Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Glass Bead Pairings: Fire and Ice

My previous Glass Bead Game related post left some frayed loose ends in my brain, so... anal-retentive chef that I am, I've got to tie them up...  :-)

In Renaissance magic and occultism, the potent Star of David hexagram symbol was believed to be made up of two specific kinds of triangle:  the upward pointed red triangle of FIRE, and the downward pointed blue triangle of WATER.  The individual triangles are the standard alchemical symbols for these elements, and they make a lot of sense: flames are ever arching upward, and water is always on a downward trajectory, seeking its lowest level.  The combined hexagram is thus a symbol of balance and stability.

Fast forward to 1912. Leave it to Aleister Crowley, the Howard Stern of his day, to throw a monkey wrench into that nice state of repose.  In his Book of Lies (Falsely So Called), he suggested a switch of roles between the two triangles:
This is the Holy Hexagram.
Plunge from the height, O God, and interlock with Man!
Plunge from the height, O Man, and interlock with Beast!
The Red Triangle is the descending tongue of grace; the Blue Triangle is the ascending tongue of prayer.
Aha, now the down-pointing fire triangle alludes to the descending flames of Pentecost. (Remember T. S. Eliot's dove descending?)  The other triangle now points our gaze, along with our prayers, toward the blue heavens above (in which one find the lark ascending!).  Rather than just sitting there in boring, static harmony, the two triangles are now reaching... arching... but never... quite... getting there.  Is this a dynamic equilibrium, or is it inherently unstable?  :-)

Crowley also hid some suggestive double entendre in the rest of that passage (it was in Chapter 69... nuff said), but where this set of ideas took me was back to music.  See, there's a matched set of red and blue (coupled with some, um, thunderous emotion) here, too...

I've written a lot about prog-rock gods Rush.  Their 1984 album Grace Under Pressure wasn't quite a full-on symphonic theme album like some of their earlier ones, but it did have an interesting thread running through it:  Each song mentions the color RED at least once.  Despite the cold, icy sound to the music, the lyrics to all of the songs are certainly red-hot with a range of feelings.  Anger, grief, and fear are all represented, along with exuberance and joy.

Flashing back to 1977, there's also Electric Light Orchestra's double album Out of the Blue.  Can you guess what color is mentioned in every song?  I'm not enough of an ELO fan to be familiar with even the majority of the songs on this album, but I've always loved Jeff Lynne's frequent use of the contrast between the blue sky of day and the black sky of night.  "Mr. Blue Sky" on this album invokes it, as does "Telephone Line" from the previous album.  They're both upward pointing, prayer-like entreaties, in a way.

Where else can we go with this?  The day/night contrast could be brought back to Crowley, who symbolized a state of quiet, star-lit spiritual evolution called NOX that is supposed to go far beyond the gaudy, bedazzled enlightenment of LVX.  Or you could take a left turn back to Canada and listen to Neil Young's haunting "Out of the Blue / Into the Black."  The fun of the Glass Bead Game is that the ideas and associations never end...


  1. 'Rather than just sitting there in boring, static harmony, the two triangles are now reaching... arching... but never... quite... getting there. Is this a dynamic equilibrium, or is it inherently unstable?'

    Cyg, Cyg, Cyg. Toss out the question of the ages on your blog, why dontcha?

    Having studied the brain as much as I have, I've come to theorize that this -- let's call it -- oscillation is an extension of our unregenerate physiology. We are, how can I articulate this, bound by the limitations of not only our carbon-based existence but the clamps on our consciousness (the nervous system, of which the brain is the crowning feature) which disallow us from unhampered access to all that can be known. Please see this.

    I've given a lot of thought to this. How perfect satisfaction eludes us so deftly, but is it even desirable? For what happens, really, if it arrives? Where to go from there?

    Insert dog chasing tail emoticon, here.

    (Not joking: I had originally typed 'insert god ...')

    As for Jeff Lynne, he's one of those musicians who elevates all projects in which he is involved. Love ELO. A lesser-known ditty, one of my faves. Especially 2.42 - 2.55.

  2. It's funny... since posting this last night, I've begun to sour a bit on the whole idea of "Whee... what an endless chain of associations" with the Glass Bead Game. Maybe the post was kind of a glucose overdose, now followed by the inevitable sugar low. :-)

    Hermann Hesse worried about this turning into futile and worthless "tail chasing," too. I guess I'm agreeing that our finite brains may be good exemplars for keeping things from spinning out of control! So to paraphrase Jerry McGuire: More focus, fewer ideas.

    I actually never heard ELO's Wild West Hero before. Your highlighted piece reminded me of the similar music-free spoken piece in Turn to Stone (1:51 to 1:59 here, but I'm sure you know it).

  3. Indeed, I do. 'Stone' is a great song to drive to. ELO are equally operatic as Queen -- which I quite appreciate and enjoy.

    I had thought this, but didn't comment earlier, that -- and I've articulated this elsewhere almost exactly -- the brain is a pattern-detection machine, appearing, yes, gonna drop the Big D, here, designed to pick signals out of noise. So, what's ironic (I think ...) is that while the brain serves a limiting function ill-equipped (if at all) to deal with that which fractals merely hint at before sending any thinking person screaming in fear (however figuratively) it is also a ceaseless 'association-maker' and hence, approaching a sort of infinite complexity in its own quiet way.

    When I was an adolescent, I used to relentlessly pick 'signs' and 'messages' out of license plates. It was frighteningly simple to do! The brain decides on what it wants to see and then the messages crop up, everywhere -- the random acronyms abundant in license plates perfect fodder for such 'seeing eyes.'

    Don't sour on your post, good man. Take it from moi, let not the ideal wreak merciless havoc on the plenty good real!

  4. Thanks! The real is good 'n plenty enough for me...