Samhain, Halloween, Day of the Dead

1 Nov

“End of Summer”

Samhain means “end of summer”. The Gaelic festival marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Today it is celebrated on the night between October 31st – November 1st. It is also associated with St. Martin’s day, November 11th. Some also connect it with the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice (or the nearest full moon), when the ecliptic longitude of the Sun reaches 225 degrees.

Samain is also the name of the Celtic god of death, who from this point on ruled over the land, while the goddess of vegetation was forced to decent into darkness until the coming spring. Her parting is accompanied by the honk of the geese leaving for the South. Any herb harvested after this point would be considered harmful, save for the grey mugwort. During Samhain the doors to the spirit-/ underworld opened, and the spirits that would enter, were not always friendly. In some tales, spirits of darkness and chaos (such as the Irish Fomorians and the Crom Cruach) would be given human sacrifices.

Rural people’s survival depended on the harvest. The fear of loosing the harvest, fierce autumn storms, the long nights etc. was real. It was essential to secure the harvest and protect the home, barn and family. It was custom to cleanse and protect the home by burning herbs. Processions and rituals were performed to ward off revenants – or Wiedergänger – the returning spirits of the restless dead.

From the need to protect oneself may also have sprung the latter-day custom of placing candles in hollowed out objects. Turnips or pumpkins were turned into grimacing lanterns. Similar to the scarecrow, the lantern was to ward off ‘evil’ and at the same time its flame lit up the night. This “light in the dark” is embodied by amber, a shiny yellow  fossilized tree resin. Amber is called Bernstein in German, from Low German börnen, meaning “to burn”. The Greeks knew it as ḗlektron, from ēléktōr, meaning “shining sun”.

Samhain also marks the time when deciduous trees have shed most of their leaves. The leaves fall to the ground, decay and nurture the cycle of life. Burning their wood keeps men warm, their bark heals. Evergreen conifers deliver in addition aromatic resins with cleansing and healing properties.

“Day of the Dead”

The pagan festivities surrounding Samhain have been substituted by Christian feast days throughout a large part of the Western world. Folkloric customs continue to merge with modern consumerism. From the pagan Samhain to the Christian All Saints day, the modern world celebrates “Halloween” with plastic skulls, led pumpkins and dressing up as corpses. Everyone can be a zombie for one day or night. Halloween gives a good example for cultural appropriation gone wild. It is part of human nature, both to adopt other traditions as well as to defend one’s own culture and rituals.

One tradition that has been sinking into Western culture and heavily influences our aesthetics, is the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. As the festival in Mexico becomes bigger and is celebrated in impressive ways every year, so grows the fascination with it outside of Mexico, similar to how the cult of Santissima Muerte is growing in numbers both in and outside Mexico. The worship of death and the dead is prospering and it is nothing extraordinary.

All over the world people venerate their ancestors and saints, with altars at home, at their graves or in temples or chapels dedicated to them. Often there are special festivals dedicated to the veneration of the dead. In some countries these celebrations fall in the months of July and August, such as the Japanese Obon or the Argentinian feast for San la Muerte. In other countries they center around the days and nights spanning from All Hallow’s Eve (October 31st) to All Saints (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd).

In Germany it is custom to visit and adorn the graves of family members on the Totensonntag (the “Sunday of the Dead”). It falls on the last Sunday before the first Advent (usually at end of November) and, though of Protestant origin, is a protected holiday in all of Germany. The day is meant to be spent in silence and it is forbidden to dance or play loud music in public.

In Mexico the celebration starts on All Hallow’s Eve, when children make altars for the angelitos (the souls of dead children). November 1st is referred to as Día de los Inocentes (“Day of the Innocents”) or Día de los Angelitos (“Day of the Little Angels”), which is when the souls of dead children are honored. On November 2nd, the actual Dia de los Muertos, the graves of dead family members are visited. The graves are adorned with cempasuchil flowers, the flowers of the dead. Between the orange sea of flowers, candles are lit and Muertos (the bread of the dead) and sugar skulls are placed as offerings, along with favorite food, beverages, photos etc. The dead are greeted and welcomed back to the world of the living for one day and night. Dancing and intoxication are welcome and encouraged.

Finally within some antinomian and Gnostic traditions Lucifer or the “Bringer of Light” is worshiped and called upon during this night, e.g. by using the formula:

Lucifer, Ouyar, Chameron, Aliseon, Mandousin, Premy, Oriet, Naydrus, Esmony, Eparinesont, Estiot, Dumosson, Danochar, Casmiel, Hayras, Fabelleronthu, Sodirno, Peatham, come, Lucifer. Amen.

Regina Bombina, Golden Bee Pendant, The Sacred Bee

14 Oct

“Regina Bombina”, ink, 2017

Totemic artwork, first show-cased at Circle1 gallery in Berlin last year. It is my homage to the great mother and queen, as she has been depicted in the form of crowned bees or half human half bee shaped spirits in ancient civilizations. She is surrounded by her servants, little bee demons.

Golden Bee Pendant, Malia, Crete, 1800-1700 BC

Honey Bee, Malia, Crete, 2018

“The Sacred Bee”, Hilda M. Ransom, Dover Press, 2004

“The Sacred Bee”, Hilda M. Ransom, Dover Press, 2004

After seeing the golden bee pendant from Malia in person, I started a new read: “The sacred Bee” by Hilda M. Ransom. It discusses the mythology and folklore of bees in ancient civilizations across the world and also features a chapter on the roll bees played in ancient Cretan life and worship practice. I am hence delving deeper into the concept behind my “Regina Bombina” and “Flower Devils“.

New Postcards: Flower Devils, Plants and Planets and more

6 Oct

“Flower Devils”

In German folklore, witches and even the devil himself were believed to take on the shape of bumblebees. A bumblebee-wax candle was lit in church, if a witch was burnt at the stake. Evil people were cursed with having to return as a bumblebee after death. The sub-earthen drone sound of a bumblebee signaled the presence of the dead. Instead of consecrated wavers, bumblebees were allegedly served at black masses. Bumblebees were also superstitiously feared as carriers of sickness and ritually buried to drive out plague. On the other hand, a dead bumblebee worn in the pocket, was believed to ensure the purse would always be filled with money. And he, who managed to secretly steal the bumblebee’s honey, was destined to find a huge treasure. Hence bumblebees were both viewed as good and bad omens.

Special to me is the photo of a bee among the ruins of an old Minoan Palace in the city of Malia (Crete). In the location was found a massive golden bee amulet, depicting two crowned bees holding a honey drop. Bees and other pollinators played important rolls both in the religion of ancient civilizations as well as folklore.

“Plants and Planets”

Also new: postcards with my occult/nature inspired “Plants and Planets“ series from 2018! Available in two formats.

In the past botanists such as Nicholas Culpeper associated plants with the planets, fixed stars and zodiac signs. The attributions were based on an intense study of a plant’s features, which included treats such as a thorny or prickly appearance, the scent emitted by the flowers or the entire plant, the plant’s life cycle, colors, metals contained in a plant, medicinal and other uses and of course plenty of folklore. The planetary lore of plants is preserved and continues to evolve in the books of authors such as Stephen Skinner, Paul Huson, Scott Cunningham, Harold Roth and so on.

I find it inspiring to continue this tradition and to explore its own inner logic. Hence I created these planet themed still life photographs of herbs, that I gathered from our garden and surroundings, many of which are also part of my seed boxes. With this series I yet delve deeper into the language of plants and the symbolism and magical properties attributed to them.

The postcards have round edges and the sizes comply with common post standards. The motifs are printed on “silk” photo paper and laminated on durable white cardboard, which is pre-printed on the back. For ordering please head over to the Teufelskunst webshop.

Düsseldorf Skies

24 Aug

Sunsets and Cloud Scapes over Düsseldorf, photographed in April, July and August 2018

Perseids

15 Aug

The Perseids are a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift–Tuttle. The meteors are called the Perseids because the point from which they appear to hail (called the radiant) lies in the constellation Perseus. The name is derived from the word Perseidai (Greek : Περσείδαι), the sons of Perseus in Greek mythology.

What we see as “shooting stars” is actually a cloud of debris – tiny pieces ejected by the comet Swift-Tuttle, as it travels along its 133 year orbit around the sun. These particles burn up in the earth’s atmosphere at around 80 km height. They are visible every year from July to August and reach maximum activity between August 9-14, depending on the location of the stream. During the peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour.

They can be seen all across the sky; however, because of the shower’s radiant in the constellation of Perseus, the Perseids are primarily visible in the Northern Hemisphere. [from Wikipedia]

Shown above are photos from my first attempt at capturing the “Perseids”. They occurred in pretty much all directions and I saw some brilliant trains high in the sky as well as fireballs just short above the horizon line. But it was difficult to photograph them.

I set up the camera towards the North East and the constellation Perseus, with the widest angle available (f 18 mm) and 30 seconds exposure time. And then I spent the following 2 hours pressing the shutter every 30 seconds…

The camera did capture a few Perseids as well as plenty of planes. The difference is that a plane shows a twofold and non-continuous light trace (because the plane lights blink periodically) whereas the train of a meteor shows as a thin, continuous bright line on the photo.

Later that night Auriga rose in the North and the Pleiades became visible in the North East. The camera caught a small train directly above the Pleiades.

Around 2 am the sky started to cloud and my photo session ended.

In the photos I marked some of the constellations and stars for orientation. I hope you enjoy this little excursion. I recommend to check this website for further reading: https://sternenhimmel-fotografieren.de/sternbild-perseus-perseiden-h-und-chi-herz-und-seele-herznebel-sternschnuppen-finden-beobachten-fotografieren/

Wendy McNeill @Kassette, Düsseldorf

9 Aug

My first time out in Düsseldorf, also my first time going to a concert in ages, and also I had not bought any new music for a long time. Nor had I heard of Wendy McNeill before. Until fellow photographer Adrien of Nekrographie gave me the tip. I had no idea that he has been a huge fan of her for years. Well, now I understand why. It’s one of the best things in life, going to a show and falling in love with an artist right there. Even better, to be able to get to meet and chat with them afterwards. So, now I have been out in Düsseldorf, I went to a concert, and bought lots of new music. Mission accomplished. Thanks Wendy and Adrien!

Wendy Mc Neill sings and plays the accordion and guitar. She tells stories so vividly and captivating that it is easy to get lost in tales of wolves, sirens and unlucky men…

Ask Me No Questions video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9P4lgdS8xaw
Website: https://www.wendymcneill.com/

Dog Days 2018

9 Aug

This week we had again another “hottest day of the year”. Since June, most of Europe experiences a near ceaseless heat and drought period. These hot days of summer are also referred to as “Dog Days” (Hundstage) and this year they live up to their name.

The Greek called them kynádes hēmérai, Romans adopted it, calling them dies caniculares. Historically the period began with the heliacal rising of the dog star Sirius (actually a star system) in the Northern Hemisphere, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck, while to the Polynesians in the Southern Hemisphere the star marked winter and was an important reference for their navigation around the Pacific Ocean.

For my “Dog Days” incense I took inspiration from the paralyzing and deadly weather phenomenon.

The formula has been updated, with field eryngo (Eryngium campestre) being added to the baneful blend. In German language this type of thistle is also referred to as “Unruh” and “Elend” and the occurrence of clusters of broken off stems, similar to spiky tumbleweed carried forth by the wind, are named “Steppenhexen”. This stingy plant is almost impossible to touch or harvest without hurting yourself. Yet, and despite the heat and drought, it is frequented by dozens of bumblebees and other pollinators.

Beside obvious herbal references to the the dog/wolf totem, such as wolfsbane and mandrake, the incense contains also black and white henbane, which have been used in prophecy, baneful spells but also for rain magic. I burnt a good amount of it on this day, both to cleanse and bless a dog skull I found at the flea market, as well as to call for rain and cooling. It may have been simply good timing, but rain came the following morning.

I am often asked about side effects and dangers of burning venific incense blends – I can only speak for myself, I did not notice anything, apart from feeling more focused and empowered. I also sensed a relaxing effect on myself. A slight dizziness I attest to the burning sun and heat, not to the herbs.

Luckily, the worst heat seems to be over now and I look forward to enjoying the end of summer and working on art.

Blood Moon and Mars Opposition

28 Jul

Lunar Eclipse, July 27th 2018

Mars appears… Lunar Eclipse, July 27th 2018

Lunar Eclipse, July 27th 2018: the moment the moon exits the earth’s core shadow, with Mars to the lower right

End of lunar eclipse, July 28th 2018: still some shadow visible as well as a wonderful view on the moon’s surface structures

My impressions from the lunar eclipse and Mars opposition that occurred July 27th 2018, Düsseldorf

Camera: Canon Eos 7D Mark II, lenses: Sigma 300 m, Canon EFS 18-135 mm

Plants and Planets

13 Jul

In the past botanists such as Nicholas Culpeper associated plants with the planets, fixed stars and zodiac signs. The attributions were based on an intense study of a plant’s features, which included treats such as a thorny or prickly appearance, the scent emitted by the flowers or the entire plant, the plant’s life cycle, colors, metals contained in a plant, medicinal and other uses and of course plenty of folklore. Today plants are classified scientifically based on their genome, but their planetary lore is preserved and continues to evolve in the books of authors such as Stephen Skinner, Paul Huson, Scott Cunningham, Harold Roth and so on.

I find it fun and inspiring to continue this tradition and to explore its own inner logic. And since I spent the past 3 weeks gardening, I took to it and photographed the recent herb harvest according to the planets. The following series follows the Chaldean sequence. Photos by myself. Please share and credit.

Please visit my garden blog for further info on plants and their planetary correspondences: https://pflanzenkunst.wordpress.com/planetary-correspondences/

Gallery

Botanical Garden Düsseldorf

8 May