Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Physical similarity is key to understanding the origins of magic symbols: human emotion is expressed by the eyes, by facial muscles and in body postures. Reading these correctly is vital for an individual's survival; the eyes especially possess great power to express and deliver harm. This principle (homeopathic magic) is extended to any object that resembles an eye. Animals that have large eyes are invested with the same "power of the stare" which in humans is associated with the Evil Eye of envy. Envy is indeed dangerous when acted upon: jealousy on the part of childless women is still considered in many societies to be the major source of child death or disappearance. The overt theft of children to be sold into slavery, and for use in human sacrifice, made parents justifiably fearful. The principle of "like cures like" is demonstrated by the cure; an eye protects the wearer from the evil eye. Blue eyes are the traditional antidote, likely because cool blue is believed to calm red hot envy.

Some artists transform the sun into a yellow spot; others transform a yellow spot into the sun.
_ Pablo Picasso

An ancient artist drew the body of a person, but replaced its head with that of a bull. A strange being was born, in which the attributes of man and beast are commingled. The new figure made the symbolic statement “Our leader is as strong and as potent as a bull.” The drawing itself is a real object, but the idea it represents is supernatural. A man-bull animal does not exist in nature.

One day a woman idly drew spirals, circles, and wavy lines in the sand. Did these shapes arise from the mechanics of her wrist and elbow, or from an innate geometry that resides in the brain? Manipulating materials with the hands created a new dimension in the brains of early humans. Drawing begins a conversation between the brain and the physical environment: we observe this in the doodles of children, which begin as energetic scribbles that develop into pictures of an ordered, or sometimes disordered, world. Art gives expression to what can't be spoken; images predate speech and persist in our brains as instinctual messages.

Human beings decorate their bodies without fail, as if we feel naked without fur or feathers, or armored skin. We transform ourselves into fantastical birds or composite creatures, into Barbie dolls and testosterone-inflated action heroes, believing that doing so lends us their qualities. A naked human can be difficult to classify, so we adopt visual cues that present a readable fa├žade; I am a married woman; I am a priest. The uninspired business suit, however inferior in design to a person's chosen dress, is worn because it answers questions of allegiance. Jewelry has been worn since the first human strung a shell or pebble on a length of fiber; jewelry, especially that which is given to us by a special person, or which is infused with power by a magic spell, is felt to impert protection; we are social animals that depend for survival on the good will of other humans. Objects can also be weapons of negative power; magical thinkers can literally be frightened to death by “magic.”

Physical transformation is vital to adaptation; camouflage is a frequent natural strategy and is highly developed in a great variety of life forms. Humans copy nature because we recognize the excellence of its forms and strategies. That is where great ideas originate.