20th Mansion: al-Na’am “the Beam”

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Via Flickr:
This effort at doing the 20th Mansion of the Moon was much more successful than my last one. (Apparently I’m growing in power and strength as I do this work… )There’s something about the intersection of man and horse that’s intimidating. And the lack of background behind the centaur is currently annoying — but I’m not sure I know how to get the scale correct between foreground and background.

What is this sensation I’m experiencing? Oh right… It has a name. It’s fear. I’m afraid.

Having mastered some of the techniques I’m using here — like line, and operating from drawing “how to” manuals, and the geometrical rules for the page layouts — I encounter a set of drawing challenges based on previous conditions, and I hesitate. I hold back from completing the work beyond what I’ve already done.

How wonderful! Evidence of magical change instituted through the Mansions of the Moon — I can achieve different mental states by reaching a new plateau in my artistic practice, and holding back or hesitating from accepting the challenge presented by the next level. Funny, that.  (And it’s similar to the feelings of breaking rules or trying NOT to break rules, that I experienced while drawing the 18th Mansion of the Moon.)  And yet.

And yet, it shows just how deeply into this game it’s possible to go. You’re always going to hit a limitation of your current skill or your current awareness. There’s always a new challenge to overcome. And it’s fun to overcome them. As difficult or as awful as overcoming a challenge may be, it’s nonetheless pointless to be afraid of a drawing.

Let us therefore be determined! Take on the challenges of Mars and the Moon, of Jupiter… Go find that which you seek.

Breaking Rules

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18th mansion: drawn & inked
Originally uploaded by anselm23

One of the things that I’m learning about the rules for laying out the pages in my notebook according to medieval rules, is that there is sometimes benefit to breaking them — as I do here on the right-hand page, with the ogival/Gothic arch that contains the snake. This isn’t the best layout I’ve ever done, but it’s in part about learning to break the rules, even though I’m just learning them.

Talking with my friend Craig’s friend Allegra over the weekend, we got into talking about margins and fonts, and she pointed out that the standard computer word-processing margins of 1″ on all sides are pretty terrible. They’re ugly, but they’ve become the norm. The margins here are not necessarily perfect, by any means, but at the same time they’re interesting, in part because they deviate from the normal rules.

So… if I follow “medieval margins” rules, and break those rules, am I breaking our rules and inventing my own, or breaking their rules and leaning towards ours? Am I playing with conventions and norms? Am I making art according to my own rules?

How much of what we teach children these days are really hard-and-fast rules, and how much of what we teach are actually rules of thumb? How much of what we teach is determined by rules laid down by computer programmers and computers?

Time was when there were a range of such rules of thumb, and people had to learn all these rules of thumb by experimenting with drawing lines on blank paper or parchment…. and as I do these exercises, I wonder what we’ve lost by moving away from this kind of training?

18th Mansion: inking the frame

Growing in Power and Strength

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11th Mansion of the Moon
Originally uploaded by anselm23

Rufus Opus has a post today about how to become a living god. (There’s also a pretty good one about how … ahem… stuff usually works out.).

I don’t know about the living god stuff, but I do know how to grow in power and strength. It’s one of those incredible, powerful secrets that Benjamin Franklin and George Washington and a bunch of other great leaders have known over the years, and used to great advantage. It’s also one of those things that you can shout from the rooftops, even though it’s a secret, and no one at all will stop what they’re doing because it’s so fundamentally obvious:

To grow in power and strength, stop doing the things that don’t work, and keep doing the things that do work.

See how easy it is? See how amazing one of the great secrets of the universe is? And I’ve just revealed it to you, for free.

Big deal, I hear you muttering. As a student of mine says, “That’s so obvi, it’s hardly worth saying.”

But it is. It needs to be said over and over and over. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops. It needs to be turned into an Internet meme with cats. It needs to be a song by Bryan Jackson and Julie Beman played on the Six Nations Voyageur and featured on NPR and Fox News.

Consider that last month, when I drew this image of the 11th Mansion of the Moon last, it looked like this:

11th Mansion of the Moon

Whiteboard Mansion 11

Craptastic, right? I mean, whiteboard marker in six minutes in front of a dozen sixth graders is likely to be bad. Whatevs, as the kids would say. But when they see this, they’ll be like, “Wow, that’s totally cray-cray (crazy-crazy).”

But the secret is to find what works, and keep doing that. In this case, what works is doing pencil sketches and combining tutorials from dragoart.com — one on drawing lions, and one on drawing knights on horseback. Is it perfect? No. Is it a lot better than the first bit of half-assery I did? Yes.

And further on in the article, here’s the time before that, using the iPad app Paper by Fifty-three.

Look, nobody gets awesome at anything the first time out. Write a sonnet. Right now. I’ll wait. In case you’ve forgotten, it’s a rhyming poem of fourteen lines, with ten syllables in a line and a rhyming pattern in the last syllables of ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Write one now, go ahead. I’ll be here when you’re done.

Done? No? Keep writing.

Done now? Ok, your sonnet. It’s terrible, unless you’re already an awesome poet. But it’s a sonnet, and that makes you stronger and more powerful than anyone who hasn’t written a sonnet, or drawn a Mansion of the Moon, or learned the names of six constellations.

Write another sonnet. I’ll wait.  In fact, I’ll write one while you write one, in honor of Neciel:

Hermetics / 4 — 11th Mansion

Digital Mansion 11

Greetings, Neciel, al-Zubrah’s angel,
prince of mastery, charisma and awe:
help us to grow strong in learning’s tangle,
acquiring power through Nature’s law —
Keep doing what works, avoid what doesn’t,
work through apprenticeship to mastery.
No skillfulness appears without comment,
adept-ship comes not by half-assery.
Help us ride the lion of our passions,
to steer it by the ear and seek the ring.
Help our creations guide future fashions,
help our work become the next big thing.
For in these lines of praise declared to you,
may my works become empowered and new.

Done with your sonnet? Not as bad as the first one, was it? You’re already discovering that you know the secret, intimately, already — Stop doing the things that don’t work, and keep doing the things that do.

Learning to do these things will earn you admiration from women and men, boys and girls. It will raise you in the eyes of your subordinates and in the estimation of your overseers. It will lend you grace and power. It will grow your power as a wizard and a teacher, and it will prove to you — over and over and over again — the value of this secret, which is more reliable than the Law of Attraction, or the Core Common Standards, or the Four Agreements, or all the re-readings of the occult Philosophies of Picatrix and John Dewey combined which you may choose to subject yourself to.

It is the Golden Chain of Homer, and the Dry Work of Alchemy, and the Hero’s Quest. Make it your New Year’s Resolution:

Stop doing the things that don’t work, and keep doing the things that do work.

Happy New Year.


Via Flickr:
The eleventh mansion is complicated. Sometimes I show the lion from the side. This time, it’s sort of a 3/4 view. Doesn’t matter — I usually get the proportions wrong between the human and animal bodies. And the human here looks more like a Playmobil figure than a true warrior. The forest background is complicated, too.

On the other hand, even with these challenges I think the drawing shows promise.

From a magical perspective, of course, each time I draw this picture or a version of this picture, the power inherent in the image will grow; from an artistic perspective, the quality of my efforts will get better, and the quality of the drawing’s proportions and imagery will improve the more times I try to draw it. In both cases, frequent repetition will empower me in ways that are difficult to explain — but just as drawing is thinking, ritualizing is thinking. There’s a creative confidence that comes from frequent application of the energies of each image — and from that energy and confident application of skill comes greater power. So does the work improve and grow.

Travel, Interrupted. With Friends.

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I’m working on the Ninth Mansion of the Moon image, called Al-Tarf after beta Cancri.  It’s… ahem… an image of some delicacy, because it’s a man covering his eyes and wanting his genitals.  I suppose I could draw or photograph a Ken doll.  But a different image both suggested and presented itself, so I’m working on that. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s going to appear here.  Lines have to be drawn somewhere.

Plus, it’s an image for “causing discord among men” and causing trouble in travel and limiting harvests.  So I’ve interrupted myself several times in the drawing of it, to consider whether it’s a good idea to finish it. And now, I’m stuck in Atlanta at the airport.

The modern American teacher, typically a modernist and a materialist and a rationalist (no matter what church they belong to or what god or gods they believe in), is likely to regard this as unlucky coincidence.   I mean, here I am stuck in an airport, and it’s no big deal — travel at the holidays, this time of year, is likely to be complicated.  It’s winter — weather incidents are likely to get in the way.

Nonetheless, here I am under a full moon, on the day that the Moon is in the Ninth Mansion of Al-Tarf, and the number of people who are showing up at the gate to fly back “home” who I know is growing and growing.  There’s a whole family that lives just up the hill from my lady, and a guy I know from a festival in eastern New York called SpiritFire.  I have this feeling that others I know will be showing up shortly to take this same “last flight from Atlanta” to get back to New England. Astonishing.

And part of me wonders if part of it is that Barbiel, the angel of the ninth mansion, wants his/her image finished and opened to the world?  Is that why we’re all here?  It’s a lot of odd coincidences piling up on top of one another.  Folks from my magical life all appear at the same gate at the same airport?

Of course a typical American teacher — from a rationalist, materialist, modernist viewpoint — would insist that this is ridiculous.  Angels are not particularly supposed to be in American public schools at the very least, and how would drawing a picture of Barbiel’s image and reciting a prayer or declaration on his behalf get me home any sooner? Would publishing his image make it easier or harder for me to get home?  Would it have any effect at all?  Again, the rationalist, materialist, modernist teacher in me would say, no, of course not.  

Am I always those things, though?  No, not really. Not so much.  I’m mindful that we know more than we realize, and that we affect more than we realize.  There’s more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.  And so it’s an easy matter to resolve.   If Barbiel wants his image revealed to the world, he’s going to have to wait — holdign me up is not going to get me to give out a tool for causing discord among men or causing infirmity.

But let me release a different kind of tool to the world, a poem.  Let me unlock my word hoard, and remind Barbiel that we mortals are not utterly powerless to the machinations of the spirit realms.

Hail, al-Tarf’s Barbiel, honest and sure,
who of twenty-eight mansions rules the ninth.
Give me strength, infirmity to endure,
and help me through a long journey day’s length.
You halt winnowers on the threshing floor,
and hinder travelers at the portal,
and strand the ships on sandbars far from shore,
while warning the youthful that they’re mortal.
“Prince of unpleasant truths” thy epithet,
while Heaven’s Cancer defines thy mansion:
Leave us untouched, and now kindly forget
to gift us with trials of your invention.
Distance me from men of malignant will,
and go on thy way without doing ill.

They’ve just announced the gate for my flight, and we’ll see whether Barbiel lets me go home.  But let me ask this of myself and my readers, O materialist, rationalist, modernists that we are… IF I do get home, is it because Barbiel helped me?  Or that my poem hindered him? Or that he’s punishing me for my audacity?  Or that his power is waning now that his time is ending and the next mansion is beginning?

OR… is it just that the weather cleared up and the airline got their act together, and so on?

These matters are not cut and dried.  They are not settled, though we believe them so.  When we take on an alternate mindset, like “magic is real and there are spirits that work in the world,” we start encountering murky but consequential evidence that this is on.  When we take on a materialist mindset, and adopt the idea that this physical body of meat and minerals is all that there is, we encounter murky but consequential evidence that this is so. When we perform experiments to determine if there are spirit-beings, like writing these poems, and determine their results— we encounter evidence that they exist and that they can be persuaded or guided or governed.  When we deny their existence, we likewise encounter evidence that they are not real, and that travel delays and weather challenges are just part of the ordinary circumstances and difficulties of travel.  Welcome to the world. Life is hard.  Oh well, get used to it.

As Yann Martel pointed out in The Life of Pi, though, the world benefits from a degree of magical thinking from us.  We reënchant the world, in some sense, by believing in it and making it so.  My life is enriched and beautified by writing poetry in praise of an angel that most people in this airport would be hard-pressed to believe exists — “an angel who acts to hinder travelers and cause infirmities?  Isn’t that a bit much for a God who is absolutely just?”

And yet, in writing this poem, haven’t I enriched your life?  Haven’t I done what I could to bring my companions and colleagues and fellow travelers closer to home?  Haven’t I done my best to enchant the world so that they arrive at their intended destination?  Let us hope so.

Barbiel, may you prosper our way by forgetting about us for now.

Following Drawing Scripts

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Eighth Mansion of the Moon
Originally uploaded by anselm23

When I realized that today’s Mansion of the Moon image involved drawing an eagle with a man’s head, I went to Dragoart.com, and I looked for a template or step-by-step tutorial in how to draw an eagle, and then I massaged it by adding a human face to the eagle body instead of a beak. Once the eagle was completed, I tried to imagine the view behind it, and was rewarded by a sense of what mountains and mesas and desert might look like to the eagle, or rather, from above the eagle. And so it came to pass.

I’m reluctant to impute deep philosophical meaning to these images, but I think it’s significant that I drew these, and a number of friends contacted me out the woodwork and scaffolding of my life, on a day devoted to love and friendship and fellowship. I don’t think I won any wars today, and my imprisonment isn’t confirmed in any way, but I did get up and make art today, and rather successfully, I think.

Which is what’s on my mind—

My mother the artist (Gordon has his mother the psychonaut, I have my mother the artist) is afraid of drawing. So guess what? I taught her Dave Gray‘s Semigram:

Artist, magician, teacher, poet, whatever you are that reads my blog: get out your pencil and your notebook, and learn this lesson by heart. Drawing is thinking, and your drawing will be crippled like my mother’s has been crippled, if you don’t learn some of the cartoonish basics like line and shape. Learning to draw images will improve your sigil work and your divinations if you’re a magician. It will improve your board notes, if you’re a teacher. If you’re a poet, well… maybe it will improve your poetry to know how to make visual art, it’s hard to say; but it will deepen your love and appreciation for visual symbolism, which will deepen the quality of your use of language. Tony knows this well. You can make great birthday presents with your artwork, eventually. And, it will allow you the chance to delight children of all ages and maybe impress people. Just don’t be creepy about it.

But allowing yourself some creative freedom to make mistakes and develop confidence in your abilities as an artist is critical. I used a drawing tutorial today for an eagle. So what? I’d still be struggling without the prior efforts of another artist to help me over that first hump. To paraphrase Isaac Newton (insulting Robert Hooke, as it happens): We stand upon the shoulders of giants.

Get drawing.

Via Flickr:
The eighth mansion of the moon is ruled by the angel Amnediel, and it is imaged as an eagle with a man’s head. It conduces to victory in war, and the moon in this mansion signified love, friendship and society from fellow travelers; it drives away mice and afflicts captives.

I’ve imagined the image as a floating eagle, high above the desert landscape, with the curvature of the earth in sight, and a Mesa and a mountain visible below. The dots help contrast between the eagle and the background. Paint or ink might improve the line quality — birds’ plumage is more color than line, even on an eagle. The base design of the eagle came from dragoart.com/tuts/3358/1/1/how-to-draw-eagles.htm

20th Mansion of the Moon

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20th Mansion of the Moon

Originally uploaded by anselm23

Via Flickr:
Today is actually the 21st mansion. But I wanted the 20th mansion in kids’ notes. Plus, I brought notes about the 20th mansion to school today, and didn’t double-check my astrology program until I got to school. Oops.

Also, the planetary correspondences are wrong: The arrow "has the nature of Mars and the Moon," while the bow itself has the nature of "Mars and Jupiter." I read a promo for a book called Planet Narnia yesterday, which suggests that the Narnian Chronicles are in fact a thematic investigation of how Christology plays out through the seven heavens. Now I want to re-read the books, and play with those ideas myself.

19th Mansion of the Moon

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19th Mansion of the Moon

Originally uploaded by anselm23

Via Flickr:
Today’s image, which I put on the white board in class today, is of the "Puella abderet vultum eius" — "The girl is hiding her face." I made up the Latin; it’s not from Agrippa or Picatrix or any ancient source, because I’m trying to give kids a sense of how Latin works… how pronouns and nouns fit together to form sentences. But at the same time I’m seeding my school with ideas and images that help tell the story of visual learning. It’s having some effect; kids and adults are starting to care more about visual literacy as an important skill; little by little, I’m changing hearts and minds. So far, so good.

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