The Glasshouse is a special place within the Hostel in the Forest. It is a hexagonal building with glass walls on all sides, a place for yoga and meditation, in the full view of the trees of the forest, the light dancing off of the pond. It is a place of dancing and celebration, of relaxation and recuperation, and, as far as the buildings themselves go, it is the spiritual center of the Hostel. During my time as manager in the summer of 2013, there was a thought that came to mind for an image to replace the mural on the floor, whose global continents theme was finally showing its age with flakes and chips.
Instead of disjointed continents, I envisioned the entire globe, blue and white, floating in the inky depths of space with a rainbow and figures from all the world’s cultures surrounding it. The vision was quickly sketched out, and while I did bounce it off a few people, the daily tasks as manager and my focus on the gardens kept the idea from materializing any more than that. When my time to step aside for Steven came, though, I knew that I would return to paint it eventually.
Just as the cold of fall descended on the Forest did I return, and after a quick sketch on the computer to better organize my thoughts, I sat down with Tom to pitch the mural. He looked over it for a few minutes, perhaps thinking back to the small panels I had painted in the Honeymoon, and then said, yeah, go for it! So it began! The mural was created with a combination of actual floor paints and artists’ acrylics, glazed to seal it from the constant wear of foot traffic. The 665 square foot floor was completed with about a month’s worth of focused painting, in sessions of 6-12 hours a day.
In the very center of the room, in black, white, gold and red, is a geometric pattern of overlapping circles called the Flower of Life. First appearing etched on a temple wall in Egypt, the design has been found all over the world as a motif for various applications. There are many mathematical and esoteric properties attributed to it, but essentially I chose to use it as a central feature because of it mimics the shape of the building itself and can be used as a template for group or individual meditation.
The earth itself is rendered in black, blue and white. I focused primarily on the atmosphere and ocean as opposed to the continents, for breath and water are of greatest importance. The swirling clouds and storms show the dynamic cycles of nature.
The blackness of space punctuated by stars covers the vast majority of the floor. Not only was a practical way of rendering an area so huge, it also is meant to evoke a sense of space. Each dot of white is a star, a sun with its own planets. With all the stars in the skies, and thus all the planets occupying space, surely earth is not so alone after all. There’s a general evenness to the stars for the most part, but near many of the deities, I tried to have forms of interaction as you may notice.
There are twelve figures surrounding the earth. The initial reason for this is that there are 6 walls and 6 corners in the room, so 12 figures seemed the most harmonious. There is no designed association with the zodiac, as I have been asked several times already. The figures are all anthropomorphic representations of deities from all around the world.
I tried to get the best cross section by thinking directionally. Due north we find Sedna, an Inuit sea goddess, due east is Kwan Yin, from east Asia, due south is Aset from Africa, and in the west I chose Ardhanarishvara, from India(perhaps a native American deity would have made more sense directionally in this regard, but there was already a shrine established in this corner, and since the room is primarily a yoga space, I chose the Tantric deity). And in-between the cardinal directions I filled it in as best I could geographically.
Thor greets you as you enter in the Glasshouse(from the most common door). Thor is a Norse fertility god, the bringer of rain, and a warrior god. I chose him specifically to honor Steven, under whose management I was supported in painting the mural. He requested a red-bearded deity, so immediately the thunder god came to mind(who is traditionally red-headed in the mythology, contrary to the blond comic book and movie Thor many may be familiar with)! He was fun to paint, a gargantuan man with cape, helmet and lightning-blasting hammer!
Next, clockwise, is Artemis, the Greek goddess of nature, the hunt, women and medicine. Representing southern Europe, Artemis is here to support the athleticism of the Glasshouse, and also signifies the spiritual pursuit, which is much like a hunt. Her careful aimed arrow is the aspirant, her gaze fixed on the target, enlightenment. The grace and beauty she embodies as a young woman in the wild is something I’m sure many Hostellers will be able to relate to.
Next is Kwan Yin, a Buddhist bodhisattva revered as a goddess of compassion among many in eastern Asia and beyond. Her simple white cloak is in the style of a nun, and she sits in meditative pose, being carried by a dragon in the eastern style. She has a calm, serene expression, denoting her focused consciousness, which contrasts to her wild subconscious, the dragon, which she has tamed through self-mastery. Stories say that her compassion is so great that she will head all the cries of the suffering.
Next is Avalokiteshvara, who is actually Kwan Yin’s masculine counterpart, also celebrated throughout Asia. This particular interpretation draws heavily from Cambodian themes in southern Asia. Here, the compassionate bodhistattva who relinquishes his own nirvana until all sentient beings are free, rides a tiger, but the message is the same; the calm consciousness mastering the wild subconscious. The tiger’s face may be my favorite bit of painting in the entire mural.
Next is Yeshua, the Abrahamic figure who is mentioned in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Known best as Jesus, the son of God who died for the sins of humanity, only to be resurrected and ascend into Heaven, Yeshua is the original Aramaic name. Obviously a contentious figure, I chose to render him in the manner of a person of Middle Eastern origin simply adorned in a white tunic and cloak, while also trying to make him recognizable with the iconic beard and praying hands. His teachings of compassion and universal brotherhood would be well applied to the current state of affairs in his native lands and the entire world.
Next is Aset, the magic goddess from KMT, the land now known as Egypt. Some would say as mother of an immaculately conceived child who would save the world from evil, she and her son Heru are the template for Mary and Jesus. Be that as it may, this ancient goddess known as the Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the Elements was a joy to render. Her horns contain the sun disc, her arms hold green and black feathered wings, and her stance is a frontal version of her iconic sitting profile she is depicted as in hieroglyphics. Her importance in esoteric spirituality cannot be overstated.
Next is Unkulunkulu, from southern Africa recognized by the Khoi-San Bushmen and the Zulu nation. He is the creator of reality, of mankind, all man needs to survive, including cattle, and the first human and culture hero, which is a rare combination in mythology, probably due to his antiquity, stretching back over 60,000 years. I rendered him the style of a Zulu chief. One of his myths has him offer humanity immortality. Unfortunately, the slow movement of the chameleon messenger he sent causes him to become irate and send a new messenger, a fast lizard, bringing the message of old age and death instead. He later felt bad about the mishap and said humans would be immortal through offspring.
Next is Altjira, the creator of earth from central Australia, specifically the Arrernte people near Uluru. In this rendering, he creates the primordial earth from his didgeridoo, dancing with his emu feet, and then retreated back to the sky, leaving all the original inhabitants in the Dreaming to figure out what they were supposed to be doing by themselves! I chose a didg specifically (he has no hard iconography beyond the emu feet) to reference a powerful experience I had as a guest at the Hostel many years ago during a Holotropic breathing workshop held in the Glasshouse, which included didgeridoos being played directly over my hyper-oxygenated head, resulting in unforgettable green and gold light dancing in my mind!
Next is Ardhanarishvara, “our Lord who is half woman”, from the Tantric sects of India. A composite of Shiva and Shakti, this figure is the personification of yoga, which literally means ‘union’. I have a deep love for yoga and so this particular deity was well known to me. Shiva is rendered in deep blue and holds his trishul, or trident, representing that which is created, preserved and delivered, or the past, present and future. Shakti is adorned in pink and green silks and gold and jewels. Her outstretched hand borrows from Lakshmi’s iconography, gracing all those who look upon her with riches, both earthly and divine. As a hermaphroditic whole, the figure is standing in vrikasana, tree pose, my favorite asana to practice in their tree-surrounded studio.
Next is Pachamama, “World Mother” in Quechua, and nature goddess for the indigenous peoples of the Andes in South America. Her form here is in the style of an Incan girl whose mummified remains perfectly preserved her pre-Columbian clothing, as Pachamama is not portrayed in an anthropomorphized form in ancient works. Usually they saw her as a dragon, to whom they would offer llamas as sacrifice. That cruel interpretation has been countered with a more benevolent one in more modern times, and Pachamama is honored to this day for the sustenance she provides with offerings of beer, mate, smoke and food; and has also become a uniting political force, concerning the rights of the environment and indigenous peoples.
Next is Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery (sometimes translated “Great Spirit”) from North America, specifically the Sioux. Again, typically not visualized in anthropomorphic form by the Sioux, I chose to represent him by drawing inspiration from actual photographs of Native Americans from the region, and used a fur cloak to obscure most of his form, reinforcing the sense of mystery. Wakan Tanka is the composition of spiritual entities that created and is embodied in all forms in nature, whose ways are mysteries unknown. He holds a clay pipe and wing for smudging, smoke being a way of cleansing a space, spreading prayers to heaven, and an offering all at once.
Finally is Sedna, the Inuit sea/underworld goddess. The details of her origin myth vary, but at some point a girl is on a kayak, and a man tries to throw her overboard. She grabs onto the side and he cuts her fingers off! She falls into the ocean, where she grows a fish tail and her severed fingers become all the sea mammals. I gave her a walrus helmet/cloak to reference her connection to the sea mammals the Inuit people hunted to survive. Shamans would placate her by combing her hair (she can’t hold a comb by herself), and she would give their hunters permission to catch food. While such a story is sort of scary, her unique visual appeal made her hard to pass over, and the spiritual path is not always fun or easy.
Beyond the figures is a circular rainbow. This was the most challenging feature from a technical standpoint, as it is all about smooth gradients over a large scale. I was willing to go to the effort though, because the rainbow is such a common theme in mythology and spirituality: after the darkest storm, the rainbow heralds the sun’s return; the rainbow bridge leads to Asgard; the rainbow serpent of the Dreamtime; the seven chakras corresponding to ROYGBIV; the Rainbow body of Dzogchen; and so on an so forth. Because it is so carefully rendered, it sort of fools the eye at a casual glance and really looks more like real light than paint sometimes! My favorite aspect of it is the reflection that happens on each of the glass walls, which in effect multiplies it, creating 7 rainbows in total on a grand scale, mirroring the Flower of Life in the center. As above, so below.
The Glasshouse floor mural was such an honor and pleasure to paint for the Hostel! I hope your experiences with in during your visit are as touching and inspiring for you as an observer as they were for me as a creator. If you would like to see more of my works, please follow me at levarnuage.tumblr.com and feel free to contact me should you be interested in commissioning a mural or painting for yourself at levarcarter at gmail.com.