Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sacred ritual drama and the realm of the gods

Cantonese opera is a distinctive form of opera originating in the region of Guangdong and Hong Kong in southern China. 

Above is a scene from the famous 1981 movie, Bai Ga Jai (which in English has been translated as Prodigal Son), in which the character portraying Master Leung Yi-Tai explains to the character portraying the young Leung Jan (both of whom are historical kung fu masters of Wing Chun kung fu who lived during the 1800s in Guangdong) some of the strict traditions observed by the actors participating in Cantonese opera -- specifically the traditions involving the portrayal of General Guan Yu (or Gwaan Dzyu in Cantonese, sometimes spelled as "General Kwan").

During this sequence, Leung Yi-Tai explains (speaking of the actor portraying General Gwaan, who angers young Leung Jan by refusing to answer him backstage):
Leung Yi-Tai: He is forbidden to speak! 
Leung Jan: Why? 
Leung Yi-Tai: When he wears this makeup and costume, he takes on the role of the god. He will be punished if he speaks. 
Leung Jan: Why so many regulations? 
Leung Yi-Tai: We must observe them. The one who plays General Gwaan must first take a bath before taking on the role. After his performance, he must burn money to the gods, in order to show respect. He cleans off his face-paint with incense paper. Then the spirit of the General will leave him. Now he can speak again.
The above discussion takes place starting at about 26:20 (just after Leung Jan attempts to speak with General Gwaan and is ignored). Unfortunately, the version available on YouTube, embedded above, is dubbed in Mandarin (or Putonghua) rather than the original Cantonese (Guangdonghua).  You can order the original film in Cantonese with English subtitles if you do some searching on the web.

Cantonese opera, of course, is traditionally performed in Cantonese (Guangdonghua). As the above-cited scene makes clear, the actors in some cases are actually thought to be inhabited by certain spirits from the divine realm once they are in full costume.

Indeed, it is thought that all Chinese opera descends from ancient rituals done to please the gods in order to invoke blessing upon the people and to prevent any displeasure or punishment from the realm of spirit. See for instance this thesis paper written by Liu Hsueh-Fang of the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1997, which says that the origin of the elaborate face-paint of Chinese opera is thought to trace its origins back to masks used in ritual performances in ancient times.

This connection between ritual drama and the realm of the gods also manifests itself in the loud music played in conjunction with the performances, including cymbals, pipes, flutes and drums, as well as in the stylized movements and hand gestures which are very distinctive aspects of Cantonese opera. 

Even to this day, the connection between the opera and the divine realm is observed, and it is understood that even though mortal men and women come to watch the operas, the performances are actually observed by the gods and are done for their benefit. For instance, this article from 2009 recounting a visit to a Cantonese opera performance as well as insights from an opera performer says that, "Since the deities are the intended audience, the human audience can talk or even eat and play games like mahjong and chess while the opera is going on without insulting the performers."

This article from 2014 provides additional detail, including descriptions of some of the rituals and associated prohibitions. It notes that performances are sometimes paid for by businesses in order to appease the spirits and prevent their displeasure.

The book Improvisation in a Ritual Context: The Music of Cantonese Opera, by Professor Chan Sau-Yan (1991), provides even greater insight and detail regarding the ritual aspects of Cantonese opera. It explains that ritual opera has traditionally been performed at three different times of the year: during festivals (or "nodes," one of which is discussed here), at the observance of the birthdays of deities, and at special rituals of purification (pages 5 and 6). For some ritual operas, temporary halls are constructed for the performance, in which there are no seats for human audience-members: "People understand that such operas are staged chiefly for the deities and ghosts" (6).

It is extremely noteworthy that the actors in Cantonese opera actually retain the understanding that they are taking on the spirit of a god when they play certain roles, once they have put on their makeup and costumes and burned incense to the deity. In addition to the ritual bath mentioned above regarding the preparation to take on the role of General Gwaan (or General Kwan), there is a tradition mentioned in other sources that actors in Cantonese opera traditionally must put on their makeup themselves -- or, if they have help, the one who helps them must strictly obey the direction of the one who is taking on the role. 

There is also the tradition of a line known as the Hu Du Men (which in Cantonese would be Fu Dou Mun) described in this page of this website on Cantonese opera from the City University of Hong Kong. The phrase is written 虎度門 in Chinese characters and they signify (in order): "tiger" "barrier / limit" "door / gate." Of this concept we are told that Hu Du Men is a term used by professionals in the opera business to describe an imaginary gate or barrier separating the ordinary world from the stage area where performance takes place: "Once the actor passes the back stage and proceeds to the front stage, he has to leave himself behind and get himself totally absorbed in his own character." 

I would argue that these surviving traditions in Cantonese opera provide vital insights into an ancient practice which appears to have once been worldwide: the performance of ritual drama in which actors or participants take on the role of the gods or spirits. We can observe the wearing of masks in conjunction with such drama in accounts from ancient Greece and Rome, but also in many other cultures around the world, including the Indigenous nations of the Americas, and of Africa, and of the islands of the Pacific.

Intriguingly, the sacred Kachina tradition of the Pueblo nations of the Hopi and the Zuni appears to exhibit striking parallels to the Cantonese opera. In Cantonese opera (until recently), men played the roles of both male and female characters on the stage -- and this is true of the Kachina traditions of the Hopi and the Zuni as well (it is also notably true of Shakespearean drama from the early modern period of the 1500s and 1600s in England). The Kachina rituals depict the powerful spirit-beings of the Kachina themselves, but some performers also portray clowns -- which is also true of Cantonese opera. 

Indeed, some of the ritual costumes of the clowns in Kachina tradition are remarkably similar to the facepaint patterns which designate certain characters in Chinese opera including Cantonese opera. Note the striking similarities shown below:

(Left) Kachina doll depicting a Koshari. Wikimedia commons (link).
(Right) Actor in the Beijing opera putting on traditional black-and-white face paint design (link).

Furthermore, it is well-documented that when a man dons the mask of a Kachina in preparation for the sacred rituals and dances, he is understood to take on and manifest the spirit of the Kachina he is portraying. In the book Masks of the Spirit: Image and Metaphor in Mesoamerica, by Peter and Roberta Markman (1994), a Hopi man named Emory Sekaquaptewa, who has himself performed these rituals, is quoted as saying:
For the kachina ceremonies require that a person project oneself into the spirit world, into the world of fantasy, or the world of make-believe. Unless one can do this, spiritual experience cannot be achieved. I am certain that the use of the mask in the kachina ceremony has more than just an esthetic purpose. I feel that what happens to a man when he is a performer is that if he understands the essence of the kachina, when he dons the mask he loses his identity and actually becomes what he is representing . . . He is able to do so behind the mask because he has lost his personal identity. (page 68)
The similarities to the traditions of the Cantonese opera described above are remarkable, the more so because there is not thought to have been any historical contact between the ancient Native American nations of the Hopi or the Zuni and the ancient culture of China. 

Even if one were to admit the possibility of some sort of ancient contact between China and the Americas (which may well have taken place), it would stretch credibility to argue that such transoceanic contact is also responsible for the masked sacred drama of ancient Greece, or of Africa,  and so on around the globe. 

The world-wide prevalence of ritual drama and dances, almost always utilizing masks and also similar types of music and percussion, on every continent and island of our planet argues that this pattern may be far more ancient, and may descend from some common predecessor culture or cultures, just as the world's ancient myths share striking similarities and a basis in celestial metaphor -- similarities too specific to be convincingly explained as "coincidental development in complete isolation," and yet too widespread across both geographical distance and also across millennia to be easily explained by cultural distribution during conventionally-acknowledged history after the rise of the civilizations of ancient China, ancient India, ancient Egypt, and ancient Mesopotamia (especially since the celestial myth-patterns are already present in the earliest known texts from those civilizations).

Indeed, I believe that it can be shown that there are connections between the ancient rituals and dramatic traditions performed for the gods (and for the benefit of the people) and the ancient myths and scriptures which "dramatize" the motions of the heavenly actors in order to convey truths about the Invisible Realm to men and women in this incarnate life.

In the tradition of Cantonese opera, for example, opera professionals worship and pay respect above all to Hua Guang 華光 the Fire God, including by performing operas on the day that his birthday is observed (which is usually said to be on the 28th day of the Ninth lunar month, which corresponds to the fifth of November this year on the Gregorian calendar). 

In the 2014 article linked previously and written by Marjorie Chiew and Seto Kit Yan, a third-generation opera performer, Lim Choo Leong, explains why opera performers and crew worship Hua Guang (whose name is spelled Wah Kong in that article):
Legend has it that Wah Kong was sent down from heaven by the Jade Emperor to burn down the opera stage as the latter was angry with mankind for insulting deities and immortals by depicting them in their performances. But Wah Kong forgot about his mission as he was engrossed with the performers' acting. He even stood in to play a percussion instrument when the actual percussionist failed to deliver on stage. The deity had a change of heart about destroying the opera stage. Instead, he advised the opera performers to burn incense to create thick smoke. When the Jade Emperor saw the billowing smoke, he thought that Wah Kong had carried out his command. The deity had spared the lives of the mortals with his clever plan. The Jade Emperor never found out the truth. Hence, opera performers pay tribute to the deity because he not only saved their lives but taught them how to play percussion.
Longtime readers of this blog should instantly recognize that this myth is remarkably similar to the origin story of the Lantern Festival of China, which was discussed in this blog post from March of 2015. As that post explains, the Lantern Festival commemorates a time when the same Jade Emperor planned to rain fire down upon the people of the world because they had, in their ignorance, killed his favorite beautiful bird. The Jade Emperor's beautiful daughter heard of her father's plan, and sent word to the people in order to warn them. A wise old man came up with the idea of lighting lanterns in every village and town, so that when the Jade Emperor and his heavenly army looked down from the heavens, they would see what looked like a river of fire already blanketing the earth, and would not feel the need to rain down fire.

As that 2015 post explains, this story almost certainly has celestial origins, with the heavenly bird probably represented by the constellation Aquila the Eagle in the band of the Milky Way galaxy -- and the Milky Way galaxy itself often playing the role of a column of fire or of smoke in many myths around the globe.  

That 2015 post argues that the Jade Emperor is probably associated with the constellation Bootes, and his daughter with the constellation Virgo, although with the benefit of a few more years and of the extensive research for several more books on the world's Star Myths since that blog was written, I would suggest that it might be more likely to identify the Jade Emperor with the constellation Hercules, since Hercules is closer to the Milky Way, while still close enough to Virgo for Virgo to play the Emperor's daughter (Sagittarius could also play the Emperor's daughter, if he is associated with the constellation Hercules). Given the apparent propensity of the Jade Emperor to threaten to rain fire from the heavens, an identification with Hercules seems to be the most likely.

As for the god Hua Guang, I believe that he is almost certainly to be identified with the constellation Ophiuchus, due to the fact that he is depicted as holding a small pyramid shape, carries a long spear, is depicted with a "third eye" (see the triangle-shaped head of the constellation Ophiuchus, discussed here and here), is sometimes accompanied by a "fire crow" (which would be Aquila again, located beside Ophiuchus in the midst of the Milky Way band -- which represents a column of smoke or of fire in many myths), and is said in ancient Chinese myth to be descended from a god with a square head (which would be Hercules, located directly above Ophiuchus -- which is why Ophiuchus figures are often said to be "descended from" Hercules-figures).

image of Hua Guang 華光 from道教四大元帥
Note small yellow pyramid in his left hand, corresponding to the triangular shape on the right side of Ophiuchus as we face the star-charts. Note also the small serpent depicted winding around the tip of the spear held in the deity's right hand (corresponding to the left side of Ophiuchus as we face the sky or the star-charts).

From all of this discussion, we can be very confident that the widespread tradition of ritual drama and the world-wide system of celestial metaphor underlying the ancient myths are closely related and probably descended from the same now-forgotten source, predating the earliest cultures and civilizations known to conventional history. 

In a sense, both serve the same purpose: to make visible to us the Invisible Realm, and to impress upon us the importance of acknowledging the gods and their influence on this apparently-material realm in which we find ourselves. 

Even more powerfully, they both tell us the message that the gods actually manifest themselves through mortal men and women, a message which has been discussed in numerous previous posts, including here, here and here.

Those traditions which have managed to survive down through the millennia and to preserve some of this ancient wisdom, such as the traditions which survive within Cantonese opera described above, as well as in the ongoing Kachina rituals of the Zuni and Hopi nations in North America, provide us with incredibly significant windows into that ancient wisdom, given to men and women in some remote period of antiquity, and which should be seen as a precious inheritance from the realm of the gods -- and one whose lessons are as vital and necessary to our lives today as they have ever been at any time in the past.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Star Myths and Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Above is a digital image of the recently-rediscovered painting entitled Salvator Mundi (Latin for "Savior of the World") which art-history scholars, aided by close analysis and assisted by modern technology, believe to be an authentic painting by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519).

The existence of such a painting by da Vinci was known from the many surviving copies of da Vinci's original which were painted by other artists following his lead, but until recently the location and identity of the original itself by da Vinci was unknown.

Indeed, the Salvator Mundi shown above, now believed to be the original by da Vinci, was thought to be just another one of the copies, and thus escaped notice, until it was purchased at an estate sale in Louisiana in 2005. Part of the reason for the lack of identification of the painting as a da Vinci original was the heavy "overpainting" which had been layered over the original artist's work down through the centuries.

The painting was put up for sale at a Sotheby's auction in 1958, described as a copy by an artist "after Leonardo da Vinci" (in other words, in the style of da Vinci, and in imitation of da Vinci). At the time, the painting was attributed to an artist named Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1466 - 1516), who worked directly with da Vinci and who, along with the younger Bernardino Luini (1480 - 1532), was considered to be one of the top students of the master. 

At the Sotheby's auction, the painting sold for 45 GBP, or about $120, to a buyer named Kuntz (specifically, "Kuntz Private Collection USA"). It is now almost certain that the buyers were Warren E. and Minnie Stanfill Kuntz, of New Orleans, who often traveled to Europe to purchase artwork for their collection, as detailed in this recent article in the Wall Street Journal

Warren E. Kuntz lived from 1899 - 1968, and his wife Minnie Stanfill Kuntz lived from 1906 - 1987. After her passing, the painting was inherited by her nephew, Basil Clovis Hendry, Sr., of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

Mr. Hendry lived from 1919 - 2004. After his passing, the painting was auctioned at an estate sale in 2005. A pair of art dealers, Robert Simon and Alexander Parrish, purchased the painting at the estate auction for less than $10,000 -- although the exact details of the purchase price are protected by a nondisclosure clause in a later deal they made when selling the painting for a reported price of $75 to $80 million, to Yves Bouvier, in 2013. 

The significant jump in price between 2005 and 2013 is explained by the fact that, after purchasing the painting from the estate sale in Louisiana, dealers Simon and Parrish "teamed up with a few others to hire Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a paintings conservator at New York University, to clean and study it. After she realized the work might be a da Vinci, the dealers spent several years taking it to museum curators to seek validation" (as reported in the Wall Street Journal story of September 19, 2018 linked previously). 

It was judged to be the original and first exhibited as such in 2011.

After purchasing the work (now authenticated by academics as the original Salvator Mundi by da Vinci) in 2013 from Parrish and a consortium of others, Yves Bouvier then sold it that same year to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, for about $127 million (according to the Wall Street Journal article linked previously, although this story in Business Insider says $127.5 million). 

This purchase later became the source of a dispute between the two, which is part of the notorious "Bouvier Affair." Both articles linked above pass discreetly over this imbroglio with only the barest mention -- if you wish to read more about it you can conduct your own web search and find numerous articles which describe the complex details of the ongoing dispute.

The article in the Wall Street Journal implies that this dispute spurred the decision by Dmitry Rybolovlev to offer the painting for sale at Christie's, in 2017. Prior to the auction, Christie's apparently estimated that the work would only sell for about $100 million (which would obviously represent a loss over the previous sale price), but instead it sold for $450.3 million (including commission of about $300,000 to the auction house) to a buyer later revealed to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

This purchase price represents the highest price ever paid for a painting to date.

The painting was then given as a diplomatic gift to Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates (and home of the UAE capitol city of the same name, Abu Dhabi). It is now part of the collection of a new art museum in Abu Dhabi, established in November of 2017, which paid about $525 million USD to the government of France for the right to use the "Louvre" name for the next thirty years -- and thus this museum will be known as the "Louvre Abu Dhabi."

Turning to the painting itself, the uncanny atmosphere and presence of the work does indeed strongly suggest that the work is that of Leonardo da Vinci himself. You can compare its proportions and artistic quality to that seen in the works of da Vinci's most highly-regarded direct understudies,  Boltraffio and Luini (see here, here and here for example) and ask yourself whether f the works of those others, as gifted and as accomplished as Boltraffio and Luini clearly are as artists, display the same unworldly quality that is associated with the artwork of da Vinci himself.   

In this interview published in 2011, Oxford professor emeritus of art history and Leonardo biographer Martin Kemp says of the above masterpiece, describing the first time he saw it:
You knew immediately? 
Yeah. It was quite clear. It had that kind of presence that Leonardos have. The "Mona Lisa" has a presence. So after that initial reaction, which is kind of almost inside your body, as it were, you look at it and you think, well, the handling of the better-preserved parts, like the hair and so on, is just incredibly good. It's got that kind of uncanny vortex, as if the hair is a living, moving substance, or like water, which is what Leonardo said hair was like. So it almost ceases to become hair, and it becomes a source of energy in its own right. It's a very characteristic way of doing hair, which Leonardo has. Then the blessing hand has got a lot of very understated anatomical structure in it. All the versions of the "Salvator Mundi" — and we've got drawings of the drapery and lots of copies — all of them have rather tubular fingers. What Leonardo had done, and the copyists and imitators didn't pick up, was to get just how the knuckle sort of sits underneath the skin. And the blessing hands of the ones in the copies are all rather smooth and routine, but this is somebody who actually knew what — and, you know, this is a young person, this is not an elderly person — knew how the flesh lies over the knuckles. So, that's pretty good.
Professor Kemp goes on to explain that the artistic quality of the crystal orb held in the left hand of the painting's subject provides additional evidence for attributing the painting to da Vinci himself. The explanations and descriptions Professor Kemp gives of the double-refraction which Professor Kemp notices in the crystal sphere are worth reading in the original interview, linked above. 

Additionally, Professor Kemp points out that depicting the Christ in the Salvator Mundi style but holding a crystal orb is an innovation that does not appear prior to this depiction, which is thought to date to about 1500 -- and that this detail also argues for attributing the painting to Leonardo. Professor Kemp explains:
And one of the points of the crystal sphere is that it relates iconographically to the crystalline sphere of the heavens, because in Ptolemaic cosmology the stars were in the fixed crystalline sphere, and so they were embedded. So what you've got in the "Salvator Mundi" is really a "a savior of the cosmos", and this is a very Leonardesque transformation.
You can look for yourself at numerous variations on the Salvator Mundi theme through the centuries, going back to the fourteenth, on this Wikimedia commons page.

Was Leonardo hinting that he understood that the characters and episodes described in the Biblical scriptures describe celestial figures, and the awesome motions of the celestial sphere? I would argue that it is very clear from other works by da Vinci that he incorporates specific constellational references in his art -- see for example previous discussions here and here.

The insightful Professor Kemp also points out that the painting appears to incorporate depth of field, with the upraised hand of blessing (the right hand of the subject, on the left as we face the painting itself) is quite clearly focused, in contrast to the face. Professor Kemp explains:
Another thing I subsequently looked at is that there's a difference from what we would call depth of field — the blessing hand and the tips of the fingers are in quite sharp focus. The face, even allowing for some of the damage, is in quite soft focus. Leonardo, in Manuscript D of 1507-1508, explored depth of field. If you bring something too close to you, you can't see it and it doesn't have a sense of focus. If you've got it an optimum point, it's much sharper. Then you move it away and it gets less sharp. He was investigating that phenomenon.
This characteristic would argue very strongly that this work was by Leonardo and none other. But it also may indicate that the artist wanted to call specific attention to the hand of blessing -- and I would again argue that, along with the crystal orb, the blessing hand has direct connections to the celestial sphere of the heavens, because this specific hand gesture (or mudra) is almost certainly derived from specific aspects of the outline of an important zodiac constellation.

I have previously argued at some length (such as in this 93-minute video on the identity of the Apostle Philip the Evangelist) that the specific hand gesture we see exhibited by the Christ figure in the artwork above (a hand gesture which is common to the Salvatore Mundi theme going back at least two centuries prior to the painting by da Vinci) relates directly to one of the distinctive features of the outline of the constellation Sagittarius.

Below is a star-chart showing Sagittarius and Scorpio, superimposed below the artwork on the bell krater attributed to the Pan Painter of ancient Greece (thought to have been painted in the first part of the fifth century BC), in which the distinctive crooked line which constitutes a kind of "plume" rising up from the head of the outline of the constellation Sagittarius can be clearly seen:

Note that in addition to depicting the goddess Artemis with the same distinctive posture as that seen in the outline of Sagittarius (to include her bent knee on the left side as we face the painting, as well as her bow and arrow held at the same angle as that seen in the constellation Sagittarius), the ancient artist has also included a sort of "plume" or "tassel" which corresponds to the distinctive "plume" of the constellation (in the artwork, this plume is seen atop the quiver or whatever it is which we can see over the shoulder of the goddess on the left of her head as we face the artwork).

I would argue that this distinctive feature of the constellation Sagittarius, which the ancient Greek artist depicts as a tassel in the bell-krater artwork shown above, manifests in the Salvator Mundi artwork as the familiar "blessing hand" gesture seen in the da Vinci painting (and which Professor Kemp sees as having been a specific focus of Leonardo in this particular Salvator Mundi).

I have previously argued that the figure of Saint Patrick, whose act of "chasing the snakes out of Ireland" is almost certainly based upon the fact that Sagittarius can be seen to "chase" the multi-headed serpentine form of Scorpio from the sky, is also a Sagittarius figure -- and Patrick is traditionally depicted holding up the same "blessing hand" in artistic representations, such as that shown below:

images: Wikimedia commons. Left image link and right image link.

If some feel confused by the fact that this argument seems to indicate that Christ is associated with Sagittarius, along with Philip the Evangelist and the later figure of Patrick of Ireland, and wonder how all of them can be associated with the same constellation, it should be pointed out that the ancient myths appear to associate many figures with the same constellations. In previous posts I have used a modern metaphor to explain this phenomenon, based upon a quotation in Hamlet's Mill (1969) which declares that "The real actors on the stage of the universe are very few, if their adventures are many" (page 177), and said that it is similar to seeing a familiar actor in a different film and a different role than in previous films, perhaps wearing completely different attire or even speaking in a completely different accent or manner. In that analogy, the "actors" are the constellations, and they take on many different roles within the same myth-system of a culture, and across the superficially-different myth-systems of different cultures.

Christ in the scriptures is by no means always associated with the constellation Sagittarius. He can also be shown to "move through" other constellations, including Aquarius, Scorpio, and Ophiuchus (as explained in my 2016 book, Star Myths of the Bible). It is not at all uncommon for very important or central figures in any myth-system to "move through" multiple constellations during a cycle of episodes or adventures. 

But Christ is certainly associated with Sagittarius at some points. It should be pointed out that Sagittarius is a "priestly" constellation in the scriptures of the Bible (and in other Star Myths from around the world), an association which is also discussed in Star Myths of the Bible. On page 147 of his important book Ancient Celtic New Zealand (1999), Martin Doutre also calls Sagittarius the "priestly sign." Note that Christ is explicitly described as fulfilling the priestly function in numerous scriptural passages, perhaps most directly in the epistle to the Hebrews, such as Hebrews 2: 17 and Hebrews 3: 1 and Hebrews 4: 14 (among others).

Sagittarius is the zodiac constellation that is furthest south of the celestial equator of all the zodiac constellations:

In the above screenshot from the free, open-source planetarium app Stellarium, I have turned "on" the grid-lines indicating the coordinates of the celestial sphere, so that you can see for yourself that Sagittarius does indeed have stars further to the south than any other zodiac constellation. In the star-chart above, the line of "zero elevation" indicates the celestial equator: it is the line stretching across the screen and marked by the "zero degrees" label which is indicated by the red arrow. The constellation Sagittarius is indicated by the yellow arrow, and you can see that stars of this constellation are located even further south of the line of the celestial equator than any of the stars in the constellation Scorpio, adjacent to Sagittarius.

Thus, Sagittarius is the constellation at the very "turning point" of the year (see discussion in this previous post), the constellation at the point of the "lowest descent" and thus appropriate to the figure of Christ, who in the scriptures of the (so-called) New Testament humbles himself to descend to the lowest place in order to raise men and women back up from their own lowest point: to point them to their own "turning point."

Noting the position of the sun when passing through the sign of Sagittarius, the Reverend Robert Taylor in the first half of the 1800s declared in a sermon that when Simeon in his prophecy regarding the Christ declares that he will be "a sign that is spoken against" (see Luke 2: 34), the text is indicating "the ninth of the twelve signs" (which is to say, Sagittarius -- see The Devil's Pulpit, page 10).

Thus, there appears to be ample supporting evidence for an association of the Christ with Sagittarius in some aspects -- and hence supporting evidence for the argument that the "blessing hand" mudra depicted in the traditional Salvator Mundi artwork (to include this recently-rediscovered da Vinci painting) is a reference to Sagittarius as well.

Leonardo da Vinci seems to be hinting at these truths in this amazing work of art. We should be grateful that this hidden masterpiece has been rediscovered.

It is, however, sadly ironic that the convoluted journey that this incredible treasure has taken over the centuries, ending up in the "Louvre Abu Dhabi" reveals what can accurately be described as the "neo-feudal" aspects of the modern world economic landscape.

The original Louvre museum, as Andrew McClellan explains in Inventing the Louvre, was seen during the time of the French Revolution as "a sign of popular sovereignty and the triumph over despotism" (7). Great art was to be displayed for all the people (who could visit the Louvre free of charge on three days out of each week) rather than just for the oligarchs of Europe. 

The much-criticized decision by the government of France to sell the name "Louvre" to Abu Dhabi, a nation currently engaged along with Saudi Arabia in waging an illegal and unspeakably horrific war (supported by weapons, tax dollars, and airborne refueling capabilities from the united states as well as other NATO countries) against the impoverished men, women and children of Yemen, can be seen as emblematic of the same "privatization" and "selling out" which characterizes neoliberalism, as discussed in a previous post about museums and artwork, entitled "Transforming everyone and everything into commodities: arguments that museums should sell off their art expose the self-devouring rot at the heart of neoliberalism." 

It can easily be argued that this da Vinci painting is, not merely a "national treasure" (which should not be sold off to private individuals), but indeed a "world treasure," rather than a trading token for private speculators to use to swindle one another for enormous speculative gains. 

The path that the painting has taken, however, from Louis XII of France to Charles I of England (thought to have been brought to England by his Henriette Marie of France, when she married Charles in 1625), to a long period during which its exact whereabouts are now unknown, after Charles died and the painting was given to his creditors in order to settle his debts, to its resurfacing and subsequent sales as described above, can be seen as a metaphor for Michael Hudson's arguments that modern neo-liberalism can actually be properly understood to be a form of neo-feudalism, as discussed in previous posts such as this one and this one.  

Most of the articles you will find discussing the various auctions of da Vinci's Salvator Mundi (such as the Wall Street Journal article linked above) report the rapidly accelerating sale prices of the painting, on its way to the highest price ever paid for any painting in recorded history, as something to be excited about, rather than as a symptom of the way in which all kinds of treasures which should be seen as properly belonging to the people -- especially in this supposedly-democratic post-feudal era -- have been privatized and sold off to benefit a small number of oligarchs. 

While the painting has at least been given to a museum, where it will be displayed for those who can go see it in Abu Dhabi, one could also argue that this latest stop on Salvator Mundi's long journey typifies the use of oil money to try to buy legitimacy for regimes which are currently engaged in war crimes akin to those which shocked the world during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, which inspired a different artist to paint a very different work of art, shown below.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The complete failure of any of the media articles which discuss the amazing rediscovery of da Vinci's Salvator Mundi to give any of the above perspective reveals that the controlled corporate media in general serves to provide cover for neoliberalism, in large part by completely obscuring the very existence of something called "neoliberalism" or its identifying  features, which can be summarized as the privatization of that which nature (or the gods) have given to all of the people, and which inevitably gives rise to the twin evils of "making war and plundering the planet" (as described by Professor Claudia von Werlhof, in an essay discussed here).

Leonardo's painting is an incredible treasure, and one which points to the undeniable message that the world's ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories are built upon the stars of the heavenly sphere, and allegorize the majestic celestial cycles. In doing so, the ancient myths convey profound and timeless truths regarding the reality of the Invisible Realm which connects all of us to one another, to nature, and to our planet itself -- the Invisible Realm which is the source of every blessing, of all the gifts which are given by nature (to include the gifts of the sunshine, of oceans, of forests, and of mineral wealth buried under the earth), and even of the gift of life itself.

Our departure from these ancient teachings -- and, more specifically, the deliberate usurpation and inversion of those ancient teachings by those wanting to take all of the benefit from those gifts for themselves, while denying them to other men and women -- is in large part responsible for the precarious state of affairs in which we find ourselves at this particular moment in history.

Perhaps the message of Leonardo's Salvator Mundi, buried in obscurity for the past two-and-a-half centuries, and seen by only a privileged few in the two-and-a-half centuries before that, will help to awaken us to the truth, and enable us to make changes that will ensure a better future for future generations, and greater understanding of the precious inheritance represented by the ancient wisdom which was given to all humanity in the world's ancient Star Myths.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Meet the Gods in the Stars, Part 3: Virgo (Fall Equinox, 2018)

The earth is hurtling towards the point of September equinox for 2018, which is the fall (or autumnal) equinox for the northern hemisphere of our planet.

We will pass through the point of equinox at 6:54 pm Pacific time on September 22, 2018. That is 9:54 pm Eastern time (also on September 22), and 2:54 am on September 23 Greenwich Mean Time (which is also the UTC for the worldwide time standard).

The points of equinox, and especially the fall equinox, play an important role in the world's ancient wisdom contained in the myths, scriptures and sacred stories of virtually every culture on our planet. The fall equinox was used to convey profound truths about our plunge downwards into this incarnate life, and into the seemingly material realm through which we all are sojourning.

For more on the ways that the ancient myths relate to the cycles of the heavens, and in particular the cycle of earth's relationship to the sun, see for example this previous post.

In preparation for this year's equinox, I've just posted a new video entitled "Meet the Gods in the Stars, Part 3: Virgo." This video follows the previous two videos in the same series,
The constellation Virgo is also an exceedingly important celestial figure in the world's ancient Star Myths, and literally hundreds of other connections could be profitably examined having to do with this constellation in the night sky. However, the goal of this new series of videos is to keep them relatively short and more focused than previous videos -- as well as to help viewers to envision the outlines of the constellations and to become more familiar with them.

Previous blog posts which touch on subjects related to those explored in this video include:

Monday, September 17, 2018

Guest Post: Review of Star Myths of the World, Volume Four (Norse Mythology)

Thank you to longtime correspondent and independent researcher Didier Lacapelle for his recent review of Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them, Volume Four: Norse Mythology.

I have reprinted Didier's review below, but you can and should visit his website Theognosis to read some of his other analysis on related (and somewhat related, or even unrelated) topics. Theognosis is written in French, but if (like me) you are not fluent in the French language, you can use Google Translate to get a sense of Didier's arguments and research. Also, Didier occasionally writes a post in English, as he did with this review of Star Myths of the World, Volume Four, or as he does in this intriguing post about the region of Brittany in France which he published a year ago and which is also worthy of careful examination.

As you can see from his review, as well as from some of the arguments he advances in Theognosis, there are many areas upon which Didier and I have some differing conclusions. However, I personally believe that differing conclusions are to be expected when researchers are faced with an extremely complex puzzle, and that the differences may in fact help to highlight important "pressure points" or "nodes" which may, upon further analysis, turn out to hold the key to unlocking the mystery.

Below is the complete text of Didier's review. Rather than spending too much time on the points of agreement, Didier focuses on areas in which he has disagreements or differing conclusions. I think that you will agree that the subjects upon which he disagrees are extremely interesting and important, and that he brings up several points which are worthy of much further contemplation and examination.


Norse Mythology (Mathisen)
Didier Lacapelle

I have just read the volume IV of the « Star Myths of the World » by David Warner Mathisen, dedicated to the Norse mythology.

It is as good as the previous volumes, probably better, due to the experience acquired with the writing of these ones. For those unaccustomed to his writings, David Mathisen proves – beyond all doubts – that ALL the mythologies of the world depict the same system of constellations to play the role of the different characters, and that they can all be deciphered as the destiny of the human soul when she lives the experience of incarnation. Maybe some proposed identifications of characters with one constellation are not the ones intended by the creator of the myth, but Mathisen openly discusses the case when two or three of them can be the rightful candidate, and – really – it is not easy to spot a myth where he could be off the mark.

After the decipherment of the myths of ancient Greece, of Old and the New Testament, maybe there are other popular myths that could benefit from this treatment. I think of the Arthurian cycle for example !
Though I have elements of disagreement that are not new. David knows my points, but I want to recall them to the reader, in order to use this fantastic result to go further in other fields of research that are dear to me.
First, if ALL the systems of myths follow the same set of constellations, my guess would not be that a more ancient system, known to all the cultures of the world, was at the origin of them. The points of similarity are limited to one or two names shared by two cultures, and similar stories can be spotted. This has lead to a whole field of academic research, the comparative mythology, which uses the notion of typology to explain these points of similarities. Some authors will say that the gospels have been made upon the homeric epics, according to the supposed epoch when these different texts were put down to writing. Some will say that there is an original myth from which all the myths of the world come from. Mathisen is without doubt a partisan of this school. Yet they were unable to frame this « original » system. It is due to the fact that each system has a very different « taste ». We know that Thor is a nordic god, Apollo greek, and Osiris egyptian.
My own guess is that if the set of constellations is the same, then the authors of the myths are the same. And if christian literature – I mean the roman catholic literature – the very texts that were chosen by the roman clergy to tell the life of Jesus and his apostles, contain these sacred teachings about the destiny of the soul, and these constellations, it means that the roman clergy wrote all of them according to this knowledge, which they had in full.
Mathisen points the fact that Argo navis and Centaurus are clearly used in the set of constellations that frame the norse mythology, though they are not to be seen in the night sky in these northern latitudes.
The story that we are told is that the « literal » christianity have smashed the ancient pagan lore and cut us from the gods that live among us, and even inside us, for an unique god whom only the priests could reach for the benefit of the community. The christian church is guilty of the creation of a feudal system, for the benefit of the clergy and the nobility too. The whole system was a yoke for the people in a terrestrial meaning, as it was destined to a life of servitude and even slavery. It was a yoke in a spiritual meaning too, as the people was forbidden to use his own spiritual ressources, and cut from his divine part. This is the scheme David Mathisen depicts in his book.
And he is not really wrong : our modern world can be described as an « undercover » caste system – the caste are still there, but they are not depicted as such, as we are led to believe in democracy through the electoral system and a general system of « contractualisation ».
But were the systems we call « traditional » among the ancient cultures, here and  elsewhere, not at all caste systems ? They were caste systems, no doubt about this ! The hindu system comes immediately to the mind. The Romans and the Greeks had citizens, plebeians and slaves. Women were not given right to participate in the life of the city.
One can argue that these civilizations, though using a full knowledge of the spiritual system described, were a degenerate offspring of the goold old shamanic cultures. But when we listen to the shaman Elena Michechtkina, people in Siberia are not free to practice shamanism in the same individual way that western neo-shamanism practicioners are free to experience. No one can decide to be a shaman : the spirits choose the person authorized to be a shaman, and one cannot decide he does not to want to be a shaman. As the shamans are public figures, a shaman enter a pyramidal hierarchy of shamans among whom he must accomplish his duties. It was NOT the right of everyone to access to the realm of the divine.
So what the roman catholic faith did was to keep the knowledge away from a general misuse. What the old trial papers teach us is that the population was upset about the wide use of sorcery and often there were unlawful retaliations. More and more the public courts admitted these trials and were inclined to severe punishments, even death sentences. What the roman catholic inquisition did was to give the right for the presumed sorcerers to defend themselves with the help of the « devil’s advocate ». The papacy published bulls to forbid to kill a sorcerer, and the sentences that should be applied for a crime related to sorcery. « Being » a sorcerer was not a crime, one would have to kill someone with magic to receive a death sentence. But this was not an easy enquiry. Most of the time, all that was left as proof was an accusation. Judicial errors were numerous. So was « the right of everyone to have access to the divine ». The catholic church chose to hide the teachings. And I believe that this is exactly what the siberian shamans try to do with their order of shamans. The caste system was probably in ruins in Europe, and many « freelance operators » had appeared.
The catholic church is responsible of other important innovations : she put an end to the « original sin », the sin to be born in flesh, which lead all men and women to have a debt from birth to repay. The son of God died once and for all to wash away our sins. In the same time, this was the end of the practice of human sacrifice at different moments of the year to appease the gods, and – yes – wash away the sins of the tribe. And it was this very same catholic church that preserved – and probably created – many of these worldwide myths that we currently study.
Michael Hudson is an academic in the field of economics. David Mathisen quotes him to put the blame on the roman catholic church for the creation of feudality and slavery for debt. But this is the kind of society in Babylon, ancient Rome, Old Testament and – I would add – the order of the Knights of the Temple. This is precisely what the roman catholic church, Paul at first, was willing to overcome. Though clearly the church hides the spiritual teachings from view precisely while she pretends to give full access to the secrets to each and every one of us.
We are used to say that traditional societies did not view death as a taboo, while the modern world tries to forget about it in an insane way. But maybe while doing this, we project upon them the virtues we think are lacking inside of us. Many ancient societies viewed the birth on this Earth as the original sin, and the planet as a purgatory. We are the fallen angels, we are the morning star that crashed upon Earth (Lucifer aka Christophoros). So when a myth as Ragnarok speaks of the end of a golden age and a global cataclysm, he conveys the signification of the end of life in the realms of the divine (where the stars do not set) to an incarnate life. More on this soon.
We can feel there are lies spread concerning the modern history of the church. We are told that the roman catholic church forbid to read the Bible. Which Bible ? The Geneva Bible in english is one of the first to have a year of publication in the second part of the 16th century. In catholic Brittany, every catholic family had one or several bibles at home in the 20th century. We are told that the roman catholic church cast fear upon the people with the original sin. But in the gospels, Jesus washes it away for ever (with the condition to believe in him, but this condition is not so hard to fulfill for the roman church).
We are told that the Reformers wanted to be free to read the Bible for themselves, in a kind of « democracy » as we like it. But they believe that salvation is only for the elected ones, the ones that share the gift of the grace given by God to believe in him. And this belief is proven by the wealth of the person ! Jesus for them washed away the original sin for ever for the rich ones. The poors had to give up the sin of birth to welcome the sin of being an unbeliever.
As the canonic literature is proven to be gnostic in essence, could what we call « gnostic literature »  be proven to follow such a set of constellations ? I believe that yes, it can. But what is possible is that the set is not exactly the same, maybe a prior one.
Another point that I do not agree with is the importance given to the phenomenon of precession of the equinoxes. Following the opinion of Giorgio de Santillana et Hertha Van Dechend, the authors of the famous book « Hamlet’s mill », David Mathisen suggests that the end of the « golden age of the gods », or the end of the next age of heroes came through another constellation rising in the east at dawn at the equinox of spring. This is described in words of a worldwide cataclysm. I shall say my arguments against this statement :
  • A change of the constellation rising at the equinox does not put an end to nothing in real life. Comets are more likely to be feared
  • The « ages » of the zodiac suggest that each age remains for a time equal to 2160 years, as a portion of 30° of the sky, corresponding to the the size of a constellation. But 30° is the place the « sign » occupies in a tropical zodiac, when the real constellation has been replaced by the houses they represent. The real constellations of the zodiac are of different sizes. Some are very large as Virgo, and some smaller, as Cancer.
  • The exact size of the constellations have not been given prior to the 19th century, and there were debates and revisions even at the beginning of the 20th century. I was impossible for prior civilizations to know where a constellation started or ended
  • Old lore speak of ages that end in cataclysms. Sometimes ancient astronomists show a knowledge of precession. There is absolutely no basis in texts that prove that the ages end when precession leads to a change of the constellation rising at dawn at the equinox of spring. And most of the times, old astronomists do not know of the phenomenon of precession, or widely fall off the mark. The « Great year » in Egypt is 1400 years long, far from the real value of a precessional age : 2160 years. The expressions « Age of Taurus », « Age of Aries », etc. have been popularised in the 19th century by occultist authors
  • A zodiac is at first linked to a calendar. All the ancient calendars are tropical (and even lunisolar), which means that they follow the course of the sun in one year, not the stars. The only « sidereal » calendar, which could suggest an interest for the change of place of the stars, is the egyptian « sothic » calendar. I have shown that Sothis has been mistaken to be the star Sirius, but it is the constellation of Taurus. This means that the « sothic » calendar is in fact the tropical and lunisolar calendar of Nippour.
  • A precessional cycle is unnecessary to provide an explanation to the « cycle stories ». A yearly cycle is enough.
It is much more logical to conclude that the name of twelve constellations were chosen to represent the twelve « houses » of 30° that complete the circle of 360°, but that they were never meant to be identical. The slipping of the constellations could possibly help us to calculate the time when the zodiac we now use was drawn.
But this suggests that men use the same zodiac from a time immemorial, and a calendar where the years are very close to a gregorian modern solar year. This is not the case : the muslim year, the jewish year, the celtic, the greek and the nordic year used to be made of months starting at a full moon or a new moon. With twelve months they approach a solar year (355 days for a jewish year) and additional months are needed, either added by observation of the skies, or by the use of a system, as the metonic cycle (seven years among the 19 years cycle are given an additional month). It can be proven beyond doubt that France used the hebrew calendar before 1582 and the introduction of the gregorian calendar. That is what all the books from the epoch say, except the liar Scaliger.
In these lunar calendars, the current sign of the zodiac is often the one that appears at dusk in the east, and not at dawn. The Pleiades, near Taurus, are the sign of Samonios (near november) in the celtic calendar, not may or april. This would be illogical as the constellation of the month would appear and immediately disappear as the sun rises. I suggest that an important constellation for the month would be seen well this very month. So when the gregorian calendar was put in place, the zodiac system had to be reversed.
There is no basis in the old calendars to speak of an Age of Gemini, that would be the Golden Age, when Gemini had its heliacal rising at the equinox of spring, because this kind of « heliacal rising » at dawn are unknown to observers of the lunisolar calendars.
Though this is a clever assumption made by the authors of Hamlet’s mill. It is clearly proven in this book that the Milky Way is the bridge (or tree, etc.) by which the deceased one reach the « undying stars » at the top of the stellar sky, or even where they dwell, as the orphic and pytagorean teachings seem so say. This is the channel by which the shaman access to the other realm too. The authors quote Macrobius when he writes that the souls ascend through « the gate of Capricorn » (which they suggest to be Sagittarius, the constellation at the foot of the Milky Way) and descend through the « gate of Cancer » (Gemini, at the top of the column). Alvin Boyd Kuhn say that one equinox would code for incarnation and the second one for death. And this is precisely the problem because in order for both ideas to be right, Gemini or Sagittarius must be the « sign of the equinox » (true in modern astrology only), and the reason why good communication could only happen in the golden age of Gemini.
Well, how did we do since ? The first statement is right, the second one is not. Clearly, there is a time in the year coding as the time for incarnation, and the opposite point of the year is the time of death. But these points were not the equinoxes : they were at Samhain and Beltaine in the celtic world, Tishri and Nisan for the jewish cult (which are closer to the equinoxes than their celtic counterparts). And while some civilizations are very literal – as the dead will rise to the other realm precisely at these moments of the year – most of them consider an allegory, as the dead shall not wait for Samhain to journey to the heavens. Quite possibly the opposite is true : the feast would convey the idea that the dead come to visit us and incarnate, as incarnation is the real « death ».
The Golden Age is not depicted at the Age of Gemini, anywhere in the greek texts. It is a time when the stars did not set nor rise, revolving « like a hat upon the head ». This is a realm where the stars are eternal, so it is the realm of the souls, not the time when we had easy access to it. This is the realm of Cronos and other dying gods/sleeping gods when they represent the soul that descend into the flesh (not precession !). This Golden Age can be allegorized with two other pictures : the stars that can be seen inside the arctic circle (they do not rise nor set), and the stars in the upper part of the sky (which do not rise or set either).
The egyptian Book of the dead speaks of a « confusion of years, disturbing of months ». How is this supposed to code for a precession of the equinoxes when the calendar is lunisolar, not stellar ?
« The sign of thy coming and of the end of the world », « the sign of the Son of man in the sky » in Matthew is Aquarius. This is the sign that is associated with the first month of the year in the system of Eudoxus. This is the end and the renewal of the solar year. And why suddenly is this not Gemini, if it is a precessional reference ? This « end of the year » in Aquarius can be a reason why the action in the Ragnarok episode goes in the direction of the Great Square of Pegasus/ Pisces, then go backwards many times in the story.
The numbers thought to be precessional (432 000 warriors come to battle from Vallhala at Ragnarok), 72 henchmen with Seth to murder Osiris, 10 800 bricks for the building of the altar of Agni, 108 suitors in the palace of Odysseus…) are in close relation to the 360° cycle, as fractions or multiples of 60 or 12. Yes, 72 is close to 71,6 years, the time for the precession to reach 1° of sliding. But was the circle of 360° made upon this 72 ? I don’t think so.
The scraps of nails cut from the dead warriors to build the ship Naglfar, the scraps of leather cut from the shoes of the warriors that makes the shoe of Vidarr, bits of precession ? In a lunisolar year, I prefer the fraction of a lunar month that is necessary to complete a full solar year, about ten days after 355 in the regular year, not a full lunar month of 29 or 30 days.
A darkened sun, water that replaces ground (some stars that were under the line of horizon replace some other stars that can be seen in summer), a displacement of the stars, all of this can be related to an end of the year in winter, soon to be followed by a new sun reborn. This is not true of the end of an Age of Gemini. If the connexion with the realm of the gods has been lost due to the end of the time when Gemini was the sign of the equinox, then this was a long time ago and not soon to be seen again. There is no renewal to hope.
Has the Bifrost bridge (the Milky Way) been broken because of the precession of the equinoxes that brought a loss of the connexion between our realm and the realm of the divine ? If it is the end of the Age of Gemini that is depicted, the channel has been lost a long time ago and is not soon to come again. Though a breaking of the Bifrost bridge is clearly suggestive of a loss of the ability to reach the realm of the dead. What I suggest is that at the beginning of a new incarnate life, or at the beginning of a cycle of incarnate lives, the connexion between the two realms is really difficult, quite impossible. The soul has to recall herself in order to rebuild the connexion, piece by piece.
The end of the world happens in many myths because divine beings – angels in the Bible, Titans in the greek myths, Aesir in the norse myths, etc. – have broken some limits or laws. The end of a golden age comes when an angel (a soul) comes to incarnate. This is precisely the same template in the Bible, when the incarnation of Adam and Eve is said to be « the original sin ». And this is why in all these ancient cults, man is born with a debt from birth, in order to repay for his original sin. The deluge and all kinds of coming of a great mass of water or episodes of drowning, as David Mathisen have many times shown, are symbols for the incarnation. This is not an allegory of the precession of the equinoxes !
All these episodes depicting a « mass incarnation » are describing a worldwide catastrophe. Possibly this is the view all these ancient cultures had upon life on earth, as the Cathars or the reformed christians in the 16th century (which are not reformed christians at all, but old fashioned catholics) had. And there is a good possibility that the civilisation of the « norse myths » shared this mind. To « honor the gods » was seemingly a synonym for « fight the enemy with bravery and face death without fear ». This is a bit of true and a lot of false morals, similar to the exoteric interpretation of every lore. We are very far from shamanic abilities made available to each and every one. And far from the modern neo-shamanism where earthly experience is valued as a school for the soul.
There was another important sin besides the original sin to be born in flesh in these ancient cultures : it was the mortal sin. This one was synonym only to sorcery. A murderer could be prayed for. A sorcerer not. Mathisen tells us precisely this regarding the old german civilization.
It is suggested that all these shamanic practices were common in former times, and that we lost these abilities when our ideologies became more materialistic. This is not true : the 21st century western people possess far superior abilities to connect to the invisible realm than the people who lived in the old times and even than the more traditional societies. Our spiritual bodies are far larger, which can make the mental or the astral trip available to most of us while the shamans were rare in the old societies. It can be a reason why some rulers try to make us busy with meaningless jobs, and a lot of entertainment.

-- The above review and analysis is by Didier Lacapelle, writing in his site: Theognosis