Friday, July 22, 2011

Ask yourself: would you drink whiskey from a pilsner glass? Or red wine from a highball?

Different alcoholic beverages are traditionally enjoyed from differently-shaped glasses. For example, a smooth glass of fine bourbon whiskey would traditionally be served in the old-fashioned glass shown above and to the left, while cocktails such as a screwdriver or a gin and tonic are traditionally served in a highball glass resembling the one above right (purists might argue that the glass on the right above is a collins glass, for serving a Tom Collins and other such drinks, but both types of glass usually feature high, straight sides and a narrower mouth than an old-fashioned).

Similarly, various types of beer have their own types of glasses, such as the pilsner shown below left, which has something of an hourglass shape to accommodate a head of foam. Wine connoisseurs will have their own opinions about the best-shaped wineglasses to enjoy a full-bodied red or a crisp white. Typically, reds are served in wider, fuller glasses resembling the one below center, while whites are usually served in glasses with slightly taller sides and narrower mouths than glasses for reds, such as the one below right.

When we consider these deeply-ingrained cultural preferences for the kinds of glass considered appropriate for the kinds of drink, we might naturally ask ourselves whether these preferences are merely arbitrary traditions that grew up over time, or whether there is an actual functional reason behind the connection of one drink to one glass.

As it happens, there are good reasons that different forms of alcohol are served in differently-shaped glasses. Different glasses deliver the alcohol to different parts of the mouth of the taster, resulting in a different experience. The size and shape of the mouth of the "delivery vehicle" matters as well -- the exact same beer will taste different if it is consumed directly from the bottle than if it is poured into a nice wide-mouthed bar glass. For wines, the size and shape of the bowl of the wineglass will influence the way the air interacts with the wine when it is swirled around in the glass and as it is delivered to the tongue, resulting in different levels of oxidation and different flavor and perception. True aficionados of certain drinks (or of many different drinks) can probably add even more reasons to this list.

The fact that the shape of the glass that holds the drink matters (and matters a great deal) might be a good metaphor for the theory that John Anthony West puts forward in Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt. While the book itself deals with many very deep subjects, one of them is certainly the likelihood that the enormous time and energy and resources which the ancient Egyptians devoted to building tombs and temples and other structures was not simply the result of "unqualified superstition" that went along with an obsessive and bizarre preoccupation with death, but rather that all of the various forms of art and architecture were organized according to "specific harmonic laws" designed to actually channel the natural energy according to laws and sciences which we have now forgotten (quotations are from West pages 93 and 92, respectively).

In other words, the actual physical layout and proportions and distances that were built and arranged, often in massive stone, were designed according to a lost knowledge of resonances and harmonics -- that their shape and structure "made a difference," if you will, just as the shape of a wine glass "makes a difference." They were designed, not to deliver wine, but to channel and connect with other forms of energy (we have already discussed the fact that food itself is a form of energy, energy which has been incorporated from the sun and the rain and the soil, and so wine of course is as well).

We might also point the reader back to this post, in which we examine arguments from a completely different researcher who found evidence that ancient cultures and their descendents around the world may have tried to harvest the earth's natural telluric energy and other forms of electromagnetism in order to stimulate the growth of their seed crops -- and perhaps they were able to do so successfully.

As Mr. West writes: "On a practical level, this means that the sages of Egypt were deliberately and knowledgeably organising the ambiance or atmosphere of an entire civilisation in harmony with cosmic requirements" (116).

We have all probably experienced in our own lives the different "vibes" we get from different locations, or from being in buildings of different architectural shapes and layouts, or from working in a cluttered office versus an organized one. This is perhaps another way of getting at the argument that Mr. West, following R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, is putting forward about the purpose of much of what we find in ancient Egypt.

Another parallel to this discussion would be an examination of the beliefs of Chinese feng shui, which teaches that the orientation and internal arrangements of buildings and rooms have real impacts. Perhaps some of this is mere superstition which has been built up in more recent centuries, but perhaps it also incorporates remnants of the very same ancient knowledge possessed by a very ancient civilization, whether that of ancient Egypt or of some even more remote predecessor of the two. We have already seen evidence that some of the precessional knowledge and numbers that were known and used by the ancient Egyptians turn up in traditional Chinese culture as well.

Those who may scoff at such possibilities should consider other examples from the real world in which energy and vibrations can and do have an actual impact, such as those discussed in this previous post.

If we are careful to use the correct glass when enjoying a Bordeaux or a bourbon, because we realize that the shape of the container has a real impact on the experience, then wouldn't we also want to consider the other ways in which we might be impacted by the shapes and proportions of the world around us?