The Spelling of Bisttram’s Name

Bisttram’s signature and the spelling of his name are also of interest, especially since they bear on his spiritual outlook. Born in Hungary in 1895 with the name Bistran, he gradually changed the spelling, finally settling on Bisttram by 1931.

An examination of the catalogues of the Boston Society of Independent Artists, where he exhibited between 1927 and 1931, shows his name spelled Bistran for all entries except 1931, when it is spelled Bisttram. In the Message of 1929, the annual report of the Roerich Museum for the year 1929, his name is spelled Bistran; in the Message of 1930, his name is spelled Bisttram. The New York Phone Directory, however, shows his name spelled Bistram beginning in October 1923, up to and including the final listing, the winter of 1930-31.

Various surviving friends of Bisttram’s recall that he said that he changed the spelling of his name after consulting a numerologist while he was living in New York. At the same time his wife Mary changed her name to Mayrion. A document in the Bisttram archives at the Harwood Museum suggests that the name change was based on sound rather than on number. The name Emil Bisttram is diagramed, with Emil shown as a upward moving spiral surmounted by a five-pointed star, and Bisttram as an upward moving spiral surmounted by a triangle. The accompanying text, headed with the new spelling of his name, includes an explanation based on the occult relationship of sound to form. It is signed by Nancy Lansdale.

The revised spelling of his name also enabled him to make the sign for pi out of the double t, which embedded his dedication to geometry and the occult in his signature. Pi, or 3.1415+, the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference, is variously called an incommensurable number, an irrational number, or an unending fraction. The golden section, or 1.618+, is the same type of number. Even though pi and the golden section represent fractions, they can be expressed as whole figures, pi as a circle with a diameter, and the golden section as a rectangle. One of Blavatsky’s many theosophical interpretations of pi holds that the circumference of a circle represents the hidden deity, and that the diameter represents the creative power of male and female. Pi, therefore, represents the relationship between the Creator and the creative power of the individual. (H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, 2 vols. London: The Theosophical Publishing Company, Ltd., 1886; reprint Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1988, II, p. 536) Many of the rectangles used in dynamic symmetry have sides in incommensurable ratios.