Posted in Paintings in Progress

Ziggurat-an artwork in progress

My commitment to chronicle the art making process requires I relate all, from the most difficult stretches, to my modest successes.  The muse is fickle and I am negotiating a dry spell.  Here is a belated post to let you know I’m still hanging in there

ziggurat So far, only one image came through on the lucid dream channel.  Here it is.

I had been working the raw umber, paynes gray and burnt sienna into a web of interwoven strokes.  That night, in a dream, I saw an  ancient ziggurat carved in natural sandstone and honey-combed with caves.  As I looked at its golden, weathered form rising into the vivid, blue sky, I realized it was a dream.  It was a fleeting glimpse of profound emptiness–the ultimate ground of reality.  In that insubstantial image I apprehended the Heart Sutra’s most essential teaching: Form is Emptiness/Emptiness is no other than Form.

I don’t claim this as a great accomplishment, but I do like that the process of painting inspired dream imagery and the dream, in turn, redirected the  painting.

The image was also inspired by a program about early Christianity I’d seen that night.  The film showed the mountain, hermit caves where the Nag Hamadi collection of early Gnostic writings were found.

The Gnostics taught that soul is imprisoned in matter; that Gnostic experience is a return to the pure light of Divinity through overcoming demonic forces (Archons) whose job it is to hold humanity in bondage to the dense spheres of matter.jerusalem 5gothic 3

While I may not share this belief in the malign aspect of the natural world, I do believe these teachings form a part of our spiritual heritage.  They have left psychic imprints upon the collective unconscious.  It is not so much a matter of belief as that of experience–Gnossis.

These imprints permeate William Blake’s work.   Benjamin Walker talks about the fall of Sophia (Wisdom) in his book, Gnosticism:

  Various reasons are put forward for the fall of Sophia from the upper spheres and her plunge into the world of matter…(in one version) the tragedy occurred when she mistook the false light she saw below for the ‘light of lights’ for which she aspired…

In some texts she represents…the stricken city of Jerusalem.

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories, Uncategorized

The Galvanized Emblem of McWhirr

“ Gusts up o 70 miles per hour are possible.”

The bland, melancholy voice on the NOAAH weather radio intoned the dread prophesy with all the passion of a jaded, Norwegian automaton.

Bagpipes wailed over the anchorage at sundown and the grim sight of the northern horizon almost made me cry.  Clouds billowed white over the eastern Straits while, below, the horizon fell into the blackest gloom that ever haunted the nightmares of sinful, erring tars.

I had read in The Complete Anchoring Handbook that it all comes down to the right ratio of depth to scope of anchor rode.

50 feet times 5 make 250…good enough for a Coney Island swan boat.

I went below to lie on the pilot-berth. After a few fitful gusts, the wind fell into a tentative, uneasy calm.

Let’s see, 5 to 1 in 50 feet times…

“Have you paid out enough scope, lad?”

The bass tones welled from Old Hand’s bilges as from the aged, bronzed vessel of oxidized words.


The angular form of Saturnius McWhirr was faintly illumined by the oil-lamp’s amber glow.

“I cast the anchor in 8 fath…” I stammered

“Avast, Ya greenhorn! You don’t “cast” anchors. This isn’t fly-fishing! My gorge rises at such lubberly misuse of sailing language.”

His wrath, like a line-squall, subsided as rapidly as it came.

“Did you know that to raise an anchor you must first let it go?”

“That’s true, sir.”

He always makes these pithy pronouncements like they were scripture.  And, for McWhirr the act of sailing is a religious rite. He hails from Zoroastrian, Quaker stock and, for him, a ship is a vessel to carry his weary spirit ascending through the 7 concentric spheres of corporeality to the final landfall of essential being. He has seen the beatific vision reflected on the sea’s mirror, and it draws him ever northward in search of the true face of divinity behind the mask of appearance.

“Look at this arm.”

Like some cloaked tragedian in a nautical horror show, he furiously tore his sleeve to reveal the tattoo of an anchor engraved upon his sinewy fore-arm.

“I carry the fouled, cold-forged, emblem of hope engraved upon my soul.”

He leveled his eye at me as thunder rattled the wheelhouse windows.

“Have you any family, Mister Spencer?”


“Do they weigh upon your heart; do you feel their woes as your very own?”

I was too unglued by his interrogatory glare to answer.

“Are you willing to set aside your pleasant, little cruise to do service if called upon?”

“I don’t know if I’d call it a pleasant cruise with this weather.” I said defensively.

“Would ya be able to leap into the maelstrom to save a foe?”

“If I had a PFD,” I answered lamely.

He fell into deep silence. His spectral image receded into the oaken bulwarks of unfathomable woe.

“Then you are no shipmate of mine,”   Said the fading echo of his baritone.

From the infinite distance came a low, thrumming tone that set halyards frapping on the mast. The sound rose steadily to a piercing shriek-as if all the denizens of hell had let loose one frenzied howl of pain.

Old Hand skewed violently in the blast.

I rose from my bunk, put on my foul weather gear and ascended the foredeck.

Let’s see 50 x 10 = 500…that’s 10 to 1…for 85% holding power…

Not bad odds.

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

Esoteric Sailing 101-The Gnostic Gibe

The light north wind wafted over the sound and sent cats-paws scurrying across the blue surface of the water .  We were sailing down wind, up Colvos Passage down Colvos Passage before the wind, in the afternoon before the flood.sailing Old Hand 08 002

“Not yet,! Wait until I say helm’s a’ weather!”   Bellowed McWhirr.

The big sail had collapsed in at heap on the fore stay with the forlorn aspect of a nihilist’s nose-rag.


Then it luffed, as if thinking it over.

“… up a point.”

Old hand flew into the wind. The sail rose.

“Now bear away a touch.”

“Bearing away, sir.”

The genoa curved lovely over the port bow as  I nudged the helm up, and Boreas’ own sweet northerly began to pull Old Hand slowly across Colvos  on the opposite tack.

“That’s better lad. Ye’ll be another Joseph Conrad before long.”

I leaned against the anchor box to rest.sailing Old Hand 08 006

We flowed down the pass up sound…or is it up the pass downsound?

The gentle breeze caressed my face.

Aft, large eyes peered from the vegetation along the shore. Primeval beasts watched hungrily as we sailed back eddies past a dense jungle.

A derelict lumber mill hove in sight as we approached the opposite shore; it’s decayed pilings looked like a dejected stand of petrified loggers who had just cut down the last tree on earth.

“Ready to gibe, Mister Spencer.”

“Ready to gibe.”

“Helm’s a’ weather.”

The sail fouled in a hopeless tangle as Old Hand fetched up on the bank  with a low rasping sound. She  collapsed suddenly in a pile of flotsum.sailing Old Hand 08 003

She went down, by god.

“Ya scow-banker! I never saw such lubberly sail handling!”

With a volley of abuse, McWhirr grabbed a top maul and came at me like blue blazes with a bad attitude.

But then I had a flash. I saw that this whole maritime catastrophe was a mere shadow-a play of light.   All the stormy seas and foul currents fate pitches at this corporeal vessel are no more substantial than an Arctic aura; and no less sublime in scope and meaning.

I really had it over McWhirr.

I was Captain now.

I flew into the sky as McWhirr tied a bowline on a jib sheet and tried to lasso my leg.

“Come back down here ya square-headed haddock! I’m more real than ye’ll ever be!”

My heart pounded in my ears.   I looked up to see Old Hand nearing the shore.

“Ready to jibe, Mister Spencer.”

The sawmill had vanished in the blinding sunlight.

“Let’s put her about shipshape this time.”