23.5 Degrees of Sorrow

23.5 Degrees

As I look back upon my own blog posts since 2016 I realize how much of my thinking is tinted with ruin, gloom, and a general lack of optimism. The habits of thought that contribute to this grim perspective include my assumption that we make the world in our image, and that the trajectory of the evolution of human consciousness is skewing sharply toward self-destruction.

I think of these events as intertwined:

  • The human community knows it is destroying its own habitat and willfully continues to do so.
  • America elected an overtly selfish and self-absorbed man as its leader.

It’s the behavior of the criminally insane, but a LOT of people are 100% on board with it, passionately endorsing the destruction of institutions that nurture human well-being and the ecosystem that makes human life possible.

What I think is happening is that there are now an overwhelming number of people whose understanding of themselves is that they are entirely separate from everyone else. Long-term, collectively-beneficial projects are incomprehensible to them. Rather, each knows in their heart of hearts that they are alone, moving toward inevitable death, and they will never have anything except what they can acquire and enjoy in their too-short lifetime. Along the same lines, anything that is taken from them, or anything that might have come to them that goes to someone else, is a deeply felt personal loss and affront. For them a selfish, self-absorbed president is comforting and affirming, and even cosmic confirmation that efforts to help or comfort others are just plain wrong.

Something that I find myself doing in response to my own doom-and-gloom world view described above is indulging in sentimental reflections. For example, I love the moon. I remember walking naked in the desert in the middle of the night under a full moon, caressed by wisps of sand tossed about on a warm breeze. The world all shades of silver and shadow. I think of the moon as metaphoric of the unconscious…the vastness of what is not yet known, and what might unexpectedly and suddenly come into the light. Mysterious potential. The moon rising over the sea paints a shimmering path across the water to her. A sweet summoning that feels like an invitation to come home.

And my delight in the moon is not diminished by science, which increasingly describes her uniqueness and benevolence in ever more glowing terms. Here are some highlights I find especially delightful.

  • About 4.5 million years ago Gaia, now called earth, was struck by a Mercury-sized astronomical body some whimsically refer to as Theia.
  • The collision kicked up a tremendous cloud of debris that swirled around Gaia for a long time and eventually accrued into what we call the moon.
  • But the moon ended up circling the earth in an orbit different from the earth’s rotational axis, which was back then perpendicular to the earth’s path of orbit around the sun.
  • Over time the earth’s rotational axis began to tilt in response to the gravitational pull of the moon as its mass increased, eventually settling into an angle 23.5 degrees different from an axis perpendicular to the earth’s path of orbit.
  • A key consequence of the earth’s axis tilt is that we have seasons. During half of the year the northern hemisphere is closer to the sun and during the other half of the year the southern hemisphere is closer, warmer and graced with longer days. Pretty much everything about us and all other life on the plant is as it is because of the moon.
  • Another key consequence is that a lot of the earth is habitable. If there were no axial tilt the equatorial region of the earth would be huge and intensely hot. And the polar regions would be immense and extremely cold. In such a circumstance the earth would likely have only a few small habitable areas, and those would likely be separated by great distances.

When my wife and I put our heads together regarding a solstice image for this year the themes that came to mind included 23.5 degrees of extraordinary good fortune and squandered benevolence slipping through our fingers.

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Captiva Pelican by James Hautman

There is a piece of nautical hardware commonly called a pelican hook, or simply a pelican, because it bears something of a resemblance to the neck, head and bill of a pelican. I keep one near my desk at home where my eye falls upon it often. I think of it as an allegorical object in the sense that it implies things beyond the usual uses to which it is put.

I first came across the pelican in a little museum in the Town of Mendocino at the mouth of the Big River (no kidding, that’s the river’s name) – a place from which great red wood logs were loaded onto ships for transport to mills elsewhere on the coast. The logs were floated down the river to the shallows below the bluff upon which the town sits, but the mouth of the river is too rough and rocky for ships of any size to enter. So the way they got the logs onto the ships was to hoist them up onto the bluff, then slide them in slings dangling from pulleys down cables to ships anchored at a safe distance off shore. This worked great but things could get dicey if the sea suddenly kicked up.

As you might imagine if you could not release the cables quickly pieces of the ship could get torn off, or the loading structures on the bluff might get dragged over the cliff onto the rocks below. That’s where the pelican came in. A length of cable was attached at one end of the pelican, and the loop at the end of another length of cable was held in the pelican’s joint, with the pelican locked closed by the ring. If things turned grim it took little effort (even a child could do it) to slide the ring far enough back so the pelican could open and release the cable. I love that. It holds strong and true until it’s time to let go, and then it does.

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This post was composed for Marie F.

The magnificent painting above titled “Captiva Pelican” is by James Hautman.

Winter Solstice 2015

Winter Solstice 2015

The image at right represents a seven stage process. Each stage is signified by a Roman numeral from I to VII. And within each stage a substance … in response to a celestial influence … undergoes a transformation. The result is something refined and balanced that might be interpreted as a representation of wholeness.

The process begins just above the western horizon and concludes before dawn with the rising of the moon.

Here is a map of the symbols from which the image is assembled and their plain-English associations.

I Lead Lead Saturn Saturn Calcination Calcination
II Tin Tin Jupiter Jupiter Dissolution Dissolution
II Iron Iron Mars Mars Separation Separation
IV Gold Gold Sun Sun Conjunction Conjunction
Copper Copper Venus Venus Fermentation Fermentation
Mercury Mercury Mercury Mercury Distillation Distillation
Silver Silver Moon Moon Coagulation Coagulation

Regarding celestial influences, imagine two on-going channels of motion always at work on a cosmic scale. One is the continuous expansion of the universe such that, ever and always, structures eventually find their limit and break apart. Their components falling into new orbits. Systems ever dying. Ever being born.

And the other channel is the cycles that whirl to life as structures mature such that a person can look up at the night sky a year older and see, perhaps less clearly, the largely identical cluster of stars that shone the year before. Every thing moving a little further away from every other thing, witnessed in patterns of repetition. Much has changed, yet so much is the same that a memory stirs of the last such season. The last time Venus was there just above the horizon. The last time the moon was full. The last time.

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Winter Solstice 2014

Winter Solstice 2014

The image at right is an arrangement of visual components drawn from the tradition of the Yi Ching. In that tradition all of existence can be represented by two lines.



One line is solid and represents half of all that is, including masculine qualities. The other line is segmented and represents everything else, including feminine qualities.

Together, they might be thought of as depicting a state of balance, about which the Yi Ching has much to say. But the Yi Ching also comments upon 64 states of imbalance, each of which is represented by a hexagram composed of six lines.

The image in the upper right above presents 63 hexagrams from the Yi Ching arranged in such a way that when viewed together they imply the otherwise omitted hexagram, which is called T’ai (Tai).







The hexagram T’ai depicts masculine aspects grounded by feminine aspects. Earth above heaven. One interpretation of that configuration is that even though deep chaos abides, by carefully responding to the rhythms and cycles of the world, peace can be found.

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Winter Solstice 2013

Gold Silver Mercury

Before physics and chemistry there was alchemy. The alchemists asked questions that were beyond the resources available to them to provide satisfactory answers. Many of the gaps between what they wanted to know and what they could find out through experimentation were filled in with speculation and imaginings – usually added on top of the speculations and imaginings of those who came before them. (Hmmm…any chance we still do that now?)

Substances, like people, generally behave in fairly predictable ways consistent with their personalities. Since the alchemists were intensely interested in substances, and studied them over long periods of time, they felt they knew them. And they saw a little of themselves in their glowing caldrons.

When the alchemists projected aspects of themselves on the substances they studied lots of internal stuff – psychological stuff – was revealed. The image above is composed of 12th Century alchemical symbols arranged to suggest the ongoing process of individual experience.


  represents the sun and gold and is a metaphor for consciousness.


  represents the moon and silver and is a metaphor for the unconscious.

represents mercury, a fluid state, and is a metaphor for a personality in transition. This symbol is composed of both the symbols for gold and silver, plus a cross that represents space and time divided into quadrants – crosshairs suggesting “you are here.”

Sometimes stuff flows from through  to  and sometimes it flows the other way.

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The “Pulp Art” of Katie Gilmartin

Katie Gilmartin

The image at right is one of a series called “Pulps” by San Francisco artist Katie Gilmartin. It is titled “A Dame Called Dolores” and I hope you will click the image to go to Katie’s site where you can see a larger copy and get a better look at the amazing craftsmanship.

Considerable information about Katie is already available on the Web, including descriptions of the process she employs to create her images. So I’ll mention just a couple of things I find jaw-droppingly astounding about her technique, then offer some thoughts about this particular image.

From time to time for several years I came upon one or two of Katie’s pulp images in various shops around San Francisco. Because I could not imagine that anyone works as hard as it turns out Katie does to create “a print”, I had assumed that she composed on a computer. And I used to stand in front of one or the other of her works wherever I happened to be and wonder, “How the heck does she do that?”

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Image: Sky Lizard

Sky Lizard

One of the things I discovered when I pulled together my thoughts regarding the image at right is that it is the most recent in a related series. Predating the black-and-white digital composition is an unfinished oil painting. And long before both there was the ornately carved exterior of a large trunk my grandmother brought back from “the Orient” in the 1920s.

Also it appears that the process by which the reptile image migrated from canvas to pixels was not entirely conscious. I do not recall most of what occurred. Rather, my contributions were like what might be expected of a hired hand who can follow instructions but really isn’t all that personally engaged in the work from moment to moment.

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Image: Silver & Golden Apples

Silver & Golden Apples

Through his poems, prose, plays, and the friendships he fostered, W.B.Yeats encouraged the recovery of aspects of Irish cultural that were fading away, including a considerable amount of mystical lore.

In 1890 he was admitted to a magical fraternity called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and in 1899 he composed this poem:

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Image: Geomantic Divination

Geomantic Divination

Hello. This is the first Evening Pilgrim blog post.

The image pictured at right offers a pattern of symbols representing ideas from a book by Israel Regardie titled, “A Practical Guide to Geomantic Divination.” Mr. Regardie was an enthusiast of mystic traditions, and the word “geomantic” refers to the Earth.

When engaged in the form of divination Mr. Regardie describes, a person seeking insight randomly scratches the earth with a stick while considering a question. Then, by grouping the scratch marks into odd and even sets, symbols in the book are referenced. Each symbol corresponds to ideas that can be interpreted as suggestions.

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