Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Reciting the Hymn to Pan


The recitation of poetry - poetry as vocal presentation, live on the breath - is about as lost as a lost art can be. Poetry itself can be classified as "all but lost", but the proper, effective, artful presentation of poetic recitation is dismally lost - great recitation is very, very rare. No one knows how to deliver the spoken word anymore. This, at least, is the reluctant conclusion of the present author. With few exceptions (Tegan Gigante is one) it is devilishly hard to find people who know how to read poetry. It makes an interesting test, to ask a group of the poetically inclined to read a poem, say, Eliot's Prufrock, aloud. It is hard to find a single convincing reader. The art of reading aloud is as neglected today as the art of fine handwriting. 

Given that, here is a real test. Who can offer a convincing rendering of Aleister Crowley's celebrated and ecstatic 'Hymn to Pan'? Many try, and many fail. Frankly, it is a dreadful poem with very few redeeming features, which is true of nearly all Crowley's poetry. There may be grounds for reconsidering the character and importance of Mr Crowley, now that we are over one hundred years into the Aeon of Horus, but his poetry, surely, is beyond saving. His 'Hymn to Pan' is widely known because it was anthologized in the Oxford Book of Mystical Verse, and it caused a public stir about "paganism" when it was read at Crowley's funeral. Crowleyphiles make inflated and unwarranted claims for it - "the greatest poem in the English language!" - when in fact it reads like it was written by a man addled on cocaine, and it probably was, although not even cocaine excuses the lame rhymes that it bumps against from start to finish. There's not a decent, original rhyme in the whole thing... or maybe "fetter/all-begetter", just. At best, we might admire its energy. 

Crowley was a fine - well, entertaining - prose writer, but his verse is tiresome and derivative (and usually obscene. He is at his most poetic when he is being scatological). The Hymn to Pan is arguably among his better poems, all the same. We might even call it a signature poem - in style and content it is pure Crowley. What we have here is a bad poet drunk on transgression. 

(A point: his poetry is Victorian and rooted in the conventions of nineteenth century verse. He never embraced modernism. Yet, this is not true of his paintings, whereby he embraced expressionism; his is a modern art. And a further aside, he never embraced film either. The Prophet of the New Aeon was often stuck in nineteenth century modes.)

But how to recite 'Hymn to Pan'? That is the question. All those exclamation marks!!!

Here is the poem:

HYMN TO PAN

Thrill with lissome lust of the light,
O man! My man!
Come careering out of the night
Of Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan! Come over the sea
From Sicily and from Arcady!
Roaming as Bacchus, with fauns and pards
And nymphs and satyrs for thy guards,
On a milk-white ass, come over the sea
To me, to me,
Come with Apollo in bridal dress
(Shepherdess and pythoness)
Come with Artemis, silken shod,
And wash thy white thigh, beautiful God,
In the moon of the woods, on the marble mount,
The dimpled dawn of the amber fount!
Dip the purple of passionate prayer
In the crimson shrine, the scarlet snare,
The soul that startles in eyes of blue
To watch thy wantonness weeping through
The tangled grove, the gnarled bole
Of the living tree that is spirit and soul
And body and brain — come over the sea,
(Io Pan! Io Pan!)
Devil or god, to me, to me,
My man! my man!
Come with trumpets sounding shrill
Over the hill!
Come with drums low muttering
From the spring!
Come with flute and come with pipe!
Am I not ripe?
I, who wait and writhe and wrestle
With air that hath no boughs to nestle
My body, weary of empty clasp,
Strong as a lion and sharp as an asp —
Come, O come!
I am numb
With the lonely lust of devildom.
Thrust the sword through the galling fetter,
All-devourer, all-begetter;
Give me the sign of the Open Eye,
And the token erect of thorny thigh,
And the word of madness and mystery,
O Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan Pan! Pan,
I am a man:
Do as thou wilt, as a great god can,
O Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! I am awake
In the grip of the snake.
The eagle slashes with beak and claw;
The gods withdraw:
The great beasts come, Io Pan! I am borne
To death on the horn
Of the Unicorn.
I am Pan! Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan!
I am thy mate, I am thy man,
Goat of thy flock, I am gold, I am god,
Flesh to thy bone, flower to thy rod.
With hoofs of steel I race on the rocks
Through solstice stubborn to equinox.
And I rave; and I rape and I rip and I rend
Everlasting, world without end,
Mannikin, maiden, Maenad, man,
In the might of Pan.
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan! Io Pan!


Readers are invited to put it to the test. Try reciting it, and ask your friends to try. How is this poem to be recited? 

FOURTEEN VERSIONS

Below are various attempts, mainly offered from the swelling ranks of contemporary Crowley pretenders. Some of them have merit, but most of them are limp. Only the last of them (Version Fourteen), below, even attempts to capture the poem's ecstatic qualities (and its author's beastliness.)Version Seven, recited in the ruins of the Abbey of Thelema in Sicily, at least has atmosphere.

Version One




Version Two





Version Three





Version Four





Version Five





Version Six





Version Seven





Version Eight





Version Nine





Version Ten





Version Eleven




Version Twelve





Version Thirteen





Version Fourteen




Sunday, 1 October 2017

Don Mei and the Tea Revolution


As readers of these posts may gather, the author is - amongst other things - a tea obsessive. This is unfortunate because over the last decade or so the society in which he lives has degenerated into a hipster-driven coffee culture (using the word 'culture' in the loosest possible sense), and it remains next to impossible to purchase a decent cup of tea anywhere in the entire country. There are endless pretentious coffee outlets - coffee, the drug that smells like heaven but tastes like sump oil - but no 'tea culture' of which to speak. You can buy an overpriced artisan coffee from a twat with bad tattoos and a man bun almost anywhere, but if you want tea instead of coffee the same venues will serve you a miserable Lipton's tea-bag scalded with boiling water and shamelessly charge you $5 for the privilege.  Coffee fuels the PC set. It is the beverage of choice for establishment progressives. Everywhere today the latte is synonymous with the smug and self-righteous shallowness that has infected the whole of the body politik. 

Then there is Don Mei. Don, often accompanied by his lovely wife Celine, is conducting a tea revolution through his tea store in London and through a series of highly informative short video presentations. Here he is:



His motto is 'No one should have to drink bad tea.' Millions do. Globally, tea consumption continues to decline as coffee caffinates the global elite and as the evil purveyors of Big Tea fill supermarket shelves with chinzy flavoured tea confections and bags full of tea dust. It is a staggering injustice that the tea bag was recently named as one of the greatest inventions of the XXth century. In fact, the tea bag is a modern monstrosity - a mass-market perversion of a once sacred drink - and is the single greatest obstacle to people having a genuine tea experience. Don Mei reigns as the tea bag's most ardent opponent and as the most articulate advocate of real tea. 

He is the son of one of the legendary pioneers of acupuncture in Europe, Man Fung Mei. Initially, Don shunned his father's profession and took up a career DJing in dubious night clubs. Eventually - realising the precarious nature of the music industry and the impact of too many late nights - he became involved in his father's business importing Asian herbs and medicines into Great Britain, and from there began specialising in importing Chinese tea. He brings a deep knowledge of Chinese traditional medicine, and a comfortable acquaintance with Western pop culture, to the traditional arts of tea drinking. There are no doubt many tea gurus abroad, but Don Mei is - in this writer's opinion - the most accessible of them. His knowledge of tea is vast and he communicates his knowledge in a fresh, fun format (Celine by his side). 

As evidence of this, readers need only peruse his video on how to get 'tea drunk'. Don's experience with night club psychotropics has clearly been put to good use. He is an expert on the entheogenic properties of tea and how to extract the maximum blood-to-brain chemical phantasmagoria from the humble camelia sinensis. Caffeine is not all that is going on. Here is the video:





Primarily, though, Mr Mei is a vocal advocate for changing the way in which tea is prepared. That is the key to better tea drinking. There are two general methods for preparing tea; the Western method and the traditional 'gong fu' method. Don never misses an opportunity to urge tea drinkers to switch from the former to the latter. Here is his video on why "tea heads" (as he refers to his viewers) should make the switch to 'gong fu' - it is one of the most informative videos in the series:


The video explains everything you need to know, but in summary 'gong fu' is prepared in a small pot, using quite a bit of tea leaf, and is steeped in hot (but not boiling) water for short periods of time, usually ten or twenty seconds. The tea is poured off, sipped in small cups, and then further extractions are made. The flavour (and chemical goodies) in the leaf is stripped back by infusion in a series of layers, each layer having slightly different properties. The Western method involves using less tea and more water (usually boiling) and letting it steep in one infusion for several minutes. There is, to be honest, something to be recommended in the Western style now and then - an English cup of tea with milk and sugar is a unique delight - but for general purposes, and a far better tea experience, the 'gong fu' method is superior. Suddenly, a whole new world of tea opens up. Suddenly, the different virtues of oolongs and whites and pu'erhs become apparent. You'll never drink Lipton again. (Actually, Liptons are tea blenders. James Lipton was a tea blender, and he made his fortune blending a uniform product much as McDonald's brought uniformity to the hamburger. Lipton's Earl Grey is OK.) 

Once you have mastered the 'gong fu' method you can thereafter concern yourself with the great range of distinct flavours (and other properties) of teas from China, Japan, India, Ceylon, and a host of other places. The variety is astounding. (The present author currently fancies a green tea from the Vietnamese highlands.) There are subtleties to the coffee bean, of course, but there is nothing in the profile of coffee to compare to the botantical amplitude of the tea bush. This extends to the psychoactive components of the two plants as well. Superficially, tea and coffee have a similar effect due to the caffeine in both, but in fact they are really quite different. Previous posts to this present site have mentioned this before. To put it another way, coffee (we are talking about its impact on the human psyche here)is the drink of the journalist, while tea is the drink of the diplomat. Coffee is a horizontal drug. Tea evokes vertical and heirarchial levels of consciousness - thus its use in a sacred context in the Asian spiritual traditions over many centuries. Coffee is an externalising drug. Tea has the unique combination of stimulating and internalising effects. It stimulates and internalizes. It is the preminent drug of watchfulness as a spiritual state. Coffee is crude and secular by comparison (unless you are confusing insomnia for watchfulness) its alleged use by certain Soofi groups among the Mohammadans notwithstanding. Coffee fuels the restless journalistic mood of modernity. Tea is a gateway drug into the essential moods and modes of Asian spirituality. 

This is going a bit further than Don Mei, but he touches on the history and spirituality of tea now and then as well. If you are looking for a living tea guru you cannot do better than Don Mei. All of his videos are worth watching. They will give you a complete education in tea basics, and then some. You will then begin a journey into the world of real tea, a world of which most tea drinkers are unaware. The task ahead is one of education. The public is woefully uninformed. Only when people awaken to what real tea is like, and how to prepare and drink it, will there be sufficent demand for tea to undergo the sort of cultural gentrification - if we can call it that - that has transformed coffee drinking in the last few decades. Tea has an historical reputation as the beverage of choice of the British Establishment, but in fact its prestige is much diminished and coffee has replaced it as the drink of the elite. This is an opportunity for tea to be rediscovered in a new context, perhaps even as a subversive drink. Don Mei's tea revolution awaits. 







Yours,

Harper







Monday, 18 September 2017

The Square Art: A Quick Guide to the Square Horoscope

In recent times a friend requested - not for the first time - that the present author provide a quick guide to the square horoscope, a device that he insists on using even though it is unfamiliar to almost everyone. The astrology of the modern era uses the circular horoscope; today the round chart is almost universally accepted. A. T. Manne named his widely read study of modern astrology The Round Art; he regards the circular horoscope as integral and paradigmatic to the whole art itself. 


In fact, though, up until the XIXth century, and going back thousands of years, and extending beyond just Western astrology to Indian and Chinese astrology as well, astrological charts were always cast as squares, not circles. In historical terms, astrology is the Square Art, not the Round Art. Traditionally, the data of an astrological calculation, made at a nativity or for whatever other purpose, was illustrated upon the structure of a square design, and anyone familiar with astrology would be able to read such a chart with ease. The modern chart displays exactly the same information, but modern tastes prefer to display it upon a circular structure rather than a square one. Modern people cannot make sense of the square design since they are comfortable with the circular one. This is not insignificant in itself, and bears some reflection. The modern embrace of the round chart and rejection of the square symbolizes a shift from a Realist to a Nominalist cosmology. The round chart depicts the open universe of astronomical space whereas the square chart depicts a concrete cosmology in which the sub-lunary world is itself a symbol.

So, how does one read or make sense of a traditional square chart? We will use a chart ascribed to Plato as our example and will go through it step by step. The ultimate origins of this horoscope of Plato are unknown. It is reported in the Mathesis of Firmicus Maternus. We can best describe it as 'traditional' too, bearing in mind that we have not the slightest clue of the actual date of Plato's birth, let alone the time of day! Most of what we know of the life of Plato comes from biographers writing several hundred years after his death. as horoscopes go, this one is particularly fanciful. 



First, a general remark. The geocentric world is traditionally conceived as rectalinear. This is why we demarcate four directions: north, south, east and west. This fourness is the explicit visual basis of the square chart but is largely lost in the round chart (which posits a world without corners. As if!)It is a truism of traditional symbolism that circularity is a charactetistic of the heavens. The planets and the stars, the whole sky, moves in circles. The Sun and Moon are circles. But terrestrial (sub-lunary) symbolism is square. Our buildings (our temples) are essentially boxes. There are circular buildings, certainly, (usually architectural references to the sky) but there is something inherently earthly about the right-angle. We use a square horoscope because it depicts a traditional cosmology. It shows the transposition of objects in the circular heavens onto the rectalinear frame of the sub-lunary realm. Sacred architecture often shows exactly this: a dome upon a square base is a depiction of the traditional, geocentric astrological cosmos. See here. The square horoscope is a two dimensional view of this symbolic structure. You can think of the square chart as like the floor plan of a temple. 



Nevertheless, just like the round chart, it is of value only because it allows us to see what the heavens were like at a particular time and place. The square chart may be a symbolic device, but it is also accurate enough to be of practical use. It shows the positions of heavenly bodies as seen from within set terrestrial coordinates at a particular time and place. To read a square chart one just needs to know the coordinates that provide the frame in which to place the planets and other heavenly bodies. 

The eastern and western horizons are located on the square chart as follows:



The Ascendant is in the east, the descendent in the west. 

The Midheaven (and the Immum Coeli) - corresponding to north and south, up and down, a vertical axis - are marked as follows:
These four points are the essential coordinates of a square chart which depicts them set at right-angles to each other. These denote risings, settings and culminations. 

The greatest advantage to the square presentation is that one can see, at a glance, planets that are rising, setting or culminating. Planets in the First House are rising. Those in the Seventh House are setting. Those in the tenth are culminating in the heavens, and those in the fourth are culminating in the underworld. In all traditional astrology, planets in these houses - the 'angular' houses (such planets are said to be 'on the angles') - are magnified in power. 

In Plato's case, we see that Venus, Mercury and Mars are rising in the First House (Ascending). (Venus as morning star!) Jupiter is setting in the Seventh House. The potency of these planets is amplified. This follows from an astrology based in direct observation. Objects in the sky on the horizons (east and west) tend to be enlarged by certain optical effects. The rising moon is bigger than a moon fully risen. And objects at culmination seem brighter (because we see them without the dust and humidity in the atmosphere nearer to the horizons). In traditional astrology, risings, settings and culminations are the crucial factors. The square chart emphasises them accordingly. The closer planets are to these points the stronger they are and conversely the further planets are from these points the weaker they are. 

This is the basis of the House system which is what is being depicted in the divisions of the square. There are twelve Houses, thus:
 With the square chart, we can see these strengths and weaknesses at a glance. We can instantly see what planets are on the angles, and we can very easily assess the potency of a planet by seeing its House position. The Houses are the important divisions in this system. In modern times, there is much confusion about Houses. In the traditional system, the Houses are a way of showing how close a planet is to rising, setting or culminating. 

Where the Houses are ascribed zodiacal signs - say, in Plato's chart the sixth House is assigned to Cancer - this designates the zodiacal sign on the cusp of that House. The House is therefore coloured by this zodiacal influence. The zodiacal signs, in fact, are somewhat less important than they tend to be in modern astrology. Their influence is mediated through the Houses. It is the Houses that are important. 

Note, especially, that not much emphasis is placed on planets in zodiacal signs. What is important is the zodiacal influence mediated through the House (i.e. via terrestrial symbolic space.) In Plato's chart, for example, it does not matter (very much) what zodiacal sign Jupiter may be in; what matters is that the Descendant (the 6/7th House cusp) is in Leo. Jupiter is to be seen through that filter. We say: Jupiter, in the Seventh, with Leo on the cusp. (It is quite possible that Jupiter may not be in Leo. No matter. What matters is that Jupiter is in a House with Leo on the cusp.) 

In modern times, too, there is much confusion about so-called 'aspects'. Modern astrology - it follows from the world-view of the Nominalistic round chart - uses what are properly called "bodily aspects". Traditional astrology does not, or rarely so. Instead, in the traditional method as it is built into the square chart, "aspects" are a series of "faces" or relations between Houses. The square chart enables seeing such relationships at a glance. At most one merely needs to count how many Houses the planets are from each other. "Aspects", of course, are views, like the several views that one might have of another person, such as, for instance, the 'aspects' used in portrait painting... 




Above is Van Dyck's triple portrait of Charles I. The subject is seen from three aspects. In astrology, these are measured in increments of thirty degrees: 30, 60, 90, 120, 150, 180. When two planets are in opposing Houses, they are at 180 degrees, which is to say they are looking at each other face to face. At 90 degrees they are in profile. And so on. (One of the best ways to appreciate the traditional 'aspects' is to make a study of portrait painting, an especially rich area of European art.) The question is not the exact (bodily) angular relation of planets in the (circular) heavens, but rather their relative positions vis-a-vis the cardinal points of rising, setting and culminating. This is what the traditional aspects are about. 

As for reading Plato's chart:

As already mentioned, Venus, Mercury and Mars are together in the First House. They are rising/ascending. This makes them very powerful. Indeed, Venus is on the Ascendant rising ahead of the Sun (in the Second House) as the morning star and is the most powerful object in the chart. 

In the traditional method, the seven planets are considered in certain important pairings:

Luna - Saturnus
Luna - Sol
Sol - Saturnus

Mercury - Jupiter
Venus - Mars

In Plato's case we see that Mercury - Jupiter and Venus - Mars are all found on the angles, making these pairings stronger. Whereas the pairings of Luna, Sol and Saturnus are more subdued because they are not on the angles. (Luna and Sol, though, are at 90 degress (3 x 30 deg.), regarded as a constructive aspect.)More importantly, the planets in the First House form triangular relations (4 x 30) with Luna and with Saturnus. 

This, at least, is the beginning of interpretation. The square chart allows us to see what is important immediately. The relative powers of the planets is determined, in the first instance, by the risings, settings and culminations. The traditional chart is designed with this in view. 

For more on Plato's horoscope, see Aaron Cheak's pages on philosophical nativities here.  


Yours,

H. M. B.











Monday, 10 July 2017

The Box of Crazy (or The Tampa Bay Obscuration.)


The Box of Crazy

The exact circumstances are unclear but according to the available accounts a certain person - identified only as a "friend" of a certain person calling himself "TramstopDan" who was himself later identified (by some) as a "Dan Wickham" - of recent years (2013?) came across an old, plain looking box amongst (or near or next to) trash on a road near (or outside of) Asheville, North Carolina, USA, only to discover that the said box was full of strange illustrations concerning an event described by documents therein as the 'Tampa Bay Obscuration'. Mr TramstopDan subsequently posted the illustrations online in two installments and they have since attracted some attention in the lonely dark corners of the internet. They are of sufficient quality and interest to warrant reposting here. 



The collection has come to be known colloquially as the 'Box of Crazy' because the illustrations and assorted documents within the box are of a visionary and religious nature - mixed with 'mad science' - and are not easily understood. It appears that some of the documents go back to the 1930s, but most of them concern quasi-religious visions centred in the Tampa Bay area in more recent decades. The focus of the visions themselves - and the subject of the most notable illustrations - is the Biblical book of Ezekiel. (The box is sometimes referred to as the 'Ezekiel Box'.)

As for the author, numerous documents and illustrations within the collection are signed by a "Daniel Christiansen" with others signed by a "Nesna-it-sirhc", this cryptic name being "Christiansen" written backwards. It is a reasonable assumption, then, that the box belonged to this gentleman, and from the internal evidence and a little detective work he can be identified as a Daniel Samuel Christiansen of St Petersburg Florida, born November 27th 1904, died September 26th 1994. Mr Christiansen, it is known, immigrated to the United States via England in 1927. Not much more is known, and in particular we do not know how his 'Box of Crazy' ended up on a roadside near Asheville NC a good decade after his death (assuming we can believe Mr TramstopDan's account of where and when the box was found.)

The contents of the cache are curious to say the least. The exact nature of the 'Tampa Bay Obscuration' is difficult to ascertain, but it seems as if Mr Christiansen claims to have witnessed a UFO/religious encounter in Tampa Bay which he understands in terms of the prophetic texts of the Book of Ezekiel, although his own notes on this are extremely opaque. He provides detailed illustrations of the encounter, including of the various 'living creatures' described in the Ezekiel visions. The date of the 'Tampa Bay Obscuration' is given as the enchanted date July 7th 1977 or  7/7/77. This is announced in this document:




Text: An Apparition / or / The Tampa Bay Obscuration / July 7 – 1977 / Daniel S. Christiansen / Alias: Ampel, / Nesna It Sirhc.


As some investigators have ascertained, there was in fact a laser light show at Tampa Bay on exactly that date and some have concluded that Mr Christiansen has been beguiled by the show into supposing it to be some manner of alien visitation, but the documentation in the 'Box of Crazy' is extensive and goes well beyond a case of a mistaken laser display. Perhaps the light show triggered Christiansen to have visions, but it would not have been the first time. The contents of the box reveal a lifetime of dedicated exploration of the connections between the Biblical text of Ezekiel and a wide range of strange modern phenomena. The Tampa Bay event was especially important, apparently, but was not isolated. Some illustrations taken from the event follow:





The "Box of Crazy"-Ezekiel's vision of the "living creatures."

"Box of Crazy"--Ezekiel's vision of the "living creatures."
It seems plain that we have some type of personal and eccentric interpretation of the so-called 'Merkabah' mysteries of the Old Testament prophet, but this is elsewhere overlaid with extended rants about flying saucers and futuristic technology. There is nothing new about this in itself. Ezekiel is a favorite text for those who subscribe to the ancient aliens 'Chariots of the Gods' type of theory, but Christiansen offers a unique and idiosyncretic version of it and appears to have devoted his entire life to its explication. He also brings to it considerable skill as a draughtsman. There are many very well executed technical drawings among the papers, thus:






The upshot of the texts concerning the Ezekiel visions is that - according to the author - the vision could not have been understood correctly until recent times. Until recently there has been a "cloud of obscuration" or a "cloud of concealment". (Accordingly, he also has an interest in strange meteorological phenomena.) But now in our own time, it seems, long hidden secrets are being revealed. This point of view is clear from one of the documents, see below. The visions of Ezekiel are not hallucinatory, he argues, but - from the vantage point of our own times - are a very precise account of an alien technology...





Christiansen has an interest in strange technology and moreover seems to have dabbled in it himself. As an example of this, one remarkable item in the collection is a circular disk inscribed with a cryptic text in the form of a spiral thus:





The text around the outside reads (in upper case): 

This turn table for portable T.V. set designed and made by Mr. Nesna-it-sirhc for Nadia, his wife, and is mailed from Plfld, N.J. to St. Pete, Fla. as a Xmas present Dec. 1967. The plastic rolling members of this device supplied by ‘Nady’ in 1952.

And the inner text - a good example of Mr Christiansen's style - reads:

“Additional inform.: The principles of mechanics as here involved correspond significantly to the principles of physic [sic] involved in the by Nady oft. ref. to ‘noise machine’ of the Mt. Pleasant Ave. attic exp. 1951-1952. It was an attempt at ascertaining a possible significant relationship between certain ‘engeneered’ precessions of moment of enertia [sic] of gyrating bodies and that of the basic nature of gravity. A possible outcome of experiment–it was hoped–would be indications that gravity could be generated artificially and applied in fields of a scope and of a degree of effectivenes corresponding directly to to the amount of physical power applied towards generation of such local and limited fields of gravity. Note: if such were to be the case, the question of giving the artificially generated gravity-force any specific direction with respect to universal space was (and still is) regarded as merely a matter of an operator pulling a lever or turning a switch in order to direct or re-direct the specific ‘A.G.’ field generating device. Signed by inventor of alleged device and author of this note of information in N. Plfld, N.J. U.S.A. at 4 A.M. Dec. 16 – 1967. Nesna-it-sirhc.”

What in the blue blazes does all this mean? It is hard to say, except that the letters "A. G." apparently mean "artificial gravity" and that the author - Mr Nesna-it-sirhc - is claiming to have invented some manner of "artificial gravity" machine in 1967! But what happened in the attic in 1952? The sentence: 

Nady oft. ref. to ‘noise machine’ of the Mt. Pleasant Ave. attic exp. 1951-1952. 

...is probably to be understood as meaning that his wife "Nady" (Nadia) often referred (oft. ref.) to the 'noise machine" of the Mt Pleasant Avenue attic *experiment* 1951-52. (Or is "exp." short for "experience"?) What are the "plastic rolling members of this device" that "Nady" supplied? The "noise machine"? Much of the contents of the box consist of cryptic notes like this. They were no doubt meaningful to Mr Nesna-it-sirhc but they are far less so to us. 

As well as this, there is a collection of maps which - so it seems - are designed to be superimposed upon one another in some fashion. Mr Nesna-it-sirhc has considerable cartographical skills. The significance of the maps is as unclear as everything else. 







In part, Christiansen's work can be appreciated as a type of eccentric American folk art, an oddment of modern Americana, but a full account of the contents of the box and its background has yet to be made. One curious point stands out, however. If the dating of the documents is to be believed, Christiansen entertained a version of the UFO/Ezekiel theory going back to before the Second World War. This was well before  the modern UFO craze began, and indeed he reports encounters and sightings in the 1940s which is before the first celebrated UFo sightings came to public attention. Certainly, his UFO/Ezekiel theory predates - by decades - the theories of such characters as Eric Von Daniken and others. So whatever else we can say about Daniel Samuel Christiansen, he seems to have been a pioneer. As far as we know, though, all of it was his own private concern, shared with his wife and perhaps a few others. We only know of this strange obsession because someone - a friend of TramstopDan - found the 'Box of Crazy' on the roadside near Asheville. 

Yours, 

Harper McAlpine Black


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Brian Gray - the Art of the Lecture


Brian Gray of Rudolf Steiner College (who describes himself as a 'melancholic Capricorn.)

Fine teachers are rare. Indeed, the world today seems awash with poor teachers and what fine teachers remain among us are increasingly unwelcome in an educational environment that is descending into various forms of decay, decadence and insanity. The present writer has a good handful of close friends and former colleagues who are, by any measure, excellent teachers but who have all, for various reasons, fled the teaching profession. Some have retired demoralized. Some have burnt out and have been damaged and diminished by the whole experience. Some have reluctantly decided they would rather drive taxis or wash dishes. The exodus of talented teachers from the profession - especially in state education - is epidemic.

Largely, this impasse is the result of bureaucrats and a parasitic class of "educational designers", administrators, "managers", and the like interfering with the immediate demands of the teaching situation.  Class room experience counts for nothing. Only the "designers" and "learning managers" armed with the latest theories know anything. They impose an endless array of new and often recycled theories to teaching until the entire profession is an unruly mess of experimentalism, so-called "research" and pointless innovation. Every round of "PD", "professional development" aggravates the problem. Most of the very fine teachers this writer knows who are no longer engaged with teaching were outstanding teachers of the 'traditional' mode, which is to say teachers in 'direct instruction'. This is frowned upon in an era of "team teaching" and "computer labs". Even in universities excellent lecturers are under attack by the "designers" who denigrate them with demeaning labels like 'The Sage upon the Stage' and seek to replace them with email tutorials or similar gimmicks.  

Worse, all of this is very often to cover over the fact that today's students are so immersed in disruptive technologies, and their minds are so incapable of concentration, and their family and school life is so undisciplined that they are almost beyond being taught anyway. There is a crisis in education at all levels but at the same time there is a huge industry devoted to denying it, and those that deny it "deconstruct" teaching so they can use the school system to promote toxic ideologies and poisonous schemes of social engingeering. It is small wonder that the average duration of a teaching career is now just a little over five years. 

There are, however, excellent teachers who battle on. If they are fortunate they will find a place somewhere in the system - or more often somewhere outside the system - where they can give of themselves to receptive students. One such teacher came to this writer's attention recently, and his skills deserve to be celebrated. He is a teacher in the Steiner or Waldorf system, at Rudolf Steiner College, California, and his name is Brian Gray. He teaches matters of substance with commendable sagacity, clarity, warmth, good humour and common sense in the 'direct instruction' mode. The Sage upon the Stage. That is, he lectures and his students listen. His only tool is a blackboard - a tool he uses very well. He has been doing this since 1981. He is exactly the type of teacher - a man with a born vocation for teaching - that the "designers" and "learning managers" have sought to remove from the profession. Good God! The man's a dinosaur! He doesn't even use Power Point!

This writer recalls one occasion at his own university where the "designers" and peddlers of hi-tech gadgetry called together a group of students and asked them what made a good teacher. (It was a rhetorical question. They didn't really want to know.) One student, very forthright, replied that all that was required, in his opinion, was "a blackboard and someone who knows what they're talking about!" The designers - at this time cashed up with a hi-tech budget to spend from endless rounds of course closures and staff retrenchments - were incensed. In their usual slimy, condescending manner they smiled at this student and said, "Hopefully, we've moved beyond such a primitive formula now that we've entered the 21st century" or words to that effect. Yet it is true, and it is as true as it ever has been. All that is needed in a good teacher is, as a minimum, "a blackboard and someone who knows what they're talking about!" 

Brian Gray is certainly in that category. He is a man with a blackboard and he knows what he is talking about. And what he is talking about is the philosophy and teachings - especially the cosmology - of Rudolf Steiner. These are topics that are notoriously opaque in themselves - Steiner can be both dense and even outright bizarre to those not familiar with his work - yet Brian Gray is able to communicate Anthroposophical (Steiner-based) topics with admirable simplicity in a teaching style characterized by patient, clear exposition and a palpabably deep respect for his students. This is a model of good teaching. We immediately feel ourselves to be in the presence of a man who is in command of his materials and who is able to communicate his knowledge to his audience. He doesn't need gimmicks, gadgets or "group workshops". The essential ingredient is the warm generosity with which he shares what he knows. There is none of this misplaced egalitarianism that supposes teaching is somehow an "elitist" activity. Mr Gray knows his stuff. We don't. Therefore, we are students and he is teacher, and any proposal to obscure this fact is simply a nefarious undermining of what constitutes authority in the proper sense.

Numerous lecture series by Brian Gray are available online. All of them are worth watching for two reasons: one, to see an excellent, experienced teacher in action (and to be reminded of just what an excellent teacher looks like), and two, to learn from unusually perspicuous presentations of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner is a difficult thinker. Brian Gray makes it seem easy. A favorite is the series entitled 'The Human Being & the Stars'. This is a particularly instructive introduction to the stellar cosmology embedded in Steiner's Anthroposophy. And while non-Anthroposophists might baulk at more than a few aspects of Steiner - the present writer certainly does - Mr Gray presents it in a very accessible and reasonable form. Even more, leaving aside Rudolf Steiner it is a fine account of how human life is enriched by an acquaintance with traditional stellar wisdom; the series is worth watching just on that account. 'Human Being & the Stars' is a series of six lectures, but unfortunately lecture five seems to be missing. Please see the lectures below. 


HUMAN BEING AND THE STARS

Steiner's stellar cosmology
















Yours,

Harper McAlpine Black

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Nativity of Dante Alighieri


The nativity of Dante 
Alighieri is arguably one of the most elusive in all horoscopy. It was an important matter to the poet himself and he refers to it or alludes to it at several places in his work. Like all intellectuals of the period he was steeped in astrological symbolism and regarded it as a noble art. Like all well-born children of his day it is very likely that his parents had his horoscope calculated at his birth, or that he or others later calculated it from the commonly available ephermides. For all of that, however, his actual horoscope has not survived, and indeed we cannot be sure even of his date of birth. He tells us very clearly in the Paradiso that he was born under the sign of Gemini, the Twins, and there is general agreement that this was in the year 1265 (although even that has been disputed.) But Gemini extends for over a month, from mid May through to mid June, and there is no agreement as to which day in that period he might have been born. Regarding the time of day – necessary information for an accurate horoscope – there is likewise no agreement.

A search through astrological texts and websites reveals a bewildering array of possibilities. The present author has been able to collect no less that six entirely different horoscopes for Dante with dates ranging from May 14 through to June 1st and times of birth ranging from sunset through to exactly 4.33am. In none of these six cases is the proposed date and time justified or even discussed, although in several cases there is the admission that the horoscope on offer has been “rectified”. Rectification is an astrological technique whereby the astrologer works backwards from known events to a speculative horoscope. In the case of Dante, this, alas, is all we can do.

Standard rectification procedures, however, are cumbersome and, frankly, wildly hit-or-miss in practice. It is surprising that astrologers put any store in them at all since they are so notoriously unreliable. It is far better to use other clues where they are available, and in Dante’s case some are. We must still “rectify” and tweak the result and it will be necessarily speculative, but there is no need to resort to the use of so-called “transits” and other astrological devices which compound an unknown with an imponderable. We can, in the case of Dante, piece together morsels of biographical and other evidence to arrive at a nativity that can at least be justified and deemed not wildly amiss. Dante himself gives us many clues, and other writers during or just after his life give us others. It requires some detective work, but it can be done.

As it happens, and as unlikely as it seems, the time of birth in this case is somewhat easier to determine than the day of birth. This is because there is a strong tradition, going back to early biographers of the poet (and possibly to his own lifetime), that he was born with “Saturn rising”. Such a determination suggests many things, but in astrological terms it suggests that Dante had a somewhat Saturnine appearance since the rising planets (on the ascendant) account for physical demeanor. By extension, it may also indicate a Saturnine, which is to say a melancholy, disposition. This certainly accords with what we know of Signor Alighieri, including the rather Saturnine (square, austere, stern) facial features of portraits made of him during his life and afterwards.

Saturn is, in any case, very important in his horoscope since it is conjunct the Sun throughout the period in which he was born. The planet – slow moving as it is - necessarily casts a shadow over his entire horoscope regardless of upon what date we decide he was born. The tradition that Saturn was rising tells us, therefore, that he was born with Saturn in the first house or, as they say, “on the angle” which, in this case, means around or just before sunrise. Sun and saturn are conjunct. If he is born with “Saturn rising” then it is rising with the Sun.

There is a way to confirm this. While the poet only supplies broad details of his nativity in the Paradiso, he gives fuller astrological details of another occasion in the poem beginning “Io son venuto al punto de la rota” (“I have reached that point of the circuit.”) Without going into the altogether elaborate details here, it has long been noted that the astrological data in that poem is sufficent for us to actually draw up a horoscope corresponding to the event. And the event, as the poet says (and as the title of the poem suggests) is a time at which the heavens have come full circle vis-à-vis the poet. It is a poem about the sullen obstacles of winter, and it strongly implies that the poet confronts astrological conditions that are inverse to those of his nativity (Gemini being in a summer month). The title “I have reached that point of the circuit” refers to the poet reaching a point opposite to his birth. If we do not have Dante’s horoscope, then – arguably – we have a horoscope that is opposite to it. The poem, in part, says:

I have reached that point of the circuit
where the horizon, when the sun sets,
gives birth to the twin-ruled heavens,
and Love’s planet is remote from us,
because of the bright rays crossing her
slantwise, making of themselves a veil:
while the planet that solaces the frost
shows itself fully from the great arch
in which the Seven cast little shadow:


This requires interpretation at every point, certainly, but for our immediate purposes let us note that it is sunset and that “the planet that solaces frost” is Saturn and it now “shows itself fully.” When Dante was born (May/June 1265), however, Saturn was conjunct the Sun and was therefore fully obscured by the Sun’s brightness and therefore not visible. In this poem Saturn is now fully visible. From this and other details (Love’s planet – Venus -“remote from us because of the bright rays crossing us slantwise” etc) the poem can be accurately dated to December 24th 1296, the only date in Dante’s lifetime matching the astrological conditions described. In any case, if the poem describes conditions inverse of those of the poet’s own, and Saturn is visible and it is sunset, then we may surmise that at the time Dante was born Saturn was not visible and it was sunrise. Ergo, Saturn rising with the Sun.

So far so good. But on what day? There are bits and pieces of tradition regarding this but otherwise a great deal of confusion. Boccacio, for example, suggests “the latter part of May, from the notes of a peer” which is a reasonably solid reference and at least one source from Ravenna, a contemporary source, confirms that Dante told him “late May.” This is also the opinion of the reliable modern biographer Giovanni Papini (Dante Vivo) who, investigating the matter in Italian sources, says “he was born, it seems certain, at the end of May 1265 having been conceived in August 1264.” The English scholar, Edward Moore, who also addressed the question in some detail, came up with the date May 30th, or at most two or three days earlier. But there are, as already noted, a range of alternate dates backwards and forwards in time. The famous astrologer ‘Sepharial’, who was generally thorough about birth dates, writing in the British Astrology Journal in February 1919, supplies May 14th, and many other astrologers have followed this date. A. T. Mann, in the popular and influential work The Round Art, for example, gives the date of May 14, probably following Sepharial. Indeed, the Sepharial date has been the favored date among Anglo-American astrologers in modern times. However, Ellen McCaffrey, an astrologer who specialised in the horoscopes of poets, dissented and settled on May 23rd. Still others move the date into early June for whatever reasons.

Can any of these dates be confirmed in the manner of the time of birth? Turning again to the tell-tale poem Io son venuto al punto de la rota Durling & Martinez, in their study Time and the Crystal: Studies in Dante's Rime Petrose, suggest that the date that is most completely inverse to the conditions described in the poem is May 27th 1265. That is, the poem lends further weight to a date in late May which, on that basis, and for that reason, tends to firm as a likelihood.

What difference does it make? Actually, the answer to this is: surprisingly little. This is because the faster moving planets, Venus, Mercury and Mars, moved in and out of retrogradation during the period the Sun was in Gemini in 1265 and so they tended to dally around the same part of the sky. A few days, or even a week or two, in May/June 1265 will not, in fact, make a substantial difference to the positions of these bodies. The real question, therefore, comes down to Luna, the Moon, since it is the only planet that will change position in a significant way depending upon the chosen date. Luna traverses some 13 deg. or so of the sky every day and is the fastest moving body in the heavens. A difference of days in Dante’s horoscope will see the Moon move into different signs of the zodiac. By extension, the Moon’s relationship with the other bodies will change too, and so too will the all-important calculation of the Pars Fortuna (Part of Fortune) which is calculated upon the positions of Sun, Moon and Ascendant.

All things considered, this becomes a reasonable basis for rectification. Everything else is more or less settled. The question becomes: What Moon-sign best fits this person? Dante’s horoscope, finally, comes down to this. A reasonable way to proceed is to calculate the Moon’s position for the range of possible dates. The results are:

May 14h = Capricornus
May 20th = Aries
May 23rd = Gemini
May 27th = Cancer

May 30th = Virgo
June 1 = Libra

At this point, we then try to make a case for each of these positions and then try to determine which of them seems the most likely according to those arguments. Never mind about ‘transits’ and so on. A far more reasonable procedure is simply to test different dates by casting charts for those dates. As in most questions in astrology it is entirely debateable. There are questions of symbolism involved. It is a matter of judgment, not a matter of scientific calculation. In this present case, of course, we must remember that we are not dealing with a grocer or a fisherman, we are dealing with the soul who wrote the Divine Comedy and who, in that capacity, fathered the Italian language. Dante was no ordinary man and was, least of all, his own man. Rather, he was and is a man of the ages, an archetypal figure, the author of the greatest work of Christian cosmology in the European tradition. We are therefore not concerned with such questions as his day-to-day temperament as we are his place in a much larger and providential order. This requires a corresponding astrological judgment.

A strong case, it seems to the present writer, might be made for the Moon being in 1. Capricornus, 2. Gemini or 3. Cancer, and accordingly a good case can be made for eliminating the other possibilities. If in Capricornus, the Moon is then in an interesting relationship with Saturn which, as already noted, is conjunct the Sun (and Saturn rules Capricornus). If in Gemini, then the Moon joins a constellation of planets in that sign (and would have Dante born at New Moon). If in Cancer, then the Moon would be especially powerful because she rules Cancer. In all cases, though, the Moon-Saturn relationship becomes especially important here and must be a prime consideration. As far as that relationship is concerned, all manner of questions arise such as, for example, the poet’s early loss of his parents, his famous encounter with Beatrice and her role in the Divine Comedy, as well as the poet’s relationship with his homeland and patrimony, since all such matters might conceivably be under the auspices of a Luna-Saturn configuration. Which best fits the case?

Others might disagree, but it is the judgment of the present writer – given the available evidence and the nature of the case – that the Luna position that seems most likely is Moon in Cancer. It seems likely, for a start – to offer an argument from omission – that had the Moon been in Gemini and therefore conjunct both Saturn and the Sun that the poet might have alluded to this in ‘Io son venuto al punto de la rota’ or made something of it elsewhere. As a point of positive evidence, though, Moon in Cancer seems to answer better to the man’s poetic powers. The fact that he was orphaned and other biographical considerations are adequately answered by the Sun/Saturn configuration in itself. Is the Moon also swallowed up by the Sun (in Gemini) or overshadowed by Saturn (in Capricornus)? It seems more the case in such a man that the Moon is fully endowed (in Cancer) rather than muted and compromised. The tradition that Dante was born in late May is already strong; this would put the Moon in Cancer, her ruling sign, and make this one of the features of his horoscope. On the weight of evidence, this seems most likely. We opt, therefore, for a horoscope calculated for May 27th with Moon in Cancer and Saturn in the First House (on the Angle) noting again the astrological clues in '
Io son venuto al punto de la rota'. 



Yours,

Harper McAlpine Black