As I am talking about the sefirah, the Sefer Yetzirah, the book of Revelation, and Pharaoh’s spiritual function, I am also becoming increasingly aware of a difference in scale between this work and the work with which I began this blog. I named it Disrupt and Repair to reflect the texture of spiritual processes with which I was engaged. Following them out to my current work, I can see a family of practices centered upon formation and demolition.
Okay, so I have a few things that I keep thinking about or which are being put forward for me to think about, things that will probably make their way into posts of their own, but right now I want to see what I can do to just get them out of my head and put them in front of my face, see what other connections might arise thereby. Notebooking, so caveat lector.
I have had this post half-formed for a while, since reading some of Edward Butler’s work, and this post over at Hermetic Lessons served as a catalyst to extract it. The basic point is straightforward enough. If we are made of time, then it is important to think about how time can be made, how it can be constituted. Those forms of time define the substance of our experience and those forms of experience make possible forms of practice. One of the problems with this discussion is that we often have a fairly poor vocabulary for talking about this sort of thing.
“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.
So far, the new year shift seems to be toward less frequent posting. Partly, that is because I am thinking about some different sorts of things and thinking a little differently all around. That shift hasn’t quite congealed into a pattern that I can sit down and just write about. But I write to think, too, so I want to keep up the habit of posting.
This weekend I’ve been reading Alfredo López Austin’s Tamoanchan, Tlalocan: Places of Mist in a way that I haven’t read anything in a while. He’s an exceptionally good comparative thinker, triangulating from several contemporary Mesoamerican religious practices to better pin down a model of pre-Columbian Nahua thought. It’s funny, every time I find myself working through an account of Mesoamerican or Caribbean or Amazonian philosophy, I can just feel all the little gray cells standing up in recognition of their insight.
So, it’s been a little but since I talked about the Yeatses’ spiritualist material. A large part of that has to do with how clearly it fits into the hungry ghost model. There isn’t a single trait of the hungry ghost experience that you can’t find in the Vision materials: hypnotism, talkative spirits, pseudo-historical identities, warnings about rival spirits looking to interfere with them, cosmological speculation, striking physical manifestations, draining the medium. That’s a lot of red flags.
There are some redeeming qualities, though. The spirits seem less interested in the cosmological speculation than William. While they deign to talk about such things, they often seem to do so with a certain sense of resignation (“oh for the love of…William wants to hear about the afterlife again”). While they do engage in some striking physical manifestations, they are less concerned with dramatic proofs of there power (like healing).
They show concern for their medium’s fatigue and advise the Yeatses to take it easy on channeling. Finally, they show a great deal of interest in family and children, stating one of their key works to be be securing the birth of the children and their well-being in life, and they do seem to manage that quite tidily. If the volume of material is any indication, their direct interaction with the Yeatses declines sharply after the family is established.
In the early days of anthropology, there was a lot of interest in exotic cosmologies. Part of the anthropologist’s job was to get at the model of the universe their informants had. That tendency had its roots in the philological habits of the ‘Enlightened’ European world and it produced a fair amount of scholarship that equated understanding a people with understanding their cosmology. This eventually gave way to a richer notion of culture that emphasized conceptual frameworks and sensibilities within anthropology, but it has had a lingering and stifling impact on occultism and occult-inflected new relgious movements.
[This is one of those speculative posts, so bear with me. I am not necessarily saying that I buy everything said here, but I do think it is is worth putting the model out there.]
It’s not too surprising that the Yeatses’ spirits address the source of artistic inspiration. Not only is it of personal relevance to W. B. Yeats, but the system they describe gives the aesthetic a key place. A Vision divides souls into two sorts, primary and antithetical. The primary souls are souls of action, the McBrides of the world in their various forms, but the antithetical souls are thoughtful souls, inclined to subjective, aesthetic, and intellectual pursuits.
That quotation from Yeats hasn’t ceased to needle at me;, it mirrors ideas that I keep revisiting in my notebooks. I followed the link back to the original source and tore through the text over a quiet evening (downloadable versions here). It’s…well, intriguing but also a bit infuriating. Yeats struggles mightily in the text to come to theoretical terms with his personal spiritual experiences: he’s thoughtful and sincere but the text lingers in the murky and indeterminate.
This is one of those experiments in link curation. I aim to point out to a few interesting things and give them just a little horizon to unite them.
First up, a quote from an oldie but goodie, W. B. Yeats:
The dead, as the passionate necessity wears out, come into a measure of freedom and may turn the impulse of events, started while living, in some new direction, but they cannot originate except through the living. Then gradually they perceive, although they are still but living in their memories, harmonies, symbols, and patterns, as though all were being refashioned by an artist, and they are moved by emotions, sweet for no imagined good but in themselves, like those of children dancing in a ring… (fuller quote here)
Which I would suggest reading alongside this article on Wikipedia about Mongolian shamans in the afterlife.
Then, when you are good and ready, go pick up a copy of Frisvold’s Quimbanda set on Pomba Giras and Exus because he is talking about a similar phenomenon–sorcerors and witches instead of shamans, but still.
Which is to say: there is a way to live that prepares the soul to launch into the afterlife with a mission, with the means and tools to change the way the otherwise whimsical dead flow through the world and organize them to the benefit of the living. It isn’t just boddhisattvas out there, though, and you should keep that in mind.
Looking at these ‘lesser saints’ helps shift gears from the high-falutin’ gnosticism that sees success as basically running so hard at the world that you punch a hole right through it into heaven to a gnosticism that sees success almost metabolically, as the continuation of the spiritual fusion of the giant and the messiah, just at a different frequency.