|Guillaume Seignac (French 1870–1924) - "The Jewel Case"|
Chiaroscuro Tenebrism and Yagé
There once was a problem that couldn't be solved. It left a mark a half a century wide through my psyche. It remained a renewing welt from a branding most intense, painful, simmering, relentless - and yet, over time, thoroughly stuffed. In effect, it was being bothered that the sky was blue. Now what could be done about that?
"Nothing!" said San Pedro. And yet San Pedro started a process to open that issue anyway. Why, if nothing could be done? It was never my intention to start down this path. It was nothing I would have asked the medicines to address. So why was the medicine taking me there so dramatically? In a frantic attempt to summarily deal with it, I took large doses of San Pedro and Ayahuasca together and that's when the hell ride into Pandora's Box began. But why, if nothing could be done? The medicine had made it clear - there was no solution for that. But was there an answer? No solution but an answer? How could that be? It seemed only Mother Ayahuasca knew.
I journeyed with Mother and Kambo twice in two days through the dark night of the soul to find her answer, to come to grips with there being no solution. She hinted she had the answer for the problem without a solution. I saw no way that was possible. Yet I went into ceremony anyway. I knew, only in medicine space would I ever be taken somewhere that entertained the possibility of a probability that such an idea might ring true. Then make it true.
Whatever the answer turned out to be, it would never be what one expected. I expected not to be able to predict the ride with Mother. I found myself correct in being clueless. And yet the entheogenic brew was inside me. I was on the ride of the soul and there was no going back. Fine with me. I didn't want to go back, not to that pain, that torment, no matter how much I worried or dreaded the unknown rushing at me. It was far better to die in medicine space trying for something to heal and transform than ever go back. I needed relief. I needed the rules of the universe reset around me.
The eternal night deepened and I fell into it, into me, into a space where to be unsolvable and transcendent at the same time doubled me over in retching sickness, emotional excess, and pangs of hope and despair. It gave me vertigo under the falling stars and startled me as I watched zooming lightning bugs carry away my poisoned thoughts. It mesmerized me with a rising moon and a ghostly light that silhouetted the demon contorts of my emotional horror projected into the endlessly branching trees. It deepened and expanded without bounds as the icaros were sung and the night grew darker. It shook the lifeforce out of me in shards of pain and turmoil as I danced before the magical fire and sang in another language with the shaman, words I felt deeply without understanding. When silence came, I collapsed back to the wavering ground. In the middle of it all, the shaman dropped down next to me with a knowing smile and a whispered offer - "I have a special tea. Do you want some? Want to try? It's a purge tea. You must drink all then purge then drink all again. Then repeat. Come, it's ready now."
It was medicine space transformation. It was reliving trauma. It was exultant and torturous. It was blissful and a desperate surrender. And so, after all, did I get the answer, my answer? Is the problem still with me, the problem that can't be solved? What does one say about the other, how does one inform the other? Where to now? Can the problem without a solution find a healing?
I have been taken apart and spun back together. Not everything fits, nor is it supposed to, not anymore. Mother showed me the dawn, brought Pacific Horneros to call insistently in my ear, she blew the acrid scent of ash and incense and glowing embers and snorts of liquid tobacco into my senses. She showed me, she implored me, ultimately she challenged me.
Being given a hard lesson is a far cry from shouldering that lesson and moving forward. That's her hardest lesson yet. As usual, Mother Ayahuasca knew exactly what she was doing. The sense of it settles clearly even if I find myself too raw to absorb it. It seems there is no other miracle than me. In the final analysis, it's the only thing I have any control over. What a thing for Mother to hit me with. It flattened me on the ground with its awesome power and terrible responsibility. It was defeat and transcendence all at once. I am the cage, the lock, the key, and the animal inside. So many new perspectives were made available during my dark night of the soul. And yet, still - the sky is blue.
In one poignant message, Mother Ayahuasca whispered to me - "On some level you will always be bothered, but you can actively establish a deeper dimension that will shine brightly and reduce that deep darkness to a mere shadow of what it was before. Your unresolved darkness will then be providing meaningful contrast, not obsessive blindness."
In my time of integration since hearing those words, I've meditated quite a lot on polarity, the highs and lows, the light and shadow aspects of life. It does seem strangely ironic that getting used to the dark makes the lights seem brighter, that dying of thirst makes that first gulp of water taste sweeter, that tragedy and catastrophes bring out the best in people. On some level, it is the shadow of life that allow the highlights of color and brilliant definition to take shape. The same is true in painting and the history of art demonstrates this very well. Carl Jung is famous for developing the notion of the shadow aspects of our unconscious motivations and projections. He insisted the shadow was not bad, it was necessary, but it could be a monster if not acknowledged and integrated well. And yet, when one studies the history of art, it's amazing to follow how this archetypal component to our makeup has developed over time. Consider this progression as summarized so well by the Oxford University Press --- (to see the photo slideshow, go here -- https://blog.oup.com/2017/11/shadows-visual-arts-timeline/)
- "The ancient Greeks were the first artists to use cast shadows, as they developed a 'geometry of the light' that located objects in relation to a consistent light source.
- Mistrusting the way that shadows helped such painters to deceive the eye, Plato insisted that shadows mislead people about the true nature of reality. In his Allegory of the Cave (375BCE), Plato set up a shadow-substance opposition that has dominated Western thinking about shadows ever since.
- As if to challenge Plato’s reasoned dismissal of shadows, the Roman historian Pliny the Elder asserted in his Natural History (79 CE) that art was born when a young woman named Dibutades traced the shadow of her lover on a wall, by the light of a lamp. Since the lover was about to leave on a long journey, the shadow image not only became the first human-made representation, it also became an almost magical substitute for his presence. While Plato thought that shadows were dangerously false, Pliny suggested that they could be romantically true, as if to capture a person’s shadow was to capture part of his vital essence.
- The story of Dibutades was highly popular in the 18th Century, when it reinforced the vogue for a new form of shadow-capture, silhouettes. In English, cut-paper silhouettes were first known as Shadowgraphs or Shades, since they were often made by tracing a person’s shadow. Silhouettes exploit one of the key features of the shadow, its dark, mysterious interior, into which viewers can project whatever details imagination can provide.
- Meanwhile, after a dormant period in medieval times, Renaissance artists returned to the Greco-Roman shadow and developed its use in relation to the emerging art of perspective. Shadows became more accurately shaped and placed, even as unwritten rules governed their use so that they would not impinge too greatly on the human figure. In Masaccio’s The Tribute Money (1425), for example, cast shadows cover the ground but never obscure the human form.
- In the first painting to make a shadow its primary subject, Saint Peter Healing the Sick with His Shadow (1427-1428), Masaccio made sure that the transformative shadow of St. Peter falls around and under the figures that it touches with its heaven-sent power. Like many villainous shadows later to come, the holy shadow has a special power that emanates from its source, but the Renaissance painter will not let the shadow dominate the work pictorially.
- From the Renaissance onward, most painted shadows serve to make objects seem more “real” in volume and placement, but Rembrandt was a pioneer in giving the shadow psychological weight. In an early self-portrait he depicts himself with his eyes in shadow, as if to show how his very vision is embedded in the chiaroscuro that makes his paintings so dramatic.
- After the Renaissance, the Western world adapted so well to the idea that artistically rendered people need shadows that the absence of a personal shadow could cause a great commotion. Illustrated by many artists, Adelbert von Chamisso’s story of Peter Schlemiel, the man who sold his shadow (1814), became a big hit in Europe in the early nineteenth century. Since Peter’s acquaintances would have nothing to do with a man who had no shadow, it became clear from the story that having a shadow was a sign of humanity, a signal of full participation in human life.
- But only a few decades later, the first stand-alone shadows of humans appeared in art, independent of anybody to cast them. It was as if the shadow alone could now do the work of the substance-shadow couple. It was William Collins who discovered in his painting Rustic Civility (1833) just how visually effective a “mere” shadow could be, introducing a powerful narrative element at the same time. Here children open a gate for their social “betters,” in the form of a horseman who represents the English country gentry.
- The advent of photography was initially regarded as a matter of “fixing a shadow.” Henry Fox Talbot explained his process in 1839 by saying that, using chemistry, he had found a way to capture “the most transitory of all things, a shadow.” The way photographs “drew” with light connected them in the public mind with Pliny’s story of tracing shadows on a wall. The poet Elizabeth Barrett wrote to a friend in 1843, that a photograph was like “the very shadow of the person lying there fixed forever!”
- As cinema developed, film directors rapidly picked up the atmospheric and dramatic shadow-vocabulary used by painters since the time of Caravaggio and Rembrandt. In classics such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, the German Expressionists made shadows into active participants in the drama. “Murder by shadow” soon became an integral part of cinematic lore.
- More recently, artists have used actual shadows made by high-powered lights to construct interactive street art in which people can encounter their own shadows in settings that reveal just how alien yet also reassuring shadows can be."
"Shadows speak about the shape, volume, location, and texture of objects, as well as about the source of light, the time of day or season, the quality of the atmosphere. But as the famous example of Peter Pan’s amputated shadow reveals, shadows depicted in artworks can be arbitrarily shaped, placed, and even cut off by their creators. Therefore, beyond offering physical information, shadows have much to tell us on a social and psychological level. Consciously or not, whenever we see shadows we 'read' them (and their creators’ intentions) in a cultural context that lends the shadows power or denies their substance, causing them to seem prophetic or threatening or willful or wispy."
A great book that fleshes out these concepts is Grasping Shadows - The Dark Side of Literature, Painting, Photography, and Film / Oxford University Press (Professor of English at Barnard College) ISBN: 9780190675271 by William Chapman Sharpe.
"Chiaroscuro, in art, is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. Tenebrism, from Italian tenebroso ("dark, gloomy, mysterious"), also occasionally called dramatic illumination, is a style of painting using profoundly pronounced chiaroscuro, where there are violent contrasts of light and dark, and where darkness becomes a dominating feature of the image. Tenebrism is used only to obtain a dramatic impact while chiaroscuro is a broader term, also covering the use of less extreme contrasts of light to enhance the illusion of three-dimensionality. The word chiaroscuro is Italian for light and shadow. It's one of the classic techniques used in the works of artists like Rembrandt, da Vinci, and Caravaggio. Every shadow tells a story. Whether painted, filmed, photographed, or generated in real time, shadows provide vital information that makes a representation engaging to the eye." http://www.heldermann-verlag.de/jgg/jgg01_05/jgg0506.pdf
Mother Ayahuasca was trying to show me - in life, as in painting, without light nothing can be seen. But without shadow, no object or subject could be realistically defined. Shadow also creates the illusion of a three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface. In some remarkable way, our shadow self, if properly integrated in correct proportion, is the contrast that allows us to access higher dimensions for ourselves here, where otherwise such higher states couldn't exist if the shadow also didn't exist. I find it particularly interesting that the first painting in history to feature a shadow as its main subject should have the shadow conducting an act of healing, simply by falling upon a person.
Mother implored me -- "You can never know for certain what's in another's heart. You can’t change the outside world into the ideal you want, but you can make yourself your own ideal. You can direct yourself towards it. You can make the attempt. Find meaning in the pursuit of that --- for it's the only thing you have control over."
In the middle of the night we danced and sang with the shaman around the fire as he repeated the words of a song over and over, each time with more emphasis and feeling. I felt he was chiming in with Mother, intuiting and modeling the feeling to be gained by this new change of perspective and meaningful pursuit. "Fly like the condor! Flying so high! Circling the universe! With wings of pure light!"
Finally, back in the teepee, the shaman told a story about a magical place where we co-create the universe, where we as a sovereign part of the infinite have the freedom to choose to redefine the rules of the universe for ourselves, thus resetting our lives. It was then I heard Mother Ayahuasca whisper one last time -- "What bothers you will fall away when you no longer want to be tortured by it."
So what about that problem without a solution?
What about the answer?
Well, the sky is still blue.
But not the clouds.
And they're up there too.
There's also the nighttime sky,
comprising half the day,
and not a hint of blue.