I did not grow up in the Christian church or any church for that matter. The first time I ever heard of the Psalms was while attending a field service in Vietnam for a friend who had died two days earlier. He was a friend who had taken my place on the night crew, for I was going out on a mission the following day. If he hadn’t, things might have been different in both our lives. I was feeling very disconnected, confused, and holding a little guilt.
The Psalm read that day during the service was called the 23rd Psalm.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
As I listened to the words, I found myself crying and Marines NEVER cry. Suddenly I found myself lifted and all my fear, anger, and sadness, the turbulent waters of my mind and heart “stilled.” For a moment, I knew that as I walked through this “valley” with death all around me, I was not alone. This gave me the strength to carry on.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized the grace given to me on that day, even though I was experiencing the dark night of the soul (aka depression) and felt I wasn’t worthy of anything good. That day was the beginning of my journey toward spiritual maturity, and that day was the day I awakened to something that I later called soul. Spiritual awakenings can happen at any moment in life. They can be spontaneous, triggered by major life changes, illnesses, tragedies, and traumas such as life-threatening illnesses, accidents, divorces, midlife crises, war, and so much more. They can happen during meditation or while taking a walk around the neighborhood.
There are also those times when all seems hopeless and emotionally overwhelming, what some call The Dark Night of the Soul. If you’re highly sensitive to the suffering of others and are a deep thinker by nature, it is possible that you have gone through, or are currently going through, this dark night.
The Dark Night of the Soul is a period in life when you feel completely cut off from the Divine. The more _aware_ you become of your disconnection from the Divine, the more chances you have of experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul.
In my experience, going through this encounter with the dark night is profoundly entwined with the process of spiritual awakening, i.e., before spiritually awakening, we often “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4); that prepares our minds and hearts for it.
From the perspective of an Alchemist and Jungian analyst the Dark Night could represent the nigredo which means ‘blackness’ or putrefaction or decomposition. Many alchemists believed the nigredo was a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone or wholeness.
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.
On my walk I met an old man sitting cross-legged in his stall and stirring some concoction in an iron pot.
“What ho?” I inquired but he did not answer and continued to stir.
“Can I see what is in your pot?” I asked as he continued to stir.
Not waiting for an answer I leaned forward to gain a glimpse of what was stirring and all went black. Indiscriminate images whirled and whorled about taking and losing form as I tried to focus upon them. All moved like thickened liquid and climbed the sides of the pot only to be pulled back into its muck.
“What is this place so dark and of undefined form?” I moaned as I was being drawn into its depths.
It was then that the old man spoke. “It is of thee, the hidden thee, the thee of many generations and many worlds.”
“Why do you speak in riddles old man?” I gasped.
“Because your kind cannot understand when confronted directly with the truth.” He said bluntly. “You seek an answer to a question you have not fully understood. Because of this its answer will sit in secret at your core until you are ready to open the gate with its many locks. Meanwhile the secret lies within the chaos dark. Understand your question and the key that will open all the locks will reveal itself to you and of the chaos you will know and the darkness will be no more.”
“Tell me Alchemist about this key of which you speak.” I demanded gently.
“Learn the true secret of the three that are one and dispel the myth of the priests who know not any secrets and the key will be revealed.” Intoned the old man as he very deliberately kept stirring the pot.
“But once I have it how will I know which lock it fits for it cannot fit all of them can it?”
“There is but one lock for all. It is for you to look truly and it will reveal. You cannot distill what is needed while you live in the above ground. You must enter the chaos of the darkness to do that. The answer is not to be found in the nonsense of your wakened state for it only comes in the dark to be then congealed and carried into the light. You must dissolve the hardness of the waking mind through the softness of the darkness only then will the question become clear enough for you to see the key and the lock it opens. Only then can you pass through the gate and find the stone of eternity promised by the divine philosophers.”
My mind began to swim like the stirring liquid of his pot and I swam desperately for its surface. Breaking free of his spell I stood wetted and dripping there before him and his pot but before I could yet speak he smiled and dissolved before me and I awoke. Had I been sleeping? I had not been in my bed for I was sure that I had been walking and yet my eyes seemed opened to something new and I could see then that I needed to find and enter this chaos dark with the question, “What is in there that is for me to find?”
The phrase”Chaos Dark” comes from the 1652 book by Elias Ashmole, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum. My copy is in the original Middle English and was published by Ouroboros Press in 2011. It’s definition of the phrase was found between pages 318 and 341 and was an apt description for the Unconscious Mind and generated this waking dream.
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.
Do you believe in magic? Be careful how you answer that. I have written much poetry, prose, and nonfiction musings about Magic though few readers imagine most of it as anything other than fantasy or madness*.
But for an intuitive few they see beyond the veil of modern sensibility and are able to discern the divine where humankind transcends the ego and touches the sublime.
Many physicians today aren’t as hard science as you might think either for many are quite superstitious what with surgeons needing their “lucky” cap in order to do surgery and don’t ever say how “quiet” it’s being in the ER on any “slow” day because the fates will surely punish you by bringing in a bloody mass of people. And how many of us “knock on wood” to prevent calamity?
And what about carrying around a rabbit’s foot or a good luck coin or praying to God to win against your opponent? How many of us would tempt the fates by deliberately breaking a mirror? We keep guardian angel charms, root around the grass for four-leaf clovers, nail horseshoes over the door, and hang a cross or St Christopher’s medal like a talisman on chains around our necks for protection. We burn sage to rid the air of negative energy and consult the Zodiac to see what’s in store for us for the day or as a means to strike up a conversation with the young woman at the bar next to us in hopes that we’ll get ‘lucky’. Note also the current fashion of citing Karma as a cause for negative experience or precognizance, remote viewing, astral projection and even the lauded law-of-attraction to explain the mystical.
There’s also the sacramental eating of the body of Christ and the drinking of his blood as symbols for taking in spiritual nourishment while a water baptism symbolizes the cleansing of one way of being to make room for another. Metaphor or ritual for some can be a magical reality for others. For some pagan tribes people consuming the blood or flesh of an enemy, a friend, or an animal is believed to bestow the power or bring about the union, of those individuals into the consumer.
The statement made recently by an American congressman that we don’t have to do anything about the world’s environmental problems because if God wanted to do something about global warming He would have done it. That’s Magical thinking at its best (worst?). It’s also fallacious attribution and superstition as is much of what the everyday calls magic or in some cases thinks of as truths.
We’re supposed to be modern humans grounded in the rational but magic is always creeping into our lives.
Before science came and attempted to control the aspects of the world through a rigorous and rational approach there was magic. The medicine man and shaman was the father to the physician, the alchemist was the father to the chemist, the astrologer gave birth to astronomy. Magic has literally created the need for science and specifically the scientific method. How so, you might ask? I’ll tell you. How else can the shaman, alchemist, and astrologer keep their job unless they learn to study how reality works so that they would more often be right than wrong in their pronouncements?
Magic also created the need for religion as a means of understanding the ineffable, that which cannot be understood by word alone. The truth is Magic is most often a state of mind and a way of being. It is not divorced from science in that it is the ground of being that brings us awe. Nor is it separate from modern religion in that benedictions and many prayers are forms of magic inherited from our pagan forbears. Magic can just be intention made manifest and in this way our prayers are answered through a way of being with the universe.
There’s a conversation all of us are having between our ego selves and our larger divine self. Mostly it’s a conversation spoken in symbols, myth and metaphor (as with the Eucharist) of which magic is an example. In magic we draw on the collective archetypes of humankind to communicate and make sense of the numinous. Magic in any of its multitudinous forms happens when we stop using it to control or protect that is when we transcend the ego’s point-of-view and become vulnerable to the life outside it.
Bottom line, when we stop separating ourselves from everything else we become at one with the universe and magic follows.
Magic happens when we stop using intermediaries between the divine and us whether these are objects or saints. When we stop imploring our gods and invoking our talismans we will begin to manifest our true selves and will be able to live in the numinous. Magic is all around us and permeates every cell of our being but its wisdom can only bear fruit when we let go of trying to control it and our drive to control can only be transcended when we are ready to let go of the ego.
A good conversation can only happen when people listen, it is so between the human being and the divine. Stop listening to your opinions and be open to reality. Or as a friend of mine once said, “Don’t believe everything you think.”
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
I once used the term “the alchemist’s crucible.” I think this term came to me because at the time I had been reading Jung’s Memories, Dreams, and Reflections and was struck with how often he delved into the alchemical arts as a means of understanding the human psyche.
This got me to thinking about the symbolism inherent in alchemy. On the surface the alchemists seemed to be looking for a means of transmuting base metals into precious metals e.g. lead into gold. I think that they were trying, among other things, to make sense of this world of opposites and dichotomies by to find an underlying unity. Why? Well, part of the human condition seems to be that we are all separate from each other and the environment that we find ourselves in. This experience of separation breeds, as I’ve said before, various levels of fear ranging from discomfort to all-out panic. We want to protect ourselves from what is ‘not us’ whether that be on the personal or communal (meaning the tribe, state, nation) level. This of course is the basis for personal and social conflict. Finding a resolution to the conflict that arises from opposition has been key to the history of alchemy, and politics (which is a kind of alchemy itself).
The goal of trying to make sense of what-is by attempting to resolve the basic conflict caused by separation can be seen in all our mythologies where mankind is always trying to deal with its twin natures of the beast and the spirit e.g. note the invention of the Centaur (man’s torso and head on the body of a horse), or the Minotaur (a bull’s head on a man’s body) and the fact that all hero stories have a thematic conflict to resolve. A great deal of modern psychological therapy is to assist the individual with internal psychic conflicts e.g. the conflict between what you are and what you want to be.
I think that among the fundamental goals of all religions, philosophies, and sciences is to bring to consciousness the mysteries of the universe and to observe its fundamental unity.
I also maintain that this unity, this wholeness, already exists, but is generally beneath our awareness. Because of this the universe looks fragmented and dichotomous. This gives dream-work a whole new purpose in that it can bring ones unconscious psyche to consciousness so that we can experience a greater whole and thus a better understanding of what makes us tick. The more we understand of what it means to be human the better our understanding of where we’re standing. For example, to get to know a tree, one needs to stand under it, to ‘listen’ to it. To know another anything (person, place or thing) one needs to stand under it, to be within its context, or to stand in its shoes, and is thus the root meaning of ‘understanding.’
This reminds me of the teachings of G. Gurdjieff, a early 20th century Russian mystic and spiritual teacher who wrote that humanity lives its life in a “Waking Sleep” and thus only experiences reality subjectively. He suggested that the vast majority of humans live as automatons, but have the power to awaken and become something so much greater.
“Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies.”
As automatons we become susceptible to the manipulations of others (advertisers, politicians, radio talk show hosts, religious leaders and zealots, and the hysteria of the masses). The one sided development of our humanity that most of us experience is what passes for ‘life’ in the modern world. I believe that we need to develop all aspects of who we are in order to become a fully integrated (actualized) human being that is fully present to an expanded sense of reality instead of the limited reality we currently embrace. In my experience we mostly just argue our limits without trying to see beyond them.
“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.”
– Richard Bach, Illusions
There again is that concept of ‘limiting’ being a root to perverted reality. For many of us we limit our personal development to one of four areas–physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual and for the rare few who might include more than one or even all, they limit the impact through narrow definition.
“The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”
What do I mean by expanded definition? This morning in a group discussion one of our group told the story of a young soldier who stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) while patrolling in Afghanistan. He lost his foot and part of his leg. At first everyone, including the soldier, saw this as only a tragedy, but eventually it brought the family together in ways none of them could have imagined before the event. Everyone connected with the event began to see another more positive outcome, born from the very real tragedy, that would not have happened without it.
I think that the meaning of nearly every event in our lives can be used to expand our reality. Set aside your limited thinking and self-limiting thoughts and be open to reality. Learn to see beneath the meaning of your personal or collective definition to see what else may be there.
“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
At a Dream Conference attended in Berkeley the presenter was detailing the Alchemical method of transmutation. What, pray tell, was I doing learning about this ancient and largely discredited precursor to chemistry and what did it have to do with dreams?
The presenter spoke of the seven (combined within four primary) processes the alchemist had to perform in the most exacting of ways in order to produce the transforming element, the Philosopher’s Stone, that which would transmute lead into gold (not depicted is the seventh process and is the choosing of the unredeemed matter to be transformed–in this case, “us”).
} part of the process of letting go, by
discovering what and then releasing
And she likened it to the recovery of the soul. Carl Jung thought of it as representing the Individuation process, where human beings wrestled with and integrated their varied and opposing aspects so to develop into a fully actuated being, in short, the process for aligning ones outer nature with their inner nature–the quest for wholeness. To him it was the promise of our ‘becoming’. He thought that the images of the alchemical process mirrored a person’s inner psychic state of being and thus gave guidance to what was needed to achieve this inner/outer balance. Thus the emblematic alchemical arcana (see example on left) represented a roadmap to healing.
Firstly one needs to free the soul from the body and become familiar with their unconscious identity as separated from their conscious, ego-bound identity. Dissolving, or causing one to let go, or surrendering, ones positionality is the next step. This is a form of ego-death where the ego is no longer the prime mover. In the third step one recombines the soul and consciousness to form a new and singular mind. The last step fixes ones mastery over the self after having integrated the disparate parts of the overall psyche.
So what am I talking about when I use the term “disparate parts of the self?” I’m talking about the various aspects of our selves that are usually in inner conflict with our self such as our feminine and masculine aspects. Most people operate as though they are one or the other based upon their anatomical differences and different ways of thinking and viewing the world. There’s also our wisdom selves, or radiant self, and our shadow selves e.g. for simplicity’s sake our positive and negative aspects–that which we readily embrace and that which we categorically reject.
But it is the ego-self that makes the decisions of what to reject or embrace and bases these choices on the basic need of the ego to stay in control. This is not a very good system for triage because of the limited vision of the ego-self. Thus the need to let go the predominance of this part of the ego, that can be likened to a huge mountain obscuring the landscape beyond, in order to see over the top of it. The ego-self doesn’t know everything of what it needs or doesn’t need in order to fully function. There is much in the unconscious that has been thrown away by the ego-self that can be immensely helpful if it were to be reintegrated into the overall psyche.
The internal alchemist can guide each of us to delve into the psyche where we have the power to change the essence of our stories.
I remember that during the height of the Polio epidemic in high school I painted a large billboard announcing the coming of a Polio clinic where people could get not only their children inoculated, but themselves as well. On it I depicted a large writhing dragon being slain by an equally large hypodermic needle. Little did I know that this symbol of slaying-the-dragon was to be the mythos for much of my life.
At one time I could have posed as the poster boy for “Robert The Blah”, but time and again I found myself in situations where I had to dig deep inside to find the power to draw my inner sword in order to confront whatever metaphorical fire-breathing dragon stood before me. Over time the mythos evolved into what might be called “Robert The Dragon Fighter” [i], but I continued to operate in the old myth. To fully manifest and use the power of what I had become I had to be willing to change my personal mythology.
In order to change our lives for what we imagine to be better, we more often than not need to change our personal mythology–to rewrite the story of ourselves and what we say we are. The ego-self resists this because to the ego-self it looks like death and it is death in a way because to rewrite ones life mythology they must kill-off, or dissolve, the old to make way for a birth, if you will, of something new. This re-envisionment can only happen after we have dissolved the current vision to make way for the new.
The dream world is our access to the imaginal, the vision of what is and what can be, it is a portal of discovery that can lead to an awakening in our so-called waking lives. It can reveal not only the archetypal conflicts of the human soul, but our own inner conflicts as well. It is quite literally our alchemical and psychosocial laboratory for evolutionary change, expansion of consciousness (i.e. what it means to be really conscious), and for the freeing of the soul. In fact, dreams always come to us in the service of our health and well-being and to aide us in our alchemical quest.
Jung suggested that at a deeper level the ancient alchemists were searching for more than just transmuting metals, but were meddling in something much bigger. For hidden in the common base metal of the human psyche was a wealth of grand value if only they could discover the path to its achievement. Many of our myths have hinted at this e.g. Jason and the Golden Fleece, Sir Percival and the Grail, Hercules and the hand of Persephone, and the innumerable stories where heroes try to reunite what has been separated into a more harmonious whole.
Even the dreams of those such as the Old Testament Jacob who wrestled with his God and learned to let go or dissolve his own ego position so as to evolve into someone more fully capable of dealing harmoniously in his world was an example of the kind of alchemy that is going on all around and within us. In Hebrew ‘Jacob’ is translated as, “Over reacher, or he who supplants” –an aspect of the separated ego-self–but is then given the name of Israel, “one who wrestles with God” an aspect I believe of the psyche trying to integrate itself.
Also such notable scientists as Sir Isaac Newton were also drawn to the alchemical sciences in an attempt to balance and ultimately unify the physical and spiritual aspects of reality.
Jean Houston, philosopher and author, has said that each of us “are valuable characters in the drama of the world soul, pushing the boundaries of their own local story and gaining the courage to be and do so much more.”
Many scholars in human development are convinced that our personal mythology informs the way in which we live our lives, that we make our decisions for better or worse as a consequence of our mythology. Much of therapy and dream work is about bringing ones mythos to consciousness, confronting it, and gaining some mastery over it–it is the alchemical process at work.
Much of dream work and personal therapy involves distilling the dross of the soul in order to work with the purified essence of the self. It is as Jung said that dreams are
The process, then, is the transformation of the unredeemed self into the ultimate expression of our being. In this way we can be the Philosopher’s Stone, or the fully Individuated, or fully Actualized human.
The Alchemists may actually have been projecting the inner processes of the psyche onto the objective world–pretty much as we all do when trying to make meaning of the world we live in. They may have inadvertently been the first of the Depth Psychologists and self-development gurus, or at least revealed the processes needed for the development of the self. It seems that metaphor may also run deep within the waking mind as well as in the dream.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. She who looks outside, dreams: she who looks inside, awakes.”- Carl Jung
[i] Note that I don’t use the term “Dragon Slayer” here because I don’t always slay the dragon i.e. get the better of him. Often my internal dragons, aka “self-criticisms” get the better of me. There are also times when slaying or fighting with a metaphorical dragon isn’t what’s called for. Sometimes the dragon shows up when I’ve been inflating my personal image i.e. acting arrogant and the dragon appears to cut me down to size. In this case even friends have played the role of the dragon and though they spit what seems like fire, they are only doing it because they care–this I want to nurture, not slay.
Walking down the path and into the mist, large drops of water slid from the trees and splashed against his face running down his neck and into the fabric of a shirt now clinging fast to his body. He almost didn’t notice for his mind was taken up with other things, things like thoughts about something called “source” and “intention” and what if he weren’t ready to transform before the moon and sun conjoined?
Surely he could do this, after all he had a clever mind didn’t he? But his thoughts just spiraled into chaos and he couldn’t get them to settle and focus. Fear built up as he realized that he might have missed something important that the old man had given him, something that would mean either light and life or just darkness and death. If he couldn’t find it he could be trapped behind the eclipse forever.
Then he remembered that all too often the brain sends one in the wrong direction blowing like the wind through the trees and making one believe that something is real that actually was not. A thought whispered from below and though almost ignored by the all too busy mind it was barely caught and brought to consciousness, “Your cleverness only separates you from reality”. It said. Another thought intruded into the maelstrom, “This is not just about you”. It whispered. “Caring only about your own condition will lead only to doom– your doom and the doom of us all. That is the wrong direction to travel.”
The boy stopped walking and looked about him as though trying to find the source of the voice that had so successfully penetrated his fears. And the voice continued.
“Stop trying to be so clever. All your thinking, all your so-called knowledge will only lead you further astray. There is a Way, but it is not through your mind. There are no answers in the chaotic voice of your head. It knows only itself.
Your wisdom does not lay within the voice of this clever little fellow that you think is the real you. You must reason beyond this voice. You have the power to use this reason but like so many others you have lost your way because you have forgotten the Way. You had it once when you were very young but it was just too hard to hear over the din of the older ones and you soon forgot.
You cannot ‘do’ the Way, or think yourself through it. All that will do is confuse. The more ingenious you try to be the more strange things tend to happen. Be content that there is an order within the chaos but that you cannot find it by searching for it. Desire of any kind will hide all but the edges of reality.”
“But everything is so crazy around me. How can I do this?” Pleaded the young man.
“Be simple. Be empty. Be at one with the dust. Do not resist the end for it is just a beginning. To have only ‘mind’ is to suffer death, to be in touch with the mother, the source of us all, brings freedom from that. Seek not answers from outside the mother. Create while not claiming, be the Way.”
“What must I do?”
“Create while not claiming, be the Way. Give up your mind. Be not of one way or the other, but be it all. Let the conflict come to balance in you and you will have found your mother. Stop behaving as an adult for they know nothing but cleverness and knowledge. Let go of your adult knowing until you are empty of all you have learned. You cannot experience your mother through knowing. Stop doing and just be for a moment. Be small and your greatness will grow. See simplicity in the complex. And above all be last among all men.”
The rain had stopped and the clouds had begun to clear. Patches of blue peeked out from the grayness and the voice that had kept him company through the day and night was now gone. Sometime during the night he had let go of himself and now blended with the surrounding forest. Bewildered the boy looked about him. Craning his neck upward he saw the rising sun partially occluded by the full moon. The conjunction had begun.
The next morning after a breakfast of fresh fruit and steamed oats the young student and his mentor took their coffee mugs to the chairs that sat before the familiar fireplace at the other end of the flat and began their study. A light rain had moved into the city and the warmth of the drink, fire, and friendship brought them both great comfort and the energy to continue the difficult task from the day before.
“So what of your dreams?” Asked the older man and the younger shared a number of dreams about dark shadowy figures of people and animals that he was either running from or trying valiantly to kill.
“These are probably representative of your shadow self– the darker sides of your personality. Running from and trying to kill them off are two sides of the instinctual coin that runs us all. The first is an avoidance metaphor or what we call the “flight” instinct while the latter is the “fight” instinct– a means of ridding oneself from ones demons. Both are resistance symbols to what is and are representative of the ego-self, not the spirit self. This brings us to the eighth law of magic that says that one needs to ‘call out’ their shadows and demons, name them rather than suppress them. Just because you have negative aspects to your personality doesn’t mean that you are your negative aspects.”
“Tell me more.”
“Everything in the universe is energy in one form or another such as your thoughts, your body, your feelings, the environment around you. You’ll also notice that for every positive occurrence, circumstance, situation, feeling, thought there is an equal and opposite negative. The earth thrives in opposition; each gives energy to the other. Simply put ‘good’ only exists in contrast to ‘bad’ and vice versa. Resisting the ‘bad’ only gives it more than its equal share of energy. One needs to learn to bring both sides of themselves into balance. You do this by not resisting what is, by accepting both sides of yourself and working harmoniously with the energy of each.”
“The next, or ninth law, states that Magic cannot come from ‘thinking’. One needs to quiet the mind and stop ‘thinking’ things to death. Remember that In the tenth law it is stated that magic does not come from the rational. Live at least some of your life in the incomprehensible and trust your intuitive self. This ties in nicely with the ‘thinking’ law of the ninth law. Thinking is of the rational self. Necessary in very many ways, but it cannot be used to summon forth the power of magic. How are we doing so far?”
“Good, good, keep going” Said the young man as he motioned his mentor to continue and gently placed his cup down on the side table.
“The eleventh law states that Magic grows from the secret orderliness of chaos.” At this the student screwed up his face in confusion. “No really! Said the magus, “Allow yourself to be confused. Thinking that you know something about what is real can be very limiting to living what is real, to perceiving what is real, and to performing real magic. To think that you know something produces an expectation, the expectation that the universe will always support that knowledge, but that’s not how it really works is it? And when the universe lets you down you get upset, right?” The boy nodded and the magus went on. “This is because you think that you are in control when you’re not at all, never have been. I might also add that before you clear out the junk you’ve buried into your unconscious mind you’ve never been at choice with anything and that so-called ‘free-will’ of yours requires the ability to be at choice, that is real choice.”
“Yes, if you can’t say no and yes to everything then you are not really at choice. You have to be okay with either state of being. What you can then do is ‘choose’ what is best for the situation and circumstance you find yourself in– best for you and everyone and thing around you. You also can’t be consciously at choice if the material not dealt with in your unconscious mind, you know, all the stuff you’ve hidden there, and all the instinctual stuff, is actually running the show. Being clear about your hidden motivations is a prerequisite for free-will. Which is of course a requisite for magic.”
“In the twelfth law one is told that they must maintain their authority over expectations and standards by remaining at choice with their behaviors, thoughts, and self-expressions. In short, young man, be what you are, not what someone else wants you to be or think or believe, even if that someone else is me. If the laws don’t resonate, then don’t follow.”
“Eh? I don’t get it. Your negating all you said?”
“Yes, because if you take these laws and expect them to do the magic, then you will be sorely disappointed. The ‘laws’ are only a framework or matrix to live within. The real secret to magic can only be found within the source of your very being. It is only by surrendering what you think you are to that source that magic can come forth. All the rest is just a ‘do’ but the source is something and an immeasurable and indescribable nothing that you connect to in order to produce magic. Connect to the source and you’ll ‘be’ the magic. Live your life in the source and there is no end to what you are.”
“What is this source?” Pleaded the young man.
“This is what you have to wrestle with over the next day and a half. I suggest that you go be with yourself and take all that I’ve taught, all that I’ve said, and all that I’ve alluded to and meditate on it. You may even want to embody some of it that is to bring it to life and dialog with it as though it were alive, alive within you. Remember that it has to be done before the joining of the Moon and Sun two days from now. For if you don’t succeed you could be trapped between and behind them forever.”
At that the young man picked up his jacket and went out into the rain, heading almost aimlessly toward the city forest at the end of the street but with an air of what could only be called intention.
Come morning the young man staggered out of his room slowly and into the parlor. There, sitting serenely and staring into the fire’s enduring maw was his mentor. Barely able to stand upright he groaned, “I feel like hell. All night I dreamed of being split in two from head to foot while boiling water was poured over me scalding and searing my flesh. Try as I would I couldn’t force myself awake until I watched my head split open and a beautiful golden orb fly out. What horror is this and what does it mean?”
Slowly the old man placed the omnipresent pipe into the tray beside him and turned to face the boy. “It means that your transformation is not quite finished. Though you are not of your original substance, you have yet to release the nous within, the soul, actually what we call the Anima Mundi, the soul of the world. Until this is done you remain earth bound and subject to the ego. Go, take a shower and release the soul!” The old man commanded and the boy turned and walked back into the room where he had slept, disrobed, and climbed into the shower.
Turning on the shower he began his ritual bathing but before he could soap up the water became unbearably scalding, so hot that he felt his skin begin to slough. He opened his mouth to scream but only a yellow liquid came out and covered him all over. After a short time the pain stopped and he began to feel a warmth that seemed to wash away all the aches from the night before.
As he looked down at his half outstretched arms they seemed to glow with health. It felt as though every part of him had been reborn. And indeed it had, but no longer as the individual separate from all others but something more inclusive of the whole of the world. In short, he felt great, better than he had ever felt before and he stepped from the shower, got dressed in the clothing provided and walked out to the main room feeling refreshed and famished as in really hungry as though he had been fasting an eternity. “When do we eat?” He growled eagerly.
Together the magus and the young man prepared a small but adequate feast and after consuming most of it they sat down before the fire and sipped a cup of freshly brewed coffee to begin their talk about the day’s proceedings.
“I am going to present you with the 12 Lessons of Magic and give you an opportunity to practice each until you and I both are satisfied that you have mastered them. Are you up for that?” As the boy listened he nodded and noticed that the wizard had changed his tone in that he was now addressing him as an equal instead of the one-down relationship he earlier experienced. It felt good, he felt confidant, and cheerfully looked forward to what was next in his training.
“Now I must warn you, we don’t have much time, there’s a lot to be done and we are running out of it.” Said the old man.
“Running out? I don’t understand”
“We have spent the last few weeks calling forth the four spirits of water, fire, air and earth but now we must complete your development before the Slaying of the Dragon.” The old
man pointed toward a crest affixed to the hearth. On it was a carving of a dragon coiled in a circle and biting its own tail. That was odd thought the boy he hadn’t noticed that before.
“What does it mean? The coiled dragon that is.”
“He is slaying himself– a necessary condition for transformation. There’s an eclipse of the sun on the third day hence and upon its rise the Union of the Separates within you will come to pass. What was split asunder will come together again.”
“Once you have completed your education your conscious mind will be ready to absorb the contents of the unconscious wherein the magic lies. This absorption will be initiated by the coming together of the sun and the moon of the eclipse. But if your conscious mind is not ready to assimilate then the energy produced by the chaotic fragments in the unconscious will cause disorder and madness, even death. Once you started down this road you had no choice but to be ready for this event”
“Would have been nice to have known that ahead of time.” Muttered the young man half to himself. “Well no help for it now, we better get on with it then.”
“Right! These basic laws of magic are deceptively simple so do not be fooled by what may seem to be obvious. Are you ready?” The boy nodded.