Monthly Archives: May 2014
In the beginning the beginning beganIn the becoming the becoming becameI have come into being in the coming of my beingas I came into being in beginning timeTo the ancient Egyptians, the animating force Khepri was best exemplified by the scarab, also known as the Dung Beetle. This little critter descends on the scat of herbivores in droves to consume undigested nutrients. To consume a meal in peace, the scarab pats a piece of dung into a ball and rolls the scat some distance away, sometimes hiding the trophy in an underground niche. The Dung Beetle lays her eggs in concealed dung balls, which the larvae subsist on. The young adult emerges from the dung ball seemingly self-created.By pushing his large dung ball over the sand the scarab illustrated to the Egyptians the force pushing the sun across the sky in the daytime, then pushing the sun under the earth through the night. The scarab was not merely a symbol of this force, named Khepri, but an incarnation of a pervasive presence which manifested through this insect in a pure form.Egyptians wore scarab jewelry and carried scarab amulets. The deceased often had a scarab ornament resting over the heart. Egyptians saw the heart as the seat of consciousness in the body and believed it was paramount to meet death in a pure state of heart. Scarabs themselves were sometimes entombed in the little scarab sarcophagi.The hymn above is from a rather obscure third century papyrus called “Knowing the Modes of Ra” and is part of the Egyptian Hermetic tradition. This is my own interpretation – I won’t call it a translation because I don’t read hieroglyph. The original goes
Kheper-i kheper kheperu kheper-kuy n kheperu m khepra kheperu m sep tepy.
I first heard this in 1987 at the Isis Oasis in Geyserville, California and it has always stayed with me. More information can be found in a book called Eternal Egypt: Ancient Rituals for a Modern World by Richard J. Reidy and at the website for a group called House of Keperu.
I’ve always thought that witchcraft is the best path for spiritual materialists, because we get to play with so many toys (only we call them tools). I have assembled most of the common implements of magic such as broom, cauldron, crystal ball, wand, athame, white handled knife, girdle, sword, chalice, pentacle necklace, and holey stone. I have materials to make a scrying mirror and staff, but have never gotten around to it. Still, I think the typical discussion of witch tools has some glaring omissions. One important tool seldom mentioned is the comb. Another is the distaff. At one point I speculated that our magical arsenal should be updated to include the key, such an important part of everyday life and filled with so much spiritual symbolism. Naturally when I began to research the subject I found that actual keys, as well as symbolic ones, have long held an important place in Pagan magic.The earliest locking mechanisms date back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and it is speculated that they were originally contrived to guard the treasures in the temples. It was not until the Roman Empire that anything resembling the modern key arrived. There are two important deities that are often pictured holding keys: the Roman god Janus and the continental Celtic triple goddess The Matrones. Barbara Walker writes in The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects:
I often use keys in my magical practice. I prefer a blank key that you can get at a hardware or hobby craft store, though I have cleaned and recycled a few. That way it’s not holding old vibrations and not fitted for a specific lock. Charge it like you would any other magical tool. You already know how to use it.SourcesBourg, Rain. “History of Keys.” Historical Keys.Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. New York: Checkmark Books, 2008.Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.
Keys had so many occult connotations that medieval magicians made great use of real keys as magic tools whenever any sort of opening, releasing, or letting go was wanted. Iron keys were buried with the dead in Ionia, to unlock the gates of the underworld. Germans kept a key in a baby’s cradle so the fairies would not be able to seize and kidnap the child.
So inevitable was the development of vision among motile creatures that it has developed along two different evolutionary pathways: the brain in vertebrates and the epidermis in invertebrates. That’s right, the skin. Among the more primitive jellyfishes, the eyes are raised patches of cells, called eyespots. These eyes cannot form images but can detect the direction light is coming from. The surface of the entire jellyfish appears to be photosensitive, sensing light even when the eyespots are covered.While the vision of the jellyfish is limited, the octopus has eyes that can form images close up and at a distance, changing the focus of its lens by a combination of muscles and internal eye pressure. The octopus adjusts its pupil size for bright or dim light and can detect the direction scattered underwater light rays are traveling. Octopus vision is limited to the blue-green spectrum of light, which corresponds to the underwater environment, and octopus vision is less refined than that of vertebrates, allowing the creature to recognize filled shapes but not outlines. The octopus is an intelligent creature, capable of learning and detecting patterns, and so it is a favorite subject for research. The invertebrate eye reaches its apotheosis in certain arthropods, and the Jumping Spider is a prime example. While Cave Spiders are completely blind and spiders who stay home on their webs have limited acuity, the hunting spiders have exceptional vision. The tiny Jumping Spider, only about a quarter of an inch in diameter, has four pairs of eyes, each with a specialized function. The large central forward facing pair has sharp vision within its limited field. The Jumping Spider has no lens to accommodate objects near and far, but the other eyes mitigate this problem to some extent. Another pair of forward facing eyes judges distance, and both pairs on either side of the head detect motion, with one of the side pair also having wide angle vision, giving the Jumping Spider the ability to see at almost 360°. If the Jumping Spider needs to see an object clearly, it jumps within range. Jumping Spiders have excellent color vision, seeing into the ultraviolet range. The hunting spiders communicate in courtship through visual cues, and another hunting spider, the Wolf Spider, waves his legs in code for the female, in a kind of spider semaphore. If the invertebrate has a brain, the eyes do communicate with that brain, but the eyes of invertebrates are different from vertebrates in structure. Reflecting evolution from the epidermal tissues, invertebrate eyes connect to different parts of the brain, and more visual processing is done in the eye itself. Vertebrate eyes, as extensions of the brain, process more visual information in the brain. Invertebrates truly see the world in different way than humans.
SourceSinclair, Sandra. How Animals See: Other Visions of Our World. New York: Facts on File, 1985.PostscriptIn the course of my research I discovered that “Jellyfish Eyes” is the name of a 2013 film by Takashi Murakami currently being screened at indie art theatres around the USA. I chose the title of this post before realizing this, as I was truly interested in actual jellyfish eyes. I may be the first to point out that the eyes on these “jellyfish” creatures are in no way anatomically correct. Alas, few sci-fi artists care about such things. Here is the trailer.