Time Images

I have had this post half-formed for a while, since reading some of Edward Butler’s work, and this post over at Hermetic Lessons served as a catalyst to extract it. The basic point is straightforward enough. If we are made of time, then it is important to think about how time can be made, how it can be constituted. Those forms of time define the substance of our experience and those forms of experience make possible forms of practice. One of the problems with this discussion is that we often have a fairly poor vocabulary for talking about this sort of thing.

Blogos’s take on synchronicity is definitely a corrective in the right direction. Rather than talk about vague equations of synchs and work, he jumps into the differentiation of two modes of relation, one of which is based on navigating by synchs, the other which is based on exploring the terrain more distant from synchs. I won’t summarize to much, because you should just go read the post for yourself. What I like from the get go is that it allows us to see things like Proust’s lost time as another dimension of magical experience, one with its own properties and rewards.

Butler links together three elements in ancient Greek thought in a similarly useful way: Hera, heroism, and the constitution of human time. The connection between Hera and Herakles is established enough, but what I had less knowledge of was the conceptual linkages between hero and the Greek work for seasons, which Butler then links appealingly to the way that the festivals for heroes come to define the yearly rounds of a community. Herakles as the primordial hero simultaneously breaks boundaries but, in exceeding them, also comes to define them. Recall that Herakles’s labors number twelve and you have quite a rich vein of mystery to contemplate. The chosen of Hera indeed.

(All of this fits well with Nietzsche’s understanding of the ancient Greek agon as simultaneously driven by struggle but working to exclude any excessive virtue that made competition irrelevant. If you were too good a runner, you threatened the agon of the marathon. This isn’t just ancient Greece, though. The relationship of cultural rule and the cultivation of human capacity plays a major part in the constitution of culture as such.)

Butler also notes that the hero constitutes their own time for themselves, integrating other heroes within it as part of their horizon, noting that Odysseus feeding the shades provides us with a clear case of this. The shades he calls forth are not the actual heroes, but their figures as they manifest within Odysseus’s own heroic frame. (Another hat tip to Nietzsche who sharply observes that great men do not meet except through intermediaries.) I find this very helpful, because one of my challenges in navigating the Levantine material I circle has been the frequent and prominent place of Homer. Comprehending Homer in this light, as fashioner of potent archetypal time forms, well, that brings him full force into the circle of magical prophets and saints.

It is with Odysseus that I want to circle back toward Blogos’s insight, because we see in the descent (‘depth of down’) of Odysseus one of the archetypal Mercurial moments, but also one of the archetypal magical moments, both bloody and clever. We can see in the assertion of authority over the dead the figure of the magician that will come to dominate much necromantic work. But that is just one time image, one particular frame through which the encounter can be had. The descent itself constitutes the realm of the dead and with it the form of authority that forms one means of negotiating that realm.

The play of shadows in the work is good to keep in mind because to do that Mercurial work is to simultaneously commend others to the realm of your dead, to make them as dead to you so that you can do the work of drawing forth your (as Blogos describes it) “nugget of destiny, fate, or perhaps even magickal success.” Though in practical magic, unlike literary magical texts, those you commend to the dead may yet reach out from their realm to surprise you, to draw you into their realm, to make you serve in their chorus of specters.

Blogos talks about branching moments within our personal timelines, the discrete points at which an other self branches off into a divergent timeline, points which may or may not be determined by the exercise of some sort of free choice, but I want to talk about another vector of freedom. Duns Scotus spent some time considering free choice and found that it made little sense, but in its place postulated a freedom of will. If that sounds somewhat contradictory, let me explain.

As I read him, Scotus took choice to be the result of a fairly direct series of responses over which we had little control. At the best of times, our ability to choose was mostly one of choosing to interfere with these responses, i.e., we could check our impulses but not choose to have other ones. What we could do, though, was choose to change the quality of our will. For Scotus, the will is the more subtle nature that includes the nature of our desires and the capacity for awareness. The will is that which defines what we pay attention to and thus sets the stage for to what and how we will become responsive.

When we changed the quality of our will, we redirected it to different sorts of objects and so changed the situation about which we had responses. This change of will was difficult to achieve, though it could be externally imposed upon us by the action of the divine, hence the possibility of radical conversion as well as the possibility oft-described in ancient Jewish literature as the hardening of the heart. Most forms of magical work are precisely forms of working that will. This allows us to ask after magical workings in a richer fashion, as asking after the form of time that animate them and of our ability to integrate ourselves within that form. We can ask after the forms of our timefulness that we are cultivating within ourselves but also after the forms of timefulness being cultivated within us.

This is where something else Blogos said is of great importance: “the egregore creates us as much as we create the egregore.” The forms of will we cultivate come to define our being as much as we come to define being through cultivating our will, yes, but also what we are is cultivated by these other forms to which our will is directed. The passive voice of that statement is key. This dual affirmation allows us to recapture the notion that magic is work with consciousness and will without immediately turning all magical work into a heroic form of excess and overcoming, a narcissistic noodling with our own noggin, or a subservient yoking of ourselves to the whims of spirits. That which surprises us, cuts past our preconceptions, is also that about which we can become entangled in lengthy and winding work.

It gets us to a magic of love that doesn’t necessarily collapse into a domination of the beloved, of the passage of the desynchronous into a new synchrony. It moves us into a magic of exploration and not just one of retrieval. It also opens us to the work of desynchronization, of disentanglement, of breaking the spell of synch-emitting siren. And that is just the Venusian time forms.

Personally, this line of thought gets me back into Justin’s Book of Baruch, a text about which I have been dreaming for decades though I only now realize it, such that I can extract from even a secondhand account of it a great deal of material that fills out and joins, but that’s a discussion for another time.

A little of the galop infernal to break the orphic spell?

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