DIVINE CREATIVE MAGIC IN THE JUPITER SPHERE: A Hermetic Collaboration
William Fields / Robert Ruckman / Samuel Allen Taylor
by Tom Patterson
“As Above, So Below”
This publication documents a rare endeavor in the world of contemporary art--a three-way creative collaboration inspired and informed by an ancient system of occult spiritual knowledge. The participants--two visual artists and a composer--are longtime friends who share several ardent interests. Fundamental among those interests, and to this project, is the ancient magical/spiritual system known as Hermetics, to which all three have devoted years of study and practice. Unfamiliar to many and viewed skeptically by others only marginally familiar with it, Hermetics (aka Hermeticism or Hermetic science) is the esoteric tradition encoded in centuries-old writings attributed to a philosopher-priest known as Hermes Trismegistus. Despite its obscurity, it has been a source of deep fascination, inspiration and personal transformation for these artists.
Hermetic practitioners view the entire universe as the expression of a transcendent God. From a Hermetic perspective, self and universe exist within and correspond to each other in a dynamic relationship summarized by the credo “As above, so below.” Also basic to the tradition is a division of universal wisdom into three aspects--alchemy (the transformation and perfection of matter), astrology (the influence of heavenly bodies on earthly bodies) and theurgy (ritual magic performed to invoke divine spirits). This project’s co-creators have studied all three branches, and their research has informed much of the work that each of them has independently produced. Most important to the project at hand has been their involvement with theurgy--ritual magic--since it required them to collaboratively invoke a group of divine entities described in Hermetic texts.
Influences, Initiations and Momentous Meetings
William Fields, the senior artist among this trio, has been drawing and painting since his youth. Composer Samuel Allen Taylor, the youngest, has likewise been involved with music almost all his life. Robert Ruckman, seven years younger than Fields, didn’t start painting until he was in his late twenties, but he was the first to investigate Hermetics.(1)
Ruckman was introduced to Hermetic teachings in New York in 1967, when he was 20 and had recently moved to the city from his native Ohio. Following his curiosity into an occult bookstore one day, he happened onto a copy of Initiation Into Hermetics by Franz Bardon, an experienced Hermetics researcher, practitioner and teacher as well as a stage magician. Over a number of years before his death in a Czechoslovakian prison camp in 1958, Bardon distilled his occult knowledge into three books intended as systematic instructions for self-guided study and practice. Ruckman plunged enthusiastically into Bardon’s Initiation, then went on to the second and third volumes,The Practice of Magical Evocation and The Key to the True Quabbalah.(2)
Later that same year, as he was immersing himself in this complex body of information, Ruckman had an uncanny experience--either a vivid dream or an elaborate vision--while camping out with friends one night during a visit to the West Coast. As he recalls it, his friends were sleeping when he entered a kind of psychokinetic trance and left his body. A luminescent blue, genie-like figure then materialized from smoky darkness and led him into a Hall of Records--the name inscribed above the entrance. Among the countless documents inside Ruckman effortlessly found a book containing his entire life from beginning to end--not in text form but rather as a miraculously condensed yet comprehensive view of the full experience
A skeptical assessment of Ruckman’s psychokinetic encounter would attribute it to a vivid imagination stimulated by recent readings of occult literature. The spectral blue figure he describes corresponds closely to El Morya, one of the “ascended masters” identified in the writings of H.P. Blavatsky, the Theosophical Society’s co- founder.(3) Ruckman had recently been reading Blavatsky and her younger counterpart Alice Bailey. Whether his life-review vision was a genuine supernatural encounter is less important, for our purposes, than the seriousness with which he took the experience, and the enduring impact it had on his life. Above all, it sealed his commitment to pursue his self-guided metaphysical studies.
At the time Ruckman hadn’t yet crossed paths with William Fields, but the two already had several things in common, including firsthand experience with out-of-body travel. As a young child in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in the mid-1940s, Fields had often fallen into vivid dreams during which his consciousness floated through the atmosphere above his neighborhood while he heard disembodied voices speaking an incomprehensible language. He later came to believe alien spirits were trying to communicate with him. During this early stage of his life he also started drawing, which would become his lifelong creative practice.
By the time he met Ruckman, Fields had traveled widely as an independent adult--awake and on the ground--and had blazed his own trail of intellectual investigation. He’d served two years as an Army draftee in France, toured Europe, studied art with a Harvard-trained lover/mentor and undergone a year of training in anatomical drawing at Duke University.(4) In Europe he’d begun reading Greek mythology and modern literature, and had discovered the work of Arthur Rimbaud, the visionary bad boy of French Symbolist poetry, whom he adopted as a role model. The last half of the 1960s found Fields back in the United States, repeatedly criss-crossing the country in a haphazard manner reminiscent of Rimbaud’s wanderings around Europe nearly a century earlier.
In 1969, closing in on his 30th birthday, Fields arrived in New York and found a job with an advertising firm. One afternoon at a popular gay bar and cafe in Greenwich Village he struck up a conversation with a young stranger who turned out to be Robert Ruckman. Recognizing a mutual attraction, the two immediately began spending much of their time together and sharing their deepest interests. Fields introduced Ruckman to European and American art, and to Rimbaud’s poetry, and Ruckman introduced Fields to Hermetics. They’ve been together ever since.
A couple of months after they began their relationship, Fields resigned his job in New York, and Ruckman accompanied him back to his hometown. Fields had been hired to teach art at the North Carolina School of the Arts, the state-supported arts school that had opened in Winston-Salem only a few years earlier. Although his one- year contract wasn’t subsequently renewed, he and Ruckman continued to maintain a home base in the city throughout the 1970s. Eventually they settled in the house where Fields grew up, in the Southside neighborhood adjoining the School of the Arts.
Flash forward a couple of decades to the early 1990s, when Taylor entered the picture. The son of a Methodist minister from eastern North Carolina, he came to the School of the Arts as a classical-guitar student. Following up a longstanding interest in spiritual matters, he began reading about occult subjects in the school’s library. When he came across references to Hermetics his curiosity was piqued. He had been meditating intensively at the time, in keeping with a childhood practice of closing his eyes to focus on internal visualizations. His investigations into these areas prepared him well for his first meeting with Fields and Ruckman, which occurred casually within a year of his arrival at the school.
By that time Ruckman had established his own practice as a visual artist. He had started painting in 1975, inspired in part by his companion’s serious art pursuits, but he’d gone his own way creatively, developing a style and formal path of his own. While Fields refined a distinctive brand of visionary imagery that featured alien figures, esoteric symbols and otherworldly landscapes, delineated with color pencils and filled in with pastels, Ruckman was experimenting with spontaneously poured paint and the surreal imagery that sometimes seemed to emerge from the paint swirls.
Meanwhile, the century-old house the two artists shared--originally the home of Fields‘ maternal grandmother--became a kind of esoteric salon, a gathering place for young artists in training at NCSA and others who shared Fields‘ and Ruckman’s interests. The rooms were filled with their own art and art by their friends, along with ritual objects, books, shrines, effigies, glittering crystal-rock specimens and other curiosities. The floors and furniture, meanwhile, were regularly traversed by numerous resident cats and a small friendly dog. In the backyard was a shaded garden with a central birdbath and a few chairs surrounded by big ferns and other lush, well-tended plants. Was and is. The description still applies.
Taylor first visited this neighborhood cultural oasis in the summer of 1994, accompanied by a friend who also knew the two artists. On their way out of town for an afternoon of hiking in the nearby mountains, they stopped in briefly, and introductions were hardly out of the way when the conversation turned to Hermetics. As soon as he met Fields and Ruckman, Taylor recalls, he was seized by the uncanny feeling he already knew them, and he noticed that Fields‘ voice sounded familiar, although he couldn’t recall where or when he’d heard it. It eventually dawned on him that he’d encountered both men more than 10 years earlier in recurring childhood dreams. He hadn’t seen them in the ordinary manner of observing their physical features, but rather had experienced them telepathically, enabling him to feel the weight of their personalities and glimpse the worlds described in their art. He’d found the dreams confusing at the time and didn’t know what to make of them until he met the two in person and saw their work.
This momentous real-time meeting coincided with a period when Taylor was developing an interest in electronic music. He’d begun to create his own compositions using the vintage electronic-sound devices available to him in NCSA’s analog studio, a counterpart to its state-of-the-art digital studio. Although his accustomed specialty was classical guitar, he knew he ultimately wanted to create his own work, not just perform the music of others. And he found himself increasingly drawn to electronics as an alternative to writing for conventional instruments. The school’s sound-mixing board, Ampex reel-to-reel tape machines, and voltage-control synthesizer, which all dated from the late 1960s and early ‘70s, qualified as museum pieces by the time he started experimenting with them. The digital techniques he would eventually use in composing music are extrapolated from techniques originally developed with that vintage equipment. After earning his undergraduate degree in classical guitar at NCSA, Taylor went on to complete a master’s degree in composition from the school as he started building a body of original electronic music.
In the meantime, he developed a strong relationship with Fields and Ruckman based on their common interests and overlapping artistic aspirations. He rented a room in their house, moved in for several years and continued to maintain a studio there after he found a place of his own. The three joined forces in their occult pursuits, including Hermetic ritual practices and mantra meditation. By the time they met they had all begun to study and practice aspects of Tantra and esoteric Buddhism. All of these currents fed into the art they were creating. Taylor, the young newcomer, began thinking of their informal association as a kind of modern-day mystery school for spiritual art.
Soon after Taylor moved into the house with Fields and Ruckman, the three began combining their energies in theurgic practices aimed at invoking selected inter- dimensional entities described in Hermetic texts. They devised their own rituals for accessing and manifesting the divine essence through their creative efforts. After they had been working together along these lines for the remainder of the 1990s and well into the new millennium, they began the joint effort that would culminate with the present project, thematically informed by a Hermetic perspective on the planet Jupiter.
Hermetics teaches that life exists on all planets, either in sentient physical form, as on the Earth, or as physically formless entities embodying their own types of wisdom, information and power. According to this scheme, Jupiter--as the largest planet in our solar system (and king of the gods in classical antiquity)--generates and coordinates the activities of life on all the smaller planets. Furthermore, these controlling powers are distributed among Jupiter’s 12 highest-ranking genii--intelligent and creative but non- corporeal entities, or spirits. It is these entities that our three artists chose to address and/or portray in this project. According to Bardon, each one has a name and is associated with a particular zodiacal sign, as follows: Malchjdael (Aries), Asmodel (Taurus), Ambriel (Gemini), Murjel (Cancer), Verchiel (Leo), Hamaliel (Virgo), Zuriel (Libra), Carbiel (Scorpio), Aduachiel (Sagittarius), Hanael (Capricorn), Cambiel (Aquarius) and Jophaniel (Pisces). Hermetic practitioners can best establish direct contact with any of these entities during the time of year when the Earth is aligned with its corresponding astrological conjunction.(5)
In 2008 Fields, Ruckman and Taylor began an extended period of research and ritual activity intended to bring themselves into contact with these multi-dimensional spirits. After carefully calculating the time when the planets would be most closely aligned with each spirit during that year--averaging about one per month--they convened at that time to perform the rituals they’d designed for establishing contact.
Consistent with their previous work in this vein, the ceremonial performances involved offerings to the targeted entities and readings of specially prepared texts expressing gratitude and requesting knowledge and inspiration for their creative efforts. Taking about two hours to perform, each ritual was intended to open an ongoing connection between the artists and the invoked spirit/entity, so that its powers became embedded in each of their consciousnesses. In theory, this left them all fully prepared to work on the art inspired by the interchange. Then, in 2009, they began the hands-on phase of this project. Each worked at his own pace, in his own studio and according to his own methods.
In his contributions to this ambitious group effort, Fields relied on the approach he has developed and refined over more than 40 years. Employing his favored mediums, color pencil and pastel crayon, he portrayed the 12 principal Jupiter genii as elaborately multifaceted figures set off against seemingly vast, otherworldly landscapes. For all of them he used a panoramic, 31-by-41-inch format that allowed him to give as much attention to the settings as to the figures themselves. They’re consistently strong compositions, deriving much of their power from his tightly controlled line and his extravagant color schemes. The imagery is visually seductive and fundamentally recognizable despite the profoundly alien nature of the subject matter.
Most of the central figures are structural composites, with multiple heads, faces, torsos and other body parts. They suggest hyper-aware life-forms enacting perpetual transformation, internally charged with super-organic energy. Some of them wear elaborate feathered or winged headgear, some wield special ritual implements, some have prominent third eyes and most of them sport braided chin beards--spirit beards, Fields calls them. Small animals emerge from the upper crania of some figures, and others have snakelike tongues flickering out of their mouths, as if to signify special levels of awareness and powers of communication. Viewed in profile or frontally, the faces appear alert and focused, but they’re otherwise inscrutable, as befits superhuman beings.
In rendering the multi-dimensional landscapes where the Jupiter genii make their appearances before him, Fields employs a range of devices to represent the collapse of the time/space dichotomy and the coincidence of parallel worlds. Although the ostensible setting for the drawings is Jupiter, most of them also incorporate views of Pilot Mountain, a striking natural landmark on Earth, only 25 miles north of Winston- Salem. Visible from the neighborhood where Fields, Ruckman and Taylor live, Pilot’s treeless dome of quartz, slate and mica rises to nearly 3,000 feet and is located on public land. One of the world’s oldest mountains, it was known to the region’s Saura Indians as Jomeokee, meaning “great guide.” The three artists consider it a power place, and they conducted some of their ritual activities for this project in secluded areas near its dome. The ravens that glide around and congregate on the mountain inspired the emblematic flying-raven silhouettes in several of Fields’ drawings.
Lingams--phallic symbols signifying divine potency--also appear in Fields’ drawings. These stylized, columnar forms are specifically associated with the Hindu god Shiva, to whom Fields has long been devoted. Other recurring motifs include a variety of traditionally derived celestial emblems--discs, crescents and cartouches decorated with mysterious hieroglyphics transcribed directly from his visions of Jupiter. The checkerboard grids in the drawings titled Crystal Magus and Emanation call to mind magic squares, the numerically labeled grids associated with ancient Vedic rituals as well as Hermetic planetary-image magic. Passages of collage are also integral to several of the drawings, in each case serving as autobiographical references. The floral- patterned breastplate worn by the spirit Hanael as portrayed in Causation, for example, is antique lace embroidery from Fields’ maternal grandmother’s wedding dress. In another such homage to his family, the lower left corner of Hermetic Impulse features a cutout photo-portrait of his uncle Henri Black, an opera aficionado and the first member of Fields’ family with an interest in the arts. Snapshot-size photographs of Fields and Ruckman in the 1980s have been cut into disc shapes, decoratively embellished and inserted into the drawing Gnostic Dawn, while a recent group photograph of all three artists has been similarly treated in De Profundis, the final drawing in the series.(6)
Ruckman’s creative method is much more spontaneous and condensed, dependent on unpredictable, quickly achieved effects rather than an evolving process of composition over an extended period. The result is a visual language entirely different from the one Fields uses. In keeping with his regular practice of attending closely to astrological phenomena, Ruckman typically coordinates his painting sessions with lunar transitions, equinoxes and/or solstices--the optimum periods for creative activity, in his view. To make his 12 acrylic paintings--with titles identical to those Fields applied to his drawings--Ruckman worked on 60-by-60-inch canvases, ceremoniously commencing each one by drawing a central triangle, inside which he inscribed the name or magical seal of the entity to be celebrated in the painting. This practice was a means of soliciting the entity’s participation in the painting. Ruckman chose the colors as he always does, through an intuitive process involving a synesthetic experience of color and sound, according to his account, so that he “hears” the colors as well as seeing them. The chromatic range extends from bold primarIes to black, white, several shades of gold and other more subdued hues, along with various admixtures. He intermingles these colors in organic swirls, splashes, rivulets and whiplashing trails, sometimes allowing them to coalesce into eruptive forms or florescent patterns. They’re like visual traces of spontaneous dance performances, or illuminated sparkler fireworks waved around in outdoor darkness. They invite superficial comparison to abstract-expressionism, but are more closely akin to the multicolored ameboid forms that continuously morphed on the overhead screens of rock-concert venues during the psychedelic light shows of the late 1960s. For Ruckman the somewhat similar effects that distinguish his paintings aren’t merely random; they’re traces of actions performed, or at least strongly influenced, by the Jupiter entities invoked for this project. The fluid bilateral symmetries and striking hints of figuration in some of the paintings suggest that the spirits, having been summoned, might even be playfully manifesting themselves in quasi-human form.
Mindful of the sharp differences between Fields’ cleanly linear drawings and Ruckman’s fluidly expressionistic paintings, Taylor sought to sonically mediate those contrasting visual languages while working toward the larger, shared goal of honoring the 12 Jupiter genii. Although his medium is electronic sound, his experience during and immediately following the project’s invocation rituals was multi-sensory, manifested in both auditory and visual impressions. All remained strongly present for him when he set about composing, as ideals he hoped to approximate with the digital technology at his disposal. In addition to computer programs simulating the range of sounds a 1960s- vintage modular synthesizer offers,Taylor employed several other strategies to this end. These included transformation of orchestral and percussion-derived sounds; processing and recomposition of sound recordings the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) made of Jupiter and its 67 moons; and an indeterminate, open- channel sound-generating process that Taylor calls “electric discourse.” The latter phrase hints at his idea that the process extends his communication with the Jupiter genii, enabling him to encourage their participation. He experimented freely and intuitively with all these sources in order to select the sounds that make up his composition. A quadrophonic (four-channel) process allowed him to direct sounds at the listener from any of several different directions, in effect situating the sounds in space as well as in time. Not only do they emanate from the four discrete channels, but they also seem to move through the spaces in between. The multi-tracking phase of Taylor’s process is analogous to traditional composition in the sense that he began each of this work’s 12 movements with a motif on which he then elaborated. Furthermore, he structured the music so that each movement echoes in one or more of the other movements. The movements‘ titles are identical to those of Fields’ drawings and Ruckman’s paintings.
Unlike his collaborators, who created their contributions to the project sequentially, Taylor worked on all 12 movements of his composition simultaneously, moving back and forth from one to another until he had finished them all. The movements vary in length from about three to seven minutes, not counting the brief interludes that link them into a single listening experience of about one hour’s duration.
Because it exists as a recording to be played in a gallery with the project’s 24 visual artworks on exhibition, viewer/listeners will presumably enter and leave at different times, depending on their personal schedules and attention spans. For that reason Taylor composed it as a continuous form, independent of conventional structure, circling back on itself without beginning or end.
So now that all three artists have completed their contributions to this project, it all comes together--one dozen drawings, an equal number of paintings and one hour of digital electronic music. While any of these components could stand on its own merits in other contexts, Fields, Ruckman and Taylor don’t think of them as separate works or bodies of work. In keeping with their original concept, they see (and hear) their creative efforts for this project as parts of a unity, a single work or “force field” with multiple facets--an aesthetic transmission from a particular sector of a magical universe through three human mediums or creative conduits--to be experienced in toto.
As above, so below.
Jupiter Optimus Maximus.
-Winston-Salem, North Carolina June12,2014 (last full moon in Gemini)
1. Biographical information on the artists and details about their respective creative processes is from interviews and informal discussion with them before, during and after their work on this project.
2. The three volumes by Bardon (Initiation Into Hermetics,The Practice of Magical Evocation and The Key to the True Quabbalah) were first published by Dieter Ruggeberg, West Germany, 1955, 1956, 1957.
H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, Theosophical Publishing House, 1978. El Morya is first mentioned on p. 378, with multiple references in subsequent pages; see also Sylvia Cranston, The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Putnam, 1994, pp. 132, 224, 228-229, 249, 281, 294, 368.
Fields’ lover and mentor during his Army years was Furman Burke, a Harvard-trained architect and U.S. Army officer, who introduced Fields to European art museums and art history, along with related cultural material.
Bardon,The Practice of Magical Evocation, pp. 252-257.
Excluding the names of the Jupiter genii and their corresponding astrological signs,
the titles for the individual components of this project were created and assigned by Fields and Taylor with Ruckman’s assent.