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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Krampus // Pelznickle

In Animals, History, Language, Myth, Religion, Society on December 26, 2009 at 2:06 am

A DARK FIGURE hides behind the grinning countenance of Ole’ Saint Nick.  Sometimes he rides on a white horse, and sometimes he is accompanied by fairies or men in blackface dressed as old women.  Sometimes he is in rags and a long black beard, and sometimes he is covered in fur with the horns of a goat and a long red tongue.  He is just one of the many murderers and child molesters that make up Santa Claus’ posse.  Truth is, Jolly Santa’s “companions” are a hodgepodge assortment of rough-and-tumble characters; assorted fiends with sordid pasts and nightmarish agendas.  The companions travel with St. Nicholas or his various equivalents (Father Christmas, Santa Claus), carrying with them a rod (sometimes a stick, a mace, switchblade, sythe, revolver, a magic top hat, rusty chains, a birch branch, bundle of switches or a whip, and in modern times often a broom) and a sack. They are sometimes dressed in black rags, bearing a black face and unruly black hair. In many contemporary portrayals the companions look like dark, sinister, or rustic versions of Nicholas himself, with a similar costume but with a darker color scheme.

Santa and the Gang “Spring Break ’34”

The companion of the French St. Nicholas, Père Fouettard, is said to be the butcher of three children.  St. Nicholas discovered the murder and resurrected the three children. He also shamed Père Fouettard, who, in repentance, became a servant of St. Nicholas. Fouettard travels with the saint and punishes naughty children by whipping them.

In Germanic folklore, Knecht Ruprecht, meaning Knight Rupert, accompanies St Nicholas when delivering gifts and represents the more frightening side of this custom. He is also known as Black Peter, so called from the soot in the chimneys he goes down.  According to tradition, Knecht Ruprecht asks children whether they can pray. If they can, they receive apples, nuts, and gingerbread. If they cannot, he beats the children with his bag of ashes.  In some of the Ruprecht traditions the children would be summoned to the door to perform special tricks, such as a dance or singing a song to impress upon Santa and Ruprecht that they were indeed good children. Those who performed badly would be beaten soundly by Servant Ruprecht, and those who performed well were given a gift or some treats. Those who performed really badly were put into Ruprecht’s sack and taken away, variously to Ruprecht’s home in the Black Forest, or to be tossed into a river, or to be dumped into the fiery pits of Hell.  Over time, the image of St Nicholas has merged with Knecht Ruprecht to form “Ru Klaus” meaning Rough Nicholas, so named because of his rugged appearance; “Aschen Klaus”, meaning Ash Nicholas because of the bag of ashes he carries with him; and “Pelznickle”, meaning Furry Nicholas, referring to his fur-clad appearance.

One of the most notorious incarnations is Santa’s old pal, Krampus.  To say that Krampus is a bad seed is would be an understatement. The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). In the Alpine regions, Krampus is represented by an incubus-like creature. Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of December 5, and roam the streets in drunken revelry: dressing in pagan costumes and frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells.

It would seem that Krampus is an amalgamation of several pagan traditions and trickster archetypes leftover from the Pre-Christian Era of Germanic history like the Yule Goat. Yule was a winter solstice festival that was connected to the Wild Hunt and/or influenced by Saturnalia, the Roman winter festival. A description of Yule can be found Old Norse King’s Saga Heimskringla:

It was ancient custom that when sacrifice was to be made, all farmers were to come to the heathen temple and bring along with them the food they needed while the feast lasted. At this feast all were to take part of the drinking of ale. Also all kinds of livestock were killed in connection with it, horses also; and all the blood from them was called hlaut [ sacrificial blood ], and hlautbolli, the vessel holding the blood; and hlautteinar, the sacrificial twigs. These were fashioned like sprinklers, and with them were to be smeared all over with blood the pedestals of the idols and also the walls of the temple within and without; and likewise the men present were to be sprinkled with blood. But the meat of the animals was to be boiled and served as food at the banquet. Fires were to be lighted in the middle of the temple floor, and kettles hung over them. The sacrificial beaker was to be borne around the fire, and he who made the feast and was chieftain, was to bless the beaker as well as all the sacrificial meat.  Later, toasts were to be drunk. The first toast was to be drunk to Odin “for victory and power to the king”, the second to the gods Njörðr and Freyr “for good harvests and for peace”, and thirdly a beaker was to be drunk to the king himself.  In addition, toasts were drunk to the memory of departed kinsfolk… [This continues until everyone is plastered – sounds like Christmas, right?]

In his Dictionary of Northern Mythology, Rudolf Simek says that focus was not on the gods of the Vanir, but instead the god Odin, and he notes that one of Odin’s many names is Jólnir (Old Norse for “yule figure”).  Simek says that Odin was associated with Yule, and that the tradition of the Wild Hunt undoubtedly contributed to the association of the two.  According to Simek “it is uncertain whether the Germanic Yule feast still had a function in the cult of the dead and in the veneration of the ancestors, a function which the mid-winter sacrifice certainly held for the West European Stone and Bronze Ages.”

This is fascinating since the Norse Odin is directly related to the Roman Mercury / Hermes.  For instance, the name of the day “Wednesday” comes from the Middle English Wednes dei, which is from Old English Wōdnesdæg, meaning the day of the English god Woden or Odin.  When the Romans described the gods of Celtic and Germanic tribes, rather than considering them separate deities, the Romans interpreted them as local manifestations or aspects of their own gods, a cultural trait called the interpretatio Romana. Mercury in particular was reported as becoming extremely popular among the nations the Roman Empire conquered; Julius Caesar wrote of Mercury being the most popular god in Britain and Gaul, regarded as the inventor of all the arts.  Romans associated Mercury with the Germanic god Wotan, by interpretatio Romana; 1st-century Roman writer Tacitus identifies the two as being the same, and describes him as the chief god of the Germanic peoples.  Julius Caesar, in a section of his “Gallic Wars” describing the customs of the German tribes, wrote “The Germans most worship Mercury,” apparently identifying Wotan with Mercury.  That is why the Romantic languages use the Latin dies Mercurii (“Mercury’s day”) for Wednesday while the Germanic languages kept their Norse equivalent!

Father Christmas riding a Yule Goat

To tie it all together:  Krampus is related to the “Horned God” an archetype represents the personification of the life force energy in animals and the wilderness, fertility, sexual virility and the Hunt. Gods like Baphomet, Cernunnos, Pan, Faunus, and Innus are personified as being sex crazed or shown as having a large erect phallus.  Fertility, fecundity and the symbolism of the phallus all denote a connection to the rites, rituals, and celebrations of Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice.  Pan is the alleged offspring of Hermes/Mercury and follows in his progenitor’s footsteps as both trickster and psychopomp (a guide for the souls of the dead into the Underworld).  Pan is also equated with the Astrological sign Capricornus.

This is where it gets interesting.

capricornusCapricornus has one of the oldest mythological associations, having been consistently represented as a hybrid of a goat and a fish since the Middle Bronze Age, first attested in depictions on boundary stones, and explicitly recorded in the Babylonian star catalogs as “The Goat-Fish” before 1000 BC. The constellation was a symbol of Ea and in the Early Bronze Age marked the winter solstice.

Among the Greeks and Italians St. Nicholas is a favourite of sailors, fishermen, ships and sailing. As such he has become over time the patron saint of several cities maintaining harbors. In centuries of Greek folklore, Nicholas was seen as “The Lord of the Sea”, often described by modern Greek scholars as a kind of Christianized version of Poseidon.  Capricornus is a union between St. Nick and Krampus.  Half goat, half fish.

So what we have here is Santa Claus/St. Nick/Father Christmas as personification of Winter Solstice accompanied by his servant and messenger Krampus/Horned God/Hermes as the personification of Summer Solstice.  Basically a resurrection myth.  In a Christian sense we have the birth of the Christ Child as the celebrated rebirth of the Divine.  A promise that man will be redeemed through a Savior but also a forewarning of the suffering/death that he will have to endure before redemption.  Enlightenment that comes after a period of Darkness (Ignorance), i.e., “Out of Darkness, Cometh Light.”  In a Pagan sense we have the Horned Fertility God acting as psychopomp and leading us into the Underworld with the expectation of a later resurgence in reproductive energy come Springtime.  In an Astronomical sense we have Winter Solstice being the longest night of the year and the onslaught of deathly cold, but also the return of the Sun and the guarantee that the Summer will eventually save us from starvation.

And so the Holiday is really a celebration of the dualistic nature of reality.  An agreement that with the good comes the bad and vice-verse.  An alchemical union of opposites.  Christmas solved!


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Nazi // Occult // High Fashion

In Government, History, Mystery, Religion on December 22, 2009 at 9:51 am

Nazi Propaganda depicting America as a monstrous war machine destroying European culture.

On December 18th, I read an article on BBC News about the Arbeit Macht Frei sign that was stolen from the entrance to the Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp .  Hundreds of thousands of prisoners passed under the sign into the camp during the Holocaust, but the majority were murdered or worked to death.  My sister Hannah alerted me to the fact that the date the article was published held a special meaning.  Our grandfather, Max Heinz Cahn, was born in Königswinter, Germany on December 18th, 1915.  He was a prisoner at Buchenwald but managed to escape and changed the spelling of his name after coming to America.  This synchronous event encouraged further sibling investigation.  My sister took the time to delve further into our family lineage and uncovered several gems.  On such beauty is this poem by English poet and wit, C. S. Calverley (born on this very day in 1831) that notes our family brow and peculiar disposition:

I love to gaze upon a child ;

A young bud bursting into blossom ;

Artless, as Eve yet unbeguiled,
And agile as a young opossum :

And such was he. A cahn-brow’d lad,
Yet mad, at moments, as a hatter :

Why hatters as a race are mad
I never knew, nor does it matter.

She also discovered that we have distant cousin who was a corsetière and left Germany for Australia in the late 19th Century.  As whalebone is a key component in the construction of corsets, placing herself so close to the Ocean must have proved quite lucrative.  Fashion holds an extreme power in human society.  Men and women will go to great lengths to “possess” the right aesthetic.  Indeed, the desire is not merely to possess the style, but also to be possessed by it.  Like a haunted mask, anyone who adorns their body in the distinct aesthetic will be magically transformed into something new and different.  Sometimes ideas and experiences organically form around a growing fashion trend, giving the style a historical context and an particular psychological feel.  In the opposing scenario, a unique aesthetic is consciously fabricated to be the material manifestation of a specific ideology.  This type of propaganda may be exemplified by the attractive qualities sown into the psychic fabric of the Third Reich Fashion.

The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses.

::Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf::

The most dramatic uniforms were worn by the Nazi soldiers of the German army. With their mania for black leather, brass buttons, medals, and armbands, the Nazis proved as bold in their fashions as they were brutal on the battlefield. The German uniform style during the Nazi period was so eccentric that the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut called it “madly theatrical.”  Where other totalitarian societies, such as Russia, opted for functional dress codes and muted color schemes that de-emphasized individuality, the Nazis preferred expressive styles designed to make the ordinary citizen feel like part of a grand national enterprise. The development of smart looking uniforms for everybody provided visible evidence of German unity.

Nowhere was this sense of identity more evident than in the German military. The Nazis believed that their army represented a modern recreation of the Teutonic (or ancient German) Knights, the mysterious military order of medieval Europe. Instead of the chain mail and plate armor the knights would have worn, the Nazis substituted black leather.  No one in the Nazi high command, not even Adolf Hitler himself, felt fully “equipped” without an extensive leather wardrobe.

In the case of the Nazis, black leather acted as the mercurial solutio allowing individuals to be possessed by a collective fervor.  In the book Black Sun, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke reports how Carl Gustav Jung described “Hitler as possessed by the archetype of the collective Aryan unconscious and could not help obeying the commands of an inner voice”. In a series of interviews between 1936 and 1939, Jung characterized Hitler as an archetype, often manifesting itself to the complete exclusion of his own personality. “‘Hitler is a spiritual vessel, a demi-divinity; even better, a myth …the messiah of Germany who teaches the virtue of the sword. ‘The voice he hears is that of the collective unconscious of his race.'”  The early Jung was influenced by Theosophy, solar mysticism and völkisch nationalism in developing the ideas on the collective unconscious and the archetypes.  Jung’s suggestion that Hitler personified the collective Aryan unconscious deeply interested and influenced Miguel Serrano, who later concluded that Jung was merely psychologizing the ancient, sacred mystery of archetypal possession by the gods, independent metaphysical powers that rule over their respective races and “occasionally” possess their members.

The actual design and construction of Nazi fashion is even more fascinating.  The all-black uniform of the Nazi S.S. was designed by Prof. Dr. Karl Diebitsch and graphic designer Walter Heck who worked intimately with HUGO BOSS.  From 1933, the Hugo Boss company was the main firm that produced these black uniforms along with the brown SA shirts and the black-and-brown uniforms of the Hitler Youth.  Some workers are acknowledged to have been prisoners of war forced into labor.  This information is striking when looking at the 2009 Hugo Boss Men’s Line.  Note the familiar black, white, and red color scheme and the carefully selected Aryan specimens that would make Himmler’s rotting skeleton smile with appreciation…

And why not?  Even if the Third Reich was a failure, the imagery was a success.  This is because the minimalist design evokes an emotional response independent of Hitler’s ideology.  Visually, black and white with red highlights is a very seductive color scheme.  The black and white create a visual contrast that is clean and orderly, while the provocative touches of red stimulate and awaken the senses.  Success stories of this combo abound from typewriter ink to Sin City to the design of this very blog.  The infamous adage “the medium is the message” fits snugly inside the realm of aesthetics.  Adagium (Latin) or Adage or  can be further separated into two to create Ad Age, a clever nod toward the symbolic reality.  The Nazi’s weren’t the first to understand the power of symbols.  The Catholic Church, Tibetan Buddhism, Medieval Alchemy, Surrealism, all owe their success to symbols.  Man needs a world of symbols as well as a world of signs.  Both sign and symbol are necessary but they should not be confused with one another.  A sign is a token of meaning that stands for a known entity.  By this definition, language is a system of signs, not symbols.  A symbol, on the other hand hand, is an image or representation which points to something essentially unknown, a mystery.  A sign communicates abstract, objective meaning while a symbol conveys living, subjective meaning.  A symbol has a subjective dynamism which exerts a powerful attraction and fascination on the individual.  It is a living, organic entity which acts as a carrier, releaser, and transformer of psychic energy.  Symbols are spontaneous products of the archetypal psyche.  The archetypal psyche is constantly creating a steady stream of of living symbolic imagery.  Ordinarily this stream of images is not consciously perceived except through dreams or through waking fantasy when the conscious level of attention has been lowered.  However, even fully awake this stream continues to flow underneath  the ego without notice.  Symbols seep into the ego, causing it to identify with them and act them out unconsciously; or they spill out into the external environment via projection, causing the individual to become fascinated and involved with external objects and activities.  This is what Jung was viewing in Hitler.

No wonder there is such obsession with Nazism and the Occult.  According to Goodricke-Clarke the speculation of Nazi occultism originated from “post-war fascination with Nazism.”  The “horrid fascination” of Nazism upon the Western mind emerges from the “uncanny interlude in modern history” that it presents to an observer a few decades later. The idolization of Hitler in Nazi Germany, its short lived and brutal dominion on the European continent and Nazism’s irrational and gruesome Antisemitism set it apart from other periods of modern history. “Outside a purely secular frame of reference, Nazism was felt to be the embodiment of evil in a modern twentieth-century regime, a monstrous pagan relapse in the Christian community of Europe.”  By the early 1960s, “one could now clearly detect a mystique of Nazism.” A sensationalistic and fanciful presentation of its figures and symbols, shorn of all political and historical contexts gained ground with thrillers, non-fiction books and films and permeated “the milieu of popular culture.”  Both Nazism and the Occult fulfill a deep human need to become part of of something that transcends the individual in the realm of the archetypes.  Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism provide a similar structure. When this desire is suppressed by a culture, there is danger of sudden eruptions or perverse fetishism.

Nazi chic refers to the approving use of Nazi-era style, imagery, and paraphernalia in clothing and popular culture.  In the 1970s Punk Subculture, several items of clothing designed to shock and offend became popular. Among these punk fashion items was a T-shirt displaying a Swastika, an upside-down crucifix and the word DESTROY — which was worn by J. Rotten.  Uniforms and other imagery related to Nazi Germany have been on sale in East-Asia, where some considered it cool. Hong Kong and Japan have each witnessed a growth in the casual wearing of SS-uniforms, as well as increased interest in the music-genre known as Rock Against Communism. Sometimes in east Asia, Nazi uniforms are used as part of cosplay. In South-Korea, an area generally isolated from Nazi cultural influences during the Nazi era, TIME Magazine observed in 2000 “an unthinking fascination with the icons and imagery of the Third Reich.” Nazi-inspired imagery are also featured in various early releases from Japanese band The 5, 6, 7, 8’s.  This trend will continue to thrive until another significant channel can be created to redirect psychic energy.

Still there is something disturbing about the overwhelming interest in Nazi Fashion.  Hetalia: Axis Powers is a webcomic, later adapted as a manga and an anime series, by Hidekaz Himaruya. The series presents an allegorical interpretation of political and historic events, particularly of the World War II era, in which the various countries are represented by anthropomorphic characters. Hetalia is a portmanteau combining hetare (Japanese for “useless”) and Italia.  This is to make light of Italy’s apparent cowardice during World War II.  This fan video seems to glorify the style.  I could tell you what I think about it, but it’s better to simply let the comments speak for themselves. WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MONTAGE IS EPIC.

Black Melancholia // Saturn

In Alchemy, Art, History, Image, Myth, Pharmacopeia, Psychology on December 9, 2009 at 9:55 am

Certain poisons worked by an occult and specifick property and have their essence from the stars and celestial influence which is apt to destroy the strength of man’s body, because being taken but even in a small quantity, yet are so precious a quality that they kill almost in a moment.

::Ambroise Paré::

Ambroise Paré was a French surgeon renowned for his ingenious experiments.  He once used a solution of egg yolk, oil of roses, and turpentine for war wounds instead of boiling oil and cauterization.  In 1565, Ambroise Paré described an experiment to test the properties of the Bezoar Stone.  At the time, the Bezoar stone was commonly believed to be able to cure the effects of any poison, but Paré believed this to be impossible. It happened that a cook at Paré’s court was caught stealing fine silver cutlery, and was condemned to be hanged. The cook agreed to be poisoned, on the conditions that he would be given some bezoar straight after the poison and go free in case he survived. The stone did not cure him, and he died in agony seven hours after being poisoned. Thus Paré had proved that the Bezoar Stone could not cure all poisons.

Albrecht Dürer, Melancholia I

The Mütter Museum has an interesting exhibit up about Lead.  The quote above was a reference to the physical dangers of that element. In alchemy, the planet / diety associated with lead was Saturn/Cronus.  A Saturnine disposition has been a common ailment of artists and philosophers since the beginning of time and is better known by its  synonym:  Melancholia.  The name “melancholia” comes from the old medical theory of the four humours: disease or ailment being caused by an imbalance in one or other of the four basic bodily fluids, or humours.  Personality types were similarly determined by the dominant humour in a particular person. Melancholia was caused by an excess of black bile; hence the name, which means ‘black bile’ (Ancient Greek μέλας, melas, “black”, + χολή, kholé, “bile”); a person whose constitution tended to have a preponderance of black bile had a melancholic disposition. The other humors are yellow bile, blood, and phlegm.

In 1921 Swedish physician Fahråeus suggested that the four humours were based upon the observation of blood clotting in a transparent container. When blood is drawn in a glass container and left undisturbed for about an hour, four different layers can be seen. A dark clot forms at the bottom (the “black bile”). Above the clot is a layer of red blood cells (the “blood”).  Above this is a whitish layer of white blood cells (the “phlegm”, now called the buffy coat). The top layer is clear yellow serum (the “yellow bile”).

The print-maker and theorist Albrecht Dürer ties all this together with his masterpiece “Melancolia 1.”

The alchemist’s lot was such that he was often depicted as a melancholy and frustrated being, as, for example, by Chaucer, Weiditz, Brueghel, and Teniers. In a wider sense, melancholy was held to be an attribute of students or seekers after knowledge. The doctrine of melancholy, moreover, is inseparable from the Saturnine mysticism that permeates alchemy. One of the elements of Saturnine mysticism is measurement, typified by the compasses, balance, and hour-glass.

The polyhedron lying beside the foot of the ladder (representing the base metal, lead) may be an image of the Philosopher’s Stone, or more immediately, of the so-called ” Stone of Saturn,” which Saturn (or Kronos), “swallowed and spewed up instead of Jupiter.” Saturn, who is often represented in alchemy as an old man with an hour-glass upon his head, was addicted to swallowing his own children; for this reason, infants, usually shown at play, enter into the Saturnine elements of alchemy.

::John Read::

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Children

Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Uranus.   Gaia created a great adamant sickle and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to persuade them to castrate Uranus. Only Cronus was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and placed him in ambush. When Uranus met with Gaia, Cronus attacked him with the sickle by cutting off his genitals, castrating him and casting the severed member into the sea. From the blood and semen that spilled out from Uranus and fell upon the earth, the Gigantes, Erinyes, and Meliae were produced. From the member that was cast into the sea, Venus later emerged. For this, Uranus threatened vengeance.  After dispatching Uranus, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires, the Gigantes, and the Cyclopes and set the dragon Campe to guard them. He and his sister Rhea took the throne of the world as king and queen. This period of Cronus’ rule was called the Golden Age, as the people of the time had no need for laws or rules; everyone did the right thing, and immorality was absent.

Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to preempt the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children. Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and handed Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, also known as the Omphalos Stone, which he promptly devoured, thinking that it was his son.  Once he had grown up, Zeus used a poison given to him by Gaia to force Cronus to disgorge the contents of his stomach in reverse order.

Cronus spent the last of his life as a prisoner of Tartarus, a dark, gloomy place that can be described as a pit of blackness.  Feelings of shame, fear, guilt and humiliation shackle us and keep us confined to the pit of darkness. Its mutations have become so ramified with time, so contradictory that soon one could no longer say just what melancholy was in the first place. Yet we all have a feeling for what it is being referred to, a sort of enormous black abyss which contaminates and sucks up everything in its vicinity.  Having recognised, for example, a sickle, a scythe, a broom, an oar, ankle shackles a crutch, or even an old man preparing to devour a child, the viewer would immediately recognize Saturn, who, in turn, he would automatically associate with melancholy.  If a picture contained devices alluding to geometry or mathematics, these too led back to the same theme, since in the Middle Ages, mathematicians and geometricians were regarded as melancholic. “The mathematician is a mirthless fellow,” wrote Martin Luther, and equipment related to that science is also visible in Dürer’s engraving.  Conspicuously present in the background of Dürer’s engraving is an enigmatic, eight-sided, and up to the present inscrutable polyhedron, one whose very inscrutability makes it mysterious, even uncanny. This polyhedron not only alludes to melancholy, it also radiates it, so to speak. It is no riddle, but rather a mystery. Nonetheless, by virtue of this polyhedron, Dürer’s image could be referred to as melancholic.  In place of transmissibility, the inexpressible aspect of melancholy moves to the foreground. In place of the concrete, the abstract.  Melancholy is the dark unknowable.

The Goya painting is also of note.  It is one of the series of Black Paintings that Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house sometime between 1819 and 1823.  Goya produced a series of 14 works, which he painted with oils directly onto the walls of the house. At the age of 73, and having survived two life-threatening illnesses, Goya was likely to have been concerned with his own mortality, and was increasingly embittered by the civil strife occurring in Spain.

Blackness, in alchemy means putrefaction or decomposition. The alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter. In depth psychology, Carl Jung interpreted alchemical blackness as a moment of maximum despair, that is a prerequisite to personal development.  James Hillman writes, “The rotting and blackening process of alchemy, dreadful wounds and suppurating sores, the ritual butchery of animals or their contagion and poisoning, and other such shocking imagery point to where something material is losing its substance and thrust, where a physical impulse or animal drive is descending toward the underworld.”

Every night and every morn

Some to misery are born.

Every morn and every night

Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,

Some are born to endless night.

::William Blake, Auguries of Innocence ::

St. Germain

In Alchemy, History, Magic, Pharmacopeia, Plants on November 30, 2009 at 9:17 pm

◸◬◹ :: MAN / ELIXIR :: ◸◬◹

A man who knows everything and who never dies.  ::Voltaire::

The Count of St. Germain (fl. 1710–1784) has been variously described as a courtier, adventurer, charlatan, inventor, alchemist, pianist, violinist and amateur composer, but is best known as a recurring figure in the stories of several strands of occultism – particularly those connected to Theosophy and the White Eagle Lodge, where he is also referred to as the Master Rakoczi or the Master R and as one of the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, is credited with near god-like powers and longevity. Some sources write that his name is not familial, but was invented by him as a French version of the Latin Sanctus Germanus, meaning “Holy Brother.” 

Giacomo Casanova describes in his memoirs:

St. Germain gave himself out for a marvel and always aimed at exciting amazement, which he often succeeded in doing. He was scholar, linguist, musician, and chemist, good-looking, and a perfect ladies’ man. For awhile he gave them paints and cosmetics; he flattered them, not that he would make them young again (which he modestly confessed was beyond him) but that their beauty would be preserved by means of a wash which, he said, cost him a lot of money, but which he gave away freely.

Myths, legends and speculations about St. Germain began to be widespread in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and continue today.  The list of his accomplishments is virtually endless:

He mastered all of the European languages. He was one of the best swordsmen of his day. He was a master violinist.  He founded Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry in England.  He also has been reincarnated several times.  Noteworthy physical embodiments include Samuel the Prophet, Merlin, Plato, Hesiod,Francis Bacon, Roger Bacon, Christopher Columbus, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Montaigne, Robert Burton, Cervantes, Valentine Andraes, Nicolas II, and Comte de Gabalis.

In 1930 Guy W. Ballard, hiking in northern California, met the Ascended Master Saint Germain on the side of Mount Shasta. His remarkable experiences are recorded in the books, Unveiled Mysteries and The Magic Presence, written under the pen name of Godfre Ray King. First published in 1934, the books have never been out of print. This introduction was followed by more than 3000 Discourses by the Ascended Masters. Out of this dynamic and practical instruction the “I AM” Activity was founded by Mr. and Mrs. Ballard, under the daily direction of Saint Germain.

TRADEMARKS AND SERVICE MARKS OF SAINT GERMAIN FOUNDATION INCLUDE: The Ascended Masters Instruction on the “Beloved Mighty I AM Presence,”® The Ascended Masters’ Instruction , “Beloved Mighty I AM Presence,”® Daughters of Light®, Heart of Heaven , Honor Cross®, Honor Cross Design®, “I AM,”® “I AM” Activity®, “I AM” Ascended Master Youth , “I AM” COME!® “I AM” Emblem®, “I AM” Music of the Spheres®, “I AM” Pageant of the Angels®, “I AM” Reading Room®, “I AM” Religious Activity®, “I AM” Religious Broadcast®, “I AM” Sanctuary®, “I AM” School®, “I AM” Student Body®, “I AM” Study Groups®, “I AM” Temple®, “I AM” Violet Flame, The Magic Presence, “Mighty I AM Presence”, Minute Men of Saint Germain®, Music of the Spheres®, Saint Germain®, Saint Germain Foundation®, Saint Germain Press®, Saint Germain Press, Inc®, Shasta Springs®, Unfed Flame Design®, Violet Consuming Flame®, Violet Flame®, “The Voice of the “I AM” ®

And then there is St. Germain, the delectably potent potable whose 
taste is only exceeded by its pretentiousness.   I have had the luck to try this delicious drink in a cocktail and I would say that it IS delightful.  From the website:

IN THE foothills of the Alps, for but a few fleeting spring days, this man will gather wild blossoms for your cocktail.
 The blossoms in question are elderflowers, the man un bohemien,
 and the cocktail a stylishly simple creation made with St-Germain, the
first liqueur in the world created in the artisanal French manner from
freshly handpicked elderflower blossoms. Our story, however, does not
end there.

AFTER
 gently ushering the wild blossoms into sacks and descending the
hillside, the man who gathers blossoms for your cocktail will then
mount a bicycle and carefully ride the umbels of starry white flowers
to market. Vraiment.

There are no more than 40 or 50 men such as he, and in a matter of days
they will have gathered an…d bicycled to us the entirety of what will
become St-Germain for that year. You could not write a better story if
 you were François Truffaut.

/bɔ.na.pe.ti/

Zohar in Focus: Manna and Wisdom

In Religion on November 10, 2009 at 4:28 pm

There exists a magical word in Welsh folklore: Caerdroia.  The literal translation of this idiom into modern English is roughly equivalent to “Castle of Turns,” although we may find a more familiar and congruous synonym in the word labyrinth.  Labyrinths can be thought of as symbolic forms of pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending towards salvation or enlightenment. This spiritual awakening is manifest in a more practical and corporeal sense, as well.  By walking amongst the turnings, the user of the labyrinth loses track of direction and of the outside world, and thus quiets the mind. The result is a relaxed mental attitude, free of internal dialog. This is a form of meditation.  One need not travel outwardly to holy sites and far away lands for understanding, as the use of labyrinths supplant that need.

By its design, the Zohar is such a labyrinth. It is a mystic garden of living statues, breathing fountains, and rich foundations that support a veritable cornucopia of myth and interpretation. The rhizomatic structure of the Sefirot weaves along its soft walls like a web of ancient vines.  These are the holy veins of the Zohar, which keep the text alive with the constant gush and flow of divine light.  This light pours out in prismatic splendor for all of those who have learned the secrets of the maze, and may navigate freely through her ornate arches and mirrored halls.  The Zohar is full of hidden passages, each one an enigmatic tableau laced with subtle paradoxes and complex meanings.  In order to reveal these latent paradigms and hidden networks of understanding, it becomes necessary to focus the attention to a specific passage of the Zohar, Manna and Wisdom.

A passage of the Zohar is like a flower in bloom; each portion, an interpretive amplification of the Torah, much like the Midrash.  Manna and Wisdom is a beautiful poem and an enigmatic reflection on an excerpt from Exodus (Verse 16:4, 9-10, 13-15) that depicts the miraculous event wherein YHVH proclaims to Moses that he will deliver to the wandering Israelites “bread from heaven.”  The term “manna” does not appear anywhere in the Zohar passage, but as Daniel Chanan Matt insightfully reveals, it is a clever pun derived from the Hebrew phrase “what is it?” (or man hu in Hebrew), which also translates to “it is manna.”  The excerpt from Exodus is an intriguing base for the Zohar to blossom, although certain lines are still a mystery and left unrendered by the mystical Zohar.  Specifically, the line “That evening, the quail rose and covered the camp” is a gross vagueness.  Are the quail messengers from God? Are they a blessing?  A miracle?  A hidden Sefirot?  This foul remains a mystery.

The Sefirot are exposed from the biblical passage by the filtrating lens of the Zohar.  The path of the holy bread is traced down the Tree of Life in the following lines:

Every single day, dew trickles down / from the Holy Ancient One to the Impatient One, / and the Orchard of Holy Apple Trees is blessed.

The Holy Ancient One in this verse is a reference to Keter, the crown and the first Sefirot.  It is from Keter that the spiritual dew is first differentiated from Ein Sof, the infinite Godhead.  The Impatient One, explains Matt, is an allusion to the eight lower Sefirot from Hokhmah to Yesod.  The Orchard of Holy Apple Trees implies the Shekhinah drawing divine substance from Hesed to Yesod who populate her orchard.  The imagery stresses the need for students of mysticism to study the Sefirot and the dynamic path that leads life from the unknowable Ein Sof down to the Presence of Shekhinah. The manna was made available to the Israelites through (or at least strengthened by) their connection to Yesod or the “Holy King” by circumcision.  This covenant with God secured Israel’s tie to divine gifts and protection.  The mazzah that the Children of Israel ate when first entering the desert symbolizes their communion with Shekhinah. In fact, the Zohar interprets the entire journey from Egypt to Sinai as direct metaphor for the “spiritual journey into the divine realm.”  This type of structured symbolism is typical of the Zohar and typified specifically by this verse.  It illustrates the Zohar’s purpose as a mystical tool that aids in the understanding of the Ten Sefirot and their connection to all things (but especially to Jewish history and mythology).   The word “Heaven” is used several times in explaining the divine realm that is the source of manna.  “Heaven” is linked with Tif’eret, the bridegroom of Shekhinah. The last major Sefirot touched upon in the passage is partnered with Manna in the very title of this reading, it is “Wisdom” or Hokhmah. This is the highest Sefirot and spiritual union with Hokhmah is one of the greatest goals of the mystic.  It is at the single point of Hokhmah that the Torah was derived and it only with Hokhmah that one arrives at the source of revelation.

The insights that make Manna and Wisdom a truly unique passage are its exclusive discussion between Rabbi Shim’on and Rabbi El’azar on the nature of “angel bread” and other gradients of divine sustenance, and the relationship between these delicious sacraments and the mysterious Comrades.  The latter being a term for the disciples of R. Shim’on and the mystic followers of the Zohar.  R. Shim’on remarks, that while mazzah and “angel bread” (or manna) were given to the wandering Israelites by Shekhinah and Tif’eret, respectively, “Comrades engaging the Torah are nourished from an even higher sphere.”  This sphere is Wisdom or Hokhmah. The Comrades are granted this diet as their close understanding and appreciation of the Torah, brings them closer to the sphere from which the Torah was forged: Wisdom.  R. El’azar counters with a query that examines the discrepancy between the Comrades supposed spiritual power and their physical weakness.  R. Shim’on carefully explains that food from that high a sphere is too fine a substance to  be detected on the physical planes of existence, and is manifest only in the realms of spirit and soul-breath.  “Happy is the body that can nourish itself on food of the soul!”

Manna and Wisdom is a carefully crafted blueprint that thrives equally off of the Torah and Jewish imagination; it is a mystical guide depicting how students may climb the ladder of the ten Sefirot and partake of the blessed tastes that fill the upper realms.  It is a reminder to “engage Torah day and night” and to cleave to their heart the forces of YHWH, so that they may flourish in the garden of life and live long, prosperous lives[i]


[i] All quotations and information gathered from “Manna and Wisdom,” a chapter in Daniel Chanan Matt’s translation of the Zoahr.  Paulist Press.  1983.