Let Your Beauty Manifest Itself

By Susan Seddon Boulet

I. “Let your beauty manifest itself
without talking and calculation.
You are silent. It says for you: I am.
And comes in meaning thousandfold,
comes at long last over everyone.”

Reiner Maria Rilke, “Initial,” translated by Edward Snow, in: The Book of Images, Kindle edition

II. “The crown chakra is the thousand-petaled lotus. Most people think of the petals as reaching up into the heavens; actually, the lotus petals turn downward like a sunflower, dripping nectar into the crown and down through the chakras. In this way, the two ends of the spectrum are profoundly connected. … The crown chakra is a two-way gate to the beyond. It opens outward, beyond ourselves to the infinite, and it opens inward and downward to the world of visions, creation, and eventual manifestation.”

Anodea Judith, “Eastern Body, Western Mind”

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The Swelling Sound of Beauty Arriving: The Writing of Elena Ferrante

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Two girls grow up in an impoverished neighbourhood in Naples. To merely describe them as friends would be an understatement, for they share a ferocious bond. It all started while they were playing with their dolls alongside each other:

 “We saw each other in the courtyard more and more frequently. We showed off our dolls to each other but without appearing to, one in the other’s vicinity, as if each of us were alone. At some point we let the dolls meet, as a test, to see if they got along. And so came the day when we sat next to the cellar window with the curled grating and exchanged our dolls, she holding mine and I hers, and Lila abruptly pushed Tina through the opening in the grating and dropped her. I felt an unbearable sorrow. I was attached to my plastic doll; it was the most precious possession I had. I knew that Lila was mean, but I had never expected her to do something so spiteful to me. For me the doll was alive, to know that she was on the floor of the cellar, amid the thousand beasts that lived there, threw me into despair. But that day I learned a skill at which I later excelled. I held back my despair, I held it back on the edge of my wet eyes, so that Lila said to me in dialect: “You don’t care about her?” I didn’t answer. I felt a violent pain, but I sensed that the pain of quarreling with her would be even stronger. I was as if strangled by two agonies, one already happening, the loss of the doll, and one possible, the loss of Lila. I said nothing, I only acted, without spite, as if it were natural, even if it wasn’t natural and I knew I was taking a great risk. I merely threw into the cellar her Nu, the doll she had just given me. Lila looked at me in disbelief. “What you do, I do,” I recited immediately, aloud, very frightened. “Now go and get it for me.” “If you go and get mine.”

 

The inner workings of the psyche are scrutinized by Elena Ferrante with raw honesty rarely found in literature. In one of the rare interviews, she expressed a conviction that good books do not change your life, but rather, if they are really good, they hurt and bring confusion. Or, as Kafka put it in a celebrated quote, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” The titular brilliant friend is Lila, whose story is retold by Elena when they are both in their 60s. Lila’s charisma is palpable throughout the novel; it is hard not to share the same feeling of awe which Elena always felt towards her friend:

 “Her quickness of mind was like a hiss, a dart, a lethal bite.

…she took the facts and in a natural way charged them with tension; she intensified reality as she reduced it to words, she injected it with energy.

But there was nothing to be done: something had begun to emanate from Lila’s mobile body that the males sensed, an energy that dazed them, like the swelling sound of beauty arriving.”

This kind of raw feminine power and agency is rare in literature and has a brilliantly refreshing quality to it. All the more so that the neighbourhood where they grow up is full of violence, both direct and covert, as Ferrante pointed out in another interview.

Another striking quality of the Neapolitan novels is that their author, presumably a woman, has chosen to remain anonymous. Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. The only interviews she gives are in written form. She stated in one of them: “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.” In this way, the books gain a mythical aura, similar to ancient volumes through which the gods spoke.  In one of the most memorable passages, Elena is taken to see the sea by her father:

“Finally he said that he would show me Vesuvius from close up, and the sea. It was an unforgettable moment. We went toward Via Caracciolo, as the wind grew stronger, the sun brighter. Vesuvius was a delicate pastel-colored shape, at whose base the whitish stones of the city were piled up, with the earth-colored slice of the Castel dell’Ovo, and the sea. But what a sea. It was very rough, and loud; the wind took your breath away, pasted your clothes to your body and blew the hair off your forehead. We stayed on the other side of the street in a small crowd, watching the spectacle. The waves rolled in like blue metal tubes carrying an egg white of foam on their peaks, then broke in a thousand glittering splinters and came up to the street with an oh of wonder and fear from those watching. What a pity that Lila wasn’t there. I felt dazed by the powerful gusts, by the noise. I had the impression that, although I was absorbing much of that sight, many things, too many, were scattering around me without letting me grasp them.

Perhaps no other passage better describes the effect Ferrante’s prose has had on me. The psyche is viciously powerful, and yet lyrical and beautiful, like the “pastel-colored” volcano.

Links:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/12/18/italys-great-mysterious-storyteller/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/06/elena-ferrante-frantumaglia-extract-books-no-need-authors

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Greed and Minimalism

Hieronymus Bosch, “Greed” (from the Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things)

“Take greed. Do you know what greed is? It is eating more food than you need, wanting to outshine others at games, wanting to have more property, a bigger car than someone else. Then you say that you must not be greedy, so you practice non-greed – which is really silly, because greed can never cease by trying to become non-greed. But if you begin to understand all the implications of greed, if you give your mind and heart to finding the truth of it, then you are free from greed as well as from its opposite. Then you are a really intelligent human being, because you are tackling what is and not imitating what should be.

So if you are dull, don’t try to be intelligent or clever, but understand what it is that is making you dull. Imitation, fear, copying somebody, following an example or an ideal — all this makes the mind dull. When you stop following, when you have no fear, when you are capable of thinking clearly for yourself — are you not then the brightest of human beings? But if you are dull and try to be clever you will join the ranks of those who are pretty dull in their cleverness.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

According to the doctrine of enantiodromia, introduced by C.G. Jung and inspired by Heraclitus, the superabundance of one thing creates its opposite. If the pendulum swings to the furthest right, it will inevitably swing to the left. A documentary Minimalism (http://minimalismfilm.com/watch/), which I have recently seen on Netflix, asks all the important questions while providing a true diagnosis of rampant consumerism. It is true that we live “on the hunt” for bigger, better and more stuff. It is a valid point that advertising and fashion trends create and feed the need for the new. It is hard to argue that consumerism feeds and feeds off the lowest human instincts – greed, competitiveness, egocentrism, insecurity, and so on. Time is definitely ripe for downsizing our excessive lifestyles.

The Minimalists are two men who used to be enormously successful in the corporate America standard manner while now they are equally successful as mentors to humanity. As can be read on their website, they “help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary. The Minimalists have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Forbes, TIME, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, CBC, and NPR.” It is notable that all the newly-converted minimalists interviewed in the documentary used to be highly successful in the conventional understanding of the word; as if minimalism was an exclusive club where the poor have no access.  It is ironic that the Netflix documentary’s final scene features the two Minimalists addressing a crowd in LA (of all places), who are visibly moved by their words. It seems as if for the two men too much minimalism has created space for maximum success.

Minimalism appeals to me as an idea. I sympathize with the thought that by focusing on what we can achieve and acquire in the outside world, we turn away from the pressing needs of our Selves. However, the quote by Krishnamurti, which I have included as my motto, invites to look deeper at the issue. The real challenge is to grow beyond greed and its opposite, which in this case is minimalism. In this pure awareness lies the true freedom of the soul. Otherwise, we will be just swinging with the pendulum of the current trends – be it minimalism or consumerism.

Morris Graves, “State of the World”

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Living the Question: the Voynich Manuscript

Voynich manuscript excerpt (via Wikipedia)

It is astonishing how ideas often appear in our awareness in curious juxtapositions. While working doggedly and hopelessly on fathoming the mystery of Stonehenge, my mind was sidetracked by an article on The Voynich Manuscript – an enigmatic medieval volume whose script has never been decoded. Like Stonehenge, the notorious manuscript has fascinated and eluded the finest minds for centuries. Written in a language not known to humans, containing images of fantastical plants not to be found on the earth as well as a plethora of baffling astronomical and astrological images, it richly feeds imagination but laughs at the face of reason. There have been theories about the alien origin of the manuscript. Terence McKenna referred to it as “an object from another dimension.” It has been quite firmly established that it was written in a language rather than a code. This explains why the most renowned cryptographers have had no success with it. If it is indeed written in a natural language, the manuscript is the only available written record of it in the whole world. The National Security Agency has published a volume devoted to numerous futile attempts on cracking its code, preceded by an inspiring quote from Roger Bacon: “Reasoning draws a conclusion and makes us grant the conclusion, but does not make the conclusion certain, nor does it remove doubt so that the mind may rest on the intuition of truth, unless the mind discovers it by the path of experience… Therefore reasoning does not suffice, but experience does.” It is curious how the manuscript speaks to us as if beyond the rational mind could ever grasp. We experience its magnificence in the same way as we are captivated by the ca 7000- year-old circle of stones on the Salisbury Plain.

The manuscript can be viewed in its entirety on the website of Yale University (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/collections/highlights/voynich-manuscript) as well as on its Wikipedia page. Eamon Duffy wrote an interesting article on it for the current issue of The New York Review of Books. I appreciated the author’s fascination with the flamboyant Polish-Lithuanian bookdealer, who discovered the manuscript. If books have personalities, then the quirky manuscript could not have chosen a more original persona as its name-giver. Wilfrid Michael Voynich (known as Wojnicz before he anglicized his name) was born in a noble family and given stellar education in Krakow, Poland. He acquired several doctorate degrees and vast knowledge of several languages. As a plotting revolutionary, he was arrested by Russian authorities and sent to Siberia, from which he managed to escape on a forged passport. He travelled through Mongolia, China, Germany, finally reaching England utterly destitute, having even sold coat and glasses to pay for the passage. It came to pass that in England he utterly reinvented himself into a rogue and brilliantly successful “buyer and seller of rare books.” He managed to acquire numerous books which were coveted by the British Library itself. Among his clients were the most prestigious collectors and institutions, not only the Bristish Library but also the British Museum. He owned a few prestigious shops in London and later in the USA, where he settled.

Voynich

Last year in January, a Spanish company Siloe bought the rights to make 898 official replicas of the manuscript, which has been locked in the vaults of Yale University since 1969. It was supposed to take 18 months to make the first facsimiles. Will the multiplication of the volume increase the chances of fathoming its mystery?  Will the replicas capture a fraction of the original’s mysterious aura? Juan Jose Garcia, director of Silos, said in an interview that “touching the Voynich is an experience. It’s a book that has such an aura of mystery that when you see it for the first time it fills you with an emotion that is very hard to describe.” Rather than focus on an intellectual solution to the riddle of the manuscript, perhaps we should “try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language,” as Rilke wrote in Letters to a Young Poet.

Links:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/04/20/voynich-manuscript-secret-knowledge-or-hoax/

http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/FeaturesEurope/EasternPoland_Voynich01.htm

http://www.history.com/news/exact-replicas-of-the-mysterious-voynich-manuscript-to-be-published

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Only Symbols or Silence

I “The anthropologist Paul Radin points out that … ‘it must be explicitly recognized that in temperament and in capacity for logical and symbolical thought, there is no difference between civilized and primitive man,’ and as to ‘progress,’ that none in ethnology will ever be achieved ‘until scholars rid themselves, once and for all, of the curious notion that everything possesses an evolutionary history; until they realize that certain ideas and certain concepts are as ultimate for man’ as his physical constitution. ‘The distinction of peoples in a state of nature from civilized peoples can no longer be maintained.’”

“The Bugbear of Literacy”

II “We have no other language whatsoever except the symbolic in which to speak of ultimate reality: the only alternative is silence.”

“The Christian and Oriental, or True, Philosophy of Art”

III “’Revelation’ itself implies a veiling rather than a disclosure: a symbol is a ‘mystery.’ ‘Half reveal and half conceal’ fitly describes the parabolic style of the scriptures and of all conceptual images of being in itself, which cannot disclose itself to our physical senses.”

“The Christian and Oriental, or True, Philosophy of Art”

IV “The references of the symbolic forms are as precise as those of mathematics. The adequacy of the symbols being intrinsic, and not a matter of convention, the symbols correctly employed transmit from generation to generation a knowledge of cosmic analogies: as above, so below.”

“Is Art a Superstition, or a Way of Life?”

V “The symbol must be naturally adequate, and cannot be chosen at random; one locates or infers … the unseen in the seen, the unheard in the heard; but these forms are only means by which to approach the formless and must be discarded before we can become it.”

“The Hindu Tradition

Theology and Autology”

 

All quotes found in The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.

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Kay Sage, “Margin of Silence”

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Unchanging Waves of Time

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Remedios Varo, “Space-Time Fabric”

The distinction between past, present and future is the most persistent illusion of all, said Einstein. From the perspective of quantum physics, the past, present and future exist simultaneously in time-space. Time is static, it is us who are flowing through time. This revelation is well explained by James Gleick in his review of the movie Arrival:

“Even without help from mathematical models, we have all learned to visualize history as a timeline, with the past stretching to the left, say, and the future to the right (if we have been conditioned Sapir-Whorf-style by a left-to-right written language). Our own lifespans occupy a short space in the middle. Now—the infinitesimal present—is just the point where our puny consciousnesses happen to be.

But Einstein felt that this was fundamentally a psychological matter; that the question of now need not, or could not, be addressed within physics. The specialness of the present moment doesn’t show up in the equations; mathematically, all the moments look alike. Now seems to arise in our minds. It’s a product of consciousness, inextricably bound up with sensation and memory. And it’s fleeting, tumbling continually into the past.”

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“Arrival”

We may ponder the big question asked by Krishnamurti:

“Time is the past, time is now; and the now is controlled by the past, shaped by the past. And the future is a modification of the present. I’m putting it dreadfully simply. So the future is now. Therefore the question is: If all time is contained in the now, all time – past, present and future – then what do we mean by change?”

Zen Buddhism, as explained by Alan Watts in his book The Way of Zen, compared time to a moving wave, which does not actually move water forward but creates the illusion that it does.

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Ogata Korin, “Rough Waves”

Yet, from an individual perspective, time is experienced viscerally and intimately. In Borges’s words, time is “the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.” We are mentally conditioned to view time as sequential, progressing from the past into the present and towards the future. The human perception of time is rendered perfectly in Macbeth’s famous monologue, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, /Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/ To the last syllable of recorded time.” The word “syllable” is a remarkable choice here since our written communication also unfolds sequentially through time– from left to right or from the past into the present, at least for western speakers.

But not all languages are written in this way. In his “Temporary poem of my time” Yehuda Amichai wrote:

“Hebrew writing and Arabic writing go from east to west,
Latin writing, from west to east.
Languages are like cats:
You must not stroke their hair the wrong way.”

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Remedios Varo, “Clockmaker”

The idea that the language shapes our thinking is known as linguistic relativity.  The creators of Arrival played with that idea remarkably well. Louise, a master translator played by Amy Adams, is drafted by the US army to establish communication with a race of aliens who have just landed on the earth. The mysterious visitors are seven-limbed creatures, dubbed heptapods. Seven being the number of spiritual perfection, as Gleick describes in his review of the movie, “They turn out to be virtuosos of calligraphy: their feet/hands are also nozzles that squirt inkblots, which swirl and spin and coalesce into mottled circles with intricate adornments. Louise says these are logograms.”

Each logogram is a miniature work of art, a rich symbol evocative of the Zen ensō.

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Enso “Visually, an enso appears simplistic, but its true nature is much more complex and highly involved. In Zen, enso symbolizes a moment when the mind is free to simply let the body and spirit create with the brushed ink of the circle being performed in one movement – one stroke, one chance. Often the circle is drawn complete representing perfection, or incomplete with an opening signifying that it is part of something much greater and that imperfection is vital to existence. Unlike other forms of art work, there is no possibility of modification. The perfect enso is achieved by having “no-mind”. The brush stroke should be guided by the spirit, not the wrist. It should be performed without effort.” Via https://diversejapan.com/2012/05/15/shodo-japanese-calligraphy-master-shoho-teramoto-the-enso-of-zen/

 

 

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A logogram (“Arrival”)

Logograms house the meaning of entire sentences or passages. What is more, they seem to be produced instantaneously rather than sequentially, unlike our earthy writing. They emerge suddenly like wondrous emanations. This is because heptapods do not see time as sequential. Having a simultaneous overview of each individual moment on the time-space continuum, they see wholeness instead of events unfolding one after another. Their written script goes simultaneously from right to left and from left to write – to meet in the centre, pulsating with meaning. As Louise masters the heptapod language, she develops headaches which are a sign of a tremendous consciousness shift. It dawns on her that she can see the future, including a tragic twist in her own life. Her mind becomes able to move forwards and backwards; she gets glimpses of events which the viewer thinks are flashbacks, but turn out to be flash-forwards.  Yet, in the holistic frame of temporal reference the direction of the time arrow does not seem to matter any more.

We do not feel ourselves as timeless in our day-to-day lives, quite the contrary. Nevertheless, almost all of us have moments when we experience a momentary rupture in the fabric of time. The poet Szymborska would call it the moments when we remember that we have a soul, which is timeless.

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Giorgio de Chirico, “Piazza d’Italia”

From the web:

http://laughingsquid.com/how-the-film-arrival-connects-the-concepts-of-language-and-time-to-tell-a-non-linear-story/

 

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Museums: Bridging the Gap between the Visible and the Invisible

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Jacques de Lajoue, “The Cabinet of Joseph Bonnier de La Mosson”

“The trucks and locomotives lined up in the railway museum carry neither freight not passengers. Nobody is slain by the swords, cannons and guns on display in the military museum, and not one single worker or peasant uses the utensils, tools, and costumes assembled in folklore collections or museums. The same is true of everything which ends up in this strange world where the word ‘usefulness’ seems never to have been heard of, for to say that the objects which now await only the gaze of the curious were still of some use would be a gross distortion of the English language: the locks and keys no longer secure any door, the machines produce nothing and the clocks and watches are certainly not expected to give the precise time of day. Although they may well have served a definite purpose in their former existence, museum and collection pieces no longer serve any at all, and as such acquire the same quality as works of art, which are never produced with any definite use in mind, but simply to adorn people, palaces, temples, apartments, gardens, streets, squares and cemeteries. Even so, it cannot really be said that museum and collection pieces serve a decorative purpose: decoration is the art of using pictures and sculptures to break the monotony of blank walls which are already there and in need of enhancement, whereas walls are built or specially adapted in museums and in some of the larger collections, for the specific purpose of displaying works. Collectors with more modest means have showcases built, boxes and albums made or else clear a space somewhere for objects to be placed, the aim every time seemingly being the same, namely that of bringing objects together in order to show them to others. Museum and collection pieces may be neither useful not decorative, yet enormous care is nonetheless lavished on them.

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The Library of Alexandria, Cosmos: Spacetime Odyssey

Our museums owe their name to the ancient temples of the Muses, though the most famous of these, the Museum of Alexandria, did not owe its fame to any collection of objects, but rather to its library and the team of scholars who formed a community within its walls. There is, nevertheless, more than one similarity between the Greek and Roman temples and our own museums, for it was in these temples that offerings were amassed and displayed. The object, which had been given to the god and received by him in accordance with the rites, becomes ίεpóν or sacrum, and shares in the majesty and inviolability of the gods. Stealing or moving it, preventing it from fulfilling its function or even simply touching it constitute acts of sacrilege.’ To talk of use in this context is in fact impossible. Once the object crossed the threshold of the sacred enclosure, it entered into a domain which was strictly opposed to utilitarian activities. Within this enclosure, ‘one can neither extract stone, take earth, chop wood, build, cultivate nor live’. Accordingly, objects could play only one single role, and were placed on display either in the sacred buildings which they then adorned, or else in buildings erected specially to house offerings, when these became so numerous that they threatened to clutter up the places of worship. As well as coming to pray, the pilgrims, who were also tourists, visited the temples in order to admire the objects they contained. …

In theory, once an object had been offered to the gods it had to remain forever in the temple in which it had been deposited. Every object was listed in an inventory and protected from theft. Even when they deteriorated they were not disposed of in any old way. …

‘If they were made of silver or gold, the following course of action was taken: a decree of the people resulting from a proposal from the priest or holy treasurer, in accordance with advice from the council, ordered that the offerings which were in a poor state be melted down into ingots or amalgamated to form one single offering; the same procedure was followed when dealing with all scraps of precious metal. If they proved to be an encumbrance or were broken, less valuable objects were taken from the temple and buried. Their dedication had consecrated them for eternity, and they were in no circumstances to be put back into circulation, so in order to shield them better from all secular use, they were often broken on purpose, if they were not already broken. This accounts for the piles of terracotta or bronze objects to be found in the vicinity of certain sanctuaries….’

(Pliny the Elder …)

We should now look more closely at what happens when the objects intended for the gods, namely the offerings, are placed on public show. As well as serving as intermediaries between mortals and immortals, they also came to represent to visitors the fame of the gods, since they were proof that this fame reached all four corners of the world: after all, even the Hyperboreans sent offerings to Delphi…. In the same way, they represented peoples who lived in far and remote if not fabulous lands. For present-day visitors they were a reminder of past benefactors, along with the circumstances surrounding the sending of offerings, and even of groups and individuals who had been involved in bygone events. Some of the offerings were testaments to the ability of certain craftsmen, sculptors or painters to produce extraordinary works the likes of which are no longer seen today. The weirdest, strangest, most spectacular offerings stood out from the ranks of more commonplace articles, exciting the curiosity and imagination of the visitors by challenging them to go beyond the simply visual and to listen to or read more on the subject. Thus it was that stories or anecdotes, some of which have come down to us through the works of Herodotus, Pausanias, Pliny the Elder and several other authors, revolved around offerings of this kind. These offerings could continue to function as intermediaries for this world and the next, the sacred and the secular, while at the same time constituting, at the very heart acted as go-betweens between those who gazed upon them and the invisible from whence they came.

…it was the role forced upon them, the role of guaranteeing communication between the two worlds [the visible and the invisible] into which the universe is cleft, which kept these objects out of the economic circuit.

To avoid any misunderstanding, it must be emphasized straightaway that the opposition between the visible and the invisible can take many and diverse forms. The invisible is spatially distant, not only beyond the horizon but also very high or very low. It is also temporally distant, either in the past or in the future. In addition, it is beyond all physical space and every expanse or else in a space structured totally differently. It is situated in a time of its own, or outside any passing of time, in eternity itself. It can sometimes have a corporeity or materiality other than that of the elements of the visible world, and sometimes be a sort of pure antimateriality.

Collections, or at any rate those which have been examined here, represent only one of a number of measures adopted in order to guarantee communication between the two worlds and the unity of the universe. This enables us to understand more clearly why there is such diversity in the objects making them up, in the places in which they are located and in the behaviour of their visitors, as it reflects the diversity in the ways the visible can be contrasted with the invisible.”

Krzysztof Pomian, “The Collection: Between the Visible and the Invisible” in Interpreting Objects and Collections, edited by Susan M. Pierce, Routledge: London and New York

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David Cox, “The Long Gallery of Hardwick Hall”

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Lakshmi – the Goddess of Worldly Enjoyment and Spiritual Liberation

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Lakshmi, the most widely worshiped Indian goddess, emerged on a lotus out of the primeval ocean of milk. In the pantheon of goddesses she is a soothing and gentle presence. In her book Awakening Shakti, Sally Kempton includes compelling words of Thomas Merton, which perfectly invoke Lakshmi’s divine essence as balancing the fiery essence of warrior goddesses such as Kali or Dhurga: “There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fountain of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being.” The ocean of milk not only gave the world Lakshmi but also soma – the life-giving moon nectar. Ayurvedic medicine speaks of soma as a vital essence which can be found in the bone marrow. It is supposed to govern sexuality and rejuvenation, cool down the fiery Kundalini power and, as Kempton puts it, it is “the water of life and the subtle nectar that moistens the heart.” In iconography, Lakshmi is usually portrayed flanked by two elephants showering her with water while she pours golden coins out of her hands in a gesture of abundance.

In many ways, Lakshmi is the primordial mother goddess. Before she was even named, she already existed in the minds of her worshipers as a lotus goddess on the one hand and as “sri,” explained by Rhodes as “splendor, glory, majesty, brilliance, and the divine power of auspiciousness,” on the other. Ancient Indian art rejoiced in depictions of lotuses resembling feminine figures curling gracefully upwards. Feminine figures holding lotuses symbolized life-force and fertility. Besides the well-known symbolic meaning of the lotus as rising from mud through the water and into the air, always gloriously untouched by any kind of impurity, it carries an additional significance pointedly explained by Rhodes:

“…lotus,” also literally denotes a foothold: ‘pad’ refers to foot and ‘ma’ refers to a measured expansion across a spatial dimension. The lotus seat serves as the foundation upon which the gods rest in their embodied forms when they become manifest upon the earth…”

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Osho Zen Tarot – Flowering (Queen of Pentacles)

As said before, in the earliest Vedic texts an abstract quality called “sri” was not associated with any particular goddess, though it already denoted a radiant divine feminine force, which bestowed abundance and dispelled misfortune. In the later Vedic period those qualities started to be called Sri Lakshmi. The name Lakshmi is related to a Sanskrit word meaning “sign, imprint, symbol, an embodied expression.” The goddess Lakshmi began to embody the abstract qualities of sri; she became the living symbol that manifested itself as a divine revelation of a deeper mystery.  Rhodes calls her “the quintessential devi” Devi, the Sanskrit word for “goddess,”  is derived from “div,” which means to shine, to play, to sparkle, to rejoice, and also to gamble, as Rhodes further explains:

“The term, then, also conveys the excitement of uncertainty, the expectancy of luck, and the vibrant sensation that anything can happen – all of these as opposed to the frozen stagnancy of absolute certainty. Laksmi is the epitome of luminous energy in action… When that luminosity expresses itself as bounteous beauty, delight, harmony, abundant wealth, and spiritual liberation-in short, prosperity of every kind – then it is recognized and called upon as Laksmi, goddess of abundance.”

By her devotees she is called “bhukti-mukti pradayini” – “bestower of material enjoyment and spiritual liberation.” She infuses the world with four qualities: kama, artha, dharma and moksa. The former three deal with worldly enjoyment, the latter denotes freedom from worldly attachment. They are the four goals of life. Kama is pleasure, sensuality, sexuality and passion. It gives the spark to procreate being the beauty of all life, and all the flavours of material reality. Artha is wealth and its fluid circulation in society. Unsurprisingly, the goddess’s most ardent devotees are merchants, who enthusiastically erect shrines to the goddess. Diwali, the most important festival devoted to Lakshmi, also marks the beginning of a new financial year. It is during Diwali that gambling is encouraged as well.

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The coins that are being poured forth from the goddess’s open hands or from a golden urn symbolize all forms of abundant energy, not only money. Lakshmi is also the goddess of self-worth, believed to make the inner beauty of a person shine through. Her sacred animal is the owl symbolizing the ability to see in darkness and to be able to move towards the light of wisdom. Rhodes adds that the golden coins can also be looked upon as “bija mantras” or “seed syllables that are produced from the body of the goddess as vibratory patterns of sacred sound.” They are the fruit of her womb holding “the potentialities of all of creation.” Through those sound-forms, i.e. the fifty-two letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, the goddess is “unfurling herself into the universe as the matrka Sakti (matrix of cosmic energy). Together with her consort Visnu, Lakshmi preserves and upholds harmony in all the realms. This is her role as an upholder of dharma (the Sanskrit root word “dhr” meaning foundation and support). Rhodes writes:

“In general, we may consider dharma to be the energy governing harmonious relationships – with oneself, with one’s spouse, children, and family, with one’s community, with one’s natural environment, and with the gods.  On a cosmic level, dharma is the harmony of interconnectedness that upholds society and supports the creation…”

Many different translations of the word dharma have been offered, including  “virtue,” “virtuous conduct,” “harmonious relationship,” “”etiquette,” “communal obligation,” “social consciousness,” “balanced way of life,” “living in right relationship,” “doing the right thing.”

From Lakshmi’s perspective, doing the right thing often involves mundane tasks such as cleaning and maintaining self-discipline. Her festival begins with a thorough housecleaning because it is believed that she will not grace a dirty house. The final component is moksa – release from attachment, spiritual liberation. Mahalakshmi is the Great Illusion and a means to liberation from it. Kempton observes:

“The release from cyclical existence in samsara, then, comes from the same goddess who sanctions the world and embellishes it, even mesmerizing one to enjoy attachment to it for lifetime after lifetime.”

The goddess of luck has a sister called Alaksmi, who brings bad luck whenever an imbalance occurs. Lakshmi does not approve of “an overly zealous attention to any one of the four aims of life to the exclusion of the others.” The truth of beingness calls for a dynamic equipoise between the four elements. This task involves “weaving together” (the word Tantra means “weaving”) the seemingly irreconcilable opposites. Vedic Hymn to Sri conveys this paradox beautifully:

“Draw unto me, O sacred fire, the goddess Lakshmi,

The resplendent, the golden,

Doe-like, moon – lustrous,

Garlanded in silver, and in gold.

I invoke the goddess Sri,

Who manifests as golden light.

She blazes with the effulgence of fire

Yet glistens like soothing, cool waters.

Seated on a lotus,

The lotus-hued one

Smiles benevolently.

Contended, she bestows contentment.”

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Sources:

Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti, Kindle edition

Constantina Rhodes, Invoking Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth in Song and Ceremony, Kindle edition

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The Great Goddess

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Osho Zen Tarot – Existence

“I celebrate Indrāksī,

That goddess

Whom the gods glorify with many names:

 

Brightness

Bearer of the Conch

Red-clad Widow

Great Goddess

Moonglow

Great Heart of Austerity

Sāvitrī

Splendor of Meditation

Gāyatrī

Lady Brahmā

Sound-essence of the Wisdom Books

 

Lady Narāyana

Auspicious Darkness

Lady Rudra

Black-hued

Flame of the Sacred Fire

She of the Terrifying Face

Black Night

Mistress of Yogic Austerities

 

Raincloud-dark

Thousand-eyed

Wild-haired

Water-bellied

Great Goddess

She of Unbound Hair

She of Terrifying Form

She of Tremendous Might

 

Invincible

Bestower of Auspiciousness

Felicity

Destroyer of Disease

Beloved of Śiva

Attendant of Śiva

Sword-Flame of Agni’s Fire

She Who Reveals Herself Clearly Before One’s Eyes

Supreme Lady

 

Eternal

Bewitching

Goddess

Beautiful

Queen of the Universe

Indra’s Eyes

Indra’s Splendor

Indra’s Cosmic Power

Final Refuge

 

Destroyer of the Demon King

Vanquisher of Camunda

Womb of the Gods

Lady of the Great Boar

Lady of the Man-lion

Ferocious

She of the Terrifying Roar

 

Sacred Revelation

Sacred Remembrance

Constancy

Intelligence

Laksmī

Sarasvatī

Infinity

Victory

Abundance

Mother of the Mind

Unrivalled

Bhavānī

Pārvatī

Durgā

Daughter of the Himalaya

Ambikā

Lady Śiva.”

From Song of the Glorious “Eyes of Indra” translated by Constantina Rhodes, included in her book “Invoking Lakshmi: The Goddess of Wealth in Song and Ceremony”

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Osho Zen Tarot – Receptivity

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“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”: A Short Review

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In the Harry Potter universe, house Hufflepuff seems the least exciting. Hufflepuffs are slow, methodical, dedicated, patient and loyal. Astrologically, they are connected with Taurus, which gives them an earthy, sensual quality. They may lack the charisma of Gryffindor (Leo), but they are the backbone and the salt of the wizarding community. Unlike Slytherins or Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs are not overly ambitious or rebellious. They do not seek attention for attention’s sake. Yet they possess a certain quiet charm and dignity. And they are so immensely steadfast that, if need be, they will sacrifice themselves for their loved ones.

Newt Scamander, sorted into Hufflepuff, the main character of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was born at the end of the nineteenth century. The temporal setting of the movie gives it a quaint, vintage aura, which agrees with Taurus as well since this sign loves the tangible, and puts slowness over speed. The name Newt is quite apt as well, evoking a tiny amphibian, not quite a frog, not quite a lizard, certainly not a dragon. But Hufflepuffs do not attach value judgements to life forms: a newt is as spectacular and miraculous as, say, a Peruvian Vipertooth. Newt’s job as a magizoologist involves the study of magical creatures, protecting them indiscriminately and spreading knowledge about them.

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Perhaps like a newt, Newt Scamander seems rather inconspicuous as the movie begins. The action develops rather slowly; the plot is rather predictable. Any danger the characters get themselves in is quite small compared to what was faced by the characters in the previous Harry Potter movies. For me the main strength of the vie is its undeniable charm. New York of the early twentieth century seems so warm and comforting; it envelops the viewer like the Hobbiton village. The magical creatures on the loose are just cute and harmless, with the magnificent Niffler (a beast with an uncontrollable urge to touch sparkling objects) as an ultimate Taurean character.

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The non-magical Polish wannabe baker is a kind-hearted, adorable man – nothing like the evil muggles of the Harry Potter universe. This focus on food, warmth and coziness has a very heartwarming effect on the viewer. Comfortingly so, anything that gets destroyed throughout the movie, is rebuilt and repaired at the end at the touch of a magic wand. This is quite refreshing when juxtaposed with the usual action movies relish in showing mayhem, destruction and their eerie aftermath.

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All in all, I would give the movie 5/5. A real highlight is Colin Farrel’s performance as a villain. The only drawback is that he will not be coming back in the upcoming instalments.

 

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