Rene Culler  
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Journal Publications

Published Lecture in the Glass Art Society Journal,
Corning 2001 Conference

The "nested bowls"and "stacked cups" called the Grail Variations have become my work.The objects utilize technique in the service of the "idea." I enjoy blowing glass and this is how I begin the sculptures. I embrace the role as "fabricator" I have a "game plan" but sometimes make objects for pure enjoyment. Some lost -amid -the -rubble -of -my -studio- objects may become "found" and incorporated into a sculpture, if suitable.

The drawback of glass blowing, in my opinion, is that it happens too fast. I need time for consideration of the form, contemplation of the idea behind the work, and procrastination, to allow for a little doodling or tinkering. Recently, I began to utilize more complex blowing methods, such as murrine work and the "roll-up method" based on canne and pastorelli work to broaden my design to include pattern.

Driven by an idea, I may cold work the individual forms to change the surface before the casting process is initiated. I employ techniques to enhance the surface appearance and tactility. I need to live with these little objects, to consider them before I see them as part of a greater whole. I create a composition with several or many objects "glued" together with wax. The composition is invested in a refractory mold and the glass is re-melted, or kiln-transformed. During the casting process, the glass is actually fused together and slumped within the mold. What results is a glass form which represents a unity of the analytical and the spontaneous, in a design sense, the union of the "head and heart." in glass. The objects are formalist compositions in color.

I especially like to work with bowls of all sizes and shapes. A successful bowl form is a challenge to produce. A bowl or cup is a simple, yet elegant thing; something we use everyday, or something we read about - as in the mythological search for the "Holy Grail." Glass blowing, and what we hope is art, is about searching for a "Grail" or perfection of sorts. We may try to blow the perfect "tazza" at the bench, only to see the little flaw in its profile upon its emergence from the annealer. I don't view this as a failure- but an encouragement to try ever harder. I never attempt to make something "perfect" only satisfying. The object is a record of my abilities and my search and struggle to do well. Flaws and flashings are proof of the glass casting process and the process of living. I wear my glass working scars proudly, if you have ever seen my hands, you know what I mean!

The funny thing about my process, is that I may use a very symmetrical form in a composition, only to have it change and thereby accentuate its imperfection during the casting process. Different colors move in the mold at different rates, the air within is captured or lost, and thus the form is altered. I allow for "chance" to deal me its hand. I can predict many results, but enjoy a surprise. My objects celebrate the lack of perfection. I think this is an unusual approach to working with glass.

How creative insight develops is mysterious. Creativity is the only link to godliness (if there is such a thing at all.) I am grateful to Whoever gave me my abilities- just in case. Creativity is what separates us from the rest of the animal world. Motivations are personal things, I know what drives my imagination. I am fussy about my choices of art, poetry and music. My choices are irrational; I enjoy working in the studio while listening to baseball games. A poem, by William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle at Innesfree" describes exactly what it feels like to be working in my studio, to be in another place, another plane. Today, I spend most of my time at Icon Studios located in Cleveland, Ohio, the city of my birth. The studio is a dream come true and a home base to return to, since I have a bad case of the wanderlust.

Usually my ideas come when I am not trying to find them. My best decisions happen when I am not consciously making a decision. Some of my best work happens after I break the glass or ruin it. When things are going well, I am being "tapped on the shoulder by a new suggestion" and have learned to pay attention. The contrary notion of creativity is something I embrace.

Because I see the absurdities in life, I love to laugh. The Grail Variations began as a whimsy- I wanted to make an object that I considered ridiculous yet appealing and accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds- a tall order! I wasn't trying too hard, and something interesting happened. It was Easter-time and I thought the addition of little jewels of color. little jelly beans, would suggest lightness and frivolity in this glass toy, thus the Jellybean- Grail originated.

I pursued my interested in color. I cast the cup/bowl segments to allow for the color to travel within the composition, causing the form to unify visually. I married a man named Culler, too, and was very happy to take his name. It was so appropriate.

These Grail sculptures are objects that are rendered useless as functional objects. They are strongly rooted in Craft traditions, so I am happy to be either a Sculptor or a Craftsperson, whatever you prefer. I do insist on excellence in the work- but within the confines of my personal aesthetic. The degree of finish is important and helps to convey the message of the work. Knowing when to stop when you are already "over the top" happens when that little voice within gives the signal.

I was intrigued with the Jellybean Grail and my ideas began to grow serious. I saw these compositions as figurative in a loose sense. The human body is a container- the heart for emotion, the head for ideas. By nesting the bowl and cup forms I encourage the viewer to see beneath the layers of flesh, confusion and history to reveal the purity of thought or feeling suggested by my metaphor of an object. The smallest container holds the essence of an idea or a memory, or an actual precious thing, a lock of hair or the car keys. The additional forms represent all the rigmarole and winding roads we must navigate to find the essential.

The Yeats poetry began to draw me in. His union of the sensuous with the natural world along with his attempt at spiritual development intrigues me. His interest in ancient lore became my own. Yeats was a poet, a mystic, he played with Tarot cards and believed in ghosts! I found this paradoxical man and his lyrical work inspiring. Yeats' fascination for the Tarot led me to the theories of its origins which were linked to the search for the "Grail" which were linked to the histories of the Moyen Age in Provencal France, and Spanish Catalunya. There, women were strangely honored and equal to their male counterparts. It was the land of the enlightened and therfeor persecuted troubadours. The appearance of glass in the cultures of the medieval Mediterranean life style prompted the question, could the Grail have been made of Glass? I gained the courage to ask this question after reading Foucaults Pendulum, by Umberto Eco. If he could delve into the mystical, then I could too. I appreciated his reverence for the subject matter and his tongue in cheek story. Last year I posed my question in a presentation made at the First Historic Hispanic Glass conference, in the country I have begun to love; Spain. While more imaginative than historical, it captured the imaginations of many present, so I am told.

I began my methodology of object making long before the Grail Variation series, as an undergraduate at the Cleveland Institute of Art, inspired by my first European trip to Provencal France. I refined my process as a
graduate student at Kent State University in my thesis exhibition of 1994.

I will address the development of my ways of working. I began with glass, by developing a surface sandblasting method as a high school student.. Later, I
enrolled in the glass program at the Cleveland institute of Art with the
intention of making blanks for sandblasting. I loved to blow glass, and I
loved the challenge, yet it was unpredictably unsatisfying. I observed glass
students "burying" blown glass in plaster/silica molds to achieve a
translucent quality to the glass which I admired. I attempted this also, but
added enamels to the surface, and waxed the surface to create pattern, texture and implied movement.

I was searching for content in the work. I enrolled in sculpture and metal casting courses. A graduate level seminar on the French sculptor, Auguste Rodin led to a breakthrough in my thinking. My topic was Rodin's Studio Practices. Among the many things I learned was this: Rodin made sculptures of individual hands and feet. which were kept in a drawer in his studio. From these, he could choose a variety of components for a particular sculpture. This was a wild and intriguing idea that I was excited to translate into glass. It was an explanation for the method that I would use to convey ideas. Later, I realized that compatible fusible glass would be the answer to many of my technical questions. Today I work with Bullseye glass. I blow it, I fuse it, and I cast it.

Rodin's methodology makes sense to me. His choice of materials in stone carvings explained my preference for translucent glass. He used white marble because (like translucent glass) it absorbs light and animates the figurative subject. The mood of the individual object changes with the atmospheric conditions of weather and time of day. Rodin loved to pontificate on art. I found meaning in this particular statement. To paraphrase; "There is nothing as beautiful as a beautiful thing ruined." Glass students understand this all too well. Rodin valued the evidence of the process- it is an analogy for the passage of time and the transience of beauty- universal themes, which convey pathos for what was once or might have been. He saw more beauty in imperfection.

The "Grail" idea is rich and almost never ending in inspiration. My Grail Variation series represents the suit of Cups, the cards in the Tarot that convey Emotion, and Spirituality. I do not illustrate a card, but I use it as a muse. My love of reading and history keeps me fueled and fired up to continue the series and produce smaller flat works. These "tiles" depict subjects that address the inconsistencies and similarities, the opposing forces between different ages and contemporary life. The "tiles" are often smooth to the touch, but have a thickness and depth. They are presented on the wall, but best seen when held by the hand, like an intimate collage.

I hope that the viewer will see and intuit my work with the hands as well as with the eyes. I hope they enjoy the color, the silliness, the seriousness, and the underlying beauty in what I make.

Note: Many of the people who attended my presentation hoped to glean some technical information about my casting method. My methods are complex, but here are some glass casting tips:

1. glass I prefer compatible fusible glass and glass colors. I am very careful with reds. I have used some cullet successfully, but do not recommend glass blowing colors for long firing and annealing cycles in glass castings. Batch glass does not work with this process.

2. wax I assemble my blown forms with pure bleached beeswax to create a composition. I limit the amount used. I do not steam out or burn out the mold; the beeswax is absorbed into the mold material which acts like a sponge. There is a limit as to how much wax can be absorbed.

3. mold material Although I have tried many different products, I always return to the simple mixture of 50% moulding plaster, 50% silica flour by volume. I do not weigh my water, but use it at room temperature, not too hot, not too cold. I never premix the dry material; I add a cup of silica, a cup of plaster, etc. to the water. I use as much dry material as I need to create a pyramid in the center of the bucket and then a little more- humidity in Cleveland is a factor!. The consistency of the mixture covers my hand like a thin latex glove when it is ready to pour. I get a great amount of detail. The mixture is too thin if it looks like I dipped my hand into skim milk. I never dry out a mold near a furnace, I control the dry out time at 450 degrees within the kiln.

I use "controversial" chicken wire in all my vertical forms. A chicken wire cage is imbedded within the mold material. Never allow the wire to touch the glass form. Do not use wire on the outside of molds- outside exposure releases galvanized metal fumes which are hard on the kiln elements. Chicken wire allows for mold strength during the firing process, weakens during this process, and then becomes useless as the metal breaks down. It gives strength when you need it and when broken down, allows for contraction and expansion of the mold and the glass. The important thing is that the glass form remains unstressed by the metal wire during the cooling process.

4. oven schedules.....Always anneal for the largest mold in the kiln. The 1/4" equals an hour rule is good and usually very generous for figuring the length of annealing time for a closed vertical form. Measure the horizontal dimension across the mold. The plaster side walls are figured into this equation. In a shallow open form, measure the vertical distance from top to bottom to calculate your time. If you are unsure, allow for more time. A few more hours of electricity is cheap in comparison to your efforts and the materials you use.
Always crash your oven to get rid of excess heat after firing. Beware of the strain point as well as the annealing temperature. If you plummet too quickly below the strain point, you must bring the glass up to melting temperature to relieve any strain.

Good luck with your glass!

The Poetic Grail as Glass,
Barcelona Spain 2000

Abstract: Glass is a changeling material. The transformation is magical, as the plastic material cools in the definition of form. Rene Culler celebrates the fluid quality of glass; she presents imagery in slides with discussion of her kiln transformed objects. Blown forms evolve through trial by fire to achieve a "history." The artist's ideas develop through process, as glass segments are "nested" and fused within the mold. Transience of beauty and the awareness of mortality are analogous to the fired, textural vessel. Absorbed light within the glass animates the object.

The special cup, the artist's "Grail" looks to the head and heart as representative of the interplay of the rational and the intuitive conjured as the glass object. The artist explores the "personality" of the vessel- the sacred, as well as the profane. The nested bowl forms, encourage the viewer to "see beneath the layers" of flesh, tactile history- to reveal the purity of thought, feeling and understanding. The smallest elemental container holds an "essence or truth" within the layers of glass and imagined myth.

The "Grail Variation" series explores the idea, "Was the Holy Grail Made From Glass?" This question arises from the unlikely inspiration of the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats; and his union of the sensuous natural world with the search for spiritual development. Yeats was interested in ancient lore. His examination of the mystical Tarot, and its symbolism and connection to history; both published and alluded to, sparks the artist's interest. In the Tarot, the suit of Cups or Hearts represents the mythology of the Grail, and connotes positive aspects of Goodness, Emotion and Spirituality.

Glass makers of the Mediterranean world, possibly Jewish in origin, traveled to Spain where plastic form in glass developed in complexity and creativity. Grail mythology traveled to Spain as well. The artist, as both sculptor and glass blower, appreciates the imagination of the Spanish approach to glass. Her search is for the elusive. The mystery of the legend, beautiful in its complexity yet archetypal quality, survives today in many countries and forms. The "Grail " hearkens back to the special "Cup" used at the Last Supper. It is the artist's hope that the elements of "Grail" concepts, and the use of translucent and textural glass reach a synthesis of poetic identity. The artist will speak of her appreciation for Spanish Glass and legend which is honored in her contemporary but very fin de siècle work.

Keywords: Grail, Glass, Mysticism, Tarot, Dualism.

It was a dark and stormy night when I first began to devour Umberto Eco's novel. Foucault's Pendulum (Umberto Eco 1990) is the story of smug professori, who devised a money making scheme of writing a series of occult inspired texts. Their plan was dubbed, "Project Hermes,"(Umberto Eco 1990, p.220) in honor of the mythical founder of Alchemy. Occult information was fed into their computer, aptly named "Abulafia," the namesake of an ancient mystic Cabalist, to yield mysterious results. The "Hermes" crew engages with their competitor writers of spooky literature, fondly referred to as the "Diabolicals." The professors are certain that their project is foolproof. With disregard for the mysteries of the esoteric, they should believe as does the ancient writer Trithemius, "Alchemy is a chaste prostitute, who has many lovers but disappoints all and gives favors to none. She transforms the haughty into fools, the rich into paupers, the philosophers into dolts, and the deceived into loquacious deceivers..." (Umberto Eco 1990, P.141) In the topsy-turvy novel, the hero and fellow professori become the fools and the revealed "diabolicals" the malevolent possessors of hidden mystical knowledge. Personally, I have always nurtured an interest in the "secret," while playing the role of the skeptic. I have never been satisfied with the history or edicts of my religion from childhood days to the present. In a sense, the international author and scholar Eco, "gave me permission" to delve into the research I pursue and present.

One's interest in a subject often leads to a journey, sometimes on a round- a -bout road. A year ago, Spring, of '99, my husband Russ and I, followed a description from the novel as we traced the hero's path of flight through the streets of Paris. He was fleeing from a demonic ritual, which to our surprise led directly to the hotel we chose to stay in. We traveled the rainy streets of Paris past the Editions Rosicruciennes bookstore, the facade of the "Beaubourg" and arrived at the Hotel Saint Merry. This unusual inn was created from the presbytery of the adjoining dilapidated church. Like the hero of Foucault's Pendulum we spied a horrific sight: located on the archivolt of the Flamboyant Gothic edifice, above the sculpted stone Descending Dove of the Holy Spirit, perched the hairy-breasted, winged and clawed figure of the Baphomet

After a busy day of museum going. I examined the carved wooden headboard of our bed. We were informed that the wooden carvings in the rooms had been recycled from the adjoining church. I wanted to be certain that Mr. Baphomet was not glaring down at us while we slept. I had very strange dreams that night!

Later, the next day, we made our way down the Rue du Temple. The rare bookstore discovered in Eco's novel no longer existed, instead we encountered a "funky" edition called Mona Lisait. We appreciated the pun on the name as well as interesting shopping bags which held our purchased books. Poor Mona Lisa had been given an acid green face, similar to the sour-puss of the wicked witch in one of my all time favorite movies; The Wizard of Oz.

In search of a chocolat, I spied the Tabac du Templiers. I was very curious, the Templars had figured prominently in the Eco novel. The Tabac was a smoky convenience store, filled with locals who eyed us rather suspiciously as we entered. As I moved farther into the gloom, I noticed a little shrine; a statue of a knight illuminated by a candle next to the pinball machine. Behind it was a very large, dusty oil painting of a knight on horseback, outfitted with armor emblazoned with the "Cross of the Templars." In the painting, divine light emanated from the heavens, but not sufficiently enough to illuminate the interior of the room on that drizzly morning. I felt like I was in OZ, but I was really in the land of the Templars. This trip to France was a revelation; the Moyen Ages are alive and well today!

The characters in the book of which I am so fond, are in search of none other than a version of the Holy Grail. The occult in many forms is often linked to the Grail mystery. "What or where is the Grail?" is the question often asked in mythology, literature, opera; the arts. Eco's characters are certain the Grail is the "Luciferian Stone", a source of energy, and absolute-power. I ponder this "Luciferian Stone" to be none other than glass, glass of a lovely emerald green color. Could the Grail be the "Philosopher's Stone" of the Alchemists, in its copper and iron tainted impurity- green; the color of fertility, creativity, and enlightenment? It is fitting that we contemplate glass as alchemy and the glassblower or artist as the alchemist. Glass making is the transformation of simple materials into hot magical liquid light. I bravely present my proposal: The Holy Grail is made from Glass.

There are many written international speculations on the Grail. From the excellent text the Holy Grail;

...The French Dictionary Petit Larousse (1967) defines Graal and/or Saint Graal, p.1394 as "The emerald vase" that would have served Christ at the Last Supper and in which Joseph of Arimethea would have collected the blood that flowed from Christ's side that had been pierced by the centurion..."(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p.217)

Goodrich also writes of the Sacro Cantino, a green glass chalice preserved in a cathedral in Genoa, Italy. This cup was thought to be the Holy Grail until it shattered, thereby proving itself unworthy of the concept.(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p.272.)

In the wonderful series Readings in Glass History, the author asserts the early Jewish glass makers spoke a glass language all their own. The word "glass" is linked with the words "metal" and "stone" in antiquity. Glass makers along the Phoenician coast in the 1-6 centuries AD. were using terminology similar to those in later Babylon in the 7th century. BC:

...the special furnace for the first fusing of the raw materials to produce what is called the "metal" or in earlier times, "stone", was called Kuri sa abni, "furnace of (for making the) stone. (Anita Engle 1972, p.81)

We find speculation on the origin of the material glass in The Glass makers, An Odyssey of the Jews: "The art of glass making combines two distinct, independently evolving technologies, the development of pneumatically drafted furnaces and the invention of glazes." (Samuel Kurinsky 1991, p.43) The Akkadians, the progenitors of the Jews possessed the technology to smelt iron. Glass making also occurred in the same location in the Ararat mountains simultaneously in the mid-third millennium BC.(Samuel Kurinsky 1991, p.43) Glass is colored green with metal. Copper, and bronze scraps, were readily available to mix with the glass as colorants. Iron is present in impure sand. The employment of used iron-smelting crucibles for use in glass melting would have tainted the color of the "metal" glass. Heavy metals were used in glass making and coloration. Their usage could be the source of the term "metal" for the hot liquid glass contained in the furnace.

A more timely link with the idea of the "Grail as Glass" is the technique termed "Graal," popularized in 1920's Sweden and originally invented by Emile Gallé in 1890's France.(Phoebe Phillips 1981,p.225-6) The etymological root of the word "Graal" is the Celtic word "gar" meaning stone, so that the "gar-al" is the cup of the stone. (Laurence Gardner 1996, p.246)

My research into provocative European history and the occult with its links to art and poetry provide my inspiration for my work in the magical, versatile medium of glass. It is exquisite to speak and write of forbidden subjects, as I relate histories of heretics, and the occult, both unmentionable centuries earlier in the country of the Spanish Inquisition. My bravado as an artist, provocateur and feminist, encourages me to blow glass too- something unheard of for a woman to do, even a generation ago. Like Dr. Eco, there is skepticism in my research, no dismissal of myth, but all with a good deal of both humor and respect. The result of my investigations is the recent series of glass Grail Variations and the dreamy speculation of the mystical and mysterious Grail as glass.

As a young person, I forsook conventional religion; it was not the Magical Mystery Tour offered by the Beatles. I came to appreciate poetry through the meaningful lyrics and jazzy music of Van Morrison, concurrent with my discoveries in glass. Initial work at the Cleveland Institute of Art begun in 1988, was centered on glass blowing, combined with multi-media such as steel, bronze and stone. I traveled to study in southern France at the School of Lacoste. My time spent there and in Paris had a profound influence on me. In Europe, I did not work with glass, but instead with stone. I was charmed by ancient limestone sculptures found in cloisters and Romanesque churches.

I developed a case of mal de pierre. "Stone sickness possessed me as I was in love with the material, especially in the work of August Rodin. He was concerned with creativity, sexuality, the life force, the ruined, and the mystic. I especially enjoyed his white marble sculptures at the Hotel Biron. The translucent stone was the closet material to glass in absorption of light. Rodin's white marble sculptural portraits could become animated or moody as the sun moved behind the clouds. The interaction with light effected the psychology of the sculpture. Upon arriving home, I realized that I too could employ light in translucent glass. I began to work almost exclusively wit glass, developing a case of mal de verre, and I have yet to recover.

I was enthralled with Rodin's portrait of his mistress Camille Claudel, exhibited in the Louvre. This pate de verre version, translated from Rodin's modeled clay signified both beauty and intelligence. Regardless that Rodin was a cad, and probably drove poor Camille to madness, I admire some of his pontifications on art. One special assertion inspires me to this day: "More beautiful than a beautiful thing is the ruin of a beautiful thing." (Leo Steinberg 1963, p.24) This is a concept that a glass artist can easily comprehend, thanks to real pain suffered by the revelation of the loss of beauty and the passage of time (long fabrication sessions- glass shattering on the floor, long expensive cooling cycles- for good or ill results.) I related to the universal and sublime acceptance of mortality beginning with early work. The analogy of glass making with the journey of life is not wasted on me today, as I continue to explore the human condition in my work in glass.

I continue my personal journey in glass: I was occupied with experimental casting techniques in my graduate work at Kent State University from 1992 to 1994, as I explored the relationship between intellect and emotion. Each work signified an individual, a personality inspired by a particular notion of the mind-body interaction. Many works dealt with gender opposites, not as psychological profiles but merely series of ideas conjured as objects, both serious and frivolous. My thesis exhibition was titled Head and Heart derived from a Van Morrison composition; he contemplates a reversal of the norm:

If my heart could do my thinking

And my head begin to feel,

I would look upon the world anew

And know what's truly real. (Van Morrison 1987)

Nested Bowl forms emerged as the beginning of the Head and Heart series and the Grail Variation forms. I portrayed the body as a vessel; the heart the container for emotion, the head, the container for ideas and memories. I created chambers by nesting the bowl forms, to encourage the viewer to "see beneath the layers" of flesh, confusion, history- to reveal the pure of thought or feeling within. The smallest container holds the "essence."

The interplay between the concepts of head and heart, and more formalist concerns of color, form and composition can be seen as analogous to the age-old question of the physical and metaphysical duality of man. My work centered on duality in the exploration of personality, rather than dualism in a religious doctrine. In research, I found the attention to opposites in my esoteric research of the Cabala and the Tarot. Eliphas Levi the 19th century French occultist spoke of the analogy of opposites: "... the relationship of light to shadow, peak to abyss, fullness to void."(Umberto Eco 1990, p.22) Levi counseled on belief systems and how one might safely perceive reality: " Allegory, mother to all dogmas, is the replacement of the seal by the hallmark, of reality by shadow; it is the falsehood of truth, and the truth of falsehood." (Umberto Eco 1990, p.22)

The Poetry Connection

The sensitive, passionate poetry of William Butler Yeats, descriptive in language lush with imagery, led me to my interest in "Grail subjects" and my Grail Variation forms in glass. Yeats' union of the sensuous natural world with the search for spiritual development, combined with an interest in ancient lore has intrigued me. Like the poet, I study mystical symbolism and its connection to history; published and alluded to.

I am fascinated by Yeat's biography. As a young searcher for truth, Yeat's belonged to the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society in London (H.R. Bachchan 1974,p.85) while studying William Blake. Blake's philosophy of dualism and the interdependence of opposites must have appeared similar to Theosophical ideals.(R.F. Foster 1997, p.104) Later, Yeats joined the Stella Matutina, an off shoot of the Golden Dawn Society and was a ritual practitioner of the Isis-Urania Temple in London during the last fin de siècle. As a neophyte, Yeats took the dualist motto: Demon est Deus Inversus, or "the Devil is God Inverted." Maude Gonne the love of the poet's life, chose: Per Ignum Ad Lucem ; "Through Fire, to the Light."(Steven R. Cranmer 1996) If Maude Gonne lived today, I imagine she certainly would have considered glass blowing; the identical motto would aptly apply!

Eliphas Levi formally connected the Tarot and the Cabala to create an interrelated system of numbers, words, and images. Levi felt that he had developed a powerful source for magic, with the Tarot as the wisdom of the ages.(Cynthia Giles 1994, p.29-31) Levi's correlation was accepted by English and French occultists including Yeats and a fellow Golden Dawn member, Arthur Waite. Under Waite's direction, the American artist Pamela Colman Smith illustrated one of the most popular Tarot decks still in use today. (Arthur Edward Waite 1995, p. 67) Unlike previous decks the messages of the Minor Arcana or number cards are depicted graphically in a combination style of Victorian valentines and Arthurian gothic horror imagery. This is my deck of preference.

The Cabala

It is necessary to follow Levi's lead in the examination of the origins and correspondences of esoteric information. The mystical Cabala, is the method by which man connects the "finite" universe with the "infinite" God. It instructs that the universe was created through the process of the emanation of the ten Sephirot , descriptions of the attributes of God. The Sephirot are arranged in a pattern of contrasts and balances to form the Tree of Life. The Major Arcana cards of the Tarot represent the paths which enable the individual's climb up the tree, to encounter the stations of the Ten Sephirot, and the destination of union with Divinity. Yeats' The Two Trees , 1892, refers to the Cabala and the Tree of Life, visually painting a dualistic theme of inner contemplation and psychological analysis versus outer earthy activities.(H.R. Bachchan 1974, p. 85)

Glass and Jewish mysticism are linked; a glass industry supplied the region of Spain, at the time of the inception of the Cabala, the end of the 12th century. (Joseph O'Callaghan 1983, p. 519) Jewish settlers practiced their crafts and occupied distant territories simultaneously with the building of the Roman roads. (Joseph O'Callaghan 1983, p.169) St. Jerome himself complained that glass making was one of the trades with which the Jews "captured the Roman world." (Joseph O'Callaghan 1983, p. xv) Glass collectors speak of "Roman" glass, but some historians assert for the first 500 years of Roman existence, the only contact the conquerors had with glass was as traders importing glass from the near east. Later, glass was produced by Jewish settlers under the domination of the Romans. (Joseph O'Callaghan 1983, p.137)

The Jewish glass makers in Spain were Sephardic Rabbis and students who must have known the Cabala well. Rabbis have practical employment beyond their studies in religion. The word Sephardic, originates from the Cabalist term "Sephirot." In addition, Astrology and Alchemy were inherited by Islam from the ancient Greeks. Texts were translated from Arabic into Latin in Moorish-occupied 12th century Spain. (Richard Kieckhefer 1995, p. 119) Important information, available to the educated contributed to mystical investigation in Spain

The principle of Alchemy was to discover the elixir or the "Philosopher's Stone." Occultists believed the information was sought to transform the "leaden" soul into "golden" spiritual bliss. Many believed the journey of the paths of the Sephirot through the study of the Cabala was the method by which this mission could be accomplished.

In "Foucault's Pendulum," Umberto Eco describes the creation of the world in Cabalist terms describing glass blowing and glass bubbles in an analogy for the Sephirot;

"…God blows the world as you would blow a glass bubble, ... He takes a deep breadth, holds it, and emits the long luminous hiss of the ten Sephirot."

"A hiss of light?"

"God hissed and there was light."

"But the lights of the Sephirot must be gathered in vessels that contain the splendor without shattering...for the lower Sephirot...light was exhaled too strongly in a single burst, and the vessels broke. Fragments of light were spilled into the universe, and gross matter was thus born." (Umberto Eco 1990, p. 135)

The Sephardic teachings of the mystic, Isaac Luria were a foundation of the Christian Cabala of Yeats.(Daniel C. Matt 1997, p. 15) Luria was born in Jerusalem where his family settled after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Luria taught the act of creation as God's "withdrawal" called tsimtsum, or the cause of the shattering of the lower Sephirot or Shevirah. The repair, the tiqqun, was to be made my man. These teachings were combined by philosophers of Hermeticism (originating in alchemy) to create a Cabala to provide man with the opportunity for heavenly rewards.(Robert Wang 1987, p.23) Renaissance man possessed "high self- esteem." He no longer viewed himself as the naked, doomed Adam, hopelessly banned from the Paradise of Eden. The Renaissance intellectual believed the Cabala, the method of enlightenment, was given to Adam as a gift from God.(Robert Wang 1987, p.4)

Toward the end of the 12th century in Provence, a group of Jewish mystics authored the book Sefer ha-Bahir, the first Cabalistic text. While bahir means "clear," the work was very mysterious, as it sought to explain the aspects of the Divine personality of God.(Daniel C. Matt 1997, p. 5) In the 11th and 12th centuries, the time of the re-conquest of the Moorish land by the Christians, important Jewish colonies began to exist in the major cities and in many small towns near the Mediterranean .(Joseph O'Callaghan 1983, p. 283) The Cabalist philosophy spread across the Pyrenees to Catalan and then Castile in the early 1200's. The Sefer ha- Bahir contains the first references to the sacred Tree of Life and describes the Sephirot as "vessels of Divine light."(Daniel C. Matt 1997, p.5)

In the 13th century, the concept of the evil Sephirot in balance with the good was developed. This theory was the basis for the Zohar, the Book of Radiance, the most famous Cabalist text, and the work of Moses de Leon. (Robert Wang 1987, p.22) Dualism was manifest in the new teaching. Shekhinah or Divine Eminence describes the feminine half of God, which balances the patriarchal concepts of the Bible and Talmud.(Daniel C. Matt 1997, p. 1)The two trees of de Leon's Cabala are the Sephirotic or Divine Tree, and the Qliphoth or Infernal.(H.R. Bachchan 1974, p. 95) One tree is "dark" and the other tree "light," sadly equating darkness with both evil and the feminine.

The idea is loosely mirrored in the Chemical Wedding, a popular concept in Renaissance Alchemy was an allegory of the union of the male and female to create balance. The Tarot Trumps, the 'Sun', the 'Moon', and the 'Lovers' signify this basic tenet. The theory of correspondences connects the earthbound world with the cosmos.(Cynthia Giles 1992, p. 81) The foundation of all Renaissance magic is found in the Corpus Hermeticum which states, "As above, so below." This simple statement was a foundation of the "heretical" Cathar sect whose main prayer of worship was the recitation of The Lord's Prayer. "…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."(Joseph R. Strayer 1992, p.31)

My work in glass relies heavily on the symbolism and abstraction of the aforementioned ideas. Although initially created with whimsy in mind, the Grail Variation series began with the Jelly Bean Grail , 1966, and coincided with a resurgent interest in the Tarot, beginning as entertainment. The "jellybeans," made of fused frit and ceramic stains, became the encrusted "jewels" of the Grail. I was creating a light-hearted "wedding-cake" of a nonfunctional vessel, an absurd mystic fountain of forbidden information. The work began to progress in form and concept. I designed new objects by making the stacked cups thinner, in opposition to their massive heavy base. I was returning to link the sacred with the profane, work I had previously explored in the earlier series of "nested bowl" forms, through the fabrication of non-functional glass sculpture with philosophical content. The utilization of bright colors developed into a meditation on beauty. Like my hero, Yeats, I was not interested in the didactic but the symbolic. It is mysterious how an artist develops an interest in a subject.

The Tarot Appears

There are many mysterious international and incredible speculations about the origin of the Tarot. The most fantastic source is the mythical land of Atlantis, whose secrets, religions and rituals were bestowed on the Egyptians at the end of the lost civilization. The Egyptians, or Gypsies brought the symbolic cards to Europe. The four Treasures of the Tuatha de Danaan, the Tribe of the ancient Irish goddess, Danu, were Yeat's explanation of the four Sacred Grail Emblems; Sword, Paten, Grail, Spear. The Irish "Cauldron of Dagda" the "cauldron of resurrection" or artistic inspiration would correspond to the Grail or cup.(Cynthia Giles 1992, p. 51) The Suit of Cups or Hearts connotes positive aspects of Pleasure, Emotion and Spirituality in the Tarot and represent the mythology of the Grail.

The cards may have been employed as teaching tools or secret method of communication for the heretical Provencal religious sect, the Cathars, and their supporters. Many of the Trump cards of the Tarot symbolically depict elements of Cathar beliefs. The 'Star', and 'Strength' may honor Mary Magdelene whom the Cathars revered as the concubine of Jesus. (Susan Haskins 1995, p. 132) Other Tarot Trumps/Trompes "trumpet" their warnings against the Crusaders: the 'Hermit,' or the messenger of the Roman church: the 'Hierophant,' as the Roman Pope; and/or the 'Devil' as master of the material world. Others "reminisce" on the good old days in the heretical church when women were treated with equality, as depicted in the 'High Priestess,' and 'Justice.' Persecuted man, including the Knights Templar may have been represented by the symbolic 'Hanged Man.'

The archetypal messages pictured in the Tarot Trumps appeared in Europe coincidentally after the "ethnic cleansing" of thousands of "heretics." The Provencal myths may have laid the foundation for the Tarot Trumps, the Grail stories, the Christian Cabala, as a reaction to the drastic changes in history and attitudes when the unchanging medieval world began to collapse. (Cynthia Giles 1992, p. 120-121)

In the epic Parzival, authored by the medieval knight Wolfram von Eschenbach, the Grail is rescued and guarded by the Templars in a castle fortress. The Grail is described as a "stone" that "came from the heavens; the lapis exillis."(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 218) The origin of the idea of a "stone from heaven" is older than Parzival, developed from the dualist ideas of ancient Persian Zoroastrianism. Light is at war with the Darkness , good is in opposition to evil, and the battle continues with two Rulers of the world, The Prince of Light; God, and the Prince of Darkness; Satan.(Chas. S. Clifton 1998, p.88)

Many legends of the Grail story focus on locations throughout Europe. To justify my speculation of the Grail as Glass, I focus on the mountainous land of the Pyrenees in Provence and Spain, where concepts of duality flourished. This area had many names and little unity except for the peacefulness and tolerance of its inhabitants. Provence was a very different country in the Middle Ages from how we perceive the region today, there was no similarity to the Northern French culture. (Joseph R. Strayer 1992, p.6-9) Sophisticated Southern ideals, such as "courtly love" were annihilated along with its practitioners, and their language by the mercenaries of the Albigensian (Albi, a southern town) Crusades.

A name for the broader scope of land west of the Pyrenees is Occitania . In this tolerant region, Jews were allowed to participate in commerce, flourish in their professions and unlike Spain, own land. Women were regarded as equals to men, sometimes owning land and serving as their country's rulers. Women could become priestesses or "perfects" when they renounced the material world in the Cathar religion. (Joseph R. Strayer 1992, p.31) Occitania was not the name of a unified country; it contained many kingdoms and principalities. The country was too politically fragmented to plan a defense against the French army of the north, the mercenaries of Pope Innocent III when financial, political and religious differences between the Cathars, the French, and the Church became heated.

Myths claim when the Knights Templar were banished from their function as the guardians of Jerusalem, the Grail was brought with them to the Cathar stronghold of Montsegur, or "Mount Security." During the crusades, when the final Cathars were held under siege on the rugged mountain, several Templars escaped with the "treasure." Montsegur, the final place of Cathar resistance was captured by the royal army of France in 1243. Many of the Cathar faithful had already starved to death, (Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. xxvii) but two hundred remaining "perfects" were burned at the stake at the foot of the mountain. (Chas. S. Clifton 1998, p.11)

The Cathars: Heretical Beliefs

The Cathar dualist beliefs were essentially simple: Satan lost the war with God and His angels. Satan created man and the world when forced to descend from heaven, the "realm of the pure spirit." Satan fashioned man and woman from clay to serve as his victims and slaves on Earth. Some believe that God took pity on these humans and gave them souls to perfect, to escape eternal e

Sexual relations were frowned upon in the Cathar belief system; birth was equated with trapping a soul in the body as Satan's servant. As directed by the devil, Adam and Eve "were affected by a lust for debauchery, together begetting children of the devil and the serpent, until the consummation of the world." (Chas S. Clifton 1998, p.8)

The Cathars believed in Jesus Christ as an "illusion of the spirit;" the Crucifixion was a trick of the devil. The Church taught man to worship the Creator God of the Old Testament thereby encouraging man to worship Satan, the creator of the material world. The pope was seen as the servant of the devil, and in some cases, depicted as the "Antichrist." It is no wonder that the Roman pope was "sore" with this belief system. Reincarnation was a factor as well; purgatory was hell on earth, and imperfect souls often returned to earth repeatedly until they reached perfection before ascending to heaven. (Joseph R. Strayer 1992, p.28)

The Lady

The Cathars had a high regard for women. The Troubadours and Knights Templar figure in the histories of Provence and in the Grail myth as protectors of women and the Bloodline of Jesus, discussed in recent books. (Baigent/ Leigh/ Lincoln 1983, p. 489) It is proposed that Mary Magdelene was the mother of the children of Jesus, and the origin of the bloodline in existence today. The rationale of the Magdelene as "wife" enables veneration of the Lady in the Troubadours' Provencal poetry. They sang the praises of the virtue of the Lady, or Dompna, (Provencal) derived from the Latin; Domina, the feminine version of Lord. (Margaret Starbird 1993, p.77-79)

The patriarchal Roman church set out to establish the cult of the Virgin Mary honoring the Mother of Jesus. The cult flourished from the 13th century on, as an answer to the earlier heretical idea of Jesus the man married to the Magdelene. Heretics equated Mary Magdelene with the Earth, and the pagan goddess Isis,(Margaret Starbird 1993, p.77-79), (Chas. S. Clifton 1998, p.68-69)Queen of the Egyptian gods, queen of the dark underworld, worshipped throughout the Roman world. A reading from an ancient gnostic text, Thunder, Perfect Mind, links Isis Sophia, the feminine personified Wisdom of God. She describes herself in a dualistic manner:

I am the first and the last.

I am the honored one and the scorned one.

I am the whore and the holy one. (Chas. S. Clifton 1998, p. 69)

The earth with its grottos and subterranean caverns is darkness. Mary Magdelene is celebrated as the "Black Virgin" in the Mediterranean and Baltic areas. I grew up with a picture of the mysterious Black Madonna- Our Lady of Czestochowa in my home, the patroness of my Polish ancestors. I wondered why her face was dark, but was never given any believable answers. My parents never questioned, my grandmothers' Polish explanations were never explained.

The Cathedral of Chartres, was built on the ancient site of the cult of the Goddess and the Black Madonna in 1220. Medieval gypsies believed the Gothic Cathedrals of northern France; including Notre Dame de Paris, Chartres, Amien, and Rheims were aligned to emulate the constellation of Virgo, representing the Magdelene, the Gypsy patroness. Astrology was a respected Medieval sciences taught and practiced at the university school at Chartres. Architects ordered foundation charts, seriously cast in attempt to align the cathedrals of Europe in balance with the heavens.(Margaret Starbird 1993, p.82)

The building of the cathedrals to honor the Lady is seen in correlation with the philosophy of the Sephardic Jews of Spain. The study of the mystical Cabala was a method to restore the feminine aspect of God. The Jewish Goddess Matronit was His consort, and She was lost during the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. No longer in holy union as their bedchamber was destroyed, Yahweh, the Male, reigns alone.(Margaret Starbird 1993, p.85-86) Mary Magdelene, believed by some to be God or the Goddess, the Holy Spirit, was represented on earth by a woman who fled into exile bearing the son of Jesus.(Laurence Gardner 1996, p.115) The Tarot card, 'Ace of Cups' shows the descending dove, her symbol, poised above the Grail.

The Knights Templar

The Templars' insignia is also the descending dove. (Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 167) A contemporary theory suggests that the cathedrals of northern France, dedicated to Our Lady were constructed by the Templars between 1130 and 1250 in honor of the Magdelene, (Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 80-81) in support of Gypsy belief. While drafting the constitution of the Order of the Knights Templars in 1128, Saint Bernard insisted on "obedience of Bethany, the castle of Mary and Martha."(Laurence Gardner 1996, p.118) Mary Magdelene was named for the place she was born called Magdala "the castle," situated near Nazareth and Bethany. The medieval author, monk, and Templar, Wolfram,(Laurence Gardner 1996, p.65) resided in Germany when he wrote his account of the Grail story and its hero Parzival between 1198 and 1212. He traced the origin of the Grail to King Solomon in Jerusalem and stressed the Grail-worship concept of the idealization of women in his work.(Laurence Gardner 1996, p.222-225)

The Knights Templar were founded in 1118 and sanctioned by the Church through the efforts of St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux.(Laurence Gardner 1996, p.118)

They were "warrior monks" who participated in the Crusades of the Holy Land. (Leonard Shlain 1998, p.220) The Templars answered only to their Grand Master and the Pope. Although the vow of poverty was required upon membership, the knights eventually possessed vast lands through their successful conquests. Templar estates stretched from Jerusalem to Spain. Large amounts of money were transferred in their travels from castle to castle, as they began to act as couriers for noble families. The Templars became bankers, making loans to kings and princes.(Laurence Gardner 1996, p.261)

Wolfram's Parzival was written in the prime time of heresy. By 1160, the Cathar Church had gained huge popularity in Occitania. The Knights Templars refused to suppress the "heretics," in defiance of the King of France and the Roman Pope.(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 222) It is possible to theorize that their worship for the Lady played a part in their decision.

The Templars were next in line for persecution. Beginning on Oct. 13, 1307, for seven years an order was issued to arrest the knights. King Philippe IV of France was in great financial debt to the Templars, and feared their political might. The Templars had become too powerful, independent and therefor uncontrollable in the eyes of the Pope as he happily sanctioned the king's arrests.

With support of Clement V, hundreds of Templars were captured, along with their Grand Master Jacques de Molay. The legend of the Templars teaches that Molay ordered a treasure (the Holy Grail?) removed from the place where it was guarded by his knights. The treasure was taken to Scotland where the Templars were not persecuted. (Laurence Gardner 271, p.246) Possibly, the protectors of the Grail; the Knights Templar had removed the Cup from the Cathar stronghold at Montsegur, before it fell to the crusaders. Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake in Paris on Friday the 13th in the year 1314. (Upon reviewing the quantity of 13's in the Templar equation it is no wonder that some people possess the infirmity: Triskaidekaphobia.) Jacques de Molay cursed the Pope and the King, predicting that they would be dead within the year. This prediction is known as the "Curse of the Templars ." Both men did indeed die in fulfillment of the prophesy, which is said to lend credence to the "power of the Grail." (Laurence Gardner 271, p.246)

It is interesting to image these knights in their successful and powerful days, to connect their banquets and celebrations with written documentation of their use of glass. Glass vessels used by the Crusaders in the Holy Land suggested status. A knight describes the use of glass vessels at dinnertime: "I had wine mixed with water issued by my servants, and gave the same to my squires, but with lesser proportions of water. At my own table a large [glass] flask of wine and a bottle containing water were placed before each one of the knights, so that he might mix his drink as he wished."(Anita Engle 1982, p.3) Wine glasses retrieved from archeological sites in Caesarea during this period of the Crusade of Saint Louis, King of France were fashioned in an interesting manner. There are decorative trailings of glass located as horizontal lines on the glassware, serving a function as lines for measurements. Men of higher stature were allowed a greater proportion of wine to water.(Anita Engle 1982, p.73)

In the celebration of the Roman Catholic Mass, water and wine are mixed together in the Sacrament of Communion. This practice in the Mass and of the banqueting Crusaders may have originated in the Holy Land as an emulation of "feasting practices" in Jerusalem. Might the Glass Grail of the Feast of the Last Supper possess horizontal trailings of glass used for measuring purposes as well?

Medieval Literature

Medieval Prose Literature in Spain promoted the Grail mythology. Much intermarrying between the nobles of Spain, England and France created political alliances in the mid 14th century. Grail legends swept through Spain as Arthurian texts were translated into Spanish and romantically identified with castles dotting the Spanish landscape. Tales of love, honor, chivalry, chastity, and religion, were embodied in the story of the Holy Grail. Lancelot engendered the Spanish medieval ideal of manhood, the knight who might laugh at death in a challenge of honor. Friederich Nietzche exclaimed: "Those Spaniards, those Spaniards! Those are men who wanted to be too much!"(Cathleen Medwick 1999, p. xiii)

Two medieval authors offered a different perspective on bravery in their books of hope; the fictional novel Don Quixote, and a book of worship, an analogy of the Holy Grail by St. Teresa de Jesus.(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 101) While Cervantes and Saint Teresa of Avila wrote books uninhabited by Grail characters, his book embodied the spirit of the Grail Quest by a wanderer or Fool (as in the Tarot), while hers, described the Grail Castle and the way to enlightenment.

Miguel de Cervantes knew the Grail myths well as he wrote of his hero Don Quixote 's quest to the stone castle's interior in search of understanding. The knight's sidekick, Sancho Panza cautions him about "castles in the air."(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 102) Saint Teresa's book is titled The Interior Castle also known in Spanish as Las Moradas. In the words of Jesus: "In my Father's house are many mansions."

Our soul, she explains, resembles a Castle made all of diamonds, or the clearest of crystals, where there are many facets, just as in heaven there are many Mansions. …and in the very center…of all these mansions lies the chiefest of them all, which is where takes place many things that are of the deepest secrecy between God and the soul.(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 119)

Teresa describes the soul as the Tree of Life planted in the springtime, a time of rebirth. She explains that there are seven mansions in all, and provides advice on how to proceed to the interior mansion to achieve union with the Divine. The imagery of the Cabala cannot be denied. The progression to the "interior" to reach the "highest mansion", is significant, as it emulates the progression of following the paths of the Sephirot to reach the top of the highest branch of the Tree of Life. Teresa was a conversa, born from a Sephardic Jewish background, who lived in the day of the Spanish Inquisition. Her family had found it "necessary" to convert from Judaism to survive. Teresa, an educated woman of means used her father's library well.(Cathleen Medwick 1999, p. 11-15)

A Personal Interlude: Imagining Teresa

There is a coincidence in identity regarding Teresa's family name Ahumada. Mary Magdelene's birthplace name, Magdal is derived from the Hebrew word for "tower," Migdal. (Laurence Gardner 1996, p.115) Ahumada means smoking tower.(Cathleen Medwick 1999, p. 11) Is this saint a servant or incarnation of the Magdelene as could be speculated by Cathar beliefs?

An influence on my early artistic life was the wonderful stained glass windows of Saint These Church. It was my first exposure to glass as an art form, albeit didactic. Today I read about the Spanish Saint Teresa, not the French innocent, the Little Flower, patroness of my childhood. Teresa de Ahumada was a woman! I read of Teresa of Avila the mystic nun who "confessed" to living life as a terrible sinner. the sinful life is all too evident upon examination of Bernini's Baroque countenance of Teresa in her Ecstasy. With that look on her face, she must have been misbehaving. Teresa called her ecstatic pain a gift from God.(Cathleen Medwick 1999, p.56-57)

I propose that Saint Teresa become the patron saint of female glassblowers. Her family name, Ahumada, "smoking tower" is easily compared to a flue on a glass furnace. Teresa was a very strong woman, a maverick with determination to reach her goals against all odds and questioning (remember the Inquisition?). Many female glassblowers today are formed from the same stuff. We have suffered the rigors of graduate school, and the attitude of macho glassblowing men. We suffer real pain, such as burns, which I do not consider gifts from the heavens to be sure. That is why I am not a saint.

Teresa was honored by the region's glassblowers after her death. The city of Mataró was a center for glass manufacture in the 15th century. In 1614, the glassblowers union was represented at the Beatification of Saint Teresa de Jesus. The high altar in Saint Joseph's church held many brightly colored glass vases filled with red carnations in celebration of her life and miracles. (Alice Wilson Frothingham 1941, p. 35)

Back to School

Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival is founded in Judaism as he insisted the telling of his story originated from a Jewish scholar of Toledo, a major Spanish center for Jewish Sephardic culture. The scholar's story traveled to Provence, and then to Wolfram himself and his fellow Knights Templar in Germany.(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 230) Wolfram's version is set at the Grail castle, Munsalvaesche, or "Mount Salvation", which sounds like a derivation of Mount Security/Montsegur. Wolfram may have been descended from a Jew as well. The word von , common in Germanic lands, is derived from ben or ban, Hebrew for "son."(Anita Engle 1990, p.73)

Chrétien the author of Parcival, written in 1177 may have served as inspiration for Wolfram's account. He was a French scholar from the city of Troyes in eastern France, the site of a Rabbinical academy dating from the year 1040. Two roads led to Troyes, one of which originated in mystical Toledo, and Old Castile in Spain. (Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p.241)

In Wolfram's Parzival the Grail is identified as a "stone," and compared to an emerald. An inscription from the Alchemical emerald tablet of Hermes, displayed on many of the 'Temperance' Tarot cards offers this advice; "visit the interior parts of the earth; by rectification thou shalt find the hidden stone."(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 246) Parzival receives his advice from a hermit and Jewish scholar called Flegetanis, who places the origin of the Grail texts (written in a Semitic language) in Toledo. Flegetanis, a converso, is described as an astronomer, and astrologer as he learned of the stone Grail by reading the stars. Flegetanis taught Parzival that the Grail was brought down from heaven by the angels and was guarded by a band of knights sworn to the task.(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 218)

Jewel stones in the ancient world were highly valued and surely guarded as well. The first application for the use of glass may have been as a less expensive replacement for jewels, particularly lapis lazuli. The beautiful blue semi-precious stone was mined and imported from the mountains of Afghanistan, some 1500 miles far, very distant from the Fertile Crescent. Lapis Lazuli was the choice gift given to pay homage to kings and is easily recognizable in Egyptian art and ceremonial objects. (Samuel Kurinsky 434, p.10)

In Assyrian texts dated from the second half of the second millennium BC, a differentiation in the Akkadian and Sumerian languages for words representing lapis colored glass and lapis the jewel were found. Ugnu-kuri translated to "lapis lazuli from the kiln" (glass) and ugnu-sadi translated to "lapis lazuli from the mountain."(Samuel Kurinsky 434, p.12)

The story of blown glass or the "powerful stone" and the story of the Jewish glass makers are woven like a thread throughout ancient and medieval history. The elements of the very Creation process are likened in the Midrash text (an ancient oral and then written interpretation of the Bible and other holy books) to that of blowing glass; the breath of man becomes the soul of the vessel he creates just as the breath of God becomes the soul of man. (Samuel Kurinsky 434, p.177)

While many attribute the first glass making capabilities to the Egyptians, the "acquisition" of goods from the Land of Canaan, the land of the Jews, by the pharaoh Tutmose III is detailed in chiseled stone in an inscribed inventory: "green stone, every costly stone of the country, and many stones of sparkle." The Egyptians had no term for glass, but the hieroglyph presents a symbolic drawing for fire. We can deduce that the "stones of sparkle" were stones born of the fire or furnace. (Samuel Kurinsky 434, p.68)

For two millennia, the Belus River area was the center of glass production, until it became the source for obtaining workers in glass through slavery. New agrarian settlers in the region were the Canaanites, former mountain dwellers, famous for iron smelting technology. The Greeks coined the slang name for these purple people, the "Phoenicians." One of their prosperous occupations was the creation of a purple dye extracted from the murex mollusk commonly found on the shores where they lived and worked. (Samuel Kurinsky 434, p.102)

Moses himself was said to have blessed the settlements on the Belus River "They shall profit from the abundance of the sea and from the treasures in the sand…Joy shall come, for they partake of the fishing and of the purple for the dying of their cloth, and of the sand for making mirrors and vessels of glass."(Samuel Kurinsky 434, p.104)

The tribe of Zebulun is credited with the production of glass and purple dye. These progenitors of the Jewish people had been frequently displaced and forced to wander. Not unlike the famous complainer of our era, comedian and film maker Woody Allen, Zebulun was also a "whining Jew."

"Lord of the universe, to my brethren you gave beautiful land, and to me you gave the sea. To my brethren you gave the fields and the vineyards, and to me you gave sand." (the region was swampy) to which the Holy One replied: "Yes, but did I not give you the snail/ did I not give you the glass?"(Anita Engle 1972, p. 6-7)

Spain and the Grail

A "stone" Grail found its way to Spain. The Grail Castle has been "located" in Spain; at the national monument of Saint Juan de La Peña situated in the Province of Huesca, near the city of Jaca. The monastery of Saint Juan de la Peña accepted the "Grail" for protection some time in the early Middle Ages. (Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 209) In 1399, the Grail was brought to Valencia to be used for the coronation of Don Martin as King of Aragón and Sicily. The Grail or an alleged copy remains at Valencia today. The Valencia Grail is described as a simple cup, semispherical in dimension, about the size of an orange and made of agate. (Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 124-126) One wonders if the agate cup is really chalcedony glass?

A modern French scholar, Henri Collet, believed the story of Wolfram von Eschenbach; that the "true Grail" was from Semitic origin. He claimed the Grail at Valencia was a copy of the original Grail guarded at Saint Juan de la Peña. Collet traced the movements of the Grail, beginning with the Grail as the chalice of the Last Supper used by Christ. He speculated the cup was taken to Rome by St. Peter. During the Christian persecutions, the Grail was delivered from harm to Spain by the Huesca native Saint Lorenzo. The Grail traveled with the bishop of Huesca in 713 to be guarded at the monastery of Saint Juan de la Peña during the Moorish invasion, safely housed under an ivory arch as late as 1134, until its removal to Valencia for the coronation. (Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 112) This timeline disregards the romance of the Cathars of Montsegur, unless the "real" Grail traveled to France, while Valencia instead, obtained a copy as Collet believed.

A Modern Speculation

A more recent telling of the story was by the anti-Semite Richard Wagner in his opera, Parsifal. The name Parsifal was inspired by Arabic words; with Parsi meaning "pure" and Fal as in "fool."(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 228) The pure or poor fool (as depicted by the Tarot?) commences a journey to discover the Grail castle at "Montsalvat." In Parsifal, the opera is staged in the Pyrenees overlooking Sephardic Spain. Wagner awarded the hero the role of a knight of French nationality because he was inspired by the powerful Capetian kings of France who expelled the Jews.(Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 30-31)

Goodrich in The Holy Grail, offers a theory that Wagner's "Stone" could be the altar upon which the Grail rests. She writes of a rumor from the Universite' de Grenoble, circa 1938-39: "the Grail was a fabulous emerald and...Adolf Hitler dreamed of it each night after he but aside Parsifal ...which was his bedside reading." (Norma Lorre Goodrich 1993, p. 243) Today, it seems foolish indeed to speculate on the mysteries of Parsifal and the fascinating myth. Fantasy fuels art, and without incredible imaginings, there would be no opera of any sort! We must return to the ancient Holy Land to review the idea of the "stone" as glass, and the possibility that an "altar" or holder might be a stem.

Back to the Holy Land: Was the Grail a Cup, a Stone, a Cup on a Stone, or a Goblet?

Was the Grail a cup, a stone, or a goblet? In the ancient world, a plain Tiberius Cup, a cos Tiveri pashut, was made from thin and fine glass produced in the Jewish settlement of Tiberius. Rabbinical colleges used these cups for examining liquids, such as wine or bodily fluids (most likely for medicinal purposes).(Anita Engle 1980, p.86) Joseph of Arimethea may have used a Tiberius cup to catch the Precious Blood of Jesus, during the Crucifixion when Christ's side was pierced by the sword. A cos tiveri pashut, used to examine or adore the Blood of Jesus can be compared to the use of a chalice when wine is transformed into the Holy Blood in the Catholic Mass through the process of Transubstantiation. The chalice is held up high for the faithful to venerate.

Goblets were concurrently in use at the time of Jesus. Cos as cup often referred to clay pottery.(Anita Engle 1980, p.88) A cos Tiveri pashut would have an association with simplicity, but also of magical or possibly healing properties; a simple cup, a cup for a carpenter's Son. Goblets in existence, resembled lamps with pointed bases. A written discussion is detailed among Rabbis of Tiberias in the Midrash, concerning a passage of study: "'They drink in small cups' the Rabbis said: 'cups that have spouts attached to them'"(Anita Engle 1980, p.90) The Hebrew word for spout is sometimes translated as "saucer." A cup with a spout could signify a footed bowl as in a beaker, or a plain pointed cup , the point being a stem by which a foot is attached, as in a simple goblet.(Anita Engle 1980, p.90) Would the "Glass Grail" be the simple thin Tiberius cup, or the goblet/chalice form that we know well from its depiction in art?

The Glass economy: A glass cup at the Last Supper

The economy of glass making in Palestine grew as the onset of glassblowing made glass ware available to the public. The Grail or the Chalice of the Last Supper could easily have been made from glass. Glass makers functioned in Galilee, the area from where the apostles of Jesus were recruited. Glass has also been found in archeological digs near the Temple walls in Jerusalem, dated in approximation to this time period when Proto-Sidonian glass makers and potters were active in Jerusalem. Agrippa I may have brought the glass blowers to Jerusalem to create make mold blown glass objects in his honor, at his first appearance in Jerusalem as the King of Judea.(Anita Engle 1980, p.97)

The speed of glass mold blowing processes, allowed for greater production, thereby making glass affordable to the populous, not limited to the elite. Decorative motifs of a recently recovered six sided bottle suggest souvenir ware for the celebration at the "Feasts of the Tabernacles," which occurred when the second Temple still stood, before 70 AD. (Anita Engle 1980, p.90)

Other found Sidonian bottles are mold blown in the form of a clustered fruit resembling a pomegranate or an "etrog," with the motif of the fruit incorporated into the design of the glass. The etrog is featured in the "Festival of the Sukkot" and is the fruit of the Tree of Life. Some Renaissance paintings picture the citrusy etrog as the fruit offered to Adam by Eve. (Anita Engle 1980, p.32-33) Glass makers of 16th century Barcelona, Spain decorated glass with the pomegranate/etrog motif, while Venetian glass makers never used this design. Some of this glass returned with their Jewish makers to the Holy Land after leaving Spain in 1492. (Anita Engle 1982, p.86-89)

Anita Engle, the author of the out-of print series Readings in Glass, believed that the pomegranate-decorated beakers were associated with a Cabalistic group of Spanish origin, who brought the custom-made decorated beakers with them to Damascus after fleeing Spain. Engle further contends that the pomegranate motif is often found combined with the cross and other Christian emblems on vessels made in Barcelona. "From the late 15th century onward, Christians in Spain and elsewhere were involved in studying and interpreting Cabala according to Christian doctrine …The sudden discovery of an esoteric Jewish tradition that hitherto had been completely unknown caused a sensation in the Christian intellectual world, and ... increased the interest of the Christians in Italy, Germany, and France."(Anita Engle 1982, p.89-92)

My love of glass from the Catalan area and from Spain has led me to make numerous discoveries in research and has set me in motion as an artist with a rich and varied subject. I enjoy reading about "alternative" histories of the world, including the philosophies and belief systems of many peoples, some long dead, or others active today. My discoveries of historical glass have influenced the way I work with, and think about the material; glass. I particularly enjoy Hispanic glass from the 16th century, post- banishment era. After 1492, many skilled workers returned to the Holy Land or to families or friends who had migrated to various locations near the Mediterranean, including Venice. It was there that the Hispanic workers learned the difficult Venetian glass blowing techniques. When learning these methods, I was taught that the Venetian blowers think of the bubble as a tube. They handle glass as a plastic material, stretching it, pulling it, and allowing gravity to change the form.

Historical Italian Venetian work (cristallo) was peculiarly thin. Materials were scarce; factories were built on the island of Murano. When the Spanish returned to their country with the Venetian techniques, they had far fewer limitations on the making of their products. Hispanic glass can be both thick and thin, and an artistic freedom unmatched in other European glass making is evident. Decorative components are added to the basic shape. Functional attachments such as handles or spouts are always decorated with little "bits" of glass. There is balance in composition, but the end result is very free-form, and often playful. Spanish glass from the 1500 and 1600's can be likened to "jazz" while Venetian technique is the foundation of "classical" compositions.

Hispanic glass is highly sophisticated in my opinion. It allows the material to be the material; after all, glass is a stabilized liquid. It is wonderful when it appears to be frozen in motion. Glass could be the precursor to the liquid sensual line of the famous architect Antonio' Gaudi and his contemporaries.'

My Grail Variations are contemplation's on the romance of history and the changeling metamorphosis of the material glass. Blown glass, invested in molds, liquefied, fused and finally cooled, the glass becomes transformed, as does my imagination with every object I sculpt. Glass is a strong but fragile substance, sometimes broken upon first use, or found intact in an archaeological dig after millennia.

Glass is a tactile material, the worked surfaces of the objects encourages the viewer to "see" or intuit the work with the hands as well as with the eyes. Glass is useful for function as well as for the consideration of myth. I enjoy the form of the simple cup or bowl. It is an object that can be nestled within the hands The stacking of the cups has allowed me to create objects of size, which are objects of presence. The stacked cups become figurative and develop personality, with color as an essential element to the mood and beauty of the work. With the stacking, I remove the possibility of function for the object. A series of stacked or nested cups, now become impossible to drink from or even to hold, as the weight is increased. At this point, the cups become sculptural, and the objects can only retain or convey ideas.

I am inspired by counting. The stacking of the cups is an analogy for the layers of content in meaning, the enumeration of the Tarot Suit of Cups. I find it interesting to work with small numbers, ten or less, the numbers of the fingers of the hands that make the objects, the numbers of a suit of cards. With my sources of poetry, the Tarot, the Cabala and corresponding numbers, I have a subject very rich in meaning and inspiration with which I will work for a long time to come.

I believe that it is realistic to speculate on the idea of the Holy Grail as Glass. Recent historical datings have proven that blown glass existed in the time of Christ and His Last Supper. Glass making throughout the world is a magical mystery tour. If the Holy Grail is made from glass, wherein lies its power? The Grail would be glass. Isn't that enough?


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Rene Culler