Archive for the ‘consciousness’ Category

Seven Druid Hacks   Leave a comment

Wantast-sign

With a name like *Wantastiquet …

Already you can tell the post is Druidy. Beyond the obviousness of “Druid” in the title, there’s a symbolic number involved. If not Seven, then Three. Yes, definitely Three.

hack (from Dictionary.com)

  • a cut, gash, or notch
  • a piece of code that modifies a computer program in a skillful or clever way OR breaking into a network, computer, file, etc., usually with malicious intent
  • a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing something

Question: Wait … are these hacks to become a Druid, or to practice Druidry more effectively?

Answer: yes.

“Guard the mysteries. Constantly reveal them”.

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ONE: Explore a habit — a piece of the human psychological code.

With the three definitions of hack available to suggest strategies, (a) cut, gash or notch the habit. That is, interrupt it in some way and see what happens and how it feels. If I favor one hand, try the other. Is it merely training that makes one easier or harder, or some other factor? (b) modify the habit in a skillful or clever way. See what else it can do. Or attack it with “malicious” intent. Sabotage my own habit. (c) Develop a new habit or modify an existing one as a strategy for managing something more efficiently.

To give a personal example, in breaking an undesirable habit, every time I felt a craving, I used the desire as a prompt to do a short meditative or imaginative practice. Not necessarily with the aim or replacing the habit, but borrowing its energy to launch a new one. Though in more than one case, the new practice became more interesting than the original habit, which eventually dried up.

This is just the beginning. Such exploration can reveal a great deal that was formerly half-conscious. And that can be useful — how much do I let myself be programmed unconsciously? Turns out quite a lot.

I make a set of “habit” cards, letting connections to the Tarot develop as I go. Turns out this is a much deeper practice than I’d anticipated. More on this in later posts.

TWO: Down with a pulled muscle in my back these last few days, I’ve had time to focus on what needs my attention next. And what kind of attention. Can I give love to aspects of my life I’ve labeled *bad*? Can I find reasons to stop liking something I now like? How much of *me* is merely whim, attraction and dislike. Is that *all* I am? No wonder people have a hard time understanding and experiencing immortality before they die, if they expect a self consisting of labels and whims to endure beyond physical death. Trees (most of them, anyway) drop their leaves each fall. What lesson is there in that for me? Hold on, then let go. Pulse. Rhythm. Cycle. Tree ritual: gather a handful of brown leaves in a basket. These are my “temporarily usefuls”. I drop them, one by one, back to the ground where I gathered them. A gust of wind whirls a bunch of them from the basket. Soon it’s empty. I bless the basket — it’s lighter now — then sit in meditation for an interval. When I get up, my back reminds me it needs love, too.

THREE: What’s on my altar right now? It doesn’t matter if I have a formal altar or not. (In a recent fit of cleaning and organizing, I don’t.) In fact, I’ve probably got more things on *invisible* altars than on *visible* ones. A prompt for meditation all its own.

Can I move one thing off an altar that doesn’t need to be there? Can I set one thing there that deserves a place of its own? Once it’s there, let me acknowledge and honor it in a short ritual. My wife, here is your presence on my altar, as in my life. A piece of quartz from a walk, for a start. Then under it, a card. What do I write on it? How will I decorate it? How often will I move, replace, re-dedicate it? Will the object take on a different symbolic form? Sea shell found on a beach walk together? Photograph? A note that *she* wrote to *me*?

FOUR: I had and have no idea beyond the title “Druid hack” where this post would and will go. I still don’t. Each new hack comes with some reflection and meditation after I finish the previous one. Here at Four, the midpoint of Seven, I still find myself disliking the word “hack”. For me it’s still too colored by its computer associations — a hacker is a vandal or thief. A “life hack” sounds like a cheap trick, a shoddy excuse for a valid strategy. Such an association is on me to work with.

For very different reasons I’ve resisted learning the ogham, though it’s a valid part of many Druid traditions. But piece by piece, quite literally — ogham sticks handed out in rituals, the most recent being saille ᚄ “willow” at the Spring Equinox — my resistance is wearing down. Where else am I resisting? Is it a productive resistance? By the slow magic of time, the self can change less traumatically than through abrupt shifts that can do needless violence to our lives. Brew my slow magic with me, o my days.

I find myself thinking of the variety of trees  that live in the neighborhood that I can visit, ask for the gift of a twig, and offer a gift in return. That I can charge my ogham with meditations about the specific trees that contributed. Not merely ash, but this ash. That the use of ogham can be a conversation between a group of trees and the student of the ogham, of tree wisdom. What *IS* tree wisdom? I’m just beginning to learn. (Hence the long journey of the Ovate that many experience.) Willow ogham, gift in hand from the Equinox ritual, I begin again with the willow in the backyard, long a companion already.

FIVE: Creativity is messy. Manifestation in particular. Think baby being born, think art project, think carving, smelting, painting, sculpting, gardening. Think soul-making. I’m doing a month of daily writing as I work on a Nanowrimo novel that needs further work. 333 words a day is small enough I can manage that much even with the groans and delays of my Great Procrastinator, a bad back, and still the same household tasks as always. My wife’s off to a job interview; I stare at the computer screen. Window to magic.

Because creativity is messy, where can I celebrate my next mess of creation? In a novel that’s “about” two worlds meeting, among other things, where else are worlds meeting in my life already, without strain or struggle? Where and how can I celebrate that fact? (This Pagan says ritual! and gets all tingly at the thought.)

A poet friend performs a simple ritual each time he sits down to write. Invoking the Muse isn’t merely a metaphor, he says. I rise to build up the fire on this spring morning, a whispered acknowledgment to Brighid. Even the thought of gratitude can be invocation.

SIX: Where else can I dance? Turns out, everywhere. I hadn’t danced for twenty years — until I danced at a ritual around a fire, and enjoyed it. I look forward in a month to Beltane for this reason, among so many others. But I’m certainly not waiting that long. I’m learning to dance more often, and in places and ways I’d overlooked for a long time. I have a desk covered with papers, bank statements to file, notes to organize, pamphlets. copies of Green Living, old newspapers ready for transfer to the kindling box. There’s barely room for the computer where I write this. But I’m dancing as I clean, and it feels … different. No hurry, a rhythm inherent in the action itself, a song accompanying, a song that says things without words, and sometimes with them, without any need for meaning. Cleaning for me is always a matter of “more than before”. And the dance carries over to the writing, dancing with words. Because the words are already dancing. I match my rhythm to them, and they flow more easily. (Dancing, it turns out, also helps loosen up my back. It’s sitting still that doesn’t help me stay loose. Funny, though, that lying still, on an ice-pack, is just fine. “Chill before moving” is excellent advice in a number of human endeavors.)

SEVEN: Combine what’s isolated and separate what’s together. This can apply concretely to things like composting and recycling, of course. Not mere polarizing perversity, this. I look at the previous six hacks and consider how dancing a habit and its changes can reveal a unique rhythm, a song of power that can accompany the experimental shifting and play with habits. Consciousness itself is a series of settings we play with all day long, with food, stimulants, activity, rest, conversation, daydream, reading, work, listening to music, sleep, exercise, and so on. I can distinguish at least ten distinct states of consciousness in just an average day, without any particular attempt to shift. What about you? How effectively can I deploy the possibilities of one setting to accomplish something another setting cannot? Rather than butt my head against energetic barriers, shift the consciousness. A whole laboratory waiting for me to explore it.

The hack of creating new hacks is one of the most remarkable things humans do. It’s recursive — it loops onto itself, in a fractal kind of way, making patterns that can teach us things unknown before they take shape.

So there you have them — seven Druid hacks: exploring a habit (and the habit-making mechanism) and then Tarot-izing it, doing a tree-leaf ritual, “altar-izing” something not there before, trying out and consulting tree wisdom, welcoming the mess of creativity, dancing more than before, and playing with consciousness-settings.

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*Wantastiquet: “the language belongs to the land

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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.

 

 

“Not responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen”   4 comments

treesun-smNot responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen or manifestation of the Goddess. Unavailable for use by forces not acting in the best interests of life. Emboldened for battle against the succubi of self-doubt, the demons of despair, the phantoms of failure. Ripe for awakening to possibilities unforeseen, situations energizing and people empowering.

Catapulted into a kick-ass cosmos, marked for missions of soul-satisfying solutions, grown in gratitude, aimed towards awe, mellowed in the mead of marvels. Optimized for joy, upgraded to delight, enhanced for happiness.  Witness to the Sidhe shining, the gods gathering, the Old Ways widening to welcome.

logmoss-smPrimed for passionate engagement, armed for awe-spreading, synchronized for ceremonies of sky-kissed celebration. Weaned on wonder, nourished by the numinous, fashioned for fabulousness. Polished for Spirit’s purposes, dedicated to divine deliciousness, washed in the waters of the West, energized in Eastern airs, earthed in North’s left hand, fired in South’s right. Head in the heavens, heart with the holy, feet in flowers, gift of the Goddess, hands at work with humanity. Camped among the captives of love, stirred to wisdom in starlight, favored with a seat among the Fae, born for beauty, robed in the world’s rejoicing, a voice in the vastness of days.

leaflanesm

Knowing, seeing, sensing, being all this, you can never hear the same way again these two words together: “only human”!

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Images: three from a sequence taken yesterday, 3 Oct 14, on a blessed autumn day in southern Vermont two miles from my house.

 

Bad Girls and Goddesses, Censorship, Good Press and the Dream World   Leave a comment

donigerWendy Doniger’s gotten some extensive press lately. Not on the scale of Kim Kardashian, but still … Whether or not Doniger or anyone accepts the half-truth that “all press is good press,” recent books by this University of Chicago professor of Hinduism have aroused the ire of vocal Hindus variously called fundamentalists, conservatives and Hindutva-vadis, supporters of Hindutva or “Hindu-ness.”

Penguin Books in India recently recalled Doniger’s 2009 study, The Hindus: An Alternative History, because the Delhi-based group SBAS — Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (“Save Education Movement”) — characterized the book as “malicious,” “derogatory and offending to Hinduism” and containing “faulty representation of Indian history and historical figures.”  SBAS advanced its case with a successful push for the withdrawal of a second book of Doniger’s as well, On Hinduism, published in 2013.

hindubkprotest1The legal footing that SBAS stands on appears in the Indian Penal Code.  SBAS spokeperson Dinanath Batra benefits from the code which states that “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs shall be punished with imprisonment or fine, or both.”*  We’ll sidestep for now the apparent dangers of granting such strong legal recourse to anyone whose sensibilities might be offended.  After all, outrage is the stance du jour of much of the political conversation in the States.

Of course, censors and free-speechers have been waging these and similar battles for a long time, with no likely end in sight.  When Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is still the fourth most frequently banned book in the U.S., as well as a “Great American Novel,” such controversy comes as no surprise. (A 2011 edition of the Twain classic removes the 200+ instances of the word “nigger” and replaces them with “slave.”)**

opmythsDoniger, now 73, is a respected scholar, having taught at Chicago for 36 years, and published dozens of books and hundreds of scholarly articles.  Even before publication in India, she worked with editors to soften potentially inflammatory wording.  But as Doniger remarks in a February ’14 New York Times article, her focus is on popular Hinduism.  She wanted “to tell a story of Hinduism that’s been suppressed and was increasingly hard to find in the media and textbooks … It’s not about philosophy, it’s not about meditation, it’s about stories, about animals and untouchables and women. It’s the way that Hinduism has dealt with pluralism.”  The Times article continues:  “Asked if she could sympathize at all with those offended by her work, Ms. Doniger said: ‘In general, I don’t like people saying nasty things about other people’s religion, but this is something else. This is fundamentalism, which says that parts of its own religion are bad. In a sense, I’m defending their religion, and they’re attacking it.’”

As Slate notes, “The Hindus, which is still available internationally, is currently the number 11 bestselling book on Amazon, which is not too shabby for a four-year old religious history book by a University of Chicago divinity professor. The worst enemy of censorship is always curiosity.”

Columnist Swati Sharma in the 20 Feb. ’14 Washington Post concludes,

There are some concerns when it comes to Doniger and Western media articles about the backlash against her work. While you can disagree with the book and still want it published, Doniger repeatedly blames any criticism of her work on the right wing, sweeping aside any real concerns about it. It’s almost too easy to frame those who are religious as religious fundamentalists — when some on the far right try to ban “On the Origin of Species” in the United States, it doesn’t mean all Christians support such drastic measures. In the same sense, there are many Hindus, scholars and academics who disagree with her writings but believe the book should be published. Those voices get trampled by an easily digestible battle between religious fundamentalists and secular liberals. But that’s what happens when a book is basically banned; the debate on the actual content is lost and is focused instead on free speech. That’s where Doniger is in the right.

That doesn’t mean the right-wing party isn’t pushing this debate — after all, elections are coming in May. That said, Penguin’s decision to not wait for a judgment and to settle is disappointing. It’s easy to publish books that are safe. It’s for the ones that challenge us that the concept of free speech exists.

Doniger doesn’t shy away from the provocative remark.  She gets off a few zingers, for instance, in her article in yesterday’s 5 March ’14) NY Times, “Banned in Bangalore“:

I must apologize for what may amount to false advertising on my behalf by Mr. Batra, who pronounced my book “filthy and dirty.” Readers who bought a copy in hope of finding such passages will be, I fear, disappointed. “The Hindus” isn’t about sex at all. It’s about religion, which is much hotter than sex.

“Hotter than Sex” would make a great book or blog title.  Yes, you’re welcome.

And in her  blog post “Respect For Women Yes, Worship of Goddesses No” Doniger observes:

But the goddess feminists are whistling in the dark when they argue, first, that everyone used to worship goddesses (some people did, but many did not) and, second, that this was a Good Thing for women, indeed for everyone, their assumption being that women are more compassionate than men.

In fact, when men as well as women do worship goddesses, as they have done for centuries in many parts of India, the religious texts and rituals clearly express the male fear of female powers, and the male authors of those texts therefore make even greater efforts to control women, as if to say, “god help us all if these naturally powerful women get political power as well.”

There is generally, therefore, an inverse ratio between the worship of goddesses and the granting of rights to human women. Nor are the goddesses by and large compassionate; they are generally a pretty bloodthirsty lot.

Goddesses are not, therefore, the solution. Equal respect for human men and women is the solution.

But if our deities mirror ourselves, as they seem to do, we can be grateful for changes in both.  We can be grateful that slavery is now illegal, that racism no longer gets such an easy pass, that women’s rights are a live issue, that the beginnings and ends of life are being examined critically, despite our weariness with the wars of political correctness and with conservative-liberal polarization.  Does morality evolve?  Just what absolutes are you looking for?

I like to let my subjects have the last words (even if I chose them to illustrate my own post rather than letting them make only their own points).  So here’s an excerpt from another of Doniger’s blog-posts, “The Mutual Dream,” which offers a polytheist perspective worth examining for its explanatory power:

A better idea, I think, is captured by several of India’s many philosophies of reality and illusion, which suggest that we do indeed create god (and therefore religion) in our imaginations, as we create all of our reality, but that at the same time god creates us in god’s imagination, that god is, like us, constantly dreaming into existence a reality that includes us imagining god. We are mutually dreaming, mutually existing.

A modified, slightly rationalized, version of this belief would be the assertion that, although we do not make god ex nihilo, nor does god make us ex nihilo, we are the ones who bring god fully to life, while god in turn is what brings us truly to life, makes us fully alive to the phenomenal world, dream world though it may be.

This is not an idea that is easy for people trained in Western philosophical ideas to swallow, and it all depends upon how you define god, but for me it is rich in meaning.

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*Times of India 2 March ’14 article and 11 Feb. ’14 article.

**Daily Mail, 5 Jan. ’11.

Image: Doniger; book protest; Other People’s Myths.

Updated 8 March 2014

Revisiting Old Magic(ian)s   Leave a comment

rjstewartIn this post I enthuse about an early and continuing inspiration in my practice, and inevitably drag in other more idiosyncratic but hopefully still relevant associations along the way.  So first, the “old magician” of the title.  Scottish-born R. J. Stewart (b. 1949), a composer and author, is among the handful of contemporary practicing magicians whose work has done much to clear away accumulated Medieval and Victorian superstition and obscurity from magic.  Why, for instance, should I intone or vibrate a particular name during a ritual, unless I know what it is and what it’s meant to accomplish?

Inspired by Celtic tradition and the teachings of his mentor Ronald Heaver (1900-1980), Stewart has developed practices designed to heal both magician and environment, among other reasons Druids may be interested in him.  (His website deserves a visit if you want to learn more about him and his magic.)  Along the way, with his Inner Convocations and Inner Traditions practices, he’s also helped to articulate a comprehensible theory of how magic works and can be effectively practiced, reflected in workshops, audio projects, and books like Living Magical Arts (hereafter LMA).  That book was my first deep introduction to magic more than two decades ago, and I sit with my dog-eared copy in front of me now.

I value LMA in part because in it Stewart states basic truths succinctly and clearly — truths I find I need to come back to again and again. His work derives from personal experience.  That means that unlike too many texts on “magic,” it is no pastiche of the work of others, or a mere catalog of magical correspondences that do little by themselves to advance actual magical practice.  On the page, correspondences may look  nice (or scary, depending on your own personal fear factor) and decorative for the armchair magician — and who isn’t one of those, with all the books on magic you could read and leave lying around to impress or intimidate guests?!  But anyone half-way into a serious first-year study of magic can (re)create from experience their own list of equally effective correspondences.  That doesn’t render them somehow invalid or useless, but shows that they’re dependent variables rather than constants.  I wanted the constants, “unrealist” that I can sometimes be.

The fact that magical traditions worldwide share much common ground in things like tables of correspondences, while annoyingly refusing to agree on some presumed “basics,” like which direction is associated with which element, should of course give us a clue about what “matters,” what’s convention, and what the difference is.  (For more on this, see Mike Nichols’ wonderful “13 Reasons Why Air Should Be North,” now promoted to the status of a “Sacred Text” at ISTA, the Internet Sacred Text Archive, which if you don’t know, you should know, if only to “waste” large amounts of time exploring.)

spiralimgIn LMA, Stewart offers overviews, rationales, and a coherent and profound magical philosophy for what he presents. As he defines it, “magic is a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns.”  Worked with consciously, these patterns can help catalyze a transformation: “the purpose of magical arts is to enable changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend further methods [of magic and transformation] inwardly.”  This transformation can come about because “magic attempts to relate human consciousness to divine consciousness through patterns inherent in each.”

One reason for the magical dimension of human reality is simply that, as biologists have been discovering, we’re pattern-seekers and pattern-makers in profound ways. That’s how we make sense of the world, the “one great bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion” of things*.  Find the pattern — or impose one, if nothing helpfully steps forward as a clue to whatever’s going on in front of our noses.  Note that this predilection towards pattern-making is neither “good” or “bad” by itself — though it makes sense to assume, as at least a provisional view of reality, that if pattern-recognition is so successful as a survival strategy across so many species, it may actually have something to say about what “reality” is like, or how it comes across to consciousnesses still evolving to “grok” it.

fmofhrFor we share this “blueprint of consciousness” with other mammals, which is why I suspect we were ever able to domesticate animals like dogs, cats, sheep, geese, ducks, chickens, cows, horses, and pigs that have contributed so hugely to human civilization.  They’ve served us as sources of food, clothing, transportation, power for machines, defense, pest control, and companionship.  (Growing up, I remember a picture my dad displayed prominently in our house of five cows, each one representing a different breed of dairy cattle, with the caption “Foster Mothers of the Human Race.”   We kept a herd of the familiar black and white Holsteins, the most common breed in the U.S., the breed most people think of when they think “cow,” but the other four breeds were still important enough to our farm family that as a child I also knew Brown Swiss, Jersey, Ayrshire and Guernsey cattle on sight.)  If domestication isn’t a marvelous and far-reaching act of magic, what is?

So pattern-making is a “keeper” in our toolkit of magical strategies and techniques.  I sense the shades of my born-again and otherwise Christian ancestors flinching and cringing and flagellating themselves.  But magic is not a religion, and is certainly not anti-religion, but rather “a coherent set of traditions regarding human potential.” Or it’s becoming one, in the hands of competent modern magicians like Stewart.  And he goes on to assert that the god and goddess images of religion are imaginative images “engineered to a high standard of performance.” What that means is that magicians, without ever denying the power or value of such images, work through and beyond them because they want to experience and work with the reality which lies behind images and which energizes them.

Stewart’s style both in LMA and later books is educated and not a breezy, colloquial one.  If you’re hearing worship in my words, try again.  I don’t expect everyone will (or should) agree with Stewart. I don’t always. But his common-sense, grounded, characteristically practical outlook is refreshing and unusual when you look at the sometimes careless, unscholarly, irresponsible and misleading books on the market which promise a lot and don’t deliver. Use your reason and intelligence fully, as Stewart would urge, because they’re tools too. He remarks late in the book, “if the intellect can be turned to prove to itself that conditioned life patterns are false, it becomes a useful tool towards liberation.” No quick fixes here (I’m usually suspicious of books which promise those anyway), but a path worthy of prolonged dedication.

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Stewart, R. J.  Living Magical Arts.  Blandford Press, U.K.  1987.

*attributed to author and psychologist William James (1842-1910)

Images: R J Stewart; magicHoard’s Dairyman “foster mothers”

The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 3: Solstice Nestlings   2 comments

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5]

This is the third in a series of posts about magic.  The first looked at two kinds of knowledge.  The second showed how, once we start really wanting to know, we run smack into uncomfortable discoveries about our real selves, not the glossy selfies we post like signposts to our most glorious dream of ourselves.  But self-knowing, a most valuable and prickly, disconcerting kind of knowledge.  This post is about the second of the four powers:  daring.

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nest2A solstice gift from our front yard — four nestlings, blind and nearly featherless, born on the solstice in a nest the mother built between layers of fencing around part of our garden.  Still identifying the species (eggs look like a cowbird’s, but the mother is approximately sparrow-sized, dull brown and as a ground-nester, quite understandably shy and hard to photograph — a kind of thrush?).  You can just make out one remaining brown-speckled egg, unhatched, to the left, below the beaky fellow.  Any ideas, those of you who know birds well?

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I’d drafted a third post in this series, about daring, several weeks ago.  Problem was, it had no spark, no daring at all.  No juice.  Ya gotta know it to show it — or to show it well, at any rate.

Then along comes the inner whisper I’ve learned to listen to. Rarely does it disappoint:  All beginnings are sacred.  Does that mean daring can embody holy force, blessed by the gods and equal to the risk?  Well, isn’t this one of our earliest lessons?!

An example:  Oh, the Places You’ll Go! was the last book Dr. Seuss published before his death in 1991, and it bears a youthful energy and excitement.  He hadn’t exhausted himself at all over the course of his career. Was this premonition (as well as a final gift for us all)?  Death itself, one more adventure, a change, a beginning. Daring.  You can watch a fine Youtube video of the poem recited by various attendees at the 2011 Burning Man.  Something more to light a fire under us, set to burning that inward itch that can never quite be scratched.

The German poet Goethe said,

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Daring means looking large, but also sometimes looking small, right underfoot. OK, got the lesson.  Birth at the Solstice, time of greatest light, the position of due south on the Wheel of the Year, the place of fire — and daring.  These nestlings hardly seem daring — too small and helpless — and they’re not the traditional media image of Stonehenge and various camera-eager painted faces and eccentrics.

And along with them, those hungry for something they haven’t figured out yet, but which stalks and seduces them at times and places like Stonehenge at the Solstice, because — or in spite of — the crowds and muddled energies moving every which way at an old sacred site.  Now the Henge is beginning to get a little more care from English Heritage, which administers and tends to such locales, and will be re-routing the A344 motorway, grassing over its current nearby transit, and constructing a more distant visitors’ center to restore more of the atmosphere and quiet to the place.  Those of us with a sea between us and the Enclosure of Merlin, as Britain was once called, can view  Stonehenge here with a 360-degree panoramic viewer at the English Heritage website, placed so that you stand and look outward from the center of the Henge.  No people present in the images — just you and the stones.

What takes birth in us during this time of light and heat and sun?   (And moon — the recent “supermoon,” which is just the largest moon of each calendar year, when our companion planet looms a little closer in its ellipse around the earth.)  The planets themselves prod me monthly, yearly, to dream  and act.

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Daring to question may seem easy.  Americans claim it almost as a birthright to “question authority”  — at least if you believe the bumper stickers.  Daring to question others matters, if it’s not merely mindless — there are plenty of self-styled authorities these days who deserve challenge. But what is more excellent and harder is to question what we ourselves think we know, but may never have actually tested. The Queen in Alice in Wonderland admits, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” and she was just getting started. The second step involves daring to follow through on the answers, the consequences. What’s on the other side? What am I most afraid of? What don’t I even know enough to fear? How can I use fear to motivate me and move me where I want to go? “Fear it and you’re near it.” Stare down a single fear, and you can often uncover remarkable energy to be released. Fear takes work — work is energy — face the fear and recover the energy it grabs.

Then comes daring to make the most of this life, because it’s worth daring. One of our greatest powers is to imagine, so much that I often feel that to imagine should be among the four powers, or included if five were listed instead of the love affair with fours found in so much of Western magic.

Too often we think of daring as what we do when we’re young and stupid — we feel that daring is fine “until we know better.” Do we know better? Or have I just given up on daring like I have on much else, not because it’s stupid — or I am — but because it asks too much of me, it’s easier to sit back, let others, rest on my laurels — be that older-wiser-sadder person.

Daring keeps me from resting easy once I get bored. Those are two great guides: fear of change and boredom with the same-old, same-old. Daring works equally well with either, prods me to move beyond both.

“Everything is permitted, provided you accept the consequences of what you do.” Imagination is fuel for daring, both for a glimpse of a step off the beaten path, and for a vision of what stepping off will mean.

Dare well, and I am free. Can I live in that new open space, or do I run back, slam the door behind me?  Do I dare to love my freedom more than my pain?

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Updated 30 September 2014

The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5]

This is the second in a series of posts about magic.  The first looked at two kinds of knowledge, one of which we often discount in a world where knowledge of a thing counts for more:  “Just the facts, ma’am.  Just the facts.”  Other kinds of knowing exist beyond these two, but we build on these.

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In the past, for almost anyone who sought out magical training, a teacher offered the surest guidance.  Few people were literate, so other than learning through trial and error, a guide or mentor was immensely useful.  Little was committed to writing anyway — too risky, impractical, wasteful of materials for a minuscule readership — pointless really.  Shaman, witch, hoodoo man or woman, conjurer, curandera, priestess, mystic, sorcerer, mage, wizard, druid — a panoply of names to call what a seeker might be looking for.

magicbookNowadays, as an aspiring mage, I can locate and open a beginning magic textbook — one that actually sets out a course of training for new magicians, as opposed to one that assuages the ego by offering vague reassurances and “instant magic.” When I do, I run head-long into the hidden first lesson:  my undisciplined attention needs training and focus. But I skim the chapter, or look ahead at one that seems to promise more.  Soon the first excitement of a promising title or author — or, gods help us, a flashy cover with a robed figure — begins to wane.  I want The Big Secret; instead, the first chapter sets me to doing a couple of modest-seeming exercises I am to practice for a month and record the results.  Too much like work.  Where are the glowing runes and mysterious passwords to infinite realms of gold and shadow and silver?  Where are the guardians with amethyst crowns and rings of adamant?  I want the symphony, and this book has me practicing scales.

More than anything else it does, magic even half-practiced bring me face to face with myself.  “Gnothi seauton,” said Socrates. “Know yourself.”  We aren’t altogether what we think we are — both more and less, we discover the prime tool of magic: the self.  All other powers pale in comparison to what we already are, what we bring right now to the art of magic.  We are marvelous beings, with dimensions, capacities and talents unexplored.  Discovering the truth of this firsthand ideally will not puff up the ego, but engage the curiosity, another tool the mage never stops using.  I will need that curiosity to help me through the first month.  By the end of the first week or so, if I’ve actually stuck with the exercises that long, the first aura of wonder has dimmed.  But in its place, a glimmer, usually no more, of things I didn’t know I knew, of aspects of consciousness, of a window opening where before there was only a wall, of passage through, where before was only cul-de-sac.  It’s faint, that sense of expansion, and if I don’t write it down, it dwindles to nothing.  Gone.  Easy to forget, easy to minimize, discount, ignore altogether.  Hence the advice to record it.  The hard evidence of pages of experience accumulates into a consistent realm of action and reaction and consequence that the mind cannot so easily argue away any longer.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I need to unify my forces if I am to accomplish anything worth doing.

doglisteningThe first lessons of magic use and highlight abilities we possess in the service of clarifying the task ahead.  Knowledge, memory, discipline, attention, imagination.  And persistence.  I discover both more — and less — than I’d hoped for.  I learn what a slippery, supple and potent thing consciousness is.  I learn in spite of myself and in spite of the biases of many current cultures that consciousness isn’t all I am, and it may not even be the most valuable or striking aspect of my identity.  Or rather I learn that day-to-day consciousness is to the full spectrum of possible consciousness what the visible wavelengths of light are to the full electromagnetic spectrum — a small slice out of an enormous bandwidth.  I learn that other beings may prefer and reside in other portions of the spectrum, the way insects can see ultraviolet and infrared beyond the human range, the way dogs hear pitches of sound and smell an olfactory melange  we never register, the way countless worlds are stuffed with possibilities we never notice at all.

Some knowing is remembering, is recollection.  Where did I encounter this before? And who was with me when I did?

Read about any of this too soon, however, and instead of learning it, I’m convinced I already “know” it.  Next cool thing, please, says the mind.  Next one.  As if magic, somehow different from eating or love-making or listening to music, were a matter of hurrying to the end, rather than practicing the delight of being present in the moment, noticing all we can, taking it in, marveling.

So I begin to know differently, more broadly.  Go slow, says the Master.  What’s the rush?

castaneda1962Don Juan, the Yaqui shaman or brujo made famous in Carlos Castaneda‘s controversial book series*, remarks of the magical journey, “For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length–and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.”

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*Castaneda, Carlos. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968; 1998 (30th edition).

images:  book; dog; Castaneda.

Updated 8 May 2013

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