relating to the K/T (Cretaceous / Tertiary, now renamed Paleogene) boundary on “The Day” itself:

  • Douglas Preston, The Day the Dinosaurs Died
  • .
    “When I saw that, I knew this wasn’t just any flood deposit,” DePalma said. “We weren’t just near the KT boundary—this whole site is the KT boundary!” From surveying and mapping the layers, DePalma hypothesized that a massive inland surge of water flooded a river valley and filled the low-lying area where we now stood, perhaps as a result of the KT-impact tsunami, which had roared across the proto-Gulf and up the Western Interior Seaway. As the water slowed and became slack, it deposited everything that had been caught up in its travels—the heaviest material first, up to whatever was floating on the surface. All of it was quickly entombed and preserved in the muck: dying and dead creatures, both marine and freshwater; plants, seeds, tree trunks, roots, cones, pine needles, flowers, and pollen; shells, bones, teeth, and eggs; tektites, shocked minerals, tiny diamonds, iridium-laden dust, ash, charcoal, and amber-smeared wood. As the sediments settled, blobs of glass rained into the mud, the largest first, then finer and finer bits, until grains sifted down like snow.

    “We have the whole KT event preserved in these sediments,” DePalma said. “With this deposit, we can chart what happened the day the Cretaceous died.”

    DePalma’s PNAS article:

  • Robert DePalma et al., Prelude to Extinction: a seismically induced onshore surge deposit at the KPg boundary, North Dakota
  • See also:

  • UC Berkeley, 66-million-year-old deathbed linked to dinosaur-killing meteor
  • Ryan F. Mandelbaum, Scientists Find Fossilized Fish That May Have Been Blasted by Debris From Asteroid That Ended the Dinosaur Age
  • **

    Earlier Zenpundit posts on liminality and borders, among them:

  • Liminality II: the serious part
  • Of border crossings, and the pilgrimage to Arbaeen in Karbala
  • Violence at three borders, naturally it’s a pattern
  • Borders, limina and unity
  • Borders as metaphors and membranes
  • McCabe and Melber, bright lines and fuzzy borders
  • Walls. Christianity & poetry. And nations, identities & borders
  • Limina, thresholds, more on spaces-between & their importance
  • with further references in:

  • The importance and impotence of language, #28 in the series
  • And another next, 26, mixed
  • Can you believe it? We’re at Chyrons & metaphors 19
  • Three books in one day — splendid!!

    Friday, June 22nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — Imagination, Joan of Arc, and Coronation ]
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    Oh, the other day was a great day, bringing me three terrific books:

  • Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi: Alone with the Alone
  • Marina Warner, Joan of Arc: the Image of Female Heroism
  • Matthias Range, Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations: From James I to Elizabeth II
  • The Corbin is simply the most dedicated book on spirituality I would take with me if I could, and which I’d dearly love to crack. Marina Warner was a stellar presence in the cafe I frequented in Little Clarendon Street in Oxford, and hijacked me once to help paint her new digs. And the Range? It’s a book I’ve long wished to read and finally, here it is.

    Quite a trio!

    Poet to painter, my twin: Jan Valentin Saether

    Sunday, January 14th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — Jan Valentin Saether, requiescat in pacem ]
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    Jan Valentin Saether, priest and painter extraordinaire

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    Hanne Elisabeth Storm Ofteland wrote, bless her:

    I am devastated! On the 11th of January at 11:45 pm my beautiful partner-in-insanity, Jan Valentin Saether, left this planet. Safe journey back to the Andromeda Galaxy, my sweet, precious, wonderful husband. I love you so much

    **

    Jan Valentin Saether was — it is hard to claim such kinship in the midst of so many others with their own griefs — my twin, poet to painter. We both regarded our respective arts as gifts to be given onwards, and emphasized creative innovation within continuing tradition.

    I am so sad.

    This runs deep — and meanwhile I am doing fine, writing other unrelated things and allowing my grief to well up from time to time, between paragraphs, between breaths.

    **

    Such lovely artwork — two pieces here featuring the vesica piscis, among the most elegant of mathematical and significant of archetypal forms. My first example comes from his book, The Viloshin Letters, which I helped him with in the early days. Here the vesica shows the bursting forth of the radiance into ordinary life — key to all of Jan’s work:

    The second, perhaps subtler work, was indeed first called Vesica and now Epiphany. Here the breakthrough is shown in shadow-and-light — chiaroscuro — of which Jan was such a master:

    The actual work is wall-sized — depending on your wall.

    I am in awe of this painting.

    **

    Today another dear friend, Mitch Ditkoff, beauttifully and powerfully told the story of his father’s death on FB, and wrote in conclusion:

    If you are reading this, there’s a good chance that someone close to you has died: your mother, father, grandparents, child, or best friend. And there’s also a good chance you have witnessed something profound in their passing, whether you were physically with them at the time or not. Be willing to share that story with others! It is not ego to tell this story. On the contrary, it’s the dissolution of ego – your opportunity to remind another person, without preaching, just how sacred each and every breath is.

    I would like to tell my story of Jan Valentin Saether, to say how much I loved him, learned from him, and felt when I heard of his passing. And to mention the sacredness of breath.

    **

    I must have met Jan sometime in the earlyn 1980s. He was teaching in Malibu, I was living in Malibu in a friend’s house, and saw some paintings of his in a folio, one of a naked woman reaching towards the viewer — and I thought he was a rock-n-roll-star type, not only not interesting but downright unpleasant.

    Next thing, I was over at his place for an evening, and discovered a fellow artist, a fellow admirer of CG Jung and the mundus imaginalis, a fellow lover of the sacred in every moment. We were still talking when his then wife brought the pair of us breakfast.

    Our parallel views on the sacred gifts of the arts, and the need to combine traditional and contemporary means of expression in service to the sacred — it forged a friendship, a kinship, a twinning between us.

    Later, Jan asked me to take over his Sunday lecture series while he went to Oslo for a month or so. A few Sundays later, I was in mid sentence in a lecture on poetry when Jan came into the room. I got up out of the chair and offered it him, and he sat down and continued my own half-formed sentence seamlessly, turning the metaphor from sacred poetry to sacred art.

    Later still, he invited me to teach creativity at Bruchion — the school of the sacred his studio in Culver City had become, named for the area in ancient Alexandria that housed its celebrated library. It was during one of my talks on creativity there that I began to play around — on the table-tennis table — with the elements that would decades later become my HipBone Games.

    Jan Valentin Saether was the priest — of the Ecclesia Gnostica — who celebrated my marriage to Annie, mother of my sons.

    Jan was my last and best fellow artist and friend — my twin.

    **

    Years ago I wrote a paragraph about his paintings:

    Jan Isak Saether’s work bears little resemblance to current fashions in the world of art. At first glance perhaps, it reminds us of the works of the old masters. But as we peer deeper, we sense a curious quality: Saether’s work does not bring us the easy, settled feel that we associate with the old, but a disturbing hint of drama, of the unexpected. It is as though one of the old masters had rejoined us in this latter part of the twentieth century, and after studying and absorbing all that the great moderns from Kandinsky to Francis Bacon had to offer, has turned his mind and heart to the stormy times in which we live, and out of that thunderous darkness has generated lightning. Recent currents and fashions in art have brought us visions of what it is to be human that are by turns bleak, comic, deranged, and superficial. In Saether’s work, by contrast, we find a portrayal of our humanity that contains both glory and shadow. Saether is no throwback to the past. He is a Velasquez who has learned from Bacon, a true student of both modern and ancient masters who now turns his hand to the great synthesis. It is often said that we can recognize the true artists because they give us new eyes with which to see the world, and create new worlds for us to see. Jan Saether’s work faces the future as only a work rooted in the past can, and we are the richer for his courage in bringing his deep dreams into our lives.

    That captures my admiration, but not my love.

    My love for Jan Valentin Saether can only be told by the loss, the grief I shall feel in my remaining days.

    Each breath we have is sacred.

    I shall miss him, in my quiet way, furiously.

    HipBone implications of the second shoe dropping for intel analysis

    Sunday, August 6th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — also, the role of the True Name in intel analysis & Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea ]
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    You may know that I value the documentary film Manhunt for its lucid presentation of the process by which the finest intelligence analysts “leap” to their quarry — in which Cindy Storer notes, “not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic”.

    In my post The process of associative memory I decribe this process, which I consider the root process of true creativity:

    There’s the present moment .. And there’s the memory it elicits.

    Compare Michael Hayden in Manhunt, at 1.19.18:

    The way it works is, information come in, you catalog it, your organize it – that little nugget there could sit fallow on your shelves for four or five years until something else comes in that’s suddenly very illuminating about something that you may have had for a very long period of time. That actually happened in the work we did to hunt for Osama bin Laden by trying to track his courier.

    By way of confirmation, here is Robert Frost:

    The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic.

    And here’s Jeff Jones on piecing together puzzles —

    Some pieces produce remarkable epiphanies. You grab the next piece, which appears to be just some chunk of grass – obviously no big deal. But wait … you discover this innocuous piece connects the windmill scene to the alligator scene! This innocent little new piece turned out to be the glue.

    **

    My point here is that the board in my “game” of DoubleQuotes provides a matrix for eliciting and annotating such leaps between fact and memory — that’s its purpose, and that’s why I believe the practice and “playing” of DoubleQuotes is, in itself, an ideal training for the analytic mind in that otherwise elusive aptitude which Ms Storer says seenms like magic to those who do not possess it..

    I believe my DoubleQuotes would be an invaluable tool for analysts in training.

    **

    Note, however, that Jose Rodriguez, speaking immediately after Michael Hayden at 1.19.55, adds a reference to the “True Name” — accompanying screencaps included — something to which as a theologian I am naturally drawn:

    It took years for the agency to recruit the human source that eventually gave us the true name. That’s why we were in the business the of condensing human intelligence because, in many cases, all these fancy gadgets and everything else won’t give you the information that you really need. A true name.

    And we finally got his true name, which is whatever it is. Whatever. Arabic name, you know. But the true name – we were able to find out a lot about him. From then on, you know, the agency was able to do what it does so well. Track the guy and find him.

    That too elicits memories, though in this case providing cultural context rather than actionable intelligence. It’s interesting to compare Rodriguez’ quote with the passages in which Ursula Le Guin describes the nature of magic in her book, Wizard of Earthsea:

    He who would be Seamaster must know the true name of every drop of water in the sea.

    and:

    He saw that in this dusty and fathomless matter of learning the true name of every place, thing, and being, the power he wanted lay like a jewel at the bottom of a dry well. For magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.

    **

    See also:

  • Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B
  • Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles
  • FWIW, there’s an appendix on the central spiritual significance of remembrance of the True Name in Judaism (HaShem), Christianity (Jesus Prayer), Islam (dhikr), Hinduism (nama-rupa), Buddhism (nembutsu) etc at the back of Frithjof Schuon‘s little book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions.

    On which frankly mystical note, here’s a third para from Le Guin to carry you towards Lao Tzu‘s observation that “The name that can be named is not the eternal Name” —

    It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.


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