Friday, June 27, 2014


So, have you ever been bored in a meeting or lecture, and found yourself doodling randomly on a piece of scrap paper?  Here's how to turn that scribbling into a suuuper mystical act of prophetic fortune telling.

This post is a microwave-quick introduction to the ancient art of geomancy, which in the middle ages was often considered the "down-to-earth" counterpart to traditional pie-in-the-sky, head-in-the-clouds astrology.  It's been written about since at least the 11th century, but it's lesser known these days than many of its magical cousins (e.g., Tarot cards, rolling bones, I Ching, and so on).

Artist unknown; img yoinked from here
There's a traditional system for doing this that you can find on plenty of web sites, but I'll give you the bite-sized version.  It's summer, after all -- you've got stuff to do.  So here's the deal:  take out your pencil and paper, and sit at the ready, thinking about your future.  Try to zone out, or trance out, just a bit, so that when you do the next step, you won't be tempted to count along.

The next step is to start making a row of dots with your pencil.  That's all.  Once you've done a few dozen, just stop when you feel it's right to stop.  Like I said, don't count along!  You're following in the footsteps of desert mystics who poked similar dots in the shifting sands of the Sahara.

Now, take a breath or two, then repeat the above three more times.  You'll end up with four rows, each with essentially a random number of dots.  (This act of poking your pencil is called "squilling" by the official geomancers, by the way.)

Okay, now you can count up the dots in each row.  Does the first row contain an even or odd number of dots?  An odd number can be shortened to just one dot.  An even number is shortened to two dots.  Do this for all four rows, and you'll be able to construct a symbol that looks something like this:

The traditional system would have you repeat this process several more times, then permutate and recombine these things like little strands of mutating DNA.  But let's just be satisfied with one symbol for now.  Feel free to dig deeper if you like.  (And yes, there's an app for this, too.)

There are 16 possibilities for these "geomantic figures" -- or sigils, or geomes, or hexadecagrams -- occultists love inventing words.  I've combed the ancient texts and extracted what I thought were the most artful and poetic interpretations of them, and assembled them into this here meme-worthy infographic...

Be warned that there are some not-so-nice possible outcomes.  You'll see "sadness" and "loss" in the above list, but that's life.  Sometimes we need to lose to know how to win, as the great man says.  You'll also see, from the bottom two symbols in the list, that J. K. Rowling must have perused this list at some time in the past, too...  :-)

Hmm, I feel I should keep going with the disclaimers.  Let me just quote an old Usenet colleague, who once ended a similar kind of post with:
Nobody believes what I say, not even me. The above is a joke for all legal, moral, or ethical purposes, and is not meant to be ingested.  Yeah, right.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

New Blogfest: Songs of Summer

Ah, summer.  Sunny mornings full of possibility, lazy poolside afternoons, and rockin' nights lit by tiki torches.  What songs bring back the sunscreen and beach-sand to you?  What songs defined your one perfect summer, be it decades ago or just getting started with today's solstice?

Welcome to the Songs of Summer bloghop, hosted by the Armchair Squid, Cygnus, and Suze.  On Friday, July 11, 2014, please join us by posting 5 of your favorite summer songs, and sharing some memories about them.  Maybe between us, we can build the perfect soundtrack to accompany us over the next few months.  If possible, include links so we can hear these gems.  And, if you're in the southern hemisphere, join us to dance those winter blues away!

Please sign up to the link list on the site of our friendly neighborhood cephalopod, then post on July 11.

See you there!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Then and Now Blogfest... goes Down Below

Today's the day!  Well, right now it's the night before the day, but I feel getting a jump on it.  In any case, it's time for Then and Now, a blogfest hosted by the Armchair Squid, Nicki Elson, Suze, and Nancy Mock.   The idea is to celebrate some things (like movies) that were important to us in our younger days, and to revisit them and see whether they've aged as gracefully as we have.  :-)

I already spilled the beans that I would be re-watching the 1987-1989 TV show Beauty and the Beast.  I ended up watching 11 out of the 22 episodes of the show's first season.  I'm not sure if my thoughts will gel into one continuous narrative, but let me just start typing and see how far down the rabbit hole -- or New York City subway tunnel -- I go.

First, I was pleasantly surprised to see a name in the credits that many people will recognize.  Although the show was created by Ron Koslow, a major force behind it was fantasy writer George R. R. Martin (now infamous for his long & convoluted beard Game of Thrones).  He wrote many of the best episodes, and produced nearly all of them.  Although I'm not into GoT, I can see him starting to develop the ear for moral ambiguities, idealistic crusades, and heartbreaking plot twists for which he's now well known.

On the surface the show is a love story, even if it's based only loosely on the original fairy tale.  The trope that recurs again and again, though, is how romance can be the conduit to discovering one's highest and truest ideals.  Maybe one can never live up to those ideals with 100% fidelity, but just knowing they're there is a steadying influence in a chaotic world.  Even the other people who are around Vincent and Catherine's love are energized, vivified by its power.

I'm probably apt to underplay the twists and turns of the love story itself.  I must say that, other than the obligatory action-adventure plots (straight out of Knight Rider, Starsky & Hutch, and cousins) the love story is the most hackneyed part of the show.  Let me just copy and paste some thoughts from my notes, with no editing:
Ha!  As characters, Vincent & Catherine are such children!  so over-wrought...   (writing attempts to be fairy-tale-ish; is often treacly)  Back then, I was wannabe Byronic, too.
The "such children" line would have shocked the hell out of 20-year-old Cygnus, let me tell you.  I looked up -- way up -- to that love story, and probably idealized it far too literally.

The other major aspect of the show was the utopian community Down Below the streets of New York, created by tragic figures "Father" and "Paracelsus" in the 1950s.  Out of the unfairness of the world above came an attempt to build a more just and loving society.  It looked like they had roughly 100 people in those secret caverns and chambers, and they were aided by selfless "helpers" up above.  The scenes down below are by far my favorites, and the warm ambience, cluttered bookshelves, and soft background clanging of pipes (which they use for Morse code communication) paints a serene picture of paradise to me.

Paradise doesn't come without costs, of course.  There's the danger of their world being discovered.  Some denizens are probably on the wrong side of the law, even if they've been redeemed by the depths.  There's also the issue of Vincent, the mutated (?) lion-beast-man with the soul of a poet.  He was discovered on the steps of St. Vincent's hospital as a baby, and was raised lovingly by Father down below.  If the sunlit world got a hold of him, one can only imagine terrible fates ranging from John Merrick's sideshow to E.T.'s hazmat-suited goons.  Each night-time journey up to Catherine's balcony comes with a universe of peril.

Throughout the first season, the stakes kept getting raised.  I'll admit that my comment about the leads being "such children" comes from the earliest episodes, when it seemed like too much too fast.  But they grew into their sturm und drang.  After a while, good people started dying.  Vincent found a worthy adversary in the Nietzschean Paracelsus.  Catherine found it ever-more psychologically draining to simultaneously be a good district attorney and keep all these secrets -- including the most life-affirming and transformative love she'd ever experienced -- from the other people in her life.

As I hinted in my earlier post, it didn't last.  At least they didn't maintain an ever-static status quo, to keep the series going.  Oh, George.  Your Red Wedding is nothing to me, after the events of the cliffhanger between seasons 2 and 3.  I didn't re-watch these.  I'm not sure I ever want to.

Strangely, my mind kept thinking about the long term.   Wondering how much of the self-imposed secretiveness of the world below was because of the need to protect Vincent.  What would happen decades into the future, after Vincent's passing?  I kept thinking about how some of the youngest people down there -- inventive Mouse, bold Jamie, impetuous Kipper -- could someday lead their community back up into the sunlight.

Maybe they would have kept Vincent and Catherine's love in their hearts, even after all those years.  The ones rejected by society, who found redemption down below, could then help energize, vivify, and redeem the rest of us.