Archive for the ‘Hamlet’ Category

Working the Tool-kit: Part 1   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

I mention “spiritual tools” a lot here, and since my wife recently organized, according to her own criteria, my basement hand-tools as she searched for the particular item she needed in the disarray that table-top had become, I’m minded to do the same here. Every tool-kit accumulates items seldom-used, well-worn, taking up space, or simply unidentifiable. Even more so, if it’s a spiritual tool-kit. Add to that the spare parts, left-over washers, bolts, rods, screws, assembly wrenches and bent nails, broken drill-bits and reminders-to-replace-by-holding-on-to-the-old-item-until-you-do.

Tool-kits are often idiosyncratic, at least partly inherited, and with at least some overlap and mismatch, similar to metric-imperial conversion. Beliefs about a tool’s suitability, applicability or even legitimacy can dog the tool-kit user. And each of us makes use of some things no one else might consider — or be able to use as — a tool.

What do I mean by, and what do I include among, my “spiritual tools”? Why do they belong in my kit? How do I know which ones to use, and when? Wow, you’re asking some good questions today! (That’s how it can feel, when you’ve been blogging a while.)

asc-slope

pine slope, Mt. Ascutney State Park

Divination, prayer, fasting, trance and other non-ordinary consciousness work, ritual, magic, chant, sacred names and words, writing/recording/journaling, drumming and rhythmic inputs. Dreamwork, visualization, herbs, yoga and similar practices, meditation and contemplation, dance and sacred movement, mandala and sacred images. But also rehearsal, repetition, expectation, staging, music, group consciousness, affirmations, pilgrimage, non-human allies, earth energies and power sites, crystals and other helpers. Quite an assemblage of items. And probably still a few missing from the list.

Though some tools have gone in and out of fashion over time and in different cultures, and some have been intermittently mocked, proscribed, and even feared as the domain and practice of “evil forces”, however understood, by some religious and spiritual groups, nearly all of them have also been in use at some point in virtually every spiritual tradition on the planet. And rightly so — they’ve proven their value and efficacy countless times over millennia. Some even have “approved” and “non-approved” versions in particular traditions, depending on their perceived origins or source of their energies. It can be useful here to contemplate a powerful question old enough it has an ancient Latin version: cui bono? — who benefits from such official approval, and disapproval? Who may use which tools, when, and why?

Because spiritual tools reflect the complexities and blending of states of human consciousness and awareness — that we shift from one state of consciousness to others all day long, generally without being aware of it, or doing so consciously; that we have often unconscious, preferred states; and that we often confuse states with each other, and insist we’re in one even as we’re in another — it can be helpful to examine spiritual tools according to the part that each of the Elements plays in their make-up and use.

Consider this, then, a first approach to a very large topic!

EARTH

Tools which have an Earth component don’t forget the body. Many of the great world religions attempt to leave the body behind: forms of yoga and prayer which aim at stilling the body so one can attend to inner worlds; ascetic practices to dull or smother physical demands for food, sex and sensual stimulation; social rules to curtail sexual activity outside prescribed forms and relationships in order to maximize closely-defined forms of purity or dedication, and so on.

One of the potential strengths of Pagan practice is its acknowledgment of what the body can contribute to a spiritual path: we’ve barely begun to plumb our instincts, inherited DNA and animal wisdom. Even more, we sometimes resent the physical limitations that this “too too solid flesh” imposes on our lives, forgetting that part of the great magic of Earth is to hold results in one form long enough for us to understand what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Unlike the Astral plane, where things can quickly shift and dissolve again, Earth brings consequences back for us to look at over time — a superlative teacher, when this is the kind of training we need (and it is). Children start with wooden blocks, before they’re given the keys to the family car. As Shakespeare has Hamlet say about the theater, Earth is also vast stage that “holds the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”.

Earth, in short, gives great feedback.

The body-as-Earth can be a wonderful ally, a base of operations, a means of connecting and offering and receiving animal comfort from others when no other connection is open to us. Our senses are exquisitely tuned to the vibrations of this planet, and Earth magic abounds every moment of our lives.

The body also needs care — it’s one of the first places we can learn and show responsibility. The body-as-Earth teaches us both how important and also how transient the physical world is, and through its pains and pleasures, it youth and aging, its limits and its possibilities, helps us distinguish between what the Anglo-Saxons called this “bone-house” (banhus) and the tenant who lives for a time in this bone-house. Lif is læne — earthly life is transitory, on loan. The body isn’t all of what we are by any means, though the apparent world may urge on us that limited perspective — because of the very groundedness of Earth.

But solidity and inertia also make of the body a ready shelter when we haven’t yet mastered the potent energies of emotion and thought. Wake from a nightmare, and it’s deeply comforting to re-enter this safe, solid physical body, feel your pounding heart slowly ease, and sense your adrenalin step down, step down, back to normal. Sleep, rest, relaxation or vigorous exercise can all ground us quite effectively, as does a heavy meal — they give the body its due. That it has a due, that the body makes claims we might wisely acknowledge among other Elemental claims, leads to Part 2 — Air.

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558/172 — Or, What It Is I Do All Day   2 comments

That — according to the statistics WordPress freely offers to the obsessed among each of its subscribers — is today’s proportion of published posts to unpublished drafts sitting on this site that never made it to your eyes. Except the number is misleading. All of the published posts were drafts at one point. (Many feel like they still are.) It’s all draft till you die, said one of my writing instructors. So you can always revise. A poem (a life) is never finished, simply abandoned. Then mix in the perspective of this Druid who sees rebirth as part of the process, and death as simply the end of a chapter, a stanza, not the book, not the Song.

bridge-arch

Original and image. Courtesy Pexels.com free images.

My chosen magic, I’ve discovered (What’s yours? Have you found it yet?), is to write myself into new spaces and truths. Yes, often an experience will boot me into new territory, but it’s reflecting on it, writing about it, trying on multiple understandings of it, that converts much raw experience into its subsequent effect on me — turns it into resource, compost, practice, training, the tenor and temper of my days.

How else to explain two people, same experience, very different outcomes? It’s what we do with what happens that matters. And what I “do” isn’t ever “done” — I’m what I’m doing, after all. (As you are you.) I keep adding, revising, re-imagining. Or I can, at any point along the way. The inexpressible freedom of this is something I keep encountering, flowering where I least expect it, hidden beyond the rise of the next hill, flickering through the screen of leaves in the woods around my house. An eye or ear or sometimes a whole face shows through the leaves, then disappears behind them again.

Gerard Manley Hopkins gets it, writes it:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

Am I really listening? Do I hear it? Listen harder, says one of my teachers. Each mortal thing does one thing and the same. I read the poem aloud to myself again, not troubling over meaning, just attending to the sounds and echoes of the words.

Other counsel: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid, says the Galilean master. Peace, a different kind of giving, no need for trouble or fear: immense gifts. Gifts Druids often claim. Gifts bigger, for the world today at least, even than any kind of salvation “down the road” — bigger to our current time-fixated mindsets, anyway, because they’re gifts for here, now. We need them today!

So am I called to receive differently — not as the world receives — in order to recognize and accept the gift? (If the gift is different, then — so my thought runs — my receiving of it must be different, too.) It sure looks like it. And that could explain much of our current sense of estrangement from “how things should be” — the sense of wrongness abundant in personal and public spaces, the partisanship, the distrust and anger and fear. “The time is out of joint”, exclaims Hamlet. But we may or may not share his corresponding sense of duty towards the situation: “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!” (Not the whole show, Hamlet. Just your piece of it. Or at least start there.)

But how do I receive differently? As a Druid, I tell myself, I look to what I’m already doing. (Truth be told, as I’m still learning, we never start from scratch. There’s always a pilot light burning somewhere, at the heart of things. If I’ve lost sight of it, then that’s my practice: recovery.) I breathe, yes, but the air is also ready to come in and go out at the same time. Thus do many spiritual traditions counsel us to watch our breathing as one of the first and readiest and most powerful meditations or spiritual exercises. Do that attentively, regularly, and you’re halfway home.

Likewise my heart beats. (Through certain yogic practices, if you accept the evidence, it’s possible to achieve a level of physical mastery where you can stop and start the heart at will. Though for reasons that should be clear, I’m not spending my time learning that particular skill.) Can I receive the truth of how much of my life is a gift already, however I choose to honor or ignore it? Can I live the gift?

Let the fraction that is the title of this post remind me how much more I receive than I know or acknowledge. How else, indeed, is a life possible? So much flows through us to sustain us in every moment. Receive differently, tune into what’s going on this instant, then every subsequent instant.

OK, got it, I say to myself. But how to actualize this, to turn what is, after all, just a momentary perception into something useful and workable? Ah, there’s the need for a practice. Oh, we’ve attended the workshop, dived into the retreat, felt the flush of inspiration, had a mystic moment or two on our own, uninvited, or called by ritual, intoxication, chance, gift, an instant of vulnerability, openness. Useful, needful, helpful things. But to transform such a moment or interval into the richest soil where I can root and grow — that’s the work worthy of a life. And I know of no one who accomplishes that in any other way than by a spiritual practice.

That’s the magnum opus, the Great Work: to make of a life a gift in return. It is in giving that we receive, sings St. Francis.

Whitman sings in Song of Myself:

Stop this day and night with me …
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 5   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

I’m dancing with Tarot in this series, not aspiring to any profound system of interpretation, but skating with images across a frozen pond, juggling globes of fire, listening for the music the stars make overhead.

In this, as so often on this blog, I’m listening to bards here, rather than scholars. Recall Billy Collins’ wise “Introduction to Poetry” If you don’t know it, or haven’t read it recently, take a moment right now. Try it out, as I do frequently, as an antidote to too much right-brain-ness.

The HANGED MAN

12-Hanged-ManSo what does the Hanged Man, card 12 of the Major Arcana, represent? Odin? Jesus? Both? Neither?

This kind of question, one that assumes that if you can ask it, there’s a reasonable, logical, unambiguous answer to it, reflects a confusion of planes, categories, realities, etc., that we all fall into from time to time.

“But what does it mean?” looks like an innocent query, even though it’s often anything but. Yet we keep on asking, tossing the grenade, just like we keep on believing (for a short time, anyway) anyone with enough authority to state categorically, emphatically, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt, once-and-for-all-time, that X “means” Y. (If X “really” meant Y, they’d be the same thing, and we wouldn’t be asking the question. Or we could simply all become goddess-devotees, knowing that “one thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother”, and that certain questions just have to be un-asked, if we’re to get any sleep at all.)

Something’s going on with this hanging dude, or dudette. He or she has a “fire in the head”, and looks at surprising ease all inverted there, suspended on a tau-cross, like some gnostic St. Peter, who asked to be crucified upside-down, so as not to aspire to equal honor with his Master. (Invert that sh*t, says the imp in me.)

Then, too, we have the figure 4 the legs make, about which much ink has been spilled. (Run with half a dozen interpretations as long as they last, and report back to your cerebellum at the conclusion.)

Certainly I’m a hanged one, as are you — we all are, at least at times. In Matthews’ Arthurian deck, the card is the Wounded King, the ruler of a wasteland in need of healing and restoration.

W. B. Yeats of Golden Dawn fame knew this — the Tarot features largely in the Golden Dawn ritual and symbolism — and Yeats gave himself the magical name Daemon est Deus Inversus, abbreviated DEDI (which not too incidentally is Latin for “I gave”). Demon is God upside-down. Or vice versa. For more than you want to know about the name and its significance, here’s just one of the links Google will offer you, should you opt to enter the phrase (and you should, as a form of spiritual roulette) in that innocent-seeming search box:

Iamblichus’s doctrine that the immortal soul becomes mortal is puzzling for Platonic scholars. According to Iamblichus, the embodied soul not only becomes mortal; as human, it also becomes “alienated” (allotriōthen) from divinity. Iamblichus maintains that the alienation and mortality of the soul are effected by daemons that channel the soul’s universal and immortal identity into a singular and mortal self. Yet, while daemons alienate the soul from divinity they also outline the path to recover it. Iamblichus maintains that daemons unfold the will of the Demiurge into material manifestation and thus reveal its divine signatures (sunthēmata) in nature. According to Iamblichus’s theurgical itinerary, the human soul—materialized, alienated, and mortal—must learn to embrace its alienated and mortal condition as a form of demiurgic activity. By ritually entering this demiurgy the soul transforms its alienation and mortality into theurgy. The embodied soul becomes an icon of divinity.

Why are both Jesus and Satan called the “morning star” in the Bible, and both referred to as serpents? For we have Jesus making the arresting observation: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Here’s one of our challenges, then, to run through a series of metaphors: to lift up the serpent, to raise the kundalini, to recover the divine in our deeds, thoughts and words, to become, in Iamblichus’s words, an icon of divinity. Or you can scratch any interpretative itch with an Orthodox reading, or canonical understanding, and miss a good 9/10 of what it might possibly say to you.

All this, for a person in red tights, hanging upside down …

Take the card into contemplation. Hang for a while, and see what you learn. Far better, as I keep saying, what you discover on your own, than what you merely read here, words from another. Pointers, merely; fingers toward the Equinox moon. Transform, transform …

What needs inversion in my life? How are my values or outlook upside down? What can I see differently from a radically different stance? Will I let myself relax into such a changed awareness, or immediately “set myself to rights”? If I were Odin or Jesus, would I “do things differently”? If so, how?

DEATH

13-DeathLike the Tower, Death and a few other cards manage to freak out a substantial number of people who work with the Tarot in its many guises.

“Death on a pale horse” comes riding straight outta scripture. (You can choose whether the background sun is rising or setting.) Figure out the banner Old Bony is carrying, and you might be on your way to insight. Death meditations are useful; there’s clear indication that at least some bardic initiations included them, and death-and-rebirth rituals help re-establish a healthier perspective than the ever-popular “life at all costs” obsession current in much of the West. Death, in spite of much bad advertising and spiritual teaching to the contrary, is not an “enemy” but a gateway, an arm of the spiral, a servant of life.

How apt that Death should have the number 13. (“Four” does similar duty in Japan and China, with the word for four a homonym for “death” or “death” [shi in Japanese, si in Mandarin Chinese]. Some Asian hotels go so far as to renumber their floors, avoiding the 4th altogether, just as we get all superstitious and tingly on Friday the 13th. “Friday the 4th” just doesn’t have the same feel at all.)

If you can put yourself into the landscape and know yourself as the Hanged Man, do the same with Death. And since there are other figures on the card, try out being the church official, pope or bishop, in front of Death’s horse.

In the Matthews’ Arthurian deck, this card is the Washer at the Ford, a harmonic of the Morrighan, the Goddess, the Dark Initiator.

What horse am I riding right now? What lies dead all around me? What am I killing by my insistence on my current identity? What needs to die in my life, so other things can be born?

TEMPERANCE

14-Temperance“… in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness”, says Hamlet. The figure suggests elemental transformation. In the whirlwind of passion, can I also find smoothness, equilibrium, balance?

Two-thirds of the way through the journey, the Fool has learned something about moderation — not narrowly “abstinence from alcohol” (unless that’s the form your particular practice of moderation needs to take), but something much more valuable. The angelic figure bears the elemental symbol of fire on its breast, and pours liquid from chalice to chalice, while standing with one foot on earth and one in water: all four elements present and working.

A curious and provocative insight from R. J. Stewart’s The Well of Light:

Do not forget, ever, that you are already Elementals. There is not one, but several of them, most likely a large complex number, within yourself. Our bodies are made of Water, Earth, Fire, and Air.

Our consciousness and energies are Elemental; that is, the philosophical or metaphysical concept of the Four Elements as relative states of motion and energy, but not limited to the modern idea of elements as defined in chemistry and physics. So, to find Elementals, we need look no further than our own bodies and moods. And, I propose, we should pay much more attention to the way our bodies and emotions interact with places and with weather changes.

And a prayer or visualization Stewart uses in many of his books, that I find helpful:

In the name of the Star Father, The Earth Mother, The True Taker, The Great Giver, One Being of Light.

How have I transformed — in spite of myself? What needs tempering in my life? What elemental presences can I honor and bring forward as keys to directions my life might beneficially take? What is this Equinox saying to my earth, my air, my fire and my water?

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Gods, Porn, Methods   Leave a comment

End of year thoughts.

The caption of the photo below has a mini-spoiler — skip as needed.

tradition-books

Yoda has good counsel about books in “Last of the Jedi”

“I do not believe in God any more than I believe in Hamlet”, writes author, Buddhist and atheist Stephen Batchelor, “but this does not mean that either God or Hamlet has nothing of value to say” (Batchelor, Stephen. Living with the Devil. New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2004). I gotta ask you: Doesn’t that deserve its own t-shirt?!

What are some of the things that God (or Hamlet) says to us? For the sake of foolishness or efficiency, let’s lump them together, prince and deity.

As late incarnations of the Fisher King, Hamlet, his father and his uncle all share a corruption also infecting their land itself: “something rotten in the state of Denmark”, indeed. Any sources of healing? A grail? There must be something.

Hmm. Fratricide, regicide, suicide — really no good options there. Hamlet at over 400 years old isn’t quite yet as immortal as a god, but it’s on its way, and even a god might well draw the line at three such wretched choices. There may be “special providence in the fall of a sparrow”, the prince reflects, recalling Scriptural assurances of a Divine Plan behind things, but you can tell when such lines have their own threads in our online fora, with people asking “What does it mean?” that the current beta version of the Divine Plan has sent all birds south for the winter of our play. No birds to save us here, no dove for any Ark, wren for inspiration, Eagle of the West to airlift us out of Mordor.

In a word, things suck. It’s gotten to the point where the Prince selfishly denies even his best friend Horatio the “felicity” or happiness of suicide: “Absent thee from felicity awhile/And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain/To tell my story”. But, I ask Hamlet and God, are any of our stories worth that? Have things always sucked this much? Do we have any overarching story that can make sense of this world for us? (Three questions, Existential Triad #26.) In all its delicious suffering and gloom and razor wit, we could fairly call Hamlet (the play) a piece of Renaissance theater porn.

Is a spiritual search pornographic? Do we play out spiritual scripts to arouse ourselves in ways others (or we ourselves) deem destructive? (Is that a rhetorical question?!)

Horatio says, speaking of Hamlet — and speaking of all of us, too, because that’s what great cultural achievements do, after all — “he was likely, had he been put on/To have proved most royal”. Yes, along with the dead prince, we’re all “put on”, and all “likely”: life as a matter of the odds.

The “royal” part, though — we just can’t accept that yet, even in the face of stories trying their level best to show us, and teach us how. That identity — it implies too much, the gap yawning between what we are and what we could be, an open wound. So we reject it whenever possible, saving such inward knowing for our most unguarded moments with our favorite music, books, films, crafts, people, waking dreams. (Yes, these things rank nearly equal in my life.) Or “children’s movies” we watch with the kids, that may get it half-right, half of the time.

A 27 Dec. ’17 article (film spoiler alert!) in The Atlantic gets in on the Game.  (We’re all playing.) Writing in “Why The Last Jedi Is More ‘Spiritual’ Than ‘Religious'”, Chaim Saiman begins:

For at least two generations, the Star Wars saga has served as a kind of secularized American religion. Throughout the series, the Force is a stand-in for a divine power that draws on a number of mystical traditions, representing the balance of good and evil, the promise of an ultimate unity, and the notion that those learned in its ways can tap into the infinite.

As Saiman scrutinizes the distinctly contemporary sensibility pervading “Last of the Jedi’s” attitude towards tradition, he concludes “… even a fictional secular religion will likely reflect the spiritual economy of its time”. Our tendency to value experiences over learning, or feeling over wisdom (not that these pairs equate) means we often hold traditions suspect without ever having immersed ourselves in them to learn them from the inside. So we often run from one workshop or neo-tradition or guru to another, collecting them like trophies or merit badges. Unlike Rey, we don’t come with a Force chip apparently pre-installed and active as a standard factory setting. (“Oh yes we do!”, say the stories.) Sci-fi porn?

If there’s a shift in the philosophical and religious tone in “Jedi” from the 1977 original Episode IV “A New Hope”, Saiman asserts, it’s that traditions have failed, and we’re thrown back on ourselves. Self-help porn?

So what, in turn, does that mean for our “spiritual economy”?

The great critic and author Harold Bloom told his students, referring to literary criticism, that interpretation is another form of more or less “creative misreading”.

Let’s extend Bloom’s insight where he never intended it, a popular form of magic in itself. How often we misread our lives and each other, the influences they bear on us, and our own motives and desires! Particularly well-done misreadings fill our theaters and earphones, climb our playlists and Top Tens, shaping the zeitgeist ever since zeits became geisty.

Bloom was famous for telling his students “There is no method except yourself” as far as criticism is concerned, and that too feels more widely applicable to our lives.

Or at least to mine. So here goes. Traditions exist, wisdom exists, we encounter them and decide out of all that we are what we will choose and value. In a pinch, we even creatively assign responsibility for our choices to any and everyone else, out of all sorts of motives, honing and refining our method.

Truth is never OSFA, “one size fits all”, though we recognize reflections everywhere, shards of what often feels like an original Mirror. Human traditions often grab hold of a single shard and — terrified they’ll lose even that one — erect it as the sole truth. Maybe this is our original and only idolatry.

So Hamlet instructs the actors for the play-within-the-play, stand-ins for all of us: “Hold the mirror up to nature (or, we might say, existence), to show … the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”. If there’s one thing true wisdom does, it’s to show us such forms and pressures. Not only the holes of a culture and civilization at any given moment, especially our own, but also the rebalancing factors and energies we can apply to survive and thrive in that civilization, and when it starts to falter, after.

In the end, the problem isn’t tradition or ritual, but dead tradition and rotting ritual. The soup of spirituality needs the pot of form, or we go about a life or five with vague intentions that ultimately give us little and fail us at need. “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s”, wrote William Blake.

Almost right.

St Augustine caravaggioFor once I’ll trust old Auggie, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), with the last words this time, with a few annotations. Words suitable to conclude this blog for 2017, and open the way for a new cycle in the new year.

So, then, my brothers, let us sing now, not [only] in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. You should sing as wayfarers do — sing, but continue your journey. Do not be lazy [unless you need to!], but sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going.

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Images: tradition; Caravaggio’s St. Augustine.

 

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