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Interlude: Hermetic Horseplay

The secret of my influence has always been that it remained secret--Salvadore Dali

By Stella Maris     February 23, 2008


PEGASUS
© Salvadore Dali

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.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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experiMENTAL 2/23/2008 6:51:45 AM
I know I'm a broken record, but how exactly is this column relevent to Mania? I try to be openminded and give it a read, but I'm at a loss as to how this fits. I come here looking for Hulk news and get 'So in a moment of serendipitous sentimentality, probably fueled by the nice bottle of Provencal rose we had sipped at our meal, I purchased two Dali lithographs on the spot to commemorate the memory of Salvador's passing.' Call me a pessimist but I don't think ANYONE that comes to this website 'sips' Provencal. Or maybe they do. Somehow, I can't see SONYMAN sipping some bullshit wine and reflecting on Spanish painters. Or maybe he does. I'll stick to 'pounding' Budweiser and contemplating the art of Stan Lee and Michael Bay (!). Seacrest out.
joeybaloney 2/23/2008 7:06:40 AM
I take offense to that MENTAL. Michael Bay does not produce art.
chip 2/23/2008 11:45:39 AM
Hey experiMENTAL, One column every week or so that is not Hulk or Spidey news throws you into a tizzy? Not sure what the problem is with this article. If you don't get it or understand why it is on Mania, don't read it. Don't even look at the title. When you open up a magazine or newspaper that you like, do you read every inch of it? Absolutely not, you read the stuff you find interesting. So just pass by this column if it is not your cup of Provencal because there is plenty of other genre content that probably suits you. I have run Cinescape and now Mania for the past 8 years, I think I know what I am doing in this area so hopefully I have earned a bit of trust in content I have running here.
experiMENTAL 2/23/2008 1:07:21 PM
...and you're doing a fine job of running Mania, Chip. I'm not in a tizzy old bean, just never understood the placement of said column. Just like I do on most other content, I was dropping off my opinion. Sorry if you felt my critisism was unwarranted. I'll stick to making fun of Lost Boys 2 and lay off your 23.5 Degrees simply because you were nice about it.
buzzkill 2/23/2008 4:43:42 PM
OK, that's a fair observation, 'Mental. Stella's material doesn't quite fit the mold, I think we can all agree on that. She's been around a looooong time and has always had a knack for turning up in unlikely places. You never quite know where she's going to show up next. And nothing she delivers is never quite what it seems, not at face value anyway. It's the subtext and in-between triggers that have meaning. Not everyone's cup of tea or snifter of rare Madeira, I'll agree with that. But when she throws out references to Caballus and the Language of the Horses - my ears perk up. By the way, if you're reading this, Stella - I figured Chaplin's novel had to be another exercise in "seeding" because it has no value otherwise. I think you just confirmed that for me so maybe I'd better scan it again.
DIIDDIID 2/24/2008 6:44:31 AM
When God Created the horse he said to the magnificent creature, "I have made thee unlike any other. All the treasures of the earth lie between thine eyes. Thou shall cast mine enemies between thy hooves, but thou shall carry my friends on thy back. This shall be the seat from which prayers rise up unto me. Thou shall find happiness all over the earth and thou shall be favored above all other creatures. For to thee shall accrue the love of the master of the earth, and thou shall fly without wings and conquer without a sword." Reputed to be from the Koran
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