One of the great benefits of silence, at least about one’s inner work or “self-work,” is that no one will dump their opinions and energies onto what you are doing, and distract you, or load you with their attitudes and claims, weaknesses and dreams, if you limit their access to your work of changes. (Let them see the results instead.) Choose your audience wisely if you feel you must talk about such experiences and insights. American culture in particular suffers at this time from a compulsive confessional mode. Purge, share, spill, vent! it says. But keep silent by default, at least at first, and you will have many fewer obstacles to deal with. Ignore this ancient counsel to keep silent, and you’ll find out from experience why it’s an integral part of magical training, and one of the four powers.
That said, the magical journal is a fine outlet for a “space to talk.” Not surprisingly, many who keep a journal find it useful to write at least some entries in a code or cipher, in another language, etc., to maintain the veil of privacy necessary to maximizing effort and energy put into the work. As with most paradoxes, “guard the mysteries; constantly reveal them”* illustrates valuable teaching. Say nothing; get it down in words. More about the journal later.
Sometimes the strain of inner work can lead to imbalances; we choose means and modes of change and growth that cost us more than they deliver. The French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) records his struggles for insight and inspiration and poetic fire through a program of conscious “derangement of the senses” through means both culturally acceptable and unacceptable (his life bears study!). I quote here from his youthful letters**:
I am lousing myself up as much as I can these days. Why? I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a seer … the point is, to arrive at the unknown by the disordering of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one has to be strong, to be born a poet, and I have discovered that I am a poet. It is not my fault at all. It is a mistake to say: I think. One ought to say: I am thought.
I is for somebody else. So much the worse for the wood if it find itself a violin.
I witness the unfolding of my own thought: I watch it, I listen to it: I make the stroke of the bow: the symphony begins to stir in the depths, or springs onto the stage …
I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.
The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed — and the great learned one! — among men — For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his own soul — which was rich to begin with — more than any other man. He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them. Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!
So, then, the poet is the thief of fire …
Rimbaud wrote this in 1871, when he was just 16.
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Much to note here — more than I will address in this post. First, his age: in fact he composed all of his poetry before he was twenty, when he abandoned further creative work, though he was to live almost two more decades after that. Some of his furious intensity, drive — and imbalance — stem from the energies loosed in adolescence, which most of us deal with to varying degrees of success as we mature. The Victorian magician, poet, mountaineer, addict and occultist Aleister Crowley engaged in similar practices, perhaps surviving them better in the short run, and gaining more from them, while still suffering from partly self-cultivated imbalances and excesses along his chosen path. Many Westerners crave intensity — we struggle with a deep desire to feel powerfully, and sometimes, to feel anything at all — and the broken lives that result from our excesses, binges, addictions and self-destructive choices testify painfully and graphically to that desire, and to a yawning lack in our cultures that cannot answer or satisfy it. Hence our compulsion to seek such nourishment elsewhere, in productive and unproductive ways.
Rimbaud’s last line quoted above — “the poet is the thief of fire” — also echoes adolescent rebellion, defiance and fascination with one’s own seemingly Promethean forces and capacities that can make teenagers so self-involved and oblivious of others. The thrill-seeking, the experimentation, the moodiness all mirror tremendous inner changes as the foundations for adult life are laid. To plumb our inner darkness — we can see it exteriorized in film after film of violence, sex, death and the depths of traumatic emotion — is to encounter the threshold of the unconscious, the lower astral plane, the scraps and debris left over from that initial self-making that we mistake for all of what we “really” are, when it is simply a part, but not the whole. Why let any one thing define us? Yes, a certain wisdom can indeed issue from intense and “heavy” experience. But — and again, how many of us can speak from experience! — it is not conducive to enduring happiness or balance or a capacity to grow and experience as much as possible. We cannot kick out the walls of our world and then expect any sort of roof to remain preternaturally suspended over our heads (unless we’ve put in the time to build it). Better to walk out the door and at least for a time to wander in the woods, with just sky above us.
Silence in some cases can of course be destructive. After every gun-related “incident” in the U.S., the shooter is subjected to endless scrutiny for “signs” of imbalance, paranoia, anomie, psychopathic tendencies, and so on. Our cultural sense of disconnect repeatedly festers and spawns terrible destruction and suffering. Or as novelist E. M Forster says in Howard’s End:
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
In every culture individuals arise who both confront its darkness and lose their way, as well as see a way through.
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The magical journal is a priceless aid in the work of transformation. Think of it as an alter ego, a second self or at least a second memory. Occultist Paul Foster Case illustrates its value in the following passage***. He speaks about learning the significance of the first ten numbers, 0 – 9, but his words apply much more widely:
I have been instructed by a teacher who could not speak my language, wholly by means of numeral and pictorial symbols. In a few hours I received enough material from that man to last me for years. Indeed, I don’t suppose I shall ever exhaust the significance of what I learnt from him in a few summer afternoons. Thus, were there no other reasons, the fact that number symbols are so useful a time-saving device should recommend them to you in this busy age. When you have fixed the fundamental ideas in memory, you will soon learn that none are arbitrary. Then you will begin to see the connection between these ideas …
Get a notebook. Divide it into ten sections. Heard the first page of each section with one of the ten numeral signs. Then copy the attributions … into your book. This is important. To copy anything is to make it more surely yours than if you merely read it. The act of copying increases the number of remembered sensations connected with that particular item of knowledge … Once you begin the notebook, you will be surprised at the amount of material that will begin to flow in your direction. It will seem that a mysterious power has begun to send you information about numbers from all sorts of sources. You will also discover that as soon as you provide a means for recording them, many ideas about numbers which you will recognize as coming from a higher, yet interior, source will enter your field of consciousness. After a year, the notebook will be an index of your progress … and by that time you will have learned to regard it as one of the most useful works of reference in your library.
As with so many things pairs of opposites, balancing silence with its useful counterpart of keeping a written record will reward the effort made. Duality is an energetic system that can work like a spiritual generator.
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The first post in this series looks at kinds of knowledge. The second shows how wanting to know leads to discoveries about our real selves. The third looks at daring and how it is a kind of freedom. The fourth focuses on the importance and potency of imagination.
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*Beat and Pagan poet Lew Welch: “Theology,” 1969.
The True Rebel never advertises it,
He prefers his joy to Missionary Work.
Church is Bureaucracy,
no more interesting than any Post Office.
Religion is Revelation:
all the Wonder of all the Planets striking
all your Only Mind
Guard the Mysteries!
Constantly reveal Them!
**Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems. (trans. Oliver Bernard). Penguin Classics, 1986, pp. 6-12.
***Paul Foster Case, Occult Fundamentals and Spiritual Unfoldment, Vol. 1: Early Writings. Fraternity of the Hidden Light, 2008. p. 72.