The Penetrating Gaze

October 28th, 2008

Another scroll reproduced in Ethiopian Magic Scrolls.

“This image is recognizably a development of the eight-pointed star [c.f. previous post]. Here the image tends towards formal perfection. A double movement animates it: expansion following the four vertical and horizontal arms and the angel’s heads, and penetration following the four diagonal points. We have noted… that the former are the directions of the Cross (i.e., of a body with outstretched arms), and the latter direction of the penetrating gaze. The black lobate curve articulates this double movement here, so that it appears to begin from a circular form. The eyes of the central face are placed on the transversal axis. If we consider the genesis of this picture through related motifs, we will note that what have become here the radiating points of the central face were originally part of the angel’s clothing. They have been separated from the collar and shifted toward the center, for purely formal reasons.

“The Virgin’s Prayer at Bartos says: ‘Come, you four angels who hold up the four corners of the world and who are called Fertiyal, Ferfay, Fumael and Fananyal’. The winged faces are the angels of the four directions. Who are they guarding? The hidden face of the divine? The owner of the scroll? Satan in prison? All of these explanations are current among dabtaras who make such pictures” (p118).

The Face of a Person

October 22nd, 2008

Speaking of eyes and wings, a talismanic scroll presented in Mercier’s 1979 Ethiopian Magic Scrolls.

“The central design, a face within an eight-pointed star, is the most common and most characteristic motif in Ethiopian scrolls. The face is known as gätsä säb’e (‘face of a person’). It is the face connected with the prayer that goes with the talisman, and its presence is necessary for the effectiveness of the scroll. Thus defined, the face has a sort of ‘local’ identity. A generic meaning can also be attributed to it, interpretable with help of the accompanying prayer: the face of God, an angel, a demon, a man, and so on.

“The eight points indicate the four directions of the talisman’s protective power: ‘Whoever comes from the East, etc…’. In relation to the face in the center, they are luminous radiance or the wings that enable it to move in all directions. One dabtara has said that each of the eight wings is an angel serving the central face. He is referring implicitly to a passage from the Apocrypha of Clement (or Qälémentos): ‘The family of angels is numerous. They have no single aspect. Indeed, there are some who have many eyes; some who are only eyes; some who are a burst of light brighter than the light of the sun; some who have faces like a man’s face; some who have two wings; some who have one wing; some who are two wings; some who are all one wing’. Therefore, in a picture like this, eyes, face, and wings can all be angels” (p9).

A drawing by Frederick Franck from his 1973 The Zen of Seeing.

“The purpose of ‘looking’ is to survive, to cope, to manipulate, to discern what is useful, agreeable, or threatening to the Me, what enhances or what diminishes the Me…

“When, on the other hand, I SEE — suddenly I am all eyes, I forget this Me, am liberated from it and dive into the reality of what confronts me, become part of it, participate in it…

“It is in order to really SEE, to SEE ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive, that I draw what the Chinese call ‘The Ten Thousand Things’ around me. Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world” (p5-6).

“Zen raises the ordinariness of The Ten Thousand Things to sacredness and it debunks much that we consider sacrosanct as being ordinary. What we consider supernatural becomes natural, while that which we have always seen as so natural reveals how wondrously supernatural it is” (p112).

“Where there is revelation, explanation becomes superfluous. Curiosity is dissolved in wonder” (p28).

“SEEING/DRAWING is, beyond words and beyond silence, the artist’s response to being alive. Insofar as it has anything to transmit, it transmits a quality of awareness” (p120).