On Seeing and Naming Color: Blue Alienation

“Like it or not, we are slaves of the hour and its colors and forms, subjects of the sky and of the earth. Even the part of us that burrows deepest into itself, disdaining its surroundings, does not burrow along the same paths when it rains as when the sky is clear.”—Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

I’ve seen this piece from the Business Insider frustrating folks, reporting that terms for the color blue weren’t widespread in the ancient Mediterranean world. Most of that frustrations seems misplaced. We’re missing an opportunity because, while this is a puff piece, what it describes fits into a discussion that has been going on for nearly half a century within cognitive anthropology. It’s easy enough to hear the results of these studies as generally pejorative, but that’s not what I see. This sort of thing allows us to appreciate past cultures more deeply as it makes clear their differences from us, not their inferiority.

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The Naming of Kinds

Categories are dangerous things. The separation of one kind of thing from another at the conceptual level leads us toward deeper knowledge and deeper ignorance simultaneously. Once we separate one kind from another at the level of concept, we prepare the way for forms of action that treat them as separate in actuality.

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The Witch Questions

When I am talking about witchiness as a conceptual field, what sort of questions and concerns do I take as defining that field?

First and foremost, it is a question of what potencies constitute your spiritual becoming. Bound up with that is acquiring a sense of the potencies of your world and appreciating the ways in which they interact with your own.

How do you enhance your becoming? Intensify it? Stabilize it? Slow it down?

Around the question of your spiritual becoming, you are asking after the spiritual forces that find their site of action in your life, asking after the crossroads of fate and destiny that it is your task to work. Notice that when we start talking like this, the question of magic often recedes from the foreground. Not always, but often.

One of the things that I really, really like about the Yeatsian material as it was received (not necessarily as W. B. presented it), was its clarity about the importance of everyday life. The Yeatsian work emphasized that the roughness of material life was a feature rather than a bug, that it was necessary to generate spiritual transformation.

This is also what I take to be the core of C. G. Jung’s personal revelation–namely that the work you have to do is the personal aspect of a collective process and that one of the difficult aspects of the work is finding the material vehicles capable of supporting it. I think Jung’s own effort to give the revelation psychological credibility is exemplary of this, both in terms of what it made possible and in terms of how the vehicle can distort the work. The turn toward potent personal symbols and their interaction serves a useful spiritual purpose, as long as as it does not remain a strictly imaginative process.

As an aside, this is why I like the geomantic life chart. Right there, spread out across the shield is an account of the spiritual forces you carry with you and the rudiments to help begin your work, if only you can find the concrete correlates to the signs in the stuff of your life. It is, as the cliche has it, easier said than done.

The question of fellow-travelers and teachers enter into this equation secondarily, but no less importantly. Knowing your potencies, helps you sort out the sorts of people and teachings that will benefit you, providing the kinds of supplement that both enriches your personal work and tips it into the collective process of which it is a part. Again, easier for some than others, easier at some times than others.

Notice that this isn’t terribly systematic–you can’t hand someone a book or run them through a course of study. Notice, too, that it tends to have an intimate scope. The question of fellow-travelers and teachers is also a question about the sorts of intimacy that are appropriate to the work that you have to do.

In short, the witch field concerns itself with questions of need rather than want. The semantic proximity of those terms is telling, right? Need and want are so close that in many cases they feel and look nearly alike. And yet when Mick Jagger sings “you can’t always get what you want/ but if you try sometimes / you get what you need,” we can understand him well enough. Parsing them out in experience can be even harder than parsing them out linguistically, but it is where the witch work ought to take you.

In part, this is because the question of personal need tips easily into the question of what others need, and of how we may need each other. Need manifests all kinds of social and interpersonal tensions. At this collective dimension, the danger of bitterness and the value of sweetness become even more apparent. Turned bitter, need can be cruel indeed and witchcraft has always had that tendency.

In the tension between life and word, the witch tends to favor the darker and more difficult to grasp life.

Neither Either/Or Nor Both/And: Turn down the contrast

I’ve been thinking about the back and forth with Andrew on my last post. I realize that I prefer to use binaries in a quite specific way that may not be obvious. It’s easy to see a binary and think dualistic, but that is a habit I would like to subvert, both in myself and others. I’m going to take a stab at describing that better.

Binary thinking can be quite powerful and deep. We seem to think fairly easily with binary structures and that seems to rest in part on our evolution, suggesting that there is some aspects to the world itself that are binary. Binary thinking is not the same thing as dualistic thinking. Binary thinking identifies poles as a means of navigating between them, establishes a plane across which we can arc. To identify two binaries is not the same thing as saying that there are only two sorts of things.

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