It struck me while I was sitting on the floor today reading the signs, that it was precisely five years ago that I first sat down on this floor and chalked it up, on a Saturday like this one. Five years. I also realize I’m starting to get old, too, because I now find myself thinking that yoga postures were developed by yogis trying to stay limber while they spent hours contemplating the five square feet of earth they were working.
This post began a bit far afield and so ranges widely to circle closer to home.I’m revisiting some old ground here, and this is very notebook-post, more observation and juxtaposition than well-articulated statement.
Today, Stacey and I were driving into Greensboro and talking about the clever use of doors in Jessica Jones, about the way the doors serve to mediate interactions between characters, and about how the doors where the characters live tells us more than a little about the sorts of people they are.
That set me to thinking and talking about the tail end of the first season of Person of Interest (haven’t seen beyond that; I’m a slow consumer that way), where the almost invisible eye of the Machine starts to acquire its own independence, where its camera-eye view shows signs of being guided by some peculiar machinic sense of interest and concern. That, in turn, set us off talking about how disappointing, how banally villainous, the Ultron AI of the last Avengers movie was.
This is one of those posts that started forming a few days ago and crystallized in response to this post of Andrew’s and this one of Chris Knowles. It’s the post about what it means if we take seriously the ideas that (1) we are constituted by a network of souls, only one of which is properly ‘our’ own, and (2) that what we do in undertaking magical work is open ourselves to a series of engagements with these other souls.
Emphasizing the individual dimension of the sort of spiritual work to which the Yeatsian material opens onto a discussion of how to talk about what a community of individuals might look like. The sense of individuality operates in dialogue with the individuality of other people, helping to clear away the demands we unfairly place upon them to follow our spiritual progression, but also allowing us to appreciate both ourselves and others as exemplars. At its best, this sort of support is often (not always) support to go our own way.
As a spiritual undertaking, the members of the community are not just living and breathing fellows, but the less visible and subtle spirits that circulate through it. They, too, ought to be treated with in the same fashion.
A recent Runesoup opened with a well-known quote from Clay Shirky:
“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”
It isn’t just institutions, though. Organisms tend to operate on the same principle. When we talk about ecosystems, part of what makes them systemic is that the constituents of an ecosystem are acting in a way that tends to preserve the system to which they are adapted.
Okay, so the last post is very “My God … It’s full of stars.” Most of us have had some sense of that in our lives and it doesn’t seem to change much for most, right? If anything, it can be a little bit of a paralytic. If it is all full of stars and wonder, then so is all that we would judge horrible, right? Gilles de Rais is as good as Joan of Arc, Stalin is as good as the Dalai Lama, right?
Well, slow down there, partner. When it all dissolves, there isn’t you or me, Stalin or Joan. Those distinctions are gone for a moment and between all those points, there are only surging spiritual potentialities, not yet falling back into patterns and shapes that can be assigned to individuals of any sort, much less to ethical agents. Good and bad aren’t yet questions we can ask when we properly realize the dissolution into points.
Wave or a particle? Yes, but not at the same time.
One of the things I really appreciate about Gordon’s account of the Necronomicon is that it allows us to posit a unity to it that exceeds its otherwise disparate manifestations, that we can think of it as “a spaceship crashing to earth and flinging pieces over time and space.” That concept of a spiritual message manifesting across disparate points is useful and sits well with some of my own ideas on how the eternal and temporal interact. Here I am going to suggest that we ought to apply this to Jungian typology.
(I suspect you could apply to it to Jungian psychology more generally, with the critical caveat that one of the problems with Jung is that he too quickly falls back on psychology and philology or, to use a Gordonism again, fails to dig a deep enough well.)
Please indulge me as I wax philosophical. If we define religious experience as experience of the spiritual plane, then it makes sense to explore it on its own terms. While our attitudes, expectations, and behaviors shape how we approach it, there is something distinctive to it that resists our expectations. That resistance demands some sort of response such that the understanding we develop about the spiritual world and how we behave toward it tell us something both about ourselves (individually and socially) and the spiritual world. Because the spiritual world isn’t just any way we want, but has its own substance, we can discern its reality ‘beneath’ the descriptions and rites. This makes it both possible and reasonable to compare one form of religious expression with another. The way in which we make that comparison, though, needs to keep those variables in mind and try to make sense of the different forms of religious expression ecologically rather than getting carried away with superficial similarities.
[For those who are fans of technical philosophical vocabulary, we might call this strategy critical, phenomenological, and pragmatic. If you don’t care about those terms, don’t worry. You don’t have to be connosieur to enjoy the wine.]
In his advice to fellow gnostics, Ibn al’Arabi warns that one of the most common mistakes made on the path entails confusing the truth of one level for the truth of another. That is good advice, but as always the devil lies in the details. How, after all, do we distinguish one level from another?
I propose that at least part of the answer may lie with reversing the formula–i.e,, when you cross from one level to another, the truths of the previous level cease to hold. That pushes us back to what defines gnostic work in the first place, knowledge. Knowledge is a matter of determinations, of limits, and we find those limits more often than not by crossing them, by making mistakes and discovering ourselves as having made mistakes.
Short answer: yes.
(But so can just about anything.)
Now for the longer answer: Spiritualist work ain’t a corny horror movie. You don’t break out the Ouija board and suddenly find your life taking a turn toward the plot of Final Destination or Serpent and the Rainbow (the movie; the book is fine). There are hazards, but they are almost always overstated by the opponents of spiritualist work. First rule? Don’t be a sucker. Second rule? Don’t be a sucker. Got that? That applies to mediums and spirits. Okay, let’s proceed to the juicier spiritual health issues.
Remember all these discussions of the daemon here? I’ll try not to repeat myself too badly for repeat readers, but the basic gist is that the daemon as the Yeatses understood it was a spirit that shapes our fate and our desire, that is bound to us for our life. As such it has a great deal to with out luck.