Copyright © Can Göknil | All rights reserved.

“The Matter Bodes Well”


Geomancy is an ancient form of divination in which handfuls of soil or other materials are scattered on the ground or markings are made in the earth or sand to produce configurations that can be “read”. When the augury was propitious, the geomancer would signal this by saying “The matter bodes well.” (1) 

Can Göknil and I first worked together in 1991 when I wrote the essay for the catalogue of her “Amulets” exhibition that she had spent two years preparing for. During this project I traced the roots of ancient dreams and of contemporary mythologies in the surrealistic world that she had created and rebuilt out of the artistic inspirations derived from her voyages into the world of mythology and sought the origins of that splendid world. 2 This time the artist appears before us again in an exhibition of works that have taken nearly four years to prepare. In doing so, she entices us into a magical world, a vortex of existence in which the concepts of time and space have vanished and all our familiar formulations have been expunged like the spiral flight of a shaman: fate and divination.

Can Göknil presented her “Amulets” exhibition along with “Anzu the Bird-Man”, an ancient Mesopotamian legend dating back to the 1700s BC. According to this legend, Anzu the Bird-Man stole the tablets on which the gods had inscribed people’s destinies and suspended from the sky, thus causing great consternation throughout the world. Terrified because their fates were now in the hands of the Bird-Man, people sought to protect themselves and discovered how to make amulets and charms. After a prolonged struggle, the gods recovered the Tablets of Destinies and restored them to their place in the sky. But as a result of this episode, mankind had discovered magic and thereafter human beings continued to have recourse to the mysterious world of talismans and amulets in order to seek protection from evil and to realize their hopes and aspirations of a happy, healthy, and secure life. Such was the legend and in the 1999 show, sculptures of “Bird-Man Anzu and his children” greeted visitors from their places of honor in the gallery.

Over the centuries beliefs, languages, legends, times, and places all changed. Bird-Man Anzu was forgotten. But the tablets inscribed with people’s fates weren’t forgotten though their location was and they came to be known as the “Hidden Tablets” instead. Nowadays of course even these hidden tablets have been forgotten: people come into this world with their fates “indelibly inscribed on their foreheads”.

Fate is certainly not something unique to human beings. Everything in the universe has a fate of its own. Fate has always been a prerequisite for divine creation and a requirement of divine existence. Fate is the most fundamental rule of divine order: it is divine discipline. As shown in the legend of Bird-Man Anzu, without fate there is consternation and disorder everywhere.

And yet at the same time, fate is something that is distinctively human. In the whole universe, only human beings wonder about fate. And not just wonder about it either: they will try to discover their fate despite every warning not to do so and if they do discover it, they will by turn even rebel against it. Anzu was only part bird: he was also part man. The fates that he stole were those of human beings.

Prophecy, divination, magic… If fate is a divine playground that the gods provide for human beings, then prophecy, divination, and magic are the toys that we have never under any circumstances been willing to do without.

The future has always represented the biggest question mark in the subject of human life and existence. But at the same time, everything is clear: everything is known from the outset. What a provocative contradiction! If the future is set, can there not also be some way for a person to discover it? Is this not the expression of a fundamental conundrum that has taken precedence even over the question of existence itself for millennia?

Prophecy means knowing the future… Human efforts to know the future–even if only to make intelligent guesses about it–over the millennia in the face of every prohibition against it have created a tremendous store of knowledge. Through divination, a thousand and one methods were discovered to learn not just about the future but about the present and the past as well. Through magic, human beings created a world of unimaginable wonder in order to protect themselves against the evils of their fates.

Prophecy is perhaps even older than fate itself in the human psyche. Sacred texts tell us that after Adam was driven out of Paradise into this world, he still had to come to grips with and resolve hosts of problems however much he had eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Where then did fate cross paths with humanity? That critical encounter probably occurred when, having noticed cyclical recurrences in nature and life, human beings began asking why they occurred and then embarked upon a search for the reasons for being. This questioning certainly was more than just curiosity: it was a question that had to be answered because it was related to the continuity of human life itself. The inexplicable was explained and with their incredible powers of imagination, human beings began creating and filling the heavens with creators who, at the beginning, resembled themselves. The tasks of assigning and protecting human fates they delegated to their creations.

It is likely that human beliefs concerning the questions of existence, life, and the future arose in prehistoric times and it is interesting that they are fundamentally the same in all human societies and cultures everywhere and every-when. It is certainly true that in the course of time these beliefs underwent changes in different ways in different places and they were embroidered and fleshed out with local details. Yet despite their seeming differences in complexity and systematization, the underlying beliefs are the same and always have been the same. In the relationships between human beings on the one hand and nature and the universe on the other as well as in dealing with problems related to ourselves, we have never ceased to wonder, to investigate, and to come up with the sometimes most incredible answers to these questions no matter what kinds of limitations or even outright prohibitions may have been imposed on them.

Thus it would be no exaggeration to say that tens of thousands of years of human effort to come up with answers to the questions of existence, life, and the future make up the richest and most universal store of human knowledge and culture. In other words, the localized differences that we observe are superficial: these beliefs encompass all humanity. There is a very simple reason for this: however much the divinities may seem to be at the center of these beliefs, what is really central to them is humanity itself and that is why these beliefs have survived irrespective of place or time.

So long as the question “What is going to happen?” remains unanswered and unanswerable–and it probably always will remain so–human beings are never going to stop wondering about the future or making efforts to shape it the way they want it to be. In the past, seers sought these answers in a thousand and one secret ways and signs. And what of today? What are statistical methods, probability calculations, and risk analyses if not the modern manifestations of peering at entrails or pondering flights of birds? It hardly even counts as “prophecy” nowadays to envision that some day we’ll be able to hear our future being pronounced by the synthesized voice of a computer or perhaps from a microchip installed in our heads.

It is a common-place but nevertheless worth repeating truth that anything that is of concern to human beings is also of potential interest to and a source of nourishment for art as well. Searching for themselves in a world of unknowns, human beings opened the doors to the world of art by drawing pictures on walls, fashioning totems, producing abstract forms, using colors, beating sticks and stones together, making rhythmic leaps, and much more. And in the same way, art nourished their world, encouraged the development of tools, and created aesthetics by rendering imaginary images visible and making them believable. All of these efforts–art–are in fact nothing more than the efforts of humanity to express itself.

In the work that she has done (and is still doing) for children in that fairytale-world that she enters with such great artistic sensitivity and responsibility, Can Göknil at one point focuses her attentions on mythology–particularly on the world of Turkish legends–and on ancient beliefs. In her reinterpretations of the artistic dimensions that she discovers in the world of mythology, she is also creating today a modern and quite personal mythology of her own. The basis of that mythology reveals the human essence that is central to tens of thousands of years of human experience. It would be more accurate however to say that, rather than any deliberate, planned effort in this direction on her part, her efforts are directed instead towards reshaping her artistic impressions of the past in her own way as an artist and to enable us to sense that human essence, revealing it for us as she peels away the accretions of millennia.

Can Göknil studied art in the United States and held her first personal exhibition in that country. Before coming to ancient Turkish mythology, she encountered the mythologies of ancient Egypt and Asia Minor at the British Museum and was drawn into that vivid world. The first fruits of her work in this new-found universe were revealed in exhibitions such as “Ağaçlarla İlgili İnanışlar / “Beliefs concerning trees” (1986), “Anadolu Tanrıçaları / Anatolian Goddesses” (1994), “Yaradılış Efsaneleri / Creation Myths” (1997), and “Muskalar/ Amulets” (1999). In the present exhibition she delves the theme of “fate” for us. As in her earlier exhibitions, ancient Turkish beliefs provide the basis for her work and from the rich assortment of expressions of fate that she finds there she has plucked the images and practices that attract her interest as an artist. Chronologically these works are divided into the “Central Asian” and “Islamic” periods but in making this distinction Can Göknil opens new horizons for the viewer from the standpoint of discerning the thematic continuity that exists between the two while also rendering the human dimension more visible.

For the Central Asian period, the artist has chosen two main themes. The first is “Türklerin 12 Hayvan Takvimi / The Turkish Calendar of 12 Animals”, the ancient Turkish 12-year calendrical cycle in which each year was identified by a particular animal; the other is called “Kader Habercileri / Harbingers of Fate”. As we shall be showing momentarily, the ancient Turkish calendrical cycle of twelve animals was itself the first harbinger of fate in a natural world. “Harbingers of Fate” on the other hand are the earliest practices of divination that began to appear along with the concept of fate. Both themes are eminently suitable for artistic treatment.

In the “Islamic” period of the exhibition, the themes that the artist turns her attentions to are “Levh-i Mahfuz / Hidden Tablets” (the tablet of God’s decrees preserved to the end of time) and “Nücum / Stars”, the old name for what is called “astrology” today. “Vefk / Magic Squares”, squares on which magical formulas intended to protect someone against evil influences were written down and then folded or rolled, make up another of the artist’s themes.

Finally Can Göknil turns to the story of “Şahmaran / Shahmaran”, which for centuries has been a source of inspiration for artists exploring the relationship between life and death.

Bird-Man Anzu, whose sculpture formed the centerpiece of the “Amulets” exhibition, is this time replaced by a figure of a doe and her young resembling the ones that Buryat women in Central Asia tie rags to the horns of deer as charms in the hope of becoming pregnant.

Nearly all of these subjects are unusual in terms of their content, application, and artistic potential and for this reason they required the artist to engage in a long period of research before she could actually begin working. For nearly four years, Can Göknil searched for everything she could find on these subjects, tracking down original sources and seeking out original interpretations, focusing particularly on visual materials such as drawings, miniatures, and paintings. Inspired by the things she found, she developed her main figures remaining faithful to their original forms while subjecting them to her own artistic sensitivities. She allowed her technique to be determined by the particular features of her subject and the period to which it belonged. The results of her own interpretations were revealed on canvas, wooden panels, and terra-cotta.

The origins of the “Turkish Calendar of 12 Animals” are quite ancient and the calendar’s totemic and magical connotations are clearly tribal in nature. 3 This calendar was based on a twelve-year calendrical cycle in which each year was identified by a particular animal. It is thought that these animals were totemic symbols: traditionally there were twelve tribes and each one had an animal totem of its own. Totems played important roles in some aspects of tribal life. The totem was the tribe’s protector and the animal represented by it would not be hunted or killed by the members of that tribe, though it could of course be ritually slaughtered as a sacrifice.

The years in this twelve-year cycle were named sequentially Sıçgan (Rat), Ud (Ox), Bars (Leopard), Tavışgan (Rabbit), Lu (Dragon), Yılan (Snake), Yond (Mare), Koy (Sheep), Biçin (Monkey), Taguk (Hen), İt (Dog), Tonguz (Pig).

This ancient calendar had functions that went beyond simply keeping track of the year however. The totemic attributes of the year’s name were influential as well. Each year was thought to bear those attributes, which would shape the course of events during the year. Nor was that the full extent of it: the general character and life of a person were also believed to be determined in advance by the totem of the year he was born in. This is certainly evidence for the concept of “fate” in the culture that created this system of time-keeping.

While early sources are not in full agreement on what the particular attributes of the totems and the years named after them were, one thing that is common to them all is that, overall, they weren’t particularly optimistic: a reflection no doubt of harsh living conditions. Can Göknil’s interpretations by contrast focus on the optimistic elements among the traditions. In the twelve paintings (acrylic on canvas) that she has produced for the exhibition she presents us with a dozen pictures of more hopeful futures.

The artistic stylization of animal figures in Central Asian art is highly developed, a feature that is directly linked to totemism. These stylized figures were used not only for ritual purposes but also as decorative elements. Numerous examples of both uses have been discovered in archaeological excavations from every period. 4Can Göknil employs these totemic symbols in her hand-made frames. Into a wooden panel set in the upper part of the totem she has carved the figure of one of the animals and the same figure, cut from a sheet of lead, is set into the panel as well. Lead is a material much used in the world of magic and this artist has also employed it in her earlier work. In her canvases, Can Göknil reinterprets the original figures without losing any of their cyclical attributes. Bringing her figures together in keeping with her interpretation, she employs soft colors, studiously vague contours, and delicate brushwork that results in a thoroughly refined image on a canvas that creates an impression of luminance and optimism in the viewer that is in keeping with her general approach.

In this exhibition Can Göknil also offers the viewers of her twelve-year canvases a little surprise as well. She’s translated this ancient Turkish calendar into our present-day one. So those who are interested can learn from the artist’s paintings the attributes of their birth years or what 2004 (Year of the Monkey) or 2005 (Year of the Hen) are likely to bring. With this friendly gesture, our interest in the artist’s work and the very same curiosity that causes most of us to at least glance at the astrology feature of the newspaper almost every day transports us back millennia and links us to someone trying to make sense of the future from the bewildering words being uttered by a shaman in a mystical trance.

For her “Harbingers of Fate” drawings, Can Göknil was inspired by another element of Central Asian culture: the book known as Irk Bitig. “Irk” is the Uighur word for “fortune” or “fortune-telling” and “bitig” is the same language’s word for “book” so Irk Bitig means The Book of Fortune-Telling. This is a work of 104 pages written in the runic letters of the ancient Kokturks (Blue Turks), whom the Uighurs are thought to be the descendants of. That the work has survived at all is due to its having been written down on extremely well-made Chinese paper. Irk Bitig is an example of bibliomancy–fortune-telling using a book, somewhat like the ancient Chinese I Ching or The Book of Changes. Irk Bitig contains 65 “oracles” or “auguries”. At the beginning of each one there are between one and four circles drawn in black ink and some of them are filled with red ink. In a way that is not entirely understood nowadays, a die was cast three times. The results of these castings gave the fortune-teller a combination that directed him to the oracle that he would then interpret according to the query being made. 5

Bibliomancy appears to have been quite common in many different cultures and periods. Among the Ottomans, the book most often used for this purpose was the Qur’an, which only was natural since that was the book that was most readily available. To legitimize this sort of fortune-telling, the process began with a religious ritual. The querent (the person consulting the fortune-teller or asking the question) would open the book to a random page and a particular letter or word on a particular line would be the key from which the fortune would be told. Not just Qur’ans but also the works of such famous poets as Hafız-i Şirazi, Mevlana, or Sadi were used to tell fortunes as well (rhapsodomancy). In this case a die would be thrown or the querent would randomly press his finger on a plate with letters or numbers on it and the results of this action provided the key. 6 Unlike these, Irk Bitig was a book specifically intended to be used in fortune-telling.

This should not be surprising because fortune-telling was an important element of Central Asian shamanism. The heavenly journeys that the shaman made in his trances were thought to be journeys into the future and divining the hidden was something else that shamans were supposed to be able to do in addition to using magic to cure the sick and to control events that affected people’s welfare. There were many shamanistic methods of divination. The most widely used was scapulimancy, which involved “reading” the cracks in an animal’s shoulder-blade that had been put into the fire. Pessomancy was a form of divination that used beans or pebbles. Indeed almost anything could be and was used for purposes of divination: fire (pyromancy), burning coals (anthracomancy), and sounds (alveromancy) to mention but three. 7

Can Göknil’s “Harbingers of Fate” consist of 20 drawings in india ink on paper that were inspired by Irk Bitig. The text of the book itself is quite simple and realistic in its style and expression and the messages that the oracles convey are quite clear. In that respect Irk Bitig is rather naïve compared with other bibliomantic texts and it has been suggested that what we have today is not the complete text but rather a brief summary of something much larger and more complex. Nevertheless the book’s patron, “Isıg Sangun”, admonishes us saying “And so my sons, know that this book of divination is a good one and by means of it shall everyone be in control of his own fate.”

Can Göknil depicts some of the animal symbols in Irk Bitig as inspired by the stylized animal figures used in the decoration of harnesses and tents in Central Asian cultures. The figures in these india-ink drawings on paper are quite clean and spare, free of any non-essentials. This simplicity reminds one of the abstraction found in the Central Asian “Animal Style”, particularly in the appliqué figures intended to be used on leather. Naïve as they may appear to our eyes today, they proclaim a steppeland world in which there was a direct and sincere bond between people and the land in which they dwelt.

In “Harbingers of Fate”, Can Göknil presents us with an illustrated Irk Bitig of her own and invites us to observe and explore this untrammeled relationship between nature and human beings.

The “Hidden Tablets” that Can Göknil has selected for the “Islamic period” of her exhibition remind us of the “Tablets of Destiny” that Anzu the Bird-man stole thousands of years ago. The artist presents us with millennia-old linkages between fate and destiny in the form of a panel fashioned from wood and terra-cotta and decorated with gold leaf and acrylic paint. The covers of little boxes in the panel (reminiscent of the “charmed boxes” in the “Amulets” exhibition) when opened reveal a human face in the form of a terra-cotta plate or tablet. Each little face is different and yet nothing is written on their foreheads. The widespread belief that our fate is inscribed on our forehead also maintains that the writing is invisible or at least can’t be read. The human faces in the panel however are not just uninscribed: there’s not so much as a worry-line in them. Their foreheads are like pages on which nothing has yet been written–a tabula rasa or “blank slate” as it were. Looking at the faces peering out of the panel one can’t help but think that human fate is really a tabula rasa after all.

Talismans are objects in one form or another that are employed as charms to avert evil and bring good fortune. Talismans have existed in every human culture and society and even the most rational of people today are not averse to holding onto some keepsake or other for its imputed “good luck” value. Talismans are another product of the inexhaustible human effort to influence the future in the way that the individual wants. In other words, it represents a personal effort to alter “unalterable fate” or at least to make it possible for fate to run a less disagreeable course. If fate is indeed unalterable then what is the point of all this effort? The logic underlying this seeming contradiction is summed up in the phrase “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Despite all our conditioning, all our limitations, and all our fears, we never quite lose this hope. The world of talismans is indeed astonishingly rich and deeply mysterious but that too is merely a reflection of the astonishing richness and deep mystery of the human heart.

A particular type of talisman called vefk in Turkish consists of squares on which magical formulas are inscribed in Arabic letters and numbers. The Turks acquired the practice from the Arabs along with Islam. A large square is divided into smaller ones and into these little squares letters or numbers are written according to a particular formula. The totals of these numbers combined with the numerical values of the letters were the subjects of complex numerological analysis and interpretation. Such magic squares were a form of divination and apotropaic magic that was much used in the Islamic world. In Topkapı Sarayı Museum’s collections of garments worn by the Ottoman sultans and the members of their families there are even a number of “magic shirts” whose designs consist of complex magic squares of this kind that were believed to ward off evil.

Can Göknil’s magic squares however replace the mysterious numbers and letters with figures, thus restoring the humanity to a world of magic from which the human essence had largely been drained. Choosing such themes as “Magic Square for Birth”, “Magic Square for Love”, “Magic Square for Entertainment” as her subjects, she highlights the quite ordinary (and thus quite human) wishes, worries, and expectations that people have as they peer out into the complex and mysterious world around them.

Another theme in this Can Göknil exhibition is zodiacal signs. Astrology is probably the most common and widespread form of divination practiced today. For quite a few people it is serious business and even the most skeptical disbeliever is apt to glance quickly at his horoscope in today’s newspaper. Like the twelve totems in the Uighur cyclical calendar, each zodiacal sign determines the nature and destiny of the person born under it.

It is likely that human beings have always sought to divine the future and their fate by searching the skies. In Ottoman times, astrology was called ilm-i nücum, “science of stars”, which is what “astrology” means. Such divination of course requires that one be able to identify the individual stars and planets and understand what their influences are. Intimately associated with astrology therefore is the science known as astronomy–the scientific study of the heavens. Indeed it has been said that astrology is simply “applied astronomy”.

Astrologers nowadays employ extremely complex charts and calculations and naturally the computer and the internet have been pressed into service as well. The most widely practiced form of astrology today involves seven planets and twelve constellations. To those who believe in astrology, planets and stars exert influences on human affairs and by interpreting their positions and aspects it is possible to foretell terrestrial events.

Among the Ottomans, the seven planets were Zühal (Saturn), Müşteri (Jupiter), Mirrih (Mars), Zühre (Venus), Utarit (Mercury), Kamer (Moon), and Şems (Sun). The Sun was referred to by Ottoman astrologers as “Sultan of the World”. Each of the other planets had particular attributes that distinguished them from the others and each served the Sun according to its abilities. The Moon for example was the Sun’s vizier; Venus was the heavenly court’s musician; Jupiter was its chief justice; Mercury was its scribe; Saturn was its treasurer; and Mars was its general.

The zodiacal signs were first defined by the ancient Babylonians, who divided the zodiac (the apparent path followed by the sun and planets in the sky) into twelve “mansions” or “abodes”, places where the sun “dwelt” for a twelfth-part of the year. Each of these was named according to the chief constellation in that part of the sky.

Among the Ottomans, the Signs of the Zodiac were called Hamel (Aries), Sevr (Taurus), Cevza (Gemini), Seretan (Cancer), Esed (Leo), Sünbüle (Virgo), Mizan (Libra), Akreb (Scorpio), Kavs (Sagittarius), Cedi (Capricorn), Delv (Aquarius), and Hut (Pisces).

In Ottoman times, astrological signs were believed to influence a person in two ways. The first was the usual one, which was determined by the date and hour of the person’s birth and the ruling signe (zodiacal sign) at that time. The second was based on a numerical computation (called ebced) based on the letters contained in the individual’s name. In addition, the relative positions of the sun, planets, and stars were all believed to influence a person’s character and determine his future.

Among the Ottomans, the specific attributes of the individual signes were quite detailed and, according to a person’s sex, they determined his physical features, talents, weaknesses, susceptibilities, character, lucky and unlucky periods, relations with those around him, the kinds of work in which he could be successful, whom he should marry, and even what prayers should be recited when he got sick. Using these attributes, the astrologer could make a general “reading” of a person’s overall condition or a more limited one for a particular period of time or even event.

In this exhibition Can Göknil presents twelve canvases in acrylic under the general heading of “Stars”. The points of departure for the figures in these works are the names and attributes of the signes. The figures are again mythological in character. The style of treatment is redolent of Ottoman miniatures though naturally the artist employs her own colors, brushwork, and delicate touch in transporting these images to our modern world.

In “Shahmaran” Can Göknil presents her vision of the concepts of immortality and infinity. The name “Shahmaran” is derived from the Persian Shah-i Maran and means “King of the Serpents”. Shahmaran was a composite mythological creature with the body of a serpent and the head of a man. His real name was said to be “Yemliya”. He dwelt in a cave in a lush, paradisiacal garden. He sat on a throne of beryl and could converse like a human being. Known as Şahmaran in Turkey, the legend of this creature is still quite alive in many parts of Anatolia and it is possibly one of the oldest myths of its kind. The reasons for its popularity probably have to do with the natural human desires to control one’s destiny, gain power, and achieve immortality as much as with the colorfulness of its events. In many ways, the story of Shahmaran is also one of the most humane of myths and this too is probably why it inspired so many literary and artistic works in the past.

In Turkish literature, the story of Shahmaran is first told in Camasbname / The Book of Camasb, a poem of rhymed couplets composed in the early 15th century by Abdi Musa, and this is the one of the many possible versions that Can Göknil bases her Shahmaran figure on. In this poem, Shahmaran is presented as the only creature that possesses the crucial knowledge needed to reach the hiding-place of the legendary ring symbolizing immortality, strength, power, and wisdom that was worn by King Solomon. The key is an herb: if a person applies the herb to his feet, he will be able to walk on water and thus reach the otherwise inaccessible island of King Solomon where the ring is hidden. Shahmaran knows he must keep this information secret because human beings are selfish and greedy and can cope with neither immortality nor with infinite power and wisdom: for the ring to fall into human hands would be a disaster for all mankind. In the effort to protect this secret, Shahmaran dies. But though men are deprived of their hopes of immortality and infinite power and wisdom, they still continue to dream of it.

Inspired by Abdi Musa’s account of the Shahmaran legend, Can Göknil has created a rich series of works. The first products of this effort were compositions interpreting the story and consisting of india-ink drawings and watercolor paintings on paper that were used to illustrate a book for children. Later she turned to images of Shahmaran in the traditional arts in which the figure of the King of the Serpents is frequently depicted in a technique that involves painting on glass. The colorful results of her personal interpretations and insights into this legend appear in works such as “Shahmaran in the Darkness”, “Sequined Mar”, and “Mar the Bride” that all pay homage to traditional folk-art. These pictures radiate with the warmth and humanity that are the reason the Shahmaran legend has been so enduringly popular. The artist also makes use of collage in her work for the first time in these pictures, placing mysterious seals, forms, and talismanic markings around her Shahmaran figures. These mixed-technique works seem to be pointing to the mysterious and complex relationships between the central figure on the one hand and life and death on the other.

In “Tree of Life and Mar”, Can Göknil combines the Shahmaran legend together with the Tree of Life motif. In doing so, she points to the features underlying the two tales and to the wellspring of all legends, which is to say, the human essence. In her arrangement, the Tree of Life rises above Shahmaran and the tree itself bears both the crescent and full moon, two beaming images also plucked from Ottoman miniatures. These symbolize Shahmaran’s perpetual watching over the best interests of mankind, protecting us from the knowledge of immortality and of infinite power and wisdom–and from ourselves. How ironic it is that the information that is of the utmost importance to life must be withheld from human beings in order to safeguard their lives. With her unusual treatment of the Shahmaran story, Can Göknil reveals the heart of her “Fate” exhibition, consecrates life, and invites us all to deserve to live.

Confronted by the work that Can Göknil presents in this exhibition, do we still need to ask if Fate is always going to be our fate? As human beings attempting to discover our fates and futures tens of thousands of years after our ancestors who created these mythological worlds and beliefs, if we are still asking that question, who could possibly answer it? A fortune-teller? If so, let’s hope indeed that his answer is “The matter bodes well.”

Notes

1. Agah Sırrı Levent, Divan Edebiyatı (İstanbul: Enderun Kitapevi, 1980), 220.
2. Murat Ural & Can Göknil, Büyünün Büyüsü: Kader Tabletleri’nden Muskaya (İstanbul: Milli Reasürans Yayınları, 1999).
3. Osman Turan, Oniki Hayvanlı Türk Takvimi (İstanbul: DTCF Yayını, 1941). The information in this part is compiled from this source.
4. Nejat Diyarbakırlı, Türk Sanat Tarihi: Araştırma ve İncelemeler II (İstanbul: Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, 1969).
5. H. N. Orkun, Eski Türk Yazıtları (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1987). The information in this part is compiled from this source.
6. Sennur Sezer, Osmanlı’da Fal ve Falnameler (İstanbul: Milliyet Yayınları, 1998).
7. Abdülkadir İnan, Tarihte ve Bugün Şamanizm (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1972), 151 and elsewhere.