Alchemy + Fine Art
Process Report for The Mouth of the Southern Fish: A Talismanic Print Edition
“The Mouth of the Southern Fish” is a digital drawing by Emily Sorlien, offered as a limited edition talismanic print series magically consecrated during an exalted Venus in Pisces election. This election was chosen for its ability to convey blessings on creative endeavors, especially those of a more spiritual flavor. The labor that went into creating this piece was undertaken as a devotional offering to the goddess Venus-Aphrodite. This project was the culmination of a more than year-long process of coming into relationship with the goddess via embodied ritual and sacred art making.
The imagery selected for this piece draws variously on starlore, astronomy, dreamwork, art history, mythology, personal experiences, and traditional planetary sympathy doctrines. The layering of symbols lends an open-ended multivalence to the work even as the image maintains a cohesive core identity as an astrological talisman dedicated to Venus and her children: we humble mortal artists and artisans, committed to crafting and experiencing moments of sublime beauty during our fleeting lifetimes.
Astrological talismans are physical images and objects imbued with the energetics of specific celestial spirits during sacredly timed ritual. The featured element of this astrological election was the planet Venus’s conjunction with Fomalhaut on the Ascendent. Fomalhaut is one of the four Royal Stars, tasked with keeping watch over the Southern Gate, a portal that heralds the Sun’s annual climb in the Northern Hemisphere from the depths of the Winter Solistice’s darkness – a moment of miraculous rebirth that asks for surrender and faith from the dwellers of these northern climes as they navigate the coldest months of the year.
“Fomalhaut” is an English disambiguation of an Arabic word which translates to “mouth of the fish”. It’s the brightest star in the Pisces Austrinus constellation (the “Southern Fish”, not to be confused with the Pisces constellation of the Zodiac) and it’s said that the water from Aquarius’ pitcher flows into the fish’s open mouth – a motif echoed in the drawing.
Fomalhaut has powerful magical properties that can manifest as artistic talent, fame for one’s artistry (especially after death), and spiritual gifts. It is of the nature of Mercury and Venus according to ancient authors. Read more about this fascinating star here and here.
Throughout ancient mythology, we find Venus-Aphrodite has a number of interesting correlations to fish imagery. In one telling from Hyginus, Aphrodite and her son Eros tie themselves together before taking fishy forms in order to swim to safety down the Euphrates River during their escape from the serpent-monster Typhon. In another, she is birthed from an egg that fell from the sky into the sea, and was then rolled onto the shore by fish. The twin fish depicted in the constellation Pisces are variously described as the children of Pisces Austrinus or as representations of the fish in these Venus-Aphrodite myths.
It's no wonder we find the goddess of Love and Beauty dignified in the sign of the two fish. Steeped in the mutable waters of Pisces, Venus is able to turn her attention away from the more Taurean, hedonistic desires of the body and the relational demands she must attend to in Libra. Soaking in the cosmic connectedness of Venus in Pisces invites us to imagine, to conjure, to channel. Fantastical beauty and divine oddities abound when we surrender to the whims of imagination.
Another significant astrological factor in this election: the greater benefic Jupiter, favorably domiciled in Pisces, was inching towards a conjunction with dreamy, illusory Neptune in the 1st House, boosting the signal potential for divine inspiration via astral channels. The moon, gathering light in her first quarter phase, assists with nurturing and nourishing these energies from the bosom of her own domicile in Cancer, trining the Jupiter-Neptune lineup from the 5th House (said to be the place of Venus’s Joy) of pleasure and generative creation.
The ritual – which took place from 4:25am-4:48am on April 9th in Providence, RI and began during Venus’s planetary day and hour – went very smoothly with one minor exception. It appeared Venus wanted to announce her arrival in dramatic fashion: by setting off the smoke alarm as the candles were lit, undoubtedly waking up the remaining members of the household.
Once the alarm turned off, the following offerings were made to Venus:
6 daffodils (picked during Venus’s day and hour)
an Aphrodite of Milos statuette
seaglass + shells
coppery-green rocks collected from the shores beneath Poseidon’s Temple in Sounio, Greece
6 each of orange slices, figs, walnuts, watermelon slices, raspberries
tea + incense of rose, red clover, hibiscus, yarrow, licorice, cleavers (prepared during Venus’s day and hour)
devotional images to Venus
green and teal candles
After the opening invocations and offerings, each print was embossed with the image of Venus’s seal as described by Cornelius Agrippa in Three Books of Occult Philosophy (customized for this Fomalhaut election with a fish design), then passed through a mixture of incenses including the herb mixture prepared during Venus’s day and hour.
As the prints were consecrated, Venus was humbly asked to draw down the energies of the Royal Fixed Star Fomalhaut and imbue these images made in her honor with the following qualities:
the ability to grant anyone doing creative work in this lifetime who views this image with talent and abilities beyond their own imagination
to give them divine creative inspiration
to give them acclaim and praise in proportion to their skill and vision, so that as one increases, so does the other
to connect the work they create with the audience most aligned with its intent
to give them lasting acclaim so their work might continue to be cherished even after their bones have turned to dust
After the ritual, the editions were kept on the altar for an additional three days. The altar was fed and Venus’s praises sung throughout that period. The prints were signed and numbered during Venus’s hour.
Notes from the Artist
“The Mouth of the Southern Fish '' is dense with planetary correspondences, astrological allusions and nods to ancient mythology. It’s also steeped in my own personal experiences and imagery from dreams I’ve had in the past.
On August 6, 2020, I dreamed I drew a bath for myself. As I bent to place the stopper in the drain, I noticed a second, much larger hole in the middle of the tub’s basin. It was well disguised — the lid was the same color and material as the rest of my alabaster acrylic bath rendering it indistinguishable from its surroundings save for a thin seam. Curious, I pulled the lid up and peered down into a fat, rusty pipe ending in abyss. To my dismay, warm seawater immediately sprang from the hole, filling the tub. I quickly replaced the lid, ending the deluge. The dark, swirling water called to me. I stuck one intrepid toe in to test the temperature — warm and inviting. But as I stepped into the bath, I found myself squealing at the sensation of something bumping up against me. I quickly withdrew my body and peered into the murky water. Deep awe drenched my being when I discovered the source of my shock — a pair of large gray fish, wild, yet contained, swimming in circles around my bathtub. When I woke, I wrote down the dream in my journal and went to record the phase and the sign of the moon as I typically did, only to find that the moon was indeed in Pisces that day.
I’ve also had recurring dreams of giving birth to tiny baby animals – birds, dogs, cats. Sometimes they start out as human babes but they inevitably turn into animals. In these dreams, I often forget about my non-human children. When I return to them, they appear so small and delicate, physically diminished and fragile in their state of malnourishment. I feel guilt at my neglect and resentment at their neediness. During a recent dream interpretation session, I discovered that these dreams had a strong connection to my relationship with my art practice. In the past, I had a deeply held belief that I needed to suffer in order for my art to be meaningful, that because I was gifted I had an obligation to create. It was draining and painful and so I resented it and at the same time felt guilt for my avoidance and neglect. Since I started working with an amazing somatic coach last summer, I’ve been slowly questioning these attitudes. This piece in particular was my first attempt at exploring what it feels like to create from a place of safety, freedom, devotion and joy, instead of obligation and suffering. By working in this way, I’m learning what it means to nourish and be nourished by my art practice.
I’ve encountered a number of synchronicities during the process of bringing this talisman into the world. The thing about synchronicities, of course, is that they can feel incredibly magical and monumentally important to the person experiencing them in the moment, but tend to lose their shine in their mundane retelling. Nonetheless, I think these occurrences speak volumes both to the magic contained in this specific image, as well as the power of choosing to live and work in this enchanted way so I’m going to share them here.
I’ve been dealing with the physical and emotional toll of hormonal/adult acne for the past decade. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and untold amounts of my time looking for *the thing* that would finally end my ordeal for good. Since beginning this Venus-Fomalhaut project at the start of the new year, I’ve been working with my doctors to address some nutritional deficiencies that are no doubt the result of the restrictive diets I’ve been on these past few years via supplements and changes to my diet (aka eating a lot of beans). I’m happy to report, dear reader, that a welcome side effect of these changes has been a dramatic reduction of my breakouts. And yeah, I know… it’s science, dummy! But one of my long term goals in working with Venus over the past year has been to figure out what’s been going on with my skin. It's not lost on me the timing of this breakthrough just *happened* to line up with this devotional work. Praise Venus.
I sent off proofs for this piece to the printer on a Thursday. The next day, I was doing my normal Friday ritual where I burn incense, recite the Orphic Hymn to Aphrodite and water my houseplants during her planetary day and hour. I got through one line of the Hymn when I saw my phone was ringing. Normally I don’t pick up if I don’t recognize the number but for some reason I did. It was the printer calling to let me know there was a black drawing artifact in the white border of the digital file I’d sent over and asking me if I’d like him to clean up for me. Yes, please! I swear to goddess, these divinities have a sense of humor when it comes to timing.
When I went to the printer to pick up the final edition, I was rung out by a beautiful, ethereal young woman who told me about a synchronicity she had experienced with this image. She had been daydreaming about wanting to own a koi pond someday but was brought back to reality by the realization that it could be prohibitively expensive to build and maintain. She then went on to justify her initial desire by recalling that since she did not want to have children, perhaps the koi fish could be her children instead. The next day, she came into work and mine was one of the prints she was to produce that day – an image of a woman mothering a fish, literally nursing it from her breast. I was absolutely floored by this story.