Sunday, September 28, 2008

Magic Fennel

One of my favorite museums, The Cloisters, has a lovely blog devoted to the beautiful gardens on their grounds. My interest was piqued by a post on fennel, a staple of my diet since childhood.

What I learned was that fennel, in addition to its many uses for both food and medicine, was also considered to be a powerful amulet and one of the nine plants that could protect one from the nine poisons believed to cause illness during the Middle Ages. For this reason, fennel in the Cloisters is planted in the bed devoted to plants used in Medieval magic, rather than the beds for medicinal or culinary plants.

I see this wonderful plant in a whole new light.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

I came across this arresting image of the wheel of Fortune on Cabinet of Wonders. It's an illustration for the Remede de Fortune portion of a manuscript containing the Ouevres of Guillame de Machaut. It's certainly a very mechanical rendering of the wheel.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Good Vibrations

Two archaeologists who have conducted the first dig of Stonehenge in forty years believe that the stone circle may have been used, among other things, as a healing center. Professors Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill theorize that the presence of a double circle of bluestone at the center of the monument, among other finds, indicates that Stonehenge was a kind of healing shrine, much as Lourdes is today. Bluestone was known for its healing properties. The news came as no surprise, given my own experience with the healing properties of Stonehenge.

I went to Stonehenge in June of 1984 to attend the Stonehenge Free Festival. It was a memorable event for many reasons, but one episode in particular stands out. I arrived at the encampment with a group of friends in the late evening. Though it was after nine, it was still twilight, and the sky was a glorious purple hue that only heightened the sense of otherworldliness we all felt. We had driven past a church en route to our destination, and the very air around it hummed with energy. I wondered to myself if the aedifice had been built upon an older site, such as a temple, for there was no doubt in my mind that it was a power spot of some kind. As if reading my mind, one of my friends commented on the intense energy we would encounter at the henges themselves.

The following day, I set out for the monument itself. The scene was anarchic; a riotous, freewheeling, kaleidoscopic whirl of color, sound, and scents. Chanting and singing intermingled with the fragrance of burning sage and other plant forms, as people from every conceivable background, ranging from punks to hippies to neo-pagans to bikers to Hare Krishnas and everything in between gathered to celebrate the approaching summer solstice. In the midst of such tumult, I could not tune into the energy of Stonehenge if my life depended upon it. I nabbed a spot by one of the stones, and sat down, enjoying the warmth of the stone against my back. Slowly, I was overcome with a feeling of comfort; it was as if some part of the stone itself were pouring a soothing energy into me. I felt very calm and peaceful in spite of the activity all around me.

The rest of my time at the Festival went by in a blur. I came away with no special insight into Stonehenge, though if the archaeologists are correct, my own experience there hinted at the deeper purpose of that sacred place. As the poet Layamon noted 800 years before this latest discovery, "The Stones are Great, And Magic Power they have, Men that are sick, Fare to that Stone, and they wash that Stone, And with that water bathe away their sickness."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

You Spin Me Right Round Baby, Right Round

Here's the latest in my series of Tarot images where I live, which is inspired by Craig Conley's imaginative Trump L'Oeil Tarot of Portmeirion. I consider this sculpture, which is located near the town hall where I live, to be a minimalist interpretation of the wheel.

What I most enjoy about this work is the way its simple lines suggest motion, a sense of turning. An unbroken circle would appear static. The presence of a space gives the circle a dynamic quality that elegantly conveys movement. The bold red color gives the sculpture added vitality. Whenever I drive by this piece, I think 'Whooosh!'

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tarot and Cigarettes

Via JCB's enchanting blog, I came across a fantastic link for the digital archives of the New York Public Library. I entered 'fortune telling cards' into the search engine ('Tarot cards' came up empty) and came across very interesting playing card themed cigarette papers.

Each paper features a card from a standard playing deck, with an image or vignette underneath. They appear to be part of the Fortune Telling series released by Carreras in the mid 1920's. Cigarette papers, which were included as promotional items in cigarettes from the mid 19th through the first decades of the 20th century, could feature a variety of themes, with sports subjects and celebrities being especially popular.

I found these in particular to be intriguing, to say the least. The images and scenes portrayed certainly lend themselves to interpretation, and it would be fun to discover meanings for each of the cards.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Celluloid Tarot

As an homage to the great Hollywood stars of the 20th century, I thought it would be fun to assign legendary film actors to some of the Major Arcana cards. Melanie Bacon has created an entire Hollywood Tarot which fully explores this theme.

Below is a very subjective, partial list of my very own Celluloid Tarot. The actors were chosen not only for their fame and talent, but because of the enduring personae they created. When relevant, I've also listed the film and character which inspired my choice.

0-The Fool - Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp.

1-The Magician - Houdini. I know that technically he was a stage performer (he only starred in a few silent films), but he owns this archetype.

2-The High Priestess - Katharine Hepburn.

3-The Empress - Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra.

4-The Emperor - Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

5-The Hierophant - Sir Laurence Olivier.

6-The Lovers - Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

7-The Chariot - Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur. I'm in agreement with Melanie Bacon on this one. I'm thinking of course of the classic chariot racing scene.

9-The Hermit - Greta Garbo. Another pick I share with the Hollywood Tarot.

11-Strength - Joan Crawford. Notwithstanding her wire hanger phobia, she was one tough lady onscreen.

12-The Hanged Man - Montgomery Clift.

13-Death - Bela Lugosi.

15-The Devil - Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho.

16-The Tower - Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

17-The Star - Ingrid Bergman.

18-The Moon - Jean Harlow.

19-The Sun - Marilyn Monroe.

20-Judgment - The Oscars ceremony.

21-The World - The audience. This also is the same as the Hollywood Tarot.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Shooting Stars

While enjoying a slideshow of portraits from Vanity Fair, The Portraits: A Century of Iconic Portraits, I thought it would be interesting to create a Tarot deck comprised of images of Hollywood movie stars. These legendary actors, particularly the ones who shot to fame during the studio era spanning the early to mid-twentieth century, have become quasi-mythical beings whose well defined images and personae lend them an archetypal quality that is larger than life.

Turns out there already is such a deck, the Hollywood Tarot, which is the creation of Melanie Bacon. It's fun to see which performers she chose to represent the different cards, and the reasons behind her selection. When I saw this beautiful portrait of Jean Harlow by photographer George Hurrell, I immediately thought of the Moon card. At first blush it might seem like an odd choice, given that Harlow became renowned as a comedic actor and sex symbol. While she sparkles in such films as Dinner At Eight and Bombshell, I absolutely adore her in the classic James Cagney flick The Public Enemy. She displayed an open, unapologetic sexuality that was very modern and American, yet tempered by a sweetness and vulnerability that elevated her above being merely another one dimensional film hottie. Her untimely death of uremic poisoning at age 26 adds a poignancy to her image as fun loving Blonde Bombshell.

In this portrait Harlow shimmers. Like the moon, she in darkness, and like the moon she is lit up by a light off to the side which allows her to glow in all her platinum glory. She does not look into the camera; rather, she gazes off to the side, as if in a reverie, a dreamy look upon her face. Her body is relaxed, languid; the folds of her gauzy dress reinforce a sense of softness. Harlow seems detached, out of reach of the viewer, and utterly alluring. The overall quality of the portrait is mysterious, feminine, and enchanting. In this portrait Harlow embodies an old school Hollywood glamour that seduces, not by dazzling the viewer with a solar, aggressive sexuality, but rather beckoning with a subdued yet potent lunar beauty.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A New Frontier

With news of the Large Hadron Collider becoming operational, it seems the release of the Quantum Tarot could not be more timely or relevant.

While physicists will have the opportunity to test the validity of the Standard Model, explore the nature of dark matter and dark energy, and attempt to detect extra dimensions predicted by String Theory, the tarot created by Kay Stopforth and illustrated by Chris Butler will allow practitioners the opportunity to embark upon their own inner explorations, using the language of physics to explore timeless questions about the nature and purpose of our existence.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dear Ophelia

I am coveting this lovely Abney Park corset. You can buy it on their website.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Th'ə ˈHī-(ə-)rə-ˌfant

This is another installment in my series of Tarot images where I live, with all credit to Craig Conley and his Trump L'Oeil Tarot of Portmeirion for inspiring me. This fellow stands in our town's center, in front of the main branch of the public library. He is Noah Webster, patriot, writer, educator, and author of the Blue Back Speller. He is best known for compiling the first dictionary of American English.

With his flowing robes and sober countenance, he reminds me of a Puritan minister: authoritarian and a little moralistic. Webster was in fact a very devout man, and even went so far as to publish a slightly modified version of the King James Bible, so the religious association certainly fits. This sculpture emanates authority and gravitas. In spite of its very appropriate placement before the library, I always think of church, religion, and this region's Puritan heritage whenever I go past Noah. We have our very own Hierophant to sternly watch over us as we go about our daily round.

Paging Botticelli

I love Botticelli's portraits, and this one of a young man which is at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence makes me think of the page of coins.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Calling Captain Robert

Paleo-Future featured a post a while back about prints made for the 1900 Paris Exposition that imagined life in the year 2000. I thought the Flying Bus (or Aerobus) was fun.

Keys to My Heart

Via Brass Goggles I came across the lovely jewelry of Heterodyne Designs. The pieces are created by Alexandra H. Sforza and her sister, Victoria. The one shown is called "Alexandrian Crest."

The word that came immediately to mind when I viewed their work is alchemical.