Commentary on Praeterito, Praesens, Futura by John Eberly

acrylic on canvas, 2000

"Don’t ask me to explain too much! The only valid thing in art is that which cannot be explained...Believe me, there are certain mysteries, certain secrets in my work which even I don’t understand nor do I try to do so....Mysteries have to be respected if they are to retain their power." -George Braque (The Penguin Book of Art Writing, p. 312.)

(PRAETERITO, PRAESENS, FUTURA "Past, Present, Future" abbreviated from the motto found in Titan’s painting "Allegory of Prudence.")

It is appropriate that the initial image painted for this project was a double-headed eagle, symbol of Janus, the Roman God of present tenses, of endings and beginnings. It is also auspicious that work on this painting began on the last day of the "old" moon, while the preliminary drawing was basically finished the next day, the first day of the "new" moon. Sometime "between moons" the painter was granted a vision of the two heads of Janus parting to reveal his true face rising in a sunburst halo between them, facing the viewer and revealing the potential of the moment. The vision of this image has been incorporated into the painting through the "Eye of Horus" circled and enclosed in the triangle in the white area above the crown. (Note: This detail is lost in the photograph of the painting reproduced in this exhibition.)

"The ritual portrayal of the ancestors of the Chumash through shamanic art needs to be continued to preserve our awareness of our interconnectedness with the ancestors and our responsibility to creation as participants in creation. Like most American Indians, the Chumash believed that their response to creation did have an effect...Humankind needs to reconnect with the forces of the heavens and of the earth and of the ancestors to restore the balance of life. When we deny our ability to respond to a keeping of the order, then our part of creating reality is weakened and reality itself is weakened." - The late Navaho shaman/painter David Paladin (private correspondence with Lynda Paladin, Spring, 2000.)

In order to co-create such a rich reality, a contemporary synthesis is necessary adhering to certain ancient symbolism in order to bring the timeless into this particular time and place. This living link intersecting the future and the past is acted out in the present, indeed the only "time" we are allowed.
The balance and "reconnection of the forces of heaven and earth" is perfectly expressed in the image of Janus, identified by Marcilio Ficino as the god emblematic of the soul that embodies both spirit and matter.
Rene Guenon refers to Janus-Jana (or Diana) as an androgyne related to the hermetic symbolism inherent in the Rebus.

(The) third face is, in fact, invisible because the present in its temporal manifestation is but an ungraspable instant;* but when one rises above the conditions of this transitory and contingent manifestation, the present, on the contrary, contains all reality.
*It is for this reason that certain languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic, do not have a verbal form that corresponds to the present.
-Rene Guenon, (Fundamental Symbols, p.. 90.)

Guenon also relates the "third eye" (or third "face") to the eye of Shiva, and also Christ as the "Lord of Eternity." I have chosen the eye of Horus to hover inside a circle within the triangle surmounting the crown above the eagle’s heads for similar reasons.
Although it is a familiar symbol found in the 32nd and 33rd degrees of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, the inspiration for the double-eagle in this painting came from an illustration by J.A. Knapp entitled "Masonic Seal of the Double Headed Eagle" in Manley P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1925). Knapp’s eagles are blue and black, while PRAETERITO, PRAESENS, FUTURA incorporates realistically portrayed bald eagles. In the same work by Hall is found Knapp’s depiction of the "Philosopher’s Stone" which influenced the double-headed Phoenix rising from the flames in the center of a diamond in PRAETERITO, PRAESENS, FUTURA. The serpent caught in the talons of the eagle represents the "fixed mercury" of the alchemists, another symbol of "seizing the moment" or realizing the ever-present Reality. The serpent trampled or seized underfoot crops up in many images of the double-thing generally known as the Rebus. In his Kronos (Aeon, or Infinite Time, the son of Janus) aspect, Mithras is depicted with a serpent wrapped around him from head to foot in a mirror image of this symbol. He springs from the rock inside the present moment and is instantly "fixed" there.
There is an incredible range of images incorporating the various symbols used in PRAETERITO, PRAESENS, FUTURA. The venerable Masonic sage Albert Pike (Scottish Rite Grand Commander, 1859-1891), who penned numerous volumes on every aspect of Freemasonry wrote in relation to the double-headed eagle surmounted by crown and triangle, the symbolism of the 32nd degree of Scottish Freemasonry,
And as in each Triangle of Perfection, one is three and three are one, so man is one, though of a double nature; and he attains the purposes of his being only when the two natures that are in him are in just equilibrium; and his life is only a success when it too is in harmony, and beautiful, like the great Harmonies of God and the Universe.
-Albert Pike (Morals and Dogma, 1871, p.. 861.) (Note: the image heading chapter XXXII "Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret" on p. 839 depicts a Rebus holding a square and compass, standing upon a dragon breathing fire which lays across a winged globe surrounded by stars, sun and moon with attendant alchemical astrological assignations. The emblem is from the Azoth series of Basil Valentine: see the commentary for the Mylius hybrid painting entitled AZOTH below.)
Elsewhere in the same work, writing of the 18th degree of the Scottish Rite, the Knight Rose Croix, he writes,
The Eagle was the living symbol of the Egyptian God Mendes or Menthra, whom Sesostris-Ramses made one with Amun-Re, the God of Thebes and Upper Egypt, and the representative of the Sun, the word Re meaning Sun or King. -Albert Pike (Morals and Dogma, 1871, p. 291.)
He also states that the eagle is an alchemical symbol of the philosopher’s sulphur. This sulphur, or sol, soul, is one of the three principals of Paracelsian Alchemy which also include salt (the earth matrix), and mercury (the ethereal spirit of a substance). Sol (the Sun) and Luna (the Moon, the Spirit of the Sun, or the philosophic mercury) are chemically married to the salt of the Earth (matrix) to perfect the philosopher’s stone.
There is a symmetry inherent in nature-based alchemical-esoteric imagery. In PRAETERITO, PRAESENS, FUTURA the artist attempts to express how the perpetuation of the lineage of sacred imagery is independent of a particular series or theme, yet adheres to something common in nature, to the wholeness and Oneness that is the quintessence the imagery projects. The symmetrical, conjoined sides of the human body hold up our mirror nature, our existence in the present fixed between the Janus heads of before/after. We are here now in the midst of life, born in and of the moment. The Sun is the "Son of the Moment" moving through space constantly and of course our source of light/illumination. Apollo Pholeuterios is the mystical "Sun at Midnight" who never stops wheeling through day and night, to illuminate within and without until there is no distinction left between the two. The sun defines the moment in which we find ourselves, when we manage to remember we are here, right now, alive and present to the One Reality. Rebirth into the knowledge of the resolution of opposites brings us back to the One Thing, which passes through egg, fertilization, rebus, child, adult.
The viewer collaborates in PRAETERITO, PRAESENS, FUTURA, by acknowledging that the present moment reconciles at once the limits of mortality and the unlimited freedom of immortality.

In the News: During the actual painting of PRAETERITO, PRAESENS, FUTURA, "Image," a two-faced (on one skull apparently) kitten was born somewhere in Indiana. Also reported in the news media during this time was the birth of a two-headed calf in Kansas.

PRAETERITO, PRAESENS, FUTURA Painting Research Bibliography

Audubon, John James. The Birds of America. MacMillan, New York, 1946.
Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Knopf, New York, 1977.
Clausen, Henry C. Clausen’s Commentaries on Morals and Dogma. The Supreme Council, 33rd degree Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Washington, 1976.
Cumont, Franz. The Mysteries of Mithra. Dover, New York, 1956.
Gress, Bob. Watching Kansas Wildlife. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 1993.
Guenon, Rene. Fundamental Symbols. Quinta Essentia, Cambridge, 1995.
Hall, Manley P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles, 1925.
Hutchens, Rex R. A Bridge To Light. The Supreme Council, 33rd degree Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Washington, 1988.
Kingsley, Peter. In The Dark Places of Wisdom. Golden Sufi Center, Inverness, 1999.
Mead, G.R.S. A Mythraic Ritual. The Alexandrian Press, Edmonds, 1993.
Paladin, David Chetlahe. Painting The Dream. Park Street Press, Rochester, 1992.
Panofsky, Erwin. Meaning in the Visual Arts. Doubleday, New York, 1955.
Pike, Albert. Morals and Dogma. The Supreme Council, 33rd degree Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Charleston, 1950.
Wasserman, James. Art and Symbols of the Occult. Destiny, New York, 1993.