So, here’s an experiment for the magicial practitioners in the blog audience. Classroom practitioners can skip down a bit if they want to get past the woo-woo bits.
One of these images of the ancient Roman god Mars was produced during an astrological window determined to be of good quality for creating talismans or images of this being, which would aid in improving assertiveness and dedication and focus to a cause — namely, the cause of learning a language deeply and clearly, and understanding the underlying linguistics of languages related to Latin.
The other image was produced about fifteen minutes after the window of opportunity closed. Without clicking on the pictures (and going to the text on the Flickr site, which gives the answers…) which of these images was produced during the astrological window, and which was produced afterwards?
It’s not an idle question, because — if I’m right — this is one of the ways that the Ars memorativa — The Art of Memory, or the ability to remember large quantities of information — functioned in the ancient and medieval eras. There are occasional references in medieval occult texts to the Notary Arts, or the ability to draw pictures that hold and transmit information in a form that makes it easily recalled to mind. Likewise with this image, which my students copied today into their Latin notebooks next to the pronunciation key to the Latin alphabet which we constructed in class today. The image of Mars with his sword stands guard over certain key information — the change of the letter b to the sound “p” when preceding s (as in Urbs, meaning “City”), for instance, or that V is pronounced as “w”, and that ae is not two vowels sounded separately, but one which sounds rather like “eye”. And so on.
Knowing the correct pronunciation of words is critical to learning a new language. Given this astrological window, which I found out from a mailing list I was on; and the fact that it fell during my two Latin classes today, it made sense to try a little drawing practice, and to strongly connect a student’s learning process to visual cues in their own notebook.
Maybe it doesn’t matter that the image is empowered with astrological portent. Maybe it does. I made it with the intention that it would serve as a reminder of the dedication and intentionality that goes into learning a language… and then I copied it into my version of their notebook, so that I can use the notes I’ve given them to help spur them on.
At the same time, though, I have to wonder — does the image of Mars made in astrological time carry more weight in the eyes of the viewer, even through a photograph, and can its purpose be discerned by those who claim occult ability? And if so, can they confirm my own sense, that this image will do what is intended, for both me and my students — and likewise for all beings who view it and make copies of it, as was my intent?
For the Classroom Practitioner:
You’ve had kids make mind-maps before. You know that kids learn stuff better when their information processes are tied to compelling visuals. And yet you know that PowerPoint slideshows are the kiss of death when it comes to getting kids to tell compelling stories. The images are canned; their linkages to the narrative they’re trying to tell is sometimes only tenuous; it depends on how good their Google Fu is, and how much extra research they’re willing to do.
Instead, why not tie your notes clearly and compellingly to certain visual images, which you ask them to do their own interpretations of? All I told the students for this image was that it had to be a man with sword, shield, some armor, a helmet, and the symbol for Mars. If they had a red marker, they could add some red color. The images don’t have to be accurate; they don’t have to be real. They do have to be identifiable, and to some degree compelling. Drawing books can help you get started, as they got me started a couple of years ago.
Let me say that again: Drawing guides can help you get started, as they got me started a couple of years ago.
I haven’t been doing this for very long. It doesn’t take much to get started. It does require a bit of chutzpah to put your drawings up on the board, and it requires confidence that you will get better with practice. Don’t be afraid. Start drawing sample work for your students to copy, and weave small but compelling images into your students’ notes. The images will act as anchors for their memory processing, and they will remember what you have them write on those pages in much more clarity and detail.
At least, so says a good two thousand + years of memory practice from the ancient world up through the late Renaissance. The worst that could happen is that you are made to feel like a fool, and your students learn to draw. One way or another, the goal of improving visual literacy will be served.