Untamed Speech

…always a rage against the blind harmony of an anaesthetized life. Instead, a life amid the salient, the awkward, the pathologized; buffeted and discontent, at peace only in a rough sea.*

Is it possible that the very fight away from our experience of pathology misses the beauty of its necessity, removing us from artful expression of the most rooted, inherent place we find ourselves in, a place that by necessity calls for struggle? Instead of the fight against pathology, which demands that we heal, fix and remove the soul’s infirmities, rather, might we not rather seek a perspective that gives the passions their due, by listening for their mythological background that conjoin the most personal sense of ourselves with the eternal happenings of a world.

Perhaps we must first acknowledge things from a mythological perspective that conjoin to the eternal; seeing ourselves and others not only as products of family, culture, time and place, but also as characters expressing the struggles inherent in every age, time and place. Death then is the primary protagonist. That battle against which remains hopelessly futile, for it is life itself that brings death into being. Can we, like Dante did, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here?”

Crazy talk maybe, especially in a frequently literalized, anesthetized world where the sensibility of ‘life as art’ is often exchanged for artifice, making believers rather than lovers out of us all. In this world, language itself is in danger of extinction, especially the beauty and danger of an untamed speech.

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The gate of Hell. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For I want to suggest that untamed speech of the widest reach and wildest pitch effects vengeance in itself. And further to suggest, that the docility of speech, the absence of vehemence and hyperbole, the balanced phrases of the nightly news, reporting the facts of worldly horror, force the Furies underground, ultimately, since the repressed returns, and directly causing yet more facts of worldly horror to be reported with that same calm mask and blank smile. Could it be that were our words wild enough, our worlds would be more inhabitable? Could Shakespearean hyperbole be a cultural remedy?*

dante-alighieri

“Love hath so long possessed me for his own And made his lordship so familiar.” Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Just as we have pushed death underground and transformed the underworld from a place of shades, shadows who awaken us to unseen presence, they’re out of sight, into the hell of the damned, a cavernous fault where the dark repressed lies unseen, and so, feared. Now, speech too must be cleaned up by removing its ugly, so-called hateful words. As if winning the battle against death and language would change the heart and soul of humanity? It is no longer only a personal fear of death daily driving the passions, but a more out of reach fear of a destruction of the entire planet that makes us crazy for solutions, fixes and cures. Which myth(s) provides the background that instills the belief that it is uniquely up to humanity to save ourselves from ourselves? What if the dysfunction, the inherent pathology, lies within the very heart and soul of so-called civilization? What if our very desire for peace, harmony and a world without suffering were driving the very pathology we seek to eliminate?

I am suggesting that the patient’s disorder, that he and she cannot function in the civilization, is the civilization itself declaring dysfunctional bankruptcy. For what is the value of a civilization if its citizens are made ill by it? And what is the value of a therapy if it only abets the growth of civilization; in a civilization that measures its standing rank by gross domestic product (GDP)?*

As Hillman notes, shall we not also consider whether or not fixing our personal pathology means aligning oneself to the pathology of a civilization that is in the grip of its own inherently self-destructive end as it plays out the mythological battle of good vs. evil both within and between cultures? Although sometimes blamed on religious ideology, perhaps the root of apocalyptic endings lies within the heart of any culture that pathologically denies any place for its shadows, ever-believing that light can and should overcome them, striving always to beat them into submission by reforming their contents, rather than accepting the message of struggle that shadows reveal to us.

By shadows I mean not only all that cannot be seen, known and understood, but that which is forever out of human reach to change the nature of: death, both of the individual and the planet; along with all of the little deaths experienced every moment, every day; the loss of a loved one, a job, a home, a friend, a belief, innocence, one’s health or youth. So much in life forever lies unobtainable: truly knowing another’s thought and heart, what the future may bring, security, a life without pain-whether one’s own or another’s, or what happens after death.

But neither fax nor even flesh can satisfy the fantastical appetite. We are impoverished psychologically when we are impoverished linguistically. The bridges are down because the moon is down, imagination beclouded by literal information. We have forgot Coleridge’s warning about “the danger of thinking without images” and so our minds, our very civilization, succumbs at one and the same time to both cynical nihilism and full-faithed fundamentalism.*

We know we have taken the bait anytime we find ourselves within a fantasy of good vs. evil that clamors for nothing less than a real-world outcome of a personal or collective idea of “how things should (or shouldn’t) be.” The more our ideals express purity and perfection, favoring the light over the dark, the darker our world seems, and so becomes.

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Orestes Pursued by the Furies, William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although the counter to the argument that we need more untamed speech might rightly warn that limits are necessary in a culture that places emphasis on actions over ideas, but I would suggest that it is this very loss of ideas as something outside of us, and loss of any recognition of the need for reflection, because we don’t own them, they own us, that prematurely urges us to action. We fail to see ideas as actions in themselves, which act on us.

This argument against bombast makes me refine my proposal. It’s not heightened speech as such but, rather, our relation with it. An inverse proportion between words and acts — the wilder the words the less wild the acts — holds only insofar as we enjoy the language for its own sake; the vehemence, the insult, the braggadocio become pleasurable acts, giving a delightful satisfaction.*

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[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When an individual becomes the owner and purveyor of ideas, to not act is a reflection upon them, as we declare, “all talk and no action.” Who though, hasn’t experienced a rage so powerful that it scares us? While rage was once understood to come to us from the furies (hence the word”furious”), if there is no longer even an idea of the furies, “I” am all that is left to carry meaning and expression into the world.

The archetypal imagination underlies and embraces all together; all the world’s a stage, and we in our seats are in the play, since its words are voicing our souls. How hard this is for us to conceive today, since, for us, all the people we know are people first, and then they speak, words issuing from them as secondary phenomena.*

*All quotes: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations, Chapter 5, You Taught me Language (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

Pathemata

The relations between words and objects is based on historic usage, whereas the relation between pathemata and objects is based on likeness. Aristotle’s view necessarily implies that pathemata must be universally similar for all language users since all objects are universally the same. Ludovic De Cuypere, Limiting the Iconic

Along the same line of my previous questioning, what is it that can truly be possessed, how much are thoughts my own or part of a greater, ultimately unfathomable pool of what lies fallow, yet unspoken, unthought, belonging to both no one and everyone? We might ask ourselves just how much does language serve a hermetic value, both as bridge between the world unseen and the world as it is expressed?

Mercury_on_a_St._Lucia_1949_UPU_stamp

For thousands of years, Western culture has expressed a variety of ideas about soul, whether that of animal, vegetable, human, or the more encompassing idea of a World Soul, an Anima Mundi. We moderns struggle with making sense of, defining, or feeling the presence of soul, whether personal or otherwise. Soul is immaterial, in every sense of word! The struggle for soul is perceptual and experiential; between the reality of tangible, material things, whether located within or without, and the struggle for the valuation of any interior reality, ours and that of all beings – and thereby tending to a vulnerability created by opening to the other that acknowledges an unnamed, unsensed, or invisible world as the very ground of being.

In a dying culture, long held beliefs shatter as misplaced claims to power (rightly or wrongly) that once congealed a people are seen through and abandoned. The abandoning leaves a void. When the gods die, and power is thought to exist only in the visible, mathematically comprehensible human and material realm, the world shrinks. Language and ideas shrink too, limited to both products and byproducts of a human-only world. You may observe this shrinking even in ecological concerns. The most convincing arguments to care about animals, trees, rocks and oceans come through human concerns and actions only.* Everything alas, becomes a human resource. There is a deeper irony here. In a de-animated, dead world, we are dead too.

Commerce_in_The_Apotheosis_of_Washington

“Commerce”: Mercury, god of commerce, with his winged cap and sandals and caduceus, hands a bag of gold to en:Robert Morris, financier of the Revolutionary War. On the left, men move a box on a dolly; on the right, the anchor and sailors lead into the next scene, “Marine.”

If these universal concepts are possessions of the soul and to be considered as psychological knowledge, then they are ideas that all psyches can be said to own, and each of us has a modicum in some form and to some intensity of all the virtues, all the categories, and all the pathemata. Then, the entire gamuts of differentiated concepts are properties of the psyche and constitutes its knowings. But all this knowledge is evidenced only idiosyncratically in the actual state of affairs of this or that person. Even if the psyche knows it all, what knowledge of the soul has an individual person?

Hillman, James (2016-05-08). Philosophical Intimations (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8) (Kindle Locations 2602-2606). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

“…what knowledge of the soul has an individual person?

Good question! I would argue that knowledge understood and experienced as a flowing between an animated, very much alive world** makes the world bigger and much fuller of potential than one in which language and sense are limited to a human-only world.

We cannot bring back the gods once their presence is no longer personally felt, but we might come to understand that the source of the material, thingyness of the world comes from a gooey, smeary, animated world in motion much bigger than us, beyond formulas, human concepts and especially language. Human power cannot replace the gods of antiquity, but only displace and misappropriate an inherent power of the cosmos.

The Trick

Like Hermes, the trickster god of Greek antiquity, language tricks, both opening and closing, as it abstracts from reality, both limiting and delimiting ideas and meaning. Individual words carry soul; animate, enliven – horizontally through history, and vertically as bridges to nonverbal intuition, as do concepts and ideas carry and move soul both within nature and beyond. Language is then that which both creates, reveals and destroys mystery. We cannot claim its power but may align ourselves to receive what it offers us. Our desire for measure, exactitude, accuracy and correspondence between language and reality misses Hermes altogether and rather than constructing a bridge between the two worlds, kills both by failing to perceive the distinctions between them.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATelephone1913.jpg

Pathemata then, is what lies beneath, within, without, here, beyond, under, over and above language. It is the inherent and underlying common ground and movement (passion) of living beings, which for Plato and Aristotle necessarily involve suffering.

I’ll end with this text from Voegelin on the Gorgias and Pathos:

Pathos is what men have in common, however variable it may be in its aspects and intensities. Pathos designates a passive experience, not an action; it is what happens to man, what he suffers, what befalls him fatefully, and what touches him in his existential core—as for instance the experiences of Eros (481C-D).

In their exposure to pathos all men are equal, although they may differ widely in the manner in which they come to grips with it and build the experience into their lives. There is the Aeschylean touch even in this early work of Plato, with its hint that the pathema experienced by all may result in a mathema different for each man. The community of pathos is the basis of communication. Behind the hardened, intellectually supported attitudes that separate men lie the pathemata that bind them together. From The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin

*Saving the planet, by its very definition refers to humans saving it for human life. Anything that destroys us, destroys the planet. Ultimately, there is no way to sacrifice only human existence for the sake of all else.

**By alive I mean more than just conscious, aware beings, but the ground of all being itself

Polyphony

“Songbirds sing. That is fact, not metaphor. They sing, and in the forest every morning, when a dozen or a hundred or a thousand individuals of six or ten or twenty different species sing at once, that is polyphonic music.”

Everywhere Being is DancingWhen I first read these words in Robert Bringhurst’s book, Everywhere Being is Dancing, it reminded me to pay more attention to sound. Not just the intentional listening one does in conversation or to a piece of music, but to the sounds of everyday life. I am finding that the best way to experience the polyphony of everyday life requires switching the senses away from intentionality and expanding awareness to what is present.

During this exercise, thoughts continue to distinguish, characterize and define the sounds. I suppose this is a response based on cumulative memory and habit. For as mortal beings with a sensitivity to all that threatens our peace and wellbeing, by necessity, we live in a stream of continued response to our senses.

“Music, dancing, storytelling, poetry are means by which we can and do embrace and participate in being, not tricks by which we prove our independence from or our superiority to it.”

So, if we can listen to polyphonic music, whether the source is human or not, can we also listen to image and symbol in our speech for their inherent multiple meanings?  Is there then a polyphony of mind, heart or soul? Perhaps we can see too that a culture’s musical expression might also be a reflection of the heart and soul of a people. Bringhurst notes some of the differences in expression according to the voicing and texture of the music:

“In homophonic music, lovely though some of it is, and written by geniuses, as some of it certainly is, only the leader has any substantial freedom of action. Melodies may follow one another, but they cannot coexist. Where the leader’s voice leads, the accompanist’s must follow. The laws of harmony demand that every tone or note or thought or body have its own space or its own time or both. If two notes want the same space at the same time, the two must fuse and lose their independence, or one must move harmonically aside.”

Does not this form of music parallel the modern tendency towards authoritarianism, and the single-mindedness that goes along with it? Maybe with some practice, one can hear more than one thing at a time. Admittedly, an openness to listening may suffer in a world that does not cultivate a sense of beauty in everyday things. Although technology increasingly contributes to a loss of community, it’s understandable that some of us prefer to filter our public experience with the aid of i-pods and cell phones.

“We have, in fact, a lot of practice hearing polyphonic speech. It surrounds us in the woods, and it surrounds us in the street and the cafe. It’s what we hear wherever we can listen to the world. It’s also what we hear where people speak with neither fealty nor fear, and where their speech is not drowned out by their machines.”

“With neither fealty nor fear,” and I would add, with all that comes from both inside and outside. Finding one’s voice, of course, is not only finding what one can say, but also what one can think, write, draw, sing or express in whatever fashion one is inclined to. These practices that find us, while at first may take us beyond the mainstream of both the culture and the drudgery of day-to-day, after some time become incorporated as habits of body, mind and soul. It is then that the edges between “work” and “play” blur, or soften, as does one’s identity with its demand of pondering and working on one’s self or others. Not that You or I disappear, but the youthful question of “who am I” loses its claim on us.

We are capable of polyphonic thought and polyphonic speech, as polyphonic music proves. We are capable, that is, of multiplicity of mind in a healthy form. Why is it that the only multiplicity of mind in fashion now is a crippling disease? ease? Polyphony made audible is music. Schizophrenia made audible is noise.

Schizophrenia, as noise, because we haven’t listened hard, or deep enough. Or, perhaps because we believe too much in language and forget that, while beautiful and necessary, it sometimes charms us into mistaking it for a world which, in spite of all that is said, sung or done, will always remain bigger, truer and beyond the reach of language.

I’ll close with Bringhurst’s lovely quoting of the poet Don McKay:

“Poetry is language used with an awareness of the poverty of language…. gauge…. Poetry remembers that language is shaped air; it remembers ashes to ashes, dust to dust, wind to wind; it knows we don’t own what we know. It knows the world is, after all, unnameable, so it listens hard before it speaks, and wraps that listening into the linguistic act.’ “

Robert Bringhurst. Everywhere Being Is Dancing: Twenty Pieces of Thinking (Kindle Locations 322-324). Kindle Edition.

Finally, an explanation, along with some examples, of polyphonic singing:

All quotes from Robert Bringhurst except otherwise noted. Everywhere Being Is Dancing: Twenty Pieces of Thinking (Kindle Locations 275-276). Kindle Edition.

Expression

“In culture, any culture, we are bound to that which is deemed possible. In the comparative imagination that can relate consciousness to culture and culture to consciousness, we begin to free ourselves for the impossible.”

Language

Language can be seen as one mode of expressing aspects of the unseen. Through definition we divide and separate the world into things. Words, however combined and multiplied, cannot express the true essence of the things they refer to. But words, as referents to the essence of things, serve as portals to what is currently unknown, or impossible, to a future in which the impossible becomes possible.

Erfurt in the 19th century1820 paintings. Letters in art. Trompe l’oeil in Germany

Language not only divides, but conjoins. It’s use becomes a sexy, reproductive participant in creation. Language reveals layers of meaning, expanding awareness through metaphor, imagination and suggestion. Writing becomes an art of being authored, or written, in which we in turn are authoring, or writing the impossible into being. The once impossible becomes possible, not only in the sense of the creation of tools, technology and artifact, but through the discovery of other realms and beings at one time invisible to us. If this sounds far-fetched, think only of dreams and all that you encounter there. But if you write or read as a creative practice, you probably have experienced the power of language, ideas and symbols to expand your awareness.

Cosmology

People in every culture have expressed a cosmological belief of some kind. From stories of the gods and creation myths, down to our modern language of mathematics and physics, cosmology can be seen as culturally dependent expressions of current states of consciousness, or perhaps, expressions as what the cosmos itself is aware of.

Our current understanding of a theory of evolution that believes we are the result of a series of mutations of life forms through a force called natural selection, would disagree that the cosmos is “aware” of anything. The belief that Intelligence or consciousness of any kind is a participant in the creative process is suspect, and so, called anthropomorphic. Consciousness and intelligence are here understood as mere by-products of a neurological brain.

“Krao”, the “missing link” : a living proof of Darwin’s theory of the descent of man : special lectures, 2.30, 5.30 & 9.30… : all should see her : [jungle illustration].

The theory of evolution is also an expression of a culture that believes in a Cartesian duality; seeing with a mind split from the body. If consciousness is a by-product of evolutionary processes, it could not have been a participant in anything prior to its existence, so the story goes.

It is curious to me that there is no current recognition of evolutionary mutations beyond us humans, except allowing for the possibility of alien life forms. If we can’t see it, touch it and measure it, it doesn’t exist. Consciousness as something generated by matter has implications for how we understand ourselves and the nature of reality. But, if consciousness is experienced as an expression of a primary intelligence of the cosmos, than we are also participants in the evolution of a reality that intends to expand the limits of our current awareness.

Expression

The sense of separation that we experience may be what helps to bring into being the impossible into the possible. The suffering of separation and division through thought and language, perhaps seeds the cosmos through a dialectic between what is possible and impossible. We are perhaps then, the cosmos creating itself into powers and realms not yet known, or perhaps, not yet existing. This can only be possible when we admit the possibility that consciousness is not a by-product of matter, but a primary aspect of the cosmos.

Jeffrey Kripal suggests that somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century, modern culture began to disdain any notion of metaphysical aspects to reality. His book, Authors of the Impossible, recalls a multitude of modern accounts and stories of people’s adventures in other realms, which we now call dreams, OBE’s, NDE’s, UFO abductions. He says:

“We are magicians all. But as whole cultures extended through centuries of time, we are much more than a collection of knowing and unknowing magicians stumbling about with their consensual spells called Language, Belief, and Custom. We are veritable wizards endowed with almost unbelievable powers to shape new worlds of experience and realize different aspects of the real.”

In closing, I must add that the ideas, except as noted, are my own take on the ideas in Kripal’s book. Although in so many ways, I remain indebted to the ideas of others and those discussed in his book, Authors of the Impossible.

“To author one’s world, however, whether literally or metaphorically, implies the use of language, which is a left-brain capacity. So an author of the impossible is not someone who has shut down the left brain with all its critical and linguistic powers and tender sense of individual identity. I do not mean to be so simply dualistic . Rather, an author of the impossible is someone who has ceased to live, think, and imagine only in the left brain, who has worked hard and long to synchronize the two forms of consciousness and identity and bring them both online together. Finally, an author of the impossible is someone who has gone beyond all of these dualisms of right and left, mystical and rational, faith and reason, self and other, mind and matter, consciousness and energy, and so on. An author of the impossible is someone who knows that the Human is Two and One.”

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011-09-16). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

Sacred Transgressions

“Although paranormal phenomena certainly involve material processes, they are finally organized around signs and meaning. To use the technical terms, they are semiotic and hermeneutical phenomena . Which is to say that they seem to function as representations or signs to decipher and interpret, not just movements of matter to measure and quantify.

In his book, Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred, Jeff Kripal takes a look at occult phenomena and their relationship to writing and reading that serve as bridges to the sacred and a superconscious realm.

“…paranormal phenomena are semiotic or hermeneutical phenomena in the sense that they signal, symbolize, or speak across a “gap” between the conscious, socialized ego and an unconscious or superconscious field.”

More than this, he attributes to reading and writing a power to:

“..replicate and realize paranormal processes, just as paranormal processes can replicate and realize textual processes.”

Reading and writing then become a participation in a process whereby we tap into a superconscious realm through story and myths of an occult or paranormal nature. Occult (meaning hidden) reading and writing, become a way in which one transgresses societal and cultural norms of perceived limits of reality. Occultism itself is a fairly modern phenomena which perhaps parallel the advent of communication technology, whereby we perceive and transcend cultural limits through access and comparison to foreign or alien (pun intended) notions of culture and reality.

The process of incorporating new ideas and symbols that shape and color perception and consciousness have always been at play. Through modern technologies that extend our view and reach, we now experience an unprecedented exchange between cultures inviting everything from amazement, disorientation, to war and destruction. Perhaps they also invite a reorientation towards a more expansive view of both the physical and non-physical boundaries of experience. It may not be surprising that the scientific aim of finding the edge of the universe coincides with expansive explorations of the boundaries of awareness through dreaming, meditation, hallucinogens, music and art. Explorations of the physical nature of the cosmos seem to be reflected in explorations of the non-material, hidden or occult nature of the world.

Even the marginalizing of the occult, for Kripal, serves a purpose by allowing irrationality to flourish off the cultural grid. He sees too, a sacred aspect to occult experience which becomes more viable in a secularized world. Ultimately serving a religious function and reclaiming for a secular society a valid experience of an invisible, imaginal, esoteric world of a superconscious field. To occulture then, is to create opportunity for a new dialectic between science and religion.

Superconsciousness then, is a realm transcending cultural differences and is accessible to anyone, regardless of time and place. Although the potential to experience superconscious awareness is ubiquitous, language and customs of culture limit awareness by creating perceptual boundaries. As I imagine it, this realm includes universal pre-figured archetypal, symbolic, religious and mythological forms as expressions of the conscious aspects of a totality that includes the physical forces and constraints of the universe.

“It is within this same dialectical context that I understand occulture as a kind of public meeting place of spirit and matter, as the place where Consciousness both occults or hides itself in material and symbolic forms and allows itself to be seen, “as if in a mirror,” so that it can be cultivated and shaped into definite, but always relative, forms. Occulture, then, both conceals and reveals.”

There remains a necessary and creative tension between the exploration of hidden dimensions of experience and the rigor of materialist science that fascinates me. I enjoy listening to popular scientists explain the necessity of space travel and cosmological laws for it often reveals symbolic and religious parallels. It doesn’t matter if scientists, or any of us are aware of this or not, it still feeds the expression of an ever-broadening cultural psyche. In the same way, occult, sci-fi and fantasy writers (think Philip K. Dick), through the esoteric dimensions of their imaginings, sometimes feed scientists with ideas for technology.

The existence of a superconscious realm also has parallels to Plato’s idea of anamnesis, or learning as remembering, especially the remembrance of archetypal and symbolic forms, whether from a personal or transpersonal past or future. If the source of consciousness and our very existence is the superconscious realm itself, it is no surprise to feel a sense of deja vu, or a hint that there is more to existence than meets the eye that only sees from within its culture, time and place.

La Vie Mysterieuse magazine, Number 55, April 1911

Why some of us experience these hints more often, I do not know. In recalling my own childhood states of awareness, I was occasionally aware of something both hidden and forbidden, never completely able to ignore the presence of something beyond my senses. In my early teens, a time when my family life was turned upside down, I began to experience frightening poltergeist phenomena accompanied by an overwhelming sense of disorientation. Because of my family situation, it’s no surprise and can be written off as a by-product, or hysteria. But the effect of this experience increased my respect for the irrational and the sometimes inexplicable nature of life.

What intrigues me about Kripal’s ideas as well as those of Frederic Myers, is the connection of writing with the occult and revelation, and specifically to the idea that we are stories being written, especially as we read and write the impossible, or Henri Corbin’s imaginal.

“Corbin understood the imaginal to be a noetic organ that accessed a real dimension of the cosmos whose appearances to us were nevertheless shaped by what he called the “creative imagination” (l’imagination créatrice).”

I think he’s on to something quite meaningful to suggest that throughout our lives, we are writing and authoring, and at the same time we are being written and authored by glimpsing the imaginal, which in turn reveals through our creativity. Also, he quite comfortably acknowledges the necessity of ambiguous ideas, which to my mind most accurately reflect the nature of human experience.

“On one level at least, the human personality for Frederic Myers is an evolving story written into and read out of the cosmos over and over again within what he calls a “progressive immortality.” Read and written thus, we are all occult novels composed by forces both entirely beyond us and well within us. As a One that is also Two, we author ourselves, and we are authored.”

There’s more to the book which, if time allows, I’ll continue to write about.

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011-09-16). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

In the Beginning…

…was the Word

One of the insights gathered from studying and attending to the nature of language is to see how close to the body and physical senses everyday language and speech is. The word language itself is derived from the latin “lingua,” or tongue.

When speaking of our native tongue, we might say that we have two tongues; the one in our mouth and the language we speak with. Here, perhaps, is the basis of metaphor and points to the idea that it is our use of language with its ability to both ground us in descriptions of sense and the physical nature of experience, and also to move us beyond that grounding, to an understanding that we also have ideas about the world. Here we see and think beyond the physical factual world into what lies under, over and beyond it to what might be called, primal knowledge.

The spacial quality of the metaphor intentionally expands our notions of ourselves and the world into dimensionality because life itself is multi-dimensional.

Magnum Chaos – Lorenzo Lotto, Giovan Francesco Capoferri – From a book

I am no scholar, or linguist, but experiencing the beauty of how language opens the world up to us and has itself a creative element, fascinates me. It’s important then, I think, to not think of language only as a device for reporting. The reporting style of speech, which likes to stick to the facts and get to the point, is one among many styles of speech, but perhaps has come to dominate our western culture today, permeating every corner of our lives from the family circle, to educational curriculums, to business speech. To get along in this world, yes, one must be able to understand this style of language, but that need not exclude us from appreciating and using other styles of speech.

Any style of speech will color how we see and experience the world. So, perhaps, the more styles available to us, the bigger the palette. Language also shapes the stories we tell ourselves and others. The answers we give when replying to everyday questions explaining what happened, why, where and how, are shaped by the language we use. Most of us, most of the time, like to think we speak out of necessity, and are telling the truth, a value deeply embedded within our culture. But this expectation forces our hand, demanding an expertise and honesty on a level that’s not always as easy and available as we may assume.

Language, which is of the body, is susceptible to habits, and behaves similarly to a virus. How much of our experience of life is driven by the assumptions embedded in the way we use language depends on how well we hear the implications of what we say and how aware we are of the ideas available to us. We don’t, it seems, have a choice to experience life without language.

The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.” William Rice Burroughs

But, the virus isn’t necessarily a sickness or a parasite is it? Beyond any notions of taming, eliminating or dampening the capacity for language, what else is there? Is the day-to-day practicality of informing and staying informed the only game in town? Could our relationship to language have rather a symbiotic quality?

Language, when seen as a way to bridge a variety of levels of experience, may lead us out of speaking for the sake of practical reporting and into a place where we see all things anew.

God the Creator: In this Christian interpretation of the Kabbalah, God is shown setting out the laws that govern the universe. The shape of the Creator’s throne mirrors that of the macrocosm: the throne cover is a model of the heavens, the back a representation of the planetary spheres.

Language that aims for endings, conclusions and summaries of what we believe and think of as the truth, may reflect something deep inside us that refuses the challenge of living in a world between order and chaos. How safe do you want to be, the world may be asking us, and at what cost? One of the costs of truth is exclusion. By making a selection as to what the truth is, we are also making a valuation which excludes other meanings and possibilities deeming them as “not truth.” This is tricky, because we will make choices, perhaps because of the recognition of the exclusive nature of our choosing. To refuse choice and meaning, and to not live within the givens of our environment and culture, would be putting ourselves at the far end of the spectrum where order disappears and chaos reins.

Chaos though, in many mythologies, is both primal and necessary, understood as the source of the world. From Hesiod, 7th or 8th century B.C.:

“Verily at the first Khaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Gaia (Earth), the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus . . . From Khaos came forth Erebos and black Nyx (Night).”

Or as one among several original elements. From Aristophenes:

“At the beginning there was only Khaos (Air), Nyx (Night), dark Erebos (Darkness), and deep Tartaros (Hell’s Pit). Ge (Earth), Aer (Air) and Ouranos (Heaven) had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Nyx (Night) laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebos (Darkness), and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros (Desire) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated [or fertilised] in deep Tartaros (Hell-Pit) with dark Khaos (Air), winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race [the birds], which was the first to see the light.”

From Ovid’s Metamorphosis:

“Ere land and sea and the all-covering sky were made, in the whole world the countenance of nature was the same, all one, well named Chaos, a raw and undivided mass, naught but a lifeless bulk, with warring seeds of ill-joined elements compressed together.”

And finally, from Genesis, which presents creation as coming into being from what is formless and void through separation:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.”

Order and chaos may be seen then as two poles necessary for life, for aliveness. Too much of either eliminates the possibility of any life – order stifles movement, chaos refuses the containment necessary for the discrete recognizable entities that we, and each “thing,” is. It may be that the source of the world is unified or chaotic by nature, but identity, with its inherent job of separation, knows of others by being a self. This, I believe is our predicament, and not something to be overcome, but seen through as if we are walking between the two extremes, aware of both the desire for order and the need for renewal through a bit of chaos.

Ironically, to see through may come from a softening of vision, double vision, or second sight. It’s the hard and fast rule and desire for orderliness that sees sharp edges, well-defined boundaries, divisions of truth and lies, black and white, dead and alive. Double vision loses these distinctions by blurring the edges, seeing likeness and similarity in things habitually seen as different. Habit is how we are ordered, poesis, or soul-making is how we are disordered, broken by chaos for the sake of the new. This opening is an exchange with the gods and may be painful as we give up something cherished, protective, habitual, but may also be freeing. Freeing, as we not only disidentify with ownership of an idea or belief, but freeing as expansive in the boundaries of what is “me” and “not me.”

As John the Baptist says, “I must decrease so that He may increase.” This does not have to be understood in a Christian sense only, but as a way to express a willingness towards states of immersion. As we immerse ourselves in conversation with others, ideas and the invisibles, we disappear for the sake of the other. Other meaning, what presents itself to us as the veil is lifted, the walls come tumbling down and the bridge between order and chaos opens up where we may then experience the liminal, non-ordinary at any given moment.

In conclusion, well, sort of, we might see beginnings in every moment, life perpetually coming out of the void, where the void is the source of life itself. We might see beginnings as not something that happen once, or even twice as in rebirth, but beyond historical happenings into that which is happening perpetually; chaos forming into order, refining into structures that eventually fall apart from too much structure, back into chaos where they mix and mingle, formless and once again ready to be ordered anew.

“Paradise
Is exactly like
Where you are right now
Only much, much better.” Laurie Anderson

My Native Language is Image

Recently, I have begun to keep a dream journal, again. As in the keeping of past dream journals, the very act of writing seems to stimulate the remembrance of more dreams, and I wonder if by attending to them, the door to the nightworld perspective widens, bringing with it richness and complexity, scrambling the sensibilities of the dayworld experience.

Flying foxes, or bats, sleep 18-20 hours a day.

In the nightworld’s stories and images I am no longer the master of my soul, but live as one among many. The rational order and structure that shape the dayworld no longer strictly apply; time and place shift suddenly, people, animals and situations seem unpredictable and often bizarre compared to the waking state. In dreams animals and babies talk, we fly like birds, meet strange lovers who seem to know us, run in slow motion, breathe underwater, change sex, and talk to the dead. Here we live amongst archetypal or primary forces that find their way into psyche – for in sleep we cannot but give ourselves over to their world.

The dream world is perhaps a place where soul is shaped by psychic weather much as a tree is shaped by earth, wind, fire and rain. Perhaps dream states place us closer to the primary source or state of awareness. Animals evidently dream, if REM states are any indication and even fruit flies sleep. Maybe we should reverse our idea that we fall into sleep and reconsider whether we are not, rather, falling awake. If dreams are primary and their language is image, then as James Hillman suggested in his book The Dream and the Underworld, image is primary.

Living with this idea increasingly suggests to me that we develop and use language to translate that primary state of the nightworld and its dream images. But the dayworld perspective filters our experience, by narrowing down the sense of ourselves and each other into separate, private beings; each masters of our own house. The more we live life through a dayworld translation, unaware of the depth of the source of our being and knowing, the smaller and more limited our dayworld perspective becomes. To ignore the depths of psyche, where Pluto’s riches are found, is to shrink our awareness by filtering all we know through the logic and reasoning of dayworld awareness alone, in time becoming increasingly dependent on how well we use language to translate to ourselves and to others the imagistic sense of the world’s impression upon us.

“It is this dayworld style of thinking—literal realities, natural comparisons, contrary opposites, processional steps—that must be set aside in order to pursue the dream into its home territory. There thinking moves in images, resemblances, correspondences. To go in this direction, we must sever the link with the dayworld, foregoing all ideas that originate there—translation, reclamation, compensation. We must go over the bridge and let it fall behind us, and if it will not fall, then let it burn.” James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld

Albrecht Dürer, Abduction of Proserpine on a Unicorn (1516)

This is not to say that keeping a dream journal is necessary or would even change this situation. One’s relationship to the dreamworld is always in danger of contamination by dayworld perspectives with its need to be master and commander. Dreams then are at the risk of becoming our playthings rather than angels or messengers carrying across from that primal source something new, unexpected or forgotten. Attending to the nature of the relationship between dayworld and nightworld is then, perhaps our life’s work, whether we remember our dreams or not. To acknowledge the existence of an underworld perspective, allowing a place for mystery, and experiencing as Persephone did, the force of the god Pluto dragging us out of our dayworld hubris, stripping us of our innocence, relieving us from our duty of being master and commander, might free us to live mythically, storied lives and place ourselves more fully into the context of the time and place we live in.

If dreams and images are primary, the relationship between language, sense and image then is both vital and flexible. If we see the world through the lens of language without awareness of the lens that filters our vision, our perception will be limited to our ability to define in words the world around us. For some, and they will argue, that is all there is; cold, objective reality, everything black and white, either true or false, dead or alive, good or evil. Quantity then takes precedence over quality, measure over meaning. The talk of soul or dreams, angels, messengers, gods or archetypes is then a throw back to human superstition and ignorance.

The trouble with that perspective lies in its claims of superiority; as if to no longer be susceptible or influenced by any force other than one’s strength of will, education, and societal norms will rid us all of the ills of human existence. So, if we live in the hard facts of “reality,” we have somehow reached the pinnacle of human achievement where ignorance, disease and war will be driven out and reason will usher in peace and perhaps someday, ever-lasting life, even if only through the creation of robotic machinery that we deem to be just like us, or the perfected us, reflecting back an unobtainable quality of perfection and innocence forever out of our reach.

“Mythical metaphors are perspectives toward events which shift the experience of events. They are likenesses to happenings, making them intelligible, but they do not themselves happen… We are those stories, and we illustrate them with our lives (Re-visioning Psychology, pp. 101-2).” James Hillman

An excellent essay on Hillman’s ideas here: http://aras.org/sites/default/files/docs/00051Wojtkowski.pdf