What’s this fascination with Iron men, Robocops and Transformers about?
Our ancestors imagined a symbolic bond between man and the natural forces through mythological creatures such as sphinxes, minotaurs, centaurs or fauns.
Now we fantasise on the cyborg, which is the fusion of man with his own tools. Odd, isn’t it?
The phenomenon is unprecedented and pretty much just a century old, but how did this start?
Technology is the name we give to any man-made tools, but only in the past decades we’ve seen tools gradually mutating from objects we hold in our hands to devices that can be inserted in our bodies (sexual allusions are not accidental).
Telephones got in our homes, then in our pockets, lastly in our ears. What’s next?
We walk in the streets with our senses artificially stimulated by cables bombarding our eardrums with music, touch screens for our fingers, images for our eyes and snacks for our tongues. More and more intimate, as David Cronenberg metaphorically suggested in movies like Existenz.
And the most fantastic thing is that we consent to all of it.
To understand the origins of all this we have to jump back a bit, to 1859.
In 1859 Charles Darwin published a book titled “On the origin of Species”, something you might know. But what most don’t remember is the subtitle to that: “or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life“.
Carefully read that again, especially between the lines.
Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, understood the social importance of Charles’ studies and took the theory of evolution to the next level by fathering the eugenics theory, that is evolution through artificial selection, quickly adopted by Great Britain, France and beyond.
The industrial age added an extra gear (almost literally) to the Darwinian ideas of “progress and evolution” and shortly we ended up with transhumanism.
And of course it didn’t end there: GMO, geo-engineering and so on. All aspects of the same mindset.
Transhumanism is a movement promoting the quick advancement of the human race through technology. They can’t even wait for natural evolution to happen.
“Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life“, remember? But who decides?
Among its greatest advocates we find individuals like Ray Kurzweil (Google’s director of engineering) who is so afraid of death that he desperately dedicates his life to finding ways of transferring his memories into a machine, to live forever or at least much longer (good luck). He thinks that would to the trick. And he’s not the only one thinking along those lines.
But what does that means for us, poor mortal consumers?
The idea of “evolution through technology” has been seductively introduced and sold to us in quite a number of ways. Our modern culture finds pride in rampant scientism, celebrated in Discovery Channel shows and the likes, always presenting humanity as a gullible simian automaton. But let’s not forget the role of advertising, movies and comics.
It’s in this light that we have to put the high-tech Frankenstein monsters that dominated the sci-fi genre (a new phenomenon in itself). From Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Astroboy, from the Bionic Woman to Terminator and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus the examples are so many that I certainly don’t need to make a list.
But the almighty trick of advertising has always been sex. Make technology sexy and it will sell like candies.
(I guess I don’t need to comment on the machine gun in the image above, but I’ve touched on that subject in the post “The Red Sonja complex“)
We are now to the point where it’s acceptable or even cool to be perceived as hollow dolls to be filled up with projected sexual fantasies of all kinds.
Teenagers acting and dressing like pop idols and Barbie dolls, vain plastic surgery, “politically correct” esthetic values to make us “likeable” according to established standards.
Empty mechanical bodies that simply have to serve two collective functions: work and sex.
Produce and reproduce for society, and if you’ll ever feel stressed all you’ll need is a tickle.
[Conclusion on Part II]
Posted on 5 February '14 by Alejandro Dini, under Articles. No Comments.
Last illustration of the year, titled “The Greatest Journey”.
Actually I started this one several months ago, but I dropped it after feeling disconnected from it, somehow.
A few weeks ago I opened the image again and I kinda liked it, so I decided to complete it.
But then I disliked it again. I was about to drop it for good but I noticed I couldn’t truly move on to anything else leaving this behind.
So here it is. It’s quite strange for me to work on something so “soft” and gentle, but I’m quite happy with it, even though the image feels so alien and odd to me.
It’s good to end the year with this one anyway. I can’t start 2014 with an incomplete journey.
After all we’ve analysed here’s a final portrait of the witch.
Physically witches are often represented as very old, ugly, with saggy breasts, solitary but in tune with flora and fauna. Sometimes they even appear as animals.
Occasionally they can be benevolent, by offering gifts to a hero and help him along his journey. Either way, there are no stories without witches (or their implicit presence), because they are the necessary gateway of inevitable transitions and realizations.
We can now understand that witches in stories don’t represent evil exclusively, but an untamed motherly force.
They are the undying feminine principle of chaos that intervenes to break the rigid structures and cages of patriarchal hierarchy (order). They are the primordial mother who destroys in order to regenerate, like the Hindu goddess Kali.
In doing so the cycle of life is preserved.
Once they complete their job they go back to the forest where they belong.
In short, witches are tricksters who set change into motion.
Up to now we probably thought that witches are harmful and always evil, also “thanks to” Hollywood movies in which they are often characterised as psychopaths, but after studying how folk tales are narratively and symbolically constructed we can start to think otherwise.
The negativity aspect has not to be understood as “bad”, but rather in terms of polarities: yin and yang.
If we say that the feminine is the negative aspect, we mean that in archetypal terms it represent the passive, hidden, obscure force of the unconscious. Moreover, it has nothing to do with women in the sexual sense, because both men and women have feminine and masculine sides.
Too often these days we hear rhetorical speeches about “positivity”, especially from the New Age movement and affiliate ideologies that misinterpret Hindu philosophies and try to heal “negativity” through a “positive” collective response. But the shadow has to be faced individually for harmony to occur, as folk tales, myths and dreams teach us.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore, not popular” - Carl Jung
Remember that you, like Dante, can be wise enough to know that the path to heaven starts in the dark depths of a cursed forest and that the journey is yours only.
You’ll eventually get to thank your Dark Moon for being a harsh but just teacher.
But be brave: she’s not pretty.
Posted on 10 December '13 by Alejandro Dini, under Articles. No Comments.
In the first part we’ve seen that dark forests can often be the symbolic expression of a force that we called the Dark Moon: that which casts a light on the unconscious, revealing its hidden and often terrorizing content. You can run or you can be brave and face it.
Now I’d like to see how the elements of the Dark Moon, the Forest and the Witch have been portrayed in the Sleeping Beauty tale by Disney.
Unfortunately too often mainstream movies are loaded with subliminal messages and deliberate ideologies, so I’m a bit reluctant when it comes to citing them, but the take on the Sleeping Beauty folk tale seems generally rather appropriate, even though simplified.
Nevertheless, I would still invite all viewers to apply critical thinking when watching mainstream films. Get used to decoding whatever they present.
The first thing to notice in the movie is the evident green moon the witch Maleficient leaves behind when she disappears. Earthy green is the color of the wild force of nature and its cosmic laws.
You might remember the very eloquent artwork by Goya entitled “The sleep of reason produces monsters”. When reason sleeps, nightmares awake.
Now, since monsters are imaginary projections of a mind that lacks reason, we can obviously understand that we are talking about a single mind.
The clue is also within the Beauty’s name: Briar Rose. A rose with thorns, like the very same needle that puts Rose to sleep. Two aspects of the same flower. Thorns, branches and roots are the earthy expression of the witch. Remember Dore’s illustration of the forest.
For this reason in both Snow White and The Sleeping Beauty the witch can be interpreted as the dark side of the princess herself. In other words: one is the reflection of the other.
“Mirror mirror on the wall…“
By reflection we mean imaginary. In other words an ideal self, like the one that Narcissus saw in the river. The title of our tale mentions “beauty”, hence vanity seems rather fitting as well, but let’s leave this analogy to another time.
The act of looking into a mirror can be compared to that of facing the shadow. In daily life it might happen voluntarily through introspection or involuntarily during a moment of confusion and desperation. The latter is more terrifying, because the witch’s spells always take us off-guard. Spells (the content of the imaginary) can be fearful or can be charming, like in the case of Narcissus. Either way it’s painful.
Let’s now continue with the movie.
The princess faces her own possible death at the age of 16, which (occultist numerology aside) is the age of adolescence marking the passage to adulthood. And right after being crowned by the fairies she falls into despair, like the man in Goya’s work, logically in front of a mirror.
That’s when the green Moon of Maleficient appears and leads her up the spiral stairs.
The princess is in a ghostly trance, pale like a corpse as she walks up the spiral stairs to her death.
Once the three fairies find the princess laying on the floor they look out the window and see the setting sun (death again).
So we’ve finally discovered the ultimate power of the witch: not only she’s an obscure aspect of our mind, but she also represents a doorway to the afterlife.
As Dante wrote: “So bitter is it, death is little more”
In myths and cultures (even modern ones) the rite of passage into adulthood (that is the welcoming of a child into the tribe) is signified by a ritual, a symbolic enactment of death and rebirth, as Vladimir Propp rightly pointed out in his study on the historical roots of Fairy Tales.
By afterlife we don’t mean physical death, but a transition.
To better understand this characteristic let’s look at the Tarot.
The Tarot once again symbolizes the Dark Moon very accurately, even though it’s simply been named “The Moon” (the astrological Moon being the High Priestess, not the Moon card).
In Crowley’s Thoth deck version of the Moon we see two Anubis facing each other, as in an imaginary reflection. Anubis was the dog headed Egyptian god of the afterlife.
Below Anubis’ feet we see the classic scarab with the sun disc, but it’s under the horizon, meaning that the sun is Set, still in the abyss of the waters of Nu . For us there’s only darkness, confusion, uncertainty.
But in ancient Egyptian myths Anubis also weighs the soul to determine its destiny. It’s very significant because it shows the importance of this confrontation. Despite the terrorizing darkness there’s a sense of ominous divine judgment.
You’ll see the same symbols in Edward Waite’s deck and the tarot of Marseille.
While there’s nothing wrong with the Dark Moon or the unknown, we will either collapse in terror or face the demons and have a chance. Only then the sun might be reborn.
Not by chance the card of the Major Arcana that follows the Moon is card XIX, the Sun, and card XX is the Judgement.
One last thing that will help us understand the Moon tarot card is its associated astrological sign: pisces.
Keeping in mind the meaning of the card, I’ll leave the interpretation to you by simply showing this association:
Perhaps the amount of symbols and definitions we looked at can be confusing at first, but once we sum them all up we can easily deduce their common denominator. In other words: the archetype.
Let’s make a little list of key words we’ve found: darkness, forest, moon, thorns, black, green, reflection, unknown, confusion, death, afterlife.
These themes can be found in various and diverse contexts, if you think of the werewolf, the man who turns into a wolf once he sees the moon.
The reflective quality of the Moon also appears in Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84, a story of dualities and doubles under the mysterious presence of two moons in the sky, one of which is green.
The specularity of the two aspects of the psyche is also well portrayed in a scene of Star Wars, when Luke, during his training with Yoda, steps into a dark cave (like a forest) where he faces an imaginary Darth Vader. After Luke decapitates Vader, he discovers that the face in the helm was his own. His own “dark side”, or rather a projection of his own darkness onto an imaginary father figure.
Lastly we can’t forget the famous Orlando Furioso (Mad Orlando), the 16th century poem by Ludovico Ariosto, in which Orlando loses his beloved and consequently his mind. He goes insane and starts slaughtering people and destroying villages, until Astolfo recovers a vial containing Orlando’s “lost reason“. And where was it? On the Moon of course.
In the last part I’ll summarise and conclude this little journey.
Posted on 8 December '13 by Alejandro Dini, under Articles. No Comments.
If you had to find a witch, where would you start?
I bet you’d look into the nearest forest, preferably by night, with a full moon in the sky.
Something about this setting feels right when talking about witches, and it’s not by chance.
Here I’m going to explore what witches and forests represent in popular imagery and stories, particularly in Dante’s the Divina Commedia and the folk tale “the Sleeping Beauty“.
First let’s clarify a few things about the Moon.
As the sun brings light to the world, the Moon defines the night. Together they are the mythical eyes of Horus.
By day all life thrives, visibly defined by the sunlight. Everything appears as it should be, giving us comfort and clarity of thought.
But at night things change. Shadows surround us, logic weakens and uncertainties arise. As the outer world gradually fades away, the inner world awakens. Thanks to the moonlight we are able to see the outline of a landscape, but the prevalent darkness will leave plenty of room to our imagination. We can therefore say that there are two distinct aspects of the Moon: the comforting light it brings to the night, but also an unsettling way of concealing and playing with darkness and our imagination.
Here we’ll talk about the second aspect, that we’ll conveniently call the Dark Moon, the primordial feminine force in its obscure aspect (Lilith in some mythologies), as to differentiate it from the other Moon, the one associated to feelings and intuitive understanding.
Moon, Witches and Forests are images through which the force of the “inner world” is symbolically expressed in the arts and myths, like different branches of the same tree.
Now that we’ve clarified what a Dark Moon is, let’s look at the forest and see how they might be symbolically related.
The forest is a necessary accessory of the witch, as Vladimir Propp puts it, a perfect metaphor of the insidious twists and turns of the unconscious mind. It’s also motherly in a way, but this mother aspect is a harsh teacher. It can capture you and cast you into despair, like someone teaching a child how to swim by throwing him into a river.
It’s no coincidence that Dante, in the Divina Commedia, starts his journey in a dark forest. In fact, he simply finds himself into one , not knowing how he ended up there. The experience is so terrifying that he can’t find words to describe it.
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
So bitter is it, death is little more
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.
I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.
Imagine that. The poet who wrote about hell itself couldn’t find words to describe a forest? What kind of forest was that?
The forest is a metaphor of the depths of the unconscious mind, the inner world. It overwhelmed him so much that he was “full of slumber” like the Sleeping Beauty. In modern times we would describe such emotional state as confusion, depression or anxiety.
The “true way” is one of the many possible translations for the italian “retta via“, which also means straight and right, as to signify the way of reason.
Lastly, by slumber he means the sleep of rationality and the following panic.
Summarizing: he lost his reason and found himself in confusion and panic. He’s talking about those critical moments in one’s life when we feel like we hit a wall, we can’t find clarity of thought, we are lost, lonely and miserable.
This illustration by Gustave Doré is a perfect interpretation of Dante’s writing.
The composition lines tell the story as appropriately as the images themselves. The diagonal running from the top left corner down to the bottom right guides our eyes to Dante, delivering the idea of a “fall”, rather than that of journey.
Then we can see that Dante is looking behind because there’s only darkness ahead, but he can’t walk back because roots obstruct the way, almost entangling his feet. There’s an evident sense of entrapment and stillness in the scene.
Roots and branches are often used to represent the aliveness of the forest, its imaginary arms. Sometimes artists like to depict them in the shape of boney hands. We’ll find them again in the Sleeping Beauty tale.
Ultimately the whole journey from hell to heaven is an allegorical inner journey where Dante confronts his own demons (Hell), then cleanses himself (Purgatory) and finally meets his beloved in Heaven, the sacred feminine (Beatrice and the Virgin Mary) in the kingdom of God (the Self).
The sacred feminine is the White Moon (or simply Moon, as we said at the beginning), which is the feminine principle of the High Priestess of the Tarot, which unites man to the divine mind by acting as its messenger: intuition and emotion.
The White Moon aspect is quite obvious in the last Chant (Chant XXXIII) of Heaven, especially when Dante meets the Virgin Mary. But looking into it now would take too long, so we’ll keep focusing on the Dark Moon.
In the end it’s interesting to notice the two polarities in the Divina Commedia: the Dark Moon of the forest at the beginning and the White Moon at the end.
It’s all allegorical, not religious dogma, despite Dante’s use of religious themes. What it means is that no trips to heaven start without falling into the horrifying dark forest of the unconscious mind. Dante faced his own shadow, which in Jungian terminology means precisely the unconscious and its content.
I must clarify that some researchers use the term “shadow” to signify evil, unproductive fears, discomfort or other things, but here I use it as Jung does. I like the word he chose because the unconscious is mysterious and filled with repressed content that might be scary and uneasy to look at, but it’s not evil, even though eventual evil acts arise as a consequence of the repressed content of the unconscious. Great studies have been done into the nature of evil and psychosis, but the shadow (unconscious and its content) is common to all human beings obviously.
Now take a look at this famous work by Francisco Goya.
Goya titled it “The sleep of reason produces monsters”.
It’s the perfect summary of what we’ve seen so far.
Fortunately for Dante, he met reason in the body and mind of his mentor Virgilio. He’s the one who guided him through hell. Another very interesting allegory. Without reason we succumb in the dark forest, which is ultimately the Dark Moon’s domain.
So we’ve seen what the forest represents, but we haven’t seen the witch.
Sometimes there’s no need to explicitly show an actual witch to suggest her oppressive presence. The movie “The Blair Witch Project” is a good example of this. Personal taste aside, one can’t deny the terror of pure darkness in some of the most effective horror movies.
It’s simply the fear of the unknown or the unseen. The blackness becomes an open canvas for our obscure and imaginary projections. The more tormented we are inwardly the more terrorizing the experience will be.
In Part II we’ll finally meet the witch by taking a look at the Sleeping Beauty tale and the Tarot, but first we can conclude adding two more classic accessories to the witch: the broom and the black cat.
Without going too deep into these motifs let’s just say that they are emanations of the very same symbols we’ve seen so far. The broom is like a leafless tree of a dry forest, and the black cat is the wild and unpredictable lunar power whose eyes reflect light in the dark, while his whole body remains concealed.
Posted on 3 December '13 by Alejandro Dini, under Articles. No Comments.