Monday, August 3, 2015

Mysterious Faces and Figures in the Woods

Dr Abe V Rotor

After the old St Paul museum (SPUQC) was phased out to give way to a "modern" one last year, some mysterious events - real or imaginary - have been observed on the murals, paintings and other artifacts that were the original centerpieces of the legendary museum established in 1994.

Among them is the appearance of mysterious faces and figures, such as this case: Mysterious Faces and Figures in the Woods.

The original story - The Face of Christ - Image or Illusion was written in 1995, the year when school guests discovered a figure on a painting appearing as the face of Christ. (Please see reprint below.)

This painting was the first item to grace the newly opened museum to mark the celebration of the tricentennial of St Paul of Chartres or SPC, the congregation of the Paulinian sisters who run the school. It inspired me to write a book, Light in the Woods, using the painting's photo for its cover. The book was dedicated to Pope John Paul II on his visit 1n 1995 on the occasion of World Youth Day. Cardinal Jaime Sin, Fr James B Reuter and Sister Teresita Bayona, then college president, endorsed the book, and presented it to the Holy Father.

Published by Megabooks, 1995, dedicated to Pope John Paul II,
on his visit to the Philippines, in celebration of World Youth Day.

For fifteen years the painting, popularly known to the Paulinian community as The Face of Christ, found a permanent place in the museum until 2011, when the museum was totally renovated. The painting lost its original home. So with seven murals, and other items, which were transferred to other places on the campus. I had just left SPUQ then, due to old age and poor health - after fifteen years as professor and caretaker of the museum.

I sat down and looked at the painting for the last time. It evoked a mysterious feeling, as I touched the trees, the running stream, the rocks, and finally, the image. His eyes were moist, so with mine. I said, "Goodbye." He just looked at me. For a long time. I took a photo of the icon, and whispered, "Thank you," and left, never to see the old museum again.

I compared the photo I took last with previous photos. Why, the painting has not changed at all! Until ... on closer examination I was surprised to see hidden images other than those I saw before. Perhaps, I have grown old to see images the young is not so keen to observe. Perhaps, my perception is more of parting than welcome, memories rather than action. Memories are best preserved with tranquility, humility and peace. It is easy to settle down by the fireplace.

But the painting, I realized, has a message to our troubled world as can be seen from these mysterious figures. It's more than a face, it is more than a piece of art, it is more than the museum and the school community. The depth of these message is a measure of man's awareness of his relationship with his Creator, of his obedience and devotion, his concern for his fellowmen and the deteriorating environment. It is a test of man, the human being.

Uppermost pair of eyes in the painting, biggest of the three pairs
Middle pair of eyes, most prominent and patheticLowermost. All three pairs of eyes have a common expression of sadness.There is something strange in them after a longer look - compassionate.

Cross lying on the ground, as if it is broken and abandoned
Man and a woman emerging from the thicket toward the source of light

Reclining lady (center) beside a tree on the rocks (facing right),
with other figures around.

Standing human figure with outstretched arms, facing right.
Note light flooding his face and body.
Profile of a well-dressed human figure, facing right
Human figure stripped and tied to a tree, facing left.
There is a similar figure on the other tree.

Original Story 1994:

The Face of Christ - Image or Illusion?

“It inspired a soul to write a book
That touches the eye and heart;
This little light in a hidden nook
Shines where good and evil part.”
- A.V. Rotor, Nymphaea: Beauty in the Morning, 1996

Did you see the face of Christ?”


"On a painting.”

"What is this they are talking about, " I asked Sel.

We went to the Audio-Visual Room, spent a moment of silence as we searched for the Face on the 36" x 24" landscape painting. It was painted and a month ago, and presented it in a seminar-workshop at then St. Paul College QC. The theme signifies unity and cooperation among faculty and staff members.

"Can you see it?” I asked.

Sel traced the outline, his finger touching the rough canvas.

"Can you see it?” He threw back the question.

"I see a different one,” I countered and traced the figure differently.

Silence fell again. We exchanged notes and soon enough we were looking at the same face.

Were we seeing The Thing, or only imagining it?

I recalled a story, Images of Illusion. A man was viewing an antique painting and saw himself as one of the torturers of Christ.

“Impossible,” he raged. How could it be possible for the painter to have composed a scenery combining a biblical event and a future character? He demanded the art gallery an explanation.

What is illusion?

In metaphysics, the workings of the human mind have been the subject of research and discourse from the time of Plato who coined “psyche” or mind or soul, to Kant whose theory of Existentialism remains as the binding force of man and his Creator which is a fundamental doctrine of major religions. Lately, Jung's primary idea of a person as a whole, and not as assemblage of parts, gave rise to the modern concept of holistic personality. Jung’s work as a psychoanalyst was to recover the lost wholeness of personality, and to strengthen the psyche through the process of psycho-analysis and psycho-synthesis.

What Jung was saying is that the mind is made up of three levels: the consciousness, the only part of the mind that is known directly by the individual; the personal unconscious which is the level of the mind that adjoins the ego: and the collective unconscious which he inherited from his ancestral past. All three levels are always in a dynamic state. They are never static like a rock or a tree.

When one is afraid of the dark he is expressing the collective unconscious. If he is afraid of the dark because he may be kidnapped, he is expressing the personal unconscious level, an experience which may have been created by distraught thoughts or brought about by personal conflict or raised a moral issue before. In the dark he may be "seeing” a would-be kidnapper at the slightest suggestion.

Now where does the first level come in? His conscious awareness is put to test in such a situation. He then makes to fullest use his four mental functions, which Jung called thinking, feeling, sensing and intuiting. Depending on the development of these faculties from the time of his birth to his present age, the individual tries to overcome - or enhance - the other two leve1s of the mind which at that moment has caused in him fear.

What I am saying is that a mental image may arise from the interplay of the three levels of the mind. First, there is the “model” or an archetype from which the consciousness makes something out of it. This, in turn, is pictured or deleted in the mind through consciousness.

When Sel and I stood before the painting searching we had different archetypes in our mind. But people who have been raised in the same environment and had undergone similar training have many common archetypes from which images can be similarly patterned.

Suppose one does not readily take from the mind's bank a suitable archetype?

“I don't see anything.”

“Face of Christ, you said?”

"What are you talking about? I can only see trees and a stream flowing through them.”

"I still cannot figure it out.”

These observers, based on Jungian psychology, did not have the archetype at the moment to suite the picture they are looking for.

Quite often discussions may ensue while viewing the piece with someone taking the role of a teacher, or one insisting of seeing another thing.

Again, according to Jung, archetypes can be enlarged or reinforced so that they can surface with the help of the consciousness. However, this may not always work.

“I can see it now.”

“Yes, there it is. There is a bigger one beside it. No, actually there are three faces.”

“There is Blessed Virgin Mary at the center.”

“But it looks like a resurrected Christ.”

“See the trunk at the right? Scourging at the pillar.”

"My God! There's a devil clinging on Christ's nose.”

Now, now, the painting is getting overloaded,

As the painter I wanted to put it back to its real and down-to-earth perspective. It is a forest landscape, all right. The trees are the symbol of strength and unity; the flowing stream is life; the rocks are the obstacles we encounter in life; the light rays penetrating through the forest is hope and guidance; the forest itself characterizes the present world we live in; and the central perspective of the painting leads us to the attainment of a common vision and goal.

As I was about to leave, a very young boy came along with his mother. His eyes were bright and his face radiated the innocence of a child.

"Do you see the little cross, mama?” He was pointing at a orange figure, an empty cross laid upon a rock. Then he scanned the whole piece and quickly pointed at things none of us had earlier seen.

“Here is the Holy Family. Here is baby Jesus. There you see angels. You can count them, 1, 2 3, 4, 5, 6..."

“There are thirty-three trees, I was told," interrupted his mother.

"Those are children playing, mama - there under the trees and on the rocks."

I stood beside, speechless. I realized I only read Plato, Kant and Jung. l did not consult the Greatest of them all. ~

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------NOTE; Dr. Abercio Valdez Rotor and Dr. Anselmo S Cabigan were classmates and co-workers in the government, and academe. They have known each other for the last 50 years. The painting was made possible from a poem composed by Dr Cabigan, “Into Your Light” which Dr. Rotor interpreted using acrylic paint on canvas. The painting was presented to faculty members who attended a seminar workshop in 1995. The original painting has been transferred from the former St. Paul University Museum, QC for security reasons and better access to pilgrims.
References: Light from the Old Arch, by AVR, UST Publishing House 2000; Nymphaea: Beauty in the Morning, AVR, Giraffe Books 1996;Light in the Woods, AVR, Megabooks, Megabooks 1995.

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