Above, today’s progress on ‘January. Nightscape’, which needs a few more days work …
As mentioned in the last two posts, I’m working on a series inspired by the Medieval view of the planets and cosmos – a complicated yet harmonious and imaginatively inspiring view of the ‘heavens’ as they were known.
My current painting in progress is on the theme of Saturn and its related qualities. (the themes of this post are also entirely related incidentally!)
In Medieval times these were:
Sol (Sun), Luna (Moon), Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. (Neptune, Uranus and Pluto weren’t viewable with the naked eye).
‘Planet’ meant ‘wandering star’, so they classed the sun and moon as planets in that sense. These were the objects in the night sky that moved in regular patterns, against a fixed, un-moving backdrop of stars, which were mapped into recognisable patterns or constellations. This was a world-wide practice of course, given that watching planets and stars enabled people to predict seasons, or navigate seas and so on.
Names of the constellations varied around the world, but it’s fascinating to read about the equally varying myths that surrounded, for example, constellations such as Orion. I’m exploring western ideas and mythology for now though, which is enough to be going on with!
I’m currently absorbing a wealth of complicated information about the Medieval view of the cosmos, from a variety of sources – not just Michael Ward’s excellent book, but also books, ideas and explanations suggested by several people I’ve encountered in the last five months or so. The mythology is enchanting, and my exploration has led me back to the Narniad, but by way of explanation on how I became interested ..
In October 2018 I was heading off to Iona for a two week artist’s residency at the Iona Youth Hostel at Lagandorain. Knowing about my interest in symbology someone had lent me a copy of Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy. It was an important book of its time and valuabe now for its insight into Renaissance philisophical ideas about magic and religion. The magical aspects weren’t so much of interest to me as the symbols relating to the cosmos, but a verse by Virgil in the intro enchanted me:
The Number and the Nature of those
things, Cal’d Elements, what Fire, Earth,
Aire forth brings: From whence the Heavens
their beginnings had; Whence Tide, whence
Rainbow, in gay colours clad. What makes
the Clouds that gathered are, and black, To
send forth Lightnings, and a Thundring
crack; What doth the Nightly Flames, and
Comets make; What makes the Earth to
swell, and then to quake: What is the seed of
Metals, and of Gold What Vertues, Wealth,
doth Nature’s Coffer hold.
Dipping randomly into the book, it also explored the planets, and influence or phases of the moon. Chatting about this with the manager at Iona Hostel, he mentioned that he used a mobile app called ‘Skymap’ to observe phases of the moon, also that on this evening the moon was entering full moon phase, and going from Pisces to Aries.
I forgot all about that, carried on with my painting, then, at about 5:20, went to clean up and have a lie down for half an hour. I couldn’t rest though and after ten minutes, feeling emotionally agitated and restless, I decided to take the two minute walk to the north beach of the island.
If you’ve observed the sea at high tide, or during changes in tide, you’ll maybe have observed the strange shifting effect – it looks almost hallucinogenic. I stood entranced, gazing at the sea for half an hour until it got dark, then returned to the hostel, checked the Skymap app and realised that the moon became full at precisely 5:45pm. I’d walked on to the beach at about 5:40pm!
It was an interesting experience – at least a reminder of the moon’s effect on the tides and this felt valuable to me as an artist.
On my return to Edinburgh, I learned more about the Medieval view of the cosmos – it’s a complicated system, but here is a brief overview for now …
Medieval philosophers believed that the cosmos had three levels; the heavens – beyond the planets, where the gods resided, or ‘the divine realm’, the celestial realm where the planets resided, and the earth where everything was a reflection of the heavens.
Anything beneath the moon is termed ‘sub-lunar’ and the gods are separate from this realm, but Medieval philosophers believed we connected with them through energies of the celestial bodies – planets and stars.
The term ‘as above, so below’ refers to the idea that on earth, everything (plants, animals, stones, minerals etc) is a reflection of the heavens. They classified these physical things according to each planet, then each planet connected to the divine realm – the planets were in a sense ‘go-betweens’. So, to evoke their influence by using a talisman (i.e. objects/plants/minerals etc related to a particular planet) you could bring that planet’s influence to bear on your life or events.
That’s it very briefly for today, but since my current painting related to Saturn, below is a very brief description, or flavour at least, of its qualities and related things on earth.
In the next post I’ll explore the mytholgy surrounding Saturn, and C.S. lewis’s literary treatment of it in ‘The Panet’s Trilogy’ and ‘the Last Battle’.
January. Winter. Winter Solstice (21st December). Saturday. Black
Qualities and associations: Time (father time), structure, form, renewal and liberation, brooding, melancholy, death, the occult (hidden, veiled, secret), teaching, pedantry, oppression, rules and boundaries.
Earth, water, lead, all ‘dark, weighty things’, ‘those things which stupifie’, dark berries, the black fig tree, pine, cypress, trees used at burials, owls, crows, animals that live by night.
Zodiac signs of Capricorn and Aquarius.
Roman feast of Saturnalia: held at winter solstice on 21st – all people celebrated, executions were cancelled or postponed, gifts were exchanged.