This post sits at the intersection of a few things I have seen lately. The first one is this interview over at National Geographic with Richard Mabey, the fellow who coined the term ‘wood wide web.’ The second is this post over on the Blog of Baphomet about the nature of DMT entities.
I had a little back and forth with Blogos and Iago over a mistake I had made in my last post and it was a good reminder about how I tend to operate. I can’t speak to how much this true for anyone else, but it seems like the sort of thing it might be useful to post about.
The ritual demands of my spiritual work unfold faster than my understanding of it, faster than my ability to give it coherent conceptual expression. Obviously, I need some conceptualization so that I am not just muddling around in the dark waiting for inspiration, but I have come to expect that most any conceptualization I am using is an error en route to something more truthful which the spiritual practice will clarify.
I have been dipping into Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art (Über das Geistige in der Kunst). It is a small volume, but I have been reading it in downright tiny portions. It is hardly complex or densely packed, but it is one of those books where the simplicity and directness of the presentation permits the material’s potency, it’s weightiness, to manifest all the more.
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.
Breathe. Breathe in through your nose, exhale. Breathe in through your mouth, exhale. Consider that with these two breaths you have fed your senses, bringing in the scents that surround you, bringing in the subtle tastes that move through the air. Consider your eyes, your ears, how closely they are to the channels of breath, how they are channels, too, of sights and sounds.
Follow your breath into your lungs, follow your breath out to its sympathy with your heart, pumping the blood, both oxygen and carbon dioxide rich, through your body. Consider how far the sights and sounds that reach you may be, and how close all of this is, how all of this pulls together the world into a tight knot of awareness, whether that awareness be acute or limpid.
Are you in pain? If not, recall the last time you were, recall the last time you felt yourself gathered on sharp jolts or rocked by dull aches. Recall the last time you really wanted something, how similar to pain that can be. Consider, now, the animal roots of all this. Consider what it means to articulate so much of your conscious being through this fleshy vessel organized by animal desire. Consider how rich an instrument this body is, but how few the notes it oft employs.
Because today I want to talk about our bodies, about a peculiar dimension of our embodied experience, gender and sex. That will take me through some terrain which can get a little abstract, but as you follow me through that terrain, I want you to keep in mind this sort of entanglement. I want you to think about how breath, smell, and taste comingle though we casually and technically differentiate them. This is similar.
Keep in mind how viscerally desires express themselves, how difficult it is to fully separate from each other, from our embodied awareness. Consider how entangled those bodies are with subtle realities like our DNA and gross realities like the environment to which our bodies are modeled. Consider how basic sex is to the continuation of the species and how fundamental sexual differentiation is in that. Try to keep an eye, at all times, on the ever-present knot this forms in experience, and how startlingly flexible this anchoring reality can become in conscious experience.
Keep that in mind as I proceed through abstractions. Run the abstractions back down toward this potent knot of your embodiment, because when I think about the Kabbalistic material and its broader gnostic horizon, it is difficult to ignore its gendered dimensions.
The question as to how seriously to take the gendering takes me down into the realities of our embodiment. This is present implicitly in the Saadia diagram, where the sefirot are anchored in direction, in time, in moral behavior. When you look at what the sefirot orient, it is a body. Though it is absent from the sefirot, it manifests in their interaction. This mystery opens into the embodiment of consciousness in other bodies, but I’m going to dive deeply into this human one here.
It will take me in an (surprise) unusual direction, so don’t expect too much familiar terrain here. Or, well, actually do expect familiar terrain but a very different path through it.
I have been blogging quite a bit about applying the concept of permutation detailed within the Sefer Yetzirah more broadly. Much of this has to do with my sense that this practice isn’t unique to the Kabbalistic material, though it has rarely been so thoroughly detailed. While looking at so much material as an expression of permutation may seem a little abstract, I think the takeaway from that is anything but.
This mourning for Tammuz/Damuzi thing…Okay, let me run through some stuff.
There is a quote that comes from a tenth-century manuscript, Nabatean Agriculture, that contains much useful information. Somewhat controversially attributed to Ibn Wahshiyya, Nabatean Agriculture sounds like a fascinating text that mixed star lore and magic with extensive practical advice about agriculture; I wish there was a complete English translation available, but read about it here.
(As an aside, I’m also interested in the relationship between agriculture and star lore showing up independently in both Mesoamerica and the Middle East. There seems to be some good evidence for strengthening the thesis that ritual might have preceded agriculture and laid the groundwork for it, that the experience of time in ritual might have preceded the understanding of time necessary for agriculture. In the Americas, you have the mound complexes, and in the Old World, you have Gobekli Tepi.)
The quote in question describes how rites of lamentation were shared by devotees to both Tammuz (Dumuzi) and St. George at the time of the manuscript’s composition. I quote it here as an opportunity to consider the relationship between continuity and memory.
I often lament the rapid transition between structuralism and post-structuralism, between modernity and postmodernity. While there are many figures grouped under the latter’s banner that are vital and important, in most cases it seems like the sort of rapid transition that hides more than it reveals. In the refusal to dwell with structuralism and with modernity, there seems to be a missed opportunity. Or, rather, a whole field of missed opportunities.
Take Claude Levi-Strauss’s most basic insight that myths aren’t singular, that the understanding of a myth requires establishing a sense of the family of myths that share and redistribute its elements. The myth comes to occupy a field defined by its variations. These variations are defined by sharing overlapping elements and themes, even as those elements and themes are constantly redistributed.