[NB] Reading around in the Key of Mater, Wolf, and Lucifer

I don’t want to leave this place quiet too long, so how about a smattering of what I have been reading and thinking about ?

In what follows, I am going to engage in numerous comparisons that crisscross well-defined cultural and geographic milieus. I want to talk a little about that before we get going, because the comparative modality can both nourish and starve our spiritual wellsprings. In order to nourish our wellsprings, we need to preserve their singularity, their distinctive character in place and time. Think of the network of comparisons like a net of lights lifted up over the spiritual work in which we are engaged. That net of lights isn’t intended to catch hold of anything. If you take away the net, the mysteries they illumine are still there, invisible in the dark.

Don’t get caught up in these comparisons in order to put a name on something. As soon as the comparisons become a tool for pinning down a commonality between spiritual manifestations, we’re starting to head down a dangerous road that will have us worshiping the words on our tongues and the images in our minds rather than the mystery that stimulates both. If you don’t have a spiritual presence with which you are contemplating these comparisons, well, I guess this will at most be a list of historical curiosities.

I.

First up, there is this article over on Jack Faust’s blog, tracking some parallels in the Magna Mater/Rider iconography through to the first centuries of the common era. There are a few things that interest me, including:

(1) the interplay of warfare and hunting. Notice images 1-4 in Jack’s post, featuring cavalry against infantry, but culminating in an image which features a horseman and an axe-wielding footman taking down a boar. The way in which the hunt displaces the rivalry between the horseman and the footman suggests more than a little of the tempering authority that the female figure comes to possess in the two horsemen flanking a woman images. Discussions of Puer and Puella come into play here.

(2) the transformation and intensification of cosmological themes such that the riders are conjoined with the sun and moon, opening the mysteries of this practice to the interplay of heaven and earth.

Compare with the presence of the imagery in more recent European mystery traditions:

A stone slab featuring a bas relief of a naked, crowned woman with a cape, her arms outstretched to either side. In each hand she holds the top of a chain which is anchored by her feet. The chain in her right hand tethers the moon while the chain in her left hand tethers the sun. Both the sun and moon have faces, which are upside down from the viewer's perspective. Beneath her feet is a skull. To the left of the skull is a pentagram and to the right is a seven-pointed star. Pseudo-arabic script frames the woman.

(3) the image of the horseman owes a lot to soldier’s graves and we can see in several amulets the horseman trampling his enemy (the footman) but in the most complex and ritualistic icons we find the substitution of fish for conquered footmen (the link leads to an article that discusses the fish imagery as well as suggesting ties between these images and those of Epona).

A complex altar piece divided into three clearly defined vertical levels. At the bottom levelfrom left to right, there is a table, something that looks like either a nail or a torch, a lion, a snake, a small heart-ish looking object, a rooster, and a torch. In the middle level, from let to right, there are three discrete groups of people: three people bending a tree, three women gathered around a well with a fish, and three naked boys. The top level shows two men on horseback atop (or trampling) a fishflanking a woman who is holding her apron out as a bag. Above each rider is a large head and above the woman is a woman with rays of light coming from her head preceded by fours horses, two of which look inward toward each other and two of which look outward toward the heads.

This image of Al-Khidr forms another parallel, later again:

A white-bearded man dressed in a green turban and robe stands on the back of a fish in the open water, his hands outstretched and open before him.

Khidr, who is also joined to the figure of St. George.

A Georgian fresco depicting St. George atop a white horse with a serpent under hoof. In front of St. George, facing away from him and toward a town of people, is a crowned woman in blue and red who holds one end of a red cord, the other end of which encircles the serpent's neck.

(4) also in the complex icons like the one above, the doubling of a woman on the earth with a divine female figure in the heavens with horses foregrounded (“she’ll be riding six white horses”).

II.

Then there are a few posts over at Aeon that have me thinking over a few things. There is this one about the relationship between disgust and morality. The author suggests a fundamental relationship between how disgust anchors our sense of morality in the world such that personal variations in experiencing disgust impact the shape of our moral framework. What I really like is that the author makes clear that this isn’t a deterministic relationship and our reflection on what disgusts us allows us to develop an ethical framework that remains rooted in our experience of disgust without getting lost in it.

That movement toward reflection joined to visceral experience seems key to me, an element in our self-work that ought not be overlooked. There is a tendency to either swing too rapidly away from our visceral responses to ‘reasonable’ abstractions or to collapse our ethics into our visceral responses, being led by them like an animal. This is where I think the author does something of a disservice to the role played by religious thought in this process, because religious discourse is one of the fertile interstices between animal disgust and enlightened reflection.

III.

Then there is this benighted piece discussing play which seems to get it all wrong:

“Juvenile mammals – the archetypal playing animal – are organisms in the midst of this radical transformation. As they grow, they tend to randomly combine bits and pieces of waning newborn behaviour and emerging adult behaviour. These combinations are often repetitive, and sometimes quite novel, but rarely adaptive in the standard Darwinian sense. They are the accidental product of interacting behavioural systems that are re-modelling as the animal develops over time.

Dogs have longer periods of juvenile development than rats or cats; mammals in general have a much longer and more varied ‘metamorphosis’ than birds or reptiles. So dogs appear to play more than many other animals, not because there is an advantage in dogs playing more frequently, or because they enjoy it more, or because they want to please us more, but simply because they grow at different rates and in different ways.” (emphasis mine)

This is the sort of lazy reductionist thinking that gives scientific reasoning a bad name. While I am sympathetic to the structural-developmental account that highlights the specific limits and possibilities of a growing brain as part of the framework for understanding play behaviors, this piece far overreaches that, moving from an account that introduces the role played by those features in the process of growth and play to one that reduces growth and play to those limits.

From the get-go, the authors use a cripplingly simple take on Darwinian evolution. Natural selection is only one component of the process which includes both variation and reproduction. The whole point of evolutionary explanation is that it provides a model for understanding seemingly pointless variation. Variation is adaptive in and of itself because it provides the organism with a robust pool of traits upon which natural selection can operate. While most variations go nowhere, some do, and the ones that do are vitally important.

Once you bring variation back in the picture, the play period acquires an evolutionary sense in addition to its developmental sense. While play variation *rarely* make it into adult behavior, the fact that play sometimes yields novel adult behavior suggests that the play phase serves as lab of sorts of wolf behavior, one in which useless behaviors are quickly weeded out and productive ones cultivated. Whether this potentially adaptive play was a happy accident resulting from the necessities of growing a complex brain or whether a complex brain evolved in tandem with the benefits of play it made possible, is a bit of an open question at this point.

From there, the authors then make a dog’s breakfast of an argument that is premised on behavior being monocausal, such that if the behavior isn’t adaptive, it can’t be enjoyable, nor can it be related to social behaviors (which is patently ludicrous because we have so much evidence that dog and wolf behavior only make sense in their social context; like this delightful article on wolf communication makes clear). There is much to be said for pruning back our (mis)conceptions of human play from wolf and dog play, but it is toxic to then prune back perfectly functional accounts of their behavior that incorporates the many factors shaping it.

I am picking on this article en route to a discussion I want to have about psychological type, one that I think needs to include a sense of how psychological type can be integrated into an account of human beings that simultaneously integrates them into the natural and social world in which they live while preparing them to encounter the spiritual world which doesn’t operate in the same practical field. To do that, it is necessary to conceive of both the spiritual and practical potentials of each type, which requires us to think about the ‘impractical’ types in light of how they can support ‘practical’ ends.

I suspect that on the practical level, the ‘impractical’ types represent reservoirs of play and variation, much of which is pointless, except when it isn’t, except when it becomes a vital variation suited to a changing environment or which opens the door to a new practical domain. Which gets me back to the interplay of spirit contact and knowledge production and innovation.

IV.

Talking of innovation, there is Chris Knowles talking about Lucifer. I suspect the link between innovation and spirits is more indirect than folks like Gordon and Chris seem to, but the discussion is a useful one to have. What I want to talk about here, though, is this:

“There are no legitimate Luciferian texts, no Luciferian rites, no shrines, nothing. Unless you count the Yazidi, and that’s an entirely separate (and very interesting) conversation.

• Gordon also reports that Lucifer, Satan and “the Devil” are three separate entities in the Medieval grimoires, with three separate domains, functions and forms of spellcraft. ” (emphasis in original)

Especially interesting is Gordon clarifying that the three separate entities he referred to were the exemplary figures like Beelzebub, Lucifer, and Asteroth in the Grimorium Verum. Knowles is going to great pains to distinguish Lucifer from Satan, in part over the question of rulership and while I’m not sympathetic to his particular take on Satan, the observation about rulership vs. knowledge is solid and opens some doors toward making differentiations in the grimoires.

Beelzebub, after all, derives from the various Baal figures of antiquity, figures which are almost always connected to authority, fertility, and thunderstorms. If we keep in mind that Beelzebub is linked to Africa in the imaginary of the Verum, then we can wonder after the confluence of figures like Baal Hammon in late antiquity (revered in Africa, after all) and figures like Nsasi, Sogbo, Jakuta, and Shango in early modern to contemporary Africa and its diasporas.

I wouldn’t want to drive too hard down this road, in part because these comparisons demand cherry-picking from a handful of regions in a very large continent, but it remains suggestive. Luc De Heusch in The Drunken King, or the Origin of the State unpacks a rich set of initiatic myths in the Congo region that precisely articulate the interplay of the domain of the king as opposed to the domain of the blacksmith, a rhythm that plays well with the tension between Ogun and Shango in Yorubaland and its environs. A tension, too, that we see between Beelzebub and Lucifer.

Touching on just the Yoruba chords: There is, first, the long metallurgical tradition in Africa, including the working meteoric iron in Africa. Considering that the thunderers are often honored through consecrated but unworked stones, we immediately have something of a rivalry at work between those who venerate the meteor as such as opposed to the smiths who are breaking open and smelting the ‘stone,’ a play between the thundering, fructifying stone and fire contrasted with harnessing that fire for technical work. There is also the way Shango’s worship flourished under the beat of horse’s hooves and was held in check by the tsetse fly that laid low those same horses (disease, healing, authority, and a complex doubling).

(Which, you know, gets us back to that what is Jove discussion.)

That contrast between authority and knowledge rests well on the Tree of Life, too, with the right hand of the tree standing over merciful authority and the left over the severity of understanding. There is the strange juxtaposition in Moses’s ascents to the mountain top and his return. First, he returns with an injunction to honor God in the unworked stone. Upon a subsequent return, though, he asserts the need to honor God in the baroquely worked Ark of the Covenant.

Perhaps you can see where I am starting to go with this? There is a central figure in the Verum who negotiates these two poles, an androgynous figure with clear ties to feminine divinities, a figure who rides a serpent. This creates something of a parallel between these three figures and the figures of the mater reliefs. All of which suggests that it might be a mistake to suggest that there no Luciferian shrines, at least depending how broadly you want to understand that figure.

Okay, well, I guess that’s enough of that. Maybe less rambling next time. Don’t get too caught up in the lights, don’t be afraid of the pregnant darkness where they live.

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2 thoughts on “[NB] Reading around in the Key of Mater, Wolf, and Lucifer

  1. Pingback: Boston Public Library: Pansophism in Image and Architecture – Disrupt & Repair

  2. Pingback: [NB] Kinship, Maternity, Gender – Disrupt & Repair

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