At the risk of spoilers for the series of novels I am writing, I’ll share my latest obsessive-compulsive project. I mentioned in an earlier post the Emily Glass novels I am working on. They are set at a druid college called Celyddon College which is somewhere in an alternative future Yorkshire. Attached to it is a preparatory school called Four Hallows.
Recently, I have been doodling the curriculum for the school and college, only these are not called “curricula” but instead adambula (singular: adambulum). The reason is that they are not approached as a race (which is the original meaning of the Latin curriculum); instead, they are approached as a stroll (adambulum). We get our English word ambulatory from that root, as well as its relative perambulate, which means to walk around in circles.
The new idea I had came from my studying the 33 degrees of Freemasonry in the Scottish Rite. In studying these degrees further (after having “taken” them as we say), I began to look at the old Golden Dawn degrees again, something I have not studied in many years. The idea came to me that some of the symbolism and structure of the mystery schools and magical lodges might be adapted to druidry — the sort of druidry that I am depicting in my fictional books, but which also corresponds, naturally, to my own practices and my own dream of creating a school.
So, this is an attempt to combine the idea of “passing through” degrees of initiation in which the candidate learns something new at each step, with coursework instruction. This is also inspired in part by signing up for the College of the Consistory which is run out of Guthrie, Oklahoma. It is a college for further study and research and paper-writing on the Masonic degrees.
I have been doodling around thinking, “Well, what would 33 degrees of druidry look like?” The creators of the Golden Dawn degrees did something similar when they took Freemasonry’s structure and adapted it to the study of Western esotericism. Freemasonry already does this, but leaves the study in depth to each individual, because it deliberately does not promote any particular religious faith or practice. Freemasonry is based on the Bible and a few other traditions, but the basic mythos of Masonry centers on the legendary Temple of Solomon (I do not mean to imply that it is definitely not historical, only that we do not know much about it historically or archaeologically).
Lon Milo DuQuette who is a mage and a mason wrote an interesting book in which he claims that there is absolutely no archaeological evidence that the Temple of Solomon ever existed. Outside the Biblical texts (the Torah), the biblical “facts” do not tally with archaeology on many points. I have not verified DuQuette’s opinion on this but he’s usually well-informed and it would not surprise me. There are endless “documentaries” on the National Geographic channel and such venues which purport to show archaeological evidence of stories recorded in the Bible, but I find them pretty spurious. I haven’t delved into serious biblical archaeology, but it seems like it is archaeology with an agenda, and that can never be objective. It is bound to simply unearth things to support its preconceived beliefs in the accuracy of the biblical stories as some sort of historical record.
Well, I digress. The point that I took up was that if we set aside the metaphor of the temple that was built by masons and then later destroyed and rebuilt, and did something similar instead using Irish and Welsh legends and the tools of magic rather than the tools of the stonemason, we might get an interesting system of initiatic learning in which the student was progressively raised through levels of accomplishment. This idea of “degrees” may seem silly to someone more used to the use of the term “degree” in modern academia. To get a bachelor of arts degree, for example takes four years of study and perhaps dozens of courses. To get a masonic degree is not at all the same thing. First, it does not necessarily take more than an evening of mostly passive watching of the degree drama to be awarded the title of the degree. Second, the titles all sound grandiose — Knight of this, Prince of that, and so forth. But, third, Masonry is not academia and the word “degree” in a lodge tradition means something rather different. The presentation of degrees in the Scottish Rite is not intended to instill a body of knowledge in a student, but rather to plant the seeds of images and ideas wrapped in ceremony and legend in order that those seeds might grow in the candidate, if he chooses to act upon them.
Those Scottish Rite masons who do not pursue further study of the materials presented to them will, obviously, progress only so far in the Craft. You could go attend seminars in how to build a stone house too, but without following the presentation with the practice, you would not be very likely to actually build the house. Same sort of thing, only on a spiritual, metaphorical plane. Building the Temple means building one’s soul. Re-building the temple that was destroyed by the forces of darkness and destruction, is a rebirth mythos, the root of all mystery traditions.
Is there a way to marry this kind of degree system with the academic sort of structure that requires students to study certain subjects and pass examinations to move from one grade to the next? In the Golden Dawn the “degrees” are in fact called grades and are treated more academically. That is, they are still initiatic but the candidate is required to do a great deal more active learning, not just pass through a ceremony with lectures. The candidate, and then the adept, move upwards along the stairway of grades as they demonstrate their achievement.
Typically, advancing up the grades also gives the individual more responsibility within the lodge too, but the grades are not a hierarchy of power. The officers in each grade and each lodge and each order represent some sort of organization of power. In a masonic lodge (as I am learning) the Master of the Lodge is elected each year and there is a line of officers that is supposed to move up, year after year, to occupy the “line” of stations and places and duties of the officers in the lodge. They have parts to play in the degree ceremonies and they have jobs to do to make the lodge meetings run smoothly and the brothers work together to get things done.
But very little of the work of a masonic lodge actually requires one to learn anything. People need to learn the parts and lectures of the ritual, and these all have to be memorized, so it is a lot of work. But that is all essentially acting work; that is, it is theater. The inner work of the Mason is something else. Memorizing ritual parts and performing them undoubtedly does bring about self-transformation. However, if one does not deeply understand the symbolism being used and there is no meditation, magic or inner work connected to the work of the lodge brothers, then I am not sure the system is working to its full potential.
That might not be bad, though. Masonry works very well to spread and cultivate brotherly love and charity and other virtues. If it does not go farther to actively teach the techniques of the mind and soul that can further aid this search for virtue — the alchemical Great Work — it is still doing a very great deal more than traditional educational systems.
My goal is to integrate these two systems — the system of learning and the system of initiatory ritual — into a cohesive whole built around druid ideas and Celtic myths and legends (or any myths and legends that are polytheistic rather than Biblical). I believe the Biblical mythos has its place and teaches many worthy lessons, but it is also very confusing and very poorly interpreted, IMHO, because those charged officially to interpret it are bound hand and foot by the notion that the texts are not legends (poetry) but records of historical facts.
I really do not know how anyone can believe that, but clearly a lot of people do. We usually believe what we are told to believe by our parents. But it is also true that a lot of teenagers do rebel against this notion that the Bible is history and then have nothing with which to replace it because there are dashed few churches and temples that will permit someone to take up those stories as legends and metaphors. If your choice is that you have to believe the stories of the life of Rabbai Jeshua ben Joseph are all accurate historical accounts from eye-witnesses, or else leave the church, then the rational person is very likely to just leave the church. The problem is that it hurts the soul to have no source of nourishment from myths and legends.
Thankfully, there are very few druids who have this problem of literalism. We like our stories as bards, because they are good stories, not because we think they are literal history. That doesn’t mean literature cannot provide clues to the historian or archaeologist, but that is not really what literature is for. Stories work as stories, as bits of fantasy and imagination, to permit us to believe in things that are not scientifically demonstrable.
In Terry Pratchett’s novel The Hogfather, he as the character of Death say that humans need lies and fantasies (like Santa Claus, for instance) because otherwise there is no wonder in their world and they cannot believe in the big abstract “lies” like Justice, Truth, Charity. All those many virtues that Masons espouse (and that most people espouse to some degree) are not realities in the universe except if we believe that they are. As Death says (and I’m paraphrasing): You can grind down the universe to the finest dust and sift every particle of matter and you will never find one particle of Justice. Justice is something we humans make up. We need to make it up in order to be human. Mercy too.
It is hard to grasp that truth, and I love Pratchett for conveying such wonderful truths in such fun and entertaining forms. He understands what literature is for. He understands stories and he does it well.
So, what would an educational system look like that actually taught people how to think for themselves? It would not inculcate them with the myths of a single religion as facts. Nor would in inculcate them with the “facts” of empirical science as “facts.” Instead it would teach them to see the world as a weave of stories, symbols, and imagination. People so often, in our culture, are distraught if you tell them that they cannot find the answers, cannot ever get to the origins of things. Sometimes we can trace the history of an idea or a symbol. We can trace how it is used and how it is interpreted by people in the past. But for almost anything you care to mention, we cannot get at the origins of it.
Scientific thinkers continue to imagine that we must, logically, be able to get to the origins of things if only we keep trying, keep amassing evidence, keep digging. But over the past two hundred years and more, this has been going on and for all the knowledge we have amassed, we still only have origin myths. We do not know how language originated. We do not know how human beings originated, much less human consciousness. We are so far from knowing how the soul originated that scientists have discarded the concept in despair. We do not know where our civilizations originated or why, and though we have stories from physicists and cosmologists that tell us how the universe originated, these stories are constantly changing. Scientists do not realize they are storytellers. They think they are going to find the One True Story and then they will be done.
My idea of a school would not fall into this trap. In my take on Freemasonry, the Craft does not fall into that trap either. It is just that many individual masons do fall into the trap one way or another. It is waiting for them at church or synagoge. It is waiting for them in college and at work and on the television. Everywhere in our culture is the trap of literalism. People who sincerely are passing off stories (the product of human imagination) as if they were unalterable facts.
I think this trap is partly caused by the way we study arithmetic and geometry. We are taught very early on that there are correct answers to mathematical problems. Yet the circle is an imaginary thing. There are no actual circles in nature. No equilateral triangles either. They are products of the human imagination. Mathematics and geometry are a very particular kind of imaginal construct that takes the ideas of quantity and runs with it. It is very alluring. It is wonderful to discover that one plus one always equals two. But, you see, it does that because that’s the way we created mathematics to work. And we have to learn to do it the right way.
A similar thing happened to the English language in the 18th century when Samuel Johnson wrote his dictionary. Subsequent generations of children were taught that there were correct answers in spelling and grammar too. You had to play by the system. However, in the case of spelling and grammar, it is a little easier to see through the creative apparatus and realize that these rules are conventions invented by human beings. It is hard going though. Once you have, for example, Latin grammar written down, and you have no historical evidence to find the actual origins of that system of grammar, then it is very hard to understand that it was in fact imagined by someone, by lots of people, over a very long time.
Linguists sometimes like to take refuge in the idea that language is “hard-wired” somehow. There is a lot of that “hard-wired” metaphor being used these days by scientists. I suppose it all started with Descartes and LaMettrie’s book “Man A Machine.” Since the 18th century this idea that everything is merely a mechanism that can be taken apart and put back together and understood mechanically has been extremely seductive. Forget the goddess Sophia, our current culture is under the spell of the goddess Mechanica. We love our machines and have faith in them. We believe, as a culture, that they will save us from all our errors and mistakes. Philomechany has replaced philosophy.
So, in my weird way, I am tackling this nagging problem with education and seeking to imagine something else. I don’t really suppose it will catch on. But who knows. We plant seeds. Generations later something grows. That is the way of humans.
Let me preface this entry by saying that I am a fan of the Harry Potter books myself. They have been years of fun and entertainment and I admire Ms Rowling a great deal. I have enjoyed a certain amount of inspiration that came from reading her books, and that, it seems to me is perhaps the highest compliment anyone can give an author.
However, having said that, I also must say that in my wandmaking business the young Harry Potter fans can be somewhat trying. Partly this is the fault of e-mail. In the days of typed letters and the post, it was hardly thinkable that a wizard would receive a letter from a young person still in his or her minority. Yet, today every ten year old can type on a computer keyboard and many have their own e-mail addresses so that they can visit adults on the Internet without the accompaniment of a parent and send off letters to them. These letters are usually brief, misspelled, and often inept in courtesy betraying the youth of their authors. Some are longer and more serious, but still marred by misunderstandings. I usually attempt to answer the latter sort.
The former sort, however, I sometimes merely delete and sometimes answer with brief rather brusque replies. One recently got my goat. Or I should say, two. The worst of this species of communication tend to come this way. The young writer will dash off a couple of sentences or a question and then some minutes later send another question in a separate message. Again, I may note, such behavior would have been almost ridiculous in the days of paper and typewriters, or even handwritten letters carried by post. I believe that having to consign one’s letters to a government official like the uniformed postman does help to make one think twice about dashing off letters to strangers, especially letters consisting of two sentences.
Well, this latest example of childish ignorance first demanded that I prove my magic was not a scam and then went on to demand that I guarantee the magic in my wands would work for the author of the letter. This bit of temper was followed by an equally short letter the same day which asked me if I knew any good spells — real spells like in Harry Potter, not a lot of silly nonsense with candles — and would I hand them over.
One can only suppose that the writer of this missive was very young indeed and very poorly raised by his parents. His complete lack of understanding about how to address an adult, much less how to compose a letter of inquiry, betrays what I consider to be a great fault in American culture today. Always a country half full of bumpkins and antisocial fugitives, America has not raised a generation of children who are given every opportunity to learn how to operate our most sophisticated telecommunications machinery and yet are given no instruction in common courtesy or letter-writing. Do not even get me started on deportment!
These two small letters in my overflowing mailbox struck me as speaking volumes about the person who wrote them and the problems that the Harry Potter books and movies have created. First, a common problem is that the children who read these novels seem to believe they are factual rather than fiction. Despite all the stylistic apparatus of fiction, fantasy, and parody, the books are seemingly taken at face value by a few fans who must want to believe them true so desperately that they delude themselves into some state of internal contradiction. This bespeaks individuals, if not a generation, who cannot grasp the difference between actuality and verisimilitude. Worse than that, they seem unable to grasp the humor of the books. I have a rather cynical grand-nephew who loves Harry Potter and many other fantasy novels and who plays video games constantly on his little machine-friend, but he doesn’t believe in them. He perhaps wishes they were real, as he sees so little of value in his actual life, but he is not foolish enough to get swept away with fantasies and start writing letters to wizards he doesn’t even know. He has the very great advantage, if he was curious about reality, to have a grand-uncle who is a wizard.
But this young man who wrote to me seemed a different sort of character (to judge by his writing alone). He seemed to be itching for a fight and though he also seemed to want to believe in magic, he made the serious mistake of supposing that fictional magic was real and real magic was bogus. I am still puzzling over that bit of logic. Apparently this young fellow judges the reality of things based upon whether they work instantaneously. This is consistent with a generation that has been raised on electronic gadgets. When I was a boy, I drew pictures, architectural and engineering drawings; I made model ships and planes and spaceships. I read books. All pastimes that take Time to accomplish, and Skill. They do not provide gratification at the push of a button. Today’s child (of a certain class anyway with money enough) is taught by all these electronic gadgets that things should happen instantly at the flick of a switch. Everything in video games happens fast, fast, fast. For the child with a Nintendo machine for his best friend and most faithful companion, the lighting of candles, meditation, or prayer must seem the height of nonsense — utterly imponderable.
So, this young writer writes to a wizard demanding proof that “his magic” is not a scam. This entirely misses the point of magic in so many ways. First of all, if the wizard is on the up and up and wants to give an annoying little git a sample of magic, it is not likely to be pretty. Second, it makes no difference to the student whether the magic of the master “works” because the master is not going to convey “his” magic to the student, but try to help him discover and train his own magic. Magic is not a commodity that can be sold, any more than musical talent or wisdom. In seeking a piano teacher, it is true, one might want proof that the fellow can actually play the piano himself, but we hardly ever question such things. Who would advertise himself as a piano teacher if he could not play the piano? Can he teach? That is another question altogether. Can the student learn from this particular teacher? That is a third, and separate, question.
Now, of course, I am pretty explicit on my websites that I am not a teacher of magic. I do not teach magic to others and I would be very reluctant to do so because I do not know if I have the wisdom to judge another person’s merits. At Avalon Center, it is true, I have outlines some possible courses in the study of the magical arts, but actually teaching someone to do magic is very, very difficult. Perhaps an analogy could be made to trying to teach someone to sing, or even more to teaching someone to play a musical instrument which is invisible and intangible. On the Internet.
Rowling and her Harry Potter stories have grossly misled her readers on that point. She has made magic much too easy and she has overemphasized the part that in-born talent plays. She represents children as “being wizards” much more than learning how to be wizards. And for an actual wizard, the notion that an eleven year old could do magic in any controlled way is either ridiculous or frightening. I could only imagine it happening in very rare cases of rebirth and it would be very dangerous. Doing magic accidentally is another matter altogether, but it seldom, if ever, takes such obvious forms as Rowling suggests — hair growing back overnight, the glass in python cages disappearing, human beings turning into hot-air balloons. All these this are just fun fantasies. They are not anything to do with magic.
And that is what some children seem not to understand. That there are worlds created in fiction in which we can make anything happen, and there is the complex world of reality in which there is always a cost for everything. Terry Pratchett is one author of fantasy who seems to understand this and introduces it as an idea in his books. In Hat Full of Sky for example there is an incident where a man is turned into a frog. Newton’s law of the conservation of matter is not ignored and so in addition to the frog, appears a sort of disgusting balloon of protoplasm that consists of all the leftover matter from the man, which was not used when his size was reduced so dramatically. Well, Pratchett is poking fun at the usual sort of fairytale, fantasy magic. He is not representing real magic either, but at least he is pointing to one of the practicalities that makes some sorts of magic (transformations, or transfigurations as Rowling calls them) so difficult as to be impractical. Yes, perhaps you could squash a camel through an eye of a needle if you really wanted to, but what on earth would be the point? And neither camel or needle would presumably survive the operation, and probably not the interfering camel-threader either.
Of course, what these silly children want is for you to throw a fireball or turn a teacup into a hedgehog or fly on a broom or something out of some fairy tale. “Show me a phoenix feather,” they will demand. Good heavens! If it was easy to do such things on the sublunar plane, they wouldn’t make good reading at all. The whole fun of fantasy is that those sorts of things do not happen in ordinary waking life. There are very good reasons they don’t. Fantasy authors since Ur have tended to ignore the consequences of such interference in the natural structure of the universe, for the sake of a little fun. That is the very essence of fantasy. But often, if you look more closely at fairytale magic you find that it usually goes very wrong and has very bad consequences.
What on earth makes children imagine that any adult — much less a wizard — is going to share secrets with them? I do not share secrets even with the children that I know without careful consideration. And the secrets that are real in this universe consist of much more complicated ideas than appear in children’s literature. For Pete’s sake, people don’t even go to the bathroom in most juvenile novels. Or adult novels, for that matter. Fiction is not reality, no matter how realistic it may be. That is why we like realism, because we know that it isn’t really real but we can pretend it is.
Magic, on the other hand, is the power of imagination used for different purposes and in different ways — to transform the stream of causation and circumstance, to alter our consciousness, to alter the consciousness of another person, etc. etc. It is extremely poorly adapted to fighting battles and duels or getting revenge on people, though certainly that has been one of the staples of common witchcraft. And where such conflicts do occur they are not simply on the material plane of being. They are on higher planes. That is the bit that Rowling completely leaves out of her magic, and that’s fine because it makes it funny and entertaining.
I feel sorry for these kids who express a desire to be tutored in magical philosophy and have nowhere to turn but to strangers on the Internet. Our society provides no formal avenue of education for them. Instead they are forced to go to schools which will do their best to drum the imagination out of them, insisting that there are no such things as ghosts and spirits, not such things as magic, only science and technology. The vast majority of these children will simply give up and conform to this indoctrination. Only if they happen to become Freemasons and catch on to the esoteric teachings in the Craft, or if they happen upon older and more experienced practitioners of magic, will they have any opportunity to escape this indoctrination. We believe the faith we are taught to believe. And if we are taught to believe there is no spiritual world, only machines, scientists, and economics, we will believe that no matter what happens. Things will go inexplicably wrong in our lives, strange things will happen, maybe we’ll even see a ghost or have a vision, but it will all be dismissed, hidden away, or repressed by fear because it violates the faith of the dominant materialist culture of science, engineering, and capitalism.
At the same time that our secular schools teach this faith, our religious institutions teach a cosmology based in the ancient world and the Middle Ages. One where everyone did believe in ghosts, spirits, angels, elves, and magic, not to mention divine intervention and saints. A child who receives a religious education as well as a secular one gets two completely contradictory faiths. The result? Confusion, bewilderment, or double-think as a way of being. George Orwell coined the term double-think on the model of the expression double-talk. It means to hold two diametrically opposed ideas in your mind at the same time. And we wonder why there seems to be an increase in mental illness in our culture?
It is, I suppose this very cognitive dissonance embedded in American culture which leads to young people who have encountered genuine magical techniques (such as the use of candles) and suppose them to be phoney because they do not jibe with the fictional magical methods they have encountered in children’s novels. Someone really needs to help these kids, but I hardly think I am the one best suited to do it.
If you happen to know a child interested in Harry Potter or magic, please try to teach them about their own natural feelings of grandiosity and wish-fulfilment fantasies. Tell them that puberty and hormones make all of that worse, but they will get over it, if they pay attention to their emotions and do not let them overmaster their reason. Tell them that wizardry begins with the union of reason and feeling, intuition and sensation into a balanced whole.
Wizardry is the pursuit of wisdom, not the ability to turn people you dislike into ferrets or fly on a broom. You can do all that in your dreams anytime you want to. But adult behavior ought not include demonstrations of power or prowess, most especially in magic. It should never be done lightly or on a dare and the best magic is that which is centered on self-transformation, not on trying to get the outer world to do one’s bidding.
And, above all, teach them that if you correspond with adults, it is pointless to dare them to prove they are not fakes. If they reply positively, then they almost certainly are fakes. If they are sincere in their magical beliefs and practices, they are bound to be insulted by your lack of manners and then you have simply lost an opportunity to establish a relationship with a mentor, which presumably was the point. I make it a rule that if a prospective client asks me if she needs a wand to do magic, I say no. You don’t . And if you think you do, then you probably do not know enough about magic to pursue it effectively with or without a wand. If I sent off my wands to people who knew nothing about magic, I should expect to find a very peeved wand on the other end when it finds out. So, caveat emptor.
On Friday last I had the good fortune to attend a tour of Arms and Armor, a local workshop specializing in the making of historically accurate swords and armor. My masonic brother Ray, who is a ta’i chi master, invited his martial arts students and members of our druid grove to attend. We were treated to some very interesting facts about swordmaking and I came away with a much better knowledge of it than I had before. Craig, our guide, himself a smith, explained much about the metallurgy of the process in practical and molecular terms, and also about the medieval economy and how the making of armor and weapons was done then and earlier among the Celts in the early Iron Age.
He explained certain aspects of the tempering of steel which are very difficult and about Damascus blades and how they were created by the medieval smiths of the Middle East. We learned a bit about how Japanese formal culture influences the practice of making Japanese blades and the symbolic importance of the swords. Unlike in America, when swords become important symbolically more than as practical weapons for battle, the process of making them does not get easier or cheaper. Instead of cheap ornamental swords that would be useless in a fight, the samurai code and the art of the swordmasters of Japan make the process of making the sword into a spiritual action. It must be done with the same care and perfection and spiritual engagement as one sees in the Japanese tea ceremony.
Craig’s description of his experience watching a Japanese steel-maker at work reminded me of a potter firing clay pots, a true artist who goes without sleep for three days while the steel is being fired in the forge, in a crucible that must be fed with sand from a small trowel like a living being. The crucible itself would crack and begin to fall apart under the strain of the heat and the master would carefully go about binding it with twine to hold it together, or let it crack in places where his deep experience told him it didn’t matter to the process. The molten mass of steel, after the period of gestation is called a “bloom” and is released from its crucible womb by tearing the container apart to reveal the glowing spongy mass of new steel.
Then the master would quench the bloom and break it to pieces, and when it had cooled, he would sort out the bits and nodules into classifications — steel of highest quality for swords, steel of mediocre quality for other iron tools, and the bits that would be thrown back into the furnace again and re-melted.
There is an image of the judgment of God there for me. Not a white-bearded judge sitting on a kingly throne, supreme absolute monarch of the universe, but instead an old craftsman with the wisdom of long experience, examining each soul to see if it had the right properties to be forged into a work of art, something more ordinary, or if it was of such low grade as to need to go back to the crucible and be melted down again.
Craig told us how the ancient Celts discovered iron nodules preserved in peat bogs. They would feel them with their feet and then pull them out and work their metallurgical wonders on them. Hearing him describe the process of transformation and the processes that were invented to hammer and shape the steel, to quench it for tempering in baths of urine or glowing molten salt — all of this put me in mind of Mircea Eliade’s book The Forge and the Crucible, in which he argues that smiths were the first wizards, looked upon by their compatriots as men (or women) of enormous wisdom and magical power.
Our scientific age has taken all the wonder out of such processes for many. But it is still there for me. Talk of molecules doesn’t diminish the wonder of the art for me. Indeed, it adds to it. The magic is still magic. Somewhere along the line in our history (in the 18th century, I think) our culture lost its powers of imagination. Imagination became the job of painters and poets, but even they got caught up with movements like Naturalism and Realism. Only the Romantics still possessed the deep vision of things and remained capable of seeing wonders and magic. Everyone else seems to have been convinced by the propaganda of industrialists that the processes of Man and Nature are just so much “machinery” devoid of magic, dull, explainable, and to be dealt with as purely utilitarian facts for the advance of money and luxury.
Last night I attended the Guthrie Theater’s production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. It was adapted by Robert Bly, one of my favorite poets. It was a marvelous production and in it the mentality I am describing is given to the Trolls. The Trolls are the capitalists and financiers, the bankers, and industrialists who see no magic. They only see themselves and they only think of themselves. Their cultural motto is “Be Yourself and That’s Good Enough.” which is set up in contrast to “Christian” morality. Both points of view seem to be the objects of satire for Ibsen, but clearly “being yourself” is not good enough in the life of the hero and is not what we are intended to emulate.
It was a good lesson because the expression “Just be yourself” is so often tossed out in American culture. Perhaps elsewhere too. What we usually mean by it is: “Don’t pretend you are something that you are not just to please others and don’t worry about what other people think of your manners or your likes and dislikes.” It’s a convenient short-hand expression for a long sentence like that. However, as Peer Gynt suggests, it does not mean to simply be selfish and ignore other people. It does not mean that running off with another man’s bride or having loose sex or consorting with wild trolls will lead to happiness. You do not make real friends that way and you do not find real love that way. You might have “fun” but you end up in the end without anyone in your life who cares about you, except for what you might give them to feed their own private selfishness.
In the end of the play Peer is redeemed by the love of a woman. I found this ending a bit sentimental and not very satisfying if taken literally. It was supposed to be symbolic. Peer had realized that his true self was alive not in his way of living, but in the heart of the women who loved him — his mother and Solveig, the young girl, pure of heart, who ran away from her family to join him in the mountains. Very romantic.
The thing I’ve learned about those romantic motifs is that they are not to be taken literally. A relationship between a Peer Gynt and a Solveig could hardly be expected to actually work in ordinary life. It works in story, in myth, because it is the way we would like things to work. It works in the timeless realm of story. Within the linear world of time and human aging, not so much. It is archetypal, as we’d expect from Robert Bly. The hero learns that all his soul-searching and anguish was caused by the fact that he could never (till the end) connect with the Divine Feminine, which in archetypal psychology means the Feminine aspects of his own soul.
What does that mean?
Well, the feminine, in a Jungian sense, is that power of relationship, of loving others, of being connected to them on a deep level, not just through the superficialities of profit, “fun” or pleasure. Peer Gynt was just a mask — he had made himself a mask as a wild and crazy teller of tall tales. He had made a mask as an aspiring Emperor of Everything. This is the mask that is put on by the Ego within the human psyche. The ego is so insecure and afraid and wants so desperately to control everything that it creates fantasies (and indeed realities) to enable it to believe that it is in control — control of other people, control of circumstances, and control of the rest of the psyche, which it tries very hard to ignore.
Ego wants to be Everything. It goes out and uses other people for its fun and pleasure and discards them or runs away without a thought because it is never connected to other people, or even to places. Peer, near the end of the play, bemoans the fact that he has never noticed the Earth and the Sun in his whole life, never truly seen their wonder, their magic.
The Troll king offers to cut a nerve in Peer’s eye so that he will forevermore see like a troll; that is, he will see only selfishly. Rubbish will appear to be riches, cow pies food, and bull’s urine beer. This is a metaphor for modern life (at least in the European tradition). There is no magic in the making of steel, or the making of love. It is all just mechanism and technique and “stuff” emptied of soul, emptied of relationship. Our accumulated riches become part of our mask and allow us to avoid gazing into that Void that lies unexplored behind our eyes.
In the end, Peer Gynt is confronted by the button mold man, who wants to take him and melt him down to make a new button. His “self” (by which is meant his Ego, his personal identity) would be destroyed and re-used to make someone new. This is a horrifying idea to Peer who has spent his whole life trying to “be himself.” But really he was trying to be a mythical figure, an archetype. He tried being Trickster, then Hero, then King (as a capitalist merchant prince), then Holy Man, then Scholar, and even, without meaning to , Madman. He even ends up trying to prove himself to be a Real Sinner so that he can go to Hell rather than be melted down like a broken button. But no dice.
Archetypes exist on the archetypal plane of being. When our Egos try to be archetypes, they are dragging down these sublime beings to the wrong level, to the literal world, which is to say, the mundane. This is the bad sort of “Romanticism” that people complain about: the sort of fellow who believes he can be king, or all-powerful, or assumes any of a dozen false archetypal masks rather than actually understand his own soul.
For Bly, as for Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, the psychology of men (and perhaps also women) was fouled up by this lack of understanding of the inner Feminine. Europe created a culture over the course of centuries that drove out the Divine Feminine by suppressing all goddesses and eventually reducing the whole idea of the Divine to the banality of a Father and Son absolute monarchy, in which the Father-King never dies, so the Son never inherits the throne, and is instead sent off to die as a sacrifice to make up for the mistakes and selfish behavior of the whole human race.
Put like that, it is a bit wacky.
What you get, out of this crucible of culture, is a bunch of men who are raised to believe they can be archetypal kings and heroes, to aspire to be God the Father. While they are sons, however (for the first 14-18 years of their lives) they are relegated to the care of women who are presented as second-rate goods, inferior, or even in league with the Devil, who is sort of theologically presented as the Son’s evil twin who rebelled against the Father.
Boys, told to be good and sacrifice themselves by following orders from their fathers, are told that women are inferior and at the same time told to obey their mothers as a sort of second-in-command. In some cultures the mothers were exalted to an almost godlike status (in Jewish culture for instance), but the dominant culture in Europe treated women like chattels and blamed them for the existence of evil in the world. When young men passed puberty, they found themselves incontrollably attracted to these girls and women who they were taught were in league with the Devil. It is only logical to realize that if you want to get girls, you might just as well rebel from the father and thrown in your lot with the Devil too.
All of which is monstrously unfair to women and boys and shows very poor ability at reading the old stories by which this patriarchal system was supposedly justified. Even in the story of the Garden of Eden, Eve can only be blamed for breaking the rules, disobeying her father, and acquiring the KNOWLEDGE of good and evil. It remained for future generations to create the evil, now that they knew how to recognize it. Poor old Original Sin was nothing more than curiosity, disobedience, questioning authority, and the desire for knowledge. To mask this obvious problem in the story, the priests of patriarchy told their young students that Eve’s apple was really sexual temptation and sex was what was meant by “the knowledge of good and evil.”
So, European culture for several millennia has been founded on this notion. Men are superior and can aspire to be heroes, kings, and gods, and they will do so by remembering when they are boys to always obey their father and the current king or priestly patriarchs who speak for God the Father. Fatherhood was turned into Deity. It used to be that really impressive things like storms and thunderbolts and the Sun and Oceans were considered Divine. But now we had a system that would allow only Fatherhood to be Divine, and sons to be sacrificial lambs.
Jesus is described as “The King” but clearly it is rather hard to believe that he gets to be king in any sense of the term when his father the King cannot die. No, Old Jehovah sits on the throne. There is no Zeus to craftily overthrow his father Saturn, no succession. And yet in the world of mortals, there is succession and sons readily realize that they can disobey fathers and they can supplant them, even kill them off — literally or by taking their inheritance or putting them away in a nursing home. The whole Jesus as King verbiage of the gospels confuses the Jewish idea of a messiah, a worldly King of the Jews restoring the glories of the old Kingdom of David and Solomon with a lot of Greek philosophical ideas about One transcendent Creator and the archetypal idea of Divine monarchy. This was to confuse a lot of kings in Europe for centuries.
So, like the Ego, the Father and the Son in our Western culture sit on very shaky thrones. They sit on a tissue of fantasies and contradictions and defiance of Nature just as Peer Gynt did with his wild stories of flying on reindeer and ruling the world.
This is the western male ego. The female ego is also constructed socially in relationship to this weird system of beliefs, but that makes it rather different and, being a man, I hesitate to try to explain the difference and leave that up to the reader.
In the twentieth century we seem to have undermined the foundations of this myth of the Father-God-King to some extent, but as we have not succeeded, on the whole, to replace it with anything more sensible and sane, our culture has become an unmoored ship of selfishness cut loose from its anchors in myth. Now we have selfish sons as well as fathers, disobedience all around, including daughters, and no myth that can explain to us when we are small blooms of molten steel why we should be any less selfish and egotistical.
Everyone seems to run about madly working to make money (being obedient to the Fathers) so that they can go off after work to have “fun” which is to say, seek individual pleasure and profit. The wealthy men (and a few women) are still idolized as if they were the heroes of our culture, those models of what we each could be if only we tried hard enough or were smart enough or something. Relationship among friends and family is reduced to partying, watching television, and exchanging greeting cards.
A billionaire is considered a “success” because success is defined quantitatively not qualitatively. By implication a poor man is a “failure” and back to the button mold with him. Ibsen, in Peer Gynt implies that getting rich off opportunism and the labor or others (and their stupidity in buying useless shiny things and following fashions) — all this “success” in our cuture is failure on the level of the soul. In the level of being that the theosophists call the Ethereal and the Astral, we are crippled, aweful monsters. Trolls.
What is the answer? How do we become refined enough to become the material the master swordmaker can forge, hammer, and polish into a brilliant, sharp implement of art, knoweldge, and perfection? Through the doorway of the Feminine. That is, through that part of our souls called the Anima. Jung considered the Anima to be a man’s soul-image, the inner Feminine that could balance his masculine ego. I myself do not see these as inevitably connected to one’s sex. It seems to me that male or female biologically, and however we are raised and poured into a gender-based mold within our particular culture, each of us has an inner masculine and inner feminine component.
This means, in the context of archetypes, one part of us that can be focussed on the outer world as an object to be met, battled, and mastered for our own survival, profit, or pleasure. This is the Yang part, the Animus, the “masculine.” Beside it is the part of us that sees our inner landscape, sees the Earth, Nature and its wonders, sees other people, animals, trees, stones and lakes, and relates to them. This part, the Anima, does not seek to “master” everything it encounters but instead seeks to relate to it. That is, to come into relationship, to love, to honor, to respect.
Where there is no imperative to “master” those you encounter, there is no imperative to subordinate yourself and obey either. The imperative is only to love and nurture the Other, to accept, to trust, to keep faith, and to help the Other. Parents usually feel this sort of nurturing impulse towards their children. Humans, however, do not always feel that way about the rest of their clan or their neighbors, much less those farther-away people the King labels “enemies.”
I can’t speak about Norwegians, but here in America, the melting pot seems to have produced a very mixed cocktail of chaos. The national sense of identity seems very fragile indeed. Which in psychological terms means the ego of the State is terrified of being out of control. The Ego of the United States has become dependent upon having “enemies” it can point at to say, “You see, there are our enemies who hate us. That proves our identity.”
America considers itself to be an object. America is like Peer Gynt, playing the Hero in ragged clothes, dressing up in Kingly robes and pretending to be Emperor of Everything. And each American suffers under the influence of this collective sick Ego. We have no healthy identity as a unified people. We are a hollow shell.
And then if someone starts talking like that, pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes (or is nothing but clothes), the others jump on that speaker and say, “You are not patriotic! You are an Enemy of the People!”
That’s how sick inflated egos work. They are terrified of being unmasked because they know they have no roots. They equate giving up control with death. They have spent all their energy to try to deny their roots, to deny all those other parts of the psyche (individual or collective) upon which the ego depends. Indeed, I would go further to suggest that the whole purpose of the ego, as a complex within the psyche, is to serve the psyche as a Center of consciousness. It has a practical purpose, but being Emperor of Everything and imagining itself to be a God eternal and self-created is not it.
The purpose of the ego-complex is to be a window. It allows us to see outside objectively. But the sick ego stands looking outward and tries to imagine there is nobody behind it, nobody else looking out that window. It tries to imagine that it is not a window at all, but the Whole Self. And that is when it gets into trouble. That may be the actual “original sin.” the mistake of believing the part of you that speaks and says “I” (ego in Latin) is your whole Self.
And therein lies the problem of “selfishness”: Paradoxically, it is the ego-complex of the mind ignoring the rest of the Self and usurping its place. Jung called the Self a complex too, but it was a complex the purpose of which was to provide a center for the whole psyche, not just consciousness. If the ego is not in relationship to the Self then, ironically, it falls into selfishness, egocentrism.
It’s easier to explain this with drawings.
Establishing a relationship to the Feminine is the key. Again it is somewhat paradoxical that the idea of “salvation” runs through our culture so thickly, and yet it is the denied Feminine who is the savior (for men at least). And yet that does not mean that literal men will find psychic wholeness through relationship to literal women on the mundane plane of existence. I think it can happen, but the mundane couple works because it is connected in to the archetypal level of its own being. This is the idea sacred marriage, the heiros gamos, and interpreting it merely on the literal, ego-level of expository language will lead you right down the wrong alley in the opposite direction. The sacred marriage of yin and yang, Animus and Anima must be accomplished on all the levels of our being, relationship being established on the higher planes.
Marriage that is based in nothing but material gain, profit, pleasure, or ego-mastery, or submission (its mirror image) is the pale and ugly imitation of sacred marriage. It seldom works as a mundane “relationship” because it is not a relationship in truth, but merely the yoking together of two egos.
What is required is that psychological and ethereal crucible of Mind in which the iron atoms and the carbon atoms can rearrange and by sudden cooling in the right conditions, become tempered steel which can be bend and flexed, but will return to its true shape after the strain.
Might I do even so far as to say, esoterically that Iron is the masculine and Carbon the Feminine? That might go a ways toward a scientific explanation of why the Hidden Folk are repelled by Iron in the old tales. Beings of the unconscious, the inner realms of the Feminine, ruled and guided (not “mastered”) by goddesses, the Hidden People are frightened by the naked masculine torn away from its roots in the Feminine.
An imperfect story perhaps, as I remember our guide Craig saying that in fine steel there was only a small percentage of carbon, and if there was too much carbon in proportion to iron, one got only wrought iron, brittle and easily bent out of shape.
Well, perhaps it is worth considering. And it is worth considering too the difference between Trolls and Dwarves, those Hidden Folk most particularly adept at the art of the forge and the crucible, and most reverent of the Goddess Am-mesh, Mother Earth.
The past month has been rather devoid of my normal work, as I said last time. I realized that Winter break from school seemed so long partly because I was sick for two weeks after Thanksgiving with a virus that eventually landed me at the doctor’s for antibiotics to treat bronchitis. I think I will add a note to my bardwood web site that the shop is just closed from November 15th to January 15th and leave it at that. I don’t like the idea that my customers are waiting for their wands or staves, but there it is. Too many notes.
What I have been working on during break, largely as a recreation but partly as a necessary part of the Emily Glass series, is floorplans for Caer Celyddon, a sort of castle or chateau somewhere in the Yorkshire dells where thrives a great bastion of Druids and Bards, and other magical folk. It’s a tale I’m weaving and, yes, it does resemble my dream of Avalon College. However, in the case of fiction, I can simply create, without being hampered by circumstances and lack of finacial backing. I’m excited about this project. It will be the next “Harry Potter”. However, I have to get it written first and then convince a publisher that my odd style of writing will sell in today’s market for juvenile fiction.
Partly, it is a wry parody of some elements of Harry Potter that I don’t think Rowling did very well. Partly it is an homage to the bits that I like but want to carry further in a more realistic world. I’m not sure if I’m writing “fantasy” as such (however one defines that slippery fish) or just realism with an eye for enchantment. But there certainly are things in the book which other people would suppose to be not-real or even impossible within the normally accepted realm of physical laws. So, I guess that sort of fiction gets put in the Fantasy section. There are elements of science fiction in it too, though I’m rather “soft” when it comes to science in general.
Anyway, the plans for Caer Celyddon are almost done. Of course there are many details to be added and as the story unfolds I will have to decorate each individual room. Perhaps it is “archetectural fantasy” . The whole castle is designed with geometric symbolism, all of which will not be lost on Freemasons. I have to decide how to present the masonic elements of the story without violating my vows, but I think that will not be too difficult since in the few cases where I will describe rituals in detail, I will alter them. It is a world in the future, after all, so some things have changed. Not only that, but as I was writing the story I realized that in Emily Glass’s world, some things happened differently in the past, so that the present (for her) is quite different in ways that affected what would be our own present time too.
It is quite fascinating to see what happens to the world when you change one or two things. For example, having Boudicca drive out the Romans from Britain so that the Celtic British kings and queens never came under Roman sway, except as neighbors. I also didn’t let the Romans have Aquitaine. So, France, as such, is rather small and part of the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by a powerful Roman Papacy but also confined to rather different boundaries than in the European history we know. Likewise, North America was colonized differently and the American Revolution never happned because the British colonies were separate Celtic kingdoms. The Frankish part of North America (what we know as the Louisiana Purchase) also did not change hands, so the British parts of North America are separated by the Mississippi River from the Catholic West, divided between the empires of Spain and France, but later split off into independent warring empires of their own after they revolted against their distant emperors.
It entertains me to tinker with history and watch what unfolds.
All of which is part of the setting of the Emily Glass novels (© 2007 James W. Maertens). Caer Celyddon is an old bastion of Druid power, one of many in Britain (never became “England”, the Angles and Saxons immigrated to the islands but were never able to defeat King Arthur). In a land that is a patchwork of kingdoms and other feudal holdings but which has never developed the Norman style of warfare, or the Catholic attitude of conquest and conversion, it’s the sort of laid-back feudalism the Romantics always wished for. The warrior caste was not in cahoots with the priests, but was held in check by druids instead, who saw the place of violence as very limited, a necessary evil in times when the tribe is threatened with violence. This attitude is quite different from priests who convince warriors that they will be rewarded in heaven for killing other peoples and conquering them and converting them to Christianity. In Emily Glass’s world, the idea of a religion that attempts to use the warrior class to empower itself at the expense of the rest of the tribe is appalling and disgusting, indeed “barbaric.”
Yet, there is Roman influence on British society. It just isn’t so thoroughly based in Latin and a blind worship of all things Roman. I like the Latin Language, despite its obvious connections to Rome. And in a novel using a great deal of Gaelic or Welsh is difficult just because the spelling and pronunciation are so difficult for us English-speakers and spellers. So, I do have to do a bit of legerdemain to make that all work out sensibly.
It’s also a post-apocalyptic novel in a sense. There isn’t any Apocalypse and indeed the Romans and their obsession with Apocalypse are one of the strange things Emily has to learn about their culture. But it is a post-industrial world after oil’s collapse and after global warming has raised the level of the seas and changed the climates. It is a world of violent weather in which there are quite a number of great cities that have sunk beneath the waves and the population has been drastically reduced, with beneficial consequences for all non-human life on Earth.
But I am not telling you about the castle, which was really my point. Caer Celyddon is, like Hogwarts, Gormenghast, or the Oxford of The Golden Compass, an architectural landscape as a setting for a drama which is part bildungsroman and part mystery. In the series, Emily will grow up at Celyddon and travel away from Celyddon, but it remains always the center of the world and the model upon which all other druid colleges have been based. It is sacred architecture and its design is rather like the design of a Greek temple or a Gothic cathedral, the symbolic structure for a culture that is spread through the world. I might even throw in some stupas, who knows. Sacred architecture fascinates me.
The plans run to seven pages because in addition to the four floors above ground in the main body of the castle, there is a ground floor that is partly earth-sheltered and a basement floor below that, and there are more floors in the towers that rise above the main structure. The main building something of an architectural challenge because it has a pentagonal central court in the middle of a building which (on the outside) is heptagonal. I think it is very interesting to imagine how this would appear to the person walking through the structure without ever seeing a floorplan. Usually that is the way we experience buildings, after all. Some (many) modern buildings are based on such predictable and dull geometry that we have little trouble visualizing the floorplan and layout of the rooms in our head. They are often just a series of dull rectangles divided into smaller but equally as dull rectangles. Not Caer Celyddon. One of the things you would notice immediately upon entering is that there are many angular relationships between the walls and passages. There are plenty of right angles, of course, but other angles are at least as common.
Chief among the features are the seven towers. Four of these are given to the four Studia of the college. That is, the four study programs, as we might say in English. They are not “houses” as at Hogwarts or other English public schools; they called by the administrators, adambula (walks) but in Celyddon slang, turriculae, the diminutive of turris (tower) in Latin. We get our English word turret from turris. So, a scholar says, “my turricula” when referring to whether he belongs to the Bards, Ovates, Druids or the Awenyddion.
There is a degree of rivalry among the turriculae but not in the way that Rowling has it at Hogwarts — no “house points” to gain or lose as part of the dramatic tension. The competition must be more cordial because it is a competition among unequals. The Bards and Ovates are studying to be Magisters (that is, teachers and independent practitioners of their art). The Awenyddion are studying the basics in preparation for life or to enter into one of the Magister programs. The Druids are studying to become Ollamhs, so they are older and more experienced scholars in most cases. The progression from one curriculum to the next is not quite so automatic as it is in our university systems. One does not, for example, enter the Ollamh adambulum at age twenty four, as some students can in our doctoral programs. One is not a Druid doctor untill one has some considerable experience serving in offices, teaching, or practicing one’s art.
It will not escape the observant reader that “adambulum” is a nominalization of the verb adambulare “to walk about” or “go for a walk” and is deliberately used in distinction from the word used in our present day academic institutions, “curriculum” which refers to a race course. Speed and winning are not emphasized, or even suggested, in colleges of druids.
So, there are the four large towers. I have borrowed the concept which Rowling implies in her descriptions of Gryffindor Tower; that is, each tower consists of six floors, one of which is its common room, a place of private relaxation, conversation, or study for the residence of the tower. The entrance to the tower is through the common room and access to the other floors is only through spiral staircases leading from this common room. In Caer Celyddon, each of the floors from ground floor to fourth floor is assigned to one of the five elements. The ground floor is assigned to Earth, the first floor to Water, the second to Fire, the third to Air, and the fourth to Spirit, or Divinity. Each floor is decorated in colors and decorative motifs corresponding to its element, and each floor serves as the entrance to a different tower of the four adambular towers. Each degree corresponds to an element symbolically and so there is only one entrance to each of the four large towers.
There is also only one spiral staircase in each, unlike the architecture suggested by Rowling in which there are separate spiral staircases for boys and girls and separate dormitories for each sex. At Celyddon the sleeping chambers may be restricted to a single sex or mixed, but they use the same staircase and the same bathrooms, which are located on the ground floor of each tower. The common room entrances to each tower are hidden doorways, sometimes leading to secret passages. Upon admission to a study program (adambulum), a scholar is given the password needed to unlock the door and knowledge of the secret latch for the door. No talking paintings asking for passwords, I’m afraid. As funny as that is in Harry Potter, it is not part of Emily Glass’s world. Elaborate secret locks that are voice activated are.
Well, enough for now. Must get on to other work.
Well, the holiday season is over. It really puts me out of work for two weeks at least, if not indeed for the whole time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, because I have to put in more time taking care of my daughter home from school and doing family things. My dear wife took off nearly two weeks of work (though she still works from home here and there as crises arise), and so we had a chance to do some adventures together, such as seeing the Pompeii exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. That was something that will stay with me forever, I suspect. I did not realize beforehand that the casts of the dead people and animals were made when the archaeologists discovered strangely shaped pockets or voids within the thick layer of solidified ash. To see what these pockets were, they poured plaster of paris into them and disovered they were where the remains of the people had been. I’m not sure why there were not any bones left. Maybe there were. But the casts made revealed the dying postures of the residents of Pompeii, down to the imprint of their clothing. One woman had pulled her dress up around her head to shield herself from the ash and fumes. A guard dog had struggled against his chain, climbing the mounting pile of ash until he reached the end of his chain and died struggling. That dog was one of the most striking images for me. These plaster casts are like the death masks they used to make of poets, taking a cast of the face of Keats, for example.
The ash buried Pompeii to a depth of 13 feet. One cannot help but put oneself into that position and think about death and the fact that we can never know when we might die, suddenly, just like that.
American culture seems a bit obsessed with death right now. Linnea and I were joking the other night about the National Geographic channel and how it seems as if every show on it ends with something or other being killed off by a comet crashing to earth. National Apocalypse Channel. There was an advertisement teaser about a show on King Tut and new information about how he died, and I commented, “He was hit by a comet, of course.”
So, it is a new calendar year. 2008 will shortly mark my the end of my 48th year of life on May 31st. And so the beginning of my 49th year. Without wishing to depress my vast reading audience here, I will say that I am myself rather depressed by this age. Middle aged by any standard, and in my case, battling with what seems to be Celiac Disease, I cannot seem to go for a fortnight without being sick in my guts. Yesterday I had an episode and am still feeling weak today, and bloated. I’m also fat, of course, but being fat and bloated is quite unpleasant. My only positive claim is that I’m not too fat. Lots of Americans are fatter than me, sadly. But I’m not in good shape and am easily exhausted, often achey, and all to a large degree because of excess adipose tissue and inadequate exercise.
So, New Year’s Day is a time for resolutions. I’m trying my druid mala beads for affirmations on this. Here we go, for posterity:
1. To get half an hour a day of exercise. Not just running up the stairs to go to the toilet or let the dog out.
2. To cultivate joy and happiness in my heart. That is, to recognize that joy is something one makes and draws out of oneself just like love, not something that is merely a response to external stimuli.
3. To ask friends and new acquaintances about their lives and listen to them. This will make me feel better and make others feel better too, and culivate brotherly love.
4. To think more positively through affirmations. I will feel better if I don’t dwell on things I cannot have and accept life as it is.
Well, four is probably enough. Notice I did not include “lose weight.” I think that will come if I exercise more and it isn’t the mass that is the problem, but the lack of muscular strength and energy.
I did start out the new year on a good foot by visiting a Naturopathic doctor who is a friend of Sarah. She uses some very interesting electronic diagnostic equipment on acupressure points to measure responses to substances and to measure deficiencies. It was good and I came home with some homeopathic remedies tailored to my symptoms. However, it was also depressing (probably because of this Celiac episode coming on) to learn that I now should also avoid chocolate and peanut butter and white potatoes because my system is reacting negatively to them. The only bright side is that these factors may change, if we can get the candida out of my system.
My lung-heart chakra area seemed to register most weakly, which confirms a diagnosis I had from an orthobionomy practitioner some years ago, and something I’ve known intuitively. My heart chakra is weak and wounded, blocked and unhappy because my emotional life is so negative and I am so often dissatisfied and sad. Dreams dashed, love lost, unrequited, lack of loving touch too self-centered — and all that.
I am, however, now Master of the Royal Secret, a 32° Mason. The Scottish Rite is really marvelous and I am going to be spending the next year absorbing it, attending the degrees again, and writing about them. The relationship of French/Scottish Masonry to the first three degrees of the blue lodge are also on my mind. One sees the first three degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason) in a whole new perspective from the vantage point of the 32nd degree.
Of course, as you would expect, I am bound by vows not to tell what goes on in the degrees to anyone who has not been through them. This means that I have to watch my mouth around other brothers who have not been initiated in the Scottish Rite degrees. Even those who have been given the 32nd degree in a one-day course that only communicates the four terminal degrees, cannot be told about the degrees they have not seen. At least technically. All of which is frustrating to me because when one has been through such a transformative experience and is so amazed at the process, method, and content, one naturally wants to share this amazement and excitement. How do you describe it?
Well, here’s what I would say generally, without breaking any vows. The Scottish Rite degrees are mystery play dramas in which the candidate participates (at least vicariously) as one of the characters. The play presents many symbols and many symbolic stories that are designed to explore the idea of virtue and character (and indeed vice). Each degree is a separate dramatic tableau that teaches through allegory and legend, not through exposition. Each degree is accompanied by a more expository lecture, but in all cases in Masonry the interpretation of the symbols and signs is left up to each individual mason. Masonry is thus non-dogmatic in the narrow sense of “dogma” as it has come to be used in the present day. Masonry does not teach you the meaning of what you see and experience, but rather teaches you to think deeply for yourself. It inspires the candidate to look deeply into the symbols and into himself.
It is very intriguing for me to see this process and method at work in Masonry because I was first exposed to it in Druidry through the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Philip Carr-Gomm and his co-creators of the OBOD lessons have consciously or unconsciously followed the same sort of method as Freemasonry, the method of the ancient mystery schools. The main difference is that OBOD uses the Celtic mythos while Freemasonry draws upon the Judeo-Christian Biblical myths and legends, and on comparative religion, examining the symbolic teachings and main ideas of Kabbalistic, Alchemical, Egyptian, Zoroastrian, Hindu, and Sufi traditions. The treatment of these other spiritual traditions is superficial or introductory, yet very powerful because of the method of dramatic presentation instead of a more scholarly, historical, or expository approach. One is introduced to these esoteric subjects only to inspire further research if one choses.
In my case, however, the situation was the reverse of that of many of my brothers in the Rite. While they may have never heard of these symbolic systems before, I have spent twenty seven years studying them. I cannot claim to have studied them in great depth, and indeed Zoroastrianism was little known to me except in basic outline and a few terms. But I came to the Scottish Rite degrees and saw things that were familiar and beloved presented in a new way that was alive and exciting to the emotions and the eye. Alchemy and Kaballah brought to life on the stage, as it were. Where else can one go to see such things? Nowhere. Nowhere at all.
I now also understand much more clearly the motivation of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and other magical lodges. They were exposed to Freemasonry and wanted to develop further degrees to explore the details of these systems further. Some wished to explore the Egyptian mythos, others the Hindu, others alchemy, and others discovered still more obscure nooks and crannies of practice, such as the magical systems of John Dee or the Tantric practices of the yogis. The magical lodges wanted to explore the moral and spiritual teachings of “pagan” systems (by which is meant polytheistic) and the practical application of spiritual teachings to self-transformation. That is, they went beyond the Masonic degree system to develop methods for putting Masonic light into practice, such as meditation techniques, rituals focuses on particular outcomes in the aethereal fabric of reality (i.e., “magic”).
Exposed through Masonry to the Egyptian mysteries and then subsequently exposed to the great boom in archaeological and scholarly knowledge about ancient Egypt following the 19th century, a few Western magi took the title of “Magus” seriously and wanted to know more about the practices of the Persian Magi and the Egyptian priests and the Qabalistic mystics and wonder-workers. All of which was followed in the 20th century and into the present century by scholarly interest in the history of magic – uncovering the magical pracices of the Greeks and Romans and speculating about those of the ancient Celts. These coupled with anthropological study of living magical practices such as we find in Australia, Africa, Tibet, India, and among the Shamans. Scholarly study in the exoteric world of academia feeds and is fed by amateur study among modern magi.
As much as I appreciate the Latin term “Magus” I prefer the Anglo-Saxon “Wizard.” The reason is this: Magus derives from the Persian Magi and the little study I have done so far of Zoroastrianism — or Mazdaism — suggests that the Magi to whom the Greeks refer were a rather late priesthood of Mazdaists who had corrupted the original monotheistic teachings into something much more polytheist and dualist. I want to research this further because, of course, the Magi might be getting a bum rep here. They might be misinterpreted, as so many wizards have been, as literally believing something that is actually intended symbolically. I do not wish to react with a knee-jerk negativity to polytheism. I like polytheism. I like gods and goddesses and the more the merrier. The reason, in my case, is that I see divinities as expressions of facets of our lives (inner and outer). They are cultural expressions — which does not mean they are not “real”. On the contrary. It means that we are really linked to our culture. It is in us as we are in it.
The monotheistic God, ineffable and mysterious and all-encompassing, is also necessary for me. I do not think that monotheism and polytheism are mutually exclusive. Those who do think so, are (if you will pardon me saying so) not thinking deeply enough. They are not getting past their own dualistic and cultural conditioning. Thinking deeply means changing the patterns of your mind. The conditioned, habitual ways of thinking, and seeing beyond apparent oppositions or paradoxes. But each person has to come to this point at his or her own speed, through study, meditation, writing, and thinking (also perhaps talking to others, though I have observed this mode of discourse to be largely circular and bound by shared presuppositions).
Anyway, for me there is God and there are many gods and goddesses and it is not necessary to organize them into a hierarchy of angels or claim somebody or other to be the top of the hierarchy. They are gods. They don’t need that sort of organization we humans seem to crave. I am not so sure we even need it. My feminist training in graduate school taught me that you can have a circle of men or women (or both) and pass the talking stick and arrive at consensus diplomatically, peacefully, and without hierarchical leadership. I know that is a hard idea to achieve. But then there is also the model of freemasonry, in which a seemingly strict hierarchy of authority is softened considerably by being a hierarchy that rotates on an annual basis, with officers changing and drawn from a democracy of brothers.
This was the Athenian ideal, it seems to me. Equal citizens serving as officers of the state, each taking his turn, and each giving up power gracefully at the end of the term of office. Of course, that oversimplifies the reality. Inevitably some men want to serve in office and wield power and some do not (women too). The system of equality breaks apart more or less as the few take on leadership roles and the many are content to just follow, or not even vote. Look at the lodge! What a small percentage of our members at Lake Harriet Lodge come to meetings to vote or express an opinion on the lodge’s management and plans, or its members. It is a microcosm of our democracy in America, sad to say.
But divinities are above all that. They are immortal, transcendent, immanent, and powerful beings who can interact in ways that humans cannot image very well. They can know each others hearts. They can cooperate at many levels and play out wholeness even when seemingly in conflict. They are like a human soul — full of contradictions but also whole – or striving for wholeness. And wholeness does not mean homogeneity or hegemony. It does not mean that the ego wins and everyone else in the psyche must retire from the stage. It means that they put on plays together and sometimes take turns being the director. We could not have the capacity for allowing others to direct the play if God Himself did not have that capacity too. Hence free will. And it is free will that produces the pantheons of divinities of the so-called “pagans.”
But, I forgot, I was talking about the Persian Magi and that they may be a late and somewhat politicized priesthood. The line between wizard and priest is a fine one and it is a little like the line between statesman and politician. One is admirable and thinks for himself; the other is part of a pack mentality and thinks only about accumulating and preserving the power of the pack.
On the other end of the etymology of Magus, I don’t like where the word went in modern language as the “magician” became a stage illusionist acceptable only as an entertainer, not someone whose use of theatrical art was intended to move an initiate and transform souls. It is a bit like comparing Greek ritual drama to this summer’s Hollywood blockbuster. Entertainment, as a separate category of business, as a commodity, is in itself not a bad thing, but I don’t like the idea that it has replaced enchantment in our lives and self-transformation through the use of the dramatic arts.
I was thinking the other day, what if one put on a drama based on the soul’s questioning in the Egyptian Book of the Dead? There is the soul, standing next to his mumified body with the Egyptian gods and goddesses all around, questioning him with scores of questions about his behavior in life, weighing his heart against a feather. There is Isis, there is Thoth, there is Osiris and Horus, Ptah, and Nut, Nephthys and Set and all the rest. Wow! Think of how that would be if done in full costume with an Egyptian temple for a stage, reconstructed with all its colors, the actors in animal masks for those deities that have the heads of totem animals, symbolic qualities, rendering them distinctly not human, part of nature.
That very well might have been the purpose of the book of the dead — not as a description of a literal belief in what happens after death, but as an initiatic ritual to cause the soul to question itself and its behavior while it is still alive in the body.
So, I go off into the new year, a Master of the Royal Secret, a Knight of the Rose Cross, and a Knight of the Temple. I start my year as Lodge Education Officer, hoping to explore Masonic light further this year and enlist the greater wisdom and experience of my older brothers in the Craft. Surely they are better equipped than I am to delve into the mysteries? But in any case, I will step in and do that talking and facilitating myself if necessary. I am trained as an educator and finally, after nearly ten years out of it, I have a viable venue to put that training to good use. I hope I don’t just tick everyone off!
Happy New Year,