Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Christmas Tree Message

The tree was part of a Christmas Market near the Vatican and I liked the simplicity. It looked like a frozen fountain of light. In this blog I've already said enough about trees and fountains and light. But here's all three at once. Rebirth, life and death - and of course, eternal youth. What better to celebrate at this time of year but light, especially around the time of the winter solstice? The days will get longer and we will move progressively towards Spring. "If winter comes can spring be far behind?" asked Shelley. Percy Bysshe was generally regarded as a great poet who wrote about nice things like leaves and skylarks. But he was a revolutionary and he held scant regard from those who profited from poverty and exploitation. The "pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou, Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed." These were not leaves but the downtrodden poor who created wealth but did not profit from their labour. He pointed to  rebirth and change that would come in the Spring and bring with it emancipation and justice. It seems to have taken longer than he hoped. But the matter is far from over. That is what the tree symbolises for me. Old and venerable, the tree is about all of us and the potential we have within to create equality. Will we shirk the task and disappear into the void of the brave new world to which Huxley sarcastically referred? To bring the undeveloped world up to our wasteful way of living we need three more planets like this one. There lies barbarism. So how shall we proceed?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Red Bordello Glasses

I was at a social to raise money for animal welfare at Lillies Bordello, a famous and long standing Dublin nightclub. Perched at the bar, I noticed the red bordello lighting on the glasses and so out came the compact camera. Now there wasn't much light and flash would have ruined the picture. This is 1/8th of a second at 1600 ASA so it may be a bit noisy. But perhaps that made the photo. I know these are whisky glasses but symbolically they are chalices. The chalice is the vessel of plenty and a sign of immortality. It holds blood, like the Holy Grail. A psychotherapy tutor once told me there was no Holy Grail and thereby royally missed the point. So where are we between the real, the imaginary and the symbolic? There's no argument because the blood containing vessel is the principle of life. Lillies Bordello is mostly red as brothels should be. But symbolically prostitution means something quite sacred and that's far from the mundane house of dubious pleasure that a brothel represents. In the temple, union with a prostitute was being at one with the God or Goddess and the energy of that God would be then be shared. I can't find any details about the history of the Lilly's Bordello venue. Maybe someone can write and tell me. In the mean time, you can always drop in to symbolically partake of a blood filled chalice!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Shadows arrive and leave

I was complaining to myself that Raglan Road seldom throws up any good images these days. At one time there were many but I suppose all streets have their boring periods. I was passing one evening and a bush cast interesting shadows in the sodium lighting. Workmen had recently repaved and the leaves stood out against the texture of the concrete. I had to wait for some time, because immediately I took the camera out of its bag, a wind blew up and the leaves swayed frantically. This phenomenon is something photographers know well. The fleeting shadow images are the opposite of light. but they are often conceived as representing the whole and sometimes God. "For in and out, above, about, below/ 'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show/ Play'd in a Box whose Candle is the Sun/ Round which we Phantom Figures come and go." The Jungian concept of shadow is deceptive and rather complex. It refers to the unintegrated aspects of the psyche. The shadow is often a projection of these, usually onto other people. If you find yourself disliking someone for no particular reason, the chances are you are projecting parts of yourself that you do not like. That is an unconscious phenomenon it is good to think about. Jung said that recognising one's shadow is so worthwhile that it's ninety per cent pure gold. The other ten per cent - well, that really is darkness at noon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wood, trains and journeys

Wooden seats may not be as comfortable as padded ones, but don't these look inviting? Wood is regarded in many cultures as omnipotent. Recent scientific research in Italy is developing wood as a replacement for bone. It's an amazing substance that can be bent, cut or shaped and we grow 10 billion tons of it per year. In ancient Greek, hyle is the word for primordial matter but it also means wood. This is part of a Turin rack railway. It climbs a steep slope from Sasse to Superga where a lovely basilica looks out over Turin. We often dream of stations in dreams and this coach is in on the departure platform. In the unconscious this may indicate a new venture or a range of possibilities but few people dream of arrival platforms! Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour." (Virginibus Puerisque, 1881:) The journey is the thing, because when I make this trip I usually meet someone of interest and I always learn something. I take photographs on the way, but they come out differently each trip. Plastic and synthetic fabrics may be easier to maintain, but for preference, I like to make this journey on wood.

 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Big Cheese

One fine day in the summer, I visited the cheese festival in Bra, Piedmont. Bra is the birthplace of the slow food movement and so the event was heavily attended. I could hardly get near the cheese for a clear shot! The symbolism of cheese defaults to that of milk and even the Bra festival programme is clear - milk in all its shapes! I thought about associations of course. I was a foreign guest and so I was the Big Cheese. I was treated well, so I didn't get cheesed off. The shape of cheese is all important and manufacturers spend quite some time on deciding what shape their product should be. Unlike milk, its solidity means it cannot be sprinkled and it is seldom white. But it does retain the symbolic essential of milk - immortality. Plenty of dream books offer profit and gain as the meaning of eating cheese as a dream symbol. This derives from the work of Artemidorus, a 2nd century Greek diviner and interpreter of dreams, who was quite specific about using context for dream interpretation. Eating cheese in a  dream may have quite different meanings depending on the nature of the dream and its connections with the dreamer. Eating half a kilo of cheese before bedtime is likely to ensure that you have dreams that night!



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Luck from the Carpet

I was waiting for a train and had a bit of time to wander around, so I was delighted to come across a carpet shop with many colourful delights. On my first visit to Turin, I was amazed that there was a television channel devoted solely to carpets, so maybe it's a big carpet place. Carpets are rather symbolic in their own right and include many other symbols in their design. Particularly in the east, carpets are very important because they share the same symbolism as the house and garden. They offer a place apart - as in a prayer mat - and given the correct circumstances, they can fly. The colours are also vital to meaning. Yellow and gold speaks of rank and power, whilst white is pure and peaceful. Black is for rebellion and green is rebirth. I can see all of these in the picture. In some cultures, a tuft of wool might be taken from the border and burned to protect against the evil eye. The shapes contained in carpets are also important and all are magical. Dogs, peacocks, trees, doves and camels all symbolise different kinds of fortune for both the weaver and the purchaser of the carpet. So the next time you're looking at an oriental rug shop, have a chat with the owner about designs and what they mean for his or her culture. And may the violet colours in the photo bring you good luck!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Skylight Blue - waiting for Heaven


I am always advising that we should look up. By looking straight ahead or down, there are things that we miss and these can be a such a delight. This is merely a skylight window in Eataly, where I tend to have lunch if I'm in Turin. While I'm waiting for what is always a culinary treat, I do look up at the lattice of window frames. At that time of year, I can usually rely on a blue sky - so my treat is doubled. Blue is possibly the coldest of colours and here it even looks a bit frosty. Translucent blue - the colour of the heavens. Shapes tend to disappear and vanish into blue, so this composition is, for me, as delicious as the food. Maybe these shapes symbolise heaven, which in itself always represents awareness. Sometimes I sit and count the boxes, and imagine them as compartments of an aware and conscious psyche - many separate rooms that lead off into one another. I notice too that some have more light. The pillar is also symbolic, because here is the supporting column without which everything falls - and this column also represents the tree of life forms part of the kitchen below. Directly under this roof, diners sit in a gregarious circle around the edge of the kitchen and serving area. Perhaps some part of me sits there with them every day.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Snorkeling Pig

I spotted this abandoned toy near my apartment in Turin. Passersby were laughing and I couldn't help being amused by the artful arrangement. But pigs always get a bad press in sayings and in symbolism it's no different - so I snapped a quick shot, then went on my way and forgot about it. Later I was reviewing my shots for that day and there it was. so I smiled for the second time. Universally, pigs are always about gluttony, greed and insatiability. Above all, the pig is seen as ignorant. We frequently cast pearls before swine - creatures who are not worthy of understanding or receiving our offerings. Yet there are two places where the pig is worthy. In Sino-Vietnam the pig is a symbol of plenty and in Egypt, the Sky Goddess Nut is depicted as a sow suckling her litter. But what about my neighbour here? Perhaps the person who gave him that symbolic food felt he looked like a pig out of water. He needed nurturing. Or perhaps Cerce the Greek witch was upset with an unlucky suitor. She may have touched the hapless fellow with her magic wand, transforming him into something that suited his character. Snorkeling as a pastime is for observation in the shallow waters - so maybe that got him into bother!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Accidental Architecture

The photo is the result of two things I wouldn't normally do. I decided to take a trip on a hop-on hop-off tourist bus in Turin. I always rather disdained them since I know Turin quite well. What could the bus possibly reveal that was new and interesting? I also had my compact camera set on the fisheye filter, which seldom happens and is usually an accident. (Probably I had been playing and didn't reset it.) But having taken the plunge, I was enjoying my trip and the open top of the bus gave me a different viewpoint. I was having fun taking pictures. The bus was far from busy and I could sit where I wanted. I had a free hand with camera positions and moved around at will, taking street scenes. I had noticed the building to the side of a scene I wanted, but when I lifted the camera and composed the shot, the bus jolted and I pressed the shutter accidentally. One fish eye building! Any act of building is creating order out of chaos. Raw matter is transformed in accordance with symbolic values that relate to the soul and the totality of the cosmos. Yet this building seem to take readily to it's new form in my accidental space. Building is always creative and symbolically renews the original act of creation. So whatever the style of the building, I contributed a creative improvisation and so it became "my" architecture. Now, no matter how many times I pass that building, I am forced to see it just like this.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sex, Pots and Helter Skelters

I was returning from Bray one evening and the fairground and sky caught my eye. So I took a quick shot on the small camera. The derivation of helter skelter is much debated but a substantial number of people think it originated with the Beatles song of the same name! There are mentions of the term as early as 1593, possibly deriving from Middle English, skelten, to come or go. Then it became the UK name for the popular fairground ride, which in the US is a tornado slide. The symbolism is obvious. It's a phallus and a rather ornate one at that. But if you dream of being on a helter skelter it could mean much more than a sexual encounter. A helter skelter involves a dizzying downwards spiral during which one feels out of control. Yet this fairground ride is completely contained and safe - and these days could be considered rather tame in comparison with other attractions. The phallus might be male but the spiral is lunar and female. So here we have a combination. In some parts of Africa it's a symbol of the dynamic of life. The Dogon have pots (a womb, a female symbol) around which are wound three (male) spirals of red copper (the word). It is thought that during insemination, the word enters the woman (possibly through her ear, which is regarded as a sexual organ) then coils around the womb. All very complicated. You never know what might happen on a helter skelter.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Before the Mast

This is a mast on the training ship Amerigo Vespucci, one of the finest of its kind. It's a large enough vessel and can carry more than 300 trainees - although I think most have to sleep in hammocks with that many on board! It called in to Canary Wharf when I was there and I made a visit. If it berths near you, do take the chance to explore, because it's fascinating. Now the symbolism is all about ships and boats. Technically, masts, sails and rigging fall within the scope of journeys and voyaging. But I feel that often, symbolism literature fails to take into account of the more prosaic topics. These boats were all about trade and ultimately profit. Particularly in this location, they carried goods that could not be obtained in the destination country - spices for example. I remember in the 1980s, some London docks still carried a faint aroma of the spices that were unloaded there. But ships do symbolise the voyage of life and the life trading that goes on is about the accommodations we make on the way. We make decisions, choices and sacrifices on that journey. Some plunder their way through life like privateers. They're as opportunistic as the pirates of old and that involves a certain amount of risk and danger. Some opt for a safer passage. But the voyage can't help starting with birth and ending in death. It's what we do on the way that matters.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Ambivalence of Mickey Mouse

This took my attention because there seemed to be so many soft toys piled into one space. It's an amusement arcade machine, where you can manipulate a crane to grab the toy you want. I think most people don't manage to get anything at all. Clearly this is Mickey Mouse and it was only following a Disney dispute that he emerged as his own character, replacing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This gives me an opportunity to correct a mistake. Many works on symbolism only recognise mice as rats. In turn, rats are compared with their "fellow rodents" - rabbits.  But rabbits, hares and pikas are lagomorphs, not rodents. That's lucky for rabbits since rats are regarded as unclean. Freud's famous tract, the Rat Man, gives an idea of what rats symbolise. These underground rummagers have connotations of both the phallic and the anal. At the same time, they are signs of money, wealth and plenty. The mouse that spreads pestilence is also a symbol of Apollo, who both sends disease and cures it. Symbols are ambivalent and perhaps Mickey Mouse is too. He's an excellent cartoon character, who's antics give me much pleasure. At the same time, he has become a symbol of a vast exploitation empire. Mickey is very protected in copyright terms, so I hope Mickey recognises my good faith.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Immanence of the Wall

This is near a school in Lingotto, Turin. What took my fancy was the colour but when I drew closer I spotted graffiti at the bottom - and I must say it made me smile. It wasn't the religious message that amused but the manner of conveying the definite, immanent nature of the event. Immanence is of course connected with religion and weltanschauung (world view).  But when push comes to shove this is just a wall. The wall shuts in and protects a world and avoids the invasion of evil influences. They are restrictive but we do know the value of walls. In Ancient Egypt it was all about height. The wall rises above us. The Wailing Wall separates those in exile from those at home - walls as separators can be about nations, tribes, families or rulers. In psychoanalysis, walls can symbolise separation between the ego and everything else. Walls mark boundaries. I suppose walls offers themselves up for inscription and these days might carry advertising or graffiti. Diogenes of Oenoanda carved a summary of the philosophy of Epicurus onto lengthy portico walls, now in Modern Turkey. Originally 25,000 words long, wall pieces continue to be unearthed by the Deutches Archäologische Institut. As archaeological digs continue to demonstrate, it's hard to get rid of a wall.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Puma

I'm featuring a puma today, because I have a relationship with this one. It's one of the pumas that plays a part in my story blog, Follow the Wabbit. Although it's clear that it's a museum puma, killed and stuffed long ago, it was given some life and character by the taxidermist. Once I had a strange encounter with a puma in entirely the wrong place at the wrong time, but we both went our separate ways and I'm here to tell the tale. Shortly afterwards I came across this fellow - and like the taxidermist, I made him a character too. A puma is a cougar, a mountain lion, a panther or a catamount. Although it can be big, it is more related to the cat. So it gets the symbolism of the cat, not the lion. Cats are often regarded unfavourably in symbolism and many cultures see the cat as diabolic. But not in Islam. When passengers on Noah's Ark were disturbed by rats, Noah stroked the lion's face and it spat out a couple of cats. But whether it's a beast of good or a beast of evil omen, you can't ignore a puma. I chose to give this Puma a benevolent character and I made him a bit of a mensch. That's a Yiddish expression describing a principled, decorous and charitable individual. Puma is responsible and dignified - and even if he's a little old fashioned, he does what's right.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Even on the Squares

It was a chance shot in a container shop selling mostly kitchen things. And no matter what I do with it, it won't line up as I wish. Maybe that's the way with geometric things. I should have used a tripod with a spirit level and calibrations. Even then, I know this kind of shot seldom is seldom perfectly even. Have a look at movies on the TV. The angles never really work. And unless you have a shift lens and eons of time, you can forget symmetry in the frame. In situ, our eyes and brain compensate of course, and they will for my effort above - unless you study it closely. A square is one of the most popular symbols. It's always a construction, and represents a manufactured and bounded world. The world is square in ancient Chinese symbolism, because of the four directions of yang. These coordinates are a way of interpreting and describing abstract space in cosmic symbolism - we tend to to say "the earth" when we mean space. But when we get to the cube, then it is an expression of solidity, permanence and ultimately stagnation. The square is temporal whilst the circle is eternal. The square is limited through its boundaries and boundaries are often set by squares. Perhaps the sixties meaning of a person being regarded as "a square" was about constriction and boundaries. The over-corseted individual is too bounded to fully enjoy life.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Question of the Keys

This is a departure from the usual style, simply because I am tying in with my other blog - which is all to do with keys. It set me wondering how many keys we possess for all sorts of things. Houses, rooms, cars, padlocks and compartments - we need keys for them all. Of course, how many of us throw away keys when we no longer require the object they secured? I'm betting we've all got old keys here and there. So why the reluctance to throw them away? Perhaps it's because they play such an important function in keeping things in and shutting them out, that they possess their own authority - and ultimately power. The Bambara said "all that is said and all that is done to the individual, in the state and in the world at large, is a gate." * To hold the key is to have been initiated. So the key does not only concern access, but implies a spiritual state where one is allowed access. Having the authority to have access or being empowered to have access is the way of the key. Folk tales often feature three keys and they allow access to three different stages of purification and initiation on a journey. In the case of the folk tale, the three keys will help solve a mystery and that is always about enlightenment. There are many keys in the picture above, but I feel they all conform in some way to these general principles.
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*Zahan Dominique, "Societies d'initiation Bambara le N'domo, le Kore", Paris and the Hague, 1960
 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Duality of the Shout

This is part of a statue in Turin's University district. Now for preference, I don't bother with iron sculptures. I feel they are clunky and often out of keeping with their environment - then they rust and look dreadful! But this one made me stop to have a look. In in this case I didn't feel impelled to melt it down to make something more useful. What is symbolic about the figure - man, hands, mouth or shout?  In this shot he does look like he's made from Lego pieces. So there are overtones of construction and, by the same token, deconstruction. Let's go for shout, because it's unusual for a symbol. A shout has some kind of formal association (often unwelcome) in all traditions. There's the Town Crier in England and Night Criers and Night Whistlers in France. The Greeks and Trojans gave shouts of halala as they charged into battle. For Romans it was the clamour!  But in the Koran the shout is all about disaster, perhaps a whirlwind to punish the unjust. As is the way with symbols, the opposite can apply. In the procession along the Sacred Way from Athens to Eleusis, shouts of celebration accompany the Hiera (holy mysteries).  One god in particular, Iacchos, personified the shout. In this case, his association with Demeter means fecundity, love and life. When a new born baby is born what's the first thing it does? A lot of shouting!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Squares and Chairs

St Peter's is in my neighbourhood in Rome, so I cross this square frequently. There's often opportunities for good photos that are a little different. This was taken when the new Pope was about to appear officially for the first time, and all the chairs were formally laid out. I took many shots but liked this the best. Many areas set aside for particular functions are in the form of a square. A square is created and earthly as opposed to heavenly (which is round). A square, like the setting of the chairs, is formal and intellectual - a product of human engagement with the universe. To be on the square is to be honest and to square up with someone is to balance a debt. I am uncertain why the recent term "square", denoting a dull and regimented person, came into being. I guess it's because each side of the square is the same. The chair of course denotes some kind of privilege - and these seats were reserved for the ticket holders, the invited few. Chairs always have four legs for stability, so the picture is all about the number four. Again this is earthly - the created and the revealed. That's why there are four corners of the globe - something that used to confuse me as a child. In some cities, particular areas are know as quarters. There's no mystery really, because these places are solid and knowable - just like St Peter's Square for me, accessible and on my beat.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Nemo me impune lacessit


I think I've featured thistles before, but I came across this picture lurking in a file I hadn't used for a while. The file comprised my photos of the gardens attached to the Madama Palazza in Turin - one of my favourite spots to hide away. Visitors are quite likely to miss these gardens in favour of palace exhibits, so it can be very peaceful there. You can see how closely related are thistles and artichokes. In fact, the artichoke is derived from a variety of thistle. They are prickly plants and central to the legend of the Scottish army being fortuitously disturbed by advancing Norse invaders - who stood on them. I don't know if that's true, but it would certainly be a painful experience. Symbolically, the thistle defends the heart. Nemo me impune lacessit - no-one touches me unharmed! It set me wondering about conflict - and the tendency these days to discourage critical expression. We just don't want to allow the prickles to prick us, so anything we say must pass through a neutralising filter. And if we don't do it for ourselves, then surely someone will do it for us. I had the privilege of hearing Augusta Boal, founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, before he passed on. In a riveting lecture in London's ICA, he elaborated the concept of the "cop in the head". We are all encouraged to have this censor, he argued. In maintaining it, we immunise ourselves against exclusion and injustice. So I think we need our critical prickles so that we may better stay aware. If it moves, prick it. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Woolly Thought and the Implicate Order

This is old rope on the beach - no more no less. I ventured to the sea one fine Thursday with the expressed intention of looking for texture - and this was the very first shot of the day. Perhaps it's truly remarkable only when enlarged because the detail is most intricate. Thrown away things often make the best shots and reminded me that it's easy in everyday life to lose track of detail. Our eyes skim over things, because if we fully appreciated the texture of everyday objects we'd do little else. It made me think of the implicate order - and quantum physics may yet reveal to us this order of which Jung and the quantum scientists speak. We see the explicate order with no difficulty, but the weft and weave of the implicate order is something else again. If we concentrated on it too much, we might never throw anything away and disappear under a mound of kept objects - including our unconscious and conscious processes.  David Bohm is one of my science heroes and he would appreciate this picture. He realised that the whole encompasses all things, including structures, abstractions, and processes, Things may be physical but also abstract entities. Thought would be included in this - and that of course is anathema to the many scientists who live in a world of material certainty. So let look at the image again and consider it as a representation of actual thought. Does it look a little woolly to you? 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Squaring up

The photo was taken some years ago from the top of the Mole Antonelliana in Turin and it hid in my files for that time! Frankly I can't recall taking it! Because the building is mostly squares it reminded me of this rhyme. "A graduate student at Trinity.Computed the square of infinity.But it gave him the fidgets.To put down the digits, So he dropped maths - and took up divinity." For Jung, a square is a “quaternity”and such a symbol might be “in the form of a cross, a star, a square, an octagon". Jung famously conceived of the human personality as having four sides and sought balance in each. The square is a  symbol of wholeness and when it appears in dreams, it could be about self realisation. When the circle is squared it becomes a mandala, a symbol of the transcendental. Yet even though there are many squares I couldn't imagine anything spiritual about what looks like a battery farm. Why should we want to live or work in little cubes? They are strong of course. Would you rather stand on a chair with with four legs or a stool with three? It's a fundamentally stable structure and everything holds everything else up. If you could remove a single cube from this structure it's unlikely it would collapse. Functional yet boring - something a lot of people seem to strive for. But we are more than four sides. We need to square up to being multi-dimensional.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Crocodiles, Aggression & the Collective Unconscious

I saw this in Brussels a while ago and forgot about it. But at the time I took the shot, I thought that crocodiles had a good symbolic existence! This art is part of a current penchant for outsize creature statues in impossible colours, but I do like some very much. This crocodile doesn't look like a creature of the underworld, yet that is how crocodiles often appear. In Ancient Egypt, Crocodile Sobek weighed souls. He was called the Devourer - and when souls were unable to give a good account of themselves he would eat them and they would would become excrement in his bowels. The Egyptians had a refreshing way of looking at things. There were temples dedicated to crocodiles and a town called Crocodilopolis. Yet elsewhere in Egypt, crocodiles were feared. Eyes were dawn, jaws were murder. And its tail brought brought darkness and death. In the West, crocodiles were held to be primeval creature and they may represent the aggressiveness of the collective unconscious. So if you dream of crocodiles, there could be some collective aggression of which you feel part. Excrement is another symbol for another day. But despite excrement's association with strength and gold, I wouldn't like to be excrement in the bowels of the crocodile!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wine of life - freeing the spirit.

I found these flasks lying at the side of the local wine co-op in Casorzo, Piedmont. I'm at the limit for distortion on the wide angle lens but I didn't feel like cropping the image too much. The flasks looked a useful size for taking home. Here, you can roll along to your local co-op, buy wine in bulk then bottle it yourself. It's a civilised approach to wine. The symbolism of wine is very much about intoxication - not the general drunkenness that bedevils cities of northern Europe on a Friday night, but the sacred intoxication of the Gods. Blake said that the path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. I believe that's a knowledge and wisdom, imparted through the sacred aspects of wine. As usual symbolism is uneven and even contradictory. Wine in most cultures represents strength and life but sometimes it can represent God's wrath. "He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword." And wine is also a symbol in Islam with many references in the Koran. "Choice wine shall be given to them to quaff." [76:21]. In general, wine is a positive life-giving symbol, The Sufi believe in the pre-existence of souls and moreover that "these souls we intoxicated with immortal wine." (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī). We arrive with the natural mysticism of the drink! But not the Gods of the Underworld. They are disallowed wine - as are the Muses, who rely on memory. And dreams of wine? It all depends. It could be a very positive pointer to transformation. Wine liberates the earthly and frees the spirit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Lighthouse and The People

I tried for some time to get a decent photograph of the lighthouse, but perhaps the problem was that it's no-where near the sea. It's on the Gianicolo Hill above Rome and it was a gift to Rome from Argentinian Italians in 1986, marking 30 years since the Argentinian military coup. Under its rule, thousands disappeared. No-one knows the real number so a lighthouse is entirely appropriate because it is a very practical boundary between light and dark. In the maritime sense, it signals rocks or cliffs hidden in the darkness, waiting to tear out the hull of some unfortunate vessel. Light is also internal - the Koran sees God and heaven as light within a lamp encased in glass -  and the human heart is light too, a glass lantern set in the recesses of the body.This monument is about life so it's worth repeating the chilling communique that heralded the new rule. "People are advised that from this date, the country is under the operational control of the Joint Chiefs General of the Armed Forces. We recommend to all inhabitants, strict compliance with provisions and directives emanating from the military, security or police authorities, and to be extremely careful to avoid individual or group actions and attitudes that may require drastic intervention from the operating staff. Signed: General Jorge Rafael Videla, Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera and Brigadier Orlando Ramón Agosti."
The lighthouse marks the boundary between the light of humanity and the dark forces that stand ready to assault it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Many chairs and the seat of God

I can't resist assembled chairs and they do make good photographs. I really can't remember which church in Rome this was, but the light was good enough for the depth of field that a wide-angle lens offers. The symbolism of chairs is clear. A chair is a sign of authority and if you offer someone a chair, you recognise the status of the visitor or guest. If you remain seated while others stand, this is a sign of your authority. The Holy See originates from sedes, Latin for chair. And the chair of the meeting is in charge and has a casting vote. But the seats in this church reminded me of an old occasion where I had to organise a conference. The venue was a London ecumenical centre, where Roman Catholic and Church of England congregations were allocated separate worship areas. However, one section had soft seats and the caretaker refused permission for the chairs to be moved to make conference guests comfortable. Looking back, it was all most amusing. Yet at the time, it was stressful. So I'm pleased to say that after much theological debate, reason prevailed and the soft chairs were duly allowed! The chairs in the photograph don't look comfortable at all, do they? In Rome, most older churches would be dedicated to kneeling or standing. Pews and sitting came about in the Middle Ages. You didn't get to sit because God has the authority. It's God that sits. But a throne is a subject for another blog!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Dark Tunnel of the Underworld

This is an impressionist piece! I tried for a long time and on many metro trips to get this right. I used the small camera and gave it a steady resting place against the rear window of the train - then I squeezed the shutter and hoped for the best. There were many failures, but this one seems to have some sense of speed to it - even if the train in the image is braking for he next station! A tunnel is usually associated with a quest and as well as darkness, can involve anguish and punishment. Tunnels frequently appear in dreams, but as usual, the symbol is ambivelant -  there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Being in the tunnel is stressful, yet the task of exiting demands thought and consideration. Once when I was in this very tunnel (and near enough this location) I experienced an earthquake, It was unusual for Turin. The train slowed nearly to a standstill and there was a most curious atmosphere. That truly might have become an underworld adventure. In many ancient cultures, there was a belief in an underground highway. The dead and the Sun would travel along the highway and emerge to a new dawn. But in these times, millions of commuters disappear into dark highways under the city every day, In this case they soon return to the familiar world they know. But in the dark Tunnel of the Underworld, one can only emerge to a new place of light, a fresh birth.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Balloon Coincidence

It was an unusual expedition because the next day I took a short trip in this balloon. The shot is taken from the top of the Mole Antonelliana which houses the film museum in Turin, and I thought I was lucky to see a balloon. But it transpires that this is a permanent Turin fixture and if you look closely, you'll see the balloon is tethered. Passengers are loaded and then it slowly rises, attached to its line, for about twenty minutes. Part of the basket's floor is transparent - so if you're nervous of heights it might not be for you. But if there's an opportunity, I feel compelled to go up on high things and look around. A balloon is a sphere and has a special place in symbolism - because it is the "cube of the circle" and adds another dimension to it. Domes in temples are hemispheres and express a wholeness that is the combination of the circle and the square. If perfection must be pictured, it would have to be in the shape of a sphere. But something else appeared in the photo and I hadn't realised it was there until today.  A helicopter is making it's way to a landing pad at the Centre for Orthopedic Trauma, a Turin hospital that I know extremely well. It was a day of photographic coincidence - or perhaps as Jung believed, there really is no such thing.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Oceanus' Crab Claws

This mosaic is typical of ancient Rome and inhabitants of Ostia Antica used them to decorate floors of bath houses and market places. The man on the left has to be Oceanus, the first of the Titans and son of Gaia and Uranus, because of the clawed hands. Oceanus derived from Greek legends and he was quite a figure. He is the divine representation of the world ocean which encircles the world and is also the God of rivers and streams. In the great Clash of the Titans, Oceanus, like Prometheus, withdrew from the battle and refused to take sides. Could this be what the image is about? Watery Oceanus would naturally be a popular choice for bath house decor, but it's also likely this is in Ostia's market place. In that case, the scene might denote the type of merchandise on sale in that part of the market. I'm speculating, because I took the shot but failed to get the accompanying explanation! I do like both hands and claws and the mosaic detail is quite lovely. But the crab claws are really interesting. Although crabs are lunar symbols, they are Chtonic and of the Underworld. The crab shifts along the bottom of the sea causing the water to move, bringing storms. Maybe it's the sideways movement that gave claws to Oceanus. Generally no slouch, Oceanus certainly shuffled off and out of the way of that Titanic battle - leaving the storm to rage.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Another Brick in the Wall

This is an old market place entrance in the spectacular ruins of Ostia Antica, near Rome. They had some fine buildings in these days and I was reminded of a Geordie friend in England. He was very keen on bricks as a product and he would say "Ye canna find better than a brick, man." He would certainly have liked Ostia because it's almost completely composed of that narrow Roman brick. Symbolically, bricks have their place beside stone. The interesting thing here is that stone is a more powerful symbol where it remains uncut. But bricks are very much constructed - a sign of urbanisation, putting down roots and having a house and land. Not surprising then, that there was a God of Bricks! The Akkadian Empire was located in what we came to know as Babylon, and it reached a peak around 2300 BC. The Akkadian's creator Marduk invented the brick and built a town. The Brick God was called Kula, himself made from the primordial mud of the River Apsu. Kula then supervised the building of temples - made from bricks of course. So bricks are a gift from God. Symbols are ambivalent and often hard to pin down. We call someone a "brick" when that individual is regarded an all-round good person. But recently we might suffer "another brick in the wall" - a metaphor used by band Pink Floyd to refer to the negative  role of education in promoting conformity and compliance.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Boots and the Land

I was reviewing old photos and found this chance shot. I'd still call it an "end of roll" photo, when I'd use the remaining few frames on a 35mm roll, to hasten it to the lab. Often, these shots would be be the best on the roll. Technically this is a boot, but the symbolism of boot is no different from shoe. I don't agree. We use boots very specifically to denote certain things. It's a seven league boot in European fairy tales, not shoes. We boot up a computer - that's more of a kick isn't it? But that derives from getting going under your own steam by "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps." It's Puss in Boots of course and Puss in Shoes doesn't quite fit the bill. Boots are grand compared to shoes. They are for specific activities - walking, working, climbing, motorcycling or even hopping around on the moon. Where heavy duty is concerned, boots are just the job. When we put them on, we transform into the person for the task.Only then do we possess whatever ground is appropriate. I recall all these fierce battles of Kinder Scout in the UK for the rights of ramblers to walk on the land. The mass trespass in 1932 and the disgraceful reaction by authorities made the event indelible for those who feel they have the right to roam their land. If I know my ramblers, they would have been wearing stout footwear that memorable day - and after the fights and arrests, they may have have been pleased to take their boots off.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Manitou and the Universal Spirit

I just love emergency vehicles. I think it's a bit child-like but I refuse to give up! If I see an emergency vehicle, I make for it immediately. This was part of an exhibition of emergency vehicles exhibition in Piedmont and I arrived before everything was properly set up. I was like a child with free reign in a sweet shop. Manitou is not only a brand of very fine work vehicles. It's a spirit of the Algonquian native Americans. Christian missionaries appropriated the name to help them work with Native Americans and used it to mean God. but the difference is that Manitou is a contactable person that inhabits all manner of objects - even machines. Maybe this vehicle has the spirit of Manitou and we could stroll over and engage it in conversation. What's the worse that could happen? The notion of a spirit within all things is not uncommon. Shamanistic culture specifies a common connection between the totality of  things and quantum mechanics may prove that is so. In Christianity, all things are part of the nature of God, but he doesn't seem as accessible as Manitou. That is a more a case of projection of our hopes and fears and wishes, than an acknowledgement of a life force that binds us witin a universe. So if you see me speaking to a vehicle, have no worries. I'm just having a chat.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Acqua City and the Poverty of History

I think I mentioned these ruins on Facebook but I am somehow drawn back. It is extremely difficult to photograph ruins - the result is never what one expects. In this case I used many filters and adjustments but eventually returned to the original colour, complete with orange sodium lights. I used available light, so apologies for any camera shake - it was an eighth of a second. This is La Città dell'Acqua, the City of Water in Rome and it was discovered during the renovation of a cinema. Now the cinema and the ruins co-exist and you can see them at almost any time at very low cost. It's one of the best deals in Rome and most tourists pass it by - so don't miss it! Popular culture and Ancient Rome are sad bedfellows these days. We hear more about bloodthirsty events, rather than civilisation. Great and lasting architecture, mercantile trade, excellent plumbing and indeed, early democracy are savaged in an ahistorical tirade that rubbishes the ancients and (at least on television) privileges more dubious events of recent times. Jungians would describe this as the shadow. We point at others and fail to recognise ourselves. It's poor science to compare the mores of ancient civilisations with ones that developed over a further 2000 years - it's akin to blaming Archimedes for having not the slightest clue about quantum mechanics. My lecture is over! But if you want to see the fascinating Città dell'Acqua, it's at Vicolo del Puttarello 25. From the site of the Trevi Fountain, exit from the east side of the square, turn right, and walk a few meters to the Vicolo dei Modelli. Turn left onto the Vicolo dei Modelli, then turn right at the next corner. La Città dell'Acqua is mid-block.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Columns, Pillars and the origins of the Jesus story

These columns mark a circumference around St Peter's Square and probably many of you are familiar with walking underneath them. I took the picture with this blog in mind - but also because I liked the crushing of perspective. I used the small camera with as low an aperture as I could get - hence a high shutter speed. Columns are a big time symbol. They provide support,  but they are also a bit like trees with roots. So like the trees, they support life. Columns frame gateways and mark boundaries yet mostly they represent a passage from one state to another. Now while Hercules was a great raiser of columns (the Pillars of Hercules), they can be shaken. Samson was one of these shakers and although he died in the process, his temple-demolishing skills defeated his Philistine enemies. Jung tries to make things clear. The column or pillar is about the cross. Jung* quotes Robertson  on "Evangelical Myths," (p 130) observing that he contributes interestingly to the symbol of the carrying of the cross. Samson carries the pillars of the gates from Gaza and dies between the columns of the temple of the Philistines. But in ancient art, he is depicted carrying the pillars in such a way as they resembled the cross. If we accept Jung's proposition, then this is in all likelihood the origin of the story of Jesus, who carries his cross to his execution. No surprise then, that these columns surround St Peter's.

*Jung, CG (1916) Psychology of the Unconscious: A Study of the Transformations  and Symbolisms of the Libido (A Contribution to the History of the Evolution of Thought ) Moffat, Yard and co. New York

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's all in the bag

This is a window at Brown Thomas, Dublin's prestigious department store. I liked the colours and the solitary bag. I used a fish eye filter on the camera and the result was pleasing. The bag itself is perhaps the current icon of conspicuous consumption and isn't our subject here - it's the symbolism of the bag that is most interesting. The bag is much used in sayings and it's all about containers. The cat is out the bag means something kept under wraps is now revealed - the game is up. The other that I like is about beating the badger out of the bag. The badger is for some reason held to be lazy, suspicious and solitary. In the Welsh story of Mabinogion, Pwyll's rival in love is beaten by his followers with staves in order to extract his bad qualities - they beat the badger out of him. This has something in common with the notion of carrying "baggage" that we have to get rid of. It's quite usually pejorative isn't it? The old bag, bags under the eyes. Only very occasionally is a worthwhile objective "in the bag". I'm not sure we can get rid of baggage entirely. But psychotherapy is a useful way of dumping or even parking whole sets of luggage. It's more important to acknowledge what the bag contains and put things in order. The psyche has many little pockets for tucking things away and sometimes it's a good idea to have a sort-out.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Photography: Memory, Modernity and Change

I was drawn to take the photograph because of the closure of the Jessop photographic retail chain. There was once a Jessop store in Dublin - that one replaced an independent, but it is long closed. Now the whole chain has folded with the loss of three and a half thousand jobs. When I first came to live in Dublin there were many camera shops and it was great fun to search for a second hand lens. Now that is virtually impossible. So I guess I'm talking about loss. A group therapist of mine once said that change means loss and she never said a truer word. The change to digital was a savage blow to diehard photographers. The awful part of the saga is that digital is not as good as the format it replaced. The detail available from a negative beats digital hands down. But the change also makes this kind of publishing accessible and the environmental impact is much reduced. Yet sometimes in my thoughts, I find myself back in the darkroom bathed in an eerie red light - and I can smell the chemicals. In fact, there was something alchemical about watching an image swim into view in the developing tray, a transformation I no longer witness. In psychotherapy, we stress the necessity of adapting to change. But that doesn't mean forgetting old ways, because they have a way of returning and biting us in a painful spot.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Imagining the Theatre of Marcellus

This is a view from the Portico d'Ottavia and on the right is the Theatre of Marcellus, just opposite the Temple of Apollo.  It's one of the places in Rome I like to hang out. Not so many tourists walk through here and if they do I can feel vaguely irritated. I think it's because I sense they're not really looking. They appear to be ticking boxes of places they've been. This spot is always in transition and so the barriers have to be suffered. I like to stroll up and down imagining people streaming into the old theatre, which originally had three tiers. It was finished in 13 BC and could hold up to 20,000 spectators, although estimates vary. Things are always changing in the city. It continued to be used as a theatre until about 1000 AD after which it became a fortress, then a residence. There are apartments in the upper portion, and so it continues to be a living building. There lots to see here, if you're prepared to really look and more importantly, imagine an ancient society in which theatre had such central importance. There is such squabbling over arts funding in current times, but the Romans knew that music and drama was crucial to political popularity and maintaining the status quo. If you're in Rome, you might just catch me here. I'm the one covertly poking behind the barrier to get a better shot!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Castle, the Unconscious & The Self

Many castles are often stately homes built by rich aristocrats to show off their wealth. This one in Ostia is far from that. Begun in 1483, by the future Pope Julius II, it was the seat of the Papal Custom Houses and regulated excise payments on goods entering the Roman Port of Ostia. It was besieged by the Spanish at the end of the Franco-Spanish War and substantially damaged. A flood ended its prominence in 1557, after which it was used variously for agricultural storage and then a prison. Convicts were conscripted to assist in archaeological excavations in the ancient port and the castle became their prison. In symbolic terms the castle is usually defensive. It’s a fortress and attack is not part of its business. If you dream that you are in castle, it’s just possible you are being defensive about something in your life or feel imprisoned. But there is another interpretation. It might be something about yourself that you are unable to access. This castle is very traditional – it has quite a deep moat. It was difficult to get out, but also extremely difficult to get in. In Kafka’s novel, the Castle, the hero “K” tries to obtain access to authorities in a castle. He is completely unaware of why he has been invited there and the more he tries to reach the castle, the further away the castle appears. K is doomed to wander aimlessly outside rather than inside the castle. It’s all about the seeking after Self, the darkness of the unconscious and our continuing attempts to become aware. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Walk like an Egyptian

There's not a lot of pyramids around these parts, so where there is one a viewing is demanded. It's actually quite old (18BC) and not that pretty, but it makes quite an impact in what is now a very urban environment. Cestius was a prominent magistrate and this is his burial tomb. It was originally sealed but now, with special permission, it's possible for scholars to go inside. Built in the countryside it gradually became surrounded and for a while it was overgrown with vegetation. Even now, tourists miss out on something of a curiosity. Following Rome's incursions into Egypt, things Egyptian were rather popular and so it was fashionable for the wealthy to use Egyptian designs to make an impression. Probably Cestius' contemporaries thought the whole thing quite vulgar. Nowadays, pyramids are felt by some to have healing powers, but I doubt if there's much healing to be had from this one. Rather the opposite if you stand around in the rush hour! City pollution has made the marble tiles used to cover the brick-faced concrete of the pyramid quite dirty, but refurbishments are underway to restore it to the original - it would have been nearly white. It's well worth a visit and there's a nice, friendly and free museum next door. The Museo della Via Ostiense di Porta San Paolo offers the best view of the structure.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

All about Balance

The roundabout or carousel is usually the province of fairgrounds but this one seemed to have escaped!  It was on the banks of the Tiber, near the Palace of Justice. It's rather a nice example, so I paused to take a wide angle photo on the basis it would look a bit wild against the architecture of the buildings. It reminded me of childhood and the atmosphere of fairgrounds, which should be exciting and dangerous and other-worldly. Fairgrounds are usually temporary. They come and go - and that transitory state is exciting for the young. Children can find impermanence threatening, but the fairground provides a relatively safe container for these feelings. Children like the dizzying motion of rides  especially when they stagger off-balance afterwards. "Swings and roundabouts" is a relatively recent expression describing the futility of winning and losing. It's always about balance. The up and down of the swings is somehow balanced by the circular movement of the roundabout. I don't think about that one too much, because it makes my head spin! Yet the Buddhist notion of continuity, of birth and rebirth, springs to mind. I avoid the more aggressive fairground rides these days but this one looks gentle. Dreaming of fairground rides is another matter and depends on how you felt in the dream. Was it fun? Were you dizzy? Were you losing your grip? A vast territory for the dream analyst!