Moshiach is a mosaic of the children.
Moshiach is a mosaic of the children.
I want to be torn
limb from limb
by her undeniable presence
and desperate absence.
I want to be impressed
by her divine grace.
I want to be in awe of
and her creations.
I need a pool
still and pure
for reflection and scrying.
I need a stone
a bright light white like bone.
A foundation for my home
the book for our poem
like the meaning
of a koan.
Standing outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
I saw my first completely automatic assault rifle
It was wrapped around a fully militarized
Undoubtedly keeping the Fine Art safe
I feel so safe
Especially since he and his comrades
had helmets fit for war
god bless america
I am buckled into a seat
my window is part of the emergency exit.
In case of disaster
it is my responsibility
to open the door.
This would require
but if I did
would the two seated to my left stand with me?
Would the other passengers
rise to their feet?
What about first class?
Of course they have their own
but that’s no good if no one
opens this door.
When should it be opened?
Thousands of feet in the air?
While sinking beneath the Atlantic ocean?
Or perhaps after we crash
into the Earth
a burning fireball of
I did not choose this seat
it was on the ticket given to me
but if I don’t open this
I can see the stars
above the storm clouds…
I can feel New York City
beneath my bare feet.
Sacred Geometry in Islam
Artistic depictions of the Islamic faith take three forms; figural, floral, and geometric. Reflecting upon the rich visual wealth of the Islamic tradition, it is undoubtedly the latter of these categories that most embodies the essence of Islam’s majesty and wisdom. The concept of sacred geometry is not unique only to artistic expressions of the Islamic faith, as it is also notably celebrated in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions in the form of geometric mandala sand paintings and Yantra paintings or radial fractal based floor plans and architecture, such as the Angkor Wat temple or Great Stupa’s formal reference to the classical elements. Spiritually representational geometry may be first traced to the early roots of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah, but is also expressed uniquely in Christian stained glass and symbology, Greek mystery schools studying metaphysics and carving platonic solids (polyhedra) one thousand years before Plato and Euclid.
Mayan ruins, shamans’ masks, vague explorations in Sumarian temple art, neolithic Scottish stone carvings, Egypt’s pyramids and Britain’s Stonehenge are all preserved three dimensional examples of physical polyhedric geometry made in reference to *significant numbers.
The extension of conceptual relevance falls into two categories of reference; scientific and cultural. The first being a visual representation of quantitative information or mapped data pertaining to overarching principles and constant ratios in nature, such as the processies of organization that matter follows to grow and establish form, ranging from atomic, molecular, and cellular structure, through visible plant and animal biology, and spanning to the scale of galactic formation and planetary orbit, as well as the solar/seasonal passage of time. Nonphysical information such as sound pattern or musical octave structure may also be visually addressed through a combination of mathematical knowledge and music theory, often producing geometrically regular representations. Polyhedra (regular three dimensional multi-faced geometric solids) are also commonly visible in non-biological natural structures such as hexagonal wax honeycombs or six-fold fractal ice crystals.
The cultural association of number symbology as ascribed and celebrated visually in a religious context varies greatly, but is often revolving around the numerical dates or periods of specific events and creation myths, quantities of phenomena such as prophets’ offspring or doctrinal tenets and believed otherworldly superstructure. While many of these folk instances are not literally rooted in scientifically or historically observable fact, they may serve as a traceable reference commonly accessible and relevant allegoric metaphor to the structured overarching phenomena of nature, and in spirituality, the signature or style of God the creator.
As Islam builds upon a culmination of the Jewish and Christian faiths, we see a borrowing or repurposing of significant events and ideas, as well as architectural and artistic forms. an under-documented overlap of scientific knowledge and pursuit of truth found in less dogmatic schools of thought, such as that of Plato or the Pythagoreans and other Greek mystery cults, as well as other esoterically inclined traditions that predate much scholarly research (due in part to the Church’s reluctance to adjust its worldview). Although it is difficult to say where some overarching concepts first originated, there is more than probable cause to believe some elements employed in practice by Islamic artists were in part a product of the Buddhist/Hindu-Islamic confluence of thought.
Regardless of the monotheistic tradition, Buddhism’s one-being included, it is in compliment to the radial and iteratively cyclical nature of life that artists working with sacred geometry pay homage. Although the artist’s acceptance of inevitable man made error or craft imperfection is seen in Islamic art as an act of humility in the face of divine creation, it is culturally accepted that the more intricate and grandiose a depiction, the more merit it deserves as an embodiment of piety, especially for its patron.
In the periodic table, the number one is used to represent hydrogen, the lightest element, which takes up approximately three quarters of the Universe’s chemical mass. It is also the first step in thermonuclear fusion, the birth of a star. The number one represents the beginning of physical existence, and in the instance of Islam, Allah, the creator that expands beyond creation. In sacred geometry, there is always a central point, be it represented as a separate empty space surrounded by lines or the hub to which all lines converge. The number of faces surrounding the center space determines the number of points from which the pattern can extend, also deciding the possibility of tessellation and pattern of transitioning into other bodies of differently faced star polygons. There can be no understanding or appreciation of the inseparable One without the experience and vantage point created by radial division. The concept of all things emanating from and residing within Allah’s infinity is the central key message of all Islamic (and monotheistic) geometry, and subsequently, all art and architecture made in this religious context.
Following the number one, two’s conceptual characteristics represent harmonious duality, separation of one, or partnership. This may be interpreted as a distinction between Allah and creation. Night and day, man and woman, life and death, body and soul, positive and negative; duality lies at the core of corporeal existence. The two pillars of king Solomon’s temple, Boaz and Jachin, which were decorated with two hundred pomegranates, seems to be the earliest example of duality representationally expressed with historical relevance to Islam. In the form of two circles half overlapping, a form called the vesica piscis is created, which distinctly resembles an eye. The number 153 is involved with the mathematical ratio of this shape, which is referenced in the Gospel of John in the “miracle of fish”; “coincidentally” the secret Christian Ichthys (fish) is derived from the vesica piscis. The annulus ring between the concentric circles is also representative of new life through sexual reproduction, as the two overlapping circles create a third defined form. This almond shaped form is partially referenced in many arched doorways such as the Bab er Robb (Lord’s Gate) in Morocco. The concept of two producing a third is also more frequently and directly addressed in the pishtaq with two minarets, or a gate of life between two standing figures. The paired minaret pishtaq is a key feature of most four-Iwan plans, although not all pishtaqs have minarets. This duality can be conceptually extrapolated when combined with other symbolic qualities of the number four.
The triangle is the first faced shape in geometry. It represents a trinity of form and structural balance, an indication of direction, representational of the child (and parents), the states in which we keep time (past, present, and future), the number of primary colors, and the order of our planet’s orbit from the Sun. When depicted with three centrally overlapping circular units, a structure called the Borromean rings is formed; which often represents power and stability in groups, as one ring supports the other two. The triangle is also the basis for creating the six pointed Star of David, where two overlap on a central axis, pointing below and above, indicating a communion between God and man, and the dualistic flow expressed through the concept “as of above, so below”. This six-pointed star is both a consistent element as well as the center piece for much of Islam’s geometric design. It is directly referenced in visual decorum as well as the base for architectural and artistic compositions for much of Islam. This six-pointed star may be found on nearly every page of the Topkapi scroll, a pattern book of possible geometric arrangements. It is also visibly echoed within the seven circle based seed of life, which is commonly related to the 6 day creation story (with the 7th at rest or harmony), and observably in the formation of sunflowers, cellular reproduction, the color spectrum of light, molecular structure, snowflakes which are formed in hexagonal crystals, galactic formation and orbit, and even the visual communication of musical or auditory distances between tones and half tones. It is notably present in the tile-work of the Imami madrasa mihrab in Isfahan Iran as well as more subtly implied versions often involving six free floating circles revolving around a seventh, as opposed to the more literal overlapping form.
The pattern of growth (creation of new circles) followed by this process of division can also be expressed through the golden ratio spiral (phi), and if that process is followed through thirteen more times, the nineteen circled flower of life is created. This geometric form is from what a vast majority of larger and more intricate sacred patterns arise, always implying extension in a seemingly infinite fashion through a half annulus border, although it may be placed within a larger circle to express completion of the first full cycle. The full flower of life is celebrated by multiple spiritual tradition and mystery schools, incorporated in artwork of all sorts, including the scientific diagrams of Da Vinci and it’s most ancient known depiction at the temple of Osiris. It represents the completion of that geometric cycle by forming what Kabbalah calls Metatron’s cube, a perfect solid geometry representing physical matter and containing all of the classical platonic solids, although it may be continued to extend infinitely further through repetition.
The art of Islam largely uses sections of this pattern as a grid from which to work off of, in mediums ranging from mosaics, to mashrabia screens and stone latticework, architectural floor plans and central features such as in the fractal / radial geometry of muqarnas, decorative craft patterning, the whirling of Sufi dervishes and belly-dancers, and prominent stand alone visual elements such as the seed of life at the mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo or the outer courtyard and all throughout Khirbat al-Mafjar in Israel.
The number seven is highlighted by many instances of Muslim custom, ranging from the seven circumambulations around the (square) Q’aba, the number of verses in the first sura of the Qur’an, the seven pebbles thrown in the “stoning of the devil”, seven heavens and seven gates of hell, or even in the custom (Aqiqa) of naming a child seven days after it is born. It is the number of circles in the seed of life.
The number 10 is the first mathematical completion of a number cycle and is revered as representing the wholeness of Allah. The 10-point star is as frequently employed in Islamic art and architecture, and often accompanies other “incomplete” facets of geometric expression. To add greater complexity, numbers are often multiplied by the power of ten, as visible in the expansive radial stars created by light and shadow in the muqarnas domes such as that at the Alhambra, or the two dimensional decorative patterns of Persian rugs.
Mohammed was 40 years old when he first had visions of Allah, a number which is celebrated both for its implied balance (4) and completion of a cycle(10), and is visually referenced in the Chihil Sutun palace’s 40 columns, twenty of which exist only in reflection. The square (cube) Q’aba, while originating from the Jewish tradition, is arguably the most important piece of Islamic architecture, and is actually required to be visited at least once through the Hajj. The structural balance of four is so deeply embraced that it is expressed through four part gardens, as in Mughal India, and is created with the intent of evoking an experience of Islamic Paradise.
Eight symbolizes balance, as well as the combined existence of the 4 corners of space and 4 cycles of time (two solstices and two equinoxes). The eight-pointed star is the most frequently used in Islam, and is held in similar regards as the six pointed star is to Judaica. The spacial and balancing power of four is also frequently referenced through architecture, visual patterning, and more uniquely Islamic; square Kufic script. This form of writing is often tessellated and repeated in the four directions, often intermeshed with square based patterning that usually incorporates the world renowned swastika, as an intersecting grid type as well s a stand alone element. The Islamic use of the swastika most likely developed from a sharing of thought between Hindu and Buddhist cultures, which seems especially likely given the Japanese visual patterning tradition of intersecting swastikas called Sayagata.
Aside from the fact that much of sacred geometry’s interpretive derivation results from overarching natural processies as experienced by the sciences, it is imperative to emphasize the fact that these mystery schools often went to great lengths to converse and share this universal knowledge between spiritual disciplines. Even within institutions as rigid as Islam, the Ash’Ari School and Bayt al-Hikmah were centers for free and open dialogue without persecution.
As quoted from the Friday mosque in Iran “Form is symbolized by the square. Expansion is symbolized by the square with triangles pointing outwards (an 8-pointed star). Contraction is symbolized by the square with triangles pointing inwards (a 4-pointed star). The two star-shapes together symbolize the cycle of creation, “the breath of the compassionate.”“
The continual conceptual emphasis of Allah radiating beyond all boundaries and the bounty of complex but visually identifiable organizational forms employed by his divine will through nature is the key qualifying factor in identifying the true purpose of Islamic art and purposefully representational architecture. While many of the non-figural physical creations identified as Islamic serve a utilitarian function such as a meeting place for prayer, burial, royal courts, usable vessels, and bodily decoration, these many faced interwoven geometries always point back to the one, Allah.
My amber eyed loves, you lift my heart above the broken glass and cigarette ash, ruins of plastic trash in pavement cracks that long outlast the four walled red brick stacks upon which you are forever cursed to return to. Hungry bellies, you haunt this city like the shadow of my great grandfathers, wandering the wilderness, longing for food where there was already fullness.
. Autumn or Winter, little brown birds blow away, chased by a strong wind.
The following is a discussion of a relatively simple stucco relief plaque, currently on view in the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) Islamic Gallery. This particular piece (35.914) was recovered during the museum’s 1935 “Persian Expedition” in Rayy, Iran. This city was originally considered a sacred space by the Zoroastrian faith as well as being rivaled in majesty and importance only by Baghdad or Damascus during its heyday. Rayy was described as a city of extraordinary beauty, made largely from brick and blue glazed faience. Fragmented in the twelfth century by feuding religious sects and then abandoned after being nearly wiped out completely by the Mongol massacre in 1220, little remains of the once majestic city.
Among the disrepair, discovered in the niche of an entrance hall, was a small stucco plaque. This circular relief is fairly humble in design, especially in comparison to the wealth of other intricate and colorful crafts being produced during the 11-12th centuries in that region. It depicts only the holy name of Allah, incorporating two partial vine motifs and a slightly elongated stylized script.
The context of this piece’s placement leads anthropologists to the speculation that it served a protective purpose, “warding off evil and bringing blessings to the building”, according to the museum placard. While I find this idea to be quite probable, as many traditions throughout history share similar superstitions, I also believe it to be somewhat counterintuitive to the general dogma of Islam.
The supposition that Allah’s divine will and purpose could be swayed by displaying tokens of faith strikes me as falling short of true understanding. If Islam means to “surrender”, it would seem that this idea should carry over in both times of great joy as well as suffering. Much like the Abrahamic prophet Job (Ayub in the Qur’an), practitioners of Islam must sometimes endure great hardship in order to strengthen their relationship with The Most High. In times of unforeseen challenges it is easy to lose sight of the boundless love and largely incomprehensible path laid before us. Realizing that tribulation transforms into strength, Islam is no stranger to struggle and global diaspora. Consequently, the destruction and fleeing of Rayy lead to the further spreading of Islam onto new soil, and more than likely, a deeper connection of the people through discovery of previously unrealized compassion and kinship.
Taking the creation and display of this artwork in the context of a proclamation of faith also rouses an interesting argument of impermanence. In the Jewish faith, which both Islam and Christianity stem from, the writing of the name of God is discouraged, and in some cases, forbidden, particularly in the context of making material the most holy “four letter name”. This restriction is encouraged on the grounds of possible degradation and befoulment through the cycle of entropy in which all tangible things must pass. While this impermanence is a facet of all creation, and in fact, very much a part of the divine order of life, the fact that material things may be intentionally desecrated seems to be the main argument against depictions of this sort. It is also worth noting that this was discovered within the walls of a personal home, as apposed to strictly hallowed ground.
This stucco plaque also strikes me as particularly unique as it is not quite a statement, at least in the linguistic sense, being only a literal depiction of the name of Allah. I feel that the words of men would be more acceptably subject to the “sands of time”, whereas something so direct and literal as the only holy personal name of God in Islam would be treated with more consideration and reverence. Although this was found within the walls of a peasant home, I am curious as to the choice of stucco as a medium for something so sacred and physically small, especially with the inexpensive availability of rich and easily castable compound metals such as copper or bronze. Surely the artisan responsible was at least aware of the relative fragility of stucco. This fact is made quite apparent by the current state of deterioration in which this piece was found and remains. Although only minimal cracks threaten the integrity of this plaque, I can imagine similar works falling into states of complete illegibility.
While I personally believe the “random” decay and reorganization of matter to coincide deeply with my spiritual beliefs and what I perceive as the true face of God, I think it is worth taking into consideration the temporal qualities of a material in relation to the concepts sought to be conveyed, especially in the context of a faith so notably intent on maintaining the integrity of its expressions.
All things washed away,
your roots like fingers grasping,
holding tight the last plot
of holy ground,
the foundation upon which I tread.
My bare feet kiss the soil
from which a thousand vineyards
promise to ripen,
from burning stars
into burning sands,
springing forth innumerable possibilities
the sweat and tears
of my brow.
I have lay awake,
my form beaded with
to sustain me
in waiting for
your second coming,
a grace so powerful
it stills the tumultuous
a peace so profound
its promise delivered
in the beak of
I am the wind that blows through this carcass, calling empty flesh and bone to dance.
Your scent still lingers,
held tight by countless knots
growing on my mind
like the innumerable promises
I want to make you,
whispered so closely
the need for words fails entirely,
speaking only through
the ground beneath our feet.
I do not wish
for my words to bind you,
as I know
that which is wild and free,
and without shackles.
I extend my open hand
in hopes that you will grasp it,
so we may not drift apart
as burdens are cast off
like worlds from shoulders
and these two figures walk on
feet anointed with dust.