edited by Curtis Scott Shumaker
Introduction to Issue 19 • Words that Let the Light in
The original call for submissions for this issue was “as above, so below,” the keystone phrase of Hermetic philosophy, a tradition so intertwined with scientific and metaphysical inspiration that its notions pervasively, if subtly, manifest themselves in all genres of speculative literature. In fact, a claim to the first science fantasy fiction can be made by Kepler, who straddled the leap between Hermetic astrological mysticism and scientific astronomy; he once illustrated is ideas about the solar system with a fictional journey on a “spaceship” propelled with the power of demons.
To the Hermetics, the phrase “as above, so below” conveyed the idea that the universe is a macrocosm of the human mind, spirit, and condition; to understand the workings of the universe is to understand God and ourselves. Literature, speculative and otherwise, resonates with works that see the world, the solar system, the universe as a metaphor or mask for deeper, hidden truths and realities. In Moby Dick, the white whale, Ahab tells us, is nothing but a paper mask; behind it is the thing that truly stalks humanity—mortality. Jorge Borges created whole worlds of metaphor, worlds that were endless libraries or labyrinths encoding cryptic messages. In Borges, the markings on the fur of a jaguar can spell out the secret language of god and, when spoken, communicate all the knowledge, all the meaning, of the universe in a single word. The Buddhist musician Leonard Cohen posits that even a single sound can contain esoteric knowledge: “I heard there was a secret chord / that David played and it pleased the Lord.”
Science fiction and fantasy writers in America have embraced such notions since Poe, whose stories and poems franticly tried to strip away the mundane world and reveal the sacred. Bradbury, Ellison, Delany—the writers with some of the most affecting and memorable works all use words to create worlds that mirror our souls. As above, so below. My idea in using this phrase as the organizing principle of this issue was to stimulate works that reveal the cracks in the world that let the light in. Whatever their genre, from the surreal to hard SF, the poems here use their words to reveal the dark light that lies embedded in the mundane stones of reality.