Garden of Forking Paths

Phil Hine’s latest enfolding post comes at an opportune time for me, meeting my thinking around the insights structuralism has into myth. Specifically, this:

In India, there are dozens of different chakra schemas, which for me, indicates that they are (to an extent) metaphoric arrangements for structuring and directing bodily experience – sensations and feelings. As these schemas have been transferred to the west however, due to a variety of historical processes, they have become reified – so that one particular schema – the seven-chakra schema – has become dominant, and is widely thought to have (and thereby experienced as having) a seperate ontological status and to operate in a quasi-medical fashion.

The reificiation of myth follows the same pattern as the reification of ritual praxis described here. This process of selecting a model and giving it ontological status seems to be more acute in the last century of Western occult thinking, but it seems to have some old roots.

The Kabbalah is a clear case of this. If you spend a little time digging around the original (and still active) Jewish material, you’ll notice that even as regards the Sefirot, the Tree of Life scheme is just one among many, each having their own contemplative uses. Much as I love Greer’s book on geomancy, his account of theurgical applications are similarly over-determined, giving the system a rational and coherent order it does not possess historically.

You can go further back, noting the process at work fairly early in the evolution of Early Modern European magic. It seems like much of that magical thinking occurs alongside the development of properly contemporary science and that early scientific attitude contaminates magic, too.

You’ll note that there is a fairly standard set of associations between things like planets and metals that goes back to Proclus. Funny thing? It isn’t the only one. Arabic magical texts describe a few parallel assignments, often with planets sharing assignments. That includes the Ghayat. While the European Picatrix has the standard assignments made by Proclus, the Arabic original uses an alternative set of assignments. Far from being a fluke, it seems to have roots going back into Middle Eastern magical practice, roots we are still trying to make out in the archive.

(Fyi, that is where my association of Saturn and iron comes from, though I was primed to think in that direction by Yoruba geomancy, which also seem to have ties to whatever ideas inform the Arabic material. That, and iron works well for me when it comes to working a specific aspect of the Saturnian vibe.)

There is something cultural going on here, no doubt, but I suspect it is ‘culture’ in its more concrete expression, as the lifeways of a people in their world exploring the possibilities of that lifeway for opening the paths of spirit. If we follow that line of thinking, the process can be carried out even more efficiently in subcultures and by individuals.

Which gets back to the witchly contra the wizardly: that the correspondences can be fashioned inside the experience of an individual. That isn’t an ‘individual’ in an ego sense but an individual in a concrete sense, as enmeshed in a pattern of beings and materials that interact with their concret individuality. Like perfume (speaking of the Venutian force in so much witchly doings).

Which puts us back in touch with what Jung’s spiritual experiences seemed to be driving at, even if the scholarly direction he took it sometimes obscured the vitality of that.

If we start talking about our concrete individuality, that thrusts us back into our physis, our organic way of being in the world, which both unites and differentiates us. Even when we are ‘like’ other people, there are subtle and gross differences in our perceptual experiences that we necessarily diverge.

When it comes to our spiritual work, I think one of the best things that we can do is break with the effort to give the spiritual world a singular form, whether it be an ordered account of mythic happenings or a clear conceptual map. The challenge, instead, is to find the kind of organizing elements around which the diversity can be explored, the forking paths, and to realize that they fork and scatter us.

In other words, the goal from my perspective is for our spiritual experiences to become increasingly distinct, to have less in common. How do you help someone dive into the sea of contrary models and come out the other side with an entirely other model, one that amplifies and extends their specific human experience and not a more general concept of that experience?

That question leads us down along the tracks of art, literature, philosophy as pursued by singular individuals. Humanism, broadly understood.

Walk with each other until you must take diverging forks, but perhaps there may be a time when you come back and share tales where your paths diverged? Perhaps, though I suspect the individual who returns from the long trip through forking paths comes back very different than the person who began the journey.

Which is probably why I prefer Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” to Campbell’s heroic circle of return.

I’ll be circling this one for a bit if the world doesn’t drive me mad first. Stay tuned (or run for the hills). My best wishes to you all out there in tv-land.

2 thoughts on “Garden of Forking Paths

  1. Pingback: True Colors | Disrupt & Repair

  2. Pingback: Ordering the Shelves: Geomancy | Disrupt & Repair

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