In the context of Constellation the past year has been nothing but pivotal and excruciatingly heavy – stress became a key word and there was no way to truly relax even during breaks and holidays. This time last year we were having our first lectures about what our dissertation is and how we should be starting to think about it. Most of us left those lectures even more confused than when we entered. At least that entire process started early enough to allow us enough panic time before we had to actually sit down and get some work done.
It took me a while to find what I wanted to write about. Not because I had no ideas but because I had too many to choose from. We were instructed to write about something we love and wouldn’t get bored of easily. It was difficult to align that with my idea to write about something I find important or at least inspirational. I could’ve chosen to write about anime and gone on and on and on about Studio Ghibli, Akira and all the rest of my favourites, I could’ve written about comic books and the ways they influence our lives, and gone on to analyse the works of Moebius, Crumb and so many more. I could’ve gone into tarot cards and alchemy and all the illustrated manuscripts, which were the basis for modern scientific practices. I could have written about so much… but I didn’t. I chose to focus on perhaps the one topic, which could never be truly explored in its totality because its subject is infinite in essence.
Once I truly started thinking about it the answer appeared in my mind, as if on its own. Memories started re-emerging of my 12-year-old self tirelessly writing lists upon lists of gods and goddesses and what their powers were and which mythology they were from, grouping them in all sorts of ways. As soon as I remembered my notebooks and attempts at storytelling, I knew that it had to be something to do with all that. I wanted to relate the idea to my practice, I am in art school after all, so perhaps I should look at the visual side of the matter – that made for the initial question: Why do we visualise gods and goddesses the way they do? In essence, I did not agree with the idea that each divinity was meant to look in a specific way – why does Aphrodite have blond hair, why does Zeus have to have a big bushy beard, why are they curly, why aren’t they fat, questions of all sorts, often shallow and not necessarily promising. But every brainstorming session is bound to produce more than several ridiculous bits and pieces. Eventually, the question morphed to Why do we even depict them as human? As being existing in different dimensions, it makes no sense for them to be limited to such a thing as the human body, and surely they can’t be defined by its appearance. So why do we put so much emphasis on the depiction of a form, which is just one of the many shapes a god can take within our world?
God and religion aren’t topics I enjoy talking to people about, mainly because of the endless disagreements on the matter. I don’t particularly enjoy having to put concepts like “GOD” into academic terms and definitions, as it is not only impossible but purely ludicrous to “define” something which is undefinable by definition. People love talking about god, up in the sky, judging form his throne in the clouds; they also love drawing and picturing the old man with his beard and stern face and robes and sandals. Perhaps this is why I never found the appeal of religion – you could be completely in touch with nature, and follow basic moral principles, you could be spiritual and devoted to your faith but why do we have to have someone’s restrictive ideas pushed down our throats since day one? How could we allow for such a limitation to our perspectives of the world?
Of course, we all have our own views on the matter and I don’t want to disrespect anyone’s understanding of this highest power – because that is what it ultimately is – a highest form of power, which we all believe in, under one form or another. For some it’s Buddha, others call it Allah, or God, but no matter where we look, there is always a concept of that which is transcendent of everything else – its name and shape are just the product of cultural differences. This is exactly where I’ve rooted my entire question.
Titled Art and the Divine: Visualising the Unimaginable, it is, in essence, an exploration of how gods and goddesses have been depicted throughout time and in different environments. I won’t talk much about the dissertation itself; but it is a piece of work I am immensely proud of, as I never thought I was capable of writing something so consistent and so lengthy. What surprised me the most was that I ended up going over the word limit by about %50, and that was before writing the introduction and conclusion. My topic was more extensive than I’d imagined, even without being as analytical and explorative as I wished. There was so much I wanted to write about and cover, but 10,000 words is barely enough to even get my point started.
I believe our dissertation group was blessed with one of the best possible tutors – Mahnaz Shah. Without her guidance, commentaries and patience, I believe I would’ve lost faith in both my writing and myself a long time ago. It is truly a wonder, to be inspired by your own studies and trusting your own perspective on matters you wouldn’t imagine to ever view academically.
I may have suffered creatively (in Subject and personal projects), but I have to say, every bit of it was worth it – my mind has expanded exponentially and is ready to be filled with even more wondrous ideas.
Here’s the visual cover I did for the dissertation (a test-collage from last year’s Constellation lectures, when we were asked to depict our reality), followed by a short excerpt, which in my opinion manages to sum up the entire piece.
“Perhaps the infinity of depictions of god is symbolic of the infinity which is god. “
Why illustration? Why not just art? What is the difference? Isn’t illustration an aspect of Art and Design?
There’s a lot of ways to communicate, some more universal than others. When proposing and sharing ideas, we can write them all out, but they would be limited to the language used to write them; music is another language, more universal than words – the emotion of a melody can be understood by anyone regardless background or nationality. And then there is illustration.
There’s a reason why the expression is “to illustrate ideas”, rather than just draw or visualise. There’s a certain power to an image which speaks to the viewer without the additional help of tons of theory and conceptual justification. Illustration is the language which speaks to everyone who comes across it, and it’s up to the illustrators to convey the right message through the work that they produce.
Illustration is more than just pretty pictures in books, as people seem to think most often. Illustration can educate, it can comfort the individual, it can inspire the masses, and it can fuel a fire of revolution – what could be a reason behind the shooting of Charlie Hebdo’s satirical political illustrators… it is the most inconspicuous art form as people don’t necessarily see it as ‘real art’ (what we come across in the exclusivity of a gallery space) and so it is viewed in a completely different light. In a way it’s like we take the understanding of visual symbols for granted – we don’t even realise how often we grasp concepts and ideas from illustrated images, and this right there is the hidden power of illustration.
An illustration has the power to evoke responses, emotional as well as physical, unexpected as well as predictable. We may laugh at the funny little caricature collage of David Cameron riding a pig (UK) but we won’t be laughing when we see an urban landscape of destruction where the street has turned into a river of blood (Syria)… and at the same time, illustrations can make mentally healthy people understand what it could feel like to have depression or heavy anxiety, they can evoke empathy towards others and explain what cannot be said otherwise.
Mythologies have been illustrated since the dawn of art and craft – there are caves dotted around the world with drawings made tens of thousands of years ago; narrative after narrative on the tomb and temple walls of ancient Egypt; we see entire tales drawn over ceramic pots and vases in ancient Greece; stories carved in doors and their frames from Celtic and Slavic origins; the carved stones of Incas, Aztecs and Mayans… And let’s only mention the entire Renaissance, where classical myth was deeply intertwined even within a highly Christian environment. And why? Is it because myths just present pretty narratives or because they may hold existential information and universal truths about the human experience? Why illustrate myths? Perhaps because with each new image, we find a new way of understanding the ‘same old concepts’, because with each new image we can redefine what we’re already familiar with not for ourselves, but for the world, in the context of our experience of life today. If a picture is worth a thousand words, an illustration can be worth millions. Because one illustration, if it’s the right one, in the right context, in the right place at the right time, can potentially change the course of history…
Creation Myths and the Hint of Higher Understanding
Creation Myths are the explanations of the origins of our world/universe, and no matter where or when, they have existed since the dawn of Reason.
In creation myths, there are ideas explored through the imagination of our ancestors thousands of years ago, and through the logic and facts of science nowadays,
which ideas, strangely enough, are strikingly similar to one another.
Is it crazy to think that there may have been some higher knowledge involved, a collective consciousness?
In terms of space and time, myths and the people who told them had little if not nothing in common, and often didn’t interact as they developed separately, on different continents, divided by vast impassable oceans.
So what could have enabled them to have the same ideas if they had nothing in common?
There may be more than a thousand stories about how our world and our universe as well as ourselves came to be, yet they all rely on the same basic principles.
~ At the beginning there’s nothing/darkness/infinite emptiness and chaos. ~ Then the egg cracks/there’s an explosion of light/the emergence of consciousness or the primordial creator god. ~ Then the creation of the heavens and the earth/night and day/celestial bodies. ~ Then the humans, made of clay/mud/dust/washed up wood…
– What was there before the Big Bang? – The Big Bang, the giant explosion, which marked the beginning of time. – Matter takes new shapes and configurations/gas clusters/stars /planets/galaxies. – Humanity as the product of an evolutionary process, moulded throughout time to what we are today, with the same chemical consistency as the earth we live on….
Could we claim that it could be one and the same story seen through a prism? A different language bringing the story down to understandable terms for the different cultures?
Science gives us yet another explanation (this time based on fact and logic, rather than imagination and logic) and that is still almost the same story, excluding the narrative and the humanised creative forces called gods and goddesses.
Can scientists say what was before the Big Bang? They may still speculate but one thing is certain and that is the black void which lies beyond our cosmic horizon. (Not entirely void, as there is still energy emitting from it, so there must be something in that infinite darkness which is believed to have been billions and billions of years ago, before the BB. FYI: TED Talks, Distant Time and the Hint of a Multiverse)
Another interesting comparison:
In Ancient Egypt they had Nut and Geb, the Sky and the Earth, as lovers in a tight embrace until they were separated by Ra, the sun deity.
In Norse mythology after the death of the giant Ymir, his head was separated from his body so his skull could become the dome of the sky and his body the earth, and the skull was held up by four guards – East, South, West and North. Chinese myth tells the story of Pan Gu, the giant who was asleep in an egg shell and once he awoke and the shell broke, heavier bits that came out of it became the earth, the lighter ones became the sky, and fearing that they’d mix once more, he held them apart, growing simultaneously as they continued to separate.
These three bits of the respective creation myths clearly emphasise that the earth and sky were once mixed, or really close together.
As if playing on the idea that at the dawn of time temperatures were much higher, and matter was much denser. Closer together. And that’s scientific fact: The universe is expanding. It’s cooling off. We have scientific studies right here, explaining to us that simple yet fundamental idea which actually existed for thousands of years beforehand.
So when we say “the universe is expanding, it used to be much denser” our ancestors would have said things like “the sky and the earth were once so close together that there was no room for light and air, so [insert name of god here] came between them and pushed them away from one another”.
Of course, when talking about the universe and the creation of the world, we must think in a much larger scale or time frame, which is one of the things that would have been unfathomable for our ancestors.
– Pan Gu held the sky and earth apart for 18,000 years as he grew and matured.
– God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them in 7 days, according to the old Biblical texts.
But what if those are just the understandable measures the concepts had to be translated into?
– The official age of maturity around the world is most often 18.
– A week consists of 7 days (6 to work and one to rest).
So perhaps these creation stories are metaphors for things we are already aware of… but if we’re aware of them already what is the point?
Could we not have discovered some scientific truths much earlier if only we had paid attention? Instead of denying people’s faiths and calling them pagan and their gods false, and burning people at the stake for their radical ideas which could put the authority of the church in jeopardy, where could we have been today if we had been even a little bit more receptive of external knowledge and ideas?
Because of such a violent history between science and faith, it is understandable why these two fields wouldn’t really look for common ground, but as we advance (and at high rates as well) we can start to see how boundaries between spheres of knowledge are merging and producing the most astonishing results which drive us even further on.
So why is it so difficult for science to work together with mythology towards the possibility of a higher understanding of our universe, and perhaps even discoveries waiting to be made?
Pointless? Nothing is pointless if you know how to look at it.
All scientific advances have been for the purpose of a higher understanding, but so have creation stories. Just as science works with facts and figures, myths about creation were built on the basis of people’s immediate surroundings, the recognition of possible cause for specific effect. They weren’t ‘foolish’ or ‘crazy’ at all when they talked of giants, gods and magical creatures. They just had different tools to work with, and different terminology, most widely recognised as metaphor.
If you showed an iPhone to someone a thousand years ago, it would have been perceived as magic and you would have been accused of witchcraft and burned. We would call that stupidity and blindness, but magic is just the word for science we don’t have yet. Communicating across oceans was an idea beyond belief and yet today our friends or family on the other side of the world are just a phone call away.
Interestingly enough in Tarot, The Magician card, number I, represents just that: someone who can do what they do so well and with such knowledge, that others believe it is magic. That’s how illusionists work, they keep your attention while they do their tricks without you even realising, until you find yourself amazed and in disbelief.
Yes, there is magic in myth. There are creatures made up of different animals; could that be the first notion of genetic modification?
Yes, there are gods of unimaginable power, but what is the meaning behind? A ‘god’ would be a masculine energy, a physical force, a catalyst for action and often destruction. In the same sense, a ‘goddess’ would represent the feminine energy of creation, a mental force, a representation of connection and protection…
Why is it so strange and hard to remember such simple concepts? We end up taking everything so seriously that we lose sense of that transcendent aspect of what these stories are meant to teach us.
Creation stories are the roots.
They are the beginnings to entire mythologies, which in turn became the foundations of religions and different belief systems today.
Cults, religions, worship are all culture-specific. And cultures more or less differ in accordance with territory and population.
Yes, it is the people that make the culture, and yes, it is the people that choose their faith but it’s actually a mirrored effect – it is the culture hand in hand with the faith that moulds the individual. When you place two mirrors facing each other, you just get an infinite loop, much like this one; we are who we are, thanks to our knowledge and experiences, thanks to the culture we grew up in and what we have faith in on a spiritual level.
But does anyone ask themselves the simple question: What if?
What if I wasn’t born where I was?
What if I was raised by a different family in a different country of different a different culture, with different traditions and faith?
I would have had a different upbringing, different associations to things, perhaps even different views on what’s right and wrong.
And maybe I would’ve been blind enough to think that other places, cultures, peoples, have it all mixed up and don’t know the truth…
“Truth is singular, its versions are mistruths.” –Sonmi-451, Cloud Atlas How can we deny what others believe to be true?
When it comes to the material world, it’s easy, just look at the facts. But when it comes to spiritual understanding, that’s where things get tricky.
Religion is a form of identification, just like nationality and language, but where these are focused on territorial background, religions, or faiths, represent a spiritual kinship, a bond beyond the immediate familiarity. To believe in the same thing as another, creates an unmatched connection which is the foundation for collaboration and advancement. We move forward because we move together for the same purpose, in a sense.
But when we look at religion today, do we just see a set of rules for a ‘sinless’ life? Regulations and commands of what to do and what not to do in order to secure a good afterlife in heaven? In order not to be punished and sent to hell to suffer for an eternity? Really? Is that all it comes down to?
Let’s do good things so we don’t go to hell? How is that moral in any way? Isn’t religion meant to teach morality, compassion, love and acceptance rather than fear?
And what happened to the metaphors? We have people all over the planet, believing that there’s a place in the clouds waiting for them after they die, but what if that, like all religious and mythological teachings, is too a metaphor?
Do good and you’ll go to Heaven.
Sin and you’ll go to Hell.
Do good and good will come to you, and you’ll feel good after.
Do bad things and you’ll feel horrible about it after, not to mention the vengeance and/or justice that would immediately befall you as a result of your actions.
Are those ideas trying to teach us that there’s such a thing as cause and effect? Perhaps this is just the contemporary slang for it, or I’ve gone mad, thinking that there might be a hidden meaning behind religious texts… right.
By saying all of this I don’t deny the existence of a Heaven or Hell, I simply try to understand concepts for which there is no physical proof. Or at least no physical proof on our frequency.
Is it possible that our world functions like a radio or a TV? With radios you get different frequencies or different stations – when you change the frequency from A to B, A doesn’t disappear, but we simply stop hearing it. Instead we can only hear station B. It’s the same for channels on TV, they don’t stop existing just because we’re not watching them. And we can’t watch or listen to one channel/station while we’re occupied with another.
In this sense, could our world be a layer of such frequencies, with us only existing on a specific one? Could those notions of Heaven and Hell and other realms actually be scientifically plausible if they existed on a different frequency?
Another example could be light. A light spectrum is the many different wavelengths of energy produced by a light source. Light is measured in nanometers (nm), where each nanometer represents a wavelength of light or band of light energy. Visible light is the part of the spectrum from 380nm to 780nm, which make up a tiny fraction of the spectrum – we can’t physically perceive ultraviolet, x- and gamma rays, which are lower than 380nm, and neither can we see infrared, radar, FM, TV or AM waves (above 780nm). Sound is almost exactly the same – we simply can’t hear anything outside of the sonic range, anything below is infrasonic, and anything above is ultrasonic or even hypersonic.
And yet we are aware of these wavelengths, there is proof of them even though they are unperceivable. Can we become aware of new frequencies of existence in the same way with the right tools?
What if right now we are simply blind to something which is right in front of us, right under our noses, that we just haven’t realised we can perceive?
What if we are able to transcend the barriers of our physical bodies and consciousness by simply changing our own frequency? Our way of thinking? Our mindset?
Could we be truly unified? Cooperating, understanding, caring, and loving? Working together towards a higher purpose, a higher knowledge, a transcendence of sorts?
Try and imagine what we could achieve if we only stopped dividing ourselves – gender, race, nationality, language,… religion? How come religion, which is meant to be the most unifying factor of all end up as one of the most severely dividing one? And this isn’t even about the mistrust and downright hatred between different religions and faiths, this is about the subdivisions within a single faith such as Christianity – it is not just that anymore, you have to be specific when you refer to this religion as there are so many ‘denominations’ of it…
There’s Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Restorationist, Nontrinitarian… It’s like each one is its own different religion. How can we say we’ve changed so much since ancient times, when, really, we haven’t changed one bit – everyone still believes whatever suits them best, with major disregard and/or denial of everyone else’s belief systems. “My Truth is the only Truth, and everyone else is just wrong”, is this what we truly believe?
How crazy is it that all those different religions and faiths are just the different sides to the same pyramid, all leading up to the same Truth? The Truth which is transcendent of all else?
In order to get where you want to go, you need to know where you are. There are countless ways to get to London for example but depending on where you are, those can vary drastically. In the same sense, religions and such could just be the different paths to the ultimate Truth that we are all aiming for. Why would we deny or accuse a path of being wrong, if it leads to the same place?
Mythologies nowadays are widely regarded as outdated, as ancient stories and fables with some moral value. They are in fact the results of cultural particularities; different territories, languages, population, habits, etc. Our ancestors told the stories in understandable terms, they made do with what they had in front of them to go by, what they knew from their own experience and surroundings. That makes general myths difficult to compare (although the well known Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, is told in almost the same form in Japan where it’s about the creators of the world, Izanami and Izanagi). This makes Creation stories much more appropriate for such an attempt of pointing out similarities hiding in plain sight for thousands of years.
No matter who you are, where you’re from, how you live your life and whom/what you worship, you have come across or pondered at some point the notion of how everything began. Where did we come from, what made us exist, what made or world the way it is? It’s the type of story we should expect to hear most answers to, and yet as many Creation Myths and Stories of Genesis there are, they all build on the same basic concepts, regardless of where or when they were told.
The matter of Creation is probably one of the most significant questions contemplated, and further studied by scientists, since the dawn of humanity, and it may just be one of the most important things we have not yet fully understood.
“He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows. For in this context, to know is not to know. And not to know is to know.”
—Power of Myth , p.55