Notes for an astrological lodge

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As recently as 100 years ago, most Americans belonged to at least one large organization —the Freemasons, the Grange, the Knights of Pythias, the Oddfellows, Toastmasters, Rotarians and so on. Maybe that age in American history has come and gone. Maybe it will never return again, but it always seems to me that we repeat certain structures from time to time. Maybe the time has come for this one.

I had reason to get out these sashes that I made while doing Rufus Opus-style planetary work A few weeks ago. But I didn’t get to put them away again until today. As I did so, it occurred to me that they were relevant to something I had read in Chris Brennan’s book, Hellenistic Astrology. It was also something I heard on his show, the astrology podcast.

The coral idea it was this: Humans are born as creatures of Fate. We are destined to certain ends and certain results, unless we make an effort to change that. Yet changing our fate is very difficult. 

There is a practice in some therapeutic circles, of gathering a group of people, and letting the patient arrange those people in a tableau, so that mother and father, significant siblings and other persons are placed in relationship to one another. This is similar to lodge practice, in which the positions of various officers during a ceremony are understood to affect the initiate in symbolic and aetherial ways. 

Members of an astrological lodge, would then perform this function for one another. In a first degree initiation, The officers would stand in the lodge around the candidate wearing plain black robes, with a sash indicating their planetary color.  The officers would be positioned according to the astrological chart of the candidate. In a 2nd° initiation, the candidate would be able to ask and receive certain gift of the planets.  In a third-degree initiation fee candidate would symbolically “be slain” by their birth chart, only to rise again and “slay” their birth chart in return, and so free themselves from the destiny laid out for them by fate.

In between initiations, a variety of materials will be provided to teach astrology to members. Basic training in reading a birth chart, basics of horny astrology, and similar material would comprise the 1st°. The 2nd° would be training in a more magical approach to the planets, using Thomas Taylor’s Orphic hymns, and other poetic materials. There would be more focus on symbolically awakening, or propitiating the planets. The 3rd° would involve conjuration of various kinds of the planetary angels, and learning to work with those powers.

In large would need eight members ideally. More would certainly be permitted, but some of them would be sitting on the sidelines. The moon officer would be the keeper of the calendar for the lodge. The mercury officer would be secretary-treasurer. The Venus officer would be responsible for seeing to the creation of the lodge’s equipment and feeding people after rituals. The Sun officer would be the president. The mars officer would be responsible for securing the physical space, and act as Sergeant at arms, and keeper of the lodges equipment. The Jupiter officer would be vice president of education, and responsible for  leading rehearsals of the working group. The Saturn officer would be the immediate past president, there could be a supplemental curriculum for officers, charging them with walking the gates associated with their particular planet.

Commonplace book

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I’ve been experimenting with commonplacing. In the 1600s through the early 1900s, the commonplace book was a system of gathering texts and quotations in one place, usually a blank notebook, for the purpose of recollecting information and remembering key ideas about virtue, truth, health, leadership or what have you.

Doctors used them for recording “pearls”, key ideas about a pair or triad of symptoms and a specific diagnosis. Politicians used them to note useful quotations for speeches, and historians used them to categorize events and trends in the age before statistical analysis made more nuanced discussions possible.

I’m using a Moleskine/Evernote-branded softcover notebook to record poetry that I’m trying to memorize; pieces go into the book in the order that I’ve memorized them or intend to commit them to memory.  I attended a Burns Night supper in January last year; and I made an effort to memorize Robert Burns’ Epigram on Bad Roads, which is the first poem in the book, as you can see.

“I’ve now arrived —
thank all the gods!
Through pathways both rough and muddy;
a certain sign that makin’ roads
is no’ this people’s study.
Though I’m not with Scripture crammed
I know the Bible says
that heedless sinners shall be damn’d —
unless they mend their ways.”

It was nice and useful to memorize a funny poem for a change, instead of a serious one.  Most of my poetry tends to be pretty serious; and I tend to memorize serious poetry.  It’s a useful reminder that I should from time to time work on funny poetry as a form — both to memorize, and to write.  Something to practice!img_5468

Further on in the book, in the last three pages or so, is an index page listing the poetry and other elements I’ve put in the book.  Here’s part of that index, listing on page 1 the Epigram on Bad Roads, and Langston Hughes, and John Keats, and so on.   William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence takes up pages 7-11. You can see that I’m working on memorizing quite a lot of Thomas Taylor’s translations of the Orphic Hymns, as well, and the Aleister Crowley hymn for Coffee (not Covfefe).  The index continues; I’ve listed all of the pages, even if I haven’t filled them yet.  It’s rather more similar to the Digital Ambler’s Vademecum, really, or an Enchiridion, than a true commonplace book. A true commonplace book should not only have a table of contents at the beginning, but also an index by subject, such as hope or valor or kindness or coffee. Such an index would help one find appropriate material within the book more rapidly and easily.

img_5469Not everything in the book is poetic. Two pages include a list of all of the U.S. Presidents in order, which I’m working on memorizing, not just with their names but also their years.  It’s occurred to me frequently that this list serves a useful purpose as a time-counter; it’s much easier to remember when something occurred in time if you remember who was president at the same time.  That’s part of the reason why I also have the similar list of the Kings and Queens of England a few pages on from this — The English royal list extends back in time to 1066, and it creates a useful parallel list for European affairs.  Maybe I should also work on the list of the Emperors of Japan…

 

Shaker Village

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Just inside the western border of Massachusetts is the Hancock Shaker Village, a museum dedicated to the history and artistry and agriculture of the Shakers. I’m going to be staying for a few days in the neighborhood, here at the edges of the “Burned-Over District” as described by the  author Mitch Horowitz in Occult America. 

I’ve been to the museum several time. It never ceases to astound me. High technology in the form of this remarkable barn, artisanry shops, and passive solar living. It’s not a permaculture community. But it’s close to that in so many ways. The shakers were the first great caretakers of American orphans; among the first to establish brand names — shakers were associated with high quality handmade goods — the first to imagine communal living in a more-or-less Protestant and  European context in North America. The things they made are beautiful. 

Video: Circle Center

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Once you finish a book on geometry, everyone wants help. 🙂

I wound up making this short video on how to find the center of a circle for my dad.  It’s not ideal; I need a better set-up for making videos at my desk.  But the essence of it are these steps:

  1. On a given circle, find three points about 1/3 of the way around the circle, A, B, and C.
  2. Arc the distance AB center A, and BA center B, so the arcs overlap one another at two points, D and E.  Draw a line between D and E — the center will be on that line.
  3. Arc the distance AC center A, and CA center C, so the arcs overlap one another at points F and G.  Draw the line between D and E — the center has to be on that line.
  4. Point O is the place where lines DE and FG cross. That’s the center of the circle.

I hope this helps!

Geometry: back to work 

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It’s been a good long while since this particular project occupied my attention and focus.  However, I’m currently motivated to finish it — or at least finish the nine pages that I already have outlined and planned.  There are six more pages that are unplanned except for the margins, which means that I have a total of fifteen pages left to write, and maybe a card or panel to put in the pocket of the book, an afterword of sorts to explain the project a little better than I did at the beginning.

What project am I talking about? This one, the geometry book that I began a long time ago practically in a galaxy far, far away.  In fact, from the earlier entries from 2013, I can tell that I was already about sixteen pages into it.  Now, I’m thirty-seven pages into it, and I have fifteen left.  I’m almost the opposite point in this project as I was four years ago.  Funny how these things circle around, right?

The current pages, #36-37

Of course today is the day that I made a mistake.  I drew out the process of comparing 1:√2, and didn’t discover my error (on the right-hand page) until I had already inked the diagram and written the explanatory text.  Always check your work in geometry before you render it in pen!

The next pages laid out (and upside down for some reason)

No matter.  I had the room to be able to describe the process incorrectly, add in A WARNING IN CAPITALS AND RED, and then offer the correction. Typical medieval manuscript at this point, really — sometimes errors creep in, and the lowly scribe has to figure out how to offer the correction clearly and legibly in less space.  I managed.

As I said, I have nine pages remaining in this project that are already laid out.  A lot of this project is me working through Andrew Sutton’s book, Ruler and Compass from Wooden Books.

Why did I return to it, though? Well, first, I’m trying to clear my desk of unfinished projects. This one has been a big one, and it’s been on my mind to complete for a while.  But for another, I recently took up the opportunities and challenges of tutoring again.  And I’m tutoring a few young people in geometry.  So this project is serving to lubricate and rub the rust off of my geometry skills. Even so, I’m finding that the knowledge of actual geometric proofs isn’t quite as useful as one might imagine.

A lot of the work that students do in geometry class these days appears to be algebra. There will be one diagram (with a note beside it to say, not to scale or not rendered accurately), and then a lot of algebraic notation, and the student is expected to work without a ruler and compassed just their brain power and maybe a calculator, to solve the problem.

Say what??

I don’t understand.

Are we teaching geometry, or geometric algebra?  It looks like the latter, rather than the former.  And I understand that teaching actual geometry is challenging, and that it involves looking at a lot of diagrams and working out a lot of constructions by hand… but heck, that’s what we do as human beings. Isn’t it?

I said to someone on Twitter today that

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pardon, I can’t figure out the ’embed tweet’ system for my server.

But that’s (more or less) true — we use our hands to instruct our brains, and vice-versa.  How do we actually learn geometry if we’re not using the tools that geometry has used for thousands of years (or reasonable electronic replacements, though I’d argue that such tools are not as good as actually using hands to manipulate a compass)?

In any case, here’s a place where abstraction often gets the best of us.  I think it’s time to bring back some actual geometry to the classroom, and not simply ask students to do it algebraically.  This is a set of skills that belongs in our students’ hands, and not just in their heads.

The river and the column

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Overlooking Astoria, WA is a copy of Trajan’s Column, adorned not with the sculptural story of the conquest of Dacia, but the sgrafitto (layers of brown and white paint scratched through to produce figures of realism and shading) history of the conquest of the American West: Captain Gray’s discovery of the Columbia; ​​Lewis and Clark’s 1804-07 expedition; John Jacob Astor’s 1811 fur trade colony; the Oregon Trail of 1846; the railroads of the 1880s. The First Nations get a 3/4 turn at the base of the column. The rest is given over to a celebration of American conquest and control of the Pacific Northwest, and mastery of the mouth of the Columbia, visible beyond the bridge. 

In typical American fashion, the gift shop and the car park for buses have both been put on the fore-lawn of the Column, meaning that both tour buses and this ugly mobile home structure will be in all your panoramic photographs, trying to capture the grandeur of empire on display.  There’s also this replica Chinook canoe of cast concrete that blocks the view of Fort Clatsop, Lewis and Clark’s winter camp. Sight lines matter, people. Would a site plan and some symbolic planning kill you people?

But it’s part of the reason the magical thinking of this place is so confused. This Astoria might have wound up the capital of the American West with a street plan more like a Paris or a Washington DC. Yet it’s always been a company town committee to making money — a gift shop and a bus park and a cannery instead of wide boulevards and cannon pointed out at the river from a fortified Esplanade. Instead, there are trolley cars, used bookstores, and crust punks from Kansas and from California, and little boutiques selling what my dad calls landfill — mementoes of a trip that don’t really hold any memories, destined for the transfer station (i.e. The Dunp) the next time someone in your house picks up a book about cleanliness and minimalism. 

Orange cones, the symbol of empire


Astoria is a town at the edge of the American empire. It knows its own history as a fur trading station and cannery town; and it prizes that history. But it also has a self-sufficient streak that’s visible in a preponderance of pink and purple punk haircuts, punk fashion statements among both natives and visitors, coffee houses more than halfway toward the Amsterdam model (but not quite there yet either — no open pot sales, more of the dispensary model), medical dispensaries of the herb, and section 8 housing in the Astoria Hotel. The optics are… interesting.  There’s a fair bit of the Midwest here, too — Kansans and Nebraskans and Okies living out of their cars while they look for work. 
The tourists ahead of me in line for ice cream chatted in fluent English with the scooper about his gulf war era tattoo in Arabic script; then they bring ice cream to their hijab’ed wives and children by the trees a short distance away, lounging in the sunshine after a meal of fish and chips, cheerfully chatting in Arabic the whole way. There was no sense of animosity here, just people going about their lives in a complicated time, under a rare burst of sunshine. 

Astoria feels like middle America, a Michigan accent crossed with New York, trying to become cosmopolitan while retaining a Pacific character. The Chinatown is largely gone, but the bookstore has the largest collection of Buddhist and Taoist books and trinkets I’ve ever seen outside of a retreat center or a Tibetan’s shop. How many translations of the I Ching does one really need? As many as one’s tarot decks, I suppose. Or dictionaries. 

So yes..  Astoria feels like it’s in America. But. It doesn’t feel like New England, and it doesn’t feel like the South. And it doesn’t feel like California or Chicago either. It feels a bit like an occupied place, in some ways, a place where the cruise ships come when they’re transferring from the summer cruises off Alaska to the winter cruises off Acapulco.  Which it is. 

 The US Coast Guard maintains its Lifeboat School here, because the Mouth of the Columbia is the Graveyard of the Pacific. The river mouth is so dangerous that there are two different pilots’ guilds to handle the two challenges: crossing of the bar, and the navigation to Portland. Our captain says that pilots make the best money in the industry, but their skills are non-transferable: the examination is a pass-fail drawing of the river mouth on a blank sheet of paper that has to be accurate to within about five feet at the chosen scale; currently only twenty people have that honor in this river mouth. 

South of here are the Cascade and Olympic ranges of mountains. Its temperate rain forest over there: massive amounts of nearly constant rainfall.  We visited the remains of Fort Clatsop today where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-6: 106 days of constant rain, twelve days excepted.  A pair of fifty by fifteen foot log cabins facing one another across a twenty by fifty “parade ground” of  mossy wood chips; a fifty yard walk to drinking water; a two hundred yard walk to the canoe embankment. Four years after the encampment here, no one could find it in the rain forest. It had been swallowed whole. 

The Astor Column was raised in 1925 as part of the building of the railroad empire of Union Pacific.  By 1985 it had deteriorated to the point that it needed a two year repair and restoration. By 2015, it needed another complete repair and restoration. The damp gets under the stucco and plaster and paint, and the wind chips it off.  All along the river, dams chip and blister under the weight of water and the threats of environmentalists and the needs of the salmon and the obligations of the treaties that Jefferson and others made with the First Nations of the river. Nothing that empire values will last here forever —  only the mountains, the cedars, the salmon, the cedars, and the river. 

Empires rise and empires decline. Earth abides. 

 

The River and the Moon

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There is no camera gear in the world that was up to the task of capturing the moon shimmering on the western water this morning, as we cruise eastward under cover of night toward Portland, OR. A little after 4:30 there was a knock at my door: dad, in his underwear, beckoning me from our cabin to the stern deck, there to see the setting Moon framed between mountains. A bend in the river took it behind those self-same mountains, a few minutes later.  But it was enough — the Moon is capable of shattering our unhappiness, our fear, our terror, especially if we encounter it in the right state, half-asleep yet startled from our beds.  We wake thoroughly to encounter the world in silence.

It was the same at Multnomah Falls. Despite the crowds, the rain, the place was tremendously green and lush. Despite the fact that we spent an hour round-trip on a bus that smelled of diesel to get there, and had maybe 30 minutes at the Falls, there was a serenity there, a joy. A bus load of kids from some school trudged up past us on their way to the upper bridge, looking lonely and wet in plastic ponchos. They came down the hill again cheerful, connected, peaceful. They were collecting high-fives from complete strangers on the way down. I myself got twenty-seven high-fives; it felt like a reunion with humanity.

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Water and the Moon both reconnect us to ourselves and to each other. They remind us of our humanity, our connection to each other.  And it’s often enough to wash away loneliness and fear. The Moon has a tendency to remind us that everything will be all right, eventually. Give it time. Give it another go-round. This too shall pass.

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