Last spring I had the pleasure of meeting Lonnie Ro at NORWAC in Seattle. We were both sitting in the back of Hakan Kirkoglu’s lecture on prenatal eclipse charts. During the lecture we exchanged a few potent remarks. A few hours later the same happened in another lecture, and what struck me most was that I saw in Lonnie a particular type of interest in astrology that mirrored my own. A breath of fresh air! I had to get to know him! After the conference we kept in touch and he accepted my offer to be interviewed for the rest of you here. So! Without further ado, get to know the amazing Lonnie Ro! Continue reading Get to know Lonnie Ro!
In 1997, looking out of the large windows into the courtyard at Columbia River High during German class, a realization dawned on me. I had been reading a book called The Great Year, recommended to me by my German teacher, Gary Lorentzen. It was written by his friend Nicholas Campion, and it was the first book that really got underneath historical narratives and showed me a new way to think about temporality and ideology—and astrology. Gary had also recommended a few books by another colleague, Patrick Curry. What all these men had in common was a practicing knowledge of astrology. But Nick and Patrick were focused on the English history of astrology, and I was obsessed with German. Sitting there, just barely fifteen, a bolt of lightning hit me, if I become fluent in German, I could grow up to become the authority on the German history of astrology. And basically every choice I’ve made since then has been in line with that vision.
Now I write on the other side of spending a year in former East Germany on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship (1998-1999), on the other side of pursuing my PhD in German from UC Berkeley (2004-2012), and chasing it with an MA in History of Astrology (2012-2016), and finally embarking on the actual work: translating the sources I used over the course of my education.
Tony Kaes, my dissertation advisor at UC Berkeley, was fond of creating compilations of source works. He focuses on the history of film and the Weimar Republic. Every time I taught English-speaking students about the history of Weimar culture I used Tony’s Weimar Republic Sourcebook as a textbook. It was filled to the gills with small, inaccessible texts that had never appeared in English before. He and his co-editors constellated them around various topics germane to the subject, which resulted in a very rich overview of an era using primary sources. A genuine article. And as a teacher, and immense resource. He has recently come out with a new tome gathering smaller texts around the history of film, The Promise of Cinema. (Which, for anyone who has spent hours in the microfiche rooms trying to root through the various film journals of the 20s knows, is another great contribution to the field. No more craning the neck in front of those oddly back-lit screens. Plus! The translations are ready-made to cite in your English-language articles). These two books are indispensable resources for the German scholar and also for bringing people who will never learn German into a solid understanding of what German culture has contributed to the world.
The material I have discovered over the two decades I’ve been working on this topic is rich. And it would be absurd to expect people to learn German to be able to access it. Much of what I have collected, I’ve had to buy from used book stores and antique dealers. I would say I’ve invested at least $3,000 in books and journals. Libraries simply do not value what these texts have to offer. Philip Graves, my colleague in Europe knows all too well the cost of collecting these types of materials; he’s got the largest collection of astrological historical texts in the world! And while some historians (mostly Ellic Howe) have examined this period in detail, the primary sources remain behind the linguistic barrier of German. I aim to provide access to the primary sources so that other scholars and astrologers who only know English can have better access to them and read for themselves.
Last week, I announced my intention to translate astrological source works that are currently in the public domain, and I already have 26 amazing folks supporting this effort (thank you!). As I work through these texts, I aim to publish them in a similar vein as Tony’s two source work projects. Patrons who support me at the $10/mo level and up will get all copies of everything published. What’s more, as this next decade proceeds (and if the copyright laws do not change), more and more material will start to become available. In 2018, foreign-published material from 1923 will enter the public domain. In 2019, material from 1924, and so on… As we approach 1926/1927, we hit a zenith of astrological publishing, and I’ll have heaps to do. Right now I am starting with a text from 1915 about the astrology of WWI.
If this project excites you, and you want to get in on the play-by-play and learn as I go, please support it through Patreon. This is a project with deep historical scope that will far outlive any topical podcast or horoscope column. My vision is that unborn generations will be able to look back on this and benefit from what they can learn about this rich period of astrological history. And I also hope that it provides an alternative to the known English history of the early twentieth century, so that the German/English linguistic barrier may be overcome and the astrological community can come to know itself and its past better.
I’ve spent the better part of two decades getting ready for this moment. Now I’m inviting you to join me in helping make it happen.
Five years ago, I wrote a short piece about my experiences in NYC during 9-11 for my friend Lisa’s blog (SatsumaBug) to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the attacks. It is difficult to believe that fifteen years have elapsed between that fateful Tuesday and now. There was a time in my life I felt as though I would think about that day every single day for the rest of my life, or that I could never enter into a romantic relationship with anyone who was not also there because we would never be able to relate to one another on the deepest levels that “being there” changed me. But those things are not true. Everything has faded. I only remember what it smelled like to live below 14th Street in the aftermath when I actively think about it. And I have had amazing relationships with people who were worlds away from Manhattan that day. Rather than pen a new response revivifying what I lived through, I’ll share what I wrote for Lisa with you here. Continue reading The Night Before Sept. 11, 2001
This autumn, Christopher Renstrom reveals Trash Astrology! He recently took some time to chat with me about what that means. In this interview, he shares some of the juicy morsels he’s uncovered so far and makes a great case for pursuing the underbelly of astrological history. Let’s dig in!
JZ: What is “Trash Astrology”?
CR: “Trash Astrology” is popular astrology. It is astrology that is generated for the masses in publications and venues that are not regarded as “serious” or academic astrology. Always done on the cheap, trash astrology first appeared in America in the almanacs, dream books, and secret books of knowledge that were published in the pre-Revolutionary and Federalist period. It has evolved along with our media so that it is now a mainstay of newspapers, fashion magazines, websites, blogs, apps, and more. Continue reading Interview: Christopher Renstrom on Trash Astrology
On the day of its release, Werner Herzog’s latest film, Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected World, launched not just in theaters, but online as well. I felt it fitting to choose to stay at home alone and “rent” the movie right away. As the pixels on my laptop flickered with Herzog’s visions, I reveled in the juxtaposition of my solitude while consuming this film whose subtitle espouses connection.
Midway through the film, as if on command, a colleague from South Africa sent me a message. How apt. My solitude has been penetrated by a message from half a world away. I tell her to watch the movie because halfway through it is already stunning, and she brings up her own perception of the irony that we are communicating while this film is streaming into my life. She mentions something about telepathy at the very same moment the film begins to discuss the possibilities of telepathy and that soon we will be “tweeting thoughts”… “It is already happening,” I think to myself. I tell her about the synchronicity, and she replies, “weird.”
The planetary hours are a simple and effective ancient astrological technique to optimize your life. They are a historical form of astrology based on observation, your specific location, and thus your lived experience. This technique does not depend on charts, so you can begin to use it right away. This September, Astrology Hub has invited me to provide a free online workshop teaching you the ins and outs of planetary hours.
On Thursday July 28, the kind powerhouses at the Association for Young Astrologers invited me to chat with them about astrology and publishing. Our conversation veered along myriad pathways, including the history of astrology, the creation of the Maggie A Nalbandian Memorial Library in Seattle, and of course, a lot about my own pathways through publishing and what I do on the daily in that arena. Towards the end, our conversation generated suggestions for future research (future publications!) in our field. Enjoy!
The bond, thick and thorned. Our youth intertwined, inextricable. I do not miss whoever he is now. I don’t know him anymore. I miss him as he was. I miss what he was for me when we met, that dark mirror.
His good friend Z brought it back to me, his sense of humor. They grew up together, and working with Z on a forthcoming publication for Rubedo Press this past winter, I saw contours of it, of that thing, the thing that made me find myself again, that stopped me from continuing down a wrong path, a path that compromised the very spark that lights me up, that powerful “I-was-born-to-do-this” work. He saw that spark in me like no one else had. And against that vision, seeing where I had taken myself, how far I had gone off my path, I knew my entire life had to change. Right there and then.
Dr Alexander Cummins drops the wisdom at Kepler College again tomorrow. This time he’ll be teaching geomancy for astrologers. Wait, a second, teaching what? If all of this sounds confusing to you, never fear, this week I got a chance to sit down with him and pick his brain about his workshop that is happening TOMORROW! Even if it’s short notice and you cannot attend, it will be recorded, and you can add it to your arsenal of awesome.
Here’s what the good Dr had to share with me:
JZ: What does a knowledge of geomancy add to an astrologer’s toolkit?
AC: The shortest answer is that geomancy offers astrologers a chance to develop more nuanced understandings of their own symbols. Geomantic divination operates according to what Renaissance occult philosopher Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa calls ‘use and rules of astrology’, which we might think of as the symbolism of astrology – especially the planets, the zodiacal signs, the houses of the heavens, and their various essential dignities and sympathies and antipathies –without any actual astronomical data. Each geomantic figure is awarded a zodiacal identity, and each planet rules two figures. By tracing how geomancy comprehends the expression of these forces and virtues, astrologers broaden and deepen their engagement with the vital organisational principles of the cosmos.
A concrete example is perhaps useful. So, Jupiter is generally said to rule the geomantic figures of Acquisitio, Gain, and Laetitia, Joy. We are perhaps very used to the notion of Jupiter as expansive and wealthy; but this rulership of joyful exuberance is not only a matter of being ‘jovial’ but also well-attested in pre-modern humoural notions of Jupiterian sanguinity. Furthermore, when we look at the figure of Laetitia, it is often interpreted iconographically to be a wedding arch. This extra context of public religiosity, joyful celebration, and the beneficent role of state or church officials, reminds us how appropriate it may be to speak of the wedding as a locus about which all of these Jupiterian forces cohere.
Not only that, but the figures – which somewhat resemble four-lined versions of I Ching hexagrams, with each line made up of one or two dots – can also be used to understand each other. So the figure of Laetitia upside down reads as the Saturnine figure Tristitia, Sorrow. The inverse of Laetitia is Caput Draconis, the Dragon’s Head, a figure of auspicious spiritual beginnings (attributed to the North Node), whereas the inverse of Tristitia is Cauda Draconis, the Dragon’s Tail, which signals fundamental endings and blockages (and is, unsurprisingly, the South Node). As such, geomancy offers astrologers further exploration how astrological symbols operate in a wider variety of manners and with more specific forms of interrelation.
Finally, I would add that geomancy – not reliant on ephemerides – allows an astrologer to quickly cast a figure or whole chart of figures on the fly using anything that can generate odd or even numbers for the one- or two-dotted lines of a figure. Dice and even coin flips are very traditional means for doing this, for instance. This allows a rapid deployment of astrological expertise in the moment. More philosophically, I believe this aspect of geomancy reminds us that astrological forces are not merely present abstractly in the sky, but are grounded in the very soils of the earth, ever-present to us and responsive to our questions.
JZ: Your explanations remind me of a poster designed by my friend Kiyan Fox for Ouroboros Press (above). He has combined the geomantic figures with astrological significators. It is a beautiful design, displaying complex symbols. Is it hard to learn geomancy?
AC: No. If you understand the astrological virtues of the zodiacal signs attributed to the geomantic figures already, you have already done most of the necessary heavy lifting of learning geomancy.
The four lines of the geomantic figures remind me of a bass guitar, in the sense that it is one of the easier instruments to pick up and sound pretty good pretty quickly, but also one that both demands and rewards a lifetime of practice, development, and mastery. That earthy melodious backbeat –supportive of overarching harmonies as well as able to provide the funkiest of breakdowns, the bouncing fills of nuance and detail, and occasionally, yes, crushingly heavy revelations! – is also, I think, nicely illustrative of various powerful qualities of geomancy.
JZ: Nice analogy! Rock star geomancy! What frame of mind, or worldview, does one need to adopt to become a good geomancer?
AC: I think a good geomancer sees and works with the elementary realities and results of astral virtues; you know, played out in real time in the real world in real problems and solutions. This is certainly not to suggest astrologers or other diviners are ‘too theoretical’ or ‘not practical’, by any means! It is simply to affirm geomancers divine in the mutability and stability of concrete events, interactions, roots, and experiences. It contains in its ‘quadragram’ figures ideographic representations of the way the natural world is constructed and amalgamated from the four classical elements. Furthermore it traces transformation and coherence as one of the rawest and yet sophisticated engagements with these elements. It is a practice one returns to again and again, just as our apprehension of the four elements is refined over a lifetime of reflection and practice. If you will forgive me speaking Qabalistically, geomancy utterly beholds Kether in Malkuth: the highest in the lowest. A geomancer understands that the sub-lunary realm holds the sparks of the stars’ imbued virtues as much as the stars speak down to us of terrestrial events.
JZ: Can you tell me more about Agrippa?
AC: Try and stop me. Born in Cologne, the (in)famous Renaissance occult philosopher Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim attended the university there, studying various forms of occult philosophy (such as alchemy, Christian cabala, and angelology) as well as demonstrating a precocious talent for languages. He began teaching at the University of Dole in 1509, and a year later sent the abbot Johannes Trithemus – himself regarded as an excellent occult philosopher and cryptographer as well as a senior clergyman – a draft of the work he is now best known for: the Three Books of Occult Philosophy, an encyclopaedic summary of early modern magical theory. By the end of his life, Agrippa was (as Christopher Lehrich puts it) ‘one of the most influential magical thinkers of the Renaissance’ and was ‘for the next two centuries continually cited (positively or negatively) along with Paracelsus as a founding thinker of the magical schools of thought’. Indeed, his name became a very byword for scholarly intellect, occult expertise and magical power: in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the eponymous (anti-)hero pledges to become ‘as cunning as Agrippa was, / Whose shadows made all Europe honour him.’
JZ: How does geomancy fit into Agrippa’s work?
AC: Agrippa declares both that ‘no form of divination without astrology is perfect’, and that geomancy is ‘the most accurate of Divinations’, which – especially coming from him – is high praise indeed. Geomancy, owing to the ease with which figures can be generated, may effectively turn almost anything into one of its ‘Celestial figures, viz. to those sixteen’ while also ‘making judgement after an Astrological manner’. Agrippa seems less inclined therefore to say geomancy is some sort of offspring of astrology, as that these sister-arts spring from the same essential premium mobile: ‘For whatsoever is moved, caused or produced in these inferiors, must of necessity imitate the motions, and influences of the superiours, to which, as to its roots, causes, and signs it is reduced.’ Laying aside the pre-modern Golden-Chained language of ‘superiors’ and ‘inferiors’, this clearly shows that geomancy was at least as well regarded as astrology by Agrippa and his contemporaries. Onkel Heinrich actually seems to have been onto a significant turn in Renaissance divination: by the end of the sixteenth century, although a latecomer to the market, geomancy handbooks such as Christopher Cattan’s imaginatively-titled Geomancie required multiple reprints as they consistently sold out.
JZ: What is the most useful way geomancy enhances your life and your work?
AC: It is quite simply one of my main go-to on-the-fly divination systems. I use a method similar to tossing four coins, or I use consecrated dice, and can thus arrive at an answer in the seconds it takes to hunker down, touch the ground, mutter a short prayer and throw my tools. It is fast, concise, direct, and (as I am fond of punning) both grounded and gnomic.
One more specific and more magical methodology in which geomantic influence plays out in my own practice is in the use of dirts from various (often planetary) locations. As I have said, geomancy counsels us that the powers of the stars are present not merely at certain times, but in certain places: there is a terroir of astral virtue which can be engaged with by the enterprising sorcerer. I have written on both specific magical usage from my life and work, as well as on broader philosophical occult approaches to such a ‘dirt sorcery’ in an occasional column of the same name. (Read more here & here)
JZ: What is the one thing someone needs to understand about geomancy?
AC: One thing? Hmm. The emergence of intricacy from iterations and interrelations of simplicity, perhaps. Or: that the very ground of this divinatory epistemology is enlivened through the inspiring soul of an organic and living cosmos. Or: that there are spirits of geomancy one can work with in order to develop one’s practice alongside studying what books there are available.
Let me try to summarise those three into one. So, if you only need to understand one thing, it is this: Geomancy might seem simple, especially to seasoned astrologers, but contains within its sixteen enspirited figures layers upon layers of interaction that rapidly crystallise into nuanced gradations of significance, available to all and any.
JZ: Fascinating! Thank you for taking the time to clear up some of the mysteries. I look forward to your workshop!
And if yr really itching to get him in orbit, check out his book:
The second annual Viridis Genii Symposium took place this past weekend. Herbalists, alchemists, magicians, all fellow walkers on the green path, descended once again upon the Still Meadow Retreat Center in Damascus, Oregon to share their knowledge of plant magics, folklores, and customs – related here all in the plural to acknowledge the multiplicity of (human and nonhuman) people, positions, and practices that compose these realms.
A few friends and I carpooled from Seattle, and when we arrived at the venue, I felt a new temporal frame emerge around me. “What have you done since last year? Since the last time I saw you?” These questions floated through my mind as we crossed the tree-lined field to register and find out where our sleeping quarters would be. This sense of framing became more acute as I learned I would be staying in the same room as last year, and even in the exact same bed. In a very real way, I was back home. And more than that, I was with my family of North American plant people. Having just come back from an intense month in South Africa, a month I didn’t want to leave behind me, seeing my friends at Viridis Genii again assuaged any homesickness I had for the rural magic of the Transkei.
As the Friday Sun climbed down the sky, Dan Riegler of Apothecary’s Garden held court, and reminded all participants of where we are as a community. Academics often say, it is the mark of a young scholar to answer questions, researching and creating new knowledge, but it is the mark of a seasoned professor to pose new questions, shaping the ways those very questions are answered and the knowledge their answers produce. Riegler’s decades of experience in plant magic and alchemy have shown him, and through him us, where we need to be looking, where we can grow, that we need to learn not just about the plant lore itself, but that we need to coordinate and situate it and ourselves in larger frameworks of sustainability. As he says in his keynote published in the Verdant Gnosis anthology for this year:
How deep, how vibrant, how intimate and close is our relationship with the intelligences we work with? How well do we understand them, their physical and energetic needs, as individuals, as a family, field, or forest?
He sent us off with a refreshed awareness of the importance of the weekend ahead of us, “we are not only stewards of the earth, the green, and the planet, we are stewards of our collective ancient wisdom and technology. Nothing is lost that cannot be gathered up again and applied with new insight and direction.” With the Sun firmly behind the horizon again, the stars accompanied deep conversations with friends.
Astrologer Freedom Cole, from Grass Valley, CA along with Wonder Bright and Kent Bye from Portland, and I all discussed the various natures of time, and the ways we all appreciate and study the quality of time and temporal cycles from various traditions, old and new. Freedom shared that it would be Saturn’s birthday in a matter of hours, based on where we are in the soli-lunar cycle. When I asked him how old Saturn was turning, he said, “Saturn always turns 75.”
Throughout the weekend, while I played around with Facebook Live video to share the energies of moments such as these, Kent performed audio interviews with presenters and other persons of interest for his Esoteric Voices podcast. Together, alongside participants taking photos, and Rubedo Press’s production of Verdant Gnosis, which contains articles by the presenters, we all worked to capture the spirit of what was happening around us. Putting the Viridis Genii Symposium in a digital bottle to spread it out to our larger networks, and bring them into the fold, even if only through #FOMO. The event, only in its second year, has room for a slew of new friends to join our conversation and community. We want you. Come.
The talks are all held in a “sanctuary” room, which really feels like a secular chapel. We must remove our shoes inside all buildings on site, and so we are physically opened, grounded, as we merge our minds with the thoughts of the presenters. Corinne Boyer opened with a very moving transmission about the folk uses of funerary plants, and I performed a mental catalogue of my own experiences with these plants, if I had any at all, and reviewing my own beloved dead and the mourning I’ve gone through.
For me, these talks are somewhat different than the usual participant at the conference because I also edit our anthology, so I see firsthand how the presenters refine and revise their work and alter it for actual delivery. The enhancements made throughout the editing process have led to consistently high quality in the lectures given during the weekend. Sarah, a new friend, remarked that it was surprising that all the talks were fascinating and well put together, which wasn’t her typical conference experience. It’s a pleasure for me to see how our work behind the scenes before the conference circulates and distills the knowledge a number of times before it is circulated and further distilled with the input of the larger community. Each year, it seems, is reaching out and into future years, increasing the quality of everything it comes into contact with.
Between talks, I like to mill about and check out the wares on offer by the vendors. I kicked myself last year for not getting some things from certain people. The products on offer here are usually not for sale in stores, or even online.
There’s a delight in the transaction made. I can meet the maker, speak about their process, the ingredients (learning more perhaps that I can put to use in my own workings), and then I leave with a heart connection and a product of superior quality. And I know the money being spent goes directly to the individual making their work. It is commerce driven from the heart. Next time I’ll save up more money so I can make sure to stock up on items that I can only obtain a few times a year. This year I got some resins brought back directly from Central Africa, some spagyric medicines, and some handcrafted talismanic oils. Gifting is also common, and gifts of a Devil’s Club stalk and a special oil were also shared with me.
Saturday evening Witch Bottle took to the stage, set up inside the same sanctuary where we listen to the talks, and I melted in the majesty of Bree’s saw playing. I thought at first it was her voice echoing into the darkness outside, but upon entering the incense-filled room, I saw her holding an antler affixed to a saw blade nestled between her knees, a bow in her other hand, caressing the metal into song. I didn’t think anything could top Soriah’s Tuvan throat singing from last year, but Witch Bottle hit the mark.
I cuddled with friends on the floor and competed with Katie to take a better picture of the band. Conversations extended until 3am, and I snuck, minx-like, back to my room so as not to disturb my three-and-a-half other roommates. Rousing a pregnant woman from much needed sleep was not on my late night agenda.
Early Sunday I read a message from Johannes, who was reviewing Verdant Gnosis 2. His review was live. I read it even before getting out of bed. Before caffeine. I am used to people reviewing works I’ve edited, but it is a whole other thing altogether when someone reviews your own writing. My heart rate increased, pre-coffee!, and it beat so fast, it almost leapt out of my chest. Hidden in the Rootdoctor’s review, in the section on my piece about astrological considerations for plant magic, he says,
this is the kind of article that, in 50 years, many people will scout global antiquarians to find and pay hefty sums to get.
Then my heart DID leap out of its cage. And I hadn’t even delivered my talk yet! Last month, while sitting in the depths of the transkei, meditating on my creative projects, I felt the call to expand this article into its own book. While writing I got the feeling that I didn’t have enough space to fully say what I want to say. Yet, feedback from others suggests I packed too much in, as Johannes himself says, “Halfway through the article I find myself aching, sweating and breathing heavily in effort to keep up with Zahrt.” The book will be more expansive, will give the reader time to follow along without breaking into a sweat, will provide more context, examples, and space to put the ideas into practice. Ultimately, I desire to see how my colleagues work with these ideas and what results they provide for facets of magical practice I alone have no access to. Together we can grow and learn. That was my joy in sharing my work in this venue. Empowering my plant family with my own corner of expertise so they can take what they find useful and apply it to make their work better, just as I can work with what they share with me to improve mine.
Sunday afternoon, I participated in Dan Riegler’s distillation workshop. All weekend long workshops were held in various side rooms throughout the Still Meadow venue, and this particular one took place at the same site as last year’s spagyric workshop with Robert Allen Bartlett. The students huddled underneath a tent, avoiding the harsh Sun as well as the myriad love bugs that had been fucking all over everyone’s wares and clothes and hair in the heat wave. Participants passed around their handcrafted Red Cedar oils and other hydrosols to keep the bugs and heat at bay, as Dan passed along the wisdom he’s gained as a distiller of essential oils.
Eric Zvonchenko brought amazing lab equipment, and most of us had little envious orgasms watching the still at work. It was made of copper, so clearly Venus was present for this orgy of resin, water, steam, love bug, handcraft, and knowledge transmission. We distilled Frankincense resin (a solar material) during the day and hour of the Sun. The oil flowed plentifully, becoming darker yellow as time wore on, and we all passed around the resulting oil/hydrosol mixture, intoxicating ourselves in the revelry of the bounty. Resins are loaded with essential oils, so for those of us used to extracting from plant matter with 1% yields, this was quite a boon. I can’t help but think our timing also had something to do with it. The specific form of Frankincense was called Frankincense neglecta, and Dan had brought it back from Africa himself. A true distillation of essential oil with this resin would take 6-8 hours, but we only had 3, so at the end of the workshop, Dan poured the resin/water mixture into the grass. As I watched the steam smolder from the sticky brown clod, he said “You can still use that as incense.” I made a mental note. Come back later and gather. If it’s meant for you, Jenn, it’ll still be there. But it had to cool down, and I had to get back to the room and prep for my own talk.
Presenting somewhere new always gets me nervous, so I was trying to find ways to center myself and get into the zone. As my talk began, rays of sunlight pierced the window and hit my face like a spotlight, reminding me of an important moment during my PhD research. Spontaneously, I chose to lead my presentation with a story:
In 1920, Hans Poelzig, a famous architect, did the set design for Paul Wegener’s film, Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam. Now, this was early in the history of cinema. All the special effects had to be created manually. The problem of getting specific rays of sunlight, as shown in Poelzig’s drawings, to register on film was great. The most powerful lights at the time, aptly called Jupiter lights, couldn’t achieve the task. After a period of experimentation, Carl Boese, who was responsible for organizing the special effects, realized that the Sun itself would be powerful enough.
This meant they needed to build the set oriented toward the ecliptic at a specific angle, and, as he relates in a document preserved in a film archive in Berlin, because of the movement of the Sun, they only had about a two hour window to film. When the rays streamed through the window, they threw fistfuls of mica (silica) into the air and rolled camera. This entire exercise is akin to when people wait for certain planetary hours and alignments for their work(ings) to have the right quality. And here was a palpable example literally shining on my face as I began.
So there I was, in the thick of it, presenting some hardcore astrological and hermetic lore to a room filled with some of my favorite people, Sun perfectly entering the ceiling window and lighting up my topic. The same cadence and comedy returned to my body that I used to get when I taught German at Berkeley. Astrology is a foreign language for most people. My skills at teaching German to beginners have translated to good use in my efforts to teach astrology to people unfamiliar with its nuts and bolts. I could see people in the room light up with insights. Our question session flowed around the room. Rich nuances on the topic unfolded and spread out before us. By the time we ended, I was nostalgic for the days on UC Berkeley’s campus, when I would walk out of the classroom into the campus greenery, filled with the energy of a class gone well – I used to light up like a neon sign for the rest of the day. (This is why I prefer to teach in the morning. It’s better than any other stimulant I know!).
Conversations that Sunday evening went well into the midnight hour. We sat, ensconced in the silent, darkening green of the Still Meadow forest with a canopy of stars above us. Again, the topic of the strong spirit of sharing emerged. Everyone I spoke with that evening seemed to be filled to the brim with new ideas and feelings of joy with what they’d learned. It was impressive to see the spirit of connection and openness flowing freely, but not entirely unexpected. Catamara and Marcus have held space for a genuine community to emerge, filled with authentic craftspeople dedicated to respectful work and sharing. I’m deeply grateful for their vision, their follow through, and their heart.
On Monday morning I went back to collect the liquid gold that Dan Riegler had poured out. It was still there, disguised as a heap of dirt. My thankful heart brimmed as I filled the 12oz coffee cup with this treasure. The clods of resin contained bits of grass, soil, and dew from a day and night on the grounds. The resin I brought home with me is no longer just Frankincense neglecta, it is now also Frankincense viridi.
I am already eager for next year, penning presentation proposals in my mind, and working out how to nurture my small contribution into a larger one. I hope you are inspired to join in what we’re building.
Feature photo: Dan Riegler distills Frankincense neglecta in a gorgeous copper still.