In this work the author talks about esoteric aspects more or less hidden in comic books. The survey is all-out, from Italian to American comics, franco-Belgian comics, South American, one Japanese. Copyright comics and popular, mainstream and underground. Doctor Strange, Corto Maltese, Sandman and others, works by Authors such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alan Moore, Jim Starlin: about 80 warheads are counted, put into a perspective that unites them and a framework that harmonizes. Those unfamiliar with the comics treated can find ideas, who already has read them new angles. Cover Art Ambra e Giada Panetta Translation of Douglas Swannie Paolo Panetta is an Ophthalmologist in Treviso, an Initiate, a comics collector. He attended one of the oldest italian masonic lodges, becoming for a period its Worshipful Master. Over the Grand Orient of Italy he joined the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, the Grand Lodge of Italy of the ALAM,the Antiquus Mysticusque Ordo Rosae Crucis, keeping always in touch with Templar Orders and other esoteric societies. Already published with Bastogi: Malkuth (2009), Yesod (2010), Hod (2010), Netzah (2011), Tipheret (2012), Geburah (2012), Chesed (2013), Binah (2014), Chokmah (2014), Kether (2015), Fumetti Esoterici (2017).
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THE MEANING OF MAGIC
I've always read comics. I learned to read with Mickey Mouse (Mondadori) to which after a few years I added the comics edited by Bianconi, anthological as Il Corriere and Il Messaggero dei Ragazzi, with unique characters such as Diabolik, Zagor, Alan Ford, Lucky Luke, Asterix.
The comics punctuated days and periods and each phase left behind almost complete collections, year’s series completed by buying. Later on, it would have been the era of flea markets and Market Exhibitions, more and more frequent and widespread. Up to the university, there were no "comics’ bookshops", when I arrived in Rome there were three. Internet had not been invented; to do everything from home with e-Bay or Amazon was science fiction; my life would have been different with home delivery from the start, but maybe it would have been less exciting than spending a few hours on the train and leafing the goal of the journey through my hands. Then there was the taste of the quest, of rummaging through magazines, of business.
The return of Marvel in the early years of University marks the beginning of a golden age of comics in Italy, fortunately coincided with an excellent period of mine, with a trained mind and available time. Headboards multiply exponentially in a short time in the newsstands, especially comic book magazines such as The Eternaut, Comic Art, Corto Maltese, Grifo and others.
In a crescendo of technique and content, monographic books or stories in multiple volumes are spread, Marvel ennobles itself with the Graphic Novels, and the invasion of the Manga arrives. The best of the previous years is republished, with a freedom that currently is only a memory (from Ranxerox to the comics by Crumb, on Male or Frigidaire, which few nowadays have the courage to propose).
Comics become adult preceded by the South American comic strip.
Probably I read then 80% of the comics I have ever read, over a period of about three years; which is then a good part of those I will talk about.
In the early 90s, I waited with trepidation for the stories of Miller, the silences and the tension full of pathos, the clear-cut black and white of Sin City; Watchmen by Moore was a collection of issues to be collected and bound, matched with Corto Maltese; the Incal appeared in episodes with impossible cadences. I encountered authors who have not left me since then, with publishing houses with explosive albums like the Image or deep like the Vertigo line under the direction of Karen Berger.
The master’s comic strips crossed over into the popular ones and vice versa, Bonelli was fast as a train and, after having procured all Mister No back issues, I pounced on the Nathan Never by the three Sardinian authors, Legs Weaver, Zone X, Dylan Dog when Sclavi was still crazy.
Then there was Ken Parker, whom I adored in spite of the fact that I don’t like much the western style due to the taste of "cultured literature" of Berardi and Milazzo, the same one I found in Cybersix.
My head was full of images and stories, continuous mental associations, colours (let's just say I was 25 years younger, I’ll start crying).
The comics world proliferated and expanded, comics schools showed up a bit everywhere directed by great authors who continued to publish, there were always new areas of the market: the Japanese erotic, the gory horror, the stapled texts of beginners.
A moment later, there was nothing left. The increase in the price of paper, the crisis, the end.
The closure, one after the other, of all headboards (except Disney-Marvel-Bonelli) starting from the master's ones because more expensive but also involving the smaller ones, the professional death of many emerging authors who didn’t manage to emigrate to France or USA.
However, apart from the economic side there was the feeling that an era was over. That everything has already been written; has been done in five years and that since then nothing has happened for another twenty years. Apart from a few sporadic cases, the same authors continue to reprint, and if they do not continue to turn out something new, there are very few.
When I was a child, it was the practice to reread the stories several times. I knew by heart the details of the images by Romano Scarpa or Giovan Battista Carpi (even though I did not know who they were at the time), the expressions of the characters and the phrases in the balloons of hundreds of stories. Then I started buying everything and I did not have time to do it.
Writing forced me for a few months to pick up stories that remained in my heart.
I forced myself not to use Wikipedia or Internet in any way so that it was all “first-hand.” Thus, it was an opportunity to reread things that I had enjoyed so much and I was thrilled with. As often happens in some cases of some works, I found new nuances, for others I did not remember how I liked them, I realized how many stupid things I read to find authentic jewels that rewarded the lost time.
Esotericism is another of my old passions, almost as much as that of comics and novels. I entered the Grand Orient of Italy, in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, in the Grand Lodge of Italy of the Ancient Free Accepted Masons, in the Ancient and Mystical Order of the Rosicrucians, having always had close contacts with Templar Orders and various esoteric societies. However, already many years before, I was chewing Qabalah, Alchemy. Hermeticism and oriental philosophies.
Let's get to the book.
I apologize to Authors and readers if any anticipation of the stories has slipped out, I have tried where possible to eliminate them by removing too explicit pieces. Maybe the comics can be read before their comment.
Thus because what really matters about this book is the Index.
The name of the mentioned authors, the characters and the series taken into consideration. The rest is just my interpretation or the collection of those that for me were the tastiest fruits.
I would like the desire to read them alone stays, in order to find what everyone can serve, which can only be different from what others see.
My thanks go to my family from whose life I have sometimes excluded myself, who saw me lying on the bed reading comics the weekend and has put up with my lack of availability, even where hearing the answer “I cannot now, I'm working.”
I hope you enjoy reading it as I enjoyed writing it.
I must start somewhere so I decided to proceed according to the Tarots.
For historical reasons I will start from Mandrake, one of the first comic strips wizards.
At first, his powers seem unlimited: in a 1937 comic strip he suspends in mid-air a falling tray; pulls out a knife from his ear, a pigeon from his mouth, a chicken soup from under Lothar’s fez; some crumpled clothes fly well folded inside a trunk. Then he becomes invisible and enters a room; he flies a performing ballet dancer in mid-air.
He performs part of the prodigies during magician shows: “A rabbit from a hat, a hat from a rabbit,” makes transparent a leopard, and transforms an animal into another. Most of the wizardry emerges during his adventures. His gaze falls on an unaware family beyond a window and just for one night, they become rich. He directs his glance towards a tree and this starts to grow fast. He even hypnotizes a character then used as a projector to expose on a screen in front of him his own memories, which are seen by everyone as a sort of filmed confession. Today, even if one accepts such a scene, the vision of these events would be considered POV.
The limited space available and the kind of storytelling through strips with its periodicity, perhaps the simple-mindedness in those days and the lack of interest in criticisms, make it difficult to suspend judgment about these stories.
Over time, Lee Falk calms down and doesn’t exaggerate so much. His wizardry is explained as illusion and hypnosis. “A gesture, a flash of his hypnotic eyes, and the gun explodes.” It’s like imposing a will on weaker minds as to convince them to see something that does not exist. To force them to act in a certain way: "You are in my orders; you will do what I say." In this way, the prodigies are resized but they become paradoxically much stronger, more real.
Wizards appear a bit everywhere over the years, as supporting and antagonist characters. For example Mephisto in Tex, with his ability to project illusions and impose his will, to make his image visible to distant interlocutors, to look at remote environments through a mirror, but also to evoke demons and to act on atmospheric events.
One will have to wait a few years to have a series characterized by one of them.
When you think about it, all Marvel comics created by Stan Lee can be read with a reference to magic. The night combats of Spider Man, who by day has a normal life as a student and free-lancer photographer, are astral travels through New York City just as Silver Surfer’s ones are through the space; The Fantastic 4 are based on four Western Classic Elements; Hulk explores the dark side of personality; Captain America acts under a symbol. Some superpowers refer to Greek mythology, but there is also Thor with his stories about Asgard, Shang Chi with oriental martial arts, and countless other references by an author who – all alone – cranked out at the same time so many stories.
Of course, there must be a character to deal with magic on a more classic side, and this is Doctor Strange.
A fog that transfers a house to another dimension after wrapping its model; dark demons evoke with their supply of tentacles, teeth, giant insects, silhouettes with claws; oval shapes that shrink and immobilize. Then, telekinesis, levitation (even useless, twenty centimetres from the ground maybe in order to not dirty his shoes!), hypnosis to show non-existent things, teleportation, remote commands. All to concentrate the minds of a mass on one goal to better manage it, to enforce its will with formulas and names of power, to apply psychic seals, for example on disappearance spells.
The lion's share is done by the Eye of Agamotto, a medallion given to him by the Ancient One, his spiritual master. Among foresights and demonstrations of power it reveals that there are spells in action, what’s the right answer, what’s happening far away, but is also used to erase everyone else’s thoughts.
Apart from a natural willpower and a fair open-mindedness that marks the end of his former life as a surgeon, magic is a matter of knowledge for this series. However, it doesn’t have the characteristics of a truly esoteric knowledge: it doesn’t start from the knowledge of oneself and of his own parts, from improving perceptions, from beginning to break barriers of preconceptions. Leaving out isolated episodes such as concentrating on a gem to understand its nature, for Stan Lee, what makes a difference is that it is placed in Tibet, there is a master with the right information, and a secret book: this magic has to be studied.
There is a mention to meditation on ritual spells, but then it turns out to be the taking on of rules, the preparation for an examination. The duration is a candle flame, the portal to be crossed has laws that govern it, the path to follow is the indicated one; the attack against an enemy begins fixing him in the eyes; concentration must be maintained until the end, "a neglected spell is a broken spell"; phrases and names have to be learned. Everything is all said and done on the Book of Vishanti to be studied every night between an adventure and another.
The best part are the drawings. This seems obvious, considering that we are referring to a comic strip, but it isn’t; those from Steve Ditko's first story series have an evocative power that will remain unattainable for decades in the hands of other authors. Roy Thomas’ stories (I prefer the ones about Conan), illustrated by Dennis O’Neal and others, who certainly have a better technique and a more typical and less volatile trait (I personally go crazy about the elegance of Gene Colan’s trait), with the identical environments and powers – exploited in different ways – in the same story, don’t have the impact of the first series. The latter appeared as simple fillers in different headings and have so much inspired different artists, for example in psychedelic music.
We can see barriers pushing to a side people in a crowd to get in the middle; lights glowing from the chest; flames enveloping the whole body. Moreover, forms that come to life in order to block, during duels in the magic or in the real life: rib cages that wrap up to dissolve, ponds with concentric lights appearing in the air and making what they find topple into them, from the bottom upwards; stripes surrounding houses and imprisoning occupants; cages made of fog immobilizing them; iron muzzles appearing out of nowhere; metal balls handcuffing by embedding the hands; columns of untidily piled up circles in order to lock, a cylinder inside them to defend oneself.
These images over time become more and more complex and combined. A sphere that compresses, rolls and disorientates, and is thrown through parallel walls of different colours and fantasies. An antagonist is overturned, petrified, thrown into a bottomless pit, and chained. Holes in which one falls to reappear somewhere else, wizardry that immobilizes, dazzles, and multiplies.
The rays these characters emit are not the linear ones of all the other superheroes, defined as "made of plasma" even decades after their appearance: the latter at most have different colours. There are curved rays, filled with multiple bubbles, accompanied by mists or radiating light, others that wrap up and compress. They can be accompanied by emission of shapes, of balls with for example a curved tip, crystals, shiny puddles, red spires, round shields, vaporizing lights. There are simple half-lines or fluid lines that interweave out of nowhere or circles around the hands, with different colours each time.
The rays are used to strike or even to create barriers and defend himself, block an attack, penetrate to take control, precise as spires, evanescent as smoke, hard as rocky armours that occasionally appear.
The emissions can be single or double, coming simultaneous from both hands or from one only, and they are directed, blocked, diverted. Spiky bands propagate from a circle around the hand and form a pattern that widens to form a wrapping up sphere, with tips and lines on the surface. “Talons of cosmic fire”, white spots with yellow filaments adhering to the body and generating spasms, radiations irradiating from the whole body, absorbed by visualization of concentric squared walls, suitable to inactivate those of others. Strange emanates them aplenty, knots them together as an oriental marquetry, expands them, colours them, and it’s all a peculiar move, which blocks bodies and hands in precise positions that remind very much Indian mudra. The forearms in form of a cross (Sign of the Seraphim) protect him, shields are created by casted curved lines with wide movements, steady hands in certain positions irradiate: now hands are clasped, then palms are pointing towards the object, then it’s the tip of the fingers.
A round green halo or a cloud with lightning appears around his hand when he’s about to strike a blow, prepared by a clenched fist and an arm bent, or straight hands, with some fingers folded like horns or otherwise. All with consequent emissions of heat and light, exorcisms, and beneficial waves.
The techniques are accompanied by their own definitions, which very quickly become themselves a spell, a kind of 'power names' that make them even more evocative. Among the curses and formulas, the Eternal Vishanti, the Eye of Agamotto the All Seeing, the twelve moons of Munnopor, the Fearsome Dormammu, the Hoary Hosts of the venerable Hoggoth, the Omnipotent Oshtur are quoted. One swears on the Seraphim’s shadows, evokes the flames of the Impeccable Faltine, and visualizes surrounding Cyttorak’ Crimson Bands, the hiding vapours of Valtorr, the seven blocking wandering Rings of Raggadorr.
After Stan Lee, curses will be pronounced in Satannish's name, demons will be evoked from the Darkness of Denak, there will be more detailed definitions, such as the Wand of Watoomb, but the names will not be as evocative as the beginning ones, with references to India and Lovecraft.
Perhaps Dr. Strange gives the very best of himself with the astral trips. The first time he appears is exactly in this way: he visits another person's dream to find a murderer. But with time, new opportunities and uses of this power will emerge, allowing to move to distant places and then to explore other worlds, first oneiric like the one of Nightmare, then more and more defined, with rules of composition and passing through ways and timing (the flame of a candle ...).
His astral form is a duplicate of his physical body, set free from it with more and more ease: with it, he can go and find his master across the world, fight with his enemy Mordo, engage the attention and free those who are controlled by others. Over time, this becomes more and more physical, because, apart from being able to enter another's body to control it, it is also perceived on a real level, it can be moved at the same time with the body, and it can control the Cloak and the Amulet. Even if it continues to obey to certain rules, such as the fact that the physical body remains in the meanwhile defenceless, and can be “filled up” by someone else, we can see an evolution of its applications, in correspondence to the screenwriters’ imagination.
For sure, the most striking part is when he leaves the real world to move into alternative universes, worlds where realities obey to different physical standards. Proper trips, if they are dreams, these are comparable to those conscious ones.
Sometimes the Journey starts by staring at a jewel, in some verbal descriptions and suggestions are specified about how to feel a weightless body, then pure haze and more and more evanescent until he becomes pure thought but retaining his consciousness in this gradual modification. Nevertheless most of the time this passage is immediate, the jump takes place when he decides to do it.
Not that it's always so easy, though. Many times, he finds barriers to overcome, as when he must enter into the mind of the Ancient in catalase and break through his defences. A shield often in front of the head, power resetting sudden flashes, telepathy blocking net, and a green grid with curved irregular lines with a yellow space in the weave that gives hallucinations and does not allow distinguishing reality from imagination. The technique is always different and adapts to the circumstances: for example, in a specific episode, he sends out his own image and, in order to be recognized, he takes some risks lowering his own defences.
Most often the direction is not even linear, instead of trying to break through, the defences are bypassed. Or the passage is swirling, disorienting, traumatic: Strange finds himself in a rolling and constricting sphere which is hurled in contiguous worlds; he is turned upside down, petrified, thrown into bottomless wells, chained; ends up in certain "holes" against his will.
Moreover, since these are alternative worlds, the physical laws governing them are quite different; for example, there is no up and down. The authors (Ditko in primis) exceed the limits of drawing and division of the tables and, trusting only on imagination, they represent this state: the graphic techniques will be not the same as decades later but the "lysergic" spirit at the time (the building where Strange lives is in Greenwich Village) can compensate just fine.
Therefore, the passages can be anywhere: sinking rugs, doors in the air, or streets like winding up ribbons. There are passages in the void among shapeless beings, cobwebs and abstract images, or a blast-off towards multiple dimensions with different colours and appearance, passed through like if they were superimposed but also conflated spaces, as parts of the same reticulate or which turn up out of the drawing folds and curved lines. Then different suspended planes or altered perspectives, shapes that are outstretched by widening from a base, like a flame. Passages through red converging spirals, black reticulates on a green background, a space with so many planets that becomes two-dimensional like a wallpaper in which he dives, complete with squirts.
One of the last stories of Stan Lee's series is centred on the above mentioned, a "long turn" that the Doctor does to release Clelia from her imprisonment in a world and bring her back to the earth going through several worlds. There are grey worlds full of stars with streets that look like suspended rivers, deserts to fly over, flying roots. Yellow halos jump out while he proceeds at full speed, there is an evidence of his own “double” in different temporal continuum, all becoming black and white and then merging together. At last, other adventures (overflying a coastline, breaking loose from trapping soil, increasing his defence by means of fire circles, following a glowing intertwined ring chain driven from outside) follow with the approach to destination, in fact with the edge off.
Sometimes the paths are marked, as the road suspended in the void in the realm of Nightmare. In others, the way is driven by a star passing through the gates, by a light beam coming from the Eye of Agamotto he wears around his neck, by various highlighted signs such as “the mystic glow of revelation” (green intertwined circles to form a larger one) to examine objects.
Several characters come in succession, usually hostile, always distinctive. For example, background players in the strips, like the one with a Euro symbol on his head in a 1965 story or the fire-face villains like Dormammu, an idea picked up decades later by the Ghost Rider strips. Cosmic events and basic forces are touched on with the triple-being Living Tribunal, "Equity, Vengeance, Necessity" without developing them thoroughly.
However, what is really dominant are the worlds themselves.
Orbiting metal balls in opposite directions, running rays through doors raised into the void, ring chains, suspended roots, dripping red algae, roads originating from eyes.
Spheres connected by channels or sketched as part of molecules like in the world of Eternity, ice crystal necklaces, unnaturally thin and sometimes bent bridges as reflecting puddles.
A half-folded round draped fabric that protects in the passages showing itself as a sort of channel, and other times he flies across suspended on a disk with spires and flames or on a kind of rug big as a handkerchief.
Stone bridges suspended in the air, thrones with the top part open on the outer space full of stars and planets, ribbons that widen to become roads. A tape coming out of a sphere makes a curve and an angle, then it breaks up and squeezes into a circle; another one originates from a window and ends up in a space portal; yet another goes from a square opening to a trickle that stretches out a distant city image.
In the underworld dimension, the background is predominantly red with black intersected circles; another world from afar shows itself as a yellow and brown planet and when descending on it there are blue and green striped skies where planets fluctuate and a grey vegetation with hanging branches a bit anywhere. But usually the passage is directed, with universes intersecting on different planes, shimmering background from one strip to another, filled with unvarying stars like a quilt, unbelievable objects or in wrong places, tube bound spheres or suspended in a coloured mist, geometric overlapping shapes with different colours and varieties. Yellow nets, green tubes twine with black arabesque minute decorations, a luminous universe encompassed in a black form, worlds contained in other worlds.
Dr. Strange's stories, among interruptions, appearances in other series and participations in various groups, are still ongoing nowadays, but perhaps the visited worlds aren’t as evocative as the first ones. The quality is variable as it often happens for all those comic strips characters that are secondary for the authors who get their hands on them (just think of Tito Faraci's Mickey Mouse “noir” stories or Frank Miller's Batman).
From an esoteric point of view, there will be less to say except for some situations such as Shamballa's miniseries. With JM de Matteis’ text and Dan Green’s fabulous paintings, this appeared in the Golden Age of Marvel's Graphic Novels.
The Doctor is confronted with enemies using his wizardry as usual, but these are occasional rare battles and included only because part of the character. The main battles throughout the story are with himself.
The introspective path begins with a psychological definition: long time ago he has removed anger, deceit, lack of feeling, but he has not yet learned to smile.
In trying to come to terms with the enigma of the nature of a box received as a gift, he is exposed to his own weakness, inability, lack of feeling of the situation, sense of helplessness that had marked the beginning of his evolution.
Now time has passed and his vision is more mature. “Only in silence you can hear the roar of infinity”, "Nothing is more dangerous than unconscious fourth level, the place from which magic that can corrupt is emitted.” Forty days to study the box without rest and food. Without results.
There is not only a difference in the language (sophisticated evocations are replaced by a more prosaic “oh shit!”), but the approach is also different. Everything defines a different magic from the old stories, “a magic which fills with a joy close to pain, so sweet that it can be compared to ecstasy.”
Strange overtakes the test by breaking the mirror box and thus passes to another state of being. “There is everything, then there’s emptiness, and from emptiness a single word: Shamballa. There where the story has been written, where the Masters reside,” a state where there is more awareness than matter, where gentlemen don’t speak with words but with symbols and sounds, perfumes and structures that short circuit the mind to directly contact the heart.
The Lords of Shamballa show him how Truth has more faces, “more skins than a snake. Every skin is a new truth, every truth is a deception,” and that “God is a magician and reality a combination of mirrors.”
Birth and death, joy and suffering are just a dream, a trick of Maya, Queen of Illusion. Only the immortal reality behind the illusion that sustains us, the one that can be achieved by means of meditation, focusing on ether, air, shape, and energy transformation. The Masters show him the way to improve mankind: the age of gold must be preceded by destruction.
Strange evokes two mystical globes that will join with an energy fragment, thus awakening him, and then proceeds to Yucatan, to India, and to Dorrington Abbey in Great Britain to pull the trigger in three steps. He has to deal with his own Pride and overcome Lust, but he surrenders in the last test. The last element is not a vice, but what is normally considered a quality: compassion, pity; exactly this makes him give up. Usually spiritual evolution enemies are defects, he fails for an act of kindness.
This reminds a little the continuation with Samadhi instead of stopping at Nirvana, or to step back to help others: one step beyond evolution, one less concerning knowledge. A voluntary fall from Heaven, a downgrading as a sort of development. However, in doing so, he realizes that the purification will be in the heart and the fires will be activated in the soul of everybody, therefore the last cataclysm will not occur outside of us but within us.
“ Vacuum. Matter. Time. Ego. Illusion. First and in everything: Energy. Light. Presence.”
Distinctions no longer make sense: "You, me: all fades away. Everything I see (I perceive), every soul: it’s me.” “Parent, child, master, disciple. Maya and reality, planner and plan. Creator and world: we are all Lords of Shamballa.”
Therefore, Shamballa explodes and Strange understands that the master had never been there but the presence he felt was in himself.
Testimony of all and perhaps the true deus ex-machina of the whole story is the Master’s old servant, who stayed in the shadows because he had chosen the inner way of ascension and self-annulment, preferring it to the external path of power and magic.
At this point, it’s obvious that nothing is clear. Things are not as simple as described by traditions and religions; ways are different and sometimes contradict each other, or even they are exactly opposite.
The most humble servant succeeds the Master at Strange’s same level with twenty years experience as Supreme Magician. The initial test is overcome by destroying the mirror, but this seems more like an angry act of blind rage than the rational solution of an enigma. Strange is not succumbing to a vice but to a virtue. He betrays his master, but doing so, he fulfils what he has learned. He wins the final test just because he surrenders and fails. In a game full of mirrors like the box received in gift, it can be concluded that millennia of Traditions to elevate man and to oppose Maya’s supremacy, were a useless work because the latter is an essential component of mankind.
I personally prefer the class and tranquillity (maybe it's just a matter of age) of Il Maestro (The Master), a 1974 comic strip by Milo Milani, I used to read in the Corriere dei Ragazzi a few years after it was published.
The character moves between two women: the owner of the Ara-Tutna Scarab, Dr. Jaga, who wants to dominate the world, and the Police Commissioner Veld Morris who instead helps him.
With a gesture, but above all with his eyes, he immobilizes people, as with the finger that was going to shoot him in an episode; or even the animals, a multitude of mice, which engages all his “mental energy” and attention, so that he can not send requests for help. By focusing on photos and listening to a recorded tape, he can associate the voice with the right image. He sends his cat, Nardy, in catalepsy.
The powers, in some ways, increase with the stories (he even succeeds in silencing an entire city for three seconds). From psychometry and thought projection, he comes to levitation and bilocation. However, in general these great powers are only suggested, hypothesized.
The Scarab Beetle changes the appearance but, decrypting the hieroglyphs, it can give the ability to dominate the world, by reciting the right formula to “give substance to our thoughts.” Nevertheless, the Master maintains a low profile, most of the time he remains closed at home, like a kind of Gustavo Roll making experiments on himself.
He captures “thought waves”, passes many days concentrating on an object, and, when he projects far away his astral body, the physical one sleeps on an armchair with a footrest.
In this specific case, he calls this Ecknakar projection. There is a kind of scientific nature in these stories: explanations are sometimes detailed, “Besides the soul, man has a fluid body that, in the case of violent death, lurks on the material body and can cast recalls that reach the astral plane and can be intercepted...” Aldo di Gennaro’s drawings, evocative but concrete, maintain a bond with reality for a character who does not move between smoke and evocations but rather passes the night in concentration on a photograph.
It is difficult to define what Esoteric Sciences are. Maybe it’s easier to say what they aren’t. For example, Esoteric Sciences don’t have much to deal with Sorcery, understood as described by Didier Comès in Silence, i.e. black books and popular beliefs.
The peasant village wizard moves among sacrificed animals once connected to the victim, formulas against the evil eye, pendulums, repeating sentences while mixing in a pot, stolen holy water, salt, and pseudo-religious invocation formulas. The inspiration comes from “The Clavicle of Solomon, Albertus Magnus and Albertus Minor, the blue cover Red Dragon, and even Pope Honorius’ spells” to operate black magic spells. On the other hand, there is a witch, with a slightly finer spell, who sets up an apprenticeship to awaken unaware powers and amplify them, and who uses burnt mushrooms smoke to "shake the mists that obscure your spirit" , a potion to awaken consciousness.
Then she invokes God, pronounces the Clavicle's power names, asks “angels, saints and fairies” to kill the enemy, writes left-handed Hebrew letters on an egg to create a fetish. The invocations are only slightly more complex (“For Truth, Life, Eternity, and Creation generated out of nowhere”) but she is essentially on the same level as her enemy wizard: Esotericism is another thing.
Sometimes there are series that deal with precise esoteric themes.
Alan Moore in Promethea faces Kabbalah, the early 1900s operative one, not the theological speculative version. An exploration of the Spheres that recalls more Dion Fortune and Israel Regardie than Gershom Scholem: there are currents, characters, forces in them, and in order to understand, one must immerse himself in them.
In his work, he is supported by the beautiful drawings of J.H. Williams III, where all the details have a reason, even the background colour, a close conjunction between the creator and the graphic artist, like the one between Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris for the Book of Toth.
Other examples of "monothematic" comics are those relating to Alchemy.
Alchemy is the protagonist of two works by Vanna Vinci, La ragazza aurea (The golden girl) and Sophia nella Parigi Ermetica (Sophia in hermetic Paris).
Sophia in her quest is exposed to many psychologically contextualized characters, showing different points of view and different approaches to hermetic art: the count’s passé gallantry; the boredom of the singer who no longer experiences fear, remorse, joy, pleasure; the always-active entrepreneur.
There are “common people”, often classified by their profession (the university professor, the antiquarian, etc.), sometimes over-the-top like those who work with their nose, overtaking their sight and “fishing” in a much more evocative world of sensations and emotions.
Above all, there are the dreamed characters: the Hermetic Science great masters that appear in the midst of alchemical working re-elaboration, symbols and quotations, representations and personal interpretations.
In her dreams Sophia is an integral part of the alchemical process, she is a transformed matter like in the sauna “to boil to a complete cooking and not beyond, in order to get rid of the Nigredo saturnine impurities.” She sees mythological characters that recall the phases of the Opus, such as Jason tackling the dragon, after having swallowed Athena's potion, or “the Scarab, the great Egyptian pill purveyor” that gives a suggestion on regeneration. She clarifies her intuitions ("the sword is the symbol of my inner fire") or finally finds the characters of her readings, such as Flamel’s master, Abraham Eleazar.
One of the best elements of this comic may be the description of the right internal attitude for the Research. A mixture of strong curiosity, sacrifice, open mind, but also a reserved dreamy state, which deals with relationship between things that apparently don’t quite follow; and perhaps a cold will, which carries out on its own, without motivation, less impetuous but not distractible or irreproachable.
"It’s so sunny, I’m dizzy, silence, absolute sprawling out”, a complete laziness state (“I have no energy to throw away”) from which almost all the questions come out: “What the heck am I doing here?”
The decision never evolves in fanaticism; Sophia always maintains a certain balance: work has to be completed and undertaken things have to be done well, but there is always a kind of amused coolness. Therefore, in the middle of the story, among multiple evidences she burst out with a “But I do not even know if I believe in the Opus Magnus! After all, I'm a cartoonist; Alchemy is just a big obsession.”
There are many alchemical hints in the stories, especially with regard to the First Matter: “(You have read the texts), the rough ashlar, the Matrix is everywhere. It’s all around you, without apparent value, everywhere – you just have to know how to see and find it.” They can be found several times in alchemical texts but they retain their secret. “The philosopher's stone is soft to the touch, very heavy, sweet to the taste. This thing is in you, it is extracted from you and, after you have experienced it, the love for it will increase in you. Understand this and you will know it is the truth.” In the comic book, these are quoted by the masters of the past, including Morieno Romano, one of the least mentioned in this genre literature, but here named several times. “The Opus is in you, it's extracted from you.” “No one can obtain or bring it to perfection this thing you are looking for, nor can it be introduced by any wise man except in the affection, humility, or perfect and true love tenderness.”
However, sometimes they are not necessarily hermetists and one goes from Aristotle (“Look for the enliven stone, a living mineral you will find it in every place, every time and in every man”) to De André: “(Dirty your hands, enter into dark places) Nothing is born from diamonds ... “.
Alchemical terms are often deceptive, the same term indicates very different things, and in some texts, they swap places, as for the Soul and the Spirit in Christian commentaries. What is the Dry Path in comic strips and for some Authors, a Quick and Dangerous Way, represented by the Weasel, for others (Wirth, Evola, etc.) is the Wet Path. Sophia passes through it at the beginning of her research, but she soon abandons it.
There are suggestive figures, where the encounter with death in the Putrefatio is traumatic; the impure part completely exits being unable to withstand Fire and one is catapulted into the Water Principle.
However, the path chosen by Sophia is perhaps the most classic, an attentive and gradual process that involves a conscious transformation.
It is repeatedly stated that the alchemical way is a lonely path although it may be indispensable to have a master in some phases. Each one chooses his own path and creates his own instruments, like a painter who creates his own colours by himself.
Work emerges continuously out of the lab, “The quest for perfection must be applied to everything, to what you see and to what you do not see,” in a continuous attention level.
The study goes on among recommendations and quotes. For example, Albertus Magnus insists on patience: “Be cautious, silent and secluded. Be diligent and don’t let boredom catch you. Don’t start these operations unless you have funds for at least two years.”
Morieno Romano provides a great deal of technical tips that can be understood only by those who already know them, quite typical of these books. “This procedure must be done twice in two compositions. When one is complete, the other one starts, and when the latter is complete, everything ends.” Then he warns, “He who has seen the composition of this opus isn’t anymore like the one who is looking for it in the books, because it is the books that ward off the researchers of this science. Most are obscure and disjointed, and the only people who can understand them are those who wrote them.”
In this manner the Magnum Opus proceeds.
The meaning of the Mysteries – it’s reminded – is “the transmutation of man through death experience and initiation resurrection. Coagulatio follows the initial Putrefatio phase. Solve et coagula. The “deceased” are thrown into the boiler and cooked; they resurface transmutated.
The elevation is progressive, right down to the root of things. Henry Miller is quoted: “I am here, in the heart of a great change. I forgot my language and yet I do not speak a new one.”
What Vanna Vinci never loses sight of is the characters’ personality, the alchemical process influence on the creators, and the opposite path from nature to chemistry. For the ceramist, the philosopher's stone quest means finding oneself and remaining forever young.
Lucas changes instruments over time: “At times I have doubts, I've always been sceptical. However, once upon a time negative thoughts were my specialty; nowadays they burn through me and knock me down.”
There’s always someone who must “keep searching and stay busy”. He has never been completely convinced. For someone “the supreme art is how to survive”, for others it's simply a game.
In any case, there is a parallelism. For example, in an unhealthy relationship one experiments “the dark side of the force” but cannot stay there too long. This is clearly stated by Sophia: “I feel like this is the expression of a process, somewhat deep, that is happening within me.”
Progression is continuous, the path is virtually infinite, and it passes to previously unknown higher levels: “This is good for the seekers and for those who love this science, because through it, they will be introduced to another science which has so far been ignored.”
La Rose et la Croix
“ La Rose et la Croix” (The Rose and the Cross), text by Nicolas Jarry and France Richemond, and with drawings by Luigi Critone. This comic strip gives several insights into the alchemical pathway. The method is strongly felt: it examines dualism and seeks synthesis through an inner work to reveal the divinity in the whole.
“ Matter and Spirit, visible and invisible, good and evil”, a “Manicheism expressed also in the alchemical paths”, two distinct approaches, here considered “indissoluble: the Dry Path of intelligence, of rational and objective thought; the Wet Path of feelings, of speculative thought, of heart irrationality.” In this comic, there is no preferential system but the two paths “must agree and merge into the cosmic order to arrive at the Magnus Opus”, because knowing the Dry Path (here considered as the supremacy of spirit on matter) is completely useless if not you are able to explore properly the Wet Path.
It is repeatedly stated that work is within oneself: “Fire purifies but it is nothing without the mind”, "Do not let your thought loses its way”, “They are in my hand, but it's your mind that will lead you to a higher stage.”
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