Learning to Live with a Horizon of Error

I had a little back and forth with Blogos and Iago over a mistake I had made in my last post and it was a good reminder about how I tend to operate. I can’t speak to how much this true for anyone else, but it seems like the sort of thing it might be useful to post about.

The ritual demands of my spiritual work unfold faster than my understanding of it, faster than my ability to give it coherent conceptual expression. Obviously, I need some conceptualization so that I am not just muddling around in the dark waiting for inspiration, but I have come to expect that most any conceptualization I am using is an error en route to something more truthful which the spiritual practice will clarify.

So, to talk about the route I usually take toward a ritual operation, it usually begins a network of synchronicities, dreams, and hunches. The synchronicities will usually bring with them the concrete elements that will play a part in a ritual undertaking as will the hunches that nudge me toward a store or a side road or a path through the woods. That might be a plant standing forth on a walk in the woods or a piece of flotsam on a rock in a creek, but it could also be a discussion or a book. Usually, it is all of that and more.

I will usually look into whether any of these elements have any established magical connections, but I will also spend time figuring out how they speak to me personally. I have sat drumming a leaf across my palm humming to listen to the directions toward which it seems to want to move, listening to see if it seems to be moving toward any of the spirits (‘spirit’ really is an awkward word, so tangled with meanings; but it’s an easy shorthand, so I keep using it) with which I work. Sometimes, I find through this process that the element isn’t mine to work with, that I just noticed its presence, not that it was calling or workable for me. The way I might sit with a plant leaf isn’t too far from how I sit with a letter as I am working the Kabbalistic material, by the way.

As I do this with a range of things, I start to get an idea of how I might begin to gather them toward an operation. That is necessarily informed by some concepts I have about what I am doing and the direction I think it should take. However, having done this often enough, I am aware that there is often a gap between what needs to be done and what I think needs to be done. Romantic notions and ideas of grand ritual gestures tend to make my initial ideas a little overdone.

Because of that, I rely on some simple yes-no divinatory processes as I undertake an operation, a way of weeding out abstract enthusiasms from vigorous intuitions. Sometimes, operations aren’t too far from what I expected. Other times, they go quite differently than expected, through a few blind turns that I do my best to trust and verify. The ritual work educates me and points out where my ideas diverge from realities. I can usually tell when I have gotten too speculative by a certain tone that such abstract enthusiasms have when am thinking about the operations, but when I have ignored those, the divinations will usually shut me down before I get started doing anything concrete.

This speculative haze of error is useful, though, because it provides me with ways of examining hunches, synchronicities, and dreams for direction. They are a bit like a web, really, in that they catch more than I can actually eat, so I have gotten to be a bit of nominalist when it comes to using those conceptual tools. What I lay hold of using them isn’t often quite what I end up working, so once the work proper begins, I have try to let go of those conceptual ideas as much as I am able and let the dialogue with spirit animate the proceedings.

My role in this work is as often a matter of anchorage than anything else, providing stability and ballast so that some spiritual presence or possibility can develop and take direction from a higher process than my intentions, although my intentions are often interwoven into the operation.

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5 thoughts on “Learning to Live with a Horizon of Error

  1. I think you’re on to something here. The ritual demands of the work, though, are one thing β€” I, too, feel that I’m driven to perform certain ritual acts long before I really understand what they are and how they’re changing me, or what they mean. So yes, there’s a horizon of error, where you think you understand something, and then either your own awareness (or your spiritual/magical teacher, or an elder in your tradition) comes along and says, “no, not exactly.”

    The “no, not exactly” is more helpful in some ways than the “no, not exactly, because… [explanation]“, because it forces you to go back over your material, and study it and explore it and respond to it on your own. We are the ones doing the figuring out, not having it explained to us, and I like that.

    Still, the haze of error helps us stumble around even though we know roughly where we’d like to go, it makes the perfect understanding of the destination less clear until we’re almost there. (marvelous turn of phrase, “haze of error” β€” and conjures the fire of personal passion and the the air of earth, heavy with particulates and thus not particularly clear. πŸ™‚ [as opposed to the fog of war, the cold wet emotion and the earth of air β€” the damp ground giving up moisture to the ground above and making misery wherever it flows]. Hmmm.

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