Research and the Kavad

So, in my last post from  yesterday’s lengthy effort to finish version 4.6 of the Hermetic Kavad, I noted that I wasn’t really sure what to put into the middle parts.  And I’d like to back up from that a bit.  If you’re one of my teaching colleagues, I apologize, because the first part of the post is about geeky occult stuff, and it’s going to be totally boring to you.  So I suggest you skim that part, and pick up later in the post, after the header RESEARCH.  You only need to understand that I have a bunch of questions, below about what should be in the kavad, and what might be in there, and I don’t know how to move forward.  Totally the normal experience of your average seventh grader, right?

The point here, though, is that I want to show MY process, because it’s all about developing a language, a model, and a set of values for talking about creativity. YOU are welcome to come up with your own process, but you may as well help me walk through mine, because then you’ll have a better sense of how to develop your own.

So… I totally have a sense of what needs to go into the inner layers of the kavad:

  • The 28 Mansions of the Moon
  • The 36 faces of the Decans of the Zodiac
  • John Dee’s Monad
  • Icons of the seven angels of the planets
  • The Crucifixion as an allegory of the Solar Initiation
But then things get fussy.  There’s Plenty of Space for these things. But there is a question of layout: Where should they be placed? It’s a graphic design problem, an organizational problem, and a narrative problem, all at the same time.  The kavad is 3D and non-linear… but a story is linear, and the pieces have to make sense in how they’re presented as the box is opened.  You can’t encounter high weirdness whenever the box is opened, and lose the thread of the narrative.  Also, there’s more space than just these five big pieces — but there’s NOT A LOT more space.  Which means, that of the list below, some things won’t make the cut.  I must (ahem) separate the subtle from the gross, or (ahem) I must slowly, and with much patience, recombine the images so that some symbols convey multiple meanings…
Should I include any of these:
Finished Sigil from bottom
The most – and least – fun a cryptographer can have with a ruler and compass
  • The symbols of meditation for certain GD grades, e.g.
    • point
    • line
    • circle
    • sphere
  • The GD Banners of the East and of the West
  • Visualizations of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alephbet
  • The Futhark Runes from heathenism
  • The Ogham signs from druidry
  • The Wheel of the Year — Druid, Celtic, Christian, Arthurian?
  • The Four Living Creatures of the Throne of God (Man, Lion, Eagle, Bull)
  • The Vision of Isaiah (Isaiah 6, “In the year that King Uzziah died”)
  • The Flower of Life
  • Symbolism from Freemasonry – How do I explain that?
  • Emblems that demonstrate how Wicca ties in to Hermeticism (Do I even know?)
  • The Golden Chain of Homer
  • The Four Color Scales
  • The Sigil Dei Aemeth
  • Symbolism of my own ancestors
  • The Emerald Tablet — it should be there! But, How do I represent that visually?  In Latin, or English?

There’s a parallel challenge.  How do I distinguish between traditional lore, which has been passed down over a long period of time, and my own interpretations and additions to the material?  A traditional kavad-maker in Rajasthan has two things working for him — a traditional symbolism and framework for each style of kavad, and also a fixed story — He gets to do the Rig Veda or one of the Upanishads or the Mahabharata… I’m making this up as I go along.

There’s also the issue of space. The kavad is no TARDIS.  Just because I put in more panels doesn’t make these panels larger, or more able to hold information coherently.  How large an audience has to be able to receive instruction from the kavad? How far away can one stand before the information starts to be lost?  If it’s a presentation tool, the images must be simple yet memorable. These are not zoomable… how do I develop my own artistic skills to be up to the task of the work?  It’s a lot of layers of consideration.

For now, I’ve actually shifted to the innermost part of the kavad, and left the middle range blank.  It looks like the central ‘cross’ and shrine of the kavad is going to hold the 28 angels of the Mansions of the Moon, and the 36 faces of the Decans of the Zodiac — that is, the Sun and the moon will be balanced around the central shrine, at its most granular level of detail that I know.  I like the imagery of that — in Druidry, the spirits and energies of earth are combined with the spirits and energy of the Sun to produce the lunar current, or the energy of the Holy Grail, the source of all curative and creative powers.  That appeals to me, then, to have the kavad’s central shrine space have the solar and lunar angels hovering around.  It does suggest that maybe the pavement or floor of the shrine should be the sixteen signs of geomancy… but maybe there’s another set of Spirits of Earth I could use instead.  Hmm.  bears research.  I’m still making sketches of where to put the icons of the seven planets, and how big they should be — for metaphysical reasons relating to the story here, they need to be all roughly the same size, with Michael of the Sun somewhat larger perhaps), and roughly alike in dignity.  The mansions of the moon and the 36 Decans should likewise be similarly sized…

And so on.


Which, though it may not seem like it, brings me to my main point, which is research (teaching colleagues, jump back in here).  How am I going to answer these questions that i’ve outlined above?

One of the answers is research.  We tend not to think of creativity as being bounded by research at all — don’t creative people just come up with their kooky ideas on the fly, off the top of their heads?  And the answer is “no.”

Very few creative artists are completely original.  Even Picasso, generally considered one of the most creative of 20th century artists, was drawing on a lengthy tradition of experimentation and variation and practice.  In order to be that experimental and avant-garde, one has to know what’s come before.  One has to go back into the archive of human experience, and draw on that experience, to move forward.  It’s why we make kids read great books (or at least why we used to make kids read great books), and why we take kids to art museums — to expose them to ideas about how humans used to do things, or how nature does things.   We’re exposing new opportunities for research to them.

For the magicians here: On the Tree of Life, I think of research as being positioned where Saturn is, in the upper left corner.  Research is a three-fold problem: it’s about asking experts in their field what the answers are; it’s about doing a lot of reading for yourself; and it’s about sorting through and weighing opinions, and coming to a set of conclusions.  Saturn’s symbol is an equilateral triangle.  When the problem gets passed on to Mars or to the Sun, from the vague loosey-goosey ideas presented above (How many of my readers have any idea what most of that was about??), the Sun is about making the ideas beautiful — and Mars is about cutting away what will not serve and does not work.  Mars is about getting wrathful with your project and leaving bits and pieces of it (often the nicer bits) on the ground, while the Sun is about encouraging what’s left to grow stronger.

Put another way — I have a limited amount of time to do my research here. This project has a deadline — it’s got to be finished this summer, as far as I’m concerned, or at least “done enough” to show to students, how they can take an idea from a paper prototype to a finished model of something amazing. So my window for talking to experts and collecting data is, you know… the next couple of days. That means that I’ll be spending these beautiful days sending a few emails, asking questions, digesting and summarizing answers, and reading books and magazine articles.  There are limits on our time, and Saturn has stood for limits and boundaries for almost as long as  there have been civilizations. (When I take my own creation down into the world of physical matter, later, I’ll pass my creative ideas through the realm of Mercury — human universals like language and symbol — in order to make my ideas intelligible to others. But that’s another post).


  1. I’m really enjoying seeing your Kavad in the making! It’s very cool stuff and I can’t wait to see the end product. It’s obvious how much hard work and thought your putting into it! A seriously cool idea in both formulation and execution!

    I’m intrigued by your including the Druidic elements into it. Is that because of the general connection to the Western Mystery Tradition or do you feel a connection with Druidry?

    Really great stuff here, enjoying it!

    • I’m a member of AODA, so I feel some affinity. But I’m also finding that it doesn’t really fit very well. So I may make adjustments in the 5.0 version. We shall see.

    • I keep pushing back my deadline of when “the end product” is going to be produced. Because I’m already finding that I need to go through another round of prototyping already — I need to cut my parts more precisely, and have them fit together more accurately, and… Anyway, you get the idea. But once I have a sense of the more-exact size and shape of the parts, I’ll be in a better position to cut the wood bits and shape them to match this design.

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