Archive for December 2015

Trick or Treat: The Mage   Leave a comment

tarotmageThe second Tarot card focuses on the discovery of power the Fool makes after taking that first step (off the cliff).

The “trick or treat” of this post’s title refers partly to the use we make of the power of the Mage. The image appears second in the sequence of the Greater Arcana. We can take the hint and profitably pair it with the Fool. Even as we set forth “wide-eyed and bushy-tailed” into the world of experience and polarities, we emerge flush with powers and abilities that we haven’t a clue about.

However we act in our initial steps into manifestation, inevitably we set forces in motion that entangle us in conflict. It’s the nature of whatever equilibrium we find ourselves in that we human beings are potential vehicles for its recalibration and movement to a new set-point. “Not choosing to act” is clearly also another choice, a shift in the energies of the equilibrium that feed its movement. Everything gives feedback.

If we do not trick ourselves with the powers in our hands, we may find out how to treat (in all senses of the word) this dimension of ourselves as well as those around us in magical ways. The Mage image itself is a kind of trick, the suggestion that we are special, set apart, potent with craft and technique, secret knowledge and spell and charm that can blow life wide-open and deliver us the lover, bank account, lifestyle or heaven we always thought we wanted. But after the hundredth spree, orgy, yacht and mansion, the excess palls. Is that all there is? Yes, but only if I accept another’s (i)magery. The challenge here, the trick  and treat both, is to keep on seeking.

buffy-mag

Buffy as Magician

[In 2008 Dark Horse Comics commissioned — and unfortunately subsequently cancelled — a Slayer Tarot inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A few images survive from its initial conception, which was in the capable hands of tarot expert and author Rachel Pollack and Buffy comics artist Paul Lee. To the left is Buffy as Magician. This new-old and potent archetype can be helpful if you’re longing for a change from the masculine cloak of traditional Magician imagery. Try a Google search for female Tarot magician and see what others catch your attention. We all mediate both energies, but we also need and seek rebalancing and recalibration where we can find it. It does not do merely to dismiss it as political correctness. But, as always, don’t take my word on this or bother arguing — test it for yourself.]

You can, if you like, see this early stage in the Fool’s journey as adolescence — that time of exploding awareness of polarity, of self-and-other, of gender and orientation, biochemistry and culture all playing havoc with the delightful androgeny of the Fool. It’s the stormfront approaching that can make you want to warn and shelter kids in their single-digit years, they’re often so appealing, uncomplicated, creative and free. Watch out!

But this necessary initiation equips us for so much to come. It can manifest in the amazing self-involvement of the teen. No surprise, since the peculiar discovery that “I-am-a-person, I’m-me. So-what’s-that? What-do-I-do-with-it? Help! Now what? OK, try this” derives in part from the number of Magician or Mage: 1. “I’m the first, the one and only to feel and do and think and discover all this. Except not. A whole world of us. Oh, sh*t!”

You can also understand the image in terms of what we’re all capable of, each of us an altar of power cascading outward from our choices, our habits, our goals, our fears and desires. Gaze into the eyes of another being long enough and you may catch a glimpse of that lightning in a bottle we all are.

The Mage calls it forth, poised between heaven and earth, a conduit of possibility. The hands of the Mage illustrate the pathway of this divine electricity: right or dominant hand upward, often holding a tool of power toward the heavens, left hand downward, earthing the force, with the Mage square in the middle of the circuit, locus of transformation, fuse that can blow with carelessness.

For the holy energies do change us all: no one gets out unmarked, unscathed. Every face we meet is a map of what power does. In some the frown lines cut deep. In others, there’s a kind of light and joy, and the same lines that furrow the face outline a grin you’ll see if you stick around and make the person’s acquaintance. Time is the only way power can manifest in worlds of matter. All-at-once spells quick incineration, so usually we tamely sip and sample power instead. (Once in a while, though, if we reeeely insist and push too hard, we can find out what it’s like to fry.)

Sometimes life just rips into us, and our anger at our painful powerlessness makes for an even more painful knowledge. Early in her high fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea, author U. K. LeGuin captures this twinned suffering and awakening succinctly as she describes Ged, her young Mage protagonist, when he first confronts his inability to effect change: “he raged at his weakness, for he knew his strength.”

Adolescent rebellion in part can also be a search for something true in the face of cultural limitations and “necessary deceptions,” a way to reconcile our power with the fences, chains and boundaries any culture insists on. Cultures generally do not care about individuals or their happiness, but about stability, about the group identity, about self-perpetuation, and — yes — about punishing anyone who defies their rules too blatantly. And so sometimes we earth our power too soon, knuckling under to the demands of our culture, because we’re unwilling to pay the price of defiance — if we even realize a price exists, or just what it might entail.

tarot-devHarmonics and spirals of the Magician’s power and deeds ripple through the Tarot. We encounter the same gesture the Magician makes in several later cards, most especially with the Devil. The Left Hand Path makes use of the same energies available to everyone — a truth that goes some way to explaining how the mystical “Force” of the Star Wars universe with its light and dark sides has captured the modern imagination, mirroring long-standing traditions of spiritual and magical tutelage. Nothing is ever lost forever, but it may go underground for ages until the time rolls round again for its germination and re-emergence.

/|\ /|\ /|\

IMAGES: Magician from a public domain source on Wikipedia; Buffy as Magician; Devil from a public domain source on Wikipedia.

Updated 1 January 2016

Advertisements

Fools in the Dark   Leave a comment

fool_uniThe Tarot Fool — a fitting symbol as we pick our way slowly from this time of greatest dark right after the Solstice and into the slowly growing light. Blessed fools, all of us, lost and stumbling where angels often fear to tread (is that because, unlike us, they can actually see where they’re going?!). A time for gestation, if we can grab a few moments in the modern restless energy to fill every moment of this season, a time that, if we listen, calls us inward, to introspection and nurturing, to brooding on the new life in us that seeks birth and is always possible. So we run away instead with busy-ness. Almost successful in drowning out the possibility of transformation. Almost. How valuable our failure is to us becomes clear only later.

It’s still dark, though by minutes each day the time of light grows longer. But if the skies are cloudy, you may take a lot of convincing. Looks just like yesterday to me.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“The card,” writes A. E. Waite, “which bears no number passes through all the numbered cards and is changed in each.”*

A little shiver at that. Like it or not, if we’re alive we’re changing. Un-numbered and free at the outset, I soon enough get counted, numbered, labelled, weighed, boxed and mailed to an unknown address. I get unboxed by others, or I unbox myself. I keep arriving, but never quite get there. But then that means the situations themselves are static, and the trajectories we follow are shaped by the initial energies we manifested when we set out. We are what we started out as, and we build as we go from there. Action, reaction. Source of traction to be able to walk at all.

The Fool isn’t looking at the drop right in front of him.  White dog at his heels (I say “he” and “him” because I’m personalizing things here — the fool quite rightly looks androgenous in many decks — it’s the Every Person card. Rewrite any pronouns to fit — it’s your story here), the Fool is intent on the journey, that first inhale, the animal spirits of hound and flower and golden sun urging him forward.

Of course, the path’s still unclear, the picture has a frame, we haven’t seen what’s up next. The Fool hasn’t even set out yet, or — inevitably — fallen, or opened up that pack on a stick that holds food, a map, a key to a lock it doesn’t fit, a phone number, a debit card with an initial balance. A roll of the dice. A lotto number. With clothes still clean, no grime from the trail, or wrinkles on the complexion, the Fool is unscarred, untried, fearless. Zen calls it Beginner’s Mind. Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”** Yup, know that, been there. Weak and not even recognizing it. No grace to be seen — because it’s dark, because grace manifests not as a separate thing in this case, not as something I can see or sense, but as the nature of the Fool itself.

Swept clean, rebooted, upgraded, ready to take the world by storm, found that dot-com, make a million before you’re 30, met your soul-mate, have the 2.2 kids and the photo-shopped life that the Fates and your parents conspired to deprive you of, and so on. Or simply in love with life, not yet hard-boiled and cynical, jaded and sarcastic, still full of yearnings and dreams. Not yet beaten down. Not just with eyes on the horizon, but above it, in the clouds. “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them,” says Thoreau.

nightlyre-foolredwhitedrakeOr the Fool is in fact immensely powerful and full of potential, but wholly blind to it. Dragon energy curls and flames in us. No mystery (all mystery) that one symbol for Britain and for things Celtic is a yin-yang, a Western mandala of two dragons, white and red.

In this card, the awful gulf below means nothing to one with the power of flight — but will I, will you or any of us, realize it in time? Instead I look back, I turn away from the chance to fly, I long for the comfort of the past.

Stephen Batchelor writes in his book Living with the Devil: “Without the devil to obstruct it, one could not create a path. For a path is kept open by overcoming the hindrances that prevent freedom of movement along it.”***

The devil is in the details, and the devil, or the details, are me — I custom-make the circumstances of my life from which I can learn the most. That’s one view. Everything is feedback, and therefore useful. Another view. “I do not believe in God any more than I believe in Hamlet,” says Batchelor elsewhere, “but this does not mean that either God or Hamlet has nothing of value to say.”

Back to square one, that first step, the dawn, the new day, the Fool’s setting forth. It’s summer, it’s winter, it’s summer again. “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” The wheel of the year takes us again and again through the great cycle of death and life and mortal beauty.

“We dance round in a ring and suppose, while the Secret sits in center and knows,” says sly old master Robert Frost.

“Knows what?” asks the Fool, and insists there’s an answer, never mind what anyone says.

“The Fool who persists in his folly will become wise,” says William Blake.

And the Fool, the blessed Fool, takes the next step.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Waite, A. E. “The Soul’s Progress.” Manual of Cartomancy. Reprinted as The Complete Manual of Occult Divination, Vol. 1. University Books, 1972.

**2 Corinthians 12:9.

***Batchelor, Stephen. Living with the Devil. New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2004.

IMAGES: Fool from the Rider Waite deck; dragon.

Repetition and Enchantment   Leave a comment

wave1One of the glories of repetition is enchantment. We can enchant ourselves into another space and place with repetition. Mindless repetition, no.  But eager, delighted repetition, inviting the change, welcoming it as you sense it begin to steal over you — that’s a very different thing. Things do, after all, “come true.” Bringing feeling into it enlivens the charm, animates it with a spark of our own energy. Who after all tires of the ocean, though one wave follows another?

Verbal magic is one of the first magics we learn. Perhaps you’ve heard a child repeat a word endlessly, exploring the taste of it in the mouth, the joy in the rhythm of it. Maybe with a tuneless little tune accompanying it. And maybe, if you’re blessed (and you are), you’ve caught yourself with just such a tune on your lips, engaged in some repetitive task, or doing “nothing,” which is often a chance to do a very great something, a spelling of oneself into an Else-where and Else-when, a door opening to wonder.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Now feel the change when you read these next words. You’ve heard them, some version of them, maybe said them to yourself or another, even in jest. Bitter words we hear far too often. Loser. Nobody. Waste of space.  And “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” Some variation of this very evil charm that drags on people’s vision of themselves and their world and steals away possibility. Verbal magic, alas (and also thank the powers), is very real.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Now that you’ve had a small glimpse of the two magics contrasted (which is really the same magic, used for uplifting and destructive purposes), let me offer a restorative charm that deserves loving repetition. A charm for transforming the “I.” A spell to memorize, to whisper to oneself at need. A blessing to say over your children each night as they fall asleep. A charm to recite gazing into the eyes of an animal or human you love and who loves you. A charm to recite at dawn or sunset, the light looking into us and saying its silent word. A charm to remember what the ecstatic I is made of, a charm for the music that is the awen vibrating in us all:

I am the luck of every joy,
I am the light of the sun’s beams,
I am the door of lordly welcome,
I am the pole star of guidance,
I am the step of the deer on the height,
Mine is the step of the white-faced mare,
Mine is the grace of the swimming swan,
I am the jewel in each mystery.

Nine waves around me,
Nine winds above me,
Nine paths within me,
Nine fires about me,
Nine wells beneath me,
Nine wisdoms given me,
Nine gifts bestowed on me,
Nine skills awoken within me,
Ninefold the blessing in either hand.*

/|\ /|\ /|\

*adapted from Matthews, Caitlin. A Celtic Devotional. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004, pgs. 138-139.

IMAGE: wave.

Tabooing and Handles   6 comments

In a 15 Feb 2008 post “Taboo Your Words,” Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

The illusion of unity across religions can be dispelled by making the term “God” taboo, and asking them to say what it is they believe in; or making the word “faith” taboo, and asking them why they believe it … When you find yourself in philosophical difficulties, the first line of defense is not to define your problematic terms, but to see whether you can think without using those terms at all. Or any of their short synonyms. And be careful not to let yourself invent a new word to use instead. Describe outward observables and interior mechanisms; don’t use a single handle, whatever that handle may be.

There’s a truly breathtaking number of assumptions I could examine in this short excerpt. To name only a few: that any unity across religions is or isn’t an “illusion”; that any such unity hinges on either “God” or belief; that the only acceptable kinds of evidence are “outward observables and interior mechanisms”; that arguments or philosophical defenses establish truth; and that language, let alone philosophical discussion, is even possible without “handles,” which is what all words are. (In the beginning was the Word …)

But let’s set those issues aside — because we can. I recommend taking on this challenge for what it can teach you. Take an hour and get down in words what it is you actually believe, and why. Whatever else is calling to you online, including this blog, can wait.

For Druids, the word to make temporarily taboo is definitely “nature.”

After all, we use it as shorthand for an enormous range of referents: an object of our reverence; a source of our metaphors; the set of patterns, relationships and movements of energies that we claim accounts for all life, including the workings of human consciousness; the antithesis to human excess and imbalance, often symbolized by urban blight; a kind of deity or pantheon of deities; a characteristic quality that is the opposite of the word “artificial”; everything that exists, including those human activities that produce counter-currents and eddies in its ever-flowing stream; an impersonal force or being, and so on.

So I’ll take on Yudkowsky’s challenge: what is it that I believe, and why?

I believe that to be alive is a chance, if I take it, to be part of something vastly larger than my own body, emotions, and thoughts (or if I’ve learned any empathy, possibly also the bodies, emotions and thoughts of people I care about). These things have their place, but they are not all.

I believe this because when I pay attention to the plants and animals, air, sky, water and the whole wordless living environment in and around me, I am lifted out of the small circle of my personal concerns and into a deeper kinship I want to celebrate. I discover this sense of connection and relationship is itself celebration. Because of these experiences, I believe further that if I focus only on my own body, emotions, and thoughts, I’ve missed most of my life and its possibilities. Ecstasy is ec-stasis, standing outside. Ecstatic experiences lift us out of the narrowness of the life that advertisers tell us should be our focus and into a world of beauty and harmony and wisdom.

I believe likewise that the physicality of this world is something to learn deeply from. The most physical experiences we know, eating and hurting, being ill and making love, dying and being born, all root us in our bodies and focus our attention on now. They take us to wordless places where we know beyond language. Even to witness these things can be a great teacher.

I believe in other worlds than this one because, like all of us, I’ve been in them, in dream, reverie, imagination and memory, to name only a few altered states. I believe that our ability to live and love and die and return to many worlds is what keeps us sane, and that the truly insane are those who insist this world is the only one, that imagination is dangerous, metaphor is diabolical, dream is delusion, memory is mistaken, and love? — love, they tell us, is merely a matter of chemical responses.

I believe that humans, like all things, are souls and have bodies, not the other way around — that the whole universe is animate, that all things vibrate and pulse with energy, as science is just beginning to discover, and that we are (or can be) at home everywhere because we are a part of all that is.

I believe these things because human consciousness, like the human body, is marvelously equipped for living in this universe, because of all its amazing capacities that we can see working themselves out for bad and good in headlines and history. In art and music and literature, in the deceptions and clarities, cruelties and compassions we practice on ourselves and each other, we test and try out our power.

 

 

Yule Moon and Solstice   4 comments

Some three weeks away, now, there’s a Full Moon on Christmas Day, at 6:11 am, Eastern Standard Time (U.S.). It will set less than an hour later where I live, so I won’t obsess over exact astronomical details or feel any need to rouse myself on a dark winter morning to witness it, but instead enjoy it the evenings before and after.

The Solstice, however, is different, and merits a different welcome. While I’m not sure I’ll keep the traditional night-long vigil through the longest night to greet the dawn, I will be up late, laying one last charge of wood in the woodstove, and contemplating the coming new year. And the afternoon before and after I’ll take part in a Solstice ritual in two different towns.

Why? Do the seasonal festivals really matter?

woodpile

Yes, this is a pile of sticks and small branches in an old orchard and pasture near where I live. You can see the long shadows of the tree-trunks — it’s late afternoon in November, a week ago. The owner cut a dying tree from the treeline that stands to the left, outside the picture. He’s already chopped, split and picked up the firewood, and gathered the remainder here.

Is it useful? No. It’s just brush. Burn it or dump it in a gully.

Is it useful? Yes. It’s kindling for a whole winter, and twigs for wreathes and crafts.

Is it useful? Who knows? That depends on how someone uses it.

Sometimes I find you have to ask the same question at least three times to get enough answers to work with.

Follow through on each answer and you get a different outcome. Is one of them the “right” answer? Who is asking?

/|\ /|\ /|\

One of the suggestions for solitary celebration of the Winter Solstice that I’ve adapted and adopted from OBOD is this simple rite:

On the longest night, go through the house and turn off all lights. Spend time feeling and acknowledging the darkness. Then light a single candle, and go from room to room, lighting a candle in each one. Say what feels right for you to say.

%d bloggers like this: