Tag Archives: Medieval cosmos

A Response to ‘The Last Battle’.

On the right is a photo of (from left) Dr Charles Stephens, Atzi Muramatsu, Adam Brewster and me, after our event on Saturday yesterday in association with the exhibition ‘The Planets. The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis’ for which Adam, Charles and Atzi responded to C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle with an animation, a reading and a cello performance. (Links below).

 

 

 

Saturday is of course associated with Saturn, and the corresponding book in the Narniad, influenced by Saturn, is The Last Battle.

Here are the performances (thanks to Adam Brewster for videos) …

Animation by Adam Brewster (BAFTA nominated for best animation in 2010) in response to themes of the exhibition (2 minutes):

Cello performance by Atzi Muramatsu (who won a BAFTA for best new composer in 2016) in response to ‘The Last Battle’: (10 minutes, starts 0:20)

The exhibition ended today and the launch last Thursday was a great success thanks to Dr Michael Ward’s fascinating talk about the Medieval cosmos and its influence on C.S. Lewis, explored in his book Planet Narnia.

As ‘The Last Battle’ describes the end of Narnia, it is a moving and at times ominous book – the seventh in the series. After the animation, reading and music performance yesterday, I asked viewers to contemplate the numbers seven and eight – eight being the symbol of infinity. I’d also been thinking of the following beautiful poem by C.S. Lewis:  What the Bird Said Early in the Year

Warm thanks again to Michael Ward, Adam Brewster, Atzi Muramatsu, Dr Charles Stephens, who so movingly read the excerpt – ‘Night Falls on Narnia’ – from  ‘The Last Battle’. (excerpt below) … Also Richard Demarco and Terry Anne Newman for hosting the events at the Demarco Galleries, and lastly thanks again to Fernanda Zei for her excellent curation of the exhibition and talk.

Here’s hoping we can develop the exhibition and related performances for a future exhibition and event!

Night Falls on Narnia, from The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis

They all stood beside Aslan, on his right side, and looked through the open doorway.

The bonfire had gone out. On the earth all was blackness: in fact you could not have told that you were looking into a wood, if you had not seen where the dark shapes of the trees ended and the stars began. But when Aslan had roared yet again, out on their left they saw another black shape. That is, they saw another patch where there were no stars: and the patch rose up higher and higher and became the shape of a man, the hugest of all giants. They all knew Narnia well enough to work out where he must be standing. He must be on the high moorlands that stretch away to the North beyond the River Shribble. Then Jill and Eustace remembered how once long ago, in the deep caves beneath those moors, they had seen a great giant asleep and been told that his name was Father Time, and that he would wake on the day the world ended.

“Yes,” said Aslan, though they had not spoken. “While he lay dreaming his name was Time. Now that he is awake he will have a new one.”

Then the great giant raised a horn to his mouth. They could see this by the change of the black shape he made against the stars. After that—quite a bit later, because sound travels so slowly—they heard the sound of the horn: high and terrible, yet of a strange, deadly beauty.

Immediately the sky became full of shooting stars. Even one shooting star is a fine thing to see; but these were dozens, and then scores, and then hundreds, till it was like silver rain: and it went on and on. And when it had gone on for some while, one or two of them began to think that there was another dark shape against the sky as well as the giant’s. It was in a different place, right overhead, up in the very roof of the sky as you might call it. “Perhaps it is a cloud,” thought Edmund. At any rate, there were no stars there: just blackness. But all around, the downpour of stars went on. And then the starless patch began to grow, spreading further and further out from the centre of the sky. And presently a quarter of the whole sky was black, and then a half, and at last the rain of shooting stars was going on only low down near the horizon.

With a thrill of wonder (and there was some terror in it too) they all suddenly realized what was happening. The spreading blackness was not a cloud at all: it was simply emptiness. The black part of the sky was the part in which there were no stars left. All the stars were falling: Aslan had called them home.

The last few seconds before the rain of stars had quite ended were very exciting. Stars began falling all round them. But stars in that world are not the great flaming globes they are in ours. They are people (Edmund and Lucy had once met one). So now they found showers of glittering people, all with long hair like burning silver and spears like white-hot metal, rushing down to them out of the black air, swifter than falling stones. They made a hissing noise as they landed and burnt the grass. And all these stars glided past them and stood somewhere behind, a little to the right.

This was a great advantage, because otherwise, now that there were no stars in the sky, everything would have been completely dark and you could have seen nothing. As it was, the crowd of stars behind them cast a fierce, white light over their shoulders. They could see mile upon mile of Narnian woods spread out before them, looking as if they were flood-lit. Every bush and almost every blade of grass had its black shadow behind it. The edge of every leaf stood out so sharp that you’d think you could cut your finger on it.

On the grass before them lay their own shadows. But the great thing was Aslan’s shadow. It streamed away to their left, enormous and very terrible. And all this was under a sky that would now be starless for ever.

The light from behind them (and a little to their right) was so strong that it lit up even the slopes of the Northern Moors. Something was moving there. Enormous animals were crawling and sliding down into Narnia: great dragons and giant lizards and featherless birds with wings like bat’s wings. They disappeared into the woods and for a few minutes there was silence. Then there came—at first from very far off—sounds of wailing and then, from every direction, a rustling and a pattering and a sound of wings. It came nearer and nearer. Soon one could distinguish the scamper of little feet from the padding of big paws, and the clack-clack of light little hoofs from the thunder of great ones. And then one could see thousands of pairs of eyes gleaming. And at last, out of the shadow of the trees, racing up the hill for dear life, by thousands and by millions, came all kinds of creatures—Talking Beasts, Dwarfs, Satyrs, Fauns, Giants, Calormenes, men from Archenland, Monopods, and strange unearthly things from the remote islands or the unknown Western lands. And all these ran up to the doorway where Aslan stood.

This part of the adventure was the only one which seemed rather like a dream at the time and rather hard to remember properly afterwards. Especially, one couldn’t say how long it had taken. Sometimes it seemed to have lasted only a few minutes, but at others it felt as if it might have gone on for years. Obviously, unless either the Door had grown very much larger or the creatures had suddenly grown as small as gnats, a crowd like that couldn’t ever have tried to get through it. But no one thought about that sort of thing at the time.

The creatures came rushing on, their eyes brighter and brighter as they drew nearer and nearer to the standing Stars. But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face; I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly—it was fear and hatred: except that, on the faces of Talking Beasts, the fear and hatred lasted only for a fraction of a second. You could see that they suddenly ceased to be Talking Beasts. They were just ordinary animals. And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which (as you have heard) streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right. There were some queer specimens among them. Eustace even recognised one of those very Dwarfs who had helped to shoot the Horses. But he had no time to wonder about that sort of thing (and anyway it was no business of his) for a great joy put everything else out of his head. Among the happy creatures who now came crowding round Tirian and his friends were all those whom they had thought dead. There was Roonwit the Centaur and Jewel the Unicorn, and the good Boar and the good Bear and Farsight the Eagle, and the dear Dogs and the Horses, and Poggin the Dwarf.

“Further in and higher up!” cried Roonwit and thundered away in a gallop to the West. And though they did not understand him, the words somehow set them tingling all over. The Boar grunted at them cheerfully. The Bear was just going to mutter that he still didn’t understand, when he caught sight of the fruit trees behind them. He waddled to those trees as fast as he could and there, no doubt, found something he understood very well. But the Dogs remained, wagging their tails and Poggin remained, shaking hands with everyone and grinning all over his honest face. And Jewel leaned his snowy white head over the King’s shoulder and the King whispered in Jewel’s ear. Then everyone turned his attention again to what could be seen through the Doorway.

The Dragons and Giant Lizards now had Narnia to themselves. They went to and fro tearing up the trees by the roots and crunching them up as if they were sticks of rhubarb. Minute by minute the forests disappeared. The whole country became bare and you could see all sorts of things about its shape—all the little humps and hollows—which you had never noticed before. The grass died. Soon Tirian found that he was looking at a world of bare rock and earth. You could hardly believe that anything had ever lived there. The monsters themselves grew old and lay down and died. Their flesh shrivelled up and the bones appeared: soon they were only huge skeletons that lay here and there on the dead rock, looking as if they had died thousands of years ago. For a long time everything was still.

At last something white—long, level line of whiteness that gleamed in the light of the standing stars—came moving towards them from the eastern end of the world. A widespread noise broke the silence: first a murmur, then a rumble, then a roar. And now they could see what it was that was coming, and how fast it came. It was a foaming wall of water. The sea was rising. In that treeless world you could see it very well. You could see all the rivers getting wider and the lakes getting larger, and separate lakes joining into one, and valleys turning into new lakes, and hills turning into islands, and then those islands vanishing. And the high moors to their left and the higher mountains to their right crumbled and slipped down with a roar and a splash into the mounting water; and the water came swirling up to the very threshold of the Doorway (but never passed it) so that the foam splashed about Aslan’s forefeet. All now was level water from where they stood to where the water met the sky.

And out there it began to grow light. A streak of dreary and disastrous dawn spread along the horizon, and widened and grew brighter, till in the end they hardly noticed the light of the stars who stood behind them. At last the sun came up. When it did, the Lord Digory and the Lady Polly looked at one another and gave a little nod: those two, in a different world, had once seen a dying sun, and so they knew at once that this sun also was dying. It was three times—twenty times—as big as it ought to be, and very dark red. As its rays fell upon the great Time-giant, he turned red too: and in the reflection of that sun the whole waste of shoreless waters looked like blood.

Then the Moon came up, quite in her wrong position, very close to the sun, and she also looked red. And at the sight of her the sun began shooting out great flames, like whiskers or snakes of crimson fire, towards her. It is as if he were an octopus trying to draw her to himself in his tentacles. And perhaps he did draw her. At any rate she came to him, slowly at first, but then more and more quickly, till at last his long flames licked round her and the two ran together and became one huge ball like a burning coal. Great lumps of fire came dropping out of it into the sea and clouds of steam rose up.

Then Aslan said, “Now make an end.”

The giant threw his horn into the sea. Then he stretched out one arm—very black it looked, and thousands of miles long—across the sky till his hand reached the Sun. He took the Sun and squeezed it in his hand as you would squeeze an orange. And instantly there was total darkness.

Everyone except Aslan jumped back from the ice-cold air which now blew through the Doorway. Its edges were already covered with icicles.

“Peter, High King of Narnia,” said Aslan. “Shut the Door.”

Peter, shivering with cold, leaned out into the darkness and pulled the Door to. It scraped over ice as he pulled it. Then, rather clumsily (for even in that moment his hands had gone numb and blue) he took out a golden key and locked it.

They had seen strange things enough through that Doonvay. But it was stranger than any of them to look round and find themselves in warm daylight, the blue sky above them, flowers at their feet, and laughter in Aslan’s eyes.

He turned swiftly round, crouched lower, lashed himself with his tail and shot away like a golden arrow.

“Come further in! Come further up!” he shouted over his shoulder. But who could keep up with him at that pace? They set out walking westward to follow him.

“So,” said Peter, “Night falls on Narnia. What, Lucy! You’re not crying? With Aslan ahead, and all of us here?”

“Don’t try to stop me, Peter,” said Lucy, “I am sure Aslan would not. I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia. Think of all that lies dead and frozen behind that door.”

“Yes and I did hope,” said Jill, “that it might go on for ever. I knew our world couldn’t. I did think Narnia might.”

“I saw it begin,” said the Lord Digory. “I did not think I would live to see it die.”

“Sirs,” said Tirian. “The ladies do well to weep. See I do so myself. I have seen my mother’s death. What world but Narnia have I ever known? It were no virtue, but great discourtesy, if we did not mourn.”

Launch of ‘Planets. The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis’

Michael Ward, Rose Strang. Demarco Gallery at Summerhall (photo Fernanda Zei)

Richard Demarco. Michael Ward. Main Hall, Summerhall (photo Adam Brewster)

The launch of ‘The Planets. The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis’ was a great success and very enjoyable indeed!

The exhibition continues until Sunday the 22nd September and is open daily from 1 to 6pm at the Demarco Galleries, Summerhall.

Associated Events:

On Saturday 21st, from 3 to 5pm, there will be an associated event in the gallery space, featuring an animation by Adam Brewster, which very poetically captures the idea of changing planetary influence according to the Medieval cosmos and the imagination of C.S. Lewis. This will be followed by a moving excerpt from ‘The Last Battle’ by C.S. Lewis: ‘Night falls on Narnia’, read by Dr Charles Stephens. The event will round off with a cello performance in response to this excerpt from ‘The Last Battle’, by cellist/composer Atzi Muramatsu, with whom I’ve had the pleasure to collaborate since 2013.

It was a pleasure to finally meet Dr Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia. The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis.

It’s always interesting to meet someone whose work you admire;  a bonus if you enjoy their company too! Michael really added towards making the event relaxed and good-humoured –  friends and family and all there including myself enjoyed meeting him.

Although Michael Ward’s ideas on the Narniad can be summarised in a few phrases on one level, it’s a complex subject that benefits most from in-depth reading around the ideas. Readers of this blog will have learned some of the concepts expressed in ‘Planet Narnia’ here, but Michael Ward’s talk on Thursday demonstrated how much more effective it is to actually hear Michael talk about it – far more entertaining!

 

 

 

 

The talk was fascinating and sparked a range of interesting questions afterwards. I heard first-hand from several friends how intrigued they were by the subject, and that they’ll be reading more about it, so I hope that leads to more sales of ‘Planet Narnia’.

There was discussion of a potential follow-on exhibition in Oxford, so fingers crossed that will find a way to go ahead next year.

Michael Ward. Fernanda Zei. (Photo Rose Strang)

I was very moved by the attention to detail by exhibition curator Fernanda Zei, who understood the themes and visual aesthetics so intelligently and presented them with great sensitivity.

For me there was no doubt where I wanted to show this exhibition; Richard Demarco’s work across the decades is characterised by a search for truth, meaning and healing in the arts. I knew that Richard, Terry Anne Newman (Deputy Director of the Demarco Archive Trust) and Fernanda Zei (Demarco Trust Curator) would respond to the themes and present the exhibition with intelligence and they surpassed my expectations in that regard.

My warm thanks to Michael Ward, all at the Demarco Galleries, and to loved ones, family and friends who attended. Particular thanks and appreciation to Christine Aldred, who bought ‘Sun’!

I’ll be posting a video of the event here soon …

Demarco Gallery. (photo Adam Brewster)

 

 

Exhibition Launch!

Setting up, with Fernanda Zei and Dr Charles Stephens at the Demarco Galleries yesterday

It’s very exciting indeed to be in the final stages of setting up next week’s exhibition launch at the Demarco Gallery: The Planets. The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis

This exhibition represents almost a year of painting in response to the work of C.S. Lewis and Planet Narnia. The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, by author Dr Michael Ward.

I’m delighted that Michael will be giving a talk as part of the exhibition launch at the Demarco Galleries, Summerhall, Edinburgh, on Thursday September 12th at 6pm. (all details on link below)

All welcome! Please R.S.V.P. on this link if you wish to attend: Exhibition Invite

Exhibition Information …

The Demarco Archive Exhibitions is presenting an exhibition of new paintings by Rose Strang from Friday 13th to Sunday 22nd of September in the ground floor of the Demarco Wing at Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL . The exhibition will be open from 1pm to 6pm – Daily.

Rose Strang’s paintings have been inspired by Michael Ward’s book ‘Planet Narnia’, a study of C.S. Lewis’ ‘Chronicles of Narnia’.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), the author of the Narnia stories, published in the 1950s, described the seven planets of the medieval cosmos as “spiritual symbols of permanent value”. Lewis wrote a great deal about the planets in his work as scholar at the University of Oxford and then the University of Cambridge where he was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature from 1954 to 1963. Dante and Chaucer are among the major English writers of the Middle Ages to make extensive use of the seven heavens in their poetry.

Lewis’ seven ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ are structured so as to embody and express these seven “spiritual symbols”. Michael Ward discovered this link in the course of his PhD research at the University of St Andrews. His book ‘Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis’ [Oxford University Press 2007] presents his findings, as does the BBC television documentary, ‘The Narnia Code’ [2009].

When artist Rose Strang discovered Michael Ward’s work, she was inspired by Lewis’ fascination for these seven “spiritual symbols” and decided to produce her own paintings depicting the atmosphere and influences of each planet. These paintings will now be shown in this exhibition at the Demarco Archive at Summerhall.

The Private View will be on Thursday 12th September at 6pm on the ground floor of the Demarco Wing at Summerhall and then at 6.30pm a talk by Michael Ward will take place in the Main Hall on level one at Summerhall followed by a conversation between Michael Ward and Professor Richard Demarco.

Venus and Moon

‘Venus (Planets Series)’. Mixed media on 30×30 inch panel. Rose Strang 2019

‘Moon (Planets Series)’. Mixed media on 30×30 inch panel. Rose Strang 2019

Side View. ‘Venus (Planets Series)’. Mixed media on 30×30 inch panel. Rose Strang 2019

Side View. ‘Moon (Planets Series)’. Mixed media on 30×30 inch panel. Rose Strang 2019

It is a huge relief to finish the last of the Planets Series paintings – ‘Venus’ and ‘Moon’ in time for the upcoming exhibition, which takes place on September 12th this year and is hosted by the Demarco Gallery, Summerhall, Edinburgh.

All details on this link Planets Series – The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis

Michael Ward will give a talk as part of the event. The exhibition begins 6pm and the talk at 6;30pm. All welcome!  Click on link above for details.

Mars and Mercury

‘Mars. Planets Series’. Mixed media on 30×30″ wood. Rose Strang 2019

‘Mercury. Planets Series’. Mixed media on 30×30 inch wood. Rose Strang 2019

Today’s large versions of the ‘Planets Series’ for the upcoming exhibition in September.

There are two ‘Planets Series’; the smaller works, which were a practice run, and the larger series which I’m calling the ‘September Planets Series’.

You can view both series on ‘Artworks’ in the menu above. (the larger series is currently in progress but there will be seven paintings).

For more details about the September 12th exhibition, and the accompanying talk by Michael Ward (author of Planet Narnia) – click Here

Mercury

‘Mercury. Planets Series’. Mixed media on 10×10″ wood. Rose Strang 2019

Today’s small painting of Mercury in preparation for the larger Planets Series.

I’m creating Planets series paintings for two exhibitions this year – a smaller series of studies for a June exhibition at my studio in Abbey hill, in preparation for an exhibition and talk to take place in Autumn this year.

This is a continuation of the Planets Series I’m creating this year, which takes inspiration from the planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia which were each inspired by the seven planets, as discovered by Michael Ward, author of ‘Planet Narnia’.

Info about June exhibition Here

(I’ll post more about the September exhibition and talk soon, once some more details are confirmed).

Mercury corresponds to The Horse and his Boy in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles – a book that grew on me more and more each time I read it. Its Mercurial qualities, as imagined by C.S. Lewis and explained by Michael Ward are to do with messengers, communication, speed and twins among many other things, reflecting the God Mercury (also known as Hermes) the winged messenger, the fact that Mercury rules the constellation sign of Gemini (the twins) and of course the quicksilver nature of mercury itself as a metal.

I haven’t yet posted C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Planets’ poem, which was remiss of me since it was reading this poem which led Michael Ward to the discovery that each of the Narnia Chronicles corresponds to the Medieval planets.

It’s a beautiful poem, but for today, I’ll just post the part of the poem that corresponds to Mercury …

Next beyond her
MERCURY marches;–madcap rover,
Patron of pilf’rers. Pert quicksilver
His gaze begets, goblin mineral,
Merry multitude of meeting selves,
Same but sundered. From the soul’s darkness,
With wreathed wand, words he marshals,
Guides and gathers them–gay bellwether
Of flocking fancies. His flint has struck
The spark of speech from spirit’s tinder,
Lord of language! He leads forever
The spangle and splendour, sport that mingles
Sound with senses, in subtle pattern,
Words in wedlock, and wedding also
Of thing with thought.

It’s difficult to say why I enjoy the Horse and his Boy so much out of the series, it’s richly imagined, as always, with atmospheric contrast between the lush decadence of Tashban, the brutally hot desert and the cool green woodlands and hills of Archenland. Descriptively it’s testimony yet again to Lewis’s genius for relating atmosphere, but I think the characters are equally compelling, possibly because of the journey and character development they experience.

The two main characters, Shasta and Aravis, both undergo a change in consciousness – Shasta experiences acceptance for the first time in his life since being abandoned as an infant. Aravis also experiences acceptance, and learns compassion and consideration for others, having been treated if anything even more cruelly than Shasta.

In the book, Aravis tells her story (in a style the horse Bree describes as ‘high Calormen’ , stylistically the equivalent of the Arabian Nights). She describes how, after her mother died, her father re-married and arranged to have Aravis married off to a man decades older, who she has never met, although she’s only 12 years old.

Aravis decides that suicide is the only route to escape, and sets herself to this grim task in a forest clearing, but  her mare, Hwin (a talking horse from Narnia who’s been captured in slavery) intervenes and pleads with Aravis to live and attempt escape to Narnia.

Harrowing stuff for a ‘children’s story’, but as always Lewis deals with these more brutal realities using a distanced or lighter touch; in this case ‘High Calormen style’, yet it’s still one of the most moving passages in the Narnia Chronicles. And it demonstrates several Mercurial qualities:

Commerce – com-merce. Merchants. The idea of Mercury  the messenger- trading and exchange. Aravis is being sold by her own family. Shasta’s adoptive father also tries to sell him to a rich merchant.

Communication – verbosity, writing, speech. Aravis has a fine, articulate grasp of language thanks to a privileged, though cruel, up-bringing.

Shasta then becomes an involuntary messenger who has to deliver important news with haste – he discovers that Archenland, ruled by King Lune, and then the castle of Cair Paravel in Narnia will be attacked by Calormen.

Shasta, Aravis, and the horses Bree and Hwin must speed across the desert from Tashban to Archenland to warn King Lune before they’re attacked, and in the final rush to warn the king, Shasta has to run across land for miles to deliver the message before it’s too late. All very Mercurial! Lastly, he discovers that he is in fact the twin of King Lune’s son – bringing in the Mercury and Geminian theme of twins.

When painting my view of a castle under the influence of Mercury, I tried to get the sense of quicksilver through paint dripping and merging representing the sea that surrounds the castle at high tide – Same but sundered – the idea of twos in birds flying above the castle (winged messengers), and two very small boats which might meet in the waterways. The last idea was a reference to words and communication (a bit clunky maybe as a reference!) in the fine blue lines drawn horizontally suggesting writing paper. Mercury is a bright star, and represents bright ideas too, so I gave the castle a halo of light, which doesn’t show up quite so well in the photo (at the top of this post). I think it works quite well as an image.

And here’s a quick sketch I did earlier ..

‘Mercury, sketch’. Mixed media on paper. Rose Strang 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow I’ll post my Moon painting, which still needs a bit of work…

Planets Series – Jupiter (in progress) day 2

‘Jupiter’ (painting in progress)

Above, today’s progress on ‘Jupiter’.

That’s just the background layer, so it looks a bit pantomime-backdrop at the moment, possibly a bit Visit Scotland, but it will look very different within a week. The raised marks are from a previous painting, but since I’ll be painting oak branches these will be incorporated as part of the gnarly texture of tree-bark.

It’s the same size as my previous painting Saturn, this image gives an idea of scale …

 

 

 

I hope there aren’t too many Medievalist experts reading my blog! Reading back over the past posts on this planet series, I need to correct a couple of details. It’s typical of my approach to a subject since I write as I explore, but I’ll get there!

(This is the second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which as the writer Michael Ward discovered, were themselves inspired by the seven planets) …

I’ll write a description of the Medieval view of the cosmos below, then I’ll describe a little more about C.S. Lewis’s views on imagination and reason, as explained in Michael Ward’s excellent book Planet Narnia

Medieval view of the cosmos in everyday life and in art ..

Medieval philosophy, astrology, astronomy, science and religion in the western world all more or less interconnected, though it wouldn’t be described as a rigid or unchanging system of thought and belief.

Some religious groups – Gnostics for example, might accept aspects or theories prevalent in the Medieval view of the cosmos, but not others. Similar to any time including our own it would be misleading to say that Western society was ‘of a mind’, to use a Scottish-ism!

The Medieval view of the cosmos did feed in to every day life though, it was (as we might say nowadays) fairly mainstream. Ordinary working folks might pray to or invoke a planetary influence. Science of the time included the Medieval understanding of the cosmos, the practice of magic was wide-spread, and included evocation of planetary influence. Writers, musicians and artists would create cosmic and theological allegories, the most famous example probably being Dante’s Inferno.

Or more earthy in tone, Chaucer’s character in The Wife of Bath bewails the influence of Mars on her nature –  all Chaucer’s stories deal with the influence of the planets, some as entire allegories, woven imaginatively into the narrative so it can be enjoyed as a story, and as inspiration or contemplation.

Planetary influence was like a lens of myriad colourful and emotive aspects through which artists could explore and observe the world and human nature. It could be described also as a world of external influence playing on the human psyche (interesting to compare it to the influence of Freud on creativity in modern times – Hitchcock films etc).

C.S. Lewis’s interest in Medieval cosmology …

C.S. Lewis was a Medieval Classics scholar and teacher, who felt that society had lost something magical and profound in the post-Copernican world (i.e. when scientific discovery of space altered our view of the cosmos, and by association a certain way of believing, of faith), and although he spent most of his life writing on Christianity and classical literature, his creative output always dealt with planetary influences.

This is why it’s surprising that Michael Ward’s discovery –  that the seven books of Narnia were each influenced by the seven Medieval planets – wasn’t recognised sooner. He believes that this had much to do with the fact that most scholars studying the work of Lewis were Christians, so put simply they’d be a bit shifty about the mention of gods in the plural, not to mention astrology. (if you’ve got a strong stomach you can find numerous right-wing Christians of dubious sanity on Youtube declaiming that C.S. Lewis is an evil Pagan.) Or, atheist ‘rational’ scholars might dismiss the Medievalist aspects as superstition – they might view the form of romance, or fairy tale as not worthy of serious study – i.e. sci-fi or children’s novels.

C.S. Lewis had meaningful or profound reasons for writing in the form of a children’s story. Probably one of the most simple was that it was the only way he could successfully integrate  Medieval cosmology in a post-war literary climate where harsh realism was more zeitgeisty. As Ward observes, he opposed the harsh negative, or nihilist, tone of the literature of his time for philosophical reasons.

He knew too, that the Medieval view of the cosmos, which in many ways incorporated Pagan approaches to belief, did incorporate the concept of one god.

Medieval understanding of the Cosmos …

In Medieval thought, there were three layers: Earth, the Celestial Realm and the Empyrean.

‘As above so below’ referred to the idea that earth and everything in it was a reflection of the heavens, but the influence of the heavens could not be experienced directly because everything ‘sub-lunar’ – beneath the moon, was separated from the direct influence of the cosmos.

People sought harmony with the planetary influences: ‘as above-so below’, and it was believed their influence could be invoked via ‘talismans’ – objects, plants, animals places etc that related to, or were influenced by a certain planet.

(For example copper relates to Venus, tin to Jupiter, silver to the moon and so on) …

Above the earth, the moon drew a sort of veil between the celestial realms and earth. The celestial realms were where the planets resided. The planets, in turn, were influenced by what was termed ‘the divine’ – the realm beyond the planets –  the Emypyrean.

Going back farther in time, think of the mysterious inscription on the tomb of Isis: I am all that was, all that is, and all that shall ever be, and no man hath lifted the veil from my face. It’s interesting also to explore the mythology of Gnosticism, usually at odds with Christian belief, which has a ‘creation myth’ around the idea of this veil – ‘In Our Time – Gnosticism ).

To some branches of thought, the Divine, or the Empyrean, was the unknowable; the One God, ‘all that is’, veiled and beyond human comprehension. In Christian orthodox practice it might be referred to as ‘He’ or ‘our Father’, but the Gnostic view, for example, was that its actual form was unknown and unknowable.

A few posts ago, I described how I became interested in Medieval cosmology via exploring Freemasonic symbology. I’ve been amateurishly dipping in to these religious, esoteric or spiritually related subjects since the age of twenty or so, including religious beliefs of the Essenes, Cathars, Rosicrucians and Gnostics among several (I’ve still never felt compelled to actually join a religious or spiritual group though!) I do find a fascinating harmony in Medieval cosmology, and I’m finding this recent research rewarding, I think partly because exploring it helps clarify the interrelated patterns and connections between all these belief systems.

Influence of the planets in the Narnia Chronicles …

The process is made even more rewarding with the added clarity and insight of Michael Ward’s ‘Planet Narnia’. The book doesn’t just explore the planetary influence in the Narnia Chronicles, it also makes sense (to a lay person such as myself) of the experience Lewis is aiming for; he wants the reader to be immersed in these books, in a way that is quite unique.

Artists and writers often deal with different layers of meaning in their work, but Lewis’s incorporation of planetary influence went further because it was deliberately hidden –  unknowable by the reader even while they experience the influence of the planets as they read.

Ward observes that Lewis had a mischievous mind; though an honest and unusually self-effacing character, he did enjoy secrets and he might have wondered if the penny would drop for readers of his books in his own lifetime (in fact it was fifty years after his death!)

His intention was not just secrecy though, it was intended as a mystical experience – it had to be hidden in order to give that experience and not simply a one-dimensional intellectual understanding. Not only children but adults reading the Narnia Chronicles would be unaware that each was written ‘under the influence’ of each planet – stories, plots and characters woven from an understanding of the mythology and qualities of each planet, with no direct mention of the planets themselves.

The poetic effect feels profound while reading the stories, for example the Jupiterian theme of ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’; Winter passed and guilt forgiven is (as Michael Ward explains) how Lewis put it when describing the influence of Jupiter in his poem ‘The Planets’.

This idea is woven into the pivotal moment  in the story when Edmund realises his guilt and regrets his allegiance both towards the witch, and his own selfish motivation – this is described at the same time as the melting snow, appearance of flowers and long-awaited arrival of spring.

Lewis had come to question a purely rational approach to understanding faith, and that’s a huge subject to get into and best understood by reading Michael Ward’s, or C.S. Lewis’s books, but something that occurred to me as I was reading this subject was the notion of an initiation – a ritual that’s experienced in, for example, the freemasonic tradition (as mentioned before I do believe that freemasonary organisations have unfair influence, and I question the organisation’s practices, just to be clear!) Part of the esoteric or hidden aspect of freemasonry is the initiation ceremony, which must remain secret because otherwise it’s rational, no longer an experience. And that brings it back to Lewis’s ‘Contemplation and Enjoyment’.

The difference between the two is more complex than ‘Subjectivity/Enjoyment’ and ‘Objectivity/Contemplation’. (I mentioned this in the previous post as a way to paraphrase C.S. Lewis’s quote from ‘Meditation in a Toolshed’, but that’s an oversimplification) . Among other things, it’s an acknowledgement of imagination – rationality places us outside an experience, ‘knowing’, Lewis argues, is deeper – it’s all-encompassing, eluding reason, because rational understanding separates us from experiencing, or as C.S. Lewis would say – Enjoyment.

I’m not giving these ideas their proper due; better that people read the sources themselves, but to me it offers a deeper appreciation of a more holistic, imaginative understanding and perception, which feeds into my work as an artist.

I’ll leave it there just now – that’s a long read for a person casually dropping in to this blog! But it’s also helpful to write here so I don’t forget. I might write up these posts as a booklet at some point …