Tongues of Flame: custom pyrography & magic to discriminating musicians & magicians. Tattoo & Hoodoo for that Voudou that you do.
TONGUES OF FLAME #1-THE SAN MIGUEL/BACK & SIDES
This is the first guitar in the Tongues of Flame series. It was designed for Chuck Hestand, a talented guitarist, beloved friend and sometime bandmate. Its name is "The San Miguel", after Chuck's patron saint, and is intended to be both tool and portrait.
I shared a band with Chuck Hestand for seven years, and so got to know him pretty well before beginning this instrument. I’ve observed over the years that Chuck is a Christian mystic at heart, in love with angels and Christian mystical imagery. I know that he is fiercely loyal to his family, and will go to any lengths to protect and care for his children. I know that his patron saint is the Archangel Michael. I know that his favorite artist is Carravaggio; and that he loves cathedrals. I know that his music is a form of prayer for him, a way to connect with something larger than himself, and I know the reverence with which he approaches his instruments and other tools. I have approached this work with reverence and with the desire to be open to the guidance of the forces being invoked.
I’ll begin where all things begin, in the center with the Mother. In this case, it’s the medallion of the Guadalupana in the upper center of the back of the guitar. One of the drawbacks of working with spirits, if you can call it that, is that they don’t always explain the “why” of everything they suggest. That’s the case with this image. It’s included in the artwork on the guitar because I was told to put it there. Period.
I am willing to speculate about it, a little, though. I know that Our Lady of Guadalupe in this particular depiction is known as the Protectress of Children, and I know that Chuck’s love for his babies is one of the best things about him, and plays a large role in determining who he is as a person. It seems only appropriate to include that Aspect of the Divine in something designed for his use.
The Guadalupana is also the Virgen de los Indios. She appeared to a Nahuatl farmer named Juan Diego, who has since been canonized by the church as the 1st Native American saint. The site of her apparition is also the location of an Aztec temple that, in pre-Conquistador times had been dedicated to the Goddess of Love. She is the Divine Feminine at work in the Americas. Prior to the birth of the white buffalo calf, Miracle, in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1994, a number of the residents of Rosebud & Pine Ridge Reservations (Lakota) reported to the rez priests that they had experienced apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The priests responded by informing them that Our Lady does not make appearances on reservations. When the white buffalo calf, hailed as a reincarnation of Pte San Wi, (the White Buffalo Calf Woman who gave the sacraments to the Lakota nation), was born, elders determined that the apparitions had been visions of Pte San Wi. I personally think they were right both times. But I digress.
In medieval art, there is a convention that depicts the incarnation of the Christ as a scene in which the Dove of the Holy Spirit is whispering into the Virgin’s ear. This led to the once-common belief among European peasants that Our Lady had conceived via the ear, which is not as far-fetched as it may sound. As the Mother of the Logos, Mary was an instrument (literally) of the Word of God, and the image of the Divine being conceived through sound seems only appropriate here. This guitar, too, is matter consecrated to the use of Higher Forces, which I pray will bring forth sound that will give birth to the Divine in everyone who hears it.
Eight stars, depicted in the act of song, surround Our Lady. This image is from the Book of Job, when God, speaking out of the whirlwind, demands of Job “Where were you when the cornerstone of the earth was laid, and the morning stars sang together for joy?” It is a remembrance of the fact that the universe was born in music, and is sustained by music. To the Greeks, this is the “music of the spheres”, to Hindus the Omkara, the note that upholds the cosmos, in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic traditions, it is the song of the heavenly choirs, and the echo of the primeval “Let it be.” Cosmologists believe that the big bang was, in fact, a big chord. To be exact, it was a middle C chord. They know this because they have been able to identify the ripples of the harmonic overtones in the background microwave radiation of the universe. It was the opening note of a vast symphony, still playing, in which this guitar has a place, and a voice of its own.
On the upper left panel of the guitar back, gazing down at the Guadalupana in adoration, is an angel from Islamic mythology. This is Israfel, the living instrument of the Presence of God. According to some Islamic mystics, the angel’s heart is composed of guitar strings, which vibrate forever in harmony, strummed continually by the breath of God. In this image, he opens his breast, a pose found in both Hindu and Catholic art, to reveal the living harmony which is his essential nature. His image is a prayer that the instrument will forever tune itself to the will of the Divine, to serve as a vessel of Grace.
On the upper right hand corner of the guitar back is the silhouette of the Good Shepherd at rest, a lamb lying at his feet. One of the great supporters of Chuck’s musical ambitions was his dad, Charles Hestand. On the night before Charles passed away, at home among his family, this silhouette appeared on the wall of a room in the house. I was privileged to witness this phenomenon, and include it here as a prayer to Charles, and to all of Chuck’s ancestors who stand forever now in the presence of God, to intercede on his behalf in Heaven, and remember him before the Throne of Grace.
A scene that forms an allegory of the instrument and its music occupies the lower half of the guitar. There is a story in Norse mythology about how one morning, Odin, Thor and Loki were traveling on the earth together when they decided to make the first human beings. They were in a forest at the time, and naturally using the materials closest to hand, they used the ash tree to create the first woman, and an oak to create the first man. This is the scene, which, with some qualifications, is depicted here.
On the left is the first woman, created out of the ash tree, who represents the body of the guitar, which is also made of ash. The oak of the story I have changed to maple, to represent the neck and headstock of the guitar, which are made of maple wood. This substitution seems reasonable to me in light of the fact that the maple plays the same role in Native American mythology as is occupied by the oak in Europe. They are here depicted in the moment at which they first see one another, and desire, the root of all music, is born into creation. In the joining of ash and maple, the music is born, as the union of the first man and woman brought life into the world.
The three Gods depicted here represent the three elements of the music. Odin, in the center, represents sound, and communication through the air. He is often represented as riding the winds at the head of a wild hunt, and is also supposed to have hung crucified on the world tree for nine days and nights in order to obtain the “Word” (or in Norse myth, the runes) by which the people obtained life, and achieved mastery over the winds of fate. To his left is Thor, clutching Mjolnir, the hammer that is the thunderbolt. As God of Lightning, Thor represents the electricity that moves through the instrument and gives it a voice of thunder. On the right stands Loki the Trickster, who represents passion, the fire in the belly in which all music is forged, and which is the source of both creativity and potential destruction. In this way I seek to honor and call together all of the spirits and powers who move and speak through this instrument.
On the right and left sides of the guitar, when viewed from the front, are represented the grapevine and a wild rose without thorns. These are emblems of male and female energy, generally speaking, and in particular of Christ “I am the vine, ye are the branches” and the Virgin Mary, called the Rose Without Thorns throughout medieval Christendom. They are the Christian Yang & Yin, between which, in the form of the guitar, flows the Dao, or, in this instance, Grace.
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