Seraphim: Angels, Dragons, & My Live Painting From AURA 2013 – By Michael Garfield

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“It is high time to ask whether it is really any scandal, any deplorable inconsistency,
for a human being to be both angel and animal with equal devotion.”
– Alan Watts


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Painted with opaque markers on 24″x36″ stretched canvas at:
2013 02 15, 16, 17 AURA Festival at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
(Consider The Source, Break Science, Kung Fu, Perpetual Groove, 
Greenhouse Lounge, Papadosio x2, Infinite Geometry)
02 23 Cirque de L’Amour at Austin Music Hall (Vibesquad, Quixotic, Tipper)
02 28 The Parish (The Digital Connection, ONE4ALL, Chris B.)
03 01, 02 Head For The Hills at Quiet Valley Ranch (Eliot Lipp, A Live One)
The whole process of this piece:

process - seraphim

How many different animals can you see in this painting?  I obviously meant to put snakes in there, but was surprised to find forms that remind me of an owl, an octopus, and a tiger (or crocodile)… And someone surprised me with “elephant,” as well.

The chimeric nature of this piece makes sense, since it’s a remix of several of my earlier paintings.  There are many different visual references to my other work collected here and alloyed, sublimated.  Taken together you can see my work as a kind of evolutionary progression – not a linear march but a melody, returning time and again to weave through certain themes…

Painting is a process of discovery for me, a kind of intuitive listening, and this painting connected more dots for me than most – namely, the relationship between angels and dragons.  The Old Testament word for the highest angels, “seraphim,” literally means “the burning ones,” and is used throughout the Bible as a synonym for “snakes.”  Flaming snakes with wings?  Gosh, that sounds familiar…

Don’t know why – even after years of savoring the connection between “Archangel Michael & The Serpent” and “St. George & The Dragon” (and “Lord Garuda & The Naga,” further East… Birds versus snakes, world round).  The snake – which as many of you know shows up in the yogic traditions as a symbol for the wriggling, electric life force called “kundalini,” sprouts wings when our animal nature reaches its crescendo and sprouts from the crown of the head, fully integrated with subtler, perceptibly “feathery” celestial energies.

Following that rabbit down (or up?) its hole, I remembered that to the Chinese, the dragon is an occulted natural force, a terrible mystery that reveals itself through what insurance companies call “Acts of God” – lightning, wildfires, and floods.  In other words, it appears that the dragon appears worldwide as a kind of mythological shorthand for the terribly transcendent, especially in what author Erik Davis calls “the electromagnetic imaginary” – our collective mystical experience of electricity and magnetism, whose awesome power has captured social imagination for thousands of years.

In a blog post describing his vision of the coming alchemical, musical paradigm he believes will replace materialism, cultural historian and former MIT professor William Irwin Thompson draws a straight line through angels, aliens, and electromagnetism:

“Since [our experience of] space would no longer be empty and separating, space itself would be a plenum of vibrating streams of energy that in the medieval lore of the Jewish Zohar in Spain and of the Muslim Sufis in Andalusia were known as angels. At the end of industrial civilization, through the popularity of science fiction, these beings were often re-presented as high-tech extra-terrestrials.”

In other words, aliens = electricity = dragons = angels.  Chew on that for a minute.

(Then watch this documentary, Thunderbolts of the Gods, which argues that enormous electrical storms in space were responsible for much of our ancient mythos…)

It’s no wonder to me that all of these things captivate me, and so many other people.  Whatever else they are, angels and dragons and aliens (as well as flames and lightning, the concrete natural phenomena in which these symbols are experientially anchored) are all wrapped up in one big ball of myth together, implicated as the various faces of the transcendentally Big-Loud-And-Scary.  Their popularity persists because they help us discuss the Mysterium Tremendum – that truth greater than our own, before which we quake as children…


Paleontologist turned “performance philosopher,” Michael Garfield‘s ecodelic explorations of the evolutionary landscape and our place in it demonstrate that everything is equally art, music, and spiritual practice. Follow him on twitter: @michaelgarfield


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