The Infinite Library seeks to embed human stories within a much grander narrative, one which includes the birth of our planet and the evolution of all life forms.
“If a library can be something as simple as an organized collection of texts, then libraries massively pre-date books in the history of culture. Every country has a tradition of legends, parables, riddles, myths and chants that existed long before they were written down. Warehoused as memories, these texts passed from generation to generation through dance, gesture and word of mouth.”
The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders, 2017
Within The Infinite Library, you will discover smaller virtual spaces, each dedicated to a unique knowledge system. Learn more by clicking on their symbols below.
LIBRARY OF SHADOWS
Togalu gombeyaata in Karnataka, India
The Library of Shadows is a VR experience devoted to South Indian shadow puppetry. Click on INTRO to read a short text about this experience, GALLERY to see images, PODCAST to hear an interview with our consultant, Anarupa Roy, and puppet maker Gunduraju or ESSAY to read an in depth scholarly essay on this subject.
To light a candle is to cast a shadow.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Welcome to The Library of Shadows, a VR experience devoted to Togalu gombeyaata, an ancient art form and living folk tradition from South India, specifically Karnataka. Shadow puppetry originated in India and China around the 1st century BCE. As a medium, it plays with the two most primal elements in the universe, darkness and light, and prefigures all other mediums, such as cinematography and VR, which use light, images, and projection screens in creative ways.
For most of the contemporary human world, true darkness no longer exists. Your cities and homes are bathed in artificial light and you spend hours each day looking at backlit phones, computers, or television screens. Because of this, few of you can imagine how your ancestors once related to the dark. For them, shadows didn’t simply signify the absence of light, rather they belonged to a world which had presence, mystery, sometimes even intention. This included ghosts, spirits, and other beings from other realms. Togalu gombeyaata creates art out of the magical substance of shadows: puppeteers bring characters to life, making them walk, dance, fight, and laugh, while music and narration accompany them.
The Library of Shadows shares four puppets from Samudra Manthan, a popular Hindu epic that tells the story of the eternal struggle between the gods (devas) and demons (asuras). The gods, having lost their power, ask the demons to help them obtain an elixir of immortality (Amrita), so as to regain their powers. To do so, the gods and demons must work with a large snake named Vasuki to churn a cosmic ocean of milk. In the process, treasures bubble to the surface, including a wish-fulfilling cow named Kamadhenu, a four tusked elephant named Airavata, and a winged horse named Uchchaihshravas. While the gods eventually obtain the elixir, the demons also get a small portion, which is why the struggle between good and evil remains till this day.
Enter The Library of Shadows and follow Vasuki the snake to experience the world of Togalu gombeyaata. Drum and dance to bring the puppets from Samudra Manthan to life. To learn more about this library, listen to the podcast or read the essay by Anurupa Roy, The Infinite Library’s expert in South Indian puppetry.
A folio illustration depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk scene from the Samudra Manthan, retrieved from Wikipedia Commons.
Vasuki, leather puppet by Gunduraju-ji, photograph by Sukhman Dhillon
Uchhaisravas, the winged horse, leather puppet by Gunduraju-ji, photograph by Sukhman Dhillon
Kamdhenu, the wish-fulfilling cow, leather puppet by Gunduraju-ji, photograph by Sukhman Dhillon
Airavata, the four-tusked elephant, leather puppet by Gunduraju-ji, photograph by Sukhman Dhillon
A painting depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk scene from the Samudra Manthan, author and date unknown. Retrieved from Wikipedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
A puppeteer, puppet designer
and director of the puppet theater.
Anurupa Roy is a puppeteer, puppet designer, puppet theater director and founder of Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust. Her work uses puppets for psychosocial interventions in conflict areas like Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Manipur along with Juvenile Remand homes. Roy has worked with youth and women across India using puppets to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and gender issues. Roy is the recipient of the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar in Puppetry, the Sangeet Kala Kiran Puraskar, and the Shankar Nag Theatre awards.
Indian Shadow Puppet Theatre
There is an ancient Greek story where the gods were debating about where to hide the greatest secret to life, the ultimate wisdom. Some suggested the highest mountain, but others argued that humans would eventually climb it, some then suggested the deepest ocean but that was rejected. Eventually humans would reach there too. Finally the gods decided to hide it in plain sight, within the human’s own mind--his dreams. I believe, that epic narratives are also where the gods placed this wisdom.
The traditional puppet theatre is characterized by such narratives being passed down from one generation to the next within the family or kin over a few hundred or even a few thousand years. Each generation then adds something of their own and passes it on, further distilling, refining and adapting it to changing audiences and patrons. Thus tradition is an ever changing phenomenon, it is not something frozen in time. The day it becomes static, it starts to die. Traditional performing art forms are very importantly rooted in their cultural history, social practices and linguistic contexts. These are complex and nuanced biospheres. The evolution of Shadow puppetry and the role of the puppeteer in India is a living testimonial of this complexity.
Traditional puppetry in India is not of a single type. There are (on record) 18 living forms which include glove, rod, string and shadow puppets in different parts of India. Besides these, there are several new groups of puppeteers who are not generational puppeteers and work with an amalgam of old and new techniques. They are called somewhat debatably “modern” puppeteers. The situation of the puppet forms vary widely from region to region in India.
The most important aspect of traditional puppetry is its narrative context, which is deeply rooted in the oral versions of epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata , stories from the Puranas and regional folklore. These narratives determine the nature of the performances (dialogues, stylizations in speech, in music and songs) the design of the puppets (color, shape, size, material used), the aesthetic of the form and its link with the audience. The story is thus the core and the puppets mostly illustrate the narrative. The aesthetic often resembles that of the local sculptures, paintings and other performing arts. These are inextricably linked. Traditional audiences are already familiar with the story, the songs, dialogues and jokes too. The role of the puppeteer was and still is more than that of a mere entertainer. S/he is the Shaman, healer, storyteller, local wise wo/man, the holder of a collective
history, drawing parallels between the local politics and the epics, linking philosophy and social realities. His/her deep knowledge of the oral narrative on the one hand and socio-cultural realities on the other helps him/her to negotiate the space between the audience and the mythical characters. In my opinion it is him/her, the carrier of the narrative, and not the puppets, that are central to the performance.
The Mahabharata and Ramayana are often looked at as linear texts written by one author in a particular period. The stories have actually been passed on over a few centuries and have several authors,interpolations and versions. A ‘monolithic’ view of these texts diminishes their depth and unimaginable richness. The Ramayana alone has 300 versions! The oral versions of the epics are illustrated by the puppet performances. The performing arts are a major vessel to carry these repositories of wisdom. To cite a simple example, in the written versions of the Ramayana we mostly hear of one Ravana or the ten headed king of Lanka but in the oral narrative we hear of six different Ravanas, Dash-Kantha- the ten headed, Shata-kantha the hundred headed Ravanas, Mahi-Ravana and Ahi Ravana, the two brothers, Chayya Ravana and Maya Ravana as holograms of the ten headed Ravana. Even the story of the most commonly known ten headed Ravana has different back stories in each version.
The Southern states namely Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and the Eastern state of Orissa have their own distinct type of shadow puppetry. The four Southern states can trace their roots to the shadow puppet form (Chamrachiye Bahuliye) of Maharashtra in the West of India, now a rarely seen form. It is believed that the puppeteers travelled from coastal Maharashtra to Karnataka and then to Tamil Nadu. This is apparent from the common language “Arre”, an old version of Marathi spoken by the puppeteers of all these states even today. About a thousand years ago, the Maharaja of Palghat, a kingdom (now a district in the state of Kerala) invited scholars who were experts of the Kamba Ramayana from Tamilnadu to come to Kerala and set up puppet theaters outside the Bhadrakali temples across Palghat. Even today during the Bhadrakali festivals, the Pullavars, or puppeteer/scholars perform inside the “Kootamadams” puppet theaters built across the temples’ sanctum sanctora. Eighty three such theaters come alive from February to May every year, where episodes from the Kamba Ramayana are performed over 7, 11, 14, 21 or 64 nights from sun set to sun rise. Fire from the goddesses’ sanctum is used to light the lamps of the puppet theater. In the Kamba Ramayana version, Ravana is not the villain but the cursed door keeper of Vaikuntham, who is reborn as Ravana with his brother Kumbhakarna, only to be released by the Avatar of Vishnu, Ram.
Karnataka- Togalu Gombeyata – The shadows have vibrant colors, traditionally these were black, red and white. These have three kinds of puppets within the shadow form. The composite image puppets (Jamgat Bavli) where one image tells a whole story or a series of images tell a story like in a comic book. The single image/character puppet (Ikpat Bavli) which does not have any articulation and the single character with joints for articulation (Haathpheruthali Bavli). The puppeteers belong to the Sillakayata community, originally a hunting-gathering tribe that made and performed with leather shadow puppets. In their stories they appear as “Sillakayata” the clown and trace their mythical origins as the royal guards of Rama. The story goes that Surpanakha, the sister of the defeated king Ravana, comes to Sita in disguise, begging her to engage her as a ladies’ maid. Sita, engages her and in time she becomes close to the queen by telling her stories. One day she asks Sita, if she remembers Ravana, and Sita tells her that she had never seen Ravana. Surpanakha, keeps persisting “O queen,you must have seen him sometime?”, “Didn’t he visit you everyday?”, “How could you have never seen him”, so Sita succumbs and says that she has once seen his toe. On Surpanakha’s insistence Sita draws this toe from memory onto a large piece of paper. Surpanakha, an experienced enchantress, then draws the rest of the figure of her brother and brings it to life. This was/is Chhaya Ravana, a shadow Ravana, bent on avenging his death. He thus hides under the bed. When Ram returns to his bedchamber to rest, he pops out to avenge himself but the guards fight and defeat him. He is then cut up in small parts and strung together as a puppet. Thus are born shadow puppets.
In Tamil Nadu, the opaque shadow puppet, called Thol Bommalata, becomes bigger and more colourful. ‘Thol’ is shadow and ‘Bomba’ or ‘Gomba’ is a doll and ‘latam’ is dance, so literally translated, it is shadow-doll-dance. The puppets are usually individual characters and one puppeteer plays all the puppets by changing voices for all the characters, sings and plays several instruments. Sometimes a harmonium player also assists him and he may have an assistant to hand him the puppets. The average show has more than two puppets on stage at a time so quick changes characterize the shows. Animal characters and numerous jesters keep the shows very contemporary and fun.
Tolu Bommalatam, Andhra Pradesh, look similar to their Tamil cousins, except they are the largest shadow puppets in the family. Lankini, the demoness guarding the island of Lanka can be four meters!! Most puppets are between 1.5-2.5 meters and one puppeteer plays one character at a time. The puppets have many articulations and so the legs, arms, head and sometimes even the waist moves. Backstage, balanced on a wooden plank, the puppeteer dances along with his puppet, setting the rhythm and enabling the puppet’s legs to move without actually touching them. In this version based on the Molla, Kamba and Adbhuta Ramayana,one can hear the story of Ahi-Ravana and Mahi-Ravana , two brothers and childhood classmates of the king of Lanka. He tricks them into joining the war against Ram. They kidnap Ram and Lakshman and Hanuman must follow them to the nether world to rescue them.
The Ravanchayya, of Orissa, like Kerala, has black and white puppets only. These are small puppets and use tricks like small versions of the same character to show long distance and large version to show nearness. This is based on the Bichitra Ramayana written by Bishwanath Khuntia for theatrical performances.
I hope that in the near future we will see more acknowledgment to this art- form in India. Training opportunities, that trains both, generational puppeteers from families that practice traditional forms and new artists from a non traditional background to be skilled professionals in the arts of puppetry. Exposures for audiences besides the traditional audience might snowball into a deeper questioning of the stereotypes that surround the art form. Maybe this will increase the self-esteem of the puppeteer and encourage the children of generational puppeteers to continue to practice their art and also be free to innovate. With projects like this virtual library maybe finally, the “dying art” label will be challenged by an increased digital presence of Indian traditional puppet theatre. And maybe it will finally bring in it’s wake policy changes. But it is definite that this will lead to new discourses around puppet theatre and a strong stimulus for innovation in all puppet theatre in India.
LIBRARY OF elements
The Celestial Garden of Medieval Alchemy
The Library of Elements is a VR experience devoted to medieval European alchemy. Click on INTRO to read a short text about this experience, GALLERY to see images, PODCAST to hear an interview with our consultant, Jakub Hlaváček, or ESSAY to read an in depth scholarly essay on this subject.
Nature delights in nature, nature conquers nature, nature rules nature.
Physika kai Mystika / Pseudo-Democritus (1st century CE)
Welcome to The Library of Elements: a VR experience devoted to European medieval alchemy. There is no simple definition of alchemy, which, in different forms, has developed independently in India, China, the Arab world, and Europe. At its most basic level, alchemy is an art form and practice devoted to nature and transformation. Its roots are pre-literate; its body of knowledge is transmitted in symbols, dreams, rituals, and, later codexes.
The difficulty in approaching alchemy today is that it clashes with the contemporary scientific worldview, which assumes matter and the cosmos to be dead. For most of human history, matter and the cosmos were believed to be living things. The practices of mining raw ores and the art of their transformation into metals, an act known as metallurgy, were considered sacred acts. But we now take metals and their meanings for granted. For example, it is doubtful you believe your cell phone, composed of copper, tellurium, lithium, cobalt, manganese, and tungsten, to be a sacred device connected to the planet and its history. Nor do you believe my library, which depends on the internet, with its hundreds of millions of kilometers of metal cables, stretched across oceans and continents, to be a divine manifestation.
The medieval alchemist thought differently. To use fire to transmute raw ores into purified metals was considered a reenactment of the progress of the cosmos, from primordial chaos into higher forms of consciousness. By pursuing the perfection of these metals, the alchemist pursued his own perfection. The liberation of those metals from base stone was seen as akin to the alchemist's own spiritual liberation. Freedom, illumination, even immortality was believed possible since to transmute metals was to collaborate with the creator and free matter from the laws of time. This total transformation, of both the material and spiritual worlds, was titled The Great Work.
Enter The Library of Elements to experience three stages of alchemical transformation: Nigredo, Albedo, and Rubedo. To learn more about this library, listen to the podcast or read the essay by Jakub Hlaváček, The Infinite Library’s expert in the philosophy of alchemy.
The image “Miners excavating a hill” from Splendor Solaris, retrieved from bordel.haghn.com
The image “The Solar King and the Lunar Queen meet” from Splendor Solaris, retrieved from bordel.haghn.com
The image “The dark sun” from Splendor Solaris, retrieved from bordel.haghn.com
The image “Mercury - The White Queen” from Splendor Solaris, retrieved from bordel.haghn.com
The image “Moon - The Red King” from Splendor Solaris, retrieved from bordel.haghn.com
The image “Philosopher with Flask” from Splendor Solaris, retrieved from bordel.haghn.com
A puppeteer, puppet designer
and director of the puppet theater.
Mgr. Jakub Hlaváček, Ph.D. studied Religious Studies at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University (Ph.D. in Comparative Literature). He is the director of the Prague-based publishing house Malvern. He specializes in philosophy and alchemy in the age of the Renaissance and early modern times. He is the author of many translations (for example M. Ficino, G. Bruno, H. Khunrath, M. Maier, R. Daumal, R. Alleau, etc.) and articles about alchemy and literature and the role of the imagination. His recent publications are The Signs of Things: The Renaissance Theory of Signatures (2020) and Aslepius (2019) both co-written with Martin Žemla.
The Tradition of Alchemy and Creative Imagination
Alchemy, otherwise known as “the science of music”, “the gay science”, or “the celestial gardening”, is a word shrouded in a veil of mystery that promises initiation into forgotten mysteries. Historically, alchemy dates back to the mysteries of early metallurgists, sacred Egyptian temple teachings, Greek-Alexandrian hermeticism, and Byzantine and Arabic alchemical practices (the science of balance). As a tradition, alchemy is most familiar to us in the form associated with Christianity, for example, the teachings of the Rosicrucians. Less known to Westerners are the equally developed and still unbroken traditions of Chinese and Indian alchemies. For the practitioner, who may have little or no interest in these separate histories, alchemy is a spiritual and transformative teaching whose goal is the “philosopher’s stone”: a remedy (whether in the form of powder, tincture, edible vermilion, drinkable gold, or spagyric quintessence) or transformation of consciousness whose effect is not limited to the body, but extends to the soul and spirit, manifesting itself in all the natural realms, from minerals to humans. In other words, the alchemical quest corresponds to a state of body, mind, and spirit which seeks harmony between the human soul and the soul of the world.
What distinguishes alchemy from purely mystical or “spiritual” paths is above all the loving work, or practice, with substances, matter, materials (particularly with metals), since matter – through all the ways in which it can be refined, perfected, and revitalized -- reflects the inner growth of the laboring alchemist and, in turn, has a retroactive effect on him. This means that by changing matter, or metals, in particular, the alchemist has the power to change him or herself. Why metals? According to alchemical cosmology, the lowest form of matter in the golden chain, or hierarchy, of creation corresponds to the highest form of matter; and even while metals correspond to the lowest level, they also embody the greatest potency and healing power. The prerequisite for this dialectical interplay of substance and spirit lies within the alchemist themself. It relates to their “inner chymic wedding” at the “heart of the heart”, which is the way in which their inner self or spirit affects their work. This is also referred to as the intersection of the cross, whose horizontal axis manifests two contrary poles (male and female, animus and anima), and whose vertical axis is the medium of divine influence on the world. The inner union of the “male and female principle” is thus the sacrifice of one’s own ego to the divine Spirit, the mysterious passage through death, and the transformation of limited consciousness and its preparation for enlightenment. This transformation, if achieved, can also be understood as the marriage of substance and Spirit.
The unity of spirit and body – or of divine and material principles – emphasized by alchemists, is perhaps even more important to alchemy than the Aristotelian notion of the transformation of elemental qualities, which can be best understood as the transmutation of metals. Mythically, this transformation echoes a much older, archaic concept, which conceived of metals as organic, living things that ripened in the womb of the Earth. According to Stoic teachings, God equals substance, in other words, “God is a quality inseparable from substance and passes through it as the seed passes through genitals.” While in their power or force, the two principles of spirit and body (active and passive, God and substance, or Sulphur and Mercury) are understood as the cosmos, manifested, they are at the same time inseparably connected. In this way, they form a unity. This unity in alchemy is symbolized by the rebis (“doublet”): the hermaphrodite of the alchemical Great Work.
Since Hellenistic alchemy, the traditional process mentioned above has been carried out in three basic phases. These, in turn, are symbolized by three colors: the phase of putrefaction and decomposition of the substance into primordial matter (black or nigredo), the phase of purification of the body (white work or albedo), and the final phase of the red work (rubedo), which represents the attainment of the royal philosophical stone, which equals the entire transformation of one’s mind, body, and spirit.
A person unfamiliar with alchemy will certainly be impressed by the wide array of diverse imagery associated with it. As a knowledge system, alchemy speaks in the form of images, stories, fairy tales, dreams, and visions. Thanks to the Christian world’s trust in the power and efficacy of images, the mythological bedrock of “paganism”, which we see visualized in alchemy, not only continued but thrived, albeit with meanings that flourished. In esoteric Christianity, this very trust in images even provided a counterpoint to iconoclastic tendencies within modern science which emerged from one conceptual version of Christianity that emphasized detachment, inaccessibility, and transcendence of the hidden God.
Historically, while alchemy assumes an interconnection between the two fundamental dimensions of the world – heavenly/divine and earthly/ephemeral - it struggled as a philosophy to be accepted because of the ways in which it conflicted with ideas upheld by the mainstream Chirstian Church. For example, within alchemy, this connection between the spirit and body is understood as an incarnation of the divine. This is in direct contradiction to the dualistic tendencies which gave birth to the disembodied perspective of modern science, we can see the birthright of Western materialism. God, when thought of as pure spirit, who is fully Himself and nothing else, and to whom one can relate only and exclusively by faith and not by cognitive powers of any kind, in this way, became the forerunner of the “modern abstract conception of objective reality.”
In the eminently hermetic art of alchemy, which is focused on the ancient and occult traditions, the mediating role of the planet Mercury is central. Mercury is the guide of souls and a messenger of the gods: a mutable or flexible principle whose domain is the imagination. In this role, Mercury is understood as the mediator between the world of phenomena, which is accessible to the senses, and the world of angelic intelligence, which is otherworldly and only reachable by a higher sense. Like a meditator, the alchemist enters the world of alchemical visionary reality by moving within him or herself to a space where all that is external becomes internal.
Yet the imagined world, or world of the imagination, is not a Jungian collective unconscious: a term introduced by Carl Jung that represents the unconscious as a space or thing that contains memories and impulses common to all human beings and part of our internal brain structure. In the case of the alchemical imagination, the images are not given to everyone in the same way. On the contrary: that world is always personal and unique. It is not purely material. Nor is it wholly immaterial, or intellectual in character. The alchemical imagination has its own unique dimension and space which Henry Corbin calls “imaginal” and is described as a world of “subtle bodies” or “suspended images”. Within that world, the imagination’s main role is that of mediating between gross matter and the spirit. Furthermore, it is this feature of the alchemical imagination, through which this world emerges and becomes known, that makes it possible to transform the spiritual world into the phenomenal or material world and to ensure their mutual communication. This cognitive function of the imagination enables an act of thinking that avoids banal rationalism. This is because this spiritual exchange between the outer and inner world is in contradiction to any form of reductive rationalism which oscillates in vain between “matter” and “spirit” while facing an unsolvable dilemma, which is that history and myth cannot be separated. This includes the myth of rationalism and Western Materialism.
In alchemy, it is precisely this acknowledgment of the imagination and its corresponding connection to the spiritual world that sets it apart from other knowledge systems. In this case, the imagined world has a metaphysical reality. It is a thing that exists. This is why it plays a crucial role in our world. It is a mediator and one that validates those who commit themselves to spiritual narratives, which is why reports on “events in Heaven” can be taken seriously. The same is true about the validity of dreams, symbolic rituals, and the reality of places that are shaped by the imagination, especially those that inspire visions, cosmogonies, and theogonies. Finally, the truth and meaning which grow out of the connections between the spiritual world and the imagination are where prophetic revelations come from, which is to say prophecy itself depends on this connection.
In western culture, the theophanic vision, which is the idea that one can personally encounter God in an observable or sensible way, faded away after the era of Paracelsus, a German-Swiss alchemist, and physician of the 16th century. From that time on, the scientific worldview and the subsequent mathematization and “mechanization” of cosmology took over, as did the transference of the soul to a psychological state. Other conceptions of the soul and God would come from Eastern theosophy, which developed the idea of the “creative imagination” which teaches us how to recognize the hidden meaning in the manifest forms. In other words, in the West, the soul and God ceased to exist as objective, observable, and sensible phenomena.
In alchemy, the experience of the soul taking the form of the body and the body being the image of the soul would later manifest in initiatory narratives that included the acquisition of “physiognomic” knowledge, an idea or practice which believes that you can access a person’s personality (or to learn the inner quality of the plant or other substance) through their outer appearance. Within alchemical and hermetic traditions, this practice of insight, which unmasks reality, so as to make the invisible visible, is identified with Angelic knowledge. It is otherwise known as the Journey to the Angel. “In order to embark on the pilgrimage of knowledge at all, one needs a guide, whom the tradition calls the inner master, the perfect Nature, the Witness, or the Angel Gabriel, or the active Intellect, who will help one to master the three fickle companions of the soul: desire, anger, and false imagination, and will help the pilgrim to an ontological metamorphosis that will create a subtle and immortal body that alone is capable of penetrating the imaginal world. On the ethical level, this means that “the neurotic desire for any object associated with desire must be reoriented into a desire for the Beautiful. The appetite for sensual pleasures must be moved while striving for the dream of heaven, and the wrath of impulsive emotions, is to be transformed into the courage to wage that ʻgreat warʼ against oneself rather than to fight little wars against others.”
Pierre-Yves Albrecht aptly describes the archetypal thresholds, or doorways to this experience, as a passage through an initiatory form of death which finds its equivalents in each of the genuine spiritual traditions whose authenticity is attested to by their ability to overcome the psychic-bodily conditioning of the personal self. After the passage through the darkness, which corresponds to the dark night of the soul, the pilgrim awaits the passage through the elements, the aim of which is to get to know the composition of the self as “consciousness-body”. He or she then passes through the various mansions, or levels of reality, that previously enslaved him.
“The substance one encounters mostly on the surface is that with which the ordinary self is constantly identified: the psyche, the ordinary reflexive dynamic mechanisms. When the soul recognizes and masters them, it is blessed by ‘omnipresent and pervading’ virtue that can directly influence other spirits, the ability to read minds, and to evoke certain images in other minds. A new phenomenon emerges: it is no longer dominated by “cerebral” reflection, but by the emergence of profound and radical idea-energies, perceived directly, as it were, without the ubiquitous filter of judgment and reasoning. Subsequently, the exploration ventures into the deeper layers of being, towards the seat of global affectivity where the influences of the primordial energies associated with animality are manifest and of which the external animal species are but a relative opening for the senses. The soul recognizes its animal world and its “sacred animals,” its totems and zodiacal faculties, the roots of the bestiary that continually return the emotional currents to their sources. As the immersion deepens, the soul begins to touch the subtle forces which correspond to the plant kingdom. This is a uniquely shamanic plane, which opens the way to a “supersensory” perception of plant essences associated with corresponding abilities. The soul acquires knowledge of magical medicine associated with the wisdom of plants, i.e., direct knowledge of the appropriate medicines, the “signatures” or spirits of herbs capable of acting with incredible efficiency on diseases of the body, heart, and spirit. The final stage is reached when the descent into the depths reaches the telluric structure of the body and when the soul recognizes the minerality and the “atomic and molecular” networks of its being. It gains thus the power to act upon substances and upon the “laws of external minerality,” always in accordance with the homology according to which he who has been able to transform his own metals within himself can now effect such a transformation externally. Each step of the descent into the inwardness of existence takes place under the patronage of a certain category of Angel-energies. The Cherubim, for example, govern the plane of the mineral kingdom. In the narrative, the climate of the Elements and Species follows that of the Earthly and Celestial Substances. Let us bear in mind that reality is structured according to two principles: the Substance and the Form (Idea).”
Yves-Albrecht further compares the liberation of these virtual energies extracted from the Shadow, or the dark part of the soul, to finding a bride hidden in the very heart, which in the Christian hermetic tradition corresponds to the encounter with the celestial goddess or archetype Sophia. Then, according to the Christina mystic Gichtel, the soul itself becomes an angel of God who inhabits the heavens and speaks with God. Initiation is thus accomplished through cardiognosis: the traditional “thinking of the heart.” From the point of Christian Hermeticism, this heart-based knowledge cannot be acquired by any external or internal technical procedure; the grace of God cannot be “earned”, it cannot be the object of any effort; one does not initiate oneself, one becomes initiated.
The acquisition of this “quintessence” is at the same time “the middle way”, the way of balance and tempering, which makes possible the action of what has been called the “third force”, or the efficacy of divine grace. Alchemically speaking, this “sharing” of initiation is only possible as consciousness extends simultaneously in both directions, along the Sun-Heart-Gold axis.
As a knowledge system, alchemy returns to us the abandoned and seemingly outmoded motifs and themes that were central to Hermetic thought, in particular, the role of imagination as the bond that ensures the inner interconnectedness of the world, the way of thinking in analogies, the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm, and the concept of man as the keystone of the universe and the image of God, not only as the ruler or subjugator of nature, but especially as the one who, by his very being in the world, orders the world in a certain way: his responsibility for himself is also his responsibility for the world, and vice versa.
The Infinite Library’s main cavern is dedicated to deep time and symbiosis. Within that space, visitors can discover cosmic pools that highlight eight different stories about our planet’s evolution, beginning with its origin. Learn more by clicking on the symbol below.
Visitors to the main cavern have a stick, which allows them to draw in the sand, activate the cosmic pools, and portal into the realms. Other items, partially hidden, must be discovered. For example, a large turtle who lurks in the shadows and a Neanderthal flute, carved from the bone of a bear around 50,000 years ago.
Why a cave?
Caves are where we find the first forms of symbolic expression, beginning around 70,000 years ago. They were our first libraries - spaces where our cultures incubated. But as humans mastered agriculture, around 10,000 years ago, our tool making abilities rapidly accelerated. We created cities, invented written languages, mastered navigation, launched an industrial revolution, and sent people and later tens of thousands of satellites into space. In geological time, this all happened in less than a second. Were the planet’s history a 24-hour clock, we arrived at 11:59:40. And yet, in just a few hundred years, a nanosecond, our species has fundamentally changed the planet’s geochemical makeup. One result is that we have triggered the sixth mass extinction, which is under-way.
While the cave and its cosmic pools are symbolic portals, intended to glorify our planet’s evolution, they are also reminders, even warnings, that our human story is impossibly young; and very fragile. The Infinite Library’s main cavern invites us to return to and reflect upon our species’ beginnings. It also poses the question: what will the next phase of our planet’s evolution look like? By inviting visitors into the first library created around the concept of deep time, The Infinite Library seeks to pose more questions than answers. Symbolized by the ouroboros, the snake that eats its tail, it asks us to reimagine the library not as a thing, or specific form, but as a living idea, and one that must die to be reborn.
This installation seeks to share stories that are living, tactile, and nonlinear. In the VR spaces, this translates to simulated environments that host embedded knowledge, which is multisensory and unique to each visitor. The physical installation presents the context behind these virtual spaces. Click on the link below to move through the User Journey.
Visitors first approach a monitor, outside the main installation space, where The Infinite Library introduces itself in first person. There they also receive a pair of headphones and are instructed, via a QR code, as to how they can begin their journey into the installation. Those who do not have a smartphone will be provided with a smart tablet.
When visitors first scan the QR code at the entry, they will have two options. They can either EXPLORE the library's house (the installation) or they can PLAY A GAME with the library.
Within the installation, visitors can click on QR codes, affixed to jars, to hear the library narrate stories about the contents within. We call this section The Volumes. Detailed, 3D sculptures, resting in sand, represent 8 stages of evolution, spanning the birth of the planet up until the origin of the hominids. Each sculpture is accompanied by short audio or texts accessible via the QR codes. The goal of these interactions is to introduce processes and organisms which are featured inside animated cosmic pools within the main cavern of the VR space. If in GAME mode, the library will interact with the visitors, giving hints so that each player can follow a story which is linear, through time. If in EXPLORE mode the visitor's User Journey is entirely up to them.
Beyond The Volumes, the installation space doubles as a place to make discoveries and learn more about The Realms. Three projections will feature the symbols for these libraries. Near each projection visitors can scan a QR code that will summarize the story behind each respective Realm. Those wanting to learn more can also click on a link, within the QR code experience, which will lead them to The Infinite Library’s website, where scholarly essays, documentary images, and podcasts can be found.
Are you an institution interested in hosting The Infinite Library installation?
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Produced by The Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi with Daisy with Rider Productions and High Road Stories