When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular
Fritz Peters recounts an episode when he was a twelve year old boy at Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Prieuré in Fontainebleau-Avon:
He then asked me to look out of the window and to tell him what I saw. I said that, from that window, all I could see was an oak tree. And what, he asked, was on the oak tree? I told him: acorns.
“How many acorns?”
When I replied, rather uncertainly, that I did not know, he said impatiently: “Not exactly, not ask that. Guess how many!”
I said that I supposed there were several thousand of them.
He agreed and then asked me how many of the acorns would become oak trees. I answered that I supposed only five or six of them would actually develop into trees, if that many.
He nodded. “Perhaps only one, perhaps not even one. Must learn from Nature. Man is also organism. Nature make many acorns, but possibility to become tree exist for only few acorns. Same with man — many men born, but only few grow. People think this waste, think Nature waste. Not so. Rest become fertiliser, go back to earth and create possibility for more acorns, more men, once in a while more tree — more real man.
Nature always give — but only give possibility. To become real oak, or real man, must make effort. You understand this, my work … not for fertilizer. For real man only. But must also understand fertilizer necessary to Nature. Possibility for real tree, real man also depend just this fertilizer.”
From the book Boyhood with Gurdjieff p.43
Ansel Adams, Oak Tree, Sunset City, California 1962. From Ansel Adams at 100.
As a kid I had to have owls around me. Well, pictures and statues of owls.
Despite having and living with dozens of birds — finches, mynahs, parrots and canaries — my dad wouldn’t let me have an owl as a pet.
Though just recalling and typing that out right now gives me a thrill; thinking what a live owl would have been like. Of course I wouldn’t have kept it in a cage. I would have had a big branch of some sort secured in my bedroom and the owl would have perched there free to do what it wanted to do which is why I could not have an owl as a child.
Note too that childhood was 45 years ago for me, so this was way before any sort of owl meme ricocheted across the internet. After my owl fascination took hold I was also smitten by the astrological logos. So owls and astrology go together for me. You could say the former is a totem for the later; not the most original mascot for an astrologer but at least I made an effort to really secure my own owl when I was a kid.
Fortunately where I live on this island in the Puget Sound we live with owls in the surrounding forests. I’ve only seen three in the twelve years that I’ve lived here. Though at night I will occasionally hear them calling. Their calls are as magnetic and spellbinding as their forward-gaze. You know of course that all birds have their eyes on the sides of their heads. But owls, no! They will stare you right down and hypnotize you, like you were a stock-still rodent.
I’ve a favorite poetry book that I read from time to time, it’s called Bright Wings. It was edited by a poet I admire, Billy Collins, and it has wonderful illustrations by David Allen Sibley of all kinds of birds. And poems that accompany the art. And lots of poems about owls.
Above is one of the paintings for the Great Horned Owl. The text that accompanies this reads:
“The only animal that regularly eats skunks, the Great Horned Owl also preys on birds, including other owls, nestling Ospreys, and adult and nestling American Crows. Flocks of crows congretate from long distances to mob the owls, sometimes cawing at them for hours. A nonmigratory bird, it has an extensive range — almost all of North America, through Central America, and into South America.”
And here is a poem by Annie Finch (her real name) that runs alongside one of the illustrations of the Great Gray Owl (an owl that is the tallest — two to three feet high):
Who knew you would grow from gray bark
So that nothing is separate or new
But your yellow eyes following through
From the mottling brown in the dark,
Spectral Owl — from the spiral, the spark
That the circling feathers lead to?
Who knew you could speak as you do,
Great Gray ghost — who know you could speak?
Nature and its inhabitants can easily cause us to start and pause and fall into wonder; though some creatures more so than others. The owl is one such. His private reverie and intensity is something almost otherworldly. Spectral owl, shuttling us between two worlds while never leaving for a moment this one. How do they do it?
It’s long been a tacit secret that Margaret Mitchell used the 12 signs of the zodiac to define and imbue her characters in Gone With The Wind.
UK astrologer Neil Spencer describes Mitchell as having based her epic “on the zodiac, leaving a blatant trail of clues which were only picked up in 1978 when US astrologer Darrell Martinie was shown photocopies of notes from Mitchell’s library.”
You can do the celestial math. Scarlett O’Hara, is an impetuous, selfish but ultimately heroic Aries. Rhett Butler, a passionate and proud but principled (when need be) Leo. Sister-in-law Melanie Hamilton, a self-sacrificing Virgo. I’ve often wondered what sign Prissy (“I don’t know nothing about birthin’ babies”) might have been based upon. Maybe a hysterical Pisces or Sagittarius?
Where only speculation surrounded Mitchell’s masterpiece, we now have a Man Booker Prize winner — Eleanor Catton and her second novel The Luminaries (what a stellar title!) — pushing its way into the world of popular literature. Catton has talked openly about the astrological motif (and its influence) that enlivens her prize-winning fictional work. In an interview with PBS’ Jeffrey Brown she notes:
“In my research for the book, I discovered, to my interest and astonishment, that astrology really is an incredibly mathematical system and one that has a lot in common with music. In music, we have got the 12 semitones and then the seven natural notes in the scale.
And in astrology, you have got the 12 signs and the seven planets. A lot of the kind of interrelations that happen and the harmonies that happen in the sky are quite similar to the harmonies that can happen or the chords that can happen in music.”
Good for her! No mention of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
Rather than spend time sharing my impressions of the theme and the charming author you can watch the interview here.
And order a copy from Amazon. (I just placed my order tonight, and can’t wait!)