Like a Pianola

Having begun thus, I can now be quite at ease and should even, according to contemporary notions of “religious morality,” be completely assured that from now on everything in this new venture of mine will proceed, as is said, “like a pianola.”

(From Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales)

New metaphor for the mental log. Strange word to use describing mysticism.

How Buer-ring!

One of the things that irks me about things like demonology compendiums would be how extremely unpoetical the descriptions can be compared to the imagery. For example, this is the image of a Buer:


This thing looks absolutely insane! Nowadays people keep drawing demons as creatures with maybe flames and rocky skin and stuff, trying to make it look ‘cool’ – but drawings like this, as well as those of monster-makers like Bosch showcase how true other worldliness can really  look like.

Now, not only is it a cool image, but there’s also a lot of possible metaphorical potential to examine. I am just waiting for the perfect moment when I can write something like “like a Bueric Dog-Hoof Wheel” in my writing.

What could it be interpreted as? A cyclical being? A being that can be ‘stable on all sides’? A wheel made merely from the spokes? Since the lion mane in the center is all fiery outwards, it could even be a beastial sun.

But, instead, we get this kind of writing: (7) Buer is a great president, and is seene in this signe [*]; he absolutelie teacheth philosophie morall and naturall, and also logicke, and the vertue of herbes: he giveth the best familiars, he can heale all diseases, speciallie of men, and reigneth over fiftie legions.

So that dog-wheel thing is just a Plato + Professor Snape? Where is the poesy? Why does his circular nature mesh with the teaching of moral & natural philosophy? It is because the Buer represents a sphere of perfect calmness from a beastial core? Could you use the Buer as a metaphor for the way man is both simultaneously beast but also logical form?

The answer is that the writers simply did not have the imagination, and they were encyclopedia-ists rather than poets. The artist is the one that invokes the deeper and more ‘demonic’ nature through his illustrations. This was also one of my problems with Swedenborg. He’s a mystic but he writes like a dull geographer. Furthermore, in his book on his exploration of other planets, he came up with an amazing concept for the race of Mercury beings that move around in abstract form, like what a human would be like if he was separated from the material world – but afterwards Swedenborg simply ran out of creative juice, and his descriptions of the other beings are so lackluster compared to the Mercurians (it’s probably because Swedenborg was himself an academic, and so the academic Mercurians were the beings he was most interested in illustrating).

It takes a poet to energize a concept. Just as Swedenborg was energized by Blake, the demons are energized by countless others – like Milton, Goethe, and many more. They were inspired by the images rather than the dull cataloguing. That was where the potential was being held.

The Ear Repeats: A Chase

There seems to be a poetic schism between the eye and the ear in certain texts. The eye is seen as an engine of great dispersal, while the ear is a funnel that gathers together in an intimate sense.

I thought of this while flipping randomly through the Kybalion. This mystic text begins its first chapter as such:

“The lips of wisdom are closed, except to the ears of Understanding”

Which I thought was strange, because I was sure that the common conception of Mysticism was that things were ‘viewed’ in a new way. That’s why there’s the idea of the ‘third eye’. But this Mystic text begins with an evocation to the ear.

This reminded me of a part of a poem by Wallace Stevens, where he talks about the myth of death – The Owl in the Sarcophagus

These forms are visible to the eye that needs,
Needs out of the whole necessity of sight.
The third form speaks, because the ear repeats,

The third form is viewed as a mother figure, as opposed to the two brothers:

Two brothers. And a third form, she that says
Good-by in the darkness, speaking quietly there,

The schism of sight and sound is brought about again when John Donne describes the awakening of himself to his lover in his poem The Dream:

As lightning, or a taper’s light,
Thine eyes, and not thy noise wak’d me;
Yet I thought thee
(For thou lovest truth) an angel, at first sight;

This verse talks about the happiness of waking to a lover, but it’s juxtaposed against the next stanza, where the narrator begins to fall in doubt about the truth and irreality of the love:

Coming and staying show’d thee, thee,
But rising makes me doubt, that now
Thou art not thou.
That love is weak where fear’s as strong as he;
‘Tis not all spirit, pure and brave,
If mixture it of fear, shame, honour have;

This reminds me of the concept of the ‘blind-spot’. That certain spot of the eye where some things simply cannot be seen due to the way the eye is constructed. Then again, auditory illusions also exist in the world. The ear is not exempt from the world of illusions.
The ultimate exhortation of this schism comes from the mystic Meister Eckhart, who writes as such in his sermon:

“That is why one master declares that the sense of hearing is nobler than that of sight, for we learn more wisdom by hearing than by seeing, and in it live the more wisely.”

If we are to compare the eye and the ear, the eye is a circus. It is all encompassing color, turning into texture and hues. The ear, usually, can only listen to a limited scope at a time. When there are many channels of sound, it turns into a noise, or a clamor.

One also has to think about the intimacy of whispers. They say you have to be a good listener, and not a good looker. Complimenting a person as observant is not as good a compliment in the realm of love. It is a compliment for detectives, but not lovers.

The ear is a tunnel and a spiral, and it seems to draw into itself. The eye is an orb. It sparkles outwards. How many more mysteries are there to be found between these two objects?

Kyoka’s Moon. Dogen’s Moon.

The Chinese Idiom 镜花水月 (the flower in the mirror and the moon in the water) refers to the idea of an epheremal beauty beyond grasp. This idiom was picked up by Izumi Kyoka as the basis for his pseudonym (泉 鏡花).

Zen master Dogen uses the image of the moon in the water twice in his lecture – Genjou Koan.


(For the mind and body have left us with colors that we clutch with our eyes, and the mind and body has left us with voices that we clutch with your ears, and though we are intimate with this entire grasping, it is neither like a mirror catching a shadow, nor like the water and the moon. When a side is revealed, a side is darkened.)

The notes in the English Translation interprets as such:

“Here, Dogen uses the image of ‘the moon in the water’ to refer to something that is only a reflection of the actual object; the phrase is not used in the sense of the common Buddhist metaphor for the Buddha Nature reflected in all things”

“When we are still clinging to things, we do not see the duality inherent within our own thinking and thus we perceive only one side of the duality”.

This paragraph is (to me) talking about how our senses are not as clearcut as a reflection capturing an image. We only grasp a side, while another is always kept in shadow.

Yet, Dogen shifts the image around when he explains his conception of the enligtened man:

人のさとりをうる、水に月のやどるがごとし。月ぬれず、水やぶれず。ひろくおほき(おほき=大きい Ooki) なるひかりにてあれど、尺寸の水にやどり、全月も彌天も、くさの露にもやどり、一滴の水にもやどる。さとりの人をやぶらざる事、月の水をうがたざるがごとし。人のさとりを罣礙 (Impediment, Hindrance)せざること、滴露の天月を罣礙せざるがごとし。ふかきことはたかき分量なるべし。時節の長短は、大水小水を撿点し、天月の広狭を辦取すべし。

(When a man is enlightened, he is like the moon in the water. The moon isn’t wet, and the water is untouched. Although formed as a massive bulb of light, it rests in a small waterdrop, and even the entire moon and sky are caught in the grass’s dew through the reflection of a single drop. Just as the light of enlightenment breaks not the man, neither too does the moon split the water. A person’s enlightenment does not impede, as a dewdrop’s moon does not impede. The depth will hew to the heights, as to the depth of droplets and the height of moons. And as for how many seasons and times shall pass in the reflection, we look to how far hands can reach into the sizes of the waters, and how much handle can be had upon the longitude of moons.)

In each of these circumstances, how is the moon to be taken?

In the first, for its sad beauty and epheremal inconstancy in the lake.

In the second, it’s referring to the clarity of the representation within the reflected surface and how this is a false view of things.

In the third, it becomes a vision of oneness with nature, where enlightenment sits man to become as much of what he is as possible, rather than disturbing his internal state.

So should we be sad at the image of the moon in the water, or is this, in fact, a sign of a greater and loftier vision of the world? A vision where the image of the moon in a dewdrop contains as much depths as that sphere in the sky, and as much depths in the minds of mens and poets who have used the image for their own purposes.

The Kanji of Metaphor

For some reason, the various variants of the Kanji for metaphor (喩) caught my eye.

比喩 (Compare-Metaphor): Metaphor
暗喩 (Dark/Obscured-Metaphor): Metaphor
隠喩(Hidden-Metaphor): Metaphor
引喩 (Pull-Metaphor): Allusion
直喩 (Honest/Straight/Frank-Metaphor): Simile
風諭 (Style/Wind/Air-Metaphor): Insinuation, hint, allegory
諷喩 (Hint-Metaphor): Insinuation, hint allegory
換喩(Interchanging-Metaphor): Metonymy