I’m attending meetings at school this week, but genuine summer is not far off. It’s been raining quite a lot, so my kayak is still in the basement. Instead, between comments and grading, I’ve been working on this mandala of Geomancy, alchemy, and astrology.
Any teachers who still read this blog are likely flabbergasted. Why would any modern teacher study such outdated subjects? Especially a technology teacher? And why would you draw such a mandala by hand, rather than with computer software?
Well, among other things (including being proto-chemistry), alchemy’s seven, or eight, or four, or three, or twelve, or fourteen or sixteen steps are a useful model of design thinking. You could really divide design thinking into two halves: thinking up ideas, and then critiquing them.
Except that doesn’t really encompass all that design thinking is, or could be. It’s partly about process, partly about skills, and muchly about empathy for other human beings.
It’s in just such a context that I find myself working on this major art piece for a friend of mine: a mandala of the medieval-renaissance system of divination called Geomancy, with further data about the Behenian stars (a catalogue of fifteen “fixed stars” useful in astrology, arrayed around the sky), and a set of sixteen alchemical processes that are in fact critical to good and careful thinking and design.
The one I drew last night is called “fixation“, and it’s paired with the Geomantic signs Carcer and Amissio, and with the fixed star caput Algol. Fixation is taking something volatile and gaseous and unrefined, and solidifying it — heating it up to the point where it solidifies and becomes more obvious and solid.
This appears to me to be exactly the opposite of typical chemical reactions: to heat something is to liquefy it and then gasify it. So why heat something to resolidify something?
Well, here’s the secret — at a metaphorical level, since I don’t know if this is a chemical truth. One has to take a “light, airy, almost insubstantial idea” and subject it to a lot of low-intensity heat — gentle critique and gradual analysis — before it becomes a solid-enough idea to work with it. In this way has my geomantic mandala come into being — a casual, fun idea has gradually become a real thing on paper due to a low-intensity critical struggle with a set system of knowledge. It’s not to say that knowledge is perfect, by any means, for this work of fixation is classified as “white work” — prototyping, in a sense — that doesn’t lead to a perfect product. But it’s an important beginning, and the idea work has to be solidified in matter before it’s anywhere close to finished.