Love and Betrayal

For we must be clear that to live or love only where one can trust, where there is security and containment, where one cannot be hurt or let down, where what is pledged in words is forever binding, means really to be out of harm’s way and so to be out of real life. And it does not matter what is this vessel of trust–analysis, marriage, church or law, any human relationship. Yes, I would even say relationship with the divine. Even here, primal trust would not seem to be what God wants. Look at Eden, look at Job, at Moses denied entrance to the Holy land, look at the newest destruction of his “chosen people” whose complete only trust was in him.

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And ultimately, look at Christ, the son of the father, God, abandoned to his fate to die on the cross. Imagine the moment when Christ realizes his fate! Regardless of the theological implications, or our personal beliefs, betrayal, I am coming to understand, belongs to all of us, and in a most peculiar and ironic way. Betrayal, anyway, is given within the Christian foundations of the West, and can also be found in the mythologies of other cultures. It’s necessary, a given, in a world where life is defined by impermanence; death.

It would seem that the message of love, the Eros mission of Jesus, carries its final force only through the betrayal and crucifixion. For at the moment when God lets him down, Jesus becomes truly human, suffering a human tragedy, with his pierced and wounded side from which flows the water and blood, the released fountain of life, feeling, and emotion.

Much like death, without the possibility of betrayal, trust would not be necessary, nor possible. We trust because of the possibility of betrayal. Betrayal stings like nothing else, as it shakes our trust and threatens the very existence of love, if not our hearts and very lives. For in love especially, a betrayal strikes at the core of the most soft and fleshy parts of ourselves; the heart, the most necessary organ of life of both the body and soul.

If we’re fortunate enough, the pain of betrayal will lead us back home, to ourselves, and in licking our wounds we may come to find that at root, betrayal is two-fold. Along with the initial wounding from a source other than ourselves, we may discover that the vulnerability to betrayal stings so much because it is something shared across the boundaries of self and other. If I look long and deeply enough, I find that betrayal exists in me as much as it does in you. My fear of betrayal, leads me into an experience of betrayal, both mine and yours, rendering us both fallible, innocent and willing, if not guilty.

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The alienation from one’s self after betrayal is largely protective. One doesn’t want to be hurt again, and since this hurt came about through revealing just what one is, one begins not to live from that place again…

…For it was just through this trust in these fundamentals of one’s own nature that one was betrayed. So we refuse to be what we are, begin to cheat ourselves with excuses and escapes, and self betrayal becomes nothing other than Jung’s definition of neurosis uneigentlich leiden, inauthentic suffering. One no longer lives one’s own form of suffering, but through mauvaise foi, through lack of courage to be, one betrays oneself.

What’s love got to do with it, you might ask. Love is the willingness to accept life on life’s terms, including all of the vulnerability possible from the moment of birth unto death. Love is at its fullest expression just when it is most vulnerable, potentially lost through a million different ways. Perhaps it is not even the love that is lost to us, but that we are lost to love. The fear of its loss keeps love away and that in itself is the deepest self-betrayal we might know.

This is ultimately, I suppose, a religious problem, and we are rather like Judas or Peter in letting down the essential thing, the essential important demand to take on and carry one’s own suffering and be what one is no matter how it hurts.

Perhaps after an experience of betrayal has been absorbed into the bones of our flesh, the ways in which we trust lose some of the softness and idealizations. One can trust, but with the understanding that we come to it freely and without the expectation of infallibility. The risks of betrayal going wrong to the point of losing heart and soul, giving up on humanity and life itself, belong to trust as a way to contain it. The containment itself sets limits on our expectations, and also might heighten our sensitivities to a fuller spectrum of our humanity.

One cannot re-establish primal trust once one has left Eden. One now knows that promises hold only to a certain point. Life takes care of vows, fulfilling them or breaking them. And new relationships after the experience of betrayal must start from an altogether different place.

Hillman goes on to refer to love’s opposite not as hatred, but power:

Certainly a part of love is responsibility; so too is concern, involvement, identification – but perhaps a surer way of telling whether one is closer to the brute or the sage is by looking for love’s opposite: power. If betrayal is perpetuated mainly for personal advantage (to get out of a tight spot, to hurt or use, to save one’s skin, to gain pleasure, too still a desire or slake a need, to take care of Number One), then one can be sure that love had less the upper hand than did the brute, power.

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It is perhaps only through the insights of an experience of betrayal that we become more able to discern the dynamics of relationship, not only between people or situations, but within one’s self. Ultimately, betrayal needs to find a way to forgive, again, both self and other. Our humanity, and the ability to love freely, accepting the limits of the conditions that we find ourselves in, depend upon it.

Just as trust had within it the seed of betrayal, so betrayal has within it the seed of forgiveness. This would be the answer to the last of our original questions: “What place has betrayal in psychological life at all”? Neither trust nor forgiveness could be fully realized without betrayal. Betrayal is the dark side of both, giving them both meaning, making them both possible. Perhaps this tells us something about why betrayal is such a strong theme in our religions. It is perhaps the human gate to such higher religious experiences as forgiveness and reconciliation with this silent labyrinth, the creation.

It’s both difficult and astounding to fully grasp and accept that the highest powers of creation, be they God, or the forces of nature would knowingly contain such brute forces. It does sometimes feel like an affront to our desire for peace, love and harmony. Our hunger for a world in which evil and pain are eradicated misses the point of who we are in this dimension; temporary, impermanent, fallible beings dreaming, if not somehow sensing, a connection to some other world. At times, I have wondered why we so faithfully carry these images of purity, heaven, perfection, along with so much idealism, that in life, besides the obvious motive of pleasure, we seem only to experience for brief moments of time.

All quotes, James Hillman, Loose Ends, Betrayal

Capricorn New Moon, Solar eclipse

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Freedom includes the will to suffer this dark moon freely. No resistance. Today, I need to know that, and what, I suffer. I am afraid of that -knowing me-. I am afraid. To deny, ignore, or refuse what is contained therein, would perhaps be the ultimate rejection:

To eclipse is to occult, hiding through darkening. It expresses the deep vulnerability that darkness reveals, and yet is it not an opening of the womb of the new seed?

It is in and through the suffering that the layers are known, that feeling finds life, ripening through the depths of unknowing, wanting new being. If it flows, it goes, moving into this truly human proposition that there is always this need of the dark; fallow, alone, apart, the fear.

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Oh surely we are one in the god scheme, the holy body, where love and light ask, can there be a god that doesn’t see an other? One, necessarily, is and is not one. You’ve punched that ticket still in your pocket.

Don’t waste another moment then in refusal of what befalls one. Necessary, like everything else, it is all that is. Whatever we choose, or chooses us, the deep surrender is not free, but beyond any freedom where the interpreter grants the dark moon’s solace of silence. Who knows? Keep asking…

Karma is will or not

fate or not dear

god of limits

binding my doing

become my undoing.

The Suffering of Time

Love and Desire

Perhaps love is only possible in places where it’s understood as a grace or gift, and by necessity, to come and go of its own accord. Love then, is truly beyond any grasping, holding or securing on our part. We can only submit to its power, never fully possessing neither her pains nor delights so graciously bestowed upon us. These limits, Saturn’s way, might seem imposing, thwarting our dreams as beyond what’s possible. But Saturn*, Kronos, is the ancient reminder that there are limits to this Earthly marriage of spirit and matter embodied within the delights of the sense world.

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Saturn blowing smoke into the picture

For us mortals, is not desire then, a being in want, seemingly perpetual? And perhaps, isn’t being-in-want a hunger for change, change imposed by Kronos’ time, satiated, content or complete, all by necessity temporary? How can being in time ever reach any such steady state? Surely the constancy of desire binds us to time, to birth and mortality. Perhaps though, time’s bounty and providence provide that which we might abide more faithfully to, through the images that move us into a deepening appreciation of meaning and purpose. Every possibility and nuance of God lives through us. Our individual fate then is our portion, our share of the Whole, unique and separate as we must be. An incomprehensible gift it is just to be alive (Jupiter).

Love’s boundless mystery, beyond our share (again Jupiter), seems both pregnant with possibility, but also suggests the possibility of refusal to unveil the bride. Impersonal, it holds and carries all of the deepest hopes, dreams and reflections beyond what any one of us could know. Without human embodiment though, do they stay forever untarnished without the mess of time’s daily fare of coming and going?

Meaning and Purpose

Beyond the base needs of food, water, shelter, and after such has been granted, what? What does desire want in its ceaseless weaving of us through the finite vulnerability of living and dying? Or, when not satiated, where else can desire take us?

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Heaven and Earth

Perhaps it is this: to submit to time what belongs in time, to learn to dance with its capricious hold on us, step to the changing, ceaseless rhythms, as they come and go. They move us, shape us. Must we lessen too, the idea of one’s self as the sole creator of the dance and of our very being to accept the invitation? Can we not only see, hear and taste, but be present to the eternal nature of a love so great it must create; must make manifest, even imperfectly an expression of spirit through matter (or spirited matter)?

Not only to speculate, but what is it to experience the eternal nature that we sense, even if only glimpsed in tiny bits and pieces? Desire then, perhaps seeks out these missing pieces as if to make or see whole, perhaps to heal, or to see and feel the wholeness we come from and really belong to. Is that what we see within the mirrors of each other, and especially through the beloved?

Can it be enough to recognize that we are indeed pieces of the whole? For how else can nuance, specificity and the peculiarly odd nature of separation be expressed without time, the temporary, which places such a heavy burden of coming and going upon us. It weighs us down into a life that must continually give way to change and someday, death.

Only time can tell, true, and perhaps, only we humans can know desire in this way; we the tiny scintilla, endlessly reaching out to light a fire, when, or if, we fail to experience its already sustenance through the eternal breath tethering us to life. Breath, the seeming disembodied spirit, cannot not be. That we are possible, and we obviously are, proclaims through us creation as that which is, as it is, within the bounds of eternal possibility. For how can such an apparently inherent possibility come into being?

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Love is free then, yes, but what does that even mean? Love, in some ways, always fails within the limits of time, as it can never completely give us that wholeness of self, or completeness that desire eternally seeks. Then, might we say that love is free through acceptance of the limits we mere mortals are subject to? …and to love and be loved seeks a willingness to submit to the human condition that might disappoint when we ask for more than our share? …and within the perpetual mystery not only of the other, but of one’s self?

This mortal life, within the bounds of such a perfect place that permits such a thing as human being, allows not only a glimpse, but a tiny unique expression of the enormity of God. In this sense, God is beyond necessity, but the love that creates is necessarily fully free to allow for any and all possibilities, including love’s desire and hope, time’s suffering and all that comes and goes through you and I.

*In Hellenistic astrology, Saturn is said to be the greater malefic, and to the ancients, was the end of the heavens, while Jupiter, the greater benefic, was Saturn’s son, one of the few that escaped death by the hand of the father.

 

 

Divination

Divination

The idea of divination has become somewhat maligned in present times, primarily from two opposing currents: a science that places faith entirely in its own material rationalism, and a theology which insists that only God is purely divine, and perhaps worries that seeking knowledge of the future, therefore, opens oneself up to potential evil. While the image of God can harden into literal notions of a super power, a trusted ally, the image remains subject to what fear and desire captures under duress. Rather than a wall, God might also be the veil; the thinning edge transversing dimensions.
Divination than is a practice in which the questions we carry with us come under scrutiny and are refined by experience and the call to love and be loved.

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Divination also suffers a malnourished understanding from secular science which does not give any credence to influences and experiences that cannot be anchored to a system of measured repetition. Divination though, as other practices, is an immeasurable qualitative experience much like love and desire. In a world destroying itself through the glut of unending, destructive, over-consumption, why would we not seek out those practices that expand our capacity for love, satisfaction and the sense of both who, I and Thou are?

“Certainty is absence of infinity, infinity is presence of uncertainty.”
Nanamoli Thera

To limit the idea of divination to that of forecasting the future though, is to miss the idea that it is also a way of seeing and participating in the presence, simultaneously, of both the mundane and the eternal. And if the eternal is that which is all inclusive, then it potentially opens us to that which we don’t know. If God knows, or is all, then every time we learn something new, we are already divining. Where does one draw the line as to what is dangerous, subjective or off limits? …and how might it matter? Through the study of astrology, I am learning to question what it is that divination can provide for us moderns, and learning what it once did in the not so distant past.

Love starts in the personal and means me; then it means my soul and my whole being. Then it moves me, my soul and my being into archetypal being, into a sense of interiority: an interior process contained within me, and myself contained within the interiority of a chaotic universe transformed by love into a cosmos.

James Hillman, The Myth of Analysis

To see into eternity then, is to see into the cosmic order, to glimpse the qualities of God, or the gods, and participate in the realm of coming and going. Love is that which creates from infinity, binding the seeming chaos into an expression of life-giving order. We are already seeing, from all that touches and moves us, an archetypal expression of divinity that calls the little self to something beyond. And without losing that smallness, we may enlarge our perspective through the multi-faceted seeing of multiple dimensions.

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The Sacred Arts of Divination

The arts of divination have been revered and practiced by every culture in every time. These practices might indeed seem to some as an attempt to be God, to steal the gods’ powers, and obviously humans have very much been inclined to use and abuse power for a seeming gain, whether personally or collectively, but divination is not in and of itself the danger. That we have trouble discerning the proper and improper use of power doesn’t go away by refusing the attraction to power, but by discerning the consequences and trade-offs of our uses of it.

The aesthetic sense of divining may provide one with skills for course correction by seeing into the possibilities of not only what the future holds, but more importantly, to see more clearly into the present; to see oneself, others and the nature of the world as it is. Not for truth, but for love’s sake. Ultimately, it is the ever-expansive sense of the present that opens one to experience universal truths and the divine – an experience of which gives substance and weight to all that the soul truly desires: love, compassion and acceptance.

When the aesthetic sense is not disregarded as meaningless, care for the past, present and future come to us more readily through awareness of love and beauty.

To live one’s life practicing an awareness of the patterns that we live by, and to seek to align oneself to an ordering of life which values beauty, love, sustainability, and a fuller participation as one among many, accepting the limits of the conditions of life; its joys and sorrows, gains and losses, is itself a divinatory practice.

Personally speaking

Perhaps the natal chart of astrology can display the players and the patterns in my life experience, that to some extent, I remain bound to and bound by. But the continuity of the patterns also serve as windows into eternity. They show me the universal nature of human experience and by seeing them more clearly, I can, on a good day anyway, choose my response. My response may or may not change any outcome, but it can show me that my response matters and that all human exchanges are really calls to share in love’s beauty.

These openings further the possibility of seeing the sacred in all life, and in seeing the the sacred throughout all worlds, divine and sacred, and ultimately as one.

Q&A: Natal Promise and Planetary Transits

ChickenDivination

Knowledge of the Future

What any divinatory practice brings to the fore, are the questions we have, embedded within a call from the unknown, and how it matters to us. But rather than directly providing the knowledge that we believe we need to know – what will happen tomorrow; will I get the job I applied for; will my children be happy, etc. – beginning the process of asking such questions, provides for each of us, images of the desires that capture our attention, the relationships we experience, and how we tell the story of what is happening to us, and the world around us.

What lies at the other end of our quest to know, is perhaps a greater awareness of the nature of our desires through the images we carry of purpose, hope and expectations. This leads to the consideration of just how much influence we do have over the nature of ourselves, other people and situations that we find ourselves in.

Until these fundamental questions about the nature of ourselves, and of the world are allowed to enter into the narrative of our own telling, it seems unlikely that any idea of the divine, or aesthetic of eternal time will even be desirable to us, let alone offer an understanding of what it is we need to make our way through the mystery of love’s purpose.

Desire

At the bottom of every question we ask, friendship we find, house we buy, vacation we take, language we learn, book we read, song we sing, is our perpetual state of want and need. Desire sustains us and belongs to time. We eat, digest, excrete, and we endlessly repeat the cycle. But beyond the desires that sustain us physically, lies a seemingly endless pool of possibilities, just as the starry night seems without bounds or limits. Our relationship to desire feeds, shapes and forms both our character and our destiny on both small and large scales.

Intelligible vs. Omniscience

It is much easier to reject all practices of divination by looking for a failure of omniscience. For then we are off the hook and can stay in our comfort zone. For a true practice, whether of divination, art, writing, music, scientific research or otherwise, requires the courage to move beyond one’s comfort zone and into the unknown. Trust and faith are then necessary and can be found in the everyday world through those who grace our journey, and from the invisible realms of the dream and stream of images that we attend to.

Although it might be true that many who seek out an astrology natal chart or Tarot card reading might be eager to hear “what is going to happen to them,” what might soon become apparent to any seeker is this tug of war between fate and free will. The very act of initiating and submitting to a reading admits one’s fate into the room, as it also invites the idea of “participating via co-operating” with fate by invoking images that “know ahead of time,” or “know at a distance.”

Karma, Fate, and Free Will in Astrology Dr Glenn PERRY

Determinism and Freewill in Astrology Benjamin N DYKES

Objective Versus Subjective Reality in Astrology – Chris Brennan and Benjamin Dykes

Love and Beauty

…for a poet is a light and winged thing, and holy, and never able to compose until he has become inspired, and is beside himself, and reason is no longer in him. Plato

Let’s start at the end. What gives us joy, reason, meaning, and a feeling of being alive, connected, loved and loving? Is it not, as Plato, the poets, the mystics and many other ordinary persons have shown from time immemorial, a deep and abiding personal experience with love and beauty?

In his most recent book, Secret Body, Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions, Jeffrey Kripal takes us on a deeply satisfying exploration of the relationship between modern currents of discontent, political division and concern for the future humanity, culture and the planet itself, compared to the state of our spirituality, or lack thereof, and specifically the loss of a deeper, more personal experience of the divine.

Consciousness is the fundamental ground of all that we know, or ever will know. It is the ground of all of the sciences, all of the arts, all of the social sciences, all of the humanities, indeed all human knowledge and experience. Moreover, as far as we can tell at the moment, this presence is entirely sui generis. It is its own thing. We know of nothing else like it in the universe, and anything we would know later we would only know in, through, and because of this same consciousness.

There is then, by way of intimate and direct apprehension, no knowing outside of the experience of one’s conscious mind and body. Whether a metaphor or not, we are in, or within, an unseen parameter of the limits and expansions of conscious experience.

Embedded within the confines of our experience is a sense of dualism, strangely apparent, whether from the experience of being a separate body immersed in so many naturally occurring instances of “two,” or from the habits of mind in which language seems only able to abstract and translate immediate perception and sensation into discrete sequences, ideas and parts. Time and space, as primary conditions of embodied life, will always have their way with us. The sense of duality at root of embodied existence, may however provide more than what meets the eye, but also what meets the heart.

Like some immeasurable kabbalistic structure, all of reality is really made of letters, words, thoughts, in short, of a writing mind, but we only catch glimmers of this Logos, this Meaning of all meaning. As a result, we are not the writers but the written. “We are not the artists but the drawings.” And so we submit to the inherited scripts of our ancestors — so many fake worlds, unreal identities, and simulacra. (Philip K.) Dick gave all of these constructions and discourses a name: the Black Iron Prison.

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Perhaps as humans first began to use language, unburdened from the library of one’s cultural historical past, language may have been, more or less, an expression of immediate experience. The accumulation of “so many fake worlds, unreal identities and simulacra” had yet to carry with it a thread of the past, as it so clearly does today, so much so, that we’ve incorporated within our identity, histories, arbitrary and incomplete as they might be, conditioned and contextualized by how we hear and understand them today. While threads can be useful for carrying forward patterns and trends, knitting together coherency, an ongoing heroic, but futile, struggle of life against death, to our detriment, has dominated both land and mind in every culture and era. The arrow must fly, but care should be taken to know what we’re aiming at. All the random aiming of arrows over the vast expanse of the universe will ultimately fail to bring us closer to the divine, in which a fuller experience of love and beauty awaits, if we continue to shoot in the dark.

Non-human animals also compete in a struggle for life, but without the aid of technology, the damage to themselves and others remains quite limited. Although seemingly less than ever at the mercy of the elements and the powers of nature, such as they are, we moderns are out of shape and psycho-spiritually out of shape for any real struggle. Our hubris for fixing what we have in fact broken, seems to know no bounds.

We really think we are our masks and language games. We privilege our religious egos over our humanity, our societies over our species, our cultures over consciousness as such. We have it exactly backward. This book is about reversing that reversal. There is no more urgent political project than this.

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What then, can be said to the ways in which we go “about reversing that reversal?” Although we could go on forever describing our current dilemma in terms of the inherent limitations imposed from within and without, is there perhaps something available to us, from time immemorial, continually overlooked by the distractions of the day-to-day struggle, immersing us not only into our storied lives, but keeping us from stepping out into what may only present itself as impossibly remote possibilities of our future selves? And can language, story and imagination, that which immerses us, according to the prevailing myths of the day, in the “bad play” we currently find ourselves in, be the very vehicle that moves us into those future selves we currently envision and hunger for?

The one as two

Although ideas of wholeness may attract us as ways to heal division, and integrate the broken pieces of ourselves, others, and the world divided, we might question whether or not a more useful means of perceiving, which reflects more closely the physiology of the body, could prove to be useful. Surely, wholeness is a seductive word which points to a truer reality in which both love and beauty flourish, but is there any hope that mere mortals can find an access point in which we can truly commune with the divine?

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The experience of ourselves as not one, not whole, but rather as having two modes of perceiving, or what we simply refer to as an ability to both perceive through the senses while reflecting on that which is perceived, is somewhat obvious to most of us. This double vision can be seen structurally throughout the physical senses, from the two distinct sides of the brain, both with unique modes of perception, to the stereo-optics of our vision we are naturally equipped with. The mind and imagination too, see two-fold; inside/outside, conscious/unconscious, self/other, dead/alive, male/female, true/false, along with a myriad of other polarities that easily get our attention. Perhaps though, instead of being compelled to choose sides, opposites might present an opportunity to see as two, in stereo, forming a syzygy rather than a conflict.

The “one as two” dynamic appears throughout the ages in a variety of personified forms, including, the spiritual twin, guardian angel, Daimon, Genius or doppelgänger. These others may serve as necessary agents whose purpose is to engage us in dialogue with an autonomous figure in dreams or reverie. These are not only convenient fictions, but for some, living presences, visible or otherwise, that we engage with as partners in life’s journey. They offer us the opportunity to relieve the ego of its claim to that of sole purveyor of conscious experience by presenting an invisible otherness through reflective moments, offering to us messages that grace our steady movement throughout the day and night, and opening us up to a fluidity in our interpretation of reality along with an opportunity to deliteralize any stringent claims we’re tempted to settle upon, from the perceptions we are immersed in and influenced by. This would be akin to James Hillman’s perspective in which we share a “being in soul.” The soul for Hillman is necessarily a perspective, rather than a thing. Soul in this sense acts as a mediator, a carrier of the universals, downward, to the root of each personal embodied life.

We desperately need a new theory of the imagination (or a revived old one), one that can re-vision the imagination not as simply a spinner of fancy and distracting daydream but also, at least in rare moments, as an ecstatic mediator, expressive artist, and translator of the really real.

Ecstatic mediator? Perhaps the only way to entertain the possibility of such an idea requires that one incorporate a practice that acts as a portal to the impossible; for facilitating the experience of something present that is more than just “me.” The recognition that one indeed has habits of perception which can be seen through and reworked towards something more satisfying, can serve as an initiator into seeing habit itself as that which constrains thinking, exposing us to the susceptibility of falling into belief as an end point, a conclusion, which ultimately stifles the senses and constricts access to the universals. This codification easily becomes a death of soul, in which we no longer engage the living waters of life, but settle for drinking from the swamp.

Jeffrey Kripal sees the need to revitalize the quality and value of our spiritual experiences, if we ever hope to revitalize the human experience and end the current death spiral. Perhaps too, what we’ve come to call “paranormal” may just be a term that has come into use alongside an increasingly modern prejudice in which our fear of the esoteric, its relationship to the erotic, and invisible realities has gone underground.

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J.. Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions (Kindle Locations 4076-4078). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

Secret Agent Man

 

Possession

The conceptual framing of one’s experience into spatial designations of ‘inner and outer,’ ‘self and other,’ ‘me and not me,’ ‘real and imaginary,’ shape, categorize, which through the force of habit and time coagulates into an assumed identity referred to as ‘me.’ Inversely, out of all that remains, the discarded elements of raw experience become what is not me; the dispossessed, unseen, invisible, incomprehensible “other.” Possession is the coagulator of the psyche’s primary boundaries that form an identity.

 

The_Wounded_Angel_-_Hugo_Simberg
Hugo Simberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Influence

Extending outward from one’s identity, the habit of ownership eventually include one’s experience, as it is put to memory, and the reflections absorbed into the private realms of awareness. As we come into contact with others who inhabit public or shared places a consensus, or shared reality then affirms and negates their accuracy and value. Our subjective states categorize the world, both private and public, into, among other things, truths and falsehoods predicated upon our buy-in to the consensus experienced within a cultural context, invisibly absorbed, contained and supported. One’s internal, private divisions tend to reflect and reciprocate public, external divisions. Private and public are then, two aspects of a dynamic pole defining both our individuality and the culture that often reflects the loudest and most resonant ideas and beliefs – devaluing or rejecting what lies on the perimeter and beyond; invisible, discarded, unacceptable or unbelievable according to the consensus as one experiences, absorbs and understands it.

Ideas about ourselves and others, rather than remaining fluid, tend to congeal into static objects by the force and habit of our mental states, thereby cementing for each of us a personal ‘self’ that negotiates definitions of “others.” Beyond, a privation or abstraction of a larger boundless reality remains hidden from awareness and sometimes denied any existence at all to the degree that consensus belief, opinions and buy-in influence the permission given for consideration and valuation of the private states we all experience.

The inability to incorporate and validate the existence of private experience constitutes a loss of dimension and depth, and risks reducing what is by nature fluid into static events and figures of ‘me’ and ‘you.’ What I am then becomes defined by what I censor and can articulate from experience – through the skills, body image, gender and generation that contextualize my experience. What I am not remains dispossessed, unknown and can only be seen by what is rejected – including how others are perceived to be, or to have, that are not mine. The eyes become I’s, the nose no longer knows, and the ear cannot hear.

Consciousness then, abstracts experience into concepts of what is real and imaginary, mine or not mine, friend or foe, true or false. Because our modern myth deems it culturally unacceptable not to accept, believe or buy into the existence of a one true objective reality, imagination is rarely understood as that primary aspect of each person’s experience which apprehends; filtering according to the habits of one’s culture, time and place, but rather is believed to be a special instance of ‘creativity:’ a gift that we either have or have not.

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Agency

The more one’s agency looks to the consensus for validation rather than to one’s experience, which may not be consensual but rather deeply private and subjectively interior, the less agency one might avail towards the more interior realms of experience. Without a sense of one’s own agency, and its direct access to a reality less censored by either one’s own habits of filtering, or influence from the consensus, we in turn risk denying the existence of agency to other beings. Agency here is understood as the source and ability to apprehend and that which enables us to experience at all – to reflect, evaluate, reveal, hide and express. The less we can distinguish between our private direct experience and consensual filtering, the less agency available to us.

It’s no wonder that both the invisibles; God, or the gods, or even the visible living have become dead to us. Rather than experiencing any direct communion with the invisibles, it’s replaced with belief in ideas or opinions shared among visible beings and approved through a consensus of public agreements, however we come to define them.

Without acknowledging direct, private experience we submit our agency; our ability for true communion, to the human level of the so-called experts of our time, place and public opinion. As we seek for knowledge and power outside the agency of direct experience, the experts proliferate as god-like voices that provide a shared containment for an agreed upon objective reality that serves to validate our deprived and seemingly hopelessly subjective self.

 

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The less we avail ourselves to direct experiences of private states in which we encounter all that visibly or invisibly influences us, and in turn give full agency and permission to have these direct encounters, the more we fall prey to influence as it appears to us in any form; invisible, human, or consensus opinion. The power of unseen influence is then replaced by consensual sources within the visible, human world – making heroes, villains, saviors and saints out of those affirmed and believed to literally have power. Through consensual experience we reject any notion that power might come from unseen, invisible sources. We then look to humanity for power, placing our devotions at the feet of individual public figures, crowned as leaders, professionals or experts, rather than understanding the human condition through an ongoing personal practice of expanding one’s apprehension and senses born of subjective experience. The idealism, perfection, purity once belonging to the gods, is now a choir of fallen angels echoing god-like voices in the human world, placing an impossible burden and expectation on people just like us; limited, frail and faulty.

 

Beware of pretty faces that you find
A pretty face can hide an evil mind
Oh, be careful what you say
Or you’ll give yourself away
Odds are you won’t live to see tomorrow

Johnny Rivers

Alchemy Class Notes – Session Eleven

“The Suffering of Salt, Toward a Substantial Psychology,” is the title of chapter three of James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, and the starting point for the first class of year two of the Jung Platform’s online course. Hosts Patricia Berry and Robert Bosnak focus the discussion on the notions of salt, commonality and substance.

I am beginning to see an increased importance in the ideas presented in this chapter to much of Hillman’s work, as I understand it anyway. The alchemical marriage itself may be at the heart of Hillman’s proclivity to substantiate ideas, and also to see interiority within substance, even granting to substance a subjectivity. Beyond human subjectivity, he asks us to look within each substance for inherent qualitative aspects. The stones will cry out!

Might there be a subjective truth that invites us to look to the interiority of otherness for its own subjective qualities? That seeking will tell us something about our interiority, but with practice expand the qualitative distinctions we glean from others, enlivening us, and the world as ensouled; an Anima Mundi.

The alchemical work of psychology is precisely then the work of coming to know qualities; to learn of their essence as we learn of ours. Understood this way, we see much of the work as a practice of discernment; separating and specifying the nature of psychic substance, such as ideas and sensation, giving weight to them as we more readily do with physical substance. Here we will find the commonality of experience, as is the alchemical “sal” and salt in nature. At the same time, we educate our perception, looking more directly at the nature of both our, and the world’s suffering.

“Not only is the macrocosmic world personified and alive with subjective qualities that we nowadays allow only to human beings, but the microcosm of the human being, because it is a microcosm of nature, is also a mineral, physical object, consisting of substances such as salt.”

Our modern sensibilities may resist the notion that all substances and beings have a discernible nature accessible to others. Aren’t we locked up inside our skin, limited to knowing only through our own subjectivity? A deeper study of anything, or anyone, will admit that the limitations on what we can know, do not entirely keep us ignorant of the subjectivity of others. We better know that fire can burn, people can harm us, and as well, that we need warmth and love to live. We are not alone. Ours is a between state, one that we continually negotiate. The desire to settle into, or concretize any pattern as permanent, is death or at least ignorance of the inherent motion of all things.

“…we shall be activating the image of salt (1) as a psychological substance, which appears in alchemy as the word sal; (2) as an operation, which yields a residue; (3) as any of many physical substances generically called “salts”; and (4) as a property of other substances.”

In alchemy, psychic quality belongs as part of physical substance:

“The word sal in alchemical texts, especially since Paracelsus, often indicates the stable basis of life, its earth, ground, body. However, the term also more particularly refers to alums, alkalis, crystallizations, bases, ashes, sal ammoniac, potash, as well as to the sense qualities equivalent to these materials: bitterness, astringency, pungency, mordancy, desiccation, and crustiness, dry stings and smarts, sharpness and pointedness.” Emphasis added.

So why the “suffering of salt?”

Robbie and Pat talked a lot about salt as both common and necessary. We suffer the salt through the commonality of our human experience. To find our own essence, we must first see our commonality, how impersonal our fate and suffering may be. Then, instead of the focus of suffering aimed at what was done to me, we turn to the qualitative experience of our suffering. Failing to see the commonality of what we suffer, seeing only what was done to me, we are more apt to crystallize experience into encrusted memories whose force of repetition itself is a rewounding that remains open until we see into, or interiorize the nature of the wound rather than the wounder.

To be clear, it’s not so much how suffering occurs, but how we experience it.

Zubdat-al Tawarikh in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul

Although not discussed, it occurred to me during the class that Hillman begins the book with the suffering of salt because the practice of alchemical psychology, whether in the context of therapy, or within an individual’s life, is indeed a work of deepening experience through the stages of what the material presents to us, transforming not only our relationship to physical substance, but also giving substance to our ideas and coming to see how they work on us. Hillman suggests that we all embody both the ideas and the substances; that they make us. We encapsulate in miniature the nature of the cosmos, physically, and therefore, psychically. That is also the basis for astrological correspondence. We are each of us, a microcosm, salt of the earth.

“Not only is the macrocosmic world personified and alive with subjective qualities that we nowadays allow only to human beings, but the microcosm of the human being, because it is a microcosm of nature, is also a mineral, physical object, consisting of substances such as salt.”

Our work then is to know our common suffering, working the salt as a salve. Through deeper discernment of the nature of ourselves, our wounding, our commonality helps us to belong, embracing it as what unites us. Embracing our wounds and working the salt moves us out of crystallizing, or feeling stuck, towards curiosity, where love, compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and others, including the non-living, are granted through our recognition of their own substantial nature, apart from, but always in relation to us. Awareness of the suffering of our commonality, and the commonality of our suffering, frees us to express a life more fully lived.

“The microcosm/macrocosm model requires a micro/macro-awareness. It asks that we feel into the world of matter with sensitivity for qualitative differences. It asks that we find in our objective experiences analogies with and metaphors of physical processes and substances. The micro/macro model works in two directions. While endowing the world with soul, it also indicates that human nature goes through natural processes of an objectively mineral and metallic sort. Our inner life is part of the natural world order, and this perspective saves us from taking ourselves so personally and identifying what goes on in the soul with the subjective ego.”

Previous Class Notes here, or here.

All quotes: Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.