Thursday, September 27, 2012

Postmodern Hymn: I Am the Starlight

Big Star, by frecklefaced29

One of the final songs from the musical Starlight Express, by Andrew Lloyd Weber, is a sweet song about finding out that all the answers you seek come from within. 

The Starlight Express is a musical made for children: it tells the tale of toy cars who come to life. Rusty, the protagonist train, calls on the Starlight Express for help in winning a race. I got to see this musical when I was a child, and the magic of seeing people on roller skates, acting like trains, and singing with such hope has stayed with me all this time.

I think it's good every now and then to return to childhood fantasies and see the world again in a playful, hopeful way.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

What I Wanted to Say

Letter to Emile Bernard from Paul Cezanne
via the Coutrauld Art Institute

"So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."
    —"East Coker," by T. S. Eliot, via even*cleveland

Lately I've been feeling that the art of communication is far beyond me, perhaps because for me,  communication really does look like a form of poetry. Maybe I've been thinking too much about Zen masters like Dogen, who could use words to teach such all-encompassing truths with such brevity and clarity. Or, on the less happy side, maybe I've been thinking too much about human failures of communication, in the realm of politics, or in the realm of families. Sometimes simply communicating seems like the most difficult poetry of all, and yet, all we can do is try.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sacred Space: Imam Mosque in Isfahan

by Fulvlo Spada

The Imam Mosque, or Mudrasa Imami, of Isfahan is a gorgeous unification of art and religious aspiration. On the outside, painted blue tiles make the imposing building feel light as spirit. On the inside, the arched ceilings look like heaven itself. 

The mosque at Isfahan is particularly famous for its mihrab, a prayer niche that is oriented towards Mecca. Isn't it a beautiful way to orient oneself to what is holy?




Update, 22 September 2012: I planned this post quite a while ago, before the latest outbreak of protests and violence. It really breaks my heart to see people so filled with rage, and to see so much misunderstanding in the world. If this post could make a political statement in any way, it would be a call for everyone to see more clearly—to find peace in the world through peace in themselves.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Personal Myth 4: The Return


The Return, by me

I think it's time to conclude this series. My four-part creation myth ends with the mystery of what death might mean. I don't pretend to have any answers about life after death, but I feel that it works best in my life as an alchemical step within a greater process. As a necessary part of life on earth, death allows for the recycling of materials, and this can happen on a variety of levels, not just the biological level. The place that is most rotten within us is the very place that can lead to new growth and new life!

What happens to us personally after we die? I leave that for others to say. I once had a dream, though, in which a girl cast a spell on a two lovers: their hearts crystallized into the stars, and their bodies dissolved into the night sky.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Calcinatio, Part II

The Fire, by Ricardo Cavolo
via Society 6

It seems my life is organizing itself by elemental themes these days. No sooner do I write a post on a ritual involving fire than my favorite astrologer, Rob Brezsny, posts a beautiful horoscope on the same subject. I'm keeping the Libra-specific post to myself, although you can find it or a different horoscope here. In the meantime, here's some fire-themed wisdom for you:

"Try this meditation: Imagine that you are the wood and the fire that consumes the wood.

First, focus your awareness on the part of you that is the wood. You may tremble or gasp, feeling the jolt of your solidity disintegrating, your form changing. As you shift your attention to the part of you that is the fire, you may exult in the wild joy of power and liberation.

It may be tempting to favor the fire over the wood, to love the burning more than the being burned. But if you'd like to understand pronoia in its fullness, you've got to appreciate them equally. Can you imagine yourself being the fire and wood simultaneously? Is it possible for you to experience the deep pleasure of their collaboration?"
    —excerpt from PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, by Rob Brezsny

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Burning of Old Man Gloom

Old Zozobra circa 1938
via Zozobra 

Each year at the Santa Fe Festival, an Zozobra, or Old Man Gloom is burned, and today is the day of this year's celebration.

The Santa Fe Festival began in 1712, but it wasn't until 1924 that artist Will Shuster created the Zozobra effigy. Shuster drew from a variety sources for inspiration, including the Mummers parade in Philadelphia (in which participants would whip a scapegoat-type figure) and  the Holy Week celebrations of Yaqui Indians (they would lead a fire-cracker filled effigy of Judas around on a donkey before burning it).

"Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year. Santa Fe celebrates another victory. Viva la Fiesta!"
    —A.W. Denninger

The burning of the effigy at first glance seems rather violent and opposed to my general disposition to rehabilitate and recycle. But, I think there is a place for the symbolic destruction of burdens—the process of calicination in alchemical works is an important first step towards the goal of finding the Sorcerer's Stone. It's from the ashes of these burdens that the recycling can begin.

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