Glass Beads and Hieroglyphs

A file containing visual examples which may be of help in thinking about the hieroglyphic language used in Hesse's Glass Bead Game, and the abacus- or rosary-like board on which we may imagine it would be played.

This piece is intended to accompany and supplement my Considerations for those who would build variants on Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game.

Charles Cameron


Some Thoughts about Beads and Boards

Hieroglyphs, Ideograms and the Glass Bead Game

It's not entirely clear what the "hieroglyphic language" used by the Glass Bead Game players of Hesse's Castalia would look like, but the following selection of hieroglyphs and ideograms culled from the net may nevertheless spark some ideas...

Perhaps the screen on which the Game is played would look not unlike this image -- which actually represents Bach's setting of the well-known Christmas carol, *In Dulci Jubilo*:


This image comes to us from Stephen Malin's Music Animation Machine -- a brilliant device for rendering the sounds of complex musical works in visual form, and itself clearly a precusor of future attempts at a Bead Game. Here, at least, we have a visual form for the notation of music which gives a more immediate sense of its structure than regular musical notation...


Perhaps, on the other hand, it will look more like this representation of a fourfold WaterBird board, courtesy of my friend Eli Robillard:


Or this, from my friend EsterBee:


What is clear is that some kind of graphical representation would be used, and that by studying the successive moves recorded in "hieroglyphic language" on glass beads of various sizes and colors, those who viewed the Games would be able to understand a complex web of associations between ideas, comparable to a fugue in music, but encompassing the entire cultural heritage of humankind.

What follows is an attempt to illustrate and to some extent classify some of the different languages, game formats and so forth which may be of help as we think our way through these things. None of these illustrations is immediately convertible into a Glass Bead Game display, but each of them represents an approach which it seems to me may give us some clues. They are presented here with little commentary, as possible sparks for the imagination.

Let's start with a brief look at some hieroglyphs and hieroglyphic alphabets, then some existing games which use stones or beads, and then close with a couple of suggestive metaphors for the GBG.


Hieroglyphs and Ideograms

Here are examples of three varieties of hieroglyphic and ideogrammatic writing: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese ideograms and Mayan hieroglyphs.


Each of these forms are drawn from a much more extensive vocabulary: for further details, see this introduction to Egyptian hieroglyphics, this page for Chinese ideograms, and this for for Mayan hieroglyphics.


Interestingly enough, when I searched the web I found some modern scientific "ideograms":


This figure represents current scientific use of "chromosome ideograms" in a taxonomy of primates. Note that such ideograms "represent" genetic banding in a way which has a close but formalized correlation with the actual banding present in nature.

An article by Uta Francke, "Digitized and differentially shaded human chromosome ideograms for genomic applications" (in Cytogenetics and Cell Genetics 65: 206-219, 1994) describes the availability of human chromosome ideograms that depict 850 bands, numbered in agreement with ISCN nomenclature but based on actual measurements of band sizes and differentiated by five shades of staining intensity, digitized using commercially available graphics software.


Moving on to hieroglyphic attempts at a universal language, we should remember and pay homage to John Wilkins.

This learned gentleman and bishop was an early precursor of the Game Players, and I had forgotten all about him until Terence MacNamee reminded me of him recently. A quick search of the web revealed that Jorge Luis Borges had in fact written an essay about him, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, which I had read, and that he was the author of "An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language", 1668, a treatise that attempts to devise a hieroglyphic "universal language" from first principles.

Here is an illustration from this work:



Finally, I'd like to include an example of a very beautiful modern symbolic vocabulary.

The Pentateuch symbols created by artist Patrick Woodroff can also be found on Nyrath's Occult Web Page -- the same site where the Enochian Chess boards are located.


Woodroff explains that his symbols are agglumated, that is, the symbol for "metal" is a combination of the symbol for "hard" and "stone".

Woodroff's Pentateuch symbols appear both in his illustrations for the record album The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony and his book The Second Earth.

I think that the beauty of these symbols shows us what a fine graphic eye can manage by way of devising a symbolic calligraphy -- something which will be sorely needed by the time we devise GBG variants which utilize some form of glass beads...


Games

There are various Games which use stones, beads and so forth, and the images that follow illustrate what some of them look like:


Perhaps the most famous of these is Go. This illustration shows the Go board with stones in place as described in the earliest surviving Go game record, that of the game between the Wu prince Sun Ce (175-200) and his general Lue Fan on a 19x19 board, recorded in *Wang You Qing Le Ji*. With thanks to John Fairbairn, illustration drawn from his article Go in Ancient China, written at the request of a curator in the British Museum a few years ago.


Mancala type games involve moving beads around a board in specific patterns. Perhaps the best current example is Christiaan Freeling's Glass Bead Game, illustrated below:


Again, I would note that while this excellent game calls itself a Glass Bead Game, it doesn't seem to be an attempt at a version of Hesse's GBG, although Christiaan Freeling's other games include an I Ching based game...


Moving a little closer to the GBG as Hesse intended it, another contemporary game which uses beads together with a series of glyphs is Ishido, a simple seeming but elegant strategy game whose board is shown below:


In Ishido, the goal of each player is to line up the stones or tiles by color or symbol until their pouch of stones is empty. The tile graphics feature Oriental, Mayan, Native American and Russian themes.


The existing game which comes closest in spirit to Hesse's Glass Bead Game may be Enochian Chess, which was played by WB Yeats and his colleagues in the magical circle of the Golden Dawn. This illustrations shows a part of the extremely complex and beautiful board for the element Air


You can find the four boards -- in black and white, though the originals would have been in color -- on Nyrath's Occult Web Page. There's more information in Israel Regardie's chapter on Enochian Chess -- though this is heady stuff, and it may help to know a bit about the people involved before you dive into it. The best resource is likely to be Christine Zalewski's book, *Enochian Chess of the Golden Dawn: A Four-Handed Chess Game*, though I haven't seen a copy myself.


Metaphors for the Glass Bead Game

For simple visual stimulus, I'm including here two images of formats using beads, one of which Hesse alludes to in his book, while the other seems to me an extremely apt metaphor for our Games. Hesse talks about the GBG in terms of the abacus:


He writes that at a time when the game itself was "nothing more than a witty method for developing memory and ingenuity among students and musicians", Bastian Perrot

constructed a frame, modeled on a child's abacus, a frame with several dozen wires on which could be strung glass beads of various sizes, shapes, and colors. The wires corresponded to the lines of the musical staff, the beads to the time-values of the notes, and so on. In this way he could represent with beads musical quotations or invented themes, could alter, transpose, and develop them, change them and set them in counterpoint to one another.
Thus it seems enstirely appropriate to have an abacus here...


Nonetheless, to my mind the closest thing to our Bead Game in many ways is the rosary:


I have discussed the rosary as a metaphor for the GBG in my article, Considerations, which is in some sense a companion piece to this one, so I don't intend to go into any further detail here, beyond expressing again my sense that the conjunction of beads and meditation leads naturally to rosaries of all kinds -- Buddhist and Hindu mala beads and Islamic rosaries as well as the familiar Christian rosary depicted above.


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