There’s a line from an old set of books owned by my father and his father before him that goes like this, “And then did we, the seven, start from our seats in horror, and stand trembling, and shuddering, and aghast, for the tones in the voice of the shadow were not the tones of any one being, but of a multitude of beings, and, varying in their cadences from syllable to syllable fell duskly upon our ears in the well-remembered and familiar accents of many thousand departed friends.” It is from Shadow.– A Parable by Edgar Allen Poe.
I was struck by the image of the shadows of many “departed friends”. As I say goodbye to some contemporary friends I’m also reminded of the many who have passed before, family and comrades– people who contributed to and enriched my life in many significant ways. There’s hardly a day that goes by without a recollection of at least one of them being pulled from the Library of Memories.
This could also be read as a memorial for the over 316, 000 who have died from the Covid 19 virus pandemic in the United States and the over 1.7 million who have died worldwide and the shadows that each cast upon those who are still living.
What makes them shadows for me is that even though I’m grateful for the remembrances of those I’ve loved and of those who I do not know I don’t want to look too closely at the feelings of loss, best to give a rueful smile at their thought and return the book to its place than to turn the pages toward the grief that still lurks deep within. Best not to look at death too closely because in its blackness I can see myself reflected.
But as with all dark shadows they do not rest peacefully and conspire to darken my present, our present that robs us of hope for the future. The prospect of Death seems to steal one’s energy like one of the ‘Dementors” in the Harry Potter series. But it also, or at least it used to, give at least me impetus to live life as fully as possible while I could. That seemed much easier when I was young and the future seemed infinitely far away. But as close friends begin to leave and the daily climb of statistical graphs make so painfully obvious what was kept at a cosmic arms length is now lurking beyond the next corner.
This feeling is not new to me for I felt it before every morning as I shuffled through the dark to pick up my weapon and a few ammo boxes and climbed aboard the helicopter I was assigned to for that day. There was a heavy air of resignation that weighed on me then that I find returning to me now. But then the point for my life had narrowed to surviving the day so that I could reclaim a future. I was younger then, 22, with a prospect for an infinite future if I could survive the present but now with a very much more restricted future I find that I’m having trouble with all those pesky hidden shadows and that any point to it all is beginning to fade.
Clearly these shadows need to be invited to the party and a new dialog needs to happen. Today I begin to dust off the old tomes stuffed into the lower shelves of the library.
“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”
–William Butler Yeats
“On my meditation walks I am often moved by the life going on about me– boys with hockey sticks battling in the streets at dusk, flocks of screeching Crows nesting in trees, the smile of the crescent moon with the brightly seductive Venus off her bow. And on a warm night there’s crickets and barking dogs, but on a cold and crisp one there’s nothing but silence and the sound of my own footsteps. Sometimes a breeze whips through the branches and rustles the leaves and I hear the raucous laughter of a dinner party just seen through the picture window of the house across the street.
And the world seems right.
But on other nights my mind is disturbed with its thoughts that whirl like a demented vortex and I hear nothing but my own voice. It’s a boring voice droning on and on about inane this’s and that’s and burying the peace of the night in rubble.
And nothing in the world seems right.
I long for the magic I’ve so often felt on so many earlier sojourns through the dark, but on this night it’s not to be. This is when I cry out to the dark denizens of the otherworld, “Come oh magic creatures of the imaginal and entertain me. Bring to me your mystery, your awe, your wonder, and your hidden treasure– make it better than it is.”
That night’s dreams brought me headstones and skulls, darkness and gray empty fields– a reflection of the mood carried back from the earlier journey. And then I ran across the poem by Yeats and I thought, ‘It’s not the fairies of the land he is calling to, but those of the inner soul who are entreated to crawl out from the rubbish and dance with me once again’. And I remember yet again that it is I, it is I who can summon the magic from within.
Beginning in January of 2017 I began a series of stories and articles about real magic. This article is a continuation of that series all of which are leading up to the publication of the book “Psyche’s Dream: A Dragon’s Tale”.
Webster’s Dictionary defines magic in this way:
1a: the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces
1b: magic rites or incantations
2a: an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source
3: the art of producing illusions by sleight of hand
In all three definitions we’re talking about manipulation. Real magic on the other hand isn’t about manipulation. It’s about getting yourself out of the way to allow the magic that is there to manifest. Though that’s also a form of manipulation, but only of the self.
Because what you see is only a projection of your inner thoughts, anxieties, emotions, memories, and beliefs the real world isn’t available to you. But when you get yourself out of the way your vision of the world shifts. Every religion teaches this, every enlightened teacher has embraced it.
Magic can only happen in the real world, not in “your” creation, but in “the” creation. Spell casting is about trying to change what is. Stop casting spells on the creation and it will flow for you much better. But first you need to be open to “what is” and the first step in that is to acknowledge it isn’t what you think it is.
“If one has done ones best to steer the chariot, and one then notices that a greater other is actually steering it, then magical operation takes place.”
– CG Jung, Lieber Novus
Another step is to watch where you’re stepping e.g. step too far into what’s good also means moving too far into what’s bad–super good creates super bad. Good requires that there be a bad and vice versa. You need to learn how to keep them together rather than to separate them. You need to learn to balance.
“He who knows the darkest error knows what light is.”
In everything I’ve discussed so far the Soul plays a central role in the redefining of ones self as a magical being. We are all trapped in the cocoon of the mind, the ego-self. It is here that we wander aimlessly through the cold landscapes of the material world–separated from the divine. We are only partially ourselves when all we see is mind. Finding and nourishing our soul again can make us more whole.
Because I love playing with archetypal images I’ll end this with the Magician of the tarot, the real wielder of the magic so to speak. According to Wikipedia it is the Magician [that] “guides The Fool through the first step out of the cave of childhood into the sunlight of consciousness, just as Hermes guides Persephone out of the Underworld every year (see picture at left).”
It has been said that all created things are the expression of the interrelationship between God and humans. In my mind The Magician represents the wholeness of this relationship. He, or she, (because the Magician has both female and male aspects) represents the dissolution of the separate personality and the reintegration of its opposites. When we resolve our dualities (see #8 in last weeks Blog posting “The 12 laws of Magic”) we become whole again. Psychologically, the Magician represents this resolution and magic happens when our wholeness expresses itself, if only temporarily.
From a psychological perspective let me pose an example: when a woman comes to terms with her inner male she will be able to express her opinions more critically by penetrating more deeply into their origins. When a male comes to terms with his feminine he will be able to express his compassion more readily by accepting the nurturing aspect of his core self.
She may be able to deal more effectively with any unresolved issues with her father, or any other male figure that may have helped her to develop her attitudes about males in general and more specifically about those masculine aspects within herself. He may be able to deal more effectively with any unresolved issues with his mother or any other female figure that has helped to form his attitudes about those feminine aspects within himself.
Each sex is imprinted with culturally mediated material about gender. This material until dealt with at its origin in the individual psyche will negatively affect, or limit, or determine an individual’s relationship with the opposite sex and/or globally with all people.
So it may be imperative that we begin the work of integrating our gender opposites if only to make life easier on ourselves and with those around us.
Males and females are more than anatomically different, they are psychologically different, and it is these differences that when allowed to remain in conflict within us that keep us separated within ourselves and thus becomes the main impediment to the experience and wielding of magic.
“Magic is dangerous since what accords with unreason confuses, allures and provokes; and I am always its first victim.”
In my experience magic can happen when I am willing to allow it to happen in the way it wants to happen and not in my way. It establishes the when and the how, not I. When I allow, or to put it another way, when I get myself out of the way, the universe will work its magic. The power of wielding magic is to not wield it at all.
Now I feel compelled to try and make myself clear at this point regarding some of the things I’ve been talking about such as “ego”, the “shadow”, “gender opposition”, “Self”, “spirit”, and “magic”. First of all these are not things that have any reality in that they are words that symbolize something without form, they are only concepts. You can’t find the ego anywhere in the body for it is an affect of the body, its name and definition is but a construct to help one get a handle on the affect. And “Self”” is but a concept for something contextual. And “spirit” is a name for the ephemeral motivator of life.
All these words are just metaphors and have no real substance. All are unknown in their true nature and most likely unknowable. They are ultimately imaginary. But something imagines them, don’t you think? It is that “imagining” (as verb, noun, adverb and adjective) that I refer to with all the linguistic metaphors of the philosopher, psychologist, and scientist. It would be a mistake to reify them i.e. to give them substance for to do so would only limit them through some mental objectification–it’s why I don’t bother to describe God. And to limit something is as we have seen to limit its magic.
This book opens the reader to the world of the unconscious, the deeper psyche with both its lighter and darker aspects. With sections on universal dream symbols, fantasy creatures, shadow aspects, and nightmares this book provides insights to ones dreams beyond the everyday. It is an encyclopedia of over 5000 dream symbols collected from over 3500 dreamers across 140+ countries and cultures. Though it cannot cover all possible meanings it can direct both the beginner and journeyman dream interpreter to a broader insight into their unconscious mind and then lead them through the process of applying this information to their everyday life.
While walking along a river in the North Country I came upon a frail looking old man with long white beard and flowing grey robe leaning on a staff and gazing at the water rushing by. “Good morning” I said.
He smiled and asked, “How long you been on the trail?”
“Oh about an hour I guess.”
“Is that all? Are you sure?” He added.
“Well, how long have you?” I asked challengingly.
“All my life” he grinned.
Great, I thought, some kind of guru! I was not really in the mood to go deep this morning. I was much more interested in chewing on my private thoughts and worrying all the worries I’d collected over the week.
“You seem to be somewhere other than on a walk,” he added.
“Well I was just taking a walk to ease my mind. Then you showed up.” I said with just a little petulance.
“I haven’t really showed up yet.”
“Uh, what?” I blurted. Is this guy crazy? I wondered.
“You’re so much into your head that I’m not really here for you yet.”
“Explain,” I said becoming a little interested where he was coming from.
“You’re so much in your mind right now that you’re not meeting me, you’re meeting only your mind.”
“Ahh mindfulness, I know about that!”
“Then why aren’t you there?”
“I was trying to until I ran into you.”
“No you weren’t. You were busy listening to your own mind!”
“I was being with my thoughts, being mindful of them.” I said in defense.
“You believe that don’t you?”
“Don’t believe everything you think. You know, mindfulness isn’t about making up what you want to be mindful to. It’s being with whatever is there. You were caught up in and believing what your mind was telling you. You know all that stuff in your head is bullshit don’t you?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The events in your life aren’t causing you pain it’s your mind chatter that is causing you to suffer. Your beliefs about the way things should be rather than being mindful of the way they are is causing you pain that you then devaluate and that takes you even further out of the moment.”
“I know this!” I interrupted angrily.
“No you don’t! Knowing is paying attention and you are not paying attention! You can’t see the world that’s in front of you because you aren’t looking at it you’re looking at what’s inside your head. You reject what is and because of this you find yourself not at peace. To be at peace you need to cooperate with how things are, then you can see how things need to be.”
“How do you know this?” I asked growing more interested.
“Simply by paying attention.”
“But what about my problems?”
“Most of your problems are but a side effect of not having a clear relationship with reality.”
“But I need to figure out how to make something happen. I need to solve these problems I’m thinking about.” I pleaded.
“You’ve allowed yourself to be conned into thinking that you have control of anything. Stop that. Don’t make things happen, let them happen, you can’t force life into submission. Give yourself permission to be where you’re at.”
“Somehow that feels right.” I said and he smiled and then vanished. I could hear the water washing over the rocks, the wind singing through the trees , the rustle of leaves, and birds calling to one another. It was so peaceful.
Why am I lying here trying to convince myself that there’s no hope left? Well you see if it’s gone, then it won’t hang around and taunt me. And it’s always taunting, hiding, promising, and just out of reach.
Hope is like a smoldering cinder that never takes flame but lurks in the burned out fires of my soul driving me onward in search of something to ignite and burst once again into the conflagration that was my youth. But hope hurts especially when its object never comes to pass.
So what is this little glimmer that still burns at the bottom of my soul?
Maybe it’s the magic I’ve so craved and so needed, maybe it will be right around the next corner.
Maybe the awe will return. Maybe it’ll all come into focus and then I’ll know there WAS some purpose.
Pushing, pushing ever harder, transcending belief and going beyond the known I discover another me, not the me of the sunlight world with all its fears but the hidden me of the darkness that fears nothing.
The light above mirrored by the dark below and I find that I am but a dream and do not just live in the light but am lived by the darkness.
In that darkness all becomes clear and as I yield great strength comes to me and for one brief moment I glimpse eternity. Aye and for one brief moment there is only one.
My wife and I have often traveled the Pacific Northwest and one time pulled into a little town lined with antique stores, old fashioned news stands and funky little restaurants catering to the meat and potato crowd–sushi, are you kidding? After nosing around the town for a few hours the following missive came to me the next morning on the veranda of our lodgings:
Driving through town I pass beneath an ancient steel archway, a portal marker for a city hanging on to its past. Traffic is sparse and all moving in a single direction, much like, I imagine, most of the denizens of this little outpost bordering America’s past and future–pretty much all aligned in belief and values.
I parked along the curb across from a local antiquarian–a dealer in “the lost dreams of the dead” as the proprietor described himself to me before I wandered toward the back of his shop piled high with the bones of these dreams. I wandered narrow aisles displaying the technological wonders of a golden age where art and function united to create objects of magical beauty whose purpose have been lost to antiquity anticipating a Magus to caste just the right spell to animate them once again.
I wandered past objects in fine wooden cases, or Bakelite boxes, some with oddly shaped glass tubes–the instruments of a former alchemist’s dreams–ready to spring to life once more.
And there it was, center stage in a locked glass cabinet, the object of my quest, a century old device once used by student wizards to peer into a Lilliputian universe. It had a golden tube that seemed to glow with a fire of it’s own. It was to the rational mind a brass microscope, a beautifully machined tool of exploration and wonder. Excitedly I called to my wife who also marveled at the find and immediately offered to purchase it as a birthday gift.
As the proprietor dismantled the lenses from the scope and wrapped them in tissue and butcher paper for their protection, he shared some of his own past. As an engineer by training and vocation he spent a lifetime wielding the modern instruments of his trade and watched in despair as the world became more and more functional and plastic and losing it’s beauty to practicality. “Something had to be done.” He said almost pleadingly. “So today I’m here as a curator of the past, a preserver of history, if you will” he added with a look of hopefulness that I would understand and honor his purpose.
“Many who enter here don’t understand, they see pretty things that briefly hold interest, just as with anything else in this world of small attention spans and equally small ambitions. Some come here to steal so as to feed their habits, or their addiction to excitement. Others come to sell and bury their loved ones in a place they know will honor their memory.”
So, like the oarsman who ferried the dead across the river Styx, this man tends to the ghosts of human ingenuity, preserving and honoring their former meaning and the dreams they once represented. “There seems to be a soul attached to these things. The souls of their former owners I think.” He says as he ties the last string around the larger package. “Or perhaps the souls of their inventor, or maker.” I suggest while hefting the package that somehow seemed heavier. It was as though the item were emphasizing the new import of the dream I now took as my own. “Perhaps.” He said his eyes glistening as he carefully handed me the smaller package of lenses.
I thanked him, turned to go, and as I did so he rounded the counter so as to escort me through the door. “Thanks for caring.” He said and I walked out of the shop of wondrous visions and onto the streets of empty eyes–the unseeing eyes blinded to the magic all around, to the dream we are all living, and to the past that informs it’s future through the world of our present.
As many of you may know I often use material from a variety of mystical media e.g. alchemy, Tarot, the Kabalah, Hermeticism, as a means of exploring and explaining certain psychological principles. It is not that I ascribe to the functionality of these mystical approaches to understanding reality but that, as projections of the human psyche, they help me to grasp the vast mystery that lies behind the creative human mind and its relationship with what is perceived as real.
Recently a blog reader wrote about the significance of alchemy in the understanding of the human psyche and especially the field of Analytic Psychology founded on the ideas and research of Carl G. Jung. He was particularly interested in the role that Mercury played in this understanding.
Below is my answer to the query the reader presented.
There are typically two ways to think of alchemy, the “scientific” way as a precursor to modern chemistry and the “mystical” way (this is now thought by many to be the core of Analytical Psychology or Depth Psychology). I tend toward the mystical. Both seem to have as their goal the combination of all four mystical elements of the universe– earth, fire, air and water to create a 5th i.e. the philosopher’s stone. The “stone” for the mystical alchemist is the ‘ultimate state of enlightenment’ where the disparate parts of humankind are separated then recombined into one.
For example (and this is where Mercury comes in), The prima materia of the universe comes as a dichotomy that of masculine and feminine with the male sulphur, hot, dry and active in opposition to the female, the argent-vive (mercury)–cold, moist and receptive, or male represented by Sol the creative force and the female by Luna the receptive force of wisdom. The conjunction of these two upon following a certain pattern will produce what Carl Jung termed a coiniunctio, the ultimate goal of the Individuation process i.e. what humankind seeks to become– a whole.
The action of Mercury in this process participates in both the light and dark worlds of the psyche and thus participates at all levels during the process of transformation.
I also believe that the “dream body” (the ‘you’ in your dreams, acts as Mercurius, the intermediary between the conscious and unconscious– the waking world and dreaming world.
Thus the feminine is the catalyst to the reunion of the male and female dichotomy that which was One as symbolically represented by “Adam”. Instead of lead transmuted into gold via the Philosopher’s stone the mystical way is talking about the psychological process of Individuation. It is the transmutation of the conflicted, and separated, human dichotomy into the wholeness of the Illumined Philosopher.
I used the word “catalyst” in the paragraph above to point out that though the feminine starts the process of unification it does not lose its essence in the process. It’s a little like combining several ingredients in a meal and roasting them together so that they infuse one another but maintain their distinctness. The combining creates a flavor greater than the sum of their parts (if only our politicians could practice that simple rule of the universe).
In a later email the reader also commented on the significance of the number 4 in Jung’s philosophy.
The “four” to which you refer is represented by the four sides of the square while the circle represents the whole, or spirit, or the “stone”. It is the jewel in the lotus, the Christ if you will.
By securing the prima materia (philosophical mercury) the dark matter of this bit of alchemy, the light of the stone can be found (“in the darkness can be found the light”). In a way the light of what we are can be found within (distilled from) the darkness of the unconscious, both personal and collective.
The anima mundi, or world soul, that Jung so eloquently spoke of is released from its bondage when the union between Sol and Luna takes place.
Perhaps this is the reconciliation spoken of by many Christians– that which can unite the souls of all humanity? Jung saw within the way of the alchemists the archetypes, the primordial dream symbols that form and inform the myths of humankind. Jung of course saw all this as a means for understanding the enigmatic psyche.
His “four-ness” or what he referred to as the ‘quaternity’ and reference to the “squaring of the circle” regarding the images related to the four elements of the universe represented by the pairing within the male and female archetypes (air and fire in the male, Earth and water in the female) and the ‘spirit’ (the wholeness of the circle) was represented in his images of the mandalas that share common attributes across all cultures.
In short, he seems to have seen the human psyche as having a four fold nature (note the personality traits represented by the four function types, feeling, thinking, sensation and intuition from which the Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator was developed– see http://www.personalitypathways.com/type_inventory.html
Why is there still such interest in alchemy, a largely discredited prescientific method of research?
I believe that there is this internal pressure from the human soul to reunite the varied aspects of our archetypal selves and thus gives continued import to the study of alchemy, not as a means of manipulating the material world but as a means of fully understanding the human relationship with it.