Knowledge Pupates Part 2: how I left paganism for science

Part 2
(Read Part 1 here if you want to know about me as an arrogant youth).
I call this drawing Anthropomorphic Gestation. The caterpillars are gathered around the central one who seems to be coming out of human clothes. I feel it represents the mixed-up sense of the world of my early twenties: if I was an arrogant teenager, I was busy trying to be a very unusual university student, in a Fine Art faculty of many others all trying to be weird and unusual also.

I love books, and the ones I love I read over and over again. University was a heady time for me, and I was trying to soak the world in like a sponge, and figure myself out with each gem of fact that came my way. While taking a history of western art, a history of scientific discovery, and a humanities course of the renaissance, I was almost overwhelmed by the leaps and bounds of that age, in art, writing and science.

I was coming up against walls in magic I believed worked. Some of the coincidences still had me fooled, sure, (a popular book on astrology showed Gemini with a blue-fronted Amazon parrot, and I had one...) but I was finding holes. I had been impressing myself and other friends with The Celtic Book of the Dead cards for a number of years. I am no cold-reader, and sometimes it was almost eerie what the cards said. (Fantastic artwork on those things too.) Every once and a while though, I'd by stymied. Couldn't read the cards so they would make sense of the situation. And then I discovered one of my favourite artists, Brian Froud, had made a Tarot-style deck of his own. Anyone could make a deck. I simultaneously began to doubt diviniation by card-reading and wanted to make some of my own, with my own designs based on my renewed interest in science.

"(Percy) Shelley had been an inadmissable mix of species, like a baby bird who has been handled by humans and now carries their smell; ...His heart still embodied the appalling mix, and was therefore a tangible offense against the inherent separateness of the two forms of life."
Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard, 1989

Tim Powers is an author who writes about the historical, magical events that were never recorded. He does it incredibly convincingly. He uses pseudo-scientific concepts for magic to explain how Shelley, Keats & Byron could be plagued by lamia-vampires, and each of his books is a well-researched, historically accurate work of fantasy. Absolute dynamite. I thought this was great, reading about magic, and he explains things. The artistry of his writing left an indelible stamp on my thinking. I know it sounds very basic, but from these stories of Powers' vivid imagination, I realised that things could be figured out.

As I say, it was a heady time. I was studying Symbolist Art like Jan Toorop ("O Grave..." pictured below), Fernand Knopff, & Odilon Redon, the influences of which can be seen in my drawing above, (the Symbolist eye on the left chrysalis looking inward toward the soul, and the maiden soul erupting out of the weird rock-moon thing). I was reading David Brin's Earth and saying it changed my life, (even though I spent about 6 weeks pronouncing the word "paradigm" with a soft-g.) I was living with a blue-fronted Amazon. I was speaking fluent sign language. The martian meteorite ALH 8001 was being scrutinized. I began drawing trilobites.

Enter Richard Dawkins.

River out of Eden by Richard Dawkins slowly grew on me, "doing good by stealth". I began drawing images of Mitochondrial Eve, and re-read chapters again and again. The prose was so beautiful, and so clear at the same time. "...we shall follow it back through a time scale incommensurably older than the legendary Eve's thousands of years and African Eve's hundreds of thousands. The river of DNA has been has been flowing through our ancestors in an unbroken line that spans not less than three thousand million years."

Beautiful concepts, inspiring ones, and the best part is they are true. My mind was pupating.

In Part Three of Knowledge Pupates: A new painting! Fashion crimes!

Knowledge Pupates: how I left paganism for science

Part 1

With my birthday once again marching merrily toward me, I have been reflecting on how my mindset of memes has gotten me to where I am today as a skeptic in love with imaginative things. Knowledge pupates. It's a phrase I wrote on the bottom of the drawing to the left, when I gave this piece to a friend & co-worker. I've come a long way from my disorganised muddle of pagan ideas in my teen years. Over the next few weeks, I would like to indulge (it's my birfday!) in noting some of the mental roads I believe helped me travel to where I am now. I will continue to link from each part of the series on each post. Comments about other people's experiences are most welcome.

In my larval stage, (kids can be gross, it's an appropriate one eat a popsicle), I was raised mostly without organised religion. My father was raised under the United Church, and my mom's family was "high" Anglican. Our family heritage is mostly English-Canadian from my dad, and my mom's was a mixture of English, Irish, Jamaican & Panamanian, and both my parents were born & raised in Ontario, Canada. My mom became a single parent when I was 8 years old, and had always filled the house with books. My siblings & I had books on just about any topic in the house. Tons were about science, and many books, fiction or not, had excellent illustrations. I learned to read for pleasure at an early age. On one school project, I listed dinosaurs, Star Wars, the Muppets and dragons as my biggest influences.

We got a dog. I would take him for long walks, in any season, from hot summer to tall snow drifts and we usually went to a wooded park nearby. I'd sit under the creaking branches, and draw or read or think, while my dog enjoyed the air and the many things his olfactory system could sniff. Around the same time, when I was about 12, I began reading folklore & mythology, and began taking a "Saturday Morning Class" called When Knighthood was in Flower with an amazing teacher, who introduced himself as Salard of Eagle's Haven. Cool indeed.

Salard was a member of The Society for Creative Anachronism, and taught the class about the middle ages, and about sword-fighting. It was amazing, and coupled with my growing interest in celtic folklore, as well as teenage hormones beginning to run amok, I began to find belief in magic more & more appealing.

But for a society class, we had to do a project on "counter-culture" groups, and I focussed on modern witchcraft. I was disappointed with what I learned. Since most traditions had been oral, and since men did not write them down, much of modern witchcraft had been revived (or outright invented) by Gardener & Crowley. This was a bit of a blow. I wanted the real stuff. In my teenage arrogance, I assumed I could figure it out. (I was in a program for "gifted" students...we'd been taught to do research and critically think on just about everything, including pop music lyrics. Most teenagers would benefit from the teaching style in my opinion, but that would be a whole other post.) I kept looking for as many fairy tale books as old as I could find, and read everything voraciously. I looked for patterns, and saw significance in the number 3 as an element of change (ladders make a 3-way portal, I was convinced this would lead to change, not bad luck. I walked under a lot of ladders.) Most of the world's mythologies that I could find had the moon female and the sun male, except in ancient Japan, so I read what I could about the hero Raiko, and kept reading about Arthur & Cu Chulain and the Morrigan and her aspects.

I should have been paying more attention. The Society for Creative Anachronism was not about fantasy or the supernatural, it was about how people used to live. The classes Salard taught for the Board of Ed. were taught in a secular way, and the religious component was left out of it. (He's a fantastic blacksmith by the way...hit the link on his name).

Somewhere along the way, I decided I did not want to share a lot of these thoughts with others, even if they were people I could trust or assume to be like-minded. It was a private worship, taking place in the trees and the wind while spending time with my dog. I made up a few tiny rituals that never worked, and I did not repeat.

I had always been fidgety and liked to draw, and I found I liked to write. I worked on a book off & on for a few years of high school, and novel of vampires and magick that incorporated many of my ideas (it was called "Tears of Blood", and was full of high melodrama). A lot of the drawings & paintings were an impetus for the story. (At some point, I may be persuaded to post one.) The artwork of Alan Lee (below) was what first inspired me to develop my drawing and painting skills. Eventually I won an award in high school for the book, and I felt it had been a large part of my life.

And, one night in a flurry of creative outburst, I finished the thing. About another 60 pages, if I recall (it was about 300 hand-written scribble). It was cathartic. The book had seen me through major friendships, girlfriends, and my forming, pupating years as a teenager, and I had finished it. And although for a while I planned two more parts, they just weren't in me. It was an ending of one part of my life.

In Part Two of Knowledge Pupates: How a fantasy novel about vampires led me back to rationality! Parrots & Astrology! Eve & Richard Dawkins!