I always enjoy when a post ends up being one point on a wave of posts on a topic, like there is some schooling going on in this enervated blogosphere. Alexandra’s most recent post touches sidelong at something I have wanted to talk about again, a point at which I often feel myself at odds with how people talk about magic, namely the mutability of reality.
“Jung’s cases pick up many colorful but extraneous threads. They don’t make as thrilling reading as Freud’s just because his [Jung’s] plot has less selective logic and therefore less inevitability. Only when it is cast, or when we read it, in the model of a heroic quest or a pilgirm’s progress does the individuation plot grip the reader. But that is only one archetypal mode of individuation, one mode of selective logic.”—James Hillman, “The Fiction of Case History” in Healing Fictions (emphasis mine)
Yeah, I know, forgive the title; this post isn’t making such a strong claim. I’ve just watched the latest Mad Max movie, which reminds of Thunderdome, which reminds of Tina Turner…you get the idea. Pretty soon, I’m looping back to Hillman and thinking about the herculean-martian heroism that introduces a brittleness into our narrative alloys. It seems like the sort of post that is good for the interim.
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.
“Moreover, what we say of a life may be said of several lives. Since each is a passing present, one life may replay another at a different level, as if the philosopher and the pig, the criminal and the saint, played out the same past at different levels of a gigantic cone. This is what we call metempsychosis. Each chooses his pitch or his tone, perhaps even his lyrics, but the tune remains the same, and underneath all the lyrics the same tra-la-la, in all possible tones and all pitches.”—Gilles Deleuze, Difference & Repetition (83-84)
“A historic materialist cannot do without the notion of a present which is not a transition, but in which time stands still and has come to a stop….[This present] supplies a unique experience with the past….enough to blast open the continuum of history.”—Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” in Illuminations (262)
The word ‘now’ has picked up a lot of rhetorical punch in the last few decades. Most of that derives from the increasing visibility of mindfulness meditation, both in spiritual and academic circles. It has mostly been a good thing and highlights what is implicit or just barely explicit in a lot of different spiritual practices. Still, there are some problems with the attention to now and they have bled through to discussions of embodiment and lived experience in troubling ways.
I know I have talked about the sort of binary geomancy presumes, but I am not sure if I have said clearly enough what the practical results of that binary are for divination. Similarly, while I have talked about the triplicate structure that drives geomancy, I am not sure that I have explained how it manifests within the core binary of geomancy. So, this is that post. I’ll try to be brief.
I think it was Churchill who said that if a point was worth making once, it was worth making three times. In that spirit, I am going to hammer on a little more about fate and destiny. In order to make the most of them as spiritual concepts, we need to separate them from some of the associations they have picked up in fantasy and fiction. Here I am thinking about the sorts of stories, like Harry Potter, where destiny and fate tend to equate to a specific achievement. This doesn’t help much when we are trying to apply the concepts spiritually because, for the most part, we aren’t destined or fated to specific events. Rather, the spiritual forces that support our fate and destiny tend to manipulate events with an eye toward realizing certain potentialities in our spiritual make-up.
Spiritualism requires discernment. This discernment tends to have both objective and subjective dimensions. Objectively, this entails discerning the influence of one spirit from another. Since spirits tend to come in groupings, working with and through each other, this can be quite a challenge. Subjectively, discernment helps us to clarify ourselves, who we are and what we are capable of achieving.
These two tasks can converge. If we examine our spiritual being closely, we encounter a network of spiritual beings composing it. The self with which we most easily identify is composite and complex.
I realize that it gets pretty easy to talk fate down. Fate carries with it all of the hard and contingent things that we often feel get in the way of being who we truly are, of being our destiny. I want to rectify that somewhat and talk up the virtues of fate. Fate forms an integral part of spiritualist work, anchoring and nourishing destiny as much as it lashes and scorns it.
I’ve been away for a little longer than usual. The last post drew a quiet line underneath a lot of the work I had been processing through this blog; it felt like a point of inflection that redirected my intellectual and spiritual trajectory. I can point out others like it but this pass through the Necronomicon seems more profound.
With the discussion of fate and destiny out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand. The way in which Lovecraft attempts to delimit the Necronomicon’s destiny to the literary sphere suggests a general discomfort with that destiny but an inability to sever himself from it. Not only did he make use of the text throughout his work, but he proceeded to expand its scope, putting it into communication with the literary occultism of his fellow writers, both explicitly and implicitly. Its literary fate becomes a root system, through which its destiny survives and along which it is able to flare up.