Back in my university days, I took a seminar with a professor who, whenever the conversation began to flag, would pose the same question in appropriately thoughtful tones: “So, this book we’re talking about is called [fill in title here], why do you think that is?” It’s a bit silly of a question and I’ll confess that as conversation slowed a few of us would glance across the table with knowing looks, waiting for what would inevitably fill the silence. Still, it’s not a bad pedagogical technique. Silly as it is, it would get people talking again and engaged with the substance of the book even if we chuckled to ourselves or rolled our eyes as we were doing it.
[Good advice: don’t be afraid to look silly, but only if you accept an important bit of qualifying advice of don’t try to be silly.]
Which is why for the first post I am going to pose that very question to myself and answer it. I want to get myself talking and this seems like as good a trick as any. It might even be one of the better question I could start with, so thanks Dr. Sullivan.
I want to take this in two parts because this blog has two names: the domain name (viagnostica) and the title (Disrupt & Repair). I actually worked harder on choosing the first since, well, the second I can change at the drop of a hat (and have, several times, before this went live). The second is also something of a commentary on that domain name, so to the domain name we go.
Okay, viagnostica is fancy and Latin, so I’m establishing from the outset that I like to sound a little snobby from time to time because, let’s be honest, I do. I’m also not all that good at Latin, so incorporating it into the domain name is also something of an acknowledgment of how alien the whole sacred work is. It’s like muddling around in a foreign language that promises a whole lot but which I am only ever eking out a portion of the value form it. Words describing the sacred are like that–they are a foreign language almost from the very start, even when we talk about them in our own language.
But I do what ‘via’ and ‘gnostica’ mean, so let’s dive into that. Via is a way, a path, a road. It is something that you can set yourself on and go places, even if you don’t always know what to expect when you get to those places. It’s also the name of a figure in geomancy which is something that is near and dear to the path that I have set myself upon.
‘Gnostica’ is an adjective here, so I’m saying right from the get go something about the path. Why a gnostic path? There’s a lot to say about this. I grew up with the Dion Fortune line about magic being changing consciousness in accordance with the will and, well, honestly, that was never really the sort of thing that spun my crank. I gave it whirl, had some success with it on its own terms, but honestly didn’t much care. I cared more about the changes in consciousness bit than I did about the will bit, so so off I went.
Part of the problem, you see, is that I really don’t think the will can do all that much to change our consciousness. I follow in the footsteps of folks like Duns Scotus who believe that the way in which we are consciousness generates the field of objects toward which our will, our volition, directs itself, The will doesn’t get you very far beyond the world you are living in and while you can capitalize the will and say it is something different than volition but…well, why the hell bother calling it the will?
Anyway, if the will isn’t all that big a deal and consciousness is, then if you are going to get somewhere, you have to find a way to change your consciousness it isn’t going to be by pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. So, what do you have? Well, that’s where the gnostics rock it for me. You do so by disposing what little power you have over your will toward those things that are actually a little higher than you, to those things that can help pull you toward a different state of consciousness in which new objects for volition become available. You do so by a conscious act of your human limitations and your need for a higher power. It is an effort that begins by attempting to transform your understanding first in the hopes that your will might yet follow suit,
This is more miracle than magic. The funny thing seems to be, though, that there are all sorts of things out there that are waiting for you to do just that so that they can swing and provide you with the help you need to lift yourself up. That help isn’t exactly pleasant and this gets us to the second title, Disrupt & Repair.
The world of objects that spreads out before us and motivates our will have a limiting effect. We see them, engage with them, and so tend to reproduce the cycle of actions that create the consciousness from which we are trying to extricate ourselves. For spirits to help us, they have to disrupt that cycle and that disruption is almost guaranteed to be a bit unpleasant. The objects that feed our attention get wrenched away from us and the objects to which we might direct ourselves are difficult to grasp. It is, as Plato famously described, a bit like walking out of a dark cave. We only get glimpses of things between the oh-dear-God-in-heaven burning light that suffuses our perception.
The short term help feels like anything but help. Which is where the repair comes in. The spirits of disruption are not often all that good at helping people through this process. There do seem to be spirits that are, though, who are equally ready to aid the process, bringing spiritual balms. There are also people who have managed to negotiate this process and have a few tricks up their sleeve for easing the shocks. There are even established practices developed over generations of human and spirit cooperation that allow the process to be both accelerated and ameliorated,
These transformations in consciousness can be applied in ways magical, but they aren’t what hold me to the work. The work that I take to be most important is the participation in the process of disruption and repair, of breaking old forms of consciousness in order to make way for new forms of consciousness. Less will, more consciousness and more labor.
Now, one thing that I want to avoid using here is talking about ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ forms of consciousness. I am sure that I will use those exact terms at some point (if I haven’t already!) because they are such easy habits of speech and thought. Despite being easy, these habits are subtly pernicious. It is not necessarily false to say that this or that form of consciousness is higher or more subtle than another, but the phrase ‘higher’ carries such a strong moral valuation in our language that those other meanings of the term are often hard to sustain.
When we talk about the transformation of consciousness, we need to keep in mind that there is something in us that is more than our consciousness. This something else invigorates and enlivens consciousness so, following that gnostic trajectory again, I like to call that the ‘spark.’ That spark does seem to have its own disposition and even a mission, even if that disposition and mission are remarkably difficult to describe. Those make this or that mode of consciousness more suitable to the spark.
Consciousness changing for the sake of consciousness changing risks hindering the full realization of the spark. And it is for the sake of the spark that the process of disruption and repair should be instigated, This is yet another reason why I am not the biggest fan ever of the changing your consciousness in accordance with your will bit. The will tends to shoot off toward what it can see, whereas the mystery of the work lies in precisely what makes the seeing possible.
So, there you go. I’ve started talking. Let’s see where this goes from here,