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. “
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
Easter in Bulgaria (or any other Orthodox Christian country) is like nothing you’ve seen or experienced before. It is probably the most important religious holiday we have (some may say more than Christmas, and they’d be right) and traditions are traditions.
Even though no one really takes Lent seriously (doing it right is giving up a lot of foods that the normal Bulgarian can’t cope without… mainly meat) there’s very specific rules around Easter. This year, by the Orthodox Church, Easter was on the 12th of April (last year it was on the 20th), Sunday. Before sunday there’s a few vital things that every self-respecting christian needs to do.
1. Sweetbread – either from the local bakery or homemade, it is a very important part of Easter morning and there’s always queues that go on for miles in front of the bakeries that whole week. People go crazy over that bread.
2. Eggs – That chocolate egg hunt… forget it. It’s a made up thing to feed chocolatiers after Valentine’s day. In reality what we do makes much more sense… (don’t be offended, friends, I’m just saying :D) Either on Thursday or Saturday before Easter Sunday (has to be specifically one of these days) we get a bunch of eggs, white-shelled, ideally, and we boil them. Easy as. White hard boiled eggs. What happens after, though, is the much more interesting and fun part. With little packs of dry paint (biological, so that we don’t get poisoning.. obviously) mixed with a bit of vinegar for stickiness and hot water, we put the eggs in to soak in the dye. What we get in just a few minutes are richly coloured eggs! They are perfectly good to eat after a day (Easter) or two or five…. or even…
3. The red egg of health and prosperity – it’s a very important tradition. The first red egg that is ready is taken by the oldest person and they put little dots on the youngest people’s faces – one on the forehead, one on the chin, one on the left cheek, one on the right, in the shape of a cross. That is to ensure the health and prosperity of the youth throughout the year.
4. Last year’s egg – somewhere on a high shelf in the house (for some reason with us it’s always in the kitchen) rests the first red egg from last year. Exactly right, from last year. As it has been hard boiled and dyed it doesn’t stink and it still looks nice and red (or at least it should, if it doesn’t you’ve done something wrong). The egg is then broken, to see what the inside of it looks like. The better it is, the better the house’s well being. Then it’s place is taken by the new egg, which will endure for the next year.
5. Good Friday – The Orthodox Bulgarians call it ‘Razpeti Petuk’ (Разпети петък) which comes from the word ‘razpyatie’ (разпятие) – crucible, so it’s not really Good Friday but more like Crucified Friday. As the story goes, Christ is taken down from the crucible and on the third day (Sunday) he would resurrect. On this day, Friday, people go into churches for a special service where they are blessed, they eat something given by the priest and then they go underneath a table and cross on the other side. I’ll be honest, I don’t completely understand that tradition but it is really funny to watch the people struggle (and I know how bad that sounds, but everyone’s having fun with it anyway).
6. Saturday night, midnight – The beginning of easter. Churches are filled with countless people and exactly at midnight the great service starts where everyone starts circling the church or chapel or whatever temple they’ve gathered in singing a specific traditional song, holding candles and some eggs to start the big egg battle royale.
7. The Greeting – From archaic Bulgarian, the phrase would literally be translated as ‘Christ resurrected!‘ To which whomever you said it to (which is everyone) answers ‘Indeed [he] resurrected!‘ For about a week from Easter, anyone you see you need to greet in this way according to custom. This year it wasn’t as bad as previous years, where everyone got about a thousand calls and texts and messages all saying that exact phrase.
8. The Battle – Easter morning, you wake up for some delicious warm sweetbread and then you get to choose your chapion, the egg you will fight with against everyone else, while you try to find the hardest, strongest egg out of all. the rules are simple. Every egg has a top and bottom – cupping the egg and leaving the top bit clear, you or your opponent tap one egg with the other. Obviously, the one that breaks loses. But all is not lost! Then the same thing is done on the other side. If the result is tied sometimes you can play top with bottom for the final score. By the end there’s about 10-20 broken eggs, ready to be eaten with breakfast or sliced up and put into the green salad for lunch. Which brings me to the final, most delicious part of Easter…
9. The Lamb Roast…. – it speaks for itself. Everyone that day no matter where or how, eats lamb for lunch and/or dinner. Traditionally it’s garnished with potatoes and there’s the green salad (salad, lettuce, radishes, sliced hard boiled eggs, cucumber and spring onions… or whatever but that’s the general idea). It is utterly incredible.
And that is how you get yourself a nice, proper, Orthodox, Bulgarian Easter. Something I believe any foreigner has to experience at least once, and I’ve got a few to to back me up on that. ;) Now, as we are artists, let’s see the most interesting and creative and artistic bit of the entire story.. the egg painting.
My nan has always had us over to dye eggs at hers (she lives in a nice remote house up the mountain) so it’s always a very pleasant experience being in their home. Usually they let me paint over the eggs, being artistic, but I never had enough time to do as many eggs as I wished. This time I had so much help I was worried we were going to run out of plain non-painted eggs. We had to use gouache (or tempera paint as they call it around here) and markers which I supplied. It was such an incredible experience having two of my closest friends there during this pure family experience… It made it seem more of a family! And getting to teach someone about how all this works really did help me see it all with new eyes.
So let’s hope next year it would be the same people there to break the house egg! :D
I have spent the past couple of days in and out of this website, wondering how to start writing and what on earth to write after I’ve begun. It is pretty hard to start if you’re not exactly sure what to say. But after finally pulling myself together, here’s what my brain came up with…
TMI. Too Much Information. Mainly because in one day we had two lectures packed with information and learning and tips and associations and what not… two lectures can be quite stressful when each is so intense.
Let’s start with the first one – a Study Skill Session with Theo Humphries. I enjoyed it quite a lot. Even though he gives you a scary vibe, once you relax and just listen to what he has to say, you can get a lot out of it. What he talked about was basically 1) Handling History, 2)Handling ‘-isms’, and 3)Handling Texts (close reading = opposite of speed reading). I am not going to write here everything he said but in other words. I will only say that while I learned quite a lot of new stuff and saw some things in a different perspective, I also heard and did some things that I had already done before. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that there’s a lot of intense learning in Bulgaria and I kind of went through a lot of things that people my age haven’t… I don’t know. What’s important is that the close reading was a good exercise and it reminded me not to get rusty on that or any other subject. The text we worked on was a short one – it was just one of those explanatory texts that artists and galleries put next to a certain piece. This one was by Prof. André Stitt, ‘The Little Summer of St. Michael’ from 2011. If you can find that text for yourselves and check it out you will see it’s packed with sophisticated words and complex sentences. With straightforward meanings and concealed ones. After a while it could drive you insane. Well, we worked on it for an hour and I think that was plenty.
Next we had a breakfast break of one hour. It was just perfect – neither too long nor too short, unlike last time, when we had to wait for two hours for the next lecture to start and after an hour and a half we felt like our heads were going to explode from doing nothing… Anyway, back to the topic at hand.
(*This is a painting by Jeremy Deller*)
The second lecture – by Prof. Jeff Jones was mostly about William Morris and the power of Art. We talked a lot about him – where he came from and what heights he reached, the people and movements he was involved with, the ideas and beliefs he represented and how he contributed to Art and the people.
I definitely agree with most of the things he stood for. Parts of the lecture stood out and had an… impact on me, so to speak. For example: An artist cannot, must not, be separated and independent from religion, politics and society. I could write a whole essay saying why I agree with that statement but for now it’s enough to say that I do. (And isn’t it interesting how we in the 21st century can relate to the beliefs of someone who died 200 years ago?)
I didn’t really understand why we were having such a lecture while we were having it. It made no sense to me that we had to focus on that one single artist while there were a thousand more that we could have discussed. But in retrospect, as I write now, I kind of get it. I understand what it was about. I am glad I kept notes despite the fact that I was quite distracted during that hour. I am thankful that I did, otherwise I could not have written this and therefore reached this conclusion… (aah, sometimes it’s the little things you do…)
“There is Love, Pleasure and Cooperation in our art.” A quote by William Morris. This is something I strive to do every time I take the pencil or the brush. Honestly, I feel inspired right now, so great thanks to Jeff Jones for introducing me to William Morris.