Hephaestos Makes Ready. The Space Between Mumbo & Jumbo.

The Mask of Haphaestos, 16″ x 12″, cherrywood, surrounded by metal objects retrieved in Forest Knolls, 1972-2022.

Haphaestos is the Greek God of Making. He’s seen with a forge and hammer ready to bash out whatever you desire. As we try to parse the Art/Science divide, the gods come across as mere fairytales in the face of the rational mind. But the world of the imagination comes up equal when humans make up the stories that “forge” our technological life.

As we have dug foundations and garden plots around our property we have unearthed a great quantity of metal objects, mostly iron and steel (you know the difference between iron & steel, right?)…You can find iron naturally as an element. Iron is a most abundant element on Earth. But you won’t find steel anywhere in Earth’s outer or inner core, as it’s a human-made alloy that requires mixing iron and carbon. That’s a job for our boss of metal work. It is likely that metal work with iron came about as a result of early humans picking up ferrous meteors, the rare occurance for us with our lighted night skies, but the sighting of a meteor landing would have great “impact” on early people. In the Forge and the Crucible Mircea Eliade talks about these early moments in technology as the beginning of metallurgy, and the earliest beginnings of the eventual rationalities of Science, first expressed by the alchemists. Mumbo-jumbo? The Japanese sword is unparalleled in its ability to keep an edge and remain flexible. How did they do it using 12th century, (and earlier in Damascus) technology? I’ve picked Japan having seen ritual sword-making as a class at the College of Marin, where I taught.

The sword masters are a part of the “living treasures” of Japan, honored and supported to bring Japanese culture into the world. The sword-makers I saw were dressed in Shinto Priest garb, all white and as the process went on for a couple of days, you were wintess to a lot of prayers, a lot of ritualized movements, almost like an OCD patient, repetitious and could stretch your forbearance in our “entertainment” rich culture. We seem to need continual distraction. But the sword-makers kept at their task and as the hours wore on, you could see how the precision of the ritual guaranteed a good outcome. Precise step-by-step processes ended with a thing of real beauty and usefulness. Boring as it was to witness (punctuated by clang and flashy sparks), it hit home how a thing from the imaginal life of a made-up rote ritual could exhibit results of Baconian rationality. Of course, we have Francis Bacon (1561-1626) to thank for our modern sense of Scientific understanding. And, of course, you can make a really good sword without all the prayers and movements and the robes. Bacon argued for the possibility of scientific knowledge based only upon inductive reasoning and careful observation of events in nature, and as such was the progenetor of the scientific revolution.

As the god of the forge Haphaeostus is linked to Ogun (Youruba), Thor (Scandinavian), Kagotsuchi (Japan), on and on it goes…this figure of god-like proportions shows up whenever and wherever Homo sapiens has turned to the making of metal objects. So…the god Haphaeostus a made-up creature, but this brings us to talk about the “gods” in general. More mumbo-jumbo? In this blog we want to talk about Art making and we think Art making comes just between Mumbo and Jumbo, between the tines of a vibrating tuning fork.

At our Art making business in SF we found the greatest raw materials for work, were the Artists themselves—Art supplies of the first rank. We touted ourselves as THE LAND OF YES, ready and mostly willing to work with a great variety of Artists. That story is for another chapter. For now, I want to talk a particular project; traveling with photographer Brian Wiley to S. Carolina, to Oyotunji Village. I acted as the carry-boy for his equipment and was the only white person in a village of 1000. Brian was documenting the African Diaspora in Cuba, Haiti, Brazil, New Orleans and S. Carolina. He was specifically targeting communities that carried, into the new world, the traditions of Youraba Culture, variously known as Candomblé in Brazil, Santeria in Cuba, Voodoo in Haiti and at Oyoyunji I saw first-hand the practices in a Festival of Shongo, the thunder god, I was an outsider and I felt it, though the generosity of the people of Oyotunji. We were there for a few days. Was my mind blown? You might say a slow-motion explosion that has lasted 20 years (so far). Dancing drumming, dancing drumming into the hot night, 100% humidity. The long day of the festival and the longer night, I was transported to a place few white people see and live. I was given a divination by a priest of Shango where it was determined, my Orisha, the god inhabiting me, was Elegba, the guardian of the gate, the trickster.

Pretty right, I think. In my life making sculpture, I was obsessed with the idea of the gateway and the ineffable space just as you pass through, the surface tension between here and there, above and below. The moment of falling asleep. The space in the vibtating tuning fork. Elegba is the messenger and that is the mission of these posts. I feel like I have been tuning in for fifty years of makingg art, and here to bring forward the living reality of the gods. Mumbo-Jumbo? There is some evidence that the gods of Egypt and the Greeks and eventually the Romans, travelled up the Nile from Central Africa and into the Mediterranean, maybe far-fetched but fun to think about. This is not Science, this is Poetry.

As you try to think about a supreme diety, a god above the gods, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”… To my mind, a belief in god doesn’t do you much good, he/she ain’t listening and don’t care…but a belief in the gods can have helpful usefulness. When you think about Aphrodite, she may have some specific and useful information whan you fall in love. When you are at a difficult and exacting task, like writing this all down, it is useful to think of Haphaestus, keeping you on task. When you want to bring information forward the emantion of Mercury, the god of quick communitcation, Elegba in the African pantheon, he is good to keep you free of distraction.

While Baconian logic can be very useful in the forge of Haphaestus, our technology and understanding brought to bare down on our dire problems of Global proportions. But the wheel to get our forces lined up to acheive the real potential of our technology, is spun by the imagination, by the gods. Is there a god of right action? A god who profers kindness? “Look it up”, as they say…

We’ll sign out with our longtime literary companion who made a lifetime of parsing reality and the imagination, who swung gaily between the two worlds as a Pulitzer Prize poet and as a litigator for the Hartford insurance Co, a poet who won the National Book Award (2X) and the Pulitzer (1955)

Follows: the first and seventh verse of Wallace Stevens’ Sunday Morning a poem that talks about the woman who did not go to church.

One
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late 
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
And the green freedom of a cockatoo 
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate 
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark 
Encroachment of that old catastrophe, 
As a calm darkens among water-lights. 
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings 
Seem things in some procession of the dead, 
Winding across wide water, without sound. 
The day is like wide water, without sound, 
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet 
Over the seas, to silent Palestine, 
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre. 

Seven
She hears, upon that water without sound, 
A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine 
Is not the porch of spirits lingering. 
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.” 
We live in an old chaos of the sun, 
Or old dependency of day and night, 
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, 
Of that wide water, inescapable. 
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail 
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries; 
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness; 
And, in the isolation of the sky, 
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make 
Ambiguous undulations as they sink, 
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

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