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

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Man, Temple & Text - A Defence of Rene Schwaller de Lubicz


* * * 


MAN, TEMPLE & TEXT

A Defence of Rene Schwaller de Lubicz

Being a conversation concerning the ancient Egyptian anthropocosmology and its relation to Plato's Timaeus. 


Who was Rene Schwaller de Lubicz?

He was an alchemical philosopher, an important alchemical philosopher in the XXth century. Significant for his alchemical work, which is to say his contribution to modern alchemy, but also for his work in the field of Egyptology, which is related to his alchemy. But, for all of that, his work is controversial. His work in Egyptology is generally rejected by mainstream Egyptologists, so it is we might say esoteric Egyptology, outside the mainstream. 

So his work is rejected by mainstream scholars?

It is. But mainstream scholarship, in any field, can be very narrow. You will, however, encounter people who regard Schwaller de Lubicz as an out and out crank. That sort of opinion is not uncommon. And surprisingly, some people have strong opinions about it. I am acquainted with some Egyptology people - amateurs, not academics - and they have a very hostile view of Monsieur Schwaller de Lubicz. In fact - it is remarkable - they once more or less told me that if I was interested in Schwaller de Lubicz then they were afraid I would not be welcome at their house anymore! Banned. So obviously, in Egypt circles, he can rouse passionate opinions. Quite silly, really. But it does give you a sense of how he can divide opinions. Egyptology is a contested field like that. 

Why do you think that is?

There is the mainstream scholarship. And it is very conservative and often very narrow. Certainly not very adventurous. And it conflicts with popular views of ancient Egypt, and with what we might describe as New Age views of ancient Egypt. It is one of those fields that captures the popular imagination. It is a rich theme in orientalism, Egypt. Europeans have gone through phases of obsession with ancient Egypt. And today ancient Egypt still attracts a huge and devoted following, an intense popular interest. Any exhibition concerning ancient Egypt will attract huge crowds. It has a mystique. A fascination. It is a very powerful theme, a powerfuil expression, of European orientalism.  The East fascinates. But few things in the East fascinate like Egypt. In some ways mainstream Egyptology both thrives on but also combats this fascination, because much of that scholarship is concerned with saying that nearly all popular fantasies about ancient Egypt are baseless and wrong. If you think that the ancient Egyptians were replete with mystical wisdom - a popular and very persistent view - then you will find Egyptology very disappointing. 

So Schwaller de Lubicz is in the New Age camp?

That is probably not a fair description. The New Age camp, as you call it, wants to ascribe all manner of mystical secrets to the ancient Egyptians - again, an expression of orientalism and orientalist themes - but characteristically New Age material is mushy and has no substance, no backbone. Whereas there is a school of Egyptology, usually called the 'Symbolists', who, while they share some perspectives and conclusions with the New Agers, have rather more substance to them. I think Rene Schwaller de Lubicz belongs in that camp, the Symbolists. They offer an alternative reading of ancient Egypt. 

But one rejected by mainstream scholars?

Indeed. Yet they are not dilettantes. Most of the Symbolists are scholars, of sorts, with qualifications. Doctorates. Publications. But they are outside the mainstream establishment, certainly. Schwaller de Lubicz was a scholar, and a good scholar. But he was operating in a very different paradigm to the establishment scholars of ancient Egypt. It would be wrong, all the same, to lump him in the 'New Age' category. His work deserves more respect than that. He is in the Symbolist school, the chief proponent of which, these days, is John Anthony West. West has continued the work of Schwaller de Lubicz insofar as Egypt is concerned.



How is the paradigm they are working in different to the mainstream or establishment paradigm?

Different assumptions, different methodologies. Different historical framework. West - and Schwaller de Lubicz - starts with the assumption that we should take the Egyptian's own view of themselves seriously. Mainstream scholarship is sceptical of that from the outset. So, for example, the ancient Egyptians believed that they had inherited their civilization from an earlier civilization. West, Schwaller de Lubicz, take this claim seriously. And they conclude that the evidence seems to point to that. They operate on radically different chronologies. For instance, much of their interpretation of Egyptian star lore, astral lore, is based on astronomical correlations that extend well back to dates that mainstream scholars dispute. Yet the Symbolists insist that the data, in the Temples and in the heiroglyphic records, cannot be understood properly unless we accept that much earlier dating. Consequently, nearly everything in ancient Egypt needs to be re-evaluated, in their view. And similarly, they adopt a paradigm - a very traditional view, but not a modern one - in which ancient civilization begins at its zenith - a golden age - and then goes into decline. Modern establishment scholars operate in a paradigm in which there is linear and progressive development from primitive beginnings. The Symbolists dispute that, fundamentally. So their views and methologies and assumptions part company from the outset. You'll notice that the New Age movement tends to be based in progressive narratives, not the traditional narrative of historical decline. 

Why are they called Symbolists?

Because they offer a symbolic reading of the archaeological data. And in this they claim - rightly so - that their mode of reading is consistent with that of the ancients themselves. Whereas the modern scholar, operating in the modern paradigm, is imposing a very alien way of thinking onto the data. As the Symbolists say, the Egyptians were symbolists. This is no doubt true. So the Symbolists attempt to adopt a way of thinking, a mode of thinking, a manner of investigation, that is compatible with the worldview of the Egyptians themselves, and they claim - with some justification - that modern scholarship imposes modes of thinking that are alien to and do violence to the data. The Symbolists are, if you like, phenomenologists. Their mode of study arises out of the phenomena being studied. It is phenomenology - which is a well-established method in other fields such as Religious Studies - applied to Egyptian archaeology. The mainstream Egyptologist will tell you it is unscientific. 

Is it?

It certainly yields very different results. It gives us a very different view of Egypt. And frankly, scientific or not, one would have to say that Schwaller de Lubicz's Egypt is rather closer to the Egypt of the ancient Egyptians than is that of the conventional archaeologists. We might regard it as fanciful, but in fact it is much nearer to, more faithful to the spirit of, the ancient Egyptians themselves. So perhaps our measure of what is 'scientific' is too narrow to deal with matters like this. The work of Schwaller de Lubicz, certainly, takes us into a mind-set, a worldview, that is akin to that of the ancient Egyptians, which is to say a type of symbolic mind-set. It is pioneering work in that respect, and remarkable. It is a remarkable body of work. Here I am talking about his work in Egypt. Not his alchemical work. He devoted some fifteen years to working, on site, in Egypt. To one temple, the great temple at Luxor. He published his work in a remarkable book, The Temple of Man. The outstanding key text of Symbolist readings of ancient Egypt. 



What is his main contention?

He studied the Temple of Luxor for fifteen years. He spent fifteen years at that temple. Measuring it. Studying it. Living with it. Translating its heiroglyphs. Trying to understand its symbolism. This is a remarkable feat in itself. He receives little credit for it. It is a phenomenological immersion in the subject of study. He didn't sit in some ivory tower in a university in Berlin or London. He went to the temple and he stayed there until he felt he had penetrated its mysteries. Living with it every day. That should be applauded, surely? As a methodology. His main contention, though, is that the Temple of Luxor is patterned on the human form, and hence 'The Temple of Man'. He found the patterns of human anatomy in the temple, in its art and architecture, in quite remarkable ways. And so he concluded that the Egyptians had a remarkably sophisticated understanding of the human form and encoded this into their art and architecture. And an understanding, moreover, of the human form as a spiritual form, and so a spiritual anatomy, an esoteric anatomy. At that point all the mainstream archaeologists are shouting "Bunkum!" and ridiculing his results. But his viewpoint, and his method - if not all his results - are entirely defensible, I think. 

Not all his results?

There are things in Schwaller de Lubicz's study of Luxor that are surely wrong. And much else that is highly speculative. But the general schema is not only defensible but is very likely to be right. Namely the general proposition that this temple, Luxor, is based upon analogies between microcosm and macrocosm, between the human form, the microcosm, and the macrocosmic order. These analogies encoded into mathematical proportions which are not merely utilitarian but have symbolic resonance. All of that is very likely to be close to the ancient Egyptian way of thinking. And it can still be extracted from those monuments of stone by those who approach it with a receptive mentality. 

But you don't think all of Schwaller de Lubicz's conclusions about the Temple of Luxor are correct?

Some of the articulations he makes are possibly wrong. Some of his observations and claims are stronger than others. I suspect that some of the ways he places the human anatomy upon the temple layout are amiss. But no matter. The principle is right. So Schwaller de Lubicz may be mistaken about some specifics but his general conclusions are likely to be right, in my view. And I have good reasons for thinking so. 

What reasons?

From my own studies of Plato. I am a student of Plato's cosmology. And Plato signals very clearly - at the beginning of his Timaeus dialogue, it cannot be any clearer - that his cosmology is consonant or shares a common background with that of the ancient Egyptians. But even then, there are those scholars who dispute it.

Are there? On what grounds?

When I was studying, as a post-graduate, I encountered an academic who ridiculed all that section of Plato. And ridiculed me for being so naive as to take Plato at his word. "They all say their ideas came from Egypt!" he spluttered. Egypt-Shegypt! He thought it was all rubbish. You see, there are people who are very anxious to delegitimize exactly these passages in Plato. It is important to them. Academia is full of creeps like that. But I take it that Plato is indeed signalling that this comes from, or is consonant with, the cosmology of ancient Egypt. He is very specific about it. The Timaeus is Plato's most Egyptian work. I take that as a fact. Also his most Pythagorean. And the work of Rene Schwaller de Lubicz takes us into much the same cosmology as we find in the Timaeus. So we know from the Timaeus that this way of thinking - of drawing parallels between the human body and the cosmos - is current in the ancient world, and indeed typical of ancient cosmological thinking, and there in Plato it is explicitly ascribed to the Egyptians. So it is not untoward to read Egyptology in this way. All Schwaller de Lubicz has added, really, is the proposition that this way of thinking - analogical cosmology - shaped Egyptian temples. But that, surely, is a justifiable proposition in itself. These are sacred buildings. They are not just auditoriums in which sacred things happened. The buildings, as John Anthony West says, are the sacred things themselves. The temple is the message. The idea of the temple as a sacred text, in any case, is well established. It is, for instance, the entire premise of Freemasonry. The building as a sacred text. Freemasonry looks to the Temple of Solomon, principally, but then, by extension, to ancient Egypt. That idea, that the ancients encoded their cosmology into sacred buildings, should be beyond dispute. It is just as true in Hinduism, and Buddhism, and elsewhere. So I find myself on comfortable common ground, via Plato, with Monsieur Schwaller de Lubicz. But there is more...

Yes?

More. Because, in my studies of the Timaeus I encountered the work of Reme Braque. The French scholar. He made an extraordinary observation about Plato's Timaeus. Namely that - following from statements elsewhere in Plato - he observed that the Timaeus, or the monologue of the character Timaeus, conforms to the Greek proportions of the human form. In an article, a fertile article, entitled 'The Body of the Speech'. So he proposed that there is a parallel between body and text. That is, Plato has used the human body as the blueprint for his text on cosmology. This is really quite a remarkable observation. It is speculative, but Braque makes a strong case for it. The Timaeus is divided into sections. These sections - in length - Braque argues, correspond to the established canon of proportions of the human body among the ancient Greeks. So, text and body are analogous. And more than that, text, body and cosmos are analogous. Thus the text is itself the cosmos, as it were. It is an extraordinary set of correspondences. Once again, it is absolutely in keeping with ancient ways of thinking. It makes the Timaeus a truly remarkable work. This was the subject of my doctoral work, in fact. The speaker, Timaeus, thus becomes the Demiurge who is not only describing the cosmos in his speech but is making the cosmos by his speech. And this is why the work is set on the Panathenea, the Athenian New Year. The cosmos is being remade. Then, remember, Plato connects this work directly to the ancient Egyptians who are, as he tells us, much, much older than the Greeks. "Oh Solon! You Greeks are just children!" says the Egyptian priest, famously. 

So it is similar to the analogous cosmology that Schwaller de Lubicz finds in the Temple of Luxor?

Yes. It is an example of the same type of thinking. All you have to do is extend the analogies to architecture. As it happens, Plato does not mention Luxor, but the connection with Egypt is very explicit. He points, instead, to the works of King Amasis, and to the delta city of Sais because it was a sister city of Athens. And he very explicitly draws a parallel - as did others - between the Greek goddess Athena and the Egyptian goddess Neith. Which is significant because at Luxor, in the temple at Luxor, there is iconography of Neith in what John Anthony West describes as a type of Annuciation, a prototype of the Christian Annunciation iconography.  So Neith - which is to say Athena - is an important deity in the whole scheme of the Temple of Luxor, which is a matter that could do with further investigation vis-a-vis the Platonic cosmology. Plato supplies us with that key, Athena is Neith. And the Platonic cosmology - where body equals cosmos equals text, and author/speaker equals Creator - is a cosmology of the goddess Athena, because the dialogue is set on her festival. You see, there are plenty of links here that make me sympathetic to the Egyptian work of Rene Schwaller de Lubicz. The Platonic cosmology places us in the same universe of ideas, albeit Greek, not Egyptian. 

So the Platonic cosmology can lend support to Schwaller de Lubicz's work?

Yes. But different scholars work in different paradigms. There is really little point in engaging in academic discourse with someone who is living in an entirely different intellectusal universe to you. But you might argue certain readings of Plato's cosmology - based as it is on the microcosm and macrocosm analogy - and then, by extension, lend support to Schwaller de Lubicz's radical reading of the temple at Luxor as the Temple of Man and his symbolist reading of that archaeology. Indeed, I think that the work of Schwaller de Lubicz might be deepened and in part corrected by bringing the Timaeus cosmology to it. His premise is no doubt correct. The temple as body. And the articulations of the temple corresponding to articulations of the human body. But I don't think he quite knows what model of the human body to apply to the architectural data. So he reaches for - John Anthony West does the same - models such as the Hindu chakra system. I suspect that is a mistake, in the first instance. It might be more productive to take the human body as described in the Timaeus - most of the dialogue is concerned with describing human anatomy, and it is an esoteric anatomy - and apply it to the same coordinates and structures Schwaller de Lubicz found at Luxor. It might be surprising. Let us take Plato at his word when he tells us that his cosmology of the human body is Egyptian in origin. Let us look for parallels between Plato's description of the human body, his anthropocosmos, and what Schwaller de Lubicz found at Luxor. It could be very illuminating. 

Are there scholars working on this today?

The contemporary scholar who does the greatest justice to Schwaller de Lubicz is Aaron Cheak, from New Zealand. He treats Schwaller de Lubicz with a proper degree of seriousness. He is a scholar of the alchemical traditions. And his work has rescued Schwaller de Lubicz from obscurity to some degree and is opening new avenues of study. My suggestion is to bring Plato's human anatomy to the Temple of Man. Hopefully, someone will investigate it further. There are some important conceptual frames to be applied. For example - and this is exceedingly important - we must appreciate that the human anatomy in the Timaeus is not really that of the human being as we know it. And I doubt it is at the Temple of Luxor either. 

No? What then?

This is one of the peculiarities of the anatomy sections of the Timaeus. Modern critics will state the Plato had no idea of human anatomy. But, of course, the Greeks, like the Egyptians, had explored the interior of the human body. Homer, in the battle scenes, lets us know that the Greeks understood the basic human organs. And the Egyptian's mummification would have made them entirely aware of the interior terrain of the human form. And yet in the Timaeus it is as though Plato doesn't know what the lungs do, or what the liver is. Basic things like that. The reason is that he is not really describing the human form as we know it, but rather is describing the autochthon, the plant-man, the original man. And human beings have declined from - not evolved from - that form. Which is to say Plato is describing a prototype. And, in fact, this prototype is, as it were, constructed, like a robot. The joints are pinned together. It is describing liked a machine. In order to understand it you must step aside from the idea that he is trying to describe actual human anatomy. There is a different order of ideas going on. It is a symbolist description of the human body. In fact, in the context, he is describing the first Athenians, the autochthons, the children of Athena and Hephaestos and Gea. So, for example, there are no reproductive organs, or they are added as an afterthought because animal reproduction comes later, as a falling away from the primordial form. If we imagine that Plato was trying to describe actual human anatomy then he was hopelessly, ridiculously wrong. But that is not what is happening in that text. Plato's anthropocosmology is quite different to that. And that is what we must look for in the Egyptians too. 

Autochthons?

The first generation, the prototypal man, is born from the earth, a child of the cosmos itself. With his seed from the stars. This is one of the keys to understanding the Platonic cosmology, and Plato gives us enough clues, enough signals, that such ideas came from Egypt. Yet few Egyptologists even mention this. Not even the Symbolists and Schwaller de Lubicz. It is a missing key. But we should apply that key to something like the temple at Luxor, and then we would have a fully and deeper understanding. Because, in fact, Schwaller de Lubicz brings a quite modern - and in that sense inappropriate - understanding of the human body to the ancient Temple of Man. The Symbolists often want to dazzle us with the ways the Egyptians knew points of modern medical science. This is where they tend to veer into pseudo-science and it is where they violate their own rules, namely the rule that we try to understand the ancients on their own terms. Well, a very full and complete description of the human form - its prototype, its symbolism - survives in Plato's Timaeus, his most Egyptian dialogue. Why not bring that account of the body to a study of the Temple of Man? I hasten to add that I'm not an Egyptologist and so it would be entirely beyond me, but I can identify the keys. Plato provides this key. What is needed is a full study of the theme of autochthony in ancient Egypt. And the Egyptian understanding of the body, the anthropocosmos, must be placed in that context. This is something that awaits doing. 

You mean as a continuation of the work of Schwaller de Lubicz?

Yes. He establishes some very useful principles and a methodology. It is completely at odds with the mainstream paradigm. This is why he attracts controversy and even ridicule. But the Temple of Man is a very good start. His principles are, generally, entirely at one with those who find in a text like Plato's cosmology, the Timaeus. But in other respects it might be useful to use the Timaeus as a better guide to the type of symbolism that Schwaller de Lubicz was exploring during his fifteen year sojourn in Luxor. I hope to be able to expand upon these ideas at some time, but a full study would really require another Schwaller de Lubicz and, unfortunately, one of those only comes along every century or so I think. 

Can you supply some pointers, so places to start?

I am assuming that Plato gives us the pointers. So the place to start in the Egyptian order - whereby we can extropolate from Plato's anthropocosmos to that of the Egyptians - is the goddess Neith, and therefore the symbolism of weaving. That is one place to start. To make a reexamination of the Temple of Luxor, start with the iconography of Neith and with weaving as a symbolism. The 'weaving' of the human child in the womb, or in terms of autochthony, the weaving of the autochthon in the womb of the earth. That is, no doubt, an important symbolism. And from there we enter into alchemy because the alchemical arts are the meeting of obstetrics and metallurgy. The metals as embryonic. You need to recover all of that symbolism, and that way of thinking, in order to enter into the Egyptian mind. More specifically, Schwaller de Lubicz was sort of puzzled by the absence of reproductive anatomy in his study of Luxor. He found some, but if you look at his ground plan of the temple there is nothing obvious regarding the reproductive organs. This is important. It signals autochthony. There is autochthony symbolism throughout Egyptian iconography. The scarab beetle and the snake. Both autochthonous creatures. That symbolism needs to be reconsidered. That would be a good starting point.



Schwaller de Lubicz


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Yours,

Harper McAlpine Black

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Uzdavinys in Lahore


The author of these pages first met Algis Uzdavinys one gloomy, smog-filled evening in Lahore. The occasion was a philosophy conference, sponsored by General Musharef, and Dr Uzdavinys had arrived at the hotel late. Billed as the "new Coomaraswamy", and one of the stars of the programme, the Lithuanian scholar was lodging several rooms up from the present author who, upon being advised that he had arrived, thought it appropriate to introduce himself. He knocked upon the door and after a long delay Dr Uzdavinys, a huge hairy bear of a man, answered dressed only in his Y-fronts, his room hazy with cigarette smoke and gyrating with Arab pop music. He was gruff and jet-lagged. For some reason he felt it necessary to explain that he couldn't work without music going, at which the present author scolded him saying "That's a very bad habit" but then smiled to let him know he was joking. The Lithuanian thought about this for a long moment - and only at this point seemned to realise he was wearing nothing but his underwear - and said, "Yes. Now, where can we get some decent coffee?" The hotel coffee was dishwater. Coffee, cigarettes, Arab pop music - these, along with his books, were his essentials.

The conference was farcical. The programme was chaotic and the sound system in the auditorium failed. The organisers quickly rigged up a cheap make-shift PA and fitted speakers with microphones. When it came time for Dr Uzdavinys to speak, however, he found the microphone an impediment. He furiously ripped it from his coat and unilaterally decided to address the audience without amplification. He read his paper in his big booming Lithuanian voice - a huge man, six foot three or more - calling into the echoing spaces of the auditorium. No one could make out a word of it, but this was not the issue. The PA was so bad no one could understand any of the papers presented, but at least Dr Uzdavinys made an impression. It was a memorable performance. He had presence. Everybody knew, regardless, that whatever it was he was saying was erudite, authoritative, the work of a scholar. 

We spent the next few days touring around Lahore on foot or by taxi.  He strode through the narrow medieval streets of the old city towering above the short statured locals who stopped and stared as if he was a giant from a fairytale. Indulging his passion for cartography, he purchased a swag of maps and studied them in detail, then headed out to the various historical sites that were of interest to him. Invariably, this meant long delays sitting in taxis  in insane traffic jams, and it was on such occasions that the present author had the opportunity to discuss aspects of his work, and particularly his work on Plato and the Neoplatonic tradition. In return - sitting on the park benches watching camels and men with leashed monkeys go by and lamenting the terrible decay of what was once a beautiful cultured city - the present author shared his knowledge old roses. On one expedition Dr Uzdavinys made the astute observation that the beggars were armed with cell phones and were calling ahead of each other in a strategy to extract as much money from us as they could. 

It was in the context of these adventures that Dr Uzdavinys revealed the appalling state of the Lithuanian economy and the fact that, though a world-class scholar, his income was barely at a subsistence level. His work was constrained at every point by his comparative poverty and lack of opportunities in post-Soviet era Lithuania. Asked what Lithuania exported, he shrugged his shoulders and said "Girls." The present writer therefore determined to investigate the possibility of securing him some work in affluent Australia. This eventually transpired. A research position came up, Dr Uzdavinys applied and his application was successful. For a second time the present writer had the great fortune of spending time in his company, once more largely discussing the wider Platonic tradition of which Dr Uzdavinys had a truly encylopedic knowledge. 




Dr Uzdavinys in his office at La Trobe University, Bendigo, Australia

Alas, this sojourn to Australia - as far away from his home as can be imagined - was not a happy one for the homesick scholar (amongst other things he missed the companionship of his lovely wife, Virginia, who proofread his manuscripts and acted as his research assistant), and nor did it do much to improve his finances. Worse, the travel impacted upon his health and during a return visit to Lithuania during a Christmas break he fell sick. His solid diet of coffee, cigarettes and, even worse, Arab pop music, had taken its toll. He was diagnosed with heart disease.  He died of the same, aged forty-eight, in 2010.

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The young Uzdavinys at school in Lithuania. 

Algis Uzdavinys was extraordinarily prolific. As he told the present writer, the study of the Platonic and related traditions, and writing books on these traditions, was his vocation. Like any true scholar, he felt a strong calling to this task and he devoted himself to his books day and night. Averse to computers, he wrote in long hand, usually in Lithuanian, then translating everything into English for publication. His philosophical range was remarkable. His singular contribution was to trace and connect Platonic philosophy to ancient traditions in Egypt and the Near East and then, forwards in time, to their maturation in the Neoplatonic schools and, from there, in Sufism and other kindred traditions through to the present day. Against the usual atomizing academic tendency to emphasise differences rather than similarities (an unacknowledged side-effect of specialisation and the self-sustaining quest for academic novelty), he proposed that there is a single 'golden chain' of transmission uniting all of these schools and traditions. He remains one of the great modern exponents of this 'golden chain'. Few have done so much to help restore philosophy as a heiratic art. The Uzdavinyean position is summed up in the following quotation:

In Plato’s definition of philosophy as a training for death (Phaedo 67cd) an implicit distinction was made between philosophy and philosophical discourse. Modern Western philosophy (a rather monstrous and corrupted creature, initially shaped by late Christian theology and post-Descartesian logic) has been systematically reduced to a philosophical discourse of a single dogmatic kind, through the fatal one-sidedness of its professed secular humanistic mentality, and a crucial misunderstanding of traditional wisdom. The task of the ancient philosophers was in fact to contemplate the cosmic order and its beauty; to live in harmony with it and to tran- scend the limitations imposed by sense experience and discursive reasoning. In a word, it was through philosophy (understood as a kind of askesis) that the cultivation of the natural, ethical, civic, purificatory, theoretic, paradigmatic, and hieratic virtues (aretai) were to be practiced; and it was through this noetic vision (noesis) that the ancient philosophers tried to awaken the divine light within, and to touch the divine Intellect in the cosmos. For them, to reach apotheosis was the ultimate human end (telos). Christos Evan- geliou correctly observes that, “Neither Aristotle nor any other Pla- tonic, or genuinely Hellenic philosopher, would have approved of what the modern European man, in his greedy desire for profit, and demonic will to power, has made out of Hellenic philosophia.”

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Some of the key publications of this great modern Platonic scholar, and assorted quotations therefrom follow below:









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Yours,

Harper McAlpine Black