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.
“…the neuroses is a question that being poses for the subject, ‘from where it was before the subject came into the world’ (Freud’s phrase, which he used in explaining the Oedipal complex in little Hans).
….it [neuroses] poses it [a question] in place of the subject, that is to say, in that place it poses the question with the subject, as one poses a problem with a pen, or as Aristotle’s man thought with his soul.”—Jacques Lacan, “Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious” in Écrits: A Selection (168)
Take out all the psychoanalytic jargon, what is it that this quote is getting at? Simply put, Lacan’s psychoanalysis posits that there are elements of our being which lie beyond our direct control, which we access only indirectly through the ways those elements shape our life. Lacan isn’t being particularly magical here. He is describing those desires which constitute a personality as a locus of self-awareness.
“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.
“Experience, which destroys innocence, also leads one back to it.”—James Baldwin, No Name in the Street
Placing the distortions I have traced out within the broader Gnostic framework of the Fall, of the separation of self-knowledge from divine knowledge, allows for a better account of what their correction entails. The model of distortion is also a model for how to move toward clarification. Clarification requires appreciating that correction is a moving target, that the world of time does not cease within our lifetime.
Understanding this becomes part of the process of clarification. If you want to reach your goal and the goal is moving, you need to know it is moving.
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.
Hence reflection does not itself grasp its full significance unless it refers to the unreflective fund of experience which it presupposes, upon which it draws, and which constitutes for it a kind of original past, a past which has never been a present. (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, 241)
I have been chewing this quote over in a longer draft, but it’s worth a little notebook noodling, too.
What constitutes the unreflective fund of experience? Well, it encompasses just about everything from our biological inheritance (as a species and an individual) that condition the apparatus of our perception and our capacity to understand to our social circumstances that inculcate habits in us. It includes the nature of the chemical elements that make our biological existence possible and the concrete elements of our world like the way trees grow and cities expand.
It even includes our capacity for action, a capacity that is itself educated by the world in which it develops, a world including other agents.
Yet, in spite of that expansive fund, Merleau-Ponty’s observation has the corollary effect of strictly limiting our reflective capacity. Because it depends on this expansive fund, it is not itself entirely free to make sense of it. The limits of our understanding limits our capacity to act rationally, to act in a manner that accords with our intentions, because our intentions arise out of this expansive world we don’t fully understand.
Understanding, on this sort of account, is humble work. It takes a lot of effort to find the right level to begin the work, since understanding acquires its fullest capacity only when it finds its own position in the expansive fund.
When we manage to get close to that point, what we discover is not the power of our reason, but the depth of our ignorance. The point at which we become aware of our position in the world is the point at which we must submit ourselves to it, to our fate. The unreflective fund of experience is the sheer weight of our life confronting our awareness and revealing our inability to sever ourselves from it.
We find this level only through a sort of intuitive groping in the dark. We can’t reason our way to it because our reason operates in and upon the present rather than upon the ‘original past.’
Submission to our ignorance as the precondition of our enlightenment.
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.