Themes, moods, rhythms, styles and fads in poetry and lyrics could each be reduced to a distinctive format among a limited range of modes or ‘grooves’, and compared across a gulf of millennia to identify the character of the inspiration.
So it seemed to a literature student raised on Homer and Jethro Tull. My first thesis, Urban poets and prophets, directly compared some poems and ‘art rock’ lyrics. “Once tuned in to a particular inspiration, a poem writes itself”, I announced to a literature lecturer, who in return rattled off a list of authors, such as Mallarme, who have already said that.
“We should study poem cycles for their mythic structures, and study writing techniques only for how they support thematic structure,” I announced to a poetry lecturer, who suggested that I should study philosophy or psychology instead.
My next thesis explored the structure of phonemes (speech sounds) and the limits of meaning as revealed by their artistic use in what I took to be lyrical ‘modes’, bent to similar structural rules as parts of speech. Each phoneme’s pronunciation and perception is influenced by the succession it occurs within.
We perceive the distribution and succession as a whole, a kind of auditory speed-reading that support some meanings and obscure others. The grammar lecturer replied that I should consider an anthropology or psychology course.
From a combination of Freudian psychology and myth, including Fraser’s apparently fragmented Golden Bough, emerged vague but persistent impressions that some elements of the human psyche and culture were structured, compulsive and somewhat mechanistic, but partly subconscious and expressing spiritual logic beyond conscious definition. Jung I had to read in my own time, it was not part of the psychology course.
An eventual career in journalism taught me that living myth and legend, or myth in the making, dictates which news, history and even technical magazine content would sell. No story is as difficult to write and to read as one containing new thought patterns or new assumptions. News gradually revealed itself as the sceptic’s definition of history; a set of fictions we agree to tell one another.
Invisible structure dogged my writing, and my hobby as a musician. Underneath conscious behaviour and even small talk, lie elements of a bigger conversation that I sought out in Egyptology, archaeology, astronomy, sacred sites, Theosophy and art.
Archaeology Society field trips and aerial photography flips over extensive kraal (cattle corral) cities in South Africa offered me a visual framework for interpreting cultural artefacts as shaped by individual and collective economy (paths of least resistance), using ready physical material and symbolic spacing. Culture seemed also to ‘write itself’.
The idea that visual art express stock themes, just as poems, lyrics, phonemes, huts and music do, gradually rose to prominence as I studied supposed astronomical artefacts, to find archetypes instead.
Rock art images often include swallow mud nest forms, swifts in half-human shape, water and a vortex in the sky. These birds, sometimes half-fish and mistaken as ‘mermaids’, are what archaeologists label ‘swift people’ (see theme 1 Taurus16), but archaeological literature fails to address the rest of the ensemble, or visual ‘mode’, resembling predictions of the 9/11 2001 New York terror attack.
An alchemical emblem by Basil Valentine of the 1300s (see theme 1 Tarus 16) contain the same elements that I had linked to swift people in rock art, and in Tarot trump 16 (Tower struck by lightning), several years before the iconic event of November 2001. Valentine’s alchemical emblem shows a high-rise city, on an island across a bridge, on fire, with a tract above it being torn up or struck by lightning. The medieval caption speaks of national pride, meddling in foreign affairs and mixed messages coming home to roost, in the same terms and tone used by critics of former USA president George W Bush.
Illustrations to the modern tale of the Wizard of Oz, with the related theme of a towering city and a yellow brick road, and the synonymous song by Bernie Tauplin and Elton John, closely fit the type or mode. Lyrics to Yellow brick road (“When are you gonna come down, when are you going to land… I bet that’ll shoot down your plane”) below an image of the fallen World Trade centre, came as a shock of recognition to Theosophists and the informal class of aspirant archaeo astronomers that I taught.
I gradually came to understand that the subject of my short course in archaeo astronomy was a misnomer, since it revealed structures in supposed astronomical artefacts that do not require archaeology or astronomy to express or to read.
If the Tower of Babel had a type number (such as type 1 Taurus16), and came with a standard set of supporting icons and themes, such as language, diplomacy and trade tracts, then other icons in art, rock art, poetry, supposed prophecy and even historic events could carry similar heraldic and emblematic markers. If archetypal events tend to be well recorded and reported, and less archetypal events selectively recorded, then visual art could reveal a visual grammar, and in turn crack the archetypal code.
While following this approach in research, I chanced on an image of the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) in a Papal seal imprint in ash-laden wax, posed as a query in an archaeological magazine (Voyage of the Planet, now defunct). I recognised the image from a Babylonian cylinder seal and the Egyptian Narmer palette that I had already tentatively identified with Aries.
Since Agnus was universally known in Judaeo-Christian iconography as well as astrology, it offered an anchor point for the underlying structure of myth. The Lamb of God also appears in alchemical emblems and Tarot trump 18 (Moon), anchoring a camouflaged sequence of correspondences, affinities, or ‘tacking’ between several esoteric sets.
Conventional logic that tagged the Tarot’s crayfish to Cancer had to be wrong. The creature had to be Cetus or its tail, expressing the concept of a Kraken-type sea monster, the scaly component of a dragon, by definition a composite beast. Conventional astrology that cast Aries as a ram and ram only, had to be wrong.
Yet another clue to the sequence of types emerged from my own archaeo astronomy course material; a music DVD including an interview with rock icon Ian Anderson, genius of the band Jethro Tull, explaining how he eventually discovered that his chromatic, lilting, riffed music and one-legged stance resembled Krishna and Kokopelli (Jethro Tull, Living with the past, Eagle Vision DVD). Anderson does not mention Pan, but I already had his number from mythology, since Capricornus ‘tacked’ to Trump 6 (Lovers) in the Tarot deck.
Combining these and other anchor points and filling in the gaps, I cracked the sequence of attributes that populate myth, alchemy, art, astrology and Tarot trumps. The little list (actually a semi-spiral with four expandable parts) soon became a lens with which to read rock art, which emerged as identical to myth and schooled art in inspiration, compulsion and structure, across the gulf of millennia and continents.
Art history and archaeology are prone to exaggerating diffusion and conventions, despite examples of independent development of similar pantheons, rituals, pyramids, temples, monuments and the entire repertoire of culture in the Americas and elsewhere. All have characters near identical to Perseus, Hercules and the rest, and modes similar to the ode, the sonnet, the gloria, the blues and the epic.
The concept of cultural elements, such as half-humans, as idiosyncratic developments, prompted and ‘framed’ by their own cultures, had to be wrong.
Comparing ancient Egyptian rock art and Egyptian formal (dynastic) art with Zimbabwean rock art, allowed a series of breakthroughs beyond the broadest thesis or imagination of my earlier research in lyrics, speech sounds and emblems. Many figures include standard attributes in implicit elements such as a staff, a long or craned neck, certain postures, relatively larger or smaller size, pregnancy, position relative to the approximate centre, species, attire, skin paint, status or apparent social function.
The frequent distinctive attributes appear in the periphery, in a standard sequence, and as axial opposites, which in turn reveal the standard geometric structure.
The more I tested, the simpler the sequence and structure became to identify. If academia was right, archetypes should be scattered at random in art, and every region or culture should have a unique set of figures, and display different stages of development in different eras. Yet artists all sing the same hymn to an archetypal tune, over the same set of polar ‘chords’.
If art history was right, there should be no axial structure in art. Iconographic analysis of large political art panels at Wits University (see T’Kama Adamastor at theme 3 Aries18), Brenthurst Library (see Leonard French’s Bridge at theme 1 Taurus16), and the Voortrekker Monument (see Hennie Potgieter’s marble friezes at theme 12 Leo) confirmed the same ‘rock art sequence’ in schooled art. Only some stylistic elements differ.
Learned artists, and supposedly primitive rock artists whose visionary figurative and geometric engravings I had puzzled over on field trips, share subconscious recourse to archetypal structure. The universal structure also appears in myth and wisdom literature. A deceptively simple little list of seasonal evening stars in the Mishnah confirmed astrology as just another layer or medium, and not the origin of structure (see the Literature section).
From years of searching for a ‘unified field theory’ in esoteric literature, I knew that lists appeared in hundreds of guises, but were nowhere reduced to a universal set, except in the stereotype of astrology, and these do not explain the more ‘rounded’ haloes of meanings that I found in emblems and art.
Could there be more than conceptual symmetry between the sixteen types that were emerging? When I had casually asked sculptor Danie de Jager about geometric ratios in art, he explained that artists had “geometry built in”.
To find these ‘built-in’ structures on a larger scale, I developed a template from what I had thought at first to be a re-construction of a ‘Babylonian’ division of the cosmos and constellations, keyed to galactic features, mythic figures of various relative sizes and extent, as well as star lore.
Once I understood this structure as archetypal, not an ‘oral tradition’, legacy or secret source, but re-invented by every culture, and innately understood by artists and viewers, healers and patients, it became obvious that the sequence and the structure were part and parcel of perception.
Most artists do not study astronomy, and would have to invest some months of conscious effort to become familiar with the interplay between the forces, positions, observation and background texture of the sky. Yet the innate structure of perception, as revealed in artistic expression, could be super-imposed on a cosmogram or star map, or on any sufficiently complex natural or cultural set.
I systematically super-imposed astrological, alchemical, emblematic, mythic and conceptual elements on the sequence revealed by my affinitive ‘tacking’, then on a multi-cultural armillary projection of the sky developed for an educational installation in a theme park (not yet built). I tested the sequence and its structure on rock art, then on famous artworks, then on amateur art.
The structure hinges on the eyes of each figure (or in frontal faces on the eyes nearest to the geometric focal point), and on axes to the eyes of each opposite but complementary types (with two constant exceptions; a heart and a womb, corresponding to type 13 Leo and type 11 Virgo). These axes always cross in one point.
One of the first rock art works to confirm the test in all its complexity was a group of goat people (half human figures) in Turkey, in a small shelter at Mount Latmos near Ephesus. Perhaps it was an informal oracle site, or just the haunt of an inspired goatherd that may have been a candidate for a temporary appointment at one of the earlier ‘Amazonian’ oracles, or the later formal temples. Perhaps by an aristocrat ordained for religious service as a Vestal virgin or priest, or a poet such as Aesop.
As I compared the ‘primitive’ figures to sophisticated, ritualised, formulaic, programmatic art depicting Artemis and her goats, it became clear that the elaborate oracular rock art of the Matobo range in Zimbabwe was no different in impulse, core content, structure, impact or style.
Panel after panel of rock art reproductions (particularly in the book by Elspeth Parry), as well as a range of works by classical and modern masters, chosen for their apparent differences, cracked under the lens of what I eventually named mindprint.
Another strand in the braid of archetypal expression came from the order of painting. Archaeologists carefully label strata, often paper thin, as they dig down, leaving portions they name ‘witness sections’ stuck with an array of flagged pins to re-check their dig reports and subsequent seasons or other sites against. This method, named the Harris matrix, they also apply to rock painting, useful where many figures partially overlay one another (assuming that each figure is completed in a separate episode).
The method reveals likely episodes of painting, typically grouping three, four, five or six figures into three, four or five episodes. Comparison of a meticulous academic paper on stratigraphy in a Drakensberg rock art work, to mindprint analysis of the same work, revealed that the artist had painted pairs of opposite figures together. This may not apply to all artists (see stratigraphy problems in the ‘Three Magi’ rock art scene at theme 13 Leo), but the cloth of evidence was woven to demonstrate the collective subconscious inspiration, or at least expression in practice.
The evidence awaited only a statistical test, which added the final strand to the art code. Despite my habitual reluctance for quantitative grammar, the test and results ‘wrote themselves’, and revealed some visual and structural qualities that the new conceptual sequential and geometrical lenses did not initially detect.
This study traces the structure in visual expression back to the invisible structure of inspiration and perception, and thus to the structure of nature, as far as we could know her, ultimately to archetype, which existed before creation and time. Breaking through the layers of disguise and distraction that protect our conscious logic from subconscious logic, required following thousands of trails in a forest of scientific and esoteric mazes, locking out dead ends, and returning to unexplored turns.
The reputed skill of artists in translating inspiration into visual form, as a tool of individual spiritual transformation, is confirmed. Our conscious and scientific views of art, perception and ultimately identity, have to recognise that we are essentially re-creators of archetypal structure.
Since the sequence and structure of visual types are sufficiently demonstrated, as repeated and repeatable, it stands as an artefact requiring a theory, no longer a theory supported by artefacts. Relevant sciences, arts and crafts will probably find their own explanations for mindprint.
The book was written twice, first as 200 captions to art and rock art images, to demonstrate how artists express eternal archetypes in a mixture of consciously understood and subconscious, universal esoteric terms, then as a statistical research report.
Together, the images and text place mindprint, our involuntary art code, in context with archaeology, anthropology, mythology, philosophy, psychology, art history and popular culture.
The two spheres of this book, theoretical and practical, hopefully enable conscious access to the vast array of subconscious meanings in art, in acclaimed individual works and seemingly different cultures across continents and millennia.
The revelations and conclusions enable a synthesis of our academic, artistic and esoteric views of culture. The three sides of the artistic, esoteric and scientific divide meet here on their own terms.
Mindprint leads several crafts, arts and sciences through their commonalities to the subtext in cultural and natural expressions of archetype.
To avoid the double risk of alienating scientists by esoteric terminology, or alienating esoteric readers by scientific terminology, technicalities are kept to a minimum. Concepts are demonstrated in terms of actual expressions of the archetypal attributes and structure in artworks, and multiplied by many references to the 200 illustrated examples.
Science and esoterica both operate on the principle of predictability and isolation (distinction), although science proceeds from measurables in theoretical context, and esoterica from intrinsic correspondences. This book describes and tests archetype in both contexts.
– Edmond Furter, Johannesburg, March 2014
(Extract from the Postscript in the book Mindprint, the subconscious art code, 2014, Lulu.com, 266 pages, 200 illustrations, $29 plus postage, or R280 at presentations in South Africa, or email edmond at syrex dot co dot za)