Lagos, Nigeria, circa 1979. I’m a child of diplomats. I’m in the upstairs hallway, kneeling next to some shelves. I’ve just stumbled onto a cache of photographs of my birth. I must have recognized my name written on a photo album. I’m about seven years old. Our grade school just had its picture taken with Muhammad Ali.
The 4×6 glossies are somewhat coy behind the light bouncing back off them, and indeed, I could write an entire manifesto on why the production of glossy photographs should be a capital felony; but there it is: my dad, my mom—and me, making an exit wound in my mom’s abdomen, all sliced into a jumbled visual time-lapse story.
My parents might well have told me we all come from heaven when we’re born. Or maybe I assumed as much from being told that’s where we go when we die; either way I’m convinced I am looking at pictures of heaven, and these strange-looking figures in green with masks covering their faces so you can only see their eyes, they must be angels. And their hands are drenched with blood, my mother’s blood, and they’re holding like a trophy a small fleshy something with arms and legs and a face contorted into a scream, and that something is me. This is heaven.
The felonious glossy photo and the light and the blood all combine into a symbol, and I’m still stuck here, right now, trying to find that symbol again, that thus far is just a sketch across a hundred thousand exposures and a million words, including this one. My seven-year-old self might explain to me how my photographic art is a function of my obsession with blood and light. The symbol might be heaven itself rendered in two or three or four dimensions, and I’ve been rushing toward it ever since in a mad groping, like an inexpert young lover under a blanket in a dark, moldy basement with someone who may or may not be beautiful.
So, here’s an outline of the sketch of the symbol, by way of justification for much of what I’ve written thus far for The Avant Guardian, and apology for much of what’s yet to come:
Blood is just as powerful for what it is and does, as for what it implies and accompanies. Blood is the prime liquid medium between the higher and the lower, the outer and the inner: it both transports essential elements from the exterior environment to interior tissues (such as oxygen and the nutrients from food and water), and delivers waste products from these same tissues to their respective organs of processing and excretion. (A tangent: atheism, to me, is the conviction that life is the by-product of this never-ending transmutation of light into shit.) Given the foregoing, blood can be seen as both literally and figuratively the means by which the Hermetic axiom “as above, so below” is actualized.
Light, as the source for the production for both oxygen and all plant and animal life on earth, is blood’s essential constitution, its hypostasis, its telos, its alpha and omega, the glowing suitcase to blood’s Marsellus Wallace. Light is the being of blood, and that compass which enables blood to recognize blood. Blood is the underground river which conveys the light-life/love-life of the organism, and like all rivers, this one too has its source.
If “the heart is a lonely hunter,” then the heart is also the horse that “rode hard and put up wet.” It never ceases its constant, rhythmic pulse; in terms of duration of force exerted, the heart is hands-down the most powerful muscle in the human body, because its effort is literally coterminous with the lifespan of the body. It is functionally and symbolically the body’s center, the Sun of the corporeal solar system. In the annals of forteana, the persistence of the myth of the Hollow Earth, complete with its interior sun, and despite all the evidence of science arrayed against it, can only be explained by its subconscious evocation and extrapolation of the human body with its own secret, outwardly invisible but inwardly radiant center.
That center, lying at the crux of microcosm and macrocosm and thus uniting them, is symbolically depicted in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life as the sphere or “sephira” of Tiphareth. In the Hermetic tradition of the West, based as it is to some degree on the Kabbalah, Tiphareth is also the meeting-place of the aspirant with his “Holy Guardian Angel.” Here is where the mysteries of blood and light are, I am convinced, resolved to a very large extent. I’ll explore these mysteries next week in the second installation of my series on The Sacred Geometry of the Tree of Life. (See Part One here.)