Tag Archives: artists

The Library of Esoterica: Tarot

This is the first in a series of books published by Taschen exploring metaphysics through art. I picked it up while perusing the shelves in a local indie bookstore. I only needed to skim a few pages to know I had to have this on my shelves.

This is, first and foremost, an art book. It is lavishly illustrated with stunning images of tarot cards from a myriad of decks, as well as images of artwork inspired by tarot and photographs of individuals who played prominent roles in the development of modern tarot. Additionally, there is some great information in the book, providing a history of tarot as well as explanations of the symbolism associated with the cards.

What I personally find fascinating about the tarot are the archetypes and how they can be used as a method of self-discovery. Penny Slinger, an artist who wrote the foreword section of the book, describes this nicely.

We all have archetypes within us, once we expand our limited sense of self. In this way, Tarot is transformational, allowing us to see the alchemy of ourselves. Tarot allows us to get past the barriers we put up that prevent us from seeing the path of least resistance. That is what the cards are meant to do. They are signposts along the way. The whole process of divination, in fact, is one that allows us to access the energy of who we are, without having ourselves get in the way. Tarot enables a direct connection to the spirit, to the divine, to whatever we want to call those forces that work both within and along with us. It is a practice that lets us listen to our inner voice, the intuitive self.

(p. 6)

If you are even slightly interested in tarot, then I highly recommend this book. The information and artwork are both inspiring and educational. And it is just a beautiful book that will look nice on any shelf.

There are two more volumes so far in the series, and yes, I have already bought them too. I look forward to exploring those in the not-too-distant future. Cheers!

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Shudder #1: Collector’s Edition

This is a “new” graphic horror magazine. I put “new” in quotations marks because actually, it used to be The Creeps magazine, but it seems that there was some copyright infringement and they had to change the name. Anyway, this is the first issue and it adheres to the time-tested format of short, campy horror tales done in black-and-white. The writers, artists, and editors are all alumni from the early days of Warren publications, so there is definitely an authentic feel that fans of the old horror mags like Creepy and Eerie will appreciate.

The tales are curated by Old Aunt Shudder, who introduces herself on the inside of the front cover page.

Welcome! …to the first great collector’s edition of Shudder magazine! Your Old Aunt Shudder here, and I’ll be your host as you journey through these terror-filled pages! Inside, you will find all new work from the greatest horror comic artists and writers in the history of monster-dom! I’ve scoured the globe for the world’s top talent to bring you the kinds of terror tales that haven’t been seen for nearly fifty years! Presented in the classic style of the best black and white illustrated horror comic magazines of the 1960’s and 1970’s! Shudder is dedicated to preserving the style of horror comics that were being created at the height of the genre, when realism ruled and dark, moody illustrations brought the world of monsters, creatures and things that go bump in the night to “life!” Now! Enter my world… it’s guaranteed to make you… Shudder!

This is great stuff to read during the Halloween season, especially if, like me, you were raised on the classic horror magazines that Shudder emulates. I am definitely looking forward to future issues.

Happy reading!

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“Uzumaki” by Junji Ito

This book marks an expansion in my reading, being the first manga book that I have read. I had tried reading one some years back but had a difficult time following the flow. The left-to-right was one thing, but what confused me was the text within the panels. Anyway, I ended up not reading it and just never tried again. But my daughter came to visit and brought this book along for me to read. She said it was a favorite of hers and she thought I would enjoy it. So I had her give me some basics on reading manga, and took the plunge. Once I got comfortable with the format, it moved nicely.

For those of you who are not familiar with the genre, here is a little background.

Manga are comics or graphic novels originating from Japan. Most manga conform to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century, though the art form has a long prehistory in earlier Japanese art. The term manga is used in Japan to refer to both comics and cartooning. Outside Japan, the word is typically used to refer to comics originally published in the country.

In Japan, people of all ages read manga. The medium includes works in a broad range of genres: action, adventure, business and commerce, comedy, detective, drama, historical, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and fantasy, erotica (hentai), sports and games, and suspense, among others. Many manga are translated into other languages. Since the 1950s, manga has become an increasingly major part of the Japanese publishing industry.

(Source: Wikipedia)

This text falls into the horror sub-genre. It is the story of a coastal town in Japan contaminated with spirals. The spiral shapes that appear have bizarre effects upon physical reality within the town, as well as disturbing effects upon the collective and individual psyches of people within the town.

Early in the book, the spiral is identified as a mystical shape.

It fills me with a deep fascination…like nothing else in nature…no other shape…Mr. Goshima, I find the spiral to be very mystical.

(p. 20)

As the effects of the spiral increase within the town, it is discovered that spiral whirlwinds can be generated by the slightest of movements, which is then linked to the Butterfly Effect which is part of Chaos Theory in modern physics.

That’s what’s happening in this town. “The flapping of a single butterfly’s wings can create a hurricane on the other side of the world. This is like the “Butterfly Effect”…

(p. 447)

Finally, the spiral is revealed as a symbol of eternity and of cycles of creation, destruction, and rebirth, which both transcends and encapsulates time.

And with the spiral complete, a strange thing happened. Just as time sped up when we were on the outskirts, in the center of the spiral it stood still. So the curse was over the same moment it began, the endless frozen moment I spent in Shuichi’s arms. And it will be the same moment when it ends again…when the next Kurouzu-Cho is built amidst the ruins of the old one. When the eternal spiral awakes once more.

(p. 610)

While this book seems formidable, weighing in at over 650 pages, it does not take a lot of commitment to read it, since the storyline is heavily driven through the use of graphic imagery. Which prompts me to say a few words about the artwork. In addition to writing this story, Mr. Ito also drew all the illustrations, which are stunning and intricate. To be gifted in either writing or the visual arts is a blessing, but to be gifted in both is highly unusual, and Junji Ito demonstrates that he is adept in both artistic fields.

I am grateful that my daughter brought this book along on her visit and encouraged me to read it. I really enjoyed it and feel that it expanded my reading horizons. I suspect I will be reading more manga in the future. If you have suggestions for other manga to read, I would love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by, and keep broadening your horizons.

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The Creeps: Issue 25

Catching up on my creepy collection of classic chilling tales of spine-tingling terror. This issue has six shocking stories of scintillating suspense, but I am going to only focus this post on one of the tales.

It seems that in every installment of this publication, they do a short illustrated version of a classic horror story, and in this issue they present a graphic version of The Other Lodgers by Ambrose Bierce. Basically, it is the story of a man who sleeps in a deserted hotel and encounters restless spirits, since at one time it was used as a hospital to treat soldiers in the Civil War, many of whom died there as a result of their injuries.

“Sir, if you’ll sit down, I’ll tell you of this place. It’s not a hotel… It used to be a hotel, and afterwards it was a hospital. Now it’s deserted and unoccupied. The room you slept in was the hospital’s dead-room where were always plenty of dead. The night-clerk you described used to check-in the hotel’s guests. Later he checked-in the hospital’s patients, but he died a few weeks ago!”

(p. 17)

I have not read Bierce’s original short story, but I think I will. I enjoyed this graphic retelling, so I am sure I would like the original text.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading.

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The Creeps – 2019 Annual Spooktacular

While visiting my local comic store recently, I noticed this issue on the rack, and it is hard for a graphic horror fan to pass up a “spooktacular” issue.

The Creeps is a graphic horror magazine published by Warrant Publishing and revives the style and feel of graphic horror from the 1970s, and from what I read online, they employ writers and artists from that period to create an authentic experience. Issues are curated by The Old Creep, a character with a macabre sense of humor that adds a playful feel to the publication.

This compilation issue contains short tales from previous issues, and the cover claims that this is a collection of “fear fables and classic terror tales.” It is the phrase “fear fables” that stands out for me and which is important to discuss regarding this publication.

The magazine contains eleven tales, and what is consistent is that each of them have a kernel of morality woven into the storyline. Protagonists are confronted with an array of horrors, but these horrors are the result of actions that express a moral flaw. So those seeking revenge, those who mock people over disabilities, individuals acting out of greed, pedophiles, and so forth, all come to grisly ends as a result of their actions. Essentially, you could think of this as the morality of the macabre.

Growing up, I read horror magazines extensively: Creepy, Eerie, Tales from the Crypt, Vamiprella, and so forth. As a kid, I never gave much thought to the lessons of morality that were woven into the tales, but looking back, I sense that these early seeds of my reading habits were planted in my psyche, and as a result, I was much more open to accepting concepts of karma as I matured. There was never a question in my mind: if you do wicked deeds, then something wicked will your way come.

It is easy to point fingers at films, books, games, music, and so forth, and condemn them for corrupting young minds, but the truth is that we really don’t know how these art forms will manifest later on in a person’s life. We should not be so quick to judge. Sometimes, the seeds of wisdom are found in strange places.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and expect more “spooky” posts as October moans on.

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Thoughts on “The Ideal” by Charles Baudelaire

Night by Michelangelo

Never those beauties in old prints vignetted,
Those shopworn products of an worthless age,
With slippered feet and fingers castanetted,
The thirst of hearts like my heart can assuage.

To Gavarni, the poet of chloroses,
I leave his troupe of beauties sick and wan;
I cannot find among those pale, pale roses
The red ideal mine eyes would gaze upon.

Lady Macbeth, a soul strong in crime,
Aeschylus’ dream born in a northern clime—
Ah, you could quench my dark heart’s deep desiring;

Or you, Michelangelo’s daughter, Night,
In a strange posture dreamily admiring
Your beauty fashioned for a giant’s delight!

(translation: F.P. Sturm)

This poem is Baudelaire’s critique of the artistic ideal of beauty. He asserts that beauty expressed through art is unrealistic, and the result is a “dark heart’s deep desiring” for something that does not exist.

In the second stanza, he contrasts “pale, pale roses” with the “red ideal mine eyes would gaze upon.” The roses here symbolize women, the red rose being an artistic representation of the idealized female form, and the pale rose being a real woman.

Baudelaire’s argument is still valid today. We still have an ideal of what beauty should be, and this ideal is something that no amount of plastic surgery can bestow upon a person. We all have flaws and imperfections, and I think what Baudelaire is asserting here is that it is our imperfections that convey our true beauty, those unique qualities that are specific to an individual.

As long as we lust after the ideal of beauty, we will always be disillusioned, unhappy, and burdened with the longing for something we will never attain.

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Thoughts on “Balzac” by Aleister Crowley

Rodin’s Balzac

I’ve been slowly working my way through The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, which is quite a long book, so I’ve been interspersing it with other books and poems. So far, Crowley spends a lot of time emphasizing his brilliance as a poet, going so far as to view himself as superior to Yeats (a fine example of hubris, in my humble opinion). But he did include a sonnet which he said was inspired by Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of Honoré de Balzac, the French writer (see image above). I felt the poem was worth talking about. Here is the text for reference:

Giant, with iron secrecies ennighted,
Cloaked, Balzac stands and sees. Immense disdain,
Egyptian silence, mastery of pain,
Gargantuan laughter, shake or still the ignited
Statue of the Master, vivid. Far, affrighted,
The stunned air shudders on the skin. In vain
The Master of La Comédie Humaine
Shadows the deep-set eyes, genius lighted.

Epithalamia, birth songs, epitaphs,
Are written in the mystery of his lips.
Sad wisdom, scornful shame, grand agony
In the coffin folds of the cloak, scarred mountains, lie,
And pity hides i’ th’ heart. Grim knowledge grips
The essential manhood. Balzac stands, and laughs.

Crowley explains that he wrote the poem in support of Rodin, who was being harshly criticized regarding the sculpture.

The sculpture was not received well by the critics; Rodin took the negativity as a personal attack. Many disliked the grotesque stature of the figure while others criticized the work to be very similar to that of the Italian impressionist Medardo Rosso. As well, reports surfaced before the unveiling of the sculpture regarding anticipated dismay over the final outcome of the artwork. The Société des Gens de Lettres decided to disregard the commission to Rodin and not accept the sculpture.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Personally, I love when artists find inspiration from artistic works of different mediums. So here we have a poem, written about a sculpture, which was inspired by the works of a novelist. To me, this exemplifies how all artistic forms are connected, that they all seek to elevate the human consciousness to loftier planes.

As I look at Rodin’s sculpture and consider Crowley’s words, I get the sense that Crowley’s admiration of this work stems from the cloak of mystery that seems to enshroud Balzac. From what I gather about Crowley, he would likely have related to the feeling of being cloaked, particularly from the ritualistic occult perspective. And even artistically. As I read more of his writings, I get the sense that he was attempting to create this myth about himself, wrapping himself in a woven tale to give him a mystique as a prophet and occultist.

While I don’t think that Crowley is as great of a poet as he claims he was, it is interesting to read his poems nonetheless, because if nothing else, poems provide a window into the writer’s psyche.

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The Old Master Haggadah

This Passover seems unusually symbolic, with people isolated in their homes dealing with a pandemic worthy of being considered a biblical plague. For the first night, we gathered family members together from around the country and had a virtual Seder via Zoom, which was unique and actually worked nicely. For the second night, my wife and I will just do something low key and go through the Old Master Haggadah.

I acquired this book at a silent auction as part of a fundraising event, and I have to say I love this Haggadah. It includes the Seder instructions, in both English and Hebrew, and interspersed are stunning pictures of paintings by 17th century masters, along with a few paragraphs explaining the painting and its symbolism.

I will keep this post short, and just include some images of paintings that are included in this wonderful text. May you and your family stay safe and healthy, and may this virus pass over all our homes.

Inside cover of book

Rembrandt: Abraham Entertaining the Angels

Caravaggio: The Sacrifice of Isaac

Rubens: Samson and Delilah

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Thoughts on “Beauty” by Charles Baudelaire

I am fair, O mortals! like a dream carved in stone,
And my breast where each one in turn has bruised himself
Is made to inspire in the poet a love
As eternal and silent as matter.

On a throne in the sky, a mysterious sphinx,
I join a heart of snow to the whiteness of swans;
I hate movement for it displaces lines,
And never do I weep and never do I laugh.

Poets, before my grandiose poses,
Which I seem to assume from the proudest statues,
Will consume their lives in austere study;

For I have, to enchant those submissive lovers,
Pure mirrors that make all things more beautiful:
My eyes, my large, wide eyes of eternal brightness!

(Translation by William Aggeler)

In this poem, Baudelaire explores the ideal of physical beauty manifest in the female form. The opening stanza conjures an image of sculpted beauty, which I suspect may be an allusion to the Venus di Milo. The beauty of the ideal physical form is an inspiration to other artists, and in Baudelaire’s case, poets in particular. But as the poem progresses through the next three stanzas, a darker image emerges.

As a society, we tend to place physical beauty upon a pedestal, on “a throne in the sky.” The problem is that this ideal is really not attainable, and those who appear to attain that level of physical perfection do so at a great cost. They essentially become statues, hardened on the inside and unable to express human emotion, never weeping and never laughing because that might affect the outward appearance.

While most of the poem seems to be a warning to individuals seeking to attain physical perfection, the last stanza also issues a warning to those who worship physical beauty. The woman whose eyes are as mirrors is letting the enchanted lover of beauty know that his soul is a reflection of her stark, cold inner self. By seeking inspiration from the external, the poet and artist end up compromising their deeper artistic wellspring, hence drying up their true emotions and becoming like stone.

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Metatheatricality in “The Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare: A Play within a Play

I read this play many times when I was in college, because it was part of my senior thesis, which I called “Order and Authority in Shakespeare’s Comedies.” I basically argued that Petruchio was a play on words and symbolized Patriarchy, and that the play sought to reestablish patriarchal rule that was being challenged by the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Needless to say, I didn’t feel the need to read it again for a long time. But reading it again, I realized that I had totally forgotten that this is the classic example of metatheatricality, or a play within a play.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, metatheatre is “theatre which draws attention to its unreality, especially by the use of a play within a play.”

Shakespeare places an Induction before Act I. Basically, it has a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly who passes out, and as a trick, is dressed up as a lord and treated as such when he awakens. His “servants” then have him seated to watch a play performed, which is “The Taming of the Shrew.” So unlike “The Mousetrap” within “Hamlet,” here we have the entire play set within a play.

The Induction also functions as a foreshadowing of the events that will transpire in the play itself. For example, the main theme of the duty and obedience which a wife is expected to show to her husband.

Sirrah, go you to Barthol’mew my page,
And see him dress’d in all suits like a lady:
That done, conduct him to the drunkard’s chamber;
And call him ‘madam,’ do him obeisance.
Tell him from me, as he will win my love,
He bear himself with honourable action,
Such as he hath observed in noble ladies
Unto their lords, by them accomplished:
Such duty to the drunkard let him do
With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,
And say ‘What is’t your honour will command,
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her love?’

(Induction, scene i)

And when the page meets Sly disguised as a woman, he reiterates the idea that a woman must be subservient to her husband.

My husband and my lord, my lord and husband;
I am your wife in all obedience.

(Induction, scene ii)

In addition to the obedient wife theme, there is also the theme of clothing, and changing of clothes to change or disguise a person. This is a key component of the Induction, and then plays out in the actual play. For example, Lucentio disguises himself and takes on the name Cambio, which is Spanish for “change.” It is in this changed manner that he woos Bianca.

His name is Cambio. Pray accept his service.

(Act II, scene i)

I suspect that Shakespeare used metatheatre to create an additional layer of protection for himself. If the play was intended to be a subversive jab at the Queen’s authority, he could argue that it was not intended to be taken seriously, hence twice removed from reality. Artists challenging authority do so at grave risk, so one cannot be too cautious, especially in a time and place where sedition is dealt with in the harshest of ways.

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