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.