As it happens, I was in Cannes on the day that Salvador Dali died. One of the perks of owning a recording studio was that every winter a major music biz conclave was held in the same conference center as the Cannes Film Festival, impelling us to happily trek down to the Riviera en masse to socialize on yachts and consume copious amounts of French food and wine in the name of "doing business".
So, it was in this context that I heard about the famous Surrealist painter's demise on January 23rd 1989.
After lamenting the news over an extended lunch, we strolled by an art gallery featuring Dali's lithographs. Posters of Dali's melting watches had always featured prominently on my wall as a student, but seeing his lithos in the flesh was a completely different experience. So in a moment of serendipitous sentimentality, probably fuelled by the nice bottle of Provencal rosé we had sipped at our meal, I purchased two Dali lithographs on the spot to commemorate the memory of Salvador's passing.
Then, for some completely unexplainable reason, while driving back to London from the South of France with the two Dalis in the trunk of my BMW, I decided to stop at the shrine of Mary Magdalene at Saint-Maximin la Saint-Baume to light a candle (as I am wont to do). Tradition had it that Mary Magdalene had lived out the remainder of her life here in a cave after escaping to France from the Holy Land in a rudderless boat after Jesus’ crucifixion, therefore it seemed like a perfect opportunity to check out the cave for myself while I was in the neighborhood.
So, that’s how it came to be that my two Dalis accompanied me on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Mary Magdalene in the South of France in 1989.
And to this very day, Dali's litho entitled "The Fairies" still hangs over the fireplace in my living room and "Pegasus" is hanging on the wall in my office next to me, as I type this.
You would be astonished at just how much trouble this seemingly spontaneous sequence of events has caused me over the years, but that comes later in the story. For the moment, we are going to pause here for a brief initiation into the Cabala, which will come in handy in the future, so hang in there.
Now, perhaps it was due to the subliminal influence of the Magdalene-charged Pegasus' proximity to me that I gradually began to grasp just how useful the concept of a winged horse could be.
On the surface, of course, Pegasus is a celestial constellation, recognizable by the distinctive square the asterism depicts in the heavens. Mythologically Pegasus was the son of Neptune and Medusa, magically sprung from a drop of Medusa's blood as she dropped into the sea after being beheaded by Perseus, all of which has deep metaphorical meaning. He was a pristine snowy white, like the mystical Sufi steeds that are romantically said to have spawned the world famous Lipizzaner stallions, which you may be familiar with from the Disney movie, Miracle of the White Stallions.
Unsurprisingly, the metaphor of a flying horse developed into a convenient religious archetype, firstly as the Thundering Horse of Jove and, later, as Mohammed's miraculous horse Baraq, presented to him by the Archangel Gabriel, on which the prophet ascended to Heaven from the Temple Mount. And, furthermore, the Bible is absolutely stuffed with spiritual horse references.
So, it was only a matter of time before the poets and the pranksters began to play. Jonathan Swift satirically emphasized the horse's superior attributes in Gulliver's Travels, where our intrepid traveler becomes conversant in the Language of the Horses, a dialect far beyond the base comprehension of Mankind, referred to as the Yahoos by the horses.
Maybe someone should explain the joke to Bill Gates?
But, from there, we are encouraged by the philosophers to embark on a gloriously bonkers dissertation on the multiple variations of the Latin word Caballus and how it mutates into "chivalry" and "cabalier" via "cheval", and "cavaliers" or horsemen and thence back to the use of the image of the horse as a spiritual vehicle represented by Pegasus, the winged horse.
The fictional French alchemist, Fulcanelli, explains, "To know the cabala is to speak the language of Pegasus, the Language of the Horse, of which Swift expressively indicates in one of his allegorical Travels, the effective value and the esoteric power."
At this point, the Cabala becomes a transmissional device used to deploy hermetic triggers into popular culture, most recently as in the Hellgate role-playing game and in the book City of Secrets by Patrice Chaplin.
And it's no accident that this term phonetically resembles the Jewish mystical tradition known as the Kabbala, which evolved in medieval Spain.
Our imaginary alchemist elucidates, "In fact, the two terms have nothing in common, save their pronunciation. The Hebrew Kabbala is only concerned with the Bible; it is therefore strictly limited to sacred exegesis and hermeneutics. Hermetic cabala concerns books, texts, and documents of the esoteric sciences of Antiquity, of the Middle Ages and of modern times. While the Hebraic kabbala is but a process based on decomposition and explanation of each word or letter, the hermetic cabala on the contrary is a genuine language."
Consequently, this wordplay was embraced by the pre-War French Surrealists such as Andre Breton and Paul Eluard, inspiring a movement that also included Jean Cocteau and, inevitably, the Spanish artist Salvador Dali... whose lithograph featuring Pegasus triggered this interlude.
But what most people don’t realize is that, more importantly, the Cabala is a Map. Or perhaps it could even be regarded as the Instruction Manual for the virtual reality game we call Life…
Newton Coordinate: Feast Day of Saint Polycarp (following the Lunar Eclipse), February 23, on the Greenwich Meridian.