Here’s to new beginnings!

Well… Re-embarking on an old one, but in a new direction. Still counts!

I started my Etsy shop years ago. It was an experiment, a new way for me to stretch my limits and see what I was capable of. I’m doing some more stretching.

All of this is to say that I have new listings available — tarot readings, prints of my artwork, you name it. (As long as you are naming one of those two things.)

shop

Whoo!

ravsundetailAll of these are high-quality prints made using the giclée

process, on Somerset velvet fine art paper. In the future, I’d like to offer some of my original work, too, and maybe some jewelry. For now, I’m focusing on prints and seeing how things go.

Painting has always been a way for me to work through things. For years, I suffered from crippling thanatophobia — living almost seemed pointless if it was all going to end eventually, and nonexistence was terrifying. Painting ravens, crows, and other carrion birds and death imagery in bright, lively colors was one way for me to come to terms with things. To stop seeing death as something to be feared, and, instead, as a part of the cycle of life. It was a big step toward my goal of death positivity, and it was through death positivity that I could really start living.

Now, I’m not afraid. I love the aesthetic quality of juxtaposing carrion birds and bright colors. I take a lot of inspiration from ravens and crows in my artwork, my divination, and my magical workings. (I even have a raven-inspired oil that I use for journeying work that’s amazing.)

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I hope my work resonates with you, too. 💜

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Spiders, Sea Perch Eyes, and Salvador Dalí

I’ve been writing a thing about sleep, which has resulted in a not-insignificant amount of research into everything from sleep apnea statistics, to what kind of effects certain sounds have on the body’s cortisol level, to what Salvador Dalí used to do with sturgeon eyes.

Let me back up.

I once read a paper on Academia.edu (which I highly recommend if you’re at all interested in Semitic mysticism, lecanomancy, ancient Greek magical texts, or Egyptian magic). Ever since, I regularly get emails about some incredibly interesting subjects. For example, I have a pretty good handle on how to get a skull to talk for divination purposes, as well as how to punish it if it only tells lies and refuses to stop yelling. I don’t recall the exact search string that led to me getting a link to a copy of Dalí’s 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, but I did.

In it, he describes an ideal meal of sea urchins (“three dozen sea urchins,” to be exact, “gathered on one of the last two days that precede the full moon, choosing only those whose star is coral red and discarding the yellow ones”) and beans à la Catalane, after which you are to sit in front of a blank canvas without any light, until it’s become too dark to see it.

“It will become more and more dim until, when night has submerged you, you will completely have ceased to see it, or at most will only be vaguely aware of the space it occupies. Continue still to look at it, without remorse, for another good fifteen minutes, for it is under these circumstances that your spirit will work best and most decisively, and do not worry about making the maid wait when she calls you and says that the soup is on the table, for after what you have eaten at noon, your long afternoon sleep and everything that you are in the midst of painting in the dark, without yet even suspecting it, you have already in a sense had your supper, and more.”

After this, he recommends dining on sea perch, specifically the eyes. After consuming all but the hard kernels inside, you are to keep them in your mouth. Then, after getting into bed:

“[T]ake these eyes out again. Keep one in your hand, and put the other two on a small book or on a black box which you will rest on your knees, placing them at a certain distance from each other in such a way that, when you hold your forefinger in front of the two super-white balls and focus on your forefinger, the eyes of the sea perch will join, thanks to the precious distance between your own eyes, the grace and the mystery of your binocular vision, and the two eyes of the sea perch will become one single ball. This ball will seem to exert a hypnotic effect on you, and it is very desirable that on that night you should go to sleep while looking at it. But at the same time that you are staring at these two balls which have become one, it is furthermore necessary that, holding the third sea perch eye — the one which your wife has smilingly yielded to you — between the crossed forefinger and middle-finger of your right hand, you should gently caress it. You will then have the striking and unbelievable sensation of having contact with two sea perch eyes, and not merely with the one which is really between your fingers.”

This is “the secret of the sleep with three sea-perch eyes,” and, ideally, will make your sleep start off on the “right, good, and wise path!”

Later, he talks about the importance of constructing an aranearium — that is, a place to keep a spider. Granted, his ideal setup is strikingly different from mine. When I kept tarantulas, a small glass or acrylic aquarium with a suitable substrate and a very firmly-locking lid was enough to keep everything from a docile rose hair to a tetchy cobalt blue. He explains:

“The best aranearium is constructed with a slender olive branch, which you shape as nearly as possible into a perfectly round hoop, leaving four or five olive leaves clinging to the outer part of the circle, on which the spider will enjoy placing himself on various occasions. This hoop of olive wood you will secure on a four-foot pine pole provided with a solid base. At the bottom of the hoop place a small box in the shape of a perfect cube, of very green pine, provided with two holes, one in the top, and the other in one of the sides. This empty cube will serve as the spider’s nest. Within the previously moistened box, introduce a little earth and allow it to dry well in the sun. Since amber is very sympathetic to the spider — and how much more to the painter! — you must always keep a little ball of it on the cube, which you will use to magnetize the tip of your wand, with which you will manipulate and train your spider, so to speak, and with which you will reach to it its feasts of flies, of which you must always have several in reserve, which you may keep in a little bowl beside the ball of amber — for between amber and dead flies there also exist numerous affinities.

I’m interested in his ideas about the affinities between dead flies and amber. We know fossilized insects are often found inside of it, and that amber exhibits an interesting  triboelectric effect. Could that be adjacent to what he’s referring to? Or is it something closer to Remedios Varo’s exercises in effecting extraordinary change through the arrangement of shoes and stuffed hummingbirds?

He goes on to explain that a good artist’s studio needs five of these araneariums, for a particular purpose. You must place a crystal bowl full of water so that it reflects the landscape, and arrange the five araneariums in a line between you and it. Then, looking at the reflection in the water through the webs in the hoops of the araneariums, you can see the land adorned with a “glorious rainbow aureole produced by the irisation of your araneariums[.]” Ideally, you’ll do this around age twenty, and avoid ever looking at that sight again. This sight with therefore move you so much, it will have the effect of “set[ting] traps when we are young for our future adult emotions[.]” In other words, create a kind of a snare for nostalgia, so we can be moved by a smell, a postcard, or something equally small and mundane.

I admit, I’m not much of a fan of Dalí as a personality — while his work was undoubtedly brilliant, he was also arguably the first “celebrity artist.” While there were plenty of other famous artists before him, he arguably treated self-promotion as just as much of an art form as painting. Was he really building spider-homes and caressing sea perch eyes? I can’t say. I do find some interesting parallels between his writing and Remedios Varo’s letters and journals, though, as well as other occult practices.

Maybe I should build a spider box or five. For now, I’ll content myself with Rigoberta’s company.

Rigoberta, the orb weaver.

Rigoberta, the orb weaver.

Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.

The Birthday Moon

Note: This post contains affiliate links to some things I thought were neat. These links allow me to earn a small finder’s fee, at no additional cost to you. All images belong to their respective copyright holders, and appear here with permission. Thank you for helping to support this site, as well as the artists and artisans who make cool stuff!

Do you know which moon phase you were born under?

It’s not something I’ve come across in a lot of astrological charts, but it was something I became curious about after looking for some information on the 12 houses. A quick search later, and it turns out it’s very much a thing: just like the position of the planets in your natal chart, the phase of the moon you were born under is said to have an impact on your life.

Naturally, it made me curious. As it turns out, I was born under a waning crescent moon — according to some sources, this makes me reflective, insightful, creative, psychic, and eccentric. According to others, it makes me nosy, annoying, and very difficult to deceive. (The truth, I imagine, lies somewhere in the middle!)

So, inspired by this bit of moon trivia, here are some lovely depictions of our nearest celestial neighbor:

First, these very pretty earrings from EcoMoonCreations. I love the simplicity of the tiny crescent moon rising over the trees — it’s woodsy, but in a very sleek, sophisticated way. The warm brass hooks and dangle look really lovely with the bright blue flash of labradorite, too. The moon symbolizes change, and labradorite is regarded as an excellent crystal companion in times of upheaval.

 

These hand-drawn, hand-cut silver rabbits can be made with or without the moon phases or turquoise drops, but I really love them with them. Moons and rabbits fit nicely together, too —  the spots on the moon are said to look like a rabbit in some cultures, giving rise to the Moon Hare from Asian folklore. I dig the overall design of these guys, and the stainless steel ear wires mean less of a chance of allergies for people like me. Awesome!

I love a nice, big-bellied mug. I have one that I’ve kept with me through many years and innumerable moves. Whenever I’m sick, it helps me feel better — it’s smooth-bottom roundness, filled with hot chamomile tea, is excellent for resting on a sore muscle or holding against a cramping stomach. This moon mug by CrafterEverAfter is way fancier than mine, though. I really enjoy the texture of the glaze — the mottled blues make it look almost like a galaxy, and the metallic gold moon and stars look really lovely against it.

How pretty is this silk bracelet? The moon phases are a subtle, but unmistakable, lunar embellishment that look really pretty with the ombre of the silk. This bracelet is available in a variety of colors, too — I’m particularly partial to the light blue-green and lilac of the “Enchanted” color scheme.

I love stained glass and suncatchers. I blame it on keeping so many plants — as sensitive as I am to the quality of light in my home, I’ve only gotten worse with all of the plants I’ve brought in. As a result, though, my apartment is always full of rainbows and colors. These stained glass crescent moons are very pretty, and I think they’d look great with my other suncatchers — I have my eye on a turquoise or pale purple one for as soon as I move.

moon6

These crescent moon earrings by NimbusNixie.

Man, I love textured metal. I think part of that is a consequence of keeping my hair so short — without the waist-length tresses I used to rock, it helps me look more “balanced” if my accessories have some eye-catching texture to them. These silver crescent moons are absolutely gorgeous — I love the irregular, river-tumbled look of the blue apatite drops (with those tiny spirals!), in particular. These are also just under three inches in length, too, and so perfect for those who enjoy accessories on the larger side.

Man, I love copper and purple together — it’s even something I’ve been playing with in my most recent series of paintings. (Which I really need to get on posting to my portfolio… Oops.) I really enjoy the cool purple amethyst contrasting with the warm, bright copper in these earrings — there’s just something about the color of unsealed, unpatina’ed copper that just speaks to me, you know? It helps that the tiny moon crescents are absolutely adorable, too.

So, what’s your moon phase?

Death of the (Tarot) Artist

There’s an idea in literary criticism called the “death of the author.”

It’s not a literal death — just a very stark metaphorical distancing. It pretty much means that, when it comes to interpreting a work, the creator’s context and intentions should be ignored in favor of an interpretation of the text as it stands. There are certainly some works that benefit greatly from the inclusion of the author’s context, but there are flaws inherent in binding a work — any work — so tightly to its creator.

The concept was described by a French literary critic and philosopher named Roland Gérard Barthes, who felt strongly that keeping the interpretation of a text tied to the author’s biases was limiting, as well as innately flawed. By contrast, ignoring the author’s intentions freed the text to be analyzed and criticized entirely on its own merits and message, while erasing the issue of putting words in the author’s mouth.

It’s a thing that crosses art forms. Visual arts resist interpretation a bit more strongly than the written word (either fortunately or unfortunately, there is no OED for imagery. Unlike language, pictures don’t need to be mutually intelligible). Freeing an image from the creator means the meaning of a piece is left entirely up to what it is able to communicate to a viewer. At most, the interpretation of a piece in the context of the creator is only one of many facets of it. To (mis)quote Barthes, “a[n image’s] unity lies not in its origins […] but in its destination.”

I remember learning to read tarot. It wasn’t a thing that interested me much, initially — I liked runes, geomancy, Ogham staves, things whose imagery was far simpler, but contained multitudes. (And seemed to involve a hell of a lot less rote learning.)

“Read it like a story,” my teacher urged.

But the trouble with learning to read tarot cards is that it feels like a lot to memorize. You have your deck, which, at first, seems impossibly thick. You have the little soft-cover booklet with its handful of keywords, or a short paragraph for each card. “The Three of Wands,” it helpfully tells you, “Progress, expansion, opportunity. Reversed: Delays, short-sightedness.” You might read this book, using the cards like flash cards to test yourself on the meanings. Finally, one day, you’ve achieved memorization.

 

2ofcups

And then you get a new deck.

I want to preface this by explaining that I’m not suggesting that the traditional interpretations of tarot cards be thrown out entirely. Part of tarot’s enduring appeal is the universality of it as a means of self-insight, as much as divination. Those meanings endure because… well, they’re meaningful to us.
But there’s something to be said for burning that little book.

My S.O. didn’t read tarot when he met me. If you ask him today, he still probably wouldn’t consider himself a tarot reader, per se. But, between the two of us, we still have six decks — three apiece. One has beautiful imagery surrounding Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, another is based on the works of Klimt, two others are animal-themed, yet another is based on the works of Mucha, one is full of strange, surreal moon-faced figures, and yet another is a joke deck I helped create to raise money for charity. All of them are tarot decks, with their Rider-Waite-Smith-inspired tableaux — The Fool, The Chariot, and so forth. All of them have subtly different meanings for their cards.

Reading tarot intuitively is a means of getting information without memorization, and it works because of the death of the artist. When you set the book aside, you free yourself to receive only what the artwork is giving you. The creation of a tarot deck is a deliberate act — every image is chosen or created with care based on the feelings it evokes, the ideas it conjures up, or its place in the visual language of alchemy. Allowing the artist to “die” frees us from adhering to the interpretations handed to us.

 

 

Painting What You See

cropped-drawingThe simplest piece of artistic instruction is also the most useful: Draw or paint what you can see.

It’s surprisingly difficult to keep our minds from filling in the blanks — we see a cup, and we know the cup is round and three dimensional. Our eyes tell us the mouth of the cup is a flattened oval, but that isn’t what our hands want to make. Our brains know better than what our eyes tell us.

The ability to “know better” and anticipate shape and distance like that is an adaptation that’s probably helped us, in an evolutionary sense, but it isn’t much use when it comes to accurately translating a three dimensional object onto a two dimensional space. That’s when the admonishment to create only what you can see becomes useful.

For me, it’s also a bit ironic.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I was diagnosed with idiopathic intracranial hypertension about seven years ago. It used to be known as “pseudotumor cerebri” — in essence, a brain tumor that isn’t. It mimics all of the symptoms of having a large brain tumor, but without any mass present. One of its hallmarks? Vision changes. As cerebrospinal fluid pressure increases, so does damage to the optic nerves.

I can’t drive, because I can’t see well enough to. I have dead spots in my vision, which are almost impossible to describe. It isn’t really not seeing anything, it’s seeing nothing, in the same way that House of Leaves‘ Zampanò defines uncanny as ‘full of not knowing.’ Lines and space warp and deform around their edges like miniature event horizons, wholly confined to my eyes. Sometimes, I turn my head too quickly and see showers of golden sparks, or scintillations like the sun reflecting on water.

My brain often tries to “help,” by compensating for the strangely existentially horrific idea of seeing nothing, like a kind of neurological horror vacui. It inserts spectacularly mundane things into the places where my eyes don’t work anymore — a spare copy of my laptop stuck in my peripheral vision, or a stack of books I’ve never owned. A poached egg in the middle of the floor. A glass of water that yields only air when I reach for it.
I’m not sure why it does this, but it feels like the bones of a good short story. You would think that having your brain spontaneously insert images into your vision would be the opposite of helpful… Unless hallucinating several bunches of bananas was somehow preferable to what it’s trying to protect you from seeing. Fun!

If I said that coming to terms with the idea of potentially, possibly, let’s-face-it-probably going blind was difficult, I’d be lying, because that’d imply that it was possible to begin with. I don’t know that it’s any harder for me because I work with visual media — who wouldn’t be upset at not being able to see anymore?

I’m at the point where my vision loss has slowed considerably, if not entirely stabilized. With time (and, hopefully, a prolonged remission), some of my vision might come back. A lot of it won’t.

Sometimes, I do paint what I see.

And it’s fucking weird.

Inspiration in Unplaces

Have you ever felt out of place in a familiar spot? I don’t mean socially awkward or anxious, just given the sense that you’re in a place that shouldn’t be — like a shopping mall before the stores open, inside of a school at night, or somewhere else divorced from its usual context by some small, important detail. They are a familiar place, easily made into a strange-seeming unplace.

There are two times of year in this area, one in spring and one in autumn, where the light around four PM turns everything a lovely orange-gold, but the angle of the sun creates stark shadows of a particularly surreal length and sharpness. With a clear blue sky, it reminds me of Dali’s “Landscape with Butterflies” — colors too bright to be real, shadows too long and forbidding to be welcome.

Salvador Dali's Landscape with Butterflies.

Salvador Dali’s Landscape with Butterflies.

The idea of unplaces fascinates me, the way something so minor can make the familiar so strange. I think part of it comes from when I was a little kid, in an area where we largely had to make our own fun. I spent a lot of time in an abandoned school behind the house I grew up in, and, once I was a little older and could hop a fence, sneaking around storm water basins and drainage culverts. It’s a bizarre feeling, ducking under a pulled-up bit of chain link and stepping into a wet, wild world where the spongy turf and overgrown trees suddenly and strangely block the sights and sounds of traffic. There are no more sidewalks, no more streetlights, just murky ponds of massive snapping turtles and every quietly resentful goldfish that’s ever been loosed down a toilet. It is a small shift, just a chain link fence and a few strides, but it’s an important one.

I remember riding the train across the country a couple of years ago. I lived in Delaware at the time and, having saved up enough for a seat on Amtrak, decided to give it a go. As we passed through the million shades of the desert, from persimmon orange to the blinding, glittering white of Utah’s salt flats, I could see occasional islands of abandoned humanity. There were no towns around them, no yards, fields, or fences — as if some capricious and malevolent giant had plucked them from their foundations and left them there like forgotten toys. Just the occasional roofless husk of a deserted homestead, sometimes with a scrap of dry-rotted cardboard abortively tacked over a window, even less occasionally with the rusted corpse of an ancient car sinking slowly into the sand around it. Even in the safety of the train, sitting in a cushy seat just wide enough for me curl up to sleep in for the four-day journey, they gave me goosebumps.

In Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, there’s discussion of a place being uncanny, or, in German, unheimlich. But unheimlich isn’t used there in the passive sense of being merely unfamiliar, where an observer can gain understanding with time and effort. Instead, it’s used in the sense of a place being “full of not-knowing,” where gaining understanding may not be possible, helpful, or even safe.

It’s surprising how little it takes to make a place unheimlich, into what feels like something you were never meant to see. Sometimes it takes strange geography, like an average, suburban-looking house seemingly transplanted to the middle of the desert at random. Sometimes, it’s something as minor as a shift in schedule or a change in weather that turns the familiar into the uncanny, or even the unsettling. It’s this that can help us see a place with new eyes.

There’s a lot of strange magic in the places you don’t belong.

Find the unheimlich.

Automatic Asemic

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee from Wordery.com, at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to support writers, publishers, and this site! 

Sometimes, writing can be a visual art form.

Not the same way logo design or typography are — just the shape and flow of text itself. The letters don’t have to spell anything, they don’t even have to be letters (just look at the beautifully evocative text of the Codex Seraphinianus) in order to have meaning.

A portion of a page from the Codex Seraphinianus.

A portion of a page from the Codex Seraphinianus.

In the Codex Seraphinianus, the artist chose to use an invented language that doesn’t map to an existing one — while he invented an alphabet to write in, these letters join together to form words that don’t mean anything. The overall feeling is of being a young child who has gotten a hold of some beautiful and inexplicable book. The child knows the words mean things to those who can read them, and it feels like there is a whole secret world of knowledge there for the unlocking. But, without that kernel of understanding — without some way to turn the jumble of shapes into something that makes sense — there is a perpetually tantalizing, mysterious feeling of knowledge kept just out of reach.

In its primary role, written language is bound by semantics. C with an A followed by a T spells “cat,” and you know the sounds each letter stands for and the small, furry animal to which they refer. Asemic writing is writing unbound by semantics. It has meaning, it can be interpreted, but these things are not subject to the rules and logic of reading. The shapes and repetition of letters are treated as a pattern, neither more nor less than the fronds of a fern or the shapes of Arabesque tile, and the feelings and images they evoke are what give them meaning. This necessarily varies from person to person — where one may read aggression in the slant of a garbled word, another may see exuberance — but this subjectivity does not mean asemic writing makes any less sense than language.

codex

A close up.

It’s just different. 

In some of the magical and spiritual disciplines I work with, language becomes more than its literal meaning, and asemic writing can be doubly so. You can take a sentence, strike out the vowels and repeating letters, then rearrange the remainder into a sigil used to focus energy and intention. A planchette can dash across a page, leaving the uncertain scrawls of a spirit in its wake, while a group of breathless observers try to find sense in the jumble of lines and shapes. Scrubbed of their literal meanings, freed from the restrictions of semantics, letters and words (or alien shapes that only suggest letters and words) can condense into something else.

There are whole areas of literature devoted to analyzing word choice. “Happy” may not always mean “joyful,” and “patience” may not always be virtuous, and its worthwhile to examine why someone chose the words that they did. Even when words no longer have meaning, this still applies. Asemic writing is still made up of the lines and arcs we associate with text, and their placement is never random — there are things to be read in the ascending slant of a line, or a ripe, bubblelike downward curve.

Even when you can’t read the words, there is meaning in them.