Saturday, June 11, 2011

From the Sky

Last night, I dreamt about two strange things. Both were at receptions or parties of some sort. In the first episode, I was talking to one of my colleagues where I teach. She asked if I was all right, because I looked like I was burning up with fever. The second part of the dream, I was with a group of magicians. They were talking about someone who had "retired" from the group. Someone had called them to see how they were, and the sense was that they were fine, but they were not going to come by any time soon. Someone asked the person who made the call if they would be able to speak to this person. "Possibly," was the answer. "But it's not a question of how he's doing; it's a question of whether or not the group can let go of him."

Earlier this week, I finally received an article I'd requested on interlibrary loan. It was a sort of "psychoanalysis for the dinner table", written in Vanity Fair in 1915, by none other than Aleister Crowley. It's written in his typically bombastic style, which probably would have been amusing to that magazine's readership. Though he can't help but to inject language from Liber Legis ("every man and woman is a Star", etc.) into the article, and I wonder if that audience would have found it to be anything but an eccentricity. In any case--Crowley talks about Freud and Jung, and about dream analysis. He declares that he kept track of his dreams for a month, and in that time, only two dreams seemed to have any significance outside of everyday events. His dreams could be tracked to something he read before going to sleep, a particularly intense chess match with a friend, or a conversation he might have had the day before.

The dream I mention above would fall into that category. I had a long phone conversation last night with a friend who I don't get to talk to very often, since he moved a couple thousand miles away. We were discussing things that later appeared in my dream--in particular, magical societies and famous long-running members. Probably not coincidentally, the colleague in the first part of my dream is one of the few people I know where I work who has made some kind of formal academic study into the areas I'm currently writing about. In short--this is a dream of the personal unconscious rather than the collective. But they can be just as instructive.

In a broader context--I now have an association with interlibrary loans and black holes. I'm used to book or article requests taking 2 or 3 days; the standard now seems to be 2 or 3 weeks, even if it's only being sent from one campus to another of the same school where I work during the day. Perhaps many people are on vacation, but there should also be far fewer requests in the summertime. No one seems to know where these items go for 2 or 3 weeks; hence, I think of them as falling "into a black hole", though they eventually come out intact on the other side. Maybe they know of my interest in drinking good wine, and assume I like everything "vintage", so they hold my requests for aging. Which is thoughtful, but books don't taste as good as wine, though a really old book will have a wonderful "bouquet" (aroma). Like wine, this is probably due to some kind of growth (fungal or bacterial) in the thing itself. In fact, it has been posited that reading old books can be like taking drugs, due to inhaling the fungi that tend to grow in the pages.

But returning to black holes. I have discussed the Kabbalistic "Tree of Life" before, with its 10 sephiroth. An 11th sephiroth has been posited underneath Binah and Chokmah, and above Geburah and Chesed. This "invisible" sephiroth is known as "Da'ath", and refers to the Abyss that one crosses in the journey from the temporal to the eternal. (Mr. Crowley comes in once again here, as the positing of Da'ath is attributed to him, but I'm pretty sure the idea pre-dates him. He may have been the one who popularized its use in magical philosophy).

(Click on the image to make it bigger).

If I may oversimplify for a moment--one might think of the bottom half of the tree as "Earth", and the upper part as "the Heavens", using that term very broadly. The tree is light at the top and dense at the bottom (really, it hangs upside down), and the lighter part is the realm of "spirit". The Abyss is located in the realm of Spirit, not on the "material" side of things, as you might expect. Metaphorically speaking--to cross the Abyss and not fall in would require one to be light on ego baggage. So, someone on a spiritual journey would have to do a lot of work on themselves and their weak areas before attempting this psychological leap. In a cosmological metaphor--it is the black hole in the middle of the heavens. I cannot help but think of Joseph Campbell and his functions of mythology--one function is to provide a reasonable cosmology or understanding of the universe. Interestingly--it is now known that at the center of our "heavenly" galaxy (and indeed, many, if not all, galaxies) there is a black hole. (This doesn't scientifically prove anything about anything, but it's an interesting thing to observe).

Another book I am finishing right now is Jake Stratton-Kent's "Geosophia", volume 1. It is about the history of Goetia, and it is incredibly well-researched and thorough in its treatment. He uncovers the origins of Greek mythologies, tracing their characters back to their various forms in different parts of Asia Minor. One of the things he addresses is the transference of the afterlife/underworld to the sky. He attributes the origin of this transfer to Heraclides of Pontus, writing around the 4th century BCE. Previously the dead were thought to travel through underground caves to the underworld, regardless of what kind of life they led. What is important is the changing roles of deities and spirits when the underworld was moved to the sky. "The resultant upheavals indifferently made objects of devotion into demons and restored lustre to those formerly despised". (p. 177) Eventually this would lead to the Platonic idea that separated the deity from the material universe. And thus--as Stratton-Kent notes--"This separation, which monotheistic theology occasionally considers its crowning accomplishment, is from another point of view one of the world's greatest doctrinal disasters." (p. 177)

Or, to put it another way--in Carl Jung's writing on Paracelsus--“The Church might exorcise demons and banish them, but that only alienated man from his own nature, which, unconscious of itself, had clothed itself in these spectral forms.” It is responsible for the psychological split that all of us experience--between "science" and "religion", between "good" and "evil", between "God" and the "Devil".

Of final interest--Jung also talks about the Axis Mundi, which translates to "the center of the world", and is a mythological metaphor for the place where the sacred and the profane intersect. He describes the center as "an infinite Abyss of mysteries." Da'ath has to do with dispersion, being scattered. And, (still Jung talking), "distillation begins at the center".

In short--what tears us apart is what we also need to put us back together.

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