Venus Descending

Dorothea Tanning-Voltage 1942
Dorothea Tanning-Voltage 1942

Watching from the balcony of the hotel room
as the heavens are roused from the operating table
after a long coma induced by a junkie anaesthetist
the wild eyed planets are out of sync, unaligned
dying stars radiate their baleful influence
motionless waves frozen smooth as panes of glass
we intuitively understand what this stillness signifies
so let’s down this bottle, the last of the champagne
negligently toss the empties onto the street
step inside, close the curtains, turn off the lights
hastily fumble with underclothes and clasps
you’re needling kisses are more suggestive
of bite marks and deep wounding scratches
that infect immediately with a vivid fighting fever
hopefully there is time enough left to stake
out exclusive territories of mutual antagonism
time enough for you to taunt me with infidelities
for me to tease you with my wanton indifference
to tie each other up in exquisitely painful knots
bound together by our hatred occasioned by passion
that exhilarates to the point of total exhaustion
let the world go to its doom, why pretend to care
about some misty future when we have this moment
a moment of sleek skins pressing each other slickly
a moment of merging mouths breathing in fumes
why lose this moment stretching towards eternity
when before we were alone on separate islands
calling out to each other as we stumbled and fell
over roots hidden in the treacherous undergrowth
this moment when we have discovered each other
if you move over a little and lie back I will continue
we still have time enough for one last big fight
before we fuck again, die a little death before
the grand operatic finale scored by some bombast
and as I repose supine I see you as Venus descending
with a movement fluid yet infinitely heart breaking
flaring up with a sudden intensity that I cannot contain
even as I hold down your head and grab the rope
of your tangled unruly tresses flowing over my thighs
and at long last I let the universe and everything
dissolve in the flash of illuminating blinding white light.

Cosmic Hotels

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The shy, reclusive and self taught maker of shadow boxes and experimental films, Joseph Cornell , rarely left New York State, with the exception of a few college years in Andover, Mass, spending most of his life in a modest house in the beautifully named Utopia Parkway, Queens, caring for his mother and disabled brother. His artwork is filled with a yearning for the unobtainable ; birds with their freedom of flight, glamorous movie stars and ballerinas as the source of passionate, platonic romances and especially travel to the most luxurious and wondrous locations.

Hotels are a common feature of his shadow boxes, miniature visions of rest stops and trysting places for artistic, mythological and astrological archetypes as they travel through the starry Empyrean and the wastes of infinity.

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Thoth

Thoth Tarot-Lady Frieda Harris with instruction by Aleister Crowley 1938-1943 published 1969

One of the most notorious of Tarot decks due to its association with the infamous Aleister Crowley, the Thoth Tarot was designed and painted by Lady Frieda Harris under instruction from the Great Beast. In addition to referencing Crowley’s new religion of Thelema,  (Do what you wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will), Lady Harris includes elements of Goethe’s theory of colour and Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy in the execution of the project.

In 1937 Crowley had asked his friend the playwright Clifford Bax to find an artist to realise his longstanding ambition of re-designing the Tarot deck along Thelemic lines After two artists failed to show Bax invited Lady Frieda, then aged 60, to met Crowley. Third time around indeed proved to be a charm and they worked together on the deck for 5 years. Crowley initiated Lady Frieda into his mystical order the A∴A∴ and Lady Frieda Harris persuaded Crowley to break somewhat with Tarot tradition in the Thoth deck. Surprisingly Crowley seemed to develop a genuine affection for Harris and she in turn was devoted to him up to and during his last difficult days in a Hastings boarding house.

Crowley re-named several of the Major Arcana from the Rider-Waite-Smith, for instance Trump XI Strength becomes Lust and Trump XX Judgement becomes The Æon. Naturally the Hebrew letter and astrological correspondences are changed because no two occultists have ever agreed on such matters. The astrological significance of the Minor Arcana is very comprehensively outlined in the accompanying Book of Thoth written by Crowley.

 

Splendor Solis

Splendor_Solis_19_Black_Sun
Splendor_Solis_19_Black_Sun

One of the most sumptuous and beautiful of all illuminated alchemical texts, Splendor Solis was published in various versions throughout the German states in the 16th Century. Attributed to Salomon Trismosin, a legendary figure who acquired the Philosopher’s Stone and was allegedly Paracelsus’s teacher, Splendor contains 22 (the same number as the Major Arcana of the Tarot)  gorgeous, mystifying images with elaborate decorative borders reminiscent of  medieval Book of Hours. As with all alchemical treatises the text is full of dense allegorical references to the Solar King and Lunar Queen, death and re-birth, the black and the inner suns, planets and tinctures.

Splendor_Solis_04_Solar_King_and_Lunar_Queen_meet
Splendor_Solis_04_Solar_King_and_Lunar_Queen_Meet
Splendor_Solis_05_Miners_Excavating_Hill
Splendor_Solis_05_Miners_Excavating_Hill
Splendor_Solis_06_Philosophers_Beside_Tree
Splendor_Solis_06_Philosophers_Beside_Tree
Splendor_Solis_07_Drowning_King
Splendor_Solis_07_Drowning_King
Splendor_Solis_09_Hermaphrodite_with_Egg
Splendor_Solis_09_Hermaphrodite_with_Egg
Splendor_Solis_10_Severing_the_Head_of_the_King
Splendor_Solis_10_Severing_the_Head_of_the_King
Splendor_Solis_12_Saturn_Dragon_and_Child
Splendor_Solis_12_Saturn_Dragon_and_Child
Splendor_Solis_16_Venus_Peacocks_Tail
Splendor_Solis_16_Venus_Peacocks_Tail
Splendor_Solis_21_Women_Washing_Clothes
Splendor_Solis_21_Women_Washing_Clothes
Splendor_Solis_22_Sun_Rising_Over_the_City
Splendor_Solis_22_Sun_Rising_Over_the_City

 

 

As Above, So Below

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Tabula Smaragdina-Matthew Merian 1612
In her post on Hermes (► “Hermes & Writing in Ancient Greece”: “Collaboration with Alan Severs”✍️.-,) the wonderful Aquileana mentions the syncretic figure of Hermes Trismegistus (Hermes the Thrice Great, on account of being the greatest priest, the greatest philosopher and the greatest king). This figure who at various periods has been considered divine, semi-divine or legendary is nowadays shrouded in obscurity yet it once was a name to conjure with. As Aquileana has outlined the Greek-Egyptian deity in her post I will dealing exclusively with the Hermes Trismegistus who was the purported author of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Emerald Tablet.

In 1463 the great Florentine banker, power broker and patron of the arts Cosimo de Medici heard from his agent Leonardo de Pistoia that he had recently acquired the Corpus Hermeticum, part of the treasures rescued before the sack of Constantinople (previously Byzantium and now Istanbul). At 74 Cosimo was an elderly man for the time and he didn’t hesitate in instructing his brilliant scribe Marsilio Ficino to stop translating the Complete Works of Plato and start work on the Corpus immediately so that he could read it before his death. Ficino immediately agreed and only returned to Plato after he had completed translating the Corpus. It may seem amazing to ourselves that such cultivated  and learned men as de Medici and Ficino sidelined Plato, the philosopher whose immeasurable influence upon Western thought has led to the suggestion that the entire history of Western philosophy is merely a footnote to his works, but they were believers in the prisca theologia. Hermes Trismegistus was believed to be of immense antiquary, a contemporary of Moses and was therefore closer to the source of divine inspiration than Plato.

The effect of Ficino’s translation galvanised the nascent humanist Renaissance movement. Hermeticism and Gnosticism share many similarities, however Hermeticism’s emphasis on the inherent divinity of mankind and its descriptions of the soul’s ascent through the heavens make it a fundamentally more optimistic and positive philosophy than the rather austere and ascetic doctrines of Gnosticism and would have held a particular appeal in the hothouse atmosphere of the Renaissance. One of the high watermarks of that giddy epoch,  Pico Della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, is clearly indebted to Hermetic thought.

The Corpus, was well as influencing astrology, alchemy and magic also spurred the developing field of the natural sciences as has been shown in a series of books by the truly exceptional Renaissance scholar Dame Frances Yates, including Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, The Art of Memory and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. This spirit of scientific empiricism that Hermeticism had in part engendered caused the eventual demise of the Hermetic Revival. In 1614 the distinguished Swiss philologist Isaac Casaubon published his philological study of the text. The Corpus was not the product of a single author of an antiquary predating Plato and Christ but was actually written by multiple differing authors from Alexandria in the 3rd or 4th Century AD. This revelation would weaken the intellectual appeal of Hermeticism during the 17th Century, although certain esotericists, notably Robert Fludd and Athanasius Kircher kept the faith in the historical veracity of Hermes Trismegistus.

Below is The Emerald Tablet attributed to Hermes Trismegistus in a translation by the scientist and the discoverer of gravity, Sir Isaac Newton. A key text in alchemy it also contains the doctrine of as above, so below, the central tenet of Western Esotericism. I have chosen the Newton translation as it shows how magic and science were once closely allied and not mortal enemies.

The Emerald Tablet

1.) Tis true without error, certain & most true.
2.) That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing
3.) And as all things have been & arose from one by the [meditation] of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
4.) The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse.
5.) The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.
6.) Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.
7.) Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.
8.) It ascends from the earth to the heaven & again it descends to the earth & receives the force of things superior & inferior.
9.) By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world
10.) & thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.
11.) Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing & penetrates every solid thing.
12.) So was the world created.
13.) From this are & do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world
14.) That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished & ended.