William Blake, move over. As illustrator of Ezekiel’s “chariot” vision–“merkabah” to the ancients, “UFO” to some moderns–you’ve met your match.
Well, maybe not really. Blake’s loopy genius is and will forever remain unique. But if the drawings in what’s being called the “Box of Crazy”–a mold-smelling wooden box supposedly found abandoned beside a road near Asheville, NC–aren’t the work of a 20th-century Blake, they’re darn close.
Are they also clues to the meaning of UFOs and the merkabah, and the deep unconscious nexus that binds the two together? I’m not yet sure.
This past November 3, a man calling himself “TramStopDan2,” who’s been identified as Dan Wickham of Asheville, posted scans of the box and its contents to the image hosting service Imgur. (“So a friend of mine found this box by the trash, it is full of wonderful, crazy illustrations.”) Two days later he posted another series of scans, consisting of everything from the box that wasn’t in his first post. I’m grateful to Martin Kottmeyer for sending me the link.
The name of the artist appears in the box’s papers as Daniel Christiansen, sometimes also as “Nesna-it-sirhc”–which, it took me longer than it should have to realize, is “Christiansen” spelled backward. His home, it’s clear from these documents, was St. Petersburg, Florida.
A post by Tammi Vaughan identifies him as Daniel Samuel Christiansen, born in Denmark on November 27, 1904, who immigrated to the US (via England) in 1927 and died on September 26, 1994. I’m not sure on what evidence this identification is based, or what the source is for all Tammi’s biographical details. But they’re certainly consistent with the documents in the box, which point to strong family ties with Denmark, and one or two of which are written in Danish. Christiansen’s British spelling of “colour,” and his use of single quotation marks where we’d use double (in his 4-page essay on the vision of Ezekiel, dated November 11, 1981), would suit his having spent time in England.
Where to start describing the cache? Maybe with one of the papers from the second post, a perfect disk with a pinhole in the center. If the pinhole were larger, it’d look just like a phonograph record. (Remember those, old-timer?) Printed in a circle around the rim of the disk, in capital letters:
“This turn table for portable T.V. set designed and made by Mr. Nesna-it-sirhc for Nadia, his wife, and is mailed from Plfld [Plainfield], N.J. to St. Pete, Fla. as a Xmas present Dec. 1967. The plastic rolling members of this device supplied by ‘Nady’ in 1952.”
Inside this, in dizzying circles that grow ever smaller, Mr. Nesna-it-sirhc writes:
“Additional inform.: The principles of mechanics as here involved correspond significantly to the principles of physic [sic] involved in the by Nady oft. ref. to ‘noise machine’ of the Mt. Pleasant Ave. attic exp. 1951-1952. It was an attempt at ascertaining a possible significant relationship between certain ‘engeneered’ [sic] precessions [sic] of moment of enertia [sic] of gyrating bodies and that of the basic nature of gravity. A possible outcome of experiment–it was hoped–would be indications that gravity could be generated artificially and applied in fields of a scope and of a degree of effectivenes [sic] corresponding directly to to the amount of physical power applied towards generation of such local and limited fields of gravity. Note: if such were to be the case, the question of giving the artificially generated gravity-force any specific direction with respect to universal space was (and still is) regarded as merely a matter of an operator pulling a lever or turning a switch in order to direct or re-direct the specific ‘A.G.’ field generating device. (‘A.G.’ = artificial gravity.) Signed by inventor of alleged device and author of this note of information in N. Plfld, N.J. U.S.A. at 4 A.M. Dec. 16 – 1967. Nesna-it-sirhc.”
Maybe you can figure out what he’s talking about; I can’t. (Beyond the obvious: that he invented, or tried to invent, or imagined himself trying to invent an artificial gravity machine in the couple’s attic 16 years earlier.) The prose style is strongly reminiscent of Carl Allen, creator of the legend of the “Philadelphia experiment,” about whom I’ve blogged extensively on this website. Not much William Blake here, so far.
But now have a look at the drawings.
“And out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. And every one of them had four faces, and every one of them had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot. … And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and as for … the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and they four had the face of a lion on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four had also the face of an eagle” (Ezekiel 1:5-10).
Here’s some more samples of Christiansen’s depictions of the “living creatures” seen by the prophet. There’s madness here, perhaps. But also artistic genius, and a level of draftsmanship that’s astounding.
These are disturbing pictures. The “living creatures” seem to be crying out in pain or terror, or perhaps both. Christiansen adds unsettling details: an eye, for example, on each of the creatures’ wings–is he thinking of Revelation 4:8, itself a reflex of Ezekiel’s vision?–which, in the first picture of the series above, make the drooping wings look like the heads and beaks of sinister cranes.
The semi-nude human forms are beautifully rendered, down to the “calf’s foot” of Ezekiel 1:7. Nowhere in the “Box of Crazy” are they shown with genitalia of any kind. But in some–not all–of the pictures they have on their bellies a human face, evilly grinning, with slanted eyes and sometimes two rows of prominent teeth. (The howling animal mouths are sometimes toothless, as above; sometimes they’re equipped with wicked-looking teeth.) In the second of the pictures the face seems to have a beard, roughly in the place of the pubic hair–the “lower beard,” the ancient rabbis called it–which covers over the crotch.
There’s no warrant for this belly-face anywhere in the Bible. It must have come straight from Christiansen’s unconscious.
Along the edges of the second and third drawings are Ezekiel’s wheels, looking like elaborate gyroscopes. (Recall the “gyrating bodies” of Christiansen’s artificial-gravity experiment.) “Their appearance and their work were as it were a wheel within a wheel … and they four had their rings full of eyes round about” (Ezekiel 1:16-18). It’s possible to imagine the “wheel within a wheel” in a number of ways; Christiansen’s version seems influenced by Mathias Merian’s 17th-century engraving.
Perhaps via the engraving of “The Spiritual Pilgrim Discovering Another World” that Jung published, minus the coloration, in his Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky? (Jung wrote: “This 17th century engraving, possibly representing a Rosicrucian illumination, comes from a source unknown to me. … It was kindly placed at my disposal by D. van Houten, Bergen, Holland.”)
The shining rings in the upper left corner of “the Spiritual Pilgrim” resemble the technical designs for a roller bearing that turned up in “the Box of Crazy,” and that appear as images #9 and #10 of Wickham’s post. Might this confirm that the old etching inspired, or at least helped to inspire, Christiansen’s visioning of Ezekiel’s wheels?
The picture expresses a key theme of Christiansen’s art, of the natural world merging into the mechanical. (I’ll talk about this more next week, in connection with his odd idea that UFOs can masquerade as clouds.) But something else strikes me about it: that the flying gyroscope that becomes Ezekiel’s wheel appears here, though without any reference to the Biblical vision. The inscription that accompanies the picture seems to date it to 1946 or 1947, long before Jung’s book appeared. Would Christiansen have had any access to “the Spiritual Pilgrim” back in the 40s? Had it been published anywhere else? I don’t know.
I say “seems to date it,” because I’m not sure how to decipher the writing in the lower right. There’s an overlay of fresh black ink over what looks like a faded or erased (pencil?) inscription. It looks to me like the earlier inscription says “Providential Progress – D.S. Daniel July 4 – 1947.” (Which I’d guess to mean that the divinity, represented in the gyroscope, oversees and perhaps protects the human progress represented in the puma-train.) Over this is written “D.S.C. – or Daniel S. Christiansen 1946.” And then a few words I can hardly make out, but which end with the year (?) 1991.
So does this mean Christiansen made the drawing in 1946? Or on July 4, 1947? If the later date, then he’ll have made it at the very dawn of the modern UFO era, ten days exactly after Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of silvery flying objects over the Cascade Mountains made headline news, and made “flying saucers” part of the English language. Right about the same time that mysterious debris was falling on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico.
Which brings us to the most intriguing part of the file. The is the event, or supposed event, Christiansen calls variously “the Tampa Bay Tornado” and “An Apparition or The Tampa Bay Observation July 7 – 1977.” It’s a UFO sighting, it would appear, and not just an ordinary one. Rather, a massive re-enactment of Ezekiel’s vision, over the St. Petersburg Pier.
Appearances, though, can be deceiving.
Which brings us to the problem of how reality and imagination can intersect. Which is what the UFO is all about.
by David Halperin
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