Flammarion’s Firmament

by Angeliska on May 18, 2011

So, I’ve been meaning to write about this for a little while, and as tonight is particularly celestially
auspicious, I might as well. When I was a child, from the age of perhaps 2 until I was 7, I had this image –
The Flammarion engraving, blown up as a poster, and tacked to the wall that my little bed was pushed up
against. I would gaze at it every night when I fell asleep, often with my nose pressed up to the little houses
in the village, imagining the lives of the tiny, engraved people within. I wondered at the flaming wheels, the
whirling stars, and about the man who was brave enough to stick his head through a hole in the sky.
This is definitely one of the things that made me weird, and I am grateful to my parents for that. My
mama decorated my childhood bedroom. She painted the walls a deep periwinkle, which – no surprise -
is still a most calming and favorite shade for me. The curtains were a sheer white with little swiss dots,
and she hung old chandelier crystals in the windows, so at that magic hour in late afternoon, bright sun
would pour in, and I could chase the rainbows as they flitted this way and that. My furniture was white,
vintage, princess style – I still have it, and use it to this day. Another poster, of a circus family from the 1900s,
hung over my head. When I couldn’t sleep, I would sit up and trace their death-defying tumbles through the air.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how what we see as children, what we’re exposed to creates who we become.
So many offhand moments that I doubt my parents would even remember loom large in my memory. Images,
music, movies – (I’ll write more about those soon) so many of the things I saw at that age became intrinsic to me,
to my personal cosmology. This first image, though – it still holds such wonder and pleasure for me. I’d love to have
a giant print of it again. My poster was probably purchased at some headshop, and thrown out after my mother died.

Flammarion

“The Flammarion engraving is a wood engraving by an unknown artist, so named because its first documented appearance
is in Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”).
The engraving has often, but erroneously, been referred to as a woodcut. It has been used to represent a supposedly
medieval cosmology, including a flat earth bounded by a solid and opaque sky, or firmament.”

The caption that accompanies the engraving in Flammarion’s book reads

Un missionaire du moyen âge raconte qui’l avait trouvé le point où le ciel et la Terre se touchent…

(“A missionary of the Middle Ages tells that he had found the point where the sky and the Earth touch…”)

Goeree moon

Copper plate etching by Jan Goeree of the lunar disk looming over a large telescope surrounded by a large crowd of curious onlookers.

Cherubin d orleans moon 2

Cherubin d orleans moon 1
The lunar maps bound in La Dioptrique Oculaire of Chérubin d’Orléans.
Both copper plates were engraved by Louis Coquin.

Tonight is the full moon, and I forced myself earlier to step away from my work,
to take a bath in the old clawfoot as the world through the windows blurred
into blue, scrub the day off, and stop. Stop all the clocks ticking, the phone
ringing, buzzing, beckoning, chiming. Step away from this tantalizingly handy
machine upon which I tap out these words, step away from the emails that make me
cringe, reminding me of deadlines, more deadlines. But tonight is the full moon,
and all that can wait, at least until I’ve finished writing this. One of my dearest and
longest loved friends moved back to town a while back, and brought with her a certain
purposefulness regarding honoring the seasons, equinoxes and solstices, the moon’s turnings
that somehow I’d allowed, in my solitary state, to fall by the wayside. She recently proposed
a full moon supper club – a rotating, relaxed potluck that serves as a way to honor the
fullness of la luna in whatever ways feel most natural. Coinciding with dinner, because -
hey – we all have to stop and eat dinner, right? I mean, most nights. Telling stories of our
enfant terrible adventures, drinking wine, and marveling at the patchwork potluck bounty,
I remember how simple it can be. Eating, drinking and talking with dear friends – is there
any better way spend an evening? I am shamed when I think of how rare it has become,
how many meals I have eaten with only a book for company, and how I do love that, but
sometimes, almost too much. A bad side effect of being so busy, of being involved in so
many projects, is that it makes me jealous of my solitude, too immersed in it, in my own mind.

William Blake painter and poet page 28a
William Blake – For Children: The Gates of Paradise, 1793

Sometimes, I find myself baring my teeth like a wild beast when the phone has rung for the
twentieth time in a morning, or at the prospect of an unexpected guest. Terrible of me to have
this reaction, to develop such a beastly aversion, but I am working on it. Working on stopping,
breathing, stepping away from the massive heap of work still left to be done, and go out into
the night – but not for any other reason than to sit still and peaceful with a small group of
sweethearts. What a joy it is, just to look into their eyes as they tell me stories, eat cake with
blackberries, laugh at my fairy godson doing circles on his tricycle ’round and ’round the table.
This, just this. The urge to simplify my life of late is becoming imperative, overwhelming.
Somehow, I’m going to find a way to streamline this unwieldy, creaky ship into something
that makes me breathe easier, gives me time to stretch my bones, and create something I
really love. I’ve been painting again, which feels good (when it’s not for a show, on a deadline!)
I miss writing letters, miss riding my bike, traveling, strolling, swimming – and it’s not exactly
that I don’t have time for those things right now, but I’ve got to stop saying yes to new projects
and tackle what’s on my plate already. And then? Read a book. Write. With a pen, on paper.

Tumblr la6rv19yFH1qzrrvlo1 500
Full Moon (etching), Flora McLachlan

Go walking in the woods, with moonlight as my only illumination, my black dogs at my side.
These are my full moon wishes, the gifts imparted by that shy white circle, gravid with light,
hiding her face behind the branches. Light the candles, sweep the floor. Open the book.

0901K4 P207 jpg
Baron Münchausen: Voyage to the moon, by Doré

Cohen 2
Moon, (relief etching) Brian Cohen

8 comments

This is a profoundly beautiful piece. The perfect item to read while I’m sitting here dreading what unfolds at the day job this morning.

by Xander Harris on May 18, 2011 at 6:23 am. #

thank you.

by jennifer anne godsey on May 18, 2011 at 7:20 am. #

The full moon potluck is such a fabulous idea, I only wish I had enough like-minded local friends to have my own! Great post, concise yet beautifully written.

by Brittany on May 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm. #

Angeliska I love that first image so much! I’m kind of amazed those kinds of thoughts existed back then. I wish I could reach past the veil.

Thanks for sharing

by Gabriel on May 20, 2011 at 10:18 pm. #

Thanks for this sister. I want a tiny hut with every image in this framed all over the walls. And we will sit there together and share a small cake and laugh. Hasta la luna.

by Raven on May 21, 2011 at 10:20 am. #

(“A missionary of the Middle Ages tells that he had found the point where the sky and the Earth touch…”)

…and then, like most missionaries, felt the need to spoil it. Penetrate it, even.

Miss you. Truly, whoo-ly. Think of you often when I see things in a certain light.

M.

by Michael on May 22, 2011 at 11:50 pm. #

Michael, my dear! I miss you, too. Tell me stories, show me pictures of your garden! What are you making, what are you reading? Why can’t we have tea right now? One day? I do hope so, far-away friend. Love to you.
P.S. My akebia vine is still twining, though it’s never bloomed, probably because I killt it’s mate long ago. Blast! It’s creeping over my bedroom window, and I look at it, and think of you.

by Angeliska on May 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm. #

fine writing Angel! an interesting perspective on how our parents favorite images influence us. This world is truly a gift from them for us to experience .
I used to live with Amber Amnesia on the west coast and watched her daughter Leneya grow from an infant to 4 years old. She was constantly surrounded by artwork of ghouls and monsters and all sorts of dark and interesting creatures that made others children cry when they visited her! She never had alot of plastic toys but she had horns, skeletons, colored bottles and shiny strange things to play with.

by sylvio on September 3, 2012 at 7:30 am. #

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