Wednesday, August 14, 2019

No, this isn't just "racism."

A blatantly racist and sexist billboard in North Carolina which reads:
"The 4 Horseman Cometh are Idiots - Signed, the Deplorables (sic)

"In a tweet on Wednesday evening, Tlaib asked how the billboard could not be considered an aggressive inducement.

'How the hell is this not inciting violence?' she wrote.

Pressley tweeted: '#Racist rhetoric from the occupant of the @WhiteHouse has made hate our new normal. We are still vulnerable.'

But appeals for civility appear to be falling on deaf ears. Wacholz amped up his attack when the store posted a statement on Facebook that said it planned to produce clothing with the billboard’s image.

'Alright my fellow Infidels for Trump … due to OVERWHELMING demand … you may come by the shop (next week) and get your very own FOUR HORSEMEN COMETH STICKER … simple … eat a piece of bacon … tell us you’re voting for Trump in 2020 … then get your limited edition bumper sticker! (While supplies last!) Snowflakes and Liberals are not eligible … sorry ...'"

- Sourced from this Guardian article.

"An advertising company has announced it will take down a billboard in Murphy, North Carolina, calling Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley "idiots." The billboard was promoting a local gun shop, and the shop's owner said he wants to go to court to keep it up.

The billboard received national attention after Cherokee Guns posted a picture of it on Facebook. Cherokee Guns stood by its ad and even sold bumper stickers of it for those who wanted to show support...

...The president tweeted earlier this month that the "'Progressive' Democratic Congresswomen" should "go back" to where they came from, even though three of them were born in the U.S. and the fourth has been a citizen for two decades. Since then, they've been singled out repeatedly by opponents on the right.

On Tuesday, the owner of Cherokee Guns spoke to WTVC-TV. He said the billboard had only been up for a few days, but it had already brought him more business."

- Excerpt from this CBS online news report.

"A shattering weekend in which two mass shootings left at least 29 people dead and injured dozens put Donald Trump at the center of a storm of outrage over racism and the failure on gun control in America.

Even as the president said “hate has no place in our country” and blamed the shootings on mental illness, investigators in El Paso confirmed that a massacre at a Walmart superstore on Saturday that left at least 20 people dead in the Texas border city had been preceded by the suspected gunman publishing an anti-immigration screed via the darker recesses of the internet.

And in a mass shooting in the early hours of Sunday, just 13 hours later, a gunman in Dayton, Ohio, was wearing body armor and carrying 100-bullet magazines to arm his high-powered rifle, with law enforcement warning he could have killed many dozens of people if he had not been shot by police within 30 seconds of opening fire.

The shootings were carried out just a week after a 19-year-old, also armed with a high-caliber rifle, opened fire at a popular annual food festival in Gilroy, northern California, killing three and wounding others."

- Sourced from this August 4, 2019 Guardian report. Also see CNN's Another weekend, two more mass shootings in America. Actually there were 4 mass-shootings in the States this weekend: 2 were in Chicago.

"Gun Violence Archive, frequently cited by the press, defines a mass shooting as firearm violence resulting in at least four people being shot at roughly the same time and location, excluding the perpetrator. Using this definition, there have been 2,128 mass shootings since 2013, roughly one per day.

The United States has had more mass shootings than any other country. Shooters generally either die by suicide afterwards or are restrained or killed by law enforcement officers or civilians. Studies indicate that the rate at which public mass shootings occur has tripled since 2011. Between 1982 and 2011, a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days. However, between 2011 and 2014, that rate has accelerated greatly with at least one mass shooting occurring every 64 days in the United States. According to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive, there were 250 mass shootings between January 1 and August 3, 2019 - the 215th day of the year.

The majority of perpetrators are white males who act alone. According to most analyses and studies however, the proportion of mass shooters in the United States who are white and male is not considerably greater than the proportion of white males in the general population of the US."

- From the Wiki entry for Mass Shootings in the United States. I'm not exactly sure what that last line in the quote proves, but, well, whatever. Another article addressing the mass murderer is this NY Times offering from 2018: "Mass Shooters Are All Different. Except for One Thing: Most Are Men". There is also a short listing of mass shootings in the U.S. found here.


"In Ancient Rome, the Dog Days extended from July 24 through August 24 (or, alternatively July 23-August 23). In many European cultures (German, French, Italian) this period is still said to be the time of the Dog Days.

Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, Quinto raged in anger, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and frenzies" according to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813."

- "Dog Days" entry via Wiki.

(Note: I began writing this post Monday, August 6. The Sunday I'm referring to fell on August 5th.)

I woke up in a weird, crappy mood Sunday. Not that this is or was front page news... but,  then again, for some individuals, waking up in a crappy mood means they have to go out and shoot a few people before breakfast, thereby creating the day's Top Story. And, as it worked out, competition was fierce for the top spot this past Sunday with the exploits of four psychopaths clamoring for our attention. I grew more upset than usual, over the sort of "news" which has become so common these days it's like, well, no news at all. But, something about the 4 shootings occurring so close together was oddly familiar... bringing me back to September of 2001, and the utter horror and disbelief I felt while helplessly watching the TV screen as one of the massive Twin Towers began to collapse while, at the same time a plane was surrealistically flying straight into the other (inset right). (BBC video.) While the tragedy of 2001 differed in many ways, the tragedies of this past weekend somehow had a similar effect on me.

Terrorism is, after all, terrorism. One doesn't need to qualify it; its effects are the same regardless of the weapons involved, the perpetrators responsible, or the number of casualties. Presently, in the U.SA., terrorism is an existential scourge brought directly from hell to earth by an emotionally-dead, sociopathic minority: primarily young men who are so out-of-touch with reality that death might be no more than the temporary handicap it is in their virtual worlds. But, is this the whole picture?

Of course, we can always blame recent insanity on the folklore effects of the Dog Days of summer. I have in the past. But, as it was, just as I was following up on the various massacres via the internet that same morning, I came across the billboard (introducing this post). More incredulousness on my part... because on the billboard were the faces of 4 women... 4 members of Congress who were recently disrespected by possibly the most disrespectful President this country has ever seen. Moreover, the billboard seemed to be an odd advertisement for CHEROKEE GUNS (those words beneath "idiots" and "deplorables" in big block letters). Alarmingly, the billboard's purpose seemed to imply that CHEROKEE GUNS had just the solution for removing the four problematic "horsemen"... forever.

The thing is, I was always under the impression that publicly advocating the murder of members of Congress was, in fact, a felony, or, at the very least, a form of sedition. Certainly, I can't recall ever seeing anything like it before. Had there been four male members of Congress on that sign, we can rest assured that the reaction would've been a bit more extreme... and CHEROKEE GUNS wouldn't have gotten as far as the T-shirt/bumper sticker phase. So, what gives? Boys will be boys... eh, Meryl?*

You do realize, of course, that singling out four women in this way is not very far from the "Burn witch, burn!" mindset of the not-too-distant past. So, for those who feel women have made immense, unassailable strides across the board and need fight no further... well, the billboard informs us that this is not the case... certainly not in the States. In global terms a recent World Bank study concluded that there are only 6 countries which have equal rights for men and women: Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden. But, I'm not convinced that any country is a truly safe haven for women. And, obviously, in the States, nobody is safe, regardless of gender. And this malaise increases exponentially if your skin isn't white enough, your gender is ambiguous, and/or your path through life diverges in any way from the mainstream.

But, it wasn't always like this. There was a time - and it truly wasn't all that long ago - when, at the very least, kids could go to school in most places without the threat of being shot and killed. As late as the early 1980s women could walk alone in downtown Manhattan at night without being raped... or knifed on the subway when they went home. A family outing wasn't necessarily an invitation to the Grim Reaper. A trip to a department store to buy curtains was not a suicidal proposition. Mass shootings had yet to become the norm...

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Fine, Vintage Wine - Happy Birthday, Judy Chicago!

Judy Chicago. Photo credit:Martin Godwin. (Source: this interview.)

Judy Chicago turns 80 this month... but, don't imagine for a moment she's going to let the day slip by with merely a sigh and a whimper; she's celebrating it with a bang!

First up, she's launching her new, designer wine - Judy Chicago (inset right) - inspired by her feminist art organization's Through the Flower motif - just in time for the Grand Opening of her new Art Space this Saturday, July 20, 2019, for which she's giving tours all weekend.

She's also showing a film, having a wine release party, having a Pop-Up exhibition AND a special firework's performance: A Birthday Bouquet for Belen.

All these events are open to the public, so if you just happen to be in New Mexico, well, drop by! More info can be found here and here.

By the way, here's a little more info regarding Chicago's new Art Space. As it happened, she recieved a proposal late last year by the (dirt-poor) city of Belen's mayor and town councilor: the creation of a museum in Belen dedicated to one of the most notorious feminist artists in America... Chicago, herself!

Alas, it seems as if a group of religious-right fanatics opposed the museum. I quote Alisa Valdes from her Alibi article appearing earlier this year:

"Speaking to the Times, a member of the Calvary Chapel, located in Belen's old WalMart (of course it is) 19 year old Lacey Greet, explained her opposition to the museum thus:

'As Christians, we are for order, justice, security and protection. I'm for protecting the eyes of children.'"

Oh, yes, we see... NOT!

As it was, Valdes had the sneaky suspicion that Chicago's "Jewishness" might have been at the root of all this "righteousness," but, then, racism and sexism are symptoms of the same malady that has infected America for some time now: Trumpism and the empowerment of the evil far-right.

Inset left is a tapestry banner from Chicago's 1974 Dinner Party (for discerning eyes only). It reads: "And then all that divided them merged."

Anyway, not to worry; Judy declined the original offer and took the matter into her own capable hands. She set up a Go-Fund-Me page to pay for the new Through the Flower Art Space... and the rest is herstory! (More here.)

As for the Grand Opening, well, I'm hoping to be there... although the present state of my car might thwart my efforts. In any case, from all of us to all of her:



Note: Ironically, the New Mexico town of Belen - apparently a hot-bed of Christian righteousness - shares its name with a pagan sun-god! His name is Belenus, which is the Romanized version of Bel or Belen. Beltane is his fire festival. Sourced from this article, we have:

"Based on surviving inscriptions and archaeological remains, Belenus was among the most widely venerated and beloved deities of the Celtic world. The center of his venerations seems to have been in France, where the most artifacts have been uncovered, but inscriptions dedicated to him have been found from the British Isles to Slovenia.

Belenus’ shrines often incorporated therapeutic springs. He may have dominion over the healing power of the sun. An erotic spirit, he may be a spirit of reproductive fertility for people and livestock. He is sometimes called the Lord of Flocks."

For more info about Belen see here, and - if you're on Facebook  - check out Hecate's Haven.

And, you know, the town of Belen might think about having its own Beltane fire festival. Judy Chicago could do one of her fireworks displays. Inset right: remember this guy?

Monday, July 8, 2019

Artistic Empowerment in a Dark Age

Hello again. Just in case you thought I died, I thought it might be a good idea to drop by and put in an appearance.

Below is something I was inspired to write yesterday. It felt like it came out the blue but, when I got to thinking about it, I realized that what I'd done was list some of the underlying elements of empowerment I'd discovered during the course of researching and writing about other artists. (Re: the empowerment posts of which 2 are yet-to-come). (Yes, you heard right: the initial "last" empowerment post has propagated into 2...)(And, yes, I'm living in a metropolis of rabbit-holes!)

Anyway, the list is not gender-specific. Also, although I'm not sure how much of it will hold up in the coming months, there's a chance I'll be referring to it again. Or scrapping it altogether.

Incidentally, the small oil paintings appearing here were painted early in my artistic herstory and were precursors to the images found here. I wish I had access to a similar sort of list then!


10 Strategies for Survival as an Artist

I. Don't feel as if you must always "go it alone." Join a group, form a collective. There is safety and strength in numbers. Even if you must initially isolate yourself always keep in mind that there are individuals like yourself who need to express themselves in similar ways. Keep an eye out for them. You may need help that only they can provide... and vice versa. Create a Movement; it draws attention. While categorization is a superficial goal, having a general location - politically, stylistically or philosophically - might work to your advantage.

2. When in doubt, build larger. The meek do not inherit the earth. If you believe in what you are doing then make a bold statement. It is a statement which will become a part of the historical and herstorical records. Like the Egyptian pyramids, it will last indisputabley; it will be impossible to overlook or ignore.

3. Do something unexpected. Surprise yourself. Don't be afraid to evolve. Make your work a playground... a laboratory.

4. Express yourself in several dimensions. Likewise, find your inspiration in several more; many dimensions of experience are layered within the psyche. An artist needs to explore these hidden dimensions... to go where few humans have gone before. In a sense it is an artist's job, his or her truest vocation. We are here to explore the hidden, the forgotten, the damned, the invisible... the places no one looks for truth... the places it hides.

5. Find support... whether it's in the form of a mentor, a patron, a benefactor, a partner or a true friend. Know your allies. Realize that fate may not always come to your rescue, but that your inner self will champion you at all times. Your true fortitude, your salvation, lies within. Meanwhile, you may have to take on laborious jobs for physical survival...  or utilize commercial ways to finance larger projects, but never let a source of income be your only guide and never let the dictates of society weaken your resolve. Demand the society of angels.

6. Celebrate your physical legacy; embrace your genetic heritage: the people and places you originated from. And, then, rise above them. You are a unique expression in a continuum. You are a new explication in a morphic field.  You are an alchemical point in which all symmetries are unbound and a crucible in which all impossibilities are born. Through you new landscapes emerge and dreams achieve substance.

7. Celebrate yourself. It's uplifting to expand your expression to include your appearance. Be a child dressing up in a mirror. But don't, for any reason, let current trends or societal prejudices define your choices... specifically those dealing with weight, gender, chronological age, and skin color. Gender profiling is passé. Age profiling is society's way of creating new landfills. Skin color is only relevant here when choosing a complimentary shade of accessory. Defy convention. Have fun. Pretend you have just met yourself for the first time.

8. Find your inner, mysterious "other half" who compliments and completes you. Jung referred to this entity as the animus - a woman's inner man - and the anima, a man's inner woman. But, this wasn't merely psychobabble; the anima and animus exist. And, for an artist, acknowledging and accepting this dual-gender aspect in their psyches is crucial to initiate, enrich and perpetuate all creative acts. The greatest, most effective art is not sexist in a derogatory way; your inner opposite enables you to rise above sexism. Moreover, It will enable you to express your humanity as a whole person without recourse to superficial displays of worn-out gender tropes.

9. Find joy in your creations. This is the truest, most heroic subversion of all the falseness you have been taught and indoctrinated to believe. You are not here to suffer. You are here to overcome suffering. Let your muse show you the way. Illustrate what you've learned. Sing, if only to yourself. Write poetry (it renews the spirit). Dance wherever it is not allowed.

10. Set all winged creatures free.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Lady From Lavinium

A fragment of a life-sized terracotta statue of an Etruscan woman
from ancient Lavinium housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
(Click-on images to enlarge)

"The legendary king Aeneas, father of the Latin race, fled from Troy to Macedonia, then Sicily, and finally to the Italian peninsula. There he founded a city called Lavinium (modern Pratica di Mare), a site eighteen miles south of Rome, which became a major religious center for the Latin people. The distinctive clothing and jewelry on this life-sized statue closely resemble those on fourth and third century B.C. terracottas found there. The elaborate necklaces and armband appear to be reproduced from molds of actual jewelry. Some of the pendants are decorated with reliefs depicting various Etruscan deities and heroes. Originally, this woman wore a pair of grape-cluster earrings. The one on her left ear is visible behind her long hair. When complete, the statue probably stood in a sanctuary and showed the young woman holding an incense box in her extended right hand. This rare statue is an exceptional example of the awakening sophistication of Italic artists, who over the following two centuries fused native traditions with imported ones and gave birth to the multifaceted art of Late Republican Rome."

- A description of the Lady from Lavinium - the terracotta statue fragment (shown centered above and inset right) from this New York Metropolitan Museum page. (Note: I am somewhat flummoxed as to why this statue is referred to as having "long" hair when, in fact it's shorter and straighter than the hair on most statues of women from any time period.)

"The tradition of making sculpture in terracotta represents one of the signal artistic accomplishments of ancient Italian cultures before and during the rise of Rome as the dominant regional power... The first recorded artist names on the peninsula in fact belong to sculptors who worked in clay, Vulca of Veii and Gorgasus and Damophilus of Magna Graecia...

Mass produced and finished by hand, terracottas were ubiquitous in the ancient Mediterranean. Usually modest in scale, statuettes circulated widely over long periods and through multiple generations of molds, providing critical evidence for regional styles, patterns of trade, and local cults. Commonly found in dwellings, graves, and sanctuaries, terracottas gave tangible form both to private spiritual beliefs and to public religious observances."

- An excerpt sourced from this .pdf. Inset left is a more common, classically-featured terracotta head from the same period.

"I began to feel an overwhelming obligation to question history. As a woman, I wanted to take this idea one step further. Since the dawn of written records, the vast majority of materials that scholars consider academically acceptable have been created by men of a certain social and political strata. We believe, usually without question, in the veracity of documents simply because they can be "authenticated" to a specific time period. Rarely do we take into account that they were written during darker days when women held a status lower than livestock and were believed to have no souls! How many magnificent stories have been lost to us because the women who starred in them weren't deemed important enough, even human enough, to merit mention? How many woman have been removed completely from history? And, would this apply most certainly to the women of the first century?"

- From the novel The Expected One by Kathleen McGowen (2006).

 "A new generation might forget where their freedoms came from, drifting back once again into the sandbar of silence. Sara Evans thinks that concern helps explain why so many second-wave women became scholars. 'Certainly I am not the only historian,' she writes, 'who wishes to spare the next generation the rage we experienced about having been cut off from our own history in all its complexity.'"

- Excerpt from Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 2007.


No, this post is not another interlude; it's actually what would've and should've been a prelude to the entire series of empowerment posts I've been slowly churning out for months; the last of which (alas) is still "under construction." As it happened, I was looking through a book on classical Greek and Roman art the other day when I came upon the photo (seen above) of a statue of an anonymous woman from Lavinium, a port city in ancient Italy. I confess, I was startled. It is so unlike what one expects to find when looking at classical art, either Roman, Greek, Etruscan, Celtic, etc.  She almost seems medieval except that this isn't possible; she was created well over 2000 years ago. And, yet, nothing about the woman's image (inset right) is classical; not even the length of her neck. Note the intensity in her eyes, the generous mouth, her 20th century hairstyle: a straight bob framing her face. Note, too, her striking individuality, the unmistakable character in her face; she's an actual woman, not a generic, idealized version of a woman.

Then again, maybe it's just me. Perhaps, I'm merely in the dark about the true scope of ancient art and there's nothing anomalous about this piece at all. But, then again, much of Lavinium art from this period has only recently come to light.* And, what is coming to light is fairly strange. There is, for instance, the discovery of thousands of buried sculptures of various human body parts - referred to as "votives" - found all across Italy. The hypotheses is that they were offerings to the gods and goddesses in hopes of regaining health for various physical afflictions. Some of them are pictured below. (See the article: Why were thousands of clay body parts buried in ancient Italy?)

In any case, something tells me that sculptors in the early Roman empire were in high demand, not to mention highly respected. And, I would assume that many of the gynecological-related body parts were very often created by those who knew them best: women. And, as there's thousands of them, I'm guessing they must've worked!

Oddly enough, our lady from Lavinium looks very much like a statue I thought I saw in a cemetery a number of years ago while photographing its impressive grave monuments. Unfortunately, it was late in the day, so, I decided to come back and photograph her the following day. But, this was not to be. Eerily, after returning to the graveyard as intended, and searching for her for over two hours, I couldn't find her. I began to fear that I never saw the statue to begin with, and, slowly it occurred to me that, no, I actually hadn't. Because, when I really thought about it, the statue in my memory did not have the same classical facial features as every single one of the other statues in the cemetery. It also occurred to me that, In my memory, she was standing with a bluish glow around her as if it were nightfall and she was standing beneath the moon. But, this could not have been true; I had left the cemetery at twilight.

In the end I concluded the statue must have appeared in a dream I experienced the night before... an anomalous statue of a woman holding a chalice in one hand and a disc in the other... more like a pagan goddess than anything you'd find in a Roman Catholic cemetery in New England. Which was very spooky at the time and disorientating.... especially because I had confused reality with a dream.

So, what was that all about? To this day I don't know. But, seeing the lady of Lavinium opened that particular file in my memory banks. In other words, I guess it kind of shook me up to encounter a similar anomalous statue again.

As it was, smaller terracotta pieces were numerous in Rome and Greece at the time, allegedly made by men (of course) who were referred to as "modelers of girls." I don't think our featured statue portrayed a girl, however. She was young, but judging by her low-hanging breasts, a young adult. Speaking of her breasts, I also note that they are small and uneven, that is, not symmetrical - hardly the idealized specimens we'd expect in a work of art. Normally, I would not make a point of addressing this, but, as breasts are one of the issues that surface in my upcoming empowerment post I might as well broach the topic here.

Let's face it, one part of a woman's anatomy male artists - especially classical artists - would not fail to idealize is a woman's breasts... the fuller and more perfectly round the better.** In fact, one gets the impression that if it weren't for breasts, there would be a great deal less art and fewer male artists!

But, I digress. It was, however, with this thought in mind, that I had a kind of epiphany. And, this is how it went: there are few male artists who would devote their efforts to the expression on a woman's face while, at the same time, completely overlook the contours of her chest. Inset right is a perfect example of what a man might produce (no, darlings, the delicate folds of her headdress were not designed to frame her face). So, I think we can safely say, this is the work of a male artist. The lady from Lavinium, however, well, I have a strange intuition that she may have been a woman's work. Moreover, the woman was a renegade and a genius. In terms of enigmatic expressions, the Mona Lisa has nothing on our Lady of Lavinium!

And, yes, it could've happened. Etruscan women were amongst the more liberated women of the classical world and some assume the lady was created by an Etruscan artist. Moreover, we mustn't forget those fierce Italian women painters of the Italian Renaissance. Did we actually assume they appeared out of thin air? No, I don't believe they did. Others came before them; ancestors from a pre-Christian world and, specifically, a pagan world.*** So, if I were an art historian, you can bet I'd do a lot of digging around this particular place and time period. Perhaps, there are more silenced voices we need to listen to... and there is no time like the present.

As for the lady of Lavinium, she might be gazing into a mirror... assessing herself, scrutinizing herself as if she were, in actuality, her own subject. Might this be the case: our lady from Lavinium was a sculptress who modeled her own portrait in clay? Stranger things have happened.


* According to information found on this history blog page, the Lavinium Archaeological Museum wasn't opened till 2005 due to a lot of red tape involving private land owners, bureaucrats and the "Archaeological Superintendency for metropolitan Rome." Apparently, in 2017, the archaeological site itself had just been opened to visitors.

Inset left is one of the terracotta statue fragments featured in the museum: an amazing woman holding what appears to be an elegantly-shaped container of some sort. Everything about this noblewoman is outstanding and has an almost contemporary appeal... from her clothing to the expression on her face. (Note: I want that hat!)

I think I've seen the future... and it looks like this woman...

(... and, it looks as if this woman is empowered.)

** Interestingly, classical statues of women often featured asymmetrical breasts; that is, one breast was often larger or differently-shaped than the other and/or misaligned with the other. We can see this on the lady from Lavinium as well. But, why was this, do you suppose? Was it some sort of code known only to artists?  Or, possibly a symbolic tribute to Amazonian culture and the warrior women who allegedly removed one breast?

Whatever the case, I found that bit of information on this wonderful UK site from 2013: Nemi to Nottingham: In the Footsteps of Fundilia. Happily, it seems as if other women - actual scholars - are also asking questions about pre-Christian artifacts... specifically those found at Nemi near the Temple of Diana... which somehow made their way to Nottingham Castle museum in the UK. Nemi, incidentally, was an area of ancient Latium as was Lavinium.

The website specifically centers on one enigmatic statue (as this post does): the Herm of Fundilla... who was allegedly sculpted by the "actor" Fundilius. Hmmm... you should definitely check out Fundilia!

*** How and why a pre-Christian civilization might allow a woman more equality and autonomy than the sum total of the patriarchal religious/political structures which followed is easily illustrated by the pagan pantheons of gods and goddesses; particularly (but not limited to) those deemed highest in the hierarchy.

In both Greece and Rome there were 12 major dieties: 6 male gods and 6 goddesses. Of the goddesses, 3 were virgin - Minerva (Menrva or Athena), Diana (Artemis), and Vesta (Hestia) - that is, without offspring. So, while there were most certainly Mother Goddesses for women to identify with, emulate and seek help from, there were also goddesses for women who would never bear children, either due to physical disability, personal preference, economic hardship... or lack of a mate. In other words, the virgin goddesses might have represented an honorable place in society for women who chose (or, were "chosen" for) an alternative route through life, up to and including those of artistic, intellectual and even mystical persuasion (i.e., the sibyls, and the vestals). Inset left is a Roman mosaic of an androgynous Minerva with an image of a gorgon on her chest.

Incidentally, the Etruscans had a very surprising sacred trinity. It was composed of 1 god and two goddesses: Tinia and his wife, Uni, and their daughter, Menrva!  Menrva was the Etruscan equivalent of Minerva (Athena), virgin goddess of wisdom, war, art, education, and medicine. She was also a lightning deity. (Note: the Celtic equivalent of Minerva might be Sulis.)

Meanwhile, the goddess Diana (inset right), although a virgin herself, was the goddess of childbirth and women in general. In her Wiki entry we read:

"Diana is the only pagan goddess mentioned by name in the New Testament (Acts 19). As a result, she became associated with many folk beliefs involving goddess-like supernatural figures that Catholic clergy wished to demonize.

In the Middle Ages, legends of night-time processions of spirits led by a female figure are recorded in the church records of Northern Italy, western Germany, and southern France. The spirits were said to enter houses and consume food which then miraculously re-appeared. They would sing and dance, and dispense advise regarding healing herbs and the whereabouts of lost objects. If the house was in good order, they would bring fertility and plenty. If not, they would bring curses to the family. Some women reported participating in these processions while their bodies still lay in bed. Historian Carlo Ginzburg has referred to these legendary spirit gatherings as "The Society of Diana."


Lastly, there were the mysterious sibyls - oracles, prophetesses and trance mediums - who allegedly channeled the gods.  Above are two sibyls from the Sistine Chapel painted by Michaelangelo. The first (left) is the Greek Delphic sibyl reading a scroll, and the second (right) is the amazing sibyl of Cumae studying a book... possibly one of the Sibylline Books of prophecies about which Wiki relates this legend:

"Centuries ago, concurrent with the 50th Olympiad, not long before the expulsion of Rome's kings, an old woman "who was not a native of the country" arrived incognita in Rome. She offered nine books of prophecies to King Tarquin; and as the king declined to purchase them, owing to the exorbitant price she demanded, she burned three and offered the remaining six to Tarquin at the same stiff price, which he again refused, whereupon she burned three more and repeated her offer. Tarquin then relented and purchased the last three at the full original price, whereupon she "disappeared from among men."

I love that story.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Journey to the Bottom of a Rabbit Hole (Interlude #3)

Rosslyn Chapel - window on north side. Photo credit ©: Rob Farrow.
(All images in this post can be clicked-on for original size.)

"The building of cathedrals was part of a colossal and cleverly devised plan which permitted the existence of entirely free philosophical and psychological schools in the rude, absurd, cruel, superstitious, bigoted and scholastic Middle Ages. These schools have left us an immense heritage, almost all of which we have already wasted without understanding its meaning and value."

- A quote attributed to P.D. Ouspensky. sourced from Tim Wallace Murphy's Enigma of the Freemasons: Their History and Mystical Connections (2006). Inset right is a column from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, featuring the Kabbalistic Tree of Life symbol.

"The Gothic cathedral, that sanctuary of tradition, science and Art, should not be regarded as a work dedicated solely to the glory of Christianity, but rather as a vast concretion of ideas, of tendencies, of popular beliefs, a perfect whole to which we can refer without fear, whenever we would penetrate the religious, secular, philosophic or social thoughts of our ancestors."

- Another quote sourced from Murphy's book which originated from Le Mystère des Cathédrales (1926) by a mysterious French alchemist known only as "Fulcanelli." Inset left is another - more enigmatic - column from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

From Chartres Cathedral in France: a mechanized astrological clock added in 1528.

What's this? A third Interlude?

Alas, yes. As you may have guessed, I've been tottering on the brink of one rabbit hole or another for months now, so, I suppose it was inevitable I'd lose my footing eventually. Originally, I intended to add 2 quotes I found recently (now posted above) to the Chinese Sewing Basket addendum - in which I mention Notre Dame de Paris - and, for all sensible reasons, that's where the operation should've ended.

But, no. Instead, I decided to Google the French alchemist Fulcanelli (who wrote the second quote above)... a man I was unfamiliar with. After all, a writer should know her subject matter, right?

Famous Last Words. For, at that very moment, although unbeknownst to myself, a massive black rabbit hole was silently opening directly beneath my feet like the mouth of a terrestrial Moby Dick.

Maybe it's the topic itself: alchemy - specifically hermeticism - the black hole of the esoteric world. The further you go, the less you know. And, as for Fulcanelli... ah, yes, Fulcanelli, now there's a name to conjure with. And, certainly many have. For some he's the man-who-never-was with an ongoing archive of potential identities (see the Fr. Wiki entry).

But, ultimately, this post isn't about Fulcanelli any more than it's about cathedrals. As it so happened, while ferreting out info about Fulcanelli I discovered his friend, Julien Champagne, also a French alchemist and an artist. It was he who created the frontispiece emblem (inset left) for Fulcanelli's Mystère des Cathédrales.

Champagne is somewhat less of a mystery than Fulcanelli, but, don't be deceived. Some researchers believe he was Fulcanelli. Regardless, a female alchemist by the name of Louise Barbe (sometimes referred to as Marguerite-Louise Barbe) allegedly died in Champagne's laboratory either by drinking the elixir aurum potable (drinkable gold) - which is sometimes referred to as the Philosopher's Stone (as so many things are!) - or in a fire which broke out in the laboratory. Anyway, she was supposed to have died (according to one sentence in a Wiki article devoted to her alleged husband, Dr. Serge Voronoff of "monkey gland" fame) in 1910, the same year Champagne used her services as a model for his painting Le Vaisseau du Grand Oeuvre (Vessel of the Great Work), inset right.

"Of course, the 'Great Work' is Alchemy," one researcher explains, "and the painting is filled with alchemical symbolism.  The nude female figure is a personification of the philosopher's stone; she stands within a glass flask and is surrounded by myriad blazing flames. Off the right shoulder of the young woman is the word 'POTERE' meaning 'power' in English; off of her left shoulder is the word 'AVDERE' meaning 'to dare' in English. The background on the left and right sides of the flask contain the names of certain philosophers and alchemists written in Latin letters."

One other notable symbol in the painting is the large skull she's standing on...  formed by the "blazing flames". So, did she actually die in 1910 as stated in the Voronoff Wiki article? In which case, did Champagne have some presentiment of her death or did the skull represent the first stage of the Great Work: nigredo? (Inset left, is an image of Champagne sourced from this intensive French Julien Champagne site.)

Then again, alchemists had a habit of faking their own deaths and another source tells us that Barbe was The Praemonstratrix (an officer) of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn's Paris Temple - Temple Ahathoor - for another 15 years! Go figure. Another key factor in the ongoing narrative is her involvement with writer and filmmaker Irène Hillel-Erlanger who, incidentally, was also New Woman Germaine Dulac's collaborator and business partner from 1915 to 1920, the year of Erlanger's death.

Apparently, Irène Hillel-Erlanger wrote the scripts for many of Dulac's earlier films and was also the author of the "veiled and multi-layered Dadaist work" Voyages en Kaleidescope - which some speculate was an alchemical treatise and one praised by Fulcanelli. Very possibly, the illustrious André Breton - a man who frequently insinuates himself into my blogposts - was a close acquaintance, as a copy of her book (inset right) was found on this Breton page. Her dedication in the book reads: "... to the Great Soul of L.B. I piously offer these pages."

"Piously"? Was "L.B." a reference to Louise Barbe? According to the preface of a recent reprint of Voyages en Kaleidescope (linked to above) both woman died in 1920 within months of each other; Erlanger either having contracted typhus from tainted oysters, or deliberately having been poisoned by an unknown foe. However, in Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations, Erlanger's death is attributed to tuberculosis.

In any event, after her death most copies of her book mysteriously disappeared. Some speculate that both women were murdered for having divulged too many hermetic top secrets. Having read bits of Erlanger's cryptic book, however, this seems unlikely. Moreover, the mysterious Fulcanetti purportedly had high praise for the book. But, if Erlanger and Barbe were murdered, might it have been due more to what they knew - as women - rather than what they divulged? Some metaphysical ability peculiar to the "fair sex," perhaps. I merely  speculate. Inset right is a Green Person (I swear it looks like a woman I used to work with in a factory back in my early days) from Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Note the image of the downward dove - generally a symbol of the "Holy Spirit" - incised on the Green Person's forehead.

One passage in Voyages en Kaleidescope describes a woman with a diamond in her forehead which had the power to detonate a thousand bombs and does eventually destroy the magical kaleidoscope and half the neighborhood along with it. (See here.) Then again, this Golden Dawn page informs us: "The erotic nature of the Hermetic alchemy is symbolized not only by the female figure, but also by the fire which burns beneath her. Her wings indicate that, for a man, woman holds the wings to spiritual ascent." There is even a statement in the Wiki article that although it was said that Fulcanelli's Master was medieval alchemist Basil Valentine (who I intuited was female in this post) his actual "initiator" may have been his wife. (Note: Incidentally, throughout all my Fulcaelli research, this is and was the only mention I read of Fulcanelli actually having a wife.) In any case, one gets the impression that there is a great deal more to this story which we will never know till some female investigators start digging around! Inset right is another of the many esoteric symbols carved into the walls of the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel found here.

By the way, Florence Farr (1860-1917) - both a feminist and a Praemonstratrix of the London branch of the Golden Dawn - had these words of wisdom for women: "We must kill the force in us that says we cannot become all we desire, for that force is our evil star that turns all opportunity into grotesque failure..."

So, maybe it all boils down to "evil stars." In any case, when it comes to researching female alchemists, the virtual trail on the internet grows cold quickly. Then again, I'm guessing ferreting out female alchemists would've been a challenge during any period of history. Not that they weren't there... I've found a number of them in recent months*, it's just that male historians - and occultists - tend to both focus on their fellow male's accomplishments and champion those members of their own gender; only recently have women learned to champion their own... (especially on the internet)!

That being said, Louise Barbe's identity remains illusive. Was she even the same Louise Barbe who married Vorloff? It was that question which led me to the very bottom of the rabbit hole where lay (yet) another mystery. As it happened, in an attempt to find an image of Barbe (I've yet to find any), I came across what was purportedly a biographical page about Vorloff in which I found a version of the drawing inset left. A drawing by (none other than) Julien Champagne! Oddly enough, It is a drawing of the Queen Mary sundial found in Holyrood, Scotland.

Now, that Champagne should travel to Scotland - if he actually did - is not altogether unusual. Scotland has some breath-taking scenery. There was also, at one time, the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. That he might take the time to sketch a unique sundial doesn't necessarily set off any alarms. Queen Mary's sundial (inset left), however, just happens to be one of a number of similarly unique sundials in Scotland that sprouted up during the 16th century and, to this day, no can explain quite why.** They were not particularly fashionable in England nor other parts of Europe at the time, and Scotland isn't exactly the ideal place to rely upon the sun to set your pocket-watch.

Furthermore, the dials aren't just your average, flat sundials; they are complex structures (see here and here, where the photo inset left was found) and, to quote David Stevenson "stone exercises in solid geometry." He goes on to say that "'Dialling' was one of the skills of an architect, as defined by Vitruvius, and he had stated that knowledge of astronomy was essential to the architect so he could construct sundials. Did these remarkable objects develop partly as a means whereby the working mason could demonstrate his mathematical skills and the connection between his craft and the heavens above?"

Ultimately, Stevenson suspects that the sundials are evidence of early Scottish Freemasonry and, from what I've read, he might be right. Queen Mary's sundial was documented as having been built in 1663 by John Mylne, Master Mason to King Charles I. Mylne's name also appears above the door of Mary's Chapel in Edinburgh, which just happens to be the Ancient Lodge of Edinburgh, the oldest Masonic Lodge in the world! (See this BBC article.) Inset left is the Masonic symbol engraved on the front of Mary's Chapel... a symbol which should be familiar to dedicated readers of this blog and is fully investigated in this post.

As for a connection between Scottish and French Freemasonry, we might look to a man named Andrew Michael Ramsey (or "Chevalier Ramsey"), a Scottish writer who spent most of his life in France, where he wrote his famous Discourse pronounced at the reception of Freemasons. In his discourse he made the historic connection between the Crusader Knights and Freemasonry which, while not exactly a direct reference to the Templars, was very possibly an indirect one and was interpreted as such. The darling boy inset right is an 18th century illustration of a French Mason of Scottish persuasion wearing Templar regalia.

Of course, you ask, how does any of this apply to Julien Champagne? Well, according to Tim Wallace Murphy, the Champagne family is considered one of the most important Rex Deus families, and were the original patrons of Chrétien de Troyes, French poet, troubadour and author of the first Arthurian tales, so, if true, it stands to reason that Champagne would have an interest in his family's history.***

Then, too, Champagne (as well as Fulcanelli) allegedly owned a gold "baphometic" ring**** which came from the "Templars of the Commandery of Hennebont" in Brittany. (Note: I can't locate any information about a Templar Commandery at Hennebont.) Lastly, we have this: "Champagne also provided another curious clue when he completed his last emblem in Le Mystère des Cathédrales ... This shows a knight hiding behind a helmet and a heraldic shield surrounded by the phrase: UBER CAMPA AGNA."  (See here and here.)

Anyway, so (kind of) ends the mystery of Champagne's sundial and it appears we have arrived at the bottom of our rabbit hole; a journey I hope you enjoyed. While rabbit holes generally do not lead us to the answer of our original question, they sure do take us on one hell of a ride. In other words, while we haven't exactly learned any absolute truths - overrated, relative, and transient commodities - certainly our "little grey cells" have been invigorated!

BTW, as you may have guessed (or already known), regarding the three cathedrals featured in this post - Rosslyn, Chartres and St. John the Divine - all have alleged Templar and/or Masonic connections. Inset right is the Master Mason column from Rosslyn, and below is a bit of vintage Masonic ephemera regarding the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.


* My interest in female alchemists began while writing the Voynich MS posts on my other blog. Discovering that the Hungarian Empress, Barbara von Celje, was an alchemist was an eye-opener. (See here and here.) But, during my research I found a few others, and, while I haven't yet fallen down that rabbit hole... well, give me time.

** Oddly enough, the sundials aren't the only mysterious, geometric artifacts found almost exclusively in Scotland. There are also numerous, small, carved stone petrospheres dating from the Neolithic period which nobody can explain. The one pictured inset right (circa 3200–2500 BC) is from Aberdeenshire.

*** From the Wiki entry for Hugh, Count of Champagne. "When Hugh became a Knight Templar himself in 1125, the Order comprised few more than a dozen knights, and the first Grand Master of the Templars was a vassal of his, Hugues de Payens, who had been with him at Jerusalem in 1114."

Also see: Knights Templar in Scotland.

**** In regards to the gold "baphometic" rings allegedly belonging to Fulcanelli and Champagne: quite possibly their existence was inspired by Eliphas Levi's 19th century interpretation of Baphomet... the goat-headed Satanic symbol inscribed within an inverted pentagram (contemporary examples of Baphomet rings can be found here). I say this, because what precious little we know about the Templer's Baphomet - if it ever existed - was possibly represented by a cat (Bastet?), John the Baptist's head or a "reliquary in the shape of a woman's head." I refer you to the quotes found below.

"The Baphomet is an imagined pagan deity (i.e., a product of Christian folklore concerning pagans), revived in the 19th century as a figure of occultism and Satanism. Often mistaken for Satan, it represents the duality of male and female, as well as Heaven and Hell or night and day signified by the raising of one arm and the downward gesture of the other. It can be taken in fact, to represent any of the major harmonious dichotomies of the cosmos.

It first appeared in 11th and 12th century Latin and Provenal as a corruption of "Mahomet", the Latinisation of "Muhammad", but later it appeared as a term for a pagan idol in trial transcripts of the Inquisition of the Knights Templar in the early 14th century. The name first came into popular English-speaking consciousness in the 19th century, with debate and speculation on the reasons for the suppression of the Templars.

Since 1855, the name Baphomet has been associated with a "Sabbatic Goat" image drawn by Eliphas Levi. Central to the accusations brought against the Knights Templar, was the accusation that, they worshipped an idol named Baphomet, which is said to have taken the form of a head or sometimes a Black Cat. The truth behind this mythos varies with various scholars."

-Via the Chrystalinks entry for Baphomet.

"We found indisputable evidence for the charge of secret ceremonies involving a head of some kind. Indeed the existence of such a head proved to be one of the dominant themes running through the Inquisition records. Among the confiscated goods of the Paris preceptory a reliquary in the shape of a woman's head was found. It was hinged on top, and contained what appeared to have been relics of a peculiar kind."

- Excerpt from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln.

"The Baphomet was said by the Templars to be 'the principle of beings created by God Trinity.' It has also been seen as the symbol of divine wisdom and... in the Hebrew Atbashcipher converts to Sophia. One of the few Baphomets ever discovered was the head of a woman."

- From The Cult of the Black Virgin by Ean Begg.

"After a battery of unimaginable torture, many of the Templars invented confessions to end their suffering. Some admitted to worshipping an idol, though inconsistent accounts varied from the severed head of John the Baptist to a cat statue with three faces. There was no reference, however, to a goat-headed icon throughout the trial. After escaping the inquisitors’ torture, most Templars recanted their confessions, and were subsequently burned at the stake."

- Sourced from this UltraCulture article.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Sub Rosa (Another Interlude)

At the Garden Gate - digital - 2019, DS.
(Click-on post images for enlargements.)

"In the driest whitest stretch of pain's infinite desert, I lost my sanity and found this rose."

- Attributed to the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi.

“Mystery glows in the rose bed and the secret is hidden in the rose...”

- Attributed to the twelfth-century Persian poet and alchemist, Farid ud-din Attar, about whom Rumi once said: "Attar has traversed the seven cities of Love, We are still at the turn of one street."

"Le ciel clair de minuit, sous mes paupières closes,
Rayonne encor… Je suis ivre de tant de roses
Plus rouges que le vin.

Délaissant leur jardin, les roses m’ont suivie…
Je bois leur souffle bref, je respire leur vie.
Toutes, elles sont là."

(The clear midnight sky, under my closed lids,
Still shines....I am drunk from so many roses
Redder than wine.

Leaving their garden, the roses have followed me....
I drink their brief breath, I breathe their life.
All of them are here.)

- From the poem Les roses sont entrées (Roses Rising) by Symbolist poète maudit, Renée Vivien. I've written more about Vivien here. Inset right is Pre-Raphaelite John Waterhouse's 1908 painting The Soul of the Rose.

"Come into the garden, Maud, 
For the black bat, night, has flown, 
Come into the garden, Maud, 
I am here at the gate alone; 
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, 
And the musk of the rose is blown.

For a breeze of morning moves, 
And the planet of Love is on high, 
Beginning to faint in the light that she loves 
In a bed of daffodil sky, 
To faint in the light of the sun she loves, 
To faint in his light, and to die."

- From Alfred, Lord Tennyson's controversial 1854 "monodrama" Maud, which was eventually set to music. Part I of the poem can be found here, and Part II here. Inset left is the 1875 image Maud by the British photographer Julia Cameron.

"I am the dove whose wings are murder.
My name is love."

- From the short poem Au Revoir by the poet Charles Causley, the "most unfashionable poet alive." Like the symbol of the rose, the dove is also associated with Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love. The pentagram, on the other hand, is often associated with the planet Venus.


Spring is officially here, and, like most humans, my thoughts predictably turn to... well, love.   Suffice to say, while duty calls me back to my feminist artist series, my muse - who generally errs on the side of passion - has other intentions. And, for an artist, there is no dilemma involved. The answer is simple: follow the muse or be damned. Hence, another interlude.

Today's offering emerged from the image which introduces this post... an image which has haunted me this past month, inspired by a similar rose and pentagram motif on the ruined facade of a Templar church (found here). In my vision, it lies in shadow on the exterior of a garden wall flanking a wrought-iron gate. But, not just any garden, mind you; specifically a night garden... the garden of poets.

Inset left is another image I finished recently which had originally been intended for this post - a live scan of a bracelet - (added April 9).

Judging by his poem Maud, Tennyson would've known the night garden intimately... but, then, many critics and scholars came to regard his "monodrama" Maud as the work of deluded man with bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, Tennyson considered it his favorite and most successful composition. Inset right is an image of Tennyson reading Maud by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The moral to this story? For an artist or poet, attending to the opinions of critics and scholars is comparable to throwing ones body beneath a swiftly moving vehicle.

As it happens, my purpose of writing this post is not entirely clear to me. But, something about the relativity of love, roses... souls... and silence seems to be the underlying theme. Ultimately, it is silence which enables the ancient mystery of love to survive. For an artist, the allusion (and illusion) must suffice. And, yet, while I can't exactly elucidate, I can leave you with this: a definition of sub rosa I found in a book about Freemasonry:

"The rose, and especially the red rose had been from ancient times the symbol of Aphrodite or Venus, the goddess of love. It was symbolic of love, and making love was something private and not to be discussed openly. Cupid (Eros) therefore dedicated the rose to Harpocrates, the god of silence. Hence, the red rose of Aphrodite became the general symbol of silence and secrecy, and perhaps also of invisibility. Anything spoken sub rosa - under the rose - was confidential."

- From The Origins of Freemasonry, Scotlands Century 1590 - 1710  (via a discussion about the Rosicrucians) by David Stevenson, 1988.

On the other hand, from the Wiki article on Harpocrates we have: "One other tale relates the story about the Greek gods. Aphrodite gave a rose to her son Eros, the god of love; he, in turn, gave it to Harpocrates to ensure that his mother's indiscretions (or those of the gods in general, in other accounts) were kept under wraps. This gave roses the connotation of secrecy (a rose suspended from the ceiling of a council chamber pledged all present – sub rosa "under the rose"), which continued through the Middle Ages and through the modern era."