Posts Tagged ‘stars’

The Art Of Juggling Dangerously

August 10, 2015

TheArtOfJugglingDangerously3

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nly in the face of certain death or its aftermath, do most of us grasp the precariousness of our own limited lifespans. From personal experience, I’ve learned that with such time-based events, each ensuing moment, each decision that I make and each external event (whether caused by or imposed on us) becomes especially profound, altering my overview of the reality that I understand.

Socio-political changes in the larger world along with those in our microcosmic communities sometimes make me wonder about those universal binaries, chaos and order. Is there a sort of balance, or a script if you will, by which they act on those changes?

To be sure, mathematicians, physicists, theologians and practitioners of the more esoteric arts have invented their own systems to answer this question, yet another one arises: do these dualities factor in our drive to create religious constructs and clever technological inventions, teasing our vanity by provoking us to assert control over elements and events that are currently far beyond our purview? Or are we attempting to offset our terror of the familiar suddenly turning chaotic? Maybe we just need to convince ourselves that our existence truly matters– to each other, to the amorphous fate of the world or perhaps to our favorite anthropomorphic deity.

Whether or not these thoughts and questions make any sense to you, they influenced this new drawing, The Art of Juggling Dangerously. Here is my jester, balancing upon an ephemeral tightrope. Seated astride his wheeled steed, he is juggling the fiery mace balls of our dark history, a history written by the servants of kings and conquerors. By doing so, is he metaphorically attempting to allay the fears and doubts that periodically assail us all? What about the social, political or supernatural forces that may have placed him there? Are these forces the agents of chaos, order or an amalgam of both? When you find yourself confronting a difficult decision or poised in a precarious situation, how do you respond? Finally, in our quest for adventure, for knowledge, if not understanding, we may often risk our own lives in defiance of death while ignoring the effect of our risks on others. Is this foolishness or a certain innocence that characterizes our fragile human bravado?

Since I can’t pretend to any special wisdom here let alone sound logic, I leave these questions for your speculative pleasure and comments. I would only venture to say that this jester may be an aspect of me or anyone dabbling in creative endeavors as we play with ideas that are both philosophical and provocative while suspended over an ocean of uncertainty…

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An Illumination Of Blessings Is For Real!

September 22, 2014

Dear Backers of An Illumination Of Blessings:

As of this past Monday, September 15th, I am pleased to announce that with your generous support and encouragement, this Kickstarter project is done and delivered! It’s been a wonderfully challenging year and a half of research, writing, design and illustration for these 36 illuminated blessings including the  interactions with all of you throughout the process. Recently, I’ve been asked whether another edition of blessings will follow to bring us closer to the originally intended count of 100. Perhaps, if there are a significant number of requests for it. But for the moment a bit of recovery is in order as I contemplate a short list of options (which include both Judaic and secular themes) for my next project. Your questions and suggestions are welcome!  Again, thank you all from the bottomless-ness of my creative well: I look forward to continuing our creative conversations and collaborations!

Ilene Winn-Lederer, September 18, 2014

Sunrise, Sunset, So What?

May 6, 2014

ImageOn average, we spare little daily thought for the sun other than to its perceived influence on the esthetics of the next twenty-four hours. It is, therefore, we are. End of story.

But since the sun’s first appearance in the skies on the fourth day of Creation, according to the Torah (Book of Bereshis/Genesis), this story is not one with an ending; it is punctuated with the myths and folklore of every human culture from the beginning of recorded time and perpetuated across generations in forms apropos to each telling.

These tales comprise a portion of the collective effort to comprehend our origins amidst our mercurial environment, the relentless cycle of the seasons and our place in the cosmos. They are an amalgam of sincere theological speculation, intriguing scientific discovery with some millennial fear-mongering thrown in for spice.

In tribute to this timeless portrait of human curiosity, I’ve chosen to include a rare Jewish blessing for witnessing natural phenomena in my book, An Illumination Of Blessings.

The Birkat Ha-Chamah or Blessing of the Sun is rare because it is recited only once every twenty-eight years, most recently in April of 2009. It is not to be found in standard prayer books; rather, it is distributed to participants at each recitation ceremony. The blessing dates back to Talmudic times (first century AD) when the rabbis, wishing to acknowledge the sun’s importance to life on Earth without inviting idolatry, addressed the star theologically without attributing divinity to it.

According to rabbinical opinion in the Babylonian Talmud, the blessing is to be recited every twenty-eight years on the vernal equinox* to commemorate the sun’s return to its original position (relative to the Earth) on the fourth day of Creation when it is fully visible above the horizon at dawn. They taught: “One who sees the sun at the beginning of its cycle…recites: ‘Blessed is the One Who made the Creation’.” (Tractate Berachot 59b)

My illustration for this blessing is set in medieval Europe when rabbi-scholars like Maimonides (the Rambam) and Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon engaged in lively discussions of Torah and Talmud, codifying their opinions for future generations.

On a grassy hillside against the backdrop of a castle fortress-town, a prayer shawl (tallit) clad man and his son are awaiting the full sunrise as they imagine a vignette of the fourth day of Creation framed within an astrolabe. The hand-shaped (hamsa) device from which the astrolabe is suspended is meant to represent the idea that its five fingers remind us to use our five senses to praise G-d. The hamsa is also referred to as the Hand of Miriam in remembrance of her as sister to Moses and Aaron.** The boy holds a ram’s horn (shofar), which will be sounded when the sun has risen.

This image was suggested by the Birkat Ha-Chamah ceremony of April 8, 1981, led by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi who stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building in New York and sounded the shofar amidst a crowd of 300 participants.

I think, perhaps, this is how we might understand our place in the cosmos. As witnesses to the wonders of created life, that is a dance of chaos and order, we are privileged to question it, but are never to know all the answers or the end of the story; at least, not yet.

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* Why every twenty-eight years? Although the sun rises and sets in the east and west respectively, its position shifts seasonally, moving to the north in summer and to the south in winter. The midpoints of this movement are the equinoxes which mark the autumn and spring seasons. To complete this cycle requires one solar year, the length of which varies by slightly more than a day in our calendar. So the rabbis calculated that when the equinoxes have moved forward exactly thirty-five days, they will occur on the same day and hour as on the first hour of the fourth day of Creation.

** Some of you may wonder why I have not included a woman in this ceremony. This is because the Birkat Ha-Chamah is a time-based mitzvah (commandment) which women are exempt from observing. You can read more about this tradition here: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/woman_commandments.html Nevertheless, the Hand of Miriam attached to the astrolabe represents their spiritual presence.

From Day Into Night: The Wisdom Of Perception

March 9, 2014

ImageOrdinarily, I like to deny subscribing to coincidence, but I must stand corrected on account of this week’s installment from An Illumination Of Blessings.

Anyone of middle-age and beyond will readily admit that as we age, time seems to pass more quickly, yet we only recognize that deceptive phenomenon in retrospect.

Last week, when I chose to begin work on this blessing for the wisdom to distinguish day from night it did not immediately occur to me that coincidentally, we were about to begin the ‘spring ahead and fall behind’ cycle for one hour semi-annually in the parlance of daylight saving time.

Today, it began around 2AM this morning and though I can always feel the transition instinctually, the fact of it never fails to take me by surprise.

This tradition began centuries ago as an informal observance of the Earth’s rotation in relation to the effects of the sun and moon cycles on agriculture, lifestyle and human productivity. It became progressively codified and enforced well into the twentieth century but today, there are groups advocating for its eradication in the interest of simplifying travel, scheduling, commerce and environmental conservation. The latter justification is ironic considering that daylight saving time was initially instituted as an energy saving measure!

However, since daylight saving time may have derived from our ability to distinguish and contemplate the differences between day and night, it is only marginally related to today’s blessing essay. So to learn more about it, you can find a detailed history of daylight saving time and the arguments against it at: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daylight_saving_time and at: http://www.standardtime.com/proposal.html.

As for the blessing itself, you might notice a tiny rooster perched on the roof of the medieval-style house in my illustration. This refers to the blessing’s original title, ‘The Wisdom of the Rooster’. It is unique among the many we have for expressing appreciation for our physical, mental and environmental gifts. Why? Because instead of thanking our Creator for our own ability to distinguish between day and night, we offer praise for “giving the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night.” Rabbi Michael Gourarie* explains:

“Although a rooster crows at the beginning of each day it actually happens some time before it gets light. When it senses that dawn will break soon, and light is on the way to substitute for the darkness, he emits the crowing noise that became the ancient alarm clock.

In every day there are periods of light – clarity, blessing, peace of mind and prosperity; but there are also sometimes patches of darkness – challenge, confusion and difficulty. It takes special strength not to be caught up in the moments of challenge. It takes maturity to look beyond the darkness and see the light that awaits us. A wise person learns from the rooster. He/she knows that the darkness is only temporary and that light is on the way. The rooster is symbolic of an attitude filled with optimism, hope and belief. The rooster teaches us to envisage and celebrate blessing even before it comes.”

In addition to the rooster, the other elements in my illustration are arranged around a sort of cosmic hourglass. Suspended within their separate spheres, our sun and moon are poised to reverse their positions in a dance designed at the time of Creation. I wanted to symbolize our understanding of these celestial bodies with regard to our environment and our lives (trees and houses) by placing them within a man-made timekeeping device. The sprinkle of stars that inspired the signs of the Zodiac on the hourglass are there to remind us that while our acquired knowledge is of great value, the light of that value darkens without the wonder and faith that guide it.

*http://shiratdevorah.blogspot.com/2011/08/wisdom-of- rooster.html

For An Illumination Of Blessings: A Blessing For Here & Now

August 26, 2013

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For my Kickstarter backers of An Illumination Of Blessings and all readers of  Imaginarius, here is my interpretation of the Shehekhiyanu blessing for your viewing pleasure. The following explanatory text is from my Update page at the Kickstarter site:

Most of the twelve months of the Jewish year are distinguished by a day or more of holiday observance and/or a major festival that preserves and celebrates our history and culture while bringing them forward to our present and future. Although the liturgy for these holidays addresses them individually within their duration, there is one blessing called the Shehekhiyanu that is traditionally recited during candle-lighting on the evening preceding each of the major holidays and festivals with the exception of holidays that commemorate sad or tragic events such as Tisha B’Av.

The Shehekhiyanu is the tenth blessing that I have completed to date. It is a blessing of thanks in acknowledgement of special occasions and life-cycle events such as weddings and bar mitzvot. It is also appropriate for new or unusual experiences such as tasting a first fruit in season, meeting an old friend, or acquiring a new home or clothing. ‘Shehekhiyanu’ is Hebrew for “Who has given us life” (and brought us to this moment). This blessing originated in the Mishnah and is cited in the Talmud, the collections of Jewish laws, interpretations and observances set down after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE (of the Common Era).

My interpretation of the Shehekhiyanu blessing is relatively straightforward, showcasing symbols of the Jewish holiday cycle which are clockwise from the top: Tu B’Shevat, Purim, Passover, Lag B’Omer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah and Chanukkah. The commentary at the conclusion of An Illumination Of Blessings will detail the significance of each holiday symbol. This ‘cycle of life’ is supported between the sun and moon in reference to the Hebrew lunar-solar calendar that determines when each holiday begins and ends. In this system, the year corresponds with the solar calendar and its months match the lunar calendar.

For those of you that missed the funding deadline, but would still like to have a copy of the book or gicleé prints from the illustrations, don’t fret. You can visit this link to place pre-orders for the book and to specify which blessings you would like to have made into prints: http://winnlederer.com/blessings/index.htm

It’s back to work for me now onto the next blessing! As always, your questions and comments are welcome!

Update #3: An Illumination Of Blessings-Havdalah

July 2, 2013

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Dear Backers & Backers-To-Be:

We’re just about down to the wire: 57% funded and 4 days until midnight of July 6th when funding closes for An Illumination Of Blessings! So if you haven’t decided to become part of this unique effort, please take a few moments to consider doing so and by all means spread the work to anyone you know who would also like to contribute.

I promise that you will not be disappointed when you receive your postcards, prints and copy or copies of this beautiful art book. Like every work of art I make, it does not leave my studio unless I am entirely satisfied that I have done my best to bring it to life.

This week I’ve completed a new blessing for the book; it is called Ceremony Of The Senses and presents the Havdalah ceremony, performed at the conclusion of the Sabbath. The book will include a detailed commentary about the imagery I’ve chosen. As always, your comments and questions are welcome and I look forward to being able to share An Illumination Of Blessings as a personal legacy to you for generations to come.

Here is the link for you to enter your pledge and to forward to all you think would want to participate.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1330347473/an-illumination-of-blessings

Thanks in advance!

Ilene

For Tu B’Shevat: In Celebration Of Creation

January 25, 2013

The universe is always unfinished. It calls for our continuous effort and unceasing renewal for we are the partners of the Creator.” R. Simcha Bunim of Przysucha (1765-1827)

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THE holiday of Tu B’Shevat or Jewish New Year of the Trees which occurs tomorrow on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat or in January on the Julian calendar has long been one of inspiration for me, a powerful metaphor of our connection with the Creator and our mandate as stewards of our planet.

Last year at this time, I posted an image based on a new Hebrew alphabet I had designed called ‘Abundance‘. It’s letters are formed of the plants, fruits and vegetables cultivated in the land of Israel. Tomorrow we celebrate this holiday once again and for those that might have missed last year’s post, I’ve decided to offer it again along with the entire alphabet (alefbet):

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Gicleé prints of this image in sizes 11″x14″ or larger are available. I can also format them as place-mats for your Tu’B Shevat seder celebrations. For prices and ordering information, contact me at: ilene@winnlederer.com

In addition, here is a calligraphy illustration that references the quotation above this post. It is from a series of six prints commissioned by Hadassah/NY in 1998. The others can be seen here: http://magiceyegallery.com/PicturePage.aspx?id=243 where they may be ordered individually or as a set.

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I wish all of you who celebrate a year of abundance and inspiration.

Codex Gastropoda #7: Between The Pages Of Reality

January 14, 2013

Codex Gastropoda: #7

Codex Gastropoda: #7

Yesterday afternoon, in appreciation of an unseasonably warm January day, my better half and I went for a walk on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Heading east on Carson Street past a barrage of  bars and nightclubs led us to City Books, a venerable remnant of Pittsburgh’s once lively independent bookstore market. Inside the old shop, a wrought iron spiral staircase punctuates two levels of floor-to-ceiling wooden bookshelves whose old and rare inhabitants speak volumes on an array of subjects that include philosophy, art, science, math, history, foreign languages and vintage fiction for adults and children. A little schmooze with the owner, Edward Gelblum and his elegant assistant whose name I did not learn, was intriguing enough to provoke my tentative climb up the spiral staircase to inspect their impressive philosophy, science, foreign language and Judaica collections.

Their intimate knowledge of such collections within this timeless, musty ambience reminded me of an Imaginarius post of December 19, 2010, written upon completing the third drawing in my Codex Gastropoda series, ‘The Unbearable Slowness of Reading’. You can access that post here:https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/codex-gastropoda-3the-unbearable-slowness-of-reading/

During this little reminiscence, which inspired the new drawing above, I began to think beyond the act of reading; beyond the physical properties of books to their metaphysical attributes. Does their power to manipulate our minds and hearts come from our literal interpretation of the words, from the images they may contain, or from the associations and ideas inherent in both? Despite the proliferation of electronic media, there is a magnetic attraction to words and images on paper that I can’t trivialize as a mere Luddite denial of technological reality.

Though the written word bound in book form has been likened to ‘conversations with great minds,’ etc., I wonder whether books can be more accurately perceived as vessels made to contain the power of alternate realities? Does encoding these realities in language and 2D images make them more approachable? It seems to me that even if these ‘realities’ could be experienced directly with all ‘six’ of our senses as the human modus operandi, we would still be overwhelmed. The ‘arcane’ technology that enables cinematic ‘reality’ via animation/CGI effects has brought us closer to a total sensory experience. Even so, marvelous as it is to watch movies like ‘Avatar’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ , we are served generous helpings of the detailed, brilliant imagination of others with little left for our own to play with. Maybe this is why the power of books to evoke and provoke our own emotions and memories remains its own distinctive experience. It is also why I think that bookstores will never disappear completely; despite the fact that the majority of Mr. Gelblum’s sales originate online. Just as great food deserves to be presented beautifully in a warm and welcoming environment,  so does a warm and inviting shop remain necessary to contain and disseminate the literary treasures that continue to define us.

Note: Codex Gastropoda #7 is available as a gicleé print at: http://www.magiceyegallery.com

Omer, Emor & Zohar: Of Stars & Seasons

May 11, 2012

This year’s observance of the Lag B’Omer holiday began on Wednesday evening and continued until sundown on Thursday. Accordingly, the Torah portion from the Book of Leviticus/VaYikra that will be read tomorrow is named Emor and addresses the significance and structure of the seasons of our year.

Parashah Emor, meaning ‘speak ‘in Hebrew is one of perceptive contrasts. Although the festivals of the Jewish year are introduced in the book of Exodus, they are reprised in this section of Leviticus to include the laws applying to Kohanim, the priests of Israel. While these laws serve to set the role of the Kohanim apart from the community, they also teach us that even in times of great misfortune and sadness, it is important to retain holiness and joy in life by the regular observance of festivals and holy days. Our calendar is an important means for the understanding and intelligent use of time. It allows us to set aside our daily routines and enter a state of transformation leading to spiritual growth. For example, the search on the eve of Passover to remove traces of bread (chametz) from our homes equates with a search and examination of our own imperfections. Judaism employs a luni-solar calendar in which the year corresponds with the solar calendar and its months match the lunar calendar. Since the twelve months of the Jewish calendar are about eleven days short of a 365-day year, a leap month is added to the calendar on a 19-year cycle. The Hebrew zodiac in the illustration illuminates this concept.

The parashah focuses on the observances and performances of good deeds (mitzvot) for the festivals of Passover (Sefirat ha’Omer or Counting of the Omer), Shavuot (Shtei Ha’Lechem or Grain Offering), Rosh HaShanah (Yom Teruah or Blowing of the Shofar), Yom Kippur (Fasting) and Sukkot (Sukkah Booth & Arba Minim or Four Species). In choosing images for this parashah, I’ve focused on the ‘Counting of the Omer’ that occurs during the 49 days between Passover (The Exodus from Egypt) and Shavuot (The Giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai). ‘Omer‘ is the Hebrew word for ‘sheaf’, an offering of grain brought to the Temple in hopes of a healthy barley harvest. For a seven-week period, one ‘omer‘ is set aside and counted on each of the 49 days. This practice commemorates the length of time taken by the Israelites to reach Mt. Sinai from Egypt after the Exodus. According the Zohar, a collection of classic Jewish mystical treatises, this is also a period recognizing their transition from spiritual impurity to becoming a people in a profound relationship with God inaugurated by their receipt of the Law on Shavuot.

For those of you who have not seen it, the illustrations for this parashah are adapted from my book Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009)* as is the interpretation above. Between the zodiac of the Hebrew year and a grid depicting the counting of the omer with a sprig of barley, the young boy holding a small etrog (citrus) tree reflects a custom among Orthodox Jews that is observed on Lag B’Omer. Until he reaches the age of three, a child is considered unable to interact fully with this world, as he is deeply absorbed in building his spiritual infrastructure. After this time, his family and friends stage an ‘Upshernish‘ or formal haircut celebration to initiate his ‘entry into the world’. If a child’s birthday falls between Passover and Lag B’Omer when hair is not permitted to be cut, the event is postponed until Lag B’Omer. Having attended several of these events, I am always touched by the tender poignance radiating from the child and parent who supports him. The tiny etrog tree and the letter aleph are included here as symbols of the Torah learning and mitzvot that the child will begin to experience. It is heartening to know that we too, can observe this time cognizant of our journey towards fuller spirituality. Hag Sameach!

*For previews and purchase information of Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) visit: http://bit.ly/g2D9Lm

Dreams and Nightmares: The Foundation of Faith

June 17, 2011

Parashah Shelakh-Lekha, one of the best-known episodes in the Book of Numbers, concerns the twelve scouts, or spies, sent ahead of the Israelite camp to appraise the nature of the Promised Land. It is often compared to the Golden Calf incident of Exodus, in that both events were tests of the Israelites’ faith and trust in G-d, their leaders and themselves. When the expedition returned, ten of the men dramatically exaggerated what they had seen, in an attempt to discourage the Israelites from accepting their territorial inheritance. “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them.” In the left-hand illustration, the small hybrid grasshopper-man addresses the terror and trepidation the scouts disseminated. Perhaps, they calculated, their negative report would ensure positions of power for themselves among the people instead of encouraging the people to act with faith in G-d and in their own abilities? I have given this creature a tattoo in the shape of the Hebrew letter ‘mem’ whose numerical equivalent is forty because this incident doomed the Israelites to wander in the desert for forty years until a new generation arose that would be spiritually prepared to realize its divine inheritance.

The symbols that comprise these illustrations each tell stories of their own that are too lengthy to include here. They can be found on page 169 in the AfterImages portion of my  book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) It can be purchased directly from the publisher, http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html or from Amazon,  amzn.to/gZSp5j where you will find several reviews.

I welcome your comments and questions here at Imaginarius and will do my best to respond. Wishing you a thoughtful Sabbath and weekend…