Symbols – The Dagger

dagger-clipart-DaggerCyprianism uses a calendar system that encourages focus on certain things during certain periods. The 52 days from September 8 to October 29 is called Le Baissier (The Bear) and, among other things, it features a focus on the vice of anger. The symbol for it, and it’s accompanying virtue, cheek, is the poniard – a small dagger.

Symbolizing anger with a dagger makes obvious and immediate sense, so I’ve never really taken a lot of time to dissect it. But it’s really been on my mind lately, so I figured I should probably give it some attention.

In our culture, anger is something that must be mitigated. We live in a civilized society, right? No room for real anger, just anger management. The most we can get away with without true disruption to our lives is maybe getting mad on Facebook. But that usually doesn’t do anything but, at best, get something off of our chest and, at worst, get others mad at us instead of mad with us. Certainly, we usually end up finding out who of our friends has the unique ability to make us angry.

What we want when we are angry is a call to action. What we are asking for is justice. A revolution, large or small. Right or wrong, actually. What we get on Facebook is a handful of “likes” that makes us feel only marginally better.

At first, it seems that maybe the reason anger’s symbol is a dagger is because we are only meant to wield a very small weapon in our wrath. Something that can’t do as much damage as a sword, a gun, a bomb.

The truth is that the dagger is a weapon of mastery. And it is very personal.

One of my favorite movies is Léon (The Professional). You may have seen it. It’s Natalie Portman’s first full length film, released in 1994. In it, Léon, played by Jean Reno, teaches Portman’s Mathilda, 13 years old at the time, how to be a contract killer. Among many bits of life and killing advice, he tells her that the last weapon she’ll use is a knife. She’ll start with a long range rifle and work her way to the knife.

He says, “The rifle is the first weapon you learn how to use, because it lets you keep your distance from the client. The closer you get to being a pro, the closer you can get to the client. The knife, for example, is the last thing you learn.”

The knife, though small, is just as lethal as the rifle. But it requires mastery on many levels. Not just the skills to use a knife, but the skills to assess all of your surroundings. The skills to get close to a “client”. It takes complete mastery. Breathing techniques. Close combat techniques. Strategy. Strength. And it’s personal. Very personal.

Anger, you see, is a vice. One of the so-called “seven deadly sins”. And like the other six, it can damage and even kill. But used correctly it can be an incredibly useful tool.

Think of it like a fire. Fire can warm you. It can temper steel. It can light our way in darkness. Yet, unchecked or misused, it can burn everything to the ground. The embers of injustice can be stoked into a roaring fire. And that same fire can destroy us.

Consider, then, the dagger. Modest in size. Easily concealed. Lethal. And just as easily turned back against us if we do not possess, practice and master the skill necessary to use it properly.

When paired with the apple, the Dagger takes on a whole new set of characteristics. Together, the apple and poniard is a symbol of the Third Key of Cyprianism – the Hidden, or Madame’s, Key. The apple which is pierced through is the fruit given as prize to Aphrodite when Paris judged Her to be the most Beautiful.

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Quote of the Day

“Ritual is physical Poetry. It builds the muscle memory of mystery.” – The Seed

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Life Lessons from Art – The Chisel

“There is no truth more esoteric (hidden) than the truth of art.”

That phrase has been resonating in my head over the last few weeks. On a recent walk I conjured a scenario where I was being interviewed by someone about what it meant.

“You think, then, that the truth of art is hopelessly hidden?”
“Not at all. Just because something is hidden doesn’t mean it can’t be found. The truth of art is dying for us to find it.”
“Then why doesn’t it just come out of hiding? Wouldn’t that be better?”
“No. It is in the finding that the real fun lies. Listen, if I invented a game called ‘sitting around a room staring at each other’ kids wouldn’t want to play it.”
“Probably not.”
“But if I invent a game called ‘hide and seek’ kids will not only play it, but they’ll pass the tradition on for generations and generations. There’s just something alluring about finding the hidden. The truth of art plays a game with us. That’s why it hides.”

I could go on, but the point is that one of the Poetic attributes of art is that its truth begs to be found. Art and its expression is one of the truly human things – one of the things our species alone can do. There’s a certain mystery to that. And that is why I am a Cyprian – a tradition that draws philosophical lessons from artistic practices.

BRUSH&CHISELIn ancient Athens, the Knights and Sisters of Paphos (a “guild” of artists and sacred courtesans) used symbols that related to their respective arts to encode their philosophical beliefs. One such symbol was the palette and chisel (or paint brush and chisel). The palette speaks to the additive nature of some art. You build paint up on a canvas to produce the desired work. The chisel, on the other hand, speaks to the subtractive nature of some art. A sculptor removes parts of a stone in order to create his or her work. Combined, these two symbolic tools encode a rich depth of philosophical meaning. The chisel is my focus here.

So, how do we apply sculptural principles to our life?

28-Chisels-129Sculpture is a truly decadent art. On a civic scale, it has all the power of architecture and none of the utility. On a personal scale, very few people own real sculpture. While many of us own paintings, photos, prints – two dimensional art – it is a truly decadent practice to own works of sculpture. Having the space to properly display sculpture is, in itself, a luxury.

THECHISELOne of the aphorisms in The Seed says, “Because we are not stone, the chisel causes pain.” This phrase has meanings that work on several levels but the least hidden of them is this: when we approach our lives as a sculpture-in-progress we realize we must chip away the unwanted pieces of stone. As we do this, often for the very best reasons, it often causes some degree of pain.

The last year and a half of my life has been a fairly constant series of carving and chiseling. It has resulted in a great deal of loss and a fair portion of melancholy and heartbreak. But it’s also exposed some really Beautiful things and left me with a lightness I did not have before now. The sculpture of it all is beginning to emerge.

It has also been important for me to consider how an artist uses a human model for figurative sculpting. And for that reason I’ve had to apply myself diligently to visualizing the model of what shape the sculpture of my life should take, in order to try the results against it.

detail of The Kiss by Rodin, my personal Cyprian Master

Detail of The Kiss by Rodin, my personal Cyprian Master

The master sculptor must consider every angle when producing a work. A painting or photograph has one point of view. It will hang with it’s back against a wall. But there are a vast number of options when displaying a work of sculpture. The true master is aware of this and applies his skill in leading the viewer to partake of the work in the desired manner. Like a hypnotist with the power of suggestion. However, in harmony with that, the connoisseur knows how to delve even further, to consider it from many – even all – angles. To take it in and turn it over, regarding it as the artist intended, but also in many other ways in order to tease out not only the esoteric truths but also invent new ones that speak  to him or her personally.

That is truth of art.

This week, as if he knew I was writing about the Chisel, a dear friend sent me this old film of Rodin at work. Though in my practice, I have chosen Rodin as my Cyprian Master, I have never seen a film of him at work. I’ve seen hundreds of photographs, but never a moving picture. Watching this brought me to tears. It is so moving. The cheeky expression on his face, the pieces of stone in his beard, the aggressive chiseling of what is sure to be an elegantly flowing piece of finished sculpture. Just amazing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And may we all get stone in our beards (Thank you, Tony).

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Quote of the Day – Manly P. Hall

“Truth leads, and ignorance follows in his train. Spirit blazes the trail, and matter follows behind. In the world today ideals live but a moment in their purity before the gathering hosts of darkness snuff out the gleaming spark. The Mystery School, however, remains unmoved. It does not bring its light to man; man must bring his light to it.” – Manly P. Hall, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry


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Quote of the Day – “Sister Carrie”, Theodore Dreiser

“The world is always struggling to express itself,” he went on. “Most people are not capable of voicing their feelings. They depend on others. That is what genius is for. One man expresses their desires for them in music; another one in poetry; another one in a play. Sometimes nature does it in a face — it makes the face representative of all desire. That’s what has happened in your case.” – Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser

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Quote of the Day: Arsène Lupin

“Who dares think life monotonous?” – Arsène Lupin

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief

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“Behind the Painting” with Catherine Abel

BehindThePaintingCyprianist artist, Catherine Abel, talks about what drives her and the evolution of her painting. A perfect treat for the season of Le Chien (Beauty/Envy) – a time when the art of painting is featured. Enjoy.

“That drive for absolute perfection…and then when I do it, ironically, it’s not perfect and it drives me to do another painting.”

“I think art can speak on profound levels without needing to provoke or challenge.”

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