Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Rite by Matt Baglio

Synchronicity I: Ha! Just as I finished typing the title for this post, George Harrison intoned, via my iPod: "Beware of darkness."
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You know my schtick by now: the eggheaded skeptic with the Angel on his shoulder, and I hope I don't do it into the ground, but it's hard to walk the valley of the shadow of the strip-mall and to know at the same time that I'm "really" a child of God, "really" a spiritual being having a physical know that in fact all things must pass, including cat litter and escrow, to know that there is all around me an oceanic roiling realm of divine energy. It's hard for me anyway, and yet sometimes it's hard to know that there's anything but the fiery swirls of shakti.

The disconnect between modern life and the unseen spirit world forms a major theme in Matt Baglio's The Rite, subtitled "The Making of a Modern Exorcist." Baglio, an American journalist based in Rome, followed a priest through exorcist training and has produced a spiritual analogue to such bildungsreportage as The Right Stuff and The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228. Baglio's book is not as compelling a read as these, though--the style is quite dry and the main character, Father Gary Thomas, isn't drawn finely enough for me to be fully invested in whether he gets smacked down by Asmodeus. I mean, I was rooting for Fr. Gary and all, but Baglio, while he gestures towards the great distance the priest has to travel from a Silicon Valley parish and virtual unbelief in Satan to Rome and spiritual warfare, doesn't quite sell it to me. It may be that, to Baglio's credit, he's working overtime to not sensationalize the topic; the book's tone is rather understated.

Some of what you'll learn:
  • Real-life exorcism ain't like The Exorcist (except there can be copious quantities of bodily fluid expelled). Rarely does an exorcism play out as a one-time, all-or-nothing bout of single combat, and rarely do the possessed roll on the floor and froth at the mouth. But sometimes they do.
  • There's a fine line between diagnosable mental illness and possession. In fact, it seems very, very fine. In fact--I'm still not sure where the line is drawn, except that priests predictably suspect demonic influence when the patient reacts violently against prayer, religious icons, etc. On the other hand, exorcists will tell you that the people who come to them claiming to be possessed hardly ever are; the truly demon-haunted usually have no idea.
  • And yup, demons (at least the ones afflicting Italian Catholics) don't like Jesus, they don't like the mention of saints and popes, and above all they don't like Mary. Baglio himself had a possible Mary encounter; he talks about this and how researching exorcism renewed his Catholic faith in a Beliefnet interview with Tha Crunchy Con. The Rosary is presented here as a spiritual H-bomb, and I can add from my own experience that, although (thankfully) I have not had to use it for counter-demonic purposes, devoting oneself to the Rosary has a weird power whether or not you believe.
Baglio, in fact, cites research that shows that rituals like exorcism tend to have a positive effect on people, independent of belief. It takes him forever to get around to citing what I consider credible sources, but on the other hand at least he does delve into this material, and he pointed me in a couple of interesting directions:
  • psychologist Michael Hyland's work on "motivational concordance," the observation that therapies work better when they fit with patients' ideals of self-actualization, religious or non-religious.
  • psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz's work in treating OCD via relabeling, reattribution, refocusing, and revaluing (very reminiscent of John Lilly's metaprogramming).
  • theologian John Haught's idea of the "layered explanation" (example here).
The latter is Haught's way of blasting out of the phony natural/supernatural dichotomy that is the bane of us all. Haught is, unsurprisingly, rehashing Aristotle's four causes, but ponder 'pon it: public conversation on religion has degenerated to the point that a moldy Greek pedagogue is a breath of fresh air... fundamentalism and positivism have supplanted actual thought to the point that old Ari seems positively nuanced.

* * * * * * * * *

Synchronicity I.5: Sophia got home. We went to Wal-Mart, as we are wont. Cashier was joking about being oppressed by demonic forces. (Then again, this is East Podunk, so whattaya expect?)

* * * * * * * * *

On the other hand, I was disappointed that Baglio let priests and cops convince him that Italy is rife with Satanic cults -- the whole underground-hideouts and infiltrating-high-political-offices kind of thing that was debunked years ago in the States. It could be true in Italy, but such enormous allegations require evidence and all Baglio offers is vague testimony by people with something to gain. A big question, "What are demons?" is answered with the standard Christian mash-up of Revelation 12 with Isaiah 14 (Lucifer and his bad angels cast down from heaven) ... which I'm sure would come as big news to Isaiah himself, who was talking about Nebuchadnezzar and who couldn't really have used the word "Lucifer" since Latin didn't exist yet. If you ask yourself why there are reports of demons that long pre-date the Old Testament and the existence of the Hebrew tribes, or for that matter why demons aren't mentioned in the Old Testament at all, or why the older Greek concept of the daimon is much more ambiguous than the white/black Christian version, or why in fact most cultures' tales of the spirit realm are richer and more ambiguous than the rather downsized Christian mythos... then you are placing yourself outside the borders of respectable, Catholic belief-- naughty, naughty you-- and this book will in some sense let you down.

Baglio doesn't go far beyond the "fallen angel" model of demonology. Another, more empirically-based model has it that the possessed are enacting their frustrations, 'airing their grievances,' if you will, in a socially acceptable way. Those susceptible to possession tend to be those at the most disadvantage in a given society, and the theory goes that by dramatically acting out their society's discourse of the sacred these people are rewarded with positive attention and possibly in other ways as well: prestige, charity, starring in narratives of redemtion, etc. This model has been kicking around for decades; I remember hearing it in college in the 1980s, which means my profs probably learned it in grad school in the 196os... which means it was probably au courant in say, the 1940s... but in terms of sheer parsimony this social gospel of possession deserves some props, and Baglio doesn't mention it at all.

Not that Baglio means to construct an all-purpose, cross-cultural account of possession. I can't fault him for not doing what he didn't set out to do, and this book is a thoughtful introduction to a fascinating and highly elaborated spiritual technology, one that ironically is suspect even on its home ground. The funniest moment in the book comes when Fr. Gary's bishop, the one who sent him to Rome for exorcist training in the first place, is talking with him about his experiences and is stunned to hear that Fr. Gary has "actually seen an exorcism"! (By this point he'd attended 60 of them.) It won't please the spirit-skeptics that the Church is so conservative about exorcism, because of course for some people Christians will only gain respect when they publicly announce that God doesn't exist--except they tried that a while back and it didn't make much of a difference...

All of the above begs the question, "Are there such things as demons?" Sure there are, just like there's Truth, just like there's Intelligence, just like there's Will and Beauty and nightmares utterly real-- and a universe of other realities spawned by the folding of physical reality with culture, perception, belief, emotion, and the subconscious, realities that inspire or goad people into all kinds of actions. But I think demons may even be more concrete than that. My Guardian Angel says so; her idea is that eddies of consciousness, begat by our intense emotional states, are always swirling into little dust devils of sentience, and that some of these last long enough to start looking at nearby humans as hosts, and that some wax fat on whatever limbic goodies they can scam and attain a separate existence-- kind of like memes, except still there with eyes open when you're dead asleep. Lon Milo DuQuette tells a harrowing exorcism story about this kind of entity in My Life with the Spirits, a book you need to buy and read right now.

I can add to both Baglio's and DuQuette's accounts that I have experienced entities, both purely loving and purely evil, that no amount of neuropsychology could convince me were figments of my imagination, which is why I'm drawn to books like The Rite. For me it's ironic, given the "reality" (in whatever dimensions) of these encounters, that Baglio tries to promote the Church using the experiences of a priest who's dedicated to fighting spiritual wickedness seemingly in spite of the Church's inertia and best intentions. But of course certain experiences exist on the margins, always, wildly at odds with the world we imagine we inhabit, with the selves we assume.

* * * * * * * * *

Synchronicity II: Sophia hung out with her best friend today and received her Christmas present: artsy/creepy angel and devil salt and pepper shakers.

Have I Totally Lost My Critical Perspective?

Or does this guy sound really cool?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Thought from Stuart Kauffman

"Is it, then, more amazing to think that an Abrahamic transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient God created everything around us, all that we participate in, in six days, or that it all arose with no transcendent Creator God, all on its own? I believe the latter is so stunning, so overwhelming, so worthy of awe, gratitude, and respect, that it is God enough for many of us. God, a fully natural God, is the very creativity in the universe. It is this view that I hope can be shared across all our religious traditions, embracing those like myself, who do not believe in a Creator God, as well as those who do. This view of God can be a shared religious and spiritual space for us all."

-- Revinventing the Sacred

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Crackpot Theory of Everything, Part II

Or is it Part CCXX??? At any rate, I have been providing comic relief to Sophia (and to myself, I have to admit) by musing 'pon the question of whether the universe is conscious or not. The proposition of a conscious universe used to be a given for me, but I've steeped myself in so much materialist thought of late, purposely, that it now seems rather silly.

Mind you, the idea that the universe is conscious is central to my cherish'd spiritual path. I just don't know if I believe it.

Oh, the weight! On one shoulder Richard Dawkins jostles for position with PZ Myers, who is cheek-to-cheek with Rebecca Watson, who is looking over Jerry Coyne's shoulder as he texts Sam Harris. On my other shoulder stands my Angel, who argues quite persuasively for the resolution before the chamber and who sends me, just as I slip into cognitive overload, stuff like:

Henry Stapp: "Attention, Intention, and Will in Quantum Physics"

Dennis Bray: Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell

and this oldie but goodie from Tim Leary, who explicates Blake's tyger:

"...What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"

The answer is DNA. And what enduring intelligence burning bright in the forests of the night-time sky designed DNA?

The genetic code is surely not an accidental adhesion of molecules. It is an instrumental message, an energy directive created by a meta-biological intelligence.

This intelligence is astrophysical and galactic in scope, pervasive, ubiquitous, but miniaturized in quanta structure. Just as the multi-billion year blueprint of biological evolution is packaged within the nucleus of every cell, so may the quantum-mechanical blueprint of astronomical evolution be found in the nucleus of the atom.

I'm not saying he's right, you understand... and
yes, he veers perilously close to creationism, but he's really saying the same thing the others are: a) consciousness is an emergent property of matter, and b) the same thing my Angel is saying--you have to expand your definition of "consciousness" beyond the folds of the brain and perhaps beyond living beings as we understand them. The harder I try to demolish this conscious universe idea, the harder it pushes back. It's pretty sad when you lose an argument to the voices in your head.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blogger #@&* Twitter *&^%#

I fixed it for now... but you might have seen that, due to some subspace anomaly, my Twitter feed on this page was tweeting other people's twits... sorry. It's a "known issue" for Google but they're taking their time doing anything other than knowing about it... but for now I don't have to migrate my blog to LiveDrama™ or somewhere... :)

"Twitter is boring," sez Molly...

thanks to Molly, btw, I spent part of this morning joyously singing Christian hymns in a Baptist church... not even kidding... why do they show videos in church now???? But I felt Her there... as enfolding love...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

iPod Idolatry

today's the day my new ipod comes, yay yay yay yay... i love my ipod and this new one is gonna be awesome it's 160 gigs and like i can get so much music on dat mutha... IT'S HERE!!! omg..... the box is dented! did it get crushed? amazon fools only put one bubble pack in the box... people this is an ipod...

ok, let's fire up copytrans n get all the old stuff off troubador... what should i call my new ipod? lemme see lemme see... matangi, she's a real sweetie, inspires all that bad-ass musical wildin'... can't wait til all my stuff's on here... omg... but "matangi" isn't as catchy as "troubador"... hmmm... tara...? saraswati???

how long'll this take? i want it all on there now... blue lotus! cuz matangi's the color of a blue lotus... ♥♥♥ ok, it'll be like 2 1/2, 3 hours.... what if it doesn't work?? what if there's that song i don't remember i have and i lose it and i only remember it six months from now but i can't download it again... debora by t rex... took forEVer to find that... it has to work... i'll make it work... please work...

16,000 songs... omg, they're transferring... can't sit here all 3 hours... have to get songs off the work computer, too... and the laptop... hope it works... OMG the new ipod doesn't fit the old dock!! craaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAP!!!... what am i going to-- have i listened to any of these lectures by alan watts??? songs still copying, still copying... why doesn't it fit????????????

still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying... still copying.............

IT'S DONE! 16,000 songs... ! now get them all on the new ipod... should take about... not as long, probably hour and a half ... ok... select all... drag.... and... and... AND? AND? NOT RESPONDING!!??!!! got-damn apple idiots, hire some google programmers... seriously!!!

reboot... goddamit... apple... sheesh... ok, let's try dragging about, like, 3000 songs over...surely that won't tax itunes' little brain, RIGHT????? draaaaa-g-ing... they're loooaaaading... my songs! onto my new ipod! let 'em load... come back in a few minutes--



oh great, 93 problems identified! 93 songs not copying over-- !!! how the HELL am I supposed to-- thank you, apple!!! fearless defenders of corporate music! leaving no half-assed software code untweaked in your quest to enrich sonyuniversalemiwarner hydraheaded media monster............. dammit!!!!!!!!! auuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugggggggghhh--

sophia says just authorize the computer and start over. that'll work.

highlight... drag... come back in a few minutes... highlight... drag... come back, do something to take my mind off it, god's sake empty the trash or something, make a tuna sandwich, it's going to work, it's working, my music, all my music, on my new ipod... it's happening... i need a case for this thing... i haven't seen a good one online anywhere, or in the apple store... maybe highlight... drag... down to the last 3000...

oh. it does fit the dock after all.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Skeptic Who's Skeptical of Skeptics

Elyse over at Skepchick has an excellent post about reflexive, jingoist Skepticism Lite. The comments are really good, too. I spend so much time reading Pharyngula (which I like a helluva lot, don't get me wrong) that I forget sometimes that there are skeptics out there who seriously entertain the possibility that they, too, could be wrong and that (in the words of Skepchick commenter Chasmosaur) not every religious person is "a slack-jawed, neo-con jackass."

The skeptic in me is clamoring that what I'm about to say sounds totally essentialist, but: isn't it interesting that ♀ Skepchickseems so collaborative, and such a tolerant forum for diverse points of view? It's a blog that shuns ex cathedra pronouncements and instead often asks its readers to supply the content--as if valuing multiple perspectives... no, no, none of this has anything to do with the blog's heavily female editorial staff... impossible! Just--a-- coincidence! [omg there's a <3 in Skepchick's Twitter feed...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

UPDATE: Ladies and Unicorns

In a post about my pilgrimage to the City of Our Lady, I mentioned another lady, namely that Lady who hangs out with the unicorn. The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries housed in the Musée de Cluny in Paris are one of the great artworks our species has produced, and rather predictably I interpret them as an allegory of the spiritual path (exhaustive exegesis forthcoming).

Now, Nina Shen Rastogi, in a wonderful essay, seeks to answer the timeless question, "Why Do Girls Love Unicorns?"

If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, Rastogi's subtitle is "It's more than just the horn."

Rastogi jets from ancient Greek lit to Rabelais to "sticker and stationery queen Lisa Frank" to trace the devolution of the once-fierce, once-sexy equine into a universal symbol of schlock, and she ends up decoding a pivotal moment in the cartoon epic The Last Unicorn. Much like the tapestries, this sub-Disney narrative points to hidden or lost parts of the self and dares us to reunite with them, to become whole, to gather what is scattered.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kalibhakta Sutra, Part Three

Verse 3:
Her play begets star-play begets neuron-play begets All.

Vimala-lila tara-lila manisha-lila nitya-lila.

We begin to evolve beyond our individual and cultural limitations when we appreciate that play [lila] is the source of existence and that flux, not stability or hierarchy, is "the way things are." Vide the quantum world, vide the rise and fall of civilizations and of the universe itself. As Kalibhakta puts it in a marginal note to the MS: when we expect the universe to conform to our wishes, "We are like a bandit extorting a penny from a queen who sits astride a hill of rubies." [Note menstrual imagery.]

Some have called this the "fractal zoom verse" after the way it zips from the ultimate macro-level of being to the micro level and back again. Note that the words for "star" and "neuron" [mind] are also names of goddesses, thus emphasizing the all-pervading, all-encompassing nature of Godhead. The verse also refers to the fact that stars and neurons arrange themselves into similar, fractal structures. Manisha has the connotation of desire, an allusion to our arching upward to Her even as She bends downward to us: the interlocked triangles of Tantric iconography, as seen in symbols such as the Sri Yantra and the Masonic compass and square.

The epithet Vimala ("pure") for the Divine Mother calls to mind the book of Titus: "To the pure, all things are pure." The reader is thus recommended to keep the mind pure via devotion to God, since an impure (i.e., self-centered) mind creates suffering. Vimala also evokes Bollywood, and a certain controversial guru.

On the topic of externally-created suffering, implied by the verse's consideration of the individual's place within the cosmos, Shaktism unravels the perennial and overblown “problem of evil” with the advice to “Stop wishing things were some other way. This is what you have been waiting for” (Sayings of Kalibhakta, vol. 1). [The latter phrase has been traced to the poem "The Gate," by Marie Howe.]

Though our perceptions do not literally create the universe, they are all we have of it, directly or indirectly, and they provide the only "order" in an infinite sea of chaos. The verse portrays matter, mind, and Divinity as a feedback loop, creating one another in an embrace that never ends. Its depiction of creative chaos can be seen as a synthesis of verses 1 and 2.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nightshade Honey

Golden glows the jar as it stickily sucks the spoon to its depths... bubbles swirl slow with bits of comb as the spoon settles, floating just above the bottom.

But beauty lies: you know you can't take even a taste, you don't want this-- this poison, this sweetness of molten gold... this escape, this dream.

You don't want the honey. You're not some kid sailing a dragon kite across skies of story. It's just plain dumb to try to step outside your life, plain stupid to think of being saved, of chasing unicorns. The honey is real, the jar is real, and the spoon, and what happens to those who taste seems real, but their mind-- their own story-sky-- is where it all happens. Nothing changes even if you do raise the woozy flowing spoon to your tongue-- only a collision of alkaloid and acetylcholine, a fever-fantasia of delirium. That people could mistake this un-real for new life, for revelation-- sad, but the hunger for dreams, for cheap comfort, never dies.

Nudging the silver handle you shift the sunken spoon and see it grows a second self, a fat honey-ghost that sheathes, amplifies it. Light hits the jar and flows down and around the spoon, throwing, twisting dull beams through the ooze. Lovely like ocean sunset is the sugar-sluggish gold, and you wonder if your pupils dilate at the beauty; you think of involuntary wide pupils and how contagious they are, like a yawn, how card sharps wear sunglasses to hide them. You know this honey would give its own forced dilation to your eyes, would flood them with light past endurance and past reason.

But: what you get from an experience depends on what you bring to it. The danger is too great to suck the spoon dry, but you'd like to be able to say: I have tasted it, I have faced it down, and the power is not there. Dreamers, you gave it the power that was rightfully yours. The jar is empty.

You want to show them
, want to kidnap them from heaven and bring them to the true earth of opened eyes. But you don't speak their language. You could tell them that honey is nothing more than thrown-up nectar and enzymes, you could tell of all the joinings implicit in a
honey jar -- bee with flower, bee with bee, nectar with enzyme, bee-keeper with hive, honey with jar-- and they wouldn't hear. All they know and want to know is honey joining mouth in simple sugar joy. All they want is sweetness, sleep.

From the back of your mind comes a thought, funny but with heft: you can leave it to settle in its amber or you can wield this spoon like a sword. You can taste beyond the sugar-kiss and steal the veil from the temple. A taste, then a few hours' riding the storm, is all it takes.
Fear is punier now, a gulp in a distant throat that's never spoken up for itself--unworthy. And before you can think again, you lift the spoon, watch its ooze spiral lazily back into the jar, turn the spoon to gather the stream, careful not to spill a drop, gathering the ooze into the spoon and raising the spoon to your lips and parting your lips and taking the spoon and closing your mouth around its brimming gold.

And like parachuting in reverse, it begins: crunch of impact, electricity enfolding tongue with
rot-green tentacles, composty yet sweet as a lover's secret scent. And the dreadful pull up, up, yanking brain miles above gut then colliding them somewhere in a cold, gray fright-cloud, thoughts scattered, sight scattered, the ground gone away. You--who are you? --scattered, the sky in fragments and the spoon dropped and the jar a far wobbling smile of eventide in the harsh nova of now. Light like knives, operating theater grim bright: mouth dry, eyes aflame, honey and honey-bee gone like dreams at midday, you stumble, struggle to stand, to live now in your choice, in this blurring, heart-skipping breathless world. Who knew it was pain they sought, death to self-- who knew sugar could be venom, could twist your tongue and your eyes out of your head?

Touching, grasping as you haven't since birth, grasping table edge, grasping table leg, grasping air, empty-handed, grasping with fingertips at the floor as it smacks you onto its smooth, hard newness... who knew they befriended fear and open sky this way? Who knew a fall could awaken the soul, raise it to its true territory?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gimme a Break

This has been the topical season on WiHW... who knows why...

But check this out. Moneyed interests have hijacked Great Britain's courts to the point that, under that country's silly libel laws, you can be sued for calling BS on bad science. Or for reporting on toxic waste dumping. Or alleging that rich Saudis fund terrorism. Or making snarky comments about a soccer team.

Want to sign a petition? Sense About Science has one for you. You don't have to be British--Penn and Teller signed it. You don't have to be a scientist or even give a farthing about science. As Guardian columnist George Monbiot asks, "Why is this 13th-century law still permitted to stifle legitimate dissent?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You Mean I Can't Just Make Shit Up????

Pro-Proposition 8 Lawyer: "Gay marriage endangers traditional marriage and endangers the family."

Judge: "How?"

Pro-Proposition 8 Lawyer: "I don't know."

Judge: "FAIL."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One Year

Today is Sophia's and my first wedding anniversary. It feels like it's rushed by in weeks, and it feels like it's been years, not years of tedium or angst, but years of building a life and living it. Perhaps appropriately, given all my life in death/death in life jazz, we spent the weekend at a family funeral which, given the personality of Sophia's family, was much more like a happy reunion. There was laughter and a sing-a-long at the graveside service--I definitely landed in the right place.

Sophia and I, separately of course, consulted her high-school freshman daughter Molly about what each of us was getting the other for our anniversary. Sophia in particular had a hard time finding me something because, as she put it, I don't want anything except iTunes gift cards and the books on my amazon wish list and those aren't very romantic presents. So she asked Molly what she thought I'd like, and Molly said, "Just get him a book about evolution or some weird religion, and he'll be happy." :) I hope they feel like they landed in the right place...

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Kaliesque Video

Henry Rollins isn't everyone's cup of chai, but here he is in Calcutta in a video directed by the great Peter Christopherson, of Coil and Throbbing Gristle fame.

Rollins has said of his time in the city of Kali, "Spending time in Calcutta really did a number on me. The way life and death are almost the same thing, the way poverty is dealt with, the sheer number of dead bodies you see, it's all pretty overwhelming. I will be back there soon."

Ahh, yes... death in life and life in death... the "Illumination" that She wants to give us. Rollins is even seen in the video doing a Templar gesture (2:37 -- Christopherson's direction?). I can't tell you how much I love this... Hank has been an artistic hero of mine forever.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blasphemy Day International

It's today. Let's get to it!

For civil libertarians, blasphemy is an act of conscience. For atheists and skeptics, blasphemy is recreation. For lovers of God, blasphemy is an obligation.

Think of it as an idolatry vaccine.

Inspirational Quotes
"You are God's beauty." -- Sri Chinmoy (emphasis added)

"One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms." -- H. L. Mencken

P.S. Let me admit that I can't bear the thought of saying anything truly scurrilous about my Mother Kali. So-- I'll let the infamous toilet seat do my talking for me.

P.P.S. Can you blaspheme a Goddess who isn't imagined to be "pure," who resides in all things, "good" and "evil" alike, and whose worship and iconography explicitly confront the worst as well as the best of existence? I guess it's all in the intent, finally.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Jung's HGA Diary

Wow... The Red Book, Carl Jung's account of protracted wrestling with his Holy Guardian Angel, is about to see the light of day. There's a meticulously detailed and dryly funny New York Times article about the twisted history of this document, and it couldn't have a better title: "The Holy Grail of the Unconscious."

Apparently Jung's family feared that the old man comes off like a nutjob in the pages of The Red Book, so they hid it in a safe deposit box for decades. I guess I can see their point, but I'd wager that most people who'd be weirded out by the diary are already weirded out by Jung's work on dreams, UFOs, synchronicity, Eastern mysticism, the collective unconscious, and alchemy.

Jung's autobiography has a pretty fair account of what went on 'twixt him and Philemon, the wingèd Gnostic sage, but apparently the story is woolier and wilder than we knew. Also, Jung drew and painted dozens of images of his inner journey, whose painstaking reproduction explains the book's near-$200 price tag. New York's Rubin Museum is presenting an exhibition based on The Red Book, and you can see several of Jung's paintings here.

This post is in danger of turning into a miscellany, so I may as well throw something else out there and sign off. (I'm working on my department's spring schedule today and so I have about the brain capacity of a European hedgehog.) But... maybe you knew this, but I didn't: Jung hung out with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who apparently was into major woo himself. They wrote a book together, and now a book has been written about their friendship (interview with author here).

Sample quote: "The two sat for hours on end in Jung's gothic-like mansion on the shores of Lake Zurich, dining on fine foods, drinking vintage wine and smoking the finest cigars while discussing topics from physics and whether there is a cosmic number at the root of the universe to psychology, ESP, UFOs, Armageddon, Jesus, Yahweh and Pauli's dreams."

How do you say "Awesome, dude!" in German????

Update: Crunchy Con gets all Jungian. I jest not.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cha Cha Cha

"the secret to spiritual practice is doing it precisely when you don't feel like doing it."
--Jay Michaelson

... dancing...! The words fall 'pon the male ear as fatefully as the word Voldemort falls 'pon the ear of the wizard... yet for some reason I've always felt smaller because I can't dance. All I have to do is hear an old song like "Dancing Machine" or "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" or "Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance)" and the ancient agenbite bites once more, as it did in [choke] middle school ... the wallflower psychology, ya know, learning the truth at seventeen and all that. It's still there, many years after seventeen, though mercifully attenuated by maturity (or premature senility).

One either ignores this sort of thing or one faces it down. When Sophia and I got married, the ignoring days were over, since we planned to dance the first dance at our wedding. We took a few lessons with this Russian guy who was Bolshoi-punctilious but who made it fun, and we whirled a credible go of it after our vows as Ella Fitzgerald sang "I Could Write a Book." It was wonderful. Once wed, we talked about dancing more, talked about finding black tie galas to attend. I mean, I have the tux now. And I'll take any reason to hold Sophia close to me and look into her stunning blue eyes...

So we're taking this ballroom dance class. In a hot-as-hell gym in another town with a semi-professional dancer who reminds me of the Heaven's Gate guy. Not private lessons but a class with--how can I say this?? --undergraduates. About 20 of them, with whom of course we have to practice dancing. And I like holding Sophia close, but-- those other chicks aren't Sophia. And I danced with a guy at the last class because all the girls were taken. Not that there's anything wrong with that... but...

I haven't told you about the alcohol wipes. They're not as big a factor now, not in my new life of elementary school and Cub Scout camp. But for years they were my crutch, my graviton shields against a disgusting world. The germs... the viruses... the... other people's sweat! Like the chick I had to dance with the other night, a very good dancer but sweaty as hell and not wearing enough clothes and ... can't the gym have some nice delousing showers?

But microscopic bugs aren't the real issue. Dancing bring up my whole Quasimodo complex-- That Feeling of Perpetual Unworthiness that I've done battle with for years and have all but defeated... but you know demons don't die easy. The body image issues... the feeling of clumsiness... the 40-foot-long mirrors running down both walls reflecting 20 svelte youngsters and-- my aging, cetacean form. That stuff.

So instead of Being Here Now or trying to see the divine in the class, the students, the teacher, the dance steps... I was letting the loser scripts ("I can't do this," "This is stupid," "I have better things to do") get the better of me. Hell, I could at least have remembered that Kali dances in Shakta mythology, that Shiva dances, that She's my Beloved and He's my role model. (At least we're taking Ballroom and not classical Indian dance...)

Sophia is a lot of things. She's a mom and a poet and a photographer and a scholar and an institutional hard-ball playa and a teacher... and a Teacher. This is what she had to say about being the old person in the dancing class in the hot gym at night after a long day: "I'm here because I want to be. And I don't have to be the best dancer in the class, I just have to learn it the best I can. It feels weird to be 20 years older than the next oldest student in the class, but I don't care what they think. I don't care what the teacher thinks. I don't have to make a good grade. I'm doing this for me."

Sound familiar? Do what thou wilt.

Germs can't stop you, sweat can't stop you, even false self-images from the past can't stop you, if you decide to do your Will. But doing it means doing it, acting with your whole self. This is what I see Sophia do every day: act with her whole self even if she's just pulling weeds. I admire her for it and I love her for it, and I love myself when I am that way, when I heed Krishna's words and cut away doubt with the sword of knowledge, turn to God, and stand up!

It's funny how our fears can divide us from ourselves, lead us away from what we want to do. But it doesn't have to be that way. Our fear-born self-obsession can turn the world into a tragedy, a horror show, a bland Becket farce, but it doesn't have to be that way. Krishna had to fight in a war. All I have to do is dance-- and seek my Mother.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Vultures, Part II: The More Personal Stuff

In the previous post I mentioned the Shakta concept of the interlacing of, the inseparability of, life and death. One of the cognitive changes that Shakta spiritual practice aims at is establishing a gut awareness that life is filled with and depends upon death, while death in its turn inevitably flows from and begets life... that life and death are finally the same.

I remember when this truth first hit me in a visceral, deeper than intellectual way: early in my Shakta career, probably in 1999 or 2000, I was driving some back road here in East Podunk, a lovely twisting road through endless emerald woods and fields. I turned a rather sharp corner and came upon a dead deer lying partly in the road, with a couple of vultures chowing down, shaded by trees that bent over an old fence.

The birds were so black, so lovely and regal, and one bird's beak shone with blood. The whole scene took on a jewel-like completeness: death, life, blood, beauty. I shivered; I saw Kali in that blood, in those black feathers.

I'd never been this close to a vulture before; I grew up in Florida near some of the wilder parts of that state, and had seen hundreds of vultures from afar, usually gliding in their stately holding pattern above some future meal. (It's not true, though, that vultures circle because they're waiting for animals to die. Or, rather, that's not the main reason. I've read that they circle to attract other vultures to the site and to make sure some bigger, badder animal isn't lurking on the ground to snatch their dinner.)

Me and Sophia and the kids just went to Florida a few weeks ago, and it was vulture central, as usual, but we had some fairly close encounters. At Kennedy Space Center the sky was black with them at times-- KSC occupies what has to be one of the largest (mostly) unspoiled areas in the state. About 5000 alligators live there, if that gives you any idea. We also went to a zoo and around sunset the trees filled up with a large venue (yet another collective noun) of vultures. The walkways were heavily dotted with the birds' past contributions and one walked beneath those trees mindfully and briskly. But the sight of them, perched in the dying light, was shiver-making and I kept taking pictures, hoping for one that did justice to the birds' dark majesty.

We didn't get pooped on, and Sophia laughed in her sweet, teasing way at my "goth" obsession-- Sophia, my Nekhbet, my personal "Mother of Mothers." It felt so good: I was home-- in Florida, with my Beloved and her kids, and under the dark and somewhat dangerous wings of the Goddess.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I Like Vultures...

...and you should, too.

Did you know that they're a symbol of the Goddess-- of, as we Shaktas say, "Life in death and death in life"?

And they're just
cool. Did you know that Old World vultures evolved from raptors, while New World vultures evolved from crane-like birds? Did you know that the collective noun for vultures is a "wake" of vultures? (I've also heard "committee of vultures," which is even more appropriate.)

Did you know that Zora Neale Hurston wrote part of a chapter in
Their Eyes Were Watching God from the point of view of vultures?

Saturday, September 5, 2009 is
International Vulture Awareness Day.

I want you to go hug a vulture.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fast Becoming My Favorite Spiritual Writer...

Jay Michaelson rocks! I pointed you to his "Why Ramakrishna Matters" a while back, and I sauntered back over to that essay again today... I'm sloooowly writing a post about miracles, which has resulted in my consulting some of Ramakrishna's sayings, which reminded me of Michaelson's piece... so I looked at some of his other stuff, and--I'm thinkin' maybe I oughta retire from blogging and just periodically link you to Jay's articles and the other cool stuff on his cleverly titled web site Metatronics. He's going to say it better than I can, anyway.

Before I sign off for good, though, let me share something from the Jaymeister that really got my attention earlier this week... after a brief preface, of course.

Brief Preface
You know me: Mr. Figure It Out? Dr. Fausto-I Shall Possess the Lost Word? Swami Formulananda? It's always been a given for me that faith and reason could not only abide together as lamb and lion, but have really great interspecies sex, too. And so much of the time I spend thinking about the Divine Mother and Her unfolding is time spent modeling Her, working out the "lines of force" that link dynamo to Virgin, mind to cosmos.

"What is She?" I ask myself. "Does She even exist? What is the universe?" Clutching my toga with one hand, I point to the shooting star with the other, asking, "Was the star-fall ordain'd from before time, was it part of Her plan, or is it mere foolishness to seek a plan among Her glorious chaos?"

Trust me, it's not hubris that leads me thence (though it sounds like it), it's a relentless drive to know, to understand... as if understanding were my True Will. It doesn't matter that understanding is a pain in the rear or (in the case of a limited, embodied mind attempting to grasp the infinite beyond conception)... finally impossible.

I just want to.

The Thing I Was Going to Share

Then here comes Jay Michaelson, pouring cold water and maybe some beer on my pretentions, playing 'pon the saxophone of Dionysus the rollicking tune "
Stop Seeking"... or maybe it's a klezmer clarinet... and the lyrics go something like: you don't adore Kali and pray to Her and collect images of Her and try to breathe your life through your heart chakra in order to-- understand the universe!

You do it 'cuz you
like it... 'cuz--

you want to.

since spiritual practice takes a lot of time and effort, and since it gets sneered at by many smart people, those of us who do it spend a lot of time explaining why it's so important....Thus one hears all the time that "the purpose of our being here is to awaken to who we are," or that people who aren't "awake" aren't truly happy. Nonsense. That's just the New Age version of Jews thinking they're the chosen people, or Christians thinking that only Christ can save you....

when I'm able to sit back and let be whatever will be, then real receiving (kabbalah) can take place. Then God... really does show up....Stop looking somewhere else for God. Really--stop looking in every way. Stop seeking.

And I think: sheeeeeeeeeeeit, Jay. You boiled it down to the philosopher's stone there, homes. It isn't enough to free ourselves from materiality, from small-mindedness, from synthetic fibers-- we have to graduate from "spirituality," too, and eventually from the entire false "self" propped up by McEgo. We have to detach from the tree of received wisdom and, like October leaves, find our handstanding way to the Ground. I've heard this lesson so often before, and my dear Angel hath bespoke it... but it sounds so fresh now, like I'm ready for it.


Afterword (Dammit--does this mean I'm still seeking?)
What is a leaf, anyway? A light and CO2 gathering node supporting a tree's carbon cycle? This might sound like the barest set of facts, but it's already an interpretation: we've narrowed a forest of possibility down to one preferred spot of shade. And what if I say: a leaf is a tree in miniature, its veins tiny branches, a microcosm of the fractal whole? Just as "true," yet more abstract... and if I were to bring in other, more metaphorical trees-- Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life-- and call the leaf their child, their signature in physical space... then we've departed totally from the realm of fact, as myths expire and carbon is forever (or at least until entropy ≈ ∞). But in another sense, interpretations and metaphors and myths are what we are; they form one of the surest distinguishing marks of the species: its compulsive symbolizing.

If I see the leaf as more than it "is," am I seeking? ... with my theorizing, am I fobbing off God into the waiting room of my heart? Or am I just being me, Homo dialecticus? Or-- well, how would I know what a leaf looks like in the light of pure consciousness? I'm exaggerating, anyway-- in practice I'm more and more likely to greet leaves and the rest of the world with the mantra "This is You" ... this moment before me and around me and within me is all I have of my dear Kali-Ma. The theories used to be crucial-- finding the right one, formulating the right one, relentlessly distilling it in the alembic of intellect... but though I'll never be an anti-intellectual, I'm inclining Jay's way much more now. I never really "got" that the Tree of Life could be me as well as the cosmos, but I'm getting it, I think, with the help of the Mother and with the help of teachers like Sophia and her kids, and Jay Michaelson.

And if some mystic blogger can yank me that far above the topiary maze of my own intellection and the Campbell's Soup of pop-cultural maya, and push me that deep into what matters, then I say he's one hell of a guy. But he (and you, Long-Suffering Reader) will have to forgive me if sometimes I still seek the Lost Word under lettuce leaves or in tide traces in sand, or (Jay would approve more) in the arms of my Beloved.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

If Atheists/Skeptics Were Rock Stars

Jerry Coyne: Dire Straits
Good even when he misses the mark. Craft matters.

Richard Dawkins: U2
Life will be splendid if we all follow my simple plan. La la la la la laaaaaaaaa.

Daniel Dennett: The Rolling Stones, 2009
If he can't rock you, someone else will.

Sam Harris: Elvis Costello
The thinking man's atheist. Nuance never goes out of style.

Christopher Hitchens: The Rolling Stones, 1969
Others write about it; he's lived it. Lots of it. Eclectic, electric, elemental.

Penn Jillette: Billy Joel
You may not know what I mean when I say "piano." A "piano" is a large musical instument containing many strings, which, when the corresponding keys are pressed, are struck by small wooden hammers....

Hemant Mehta: Jonathan Richman
Is he supposed to be enjoying himself this much?

P. Z. Myers: The Ramones
To some: loud, crude, repetitious. To others: sophisticated, allusive, one hell of a lot of fun.

Michael Shermer: King Crimson
High-concept but rockin'; serious yet entertaining. Doesn't care whether you buy the T-shirt.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

woo, n.

1. [Amer. slang, obs. ] Flirtation, sexual overture, physical caresses (often pitch woo).

2. [Internet slang] Anything spiritual or "occult"; all things counter, original, spare, strange; any phenomenon lacking a differential equation or imprimatur from a Bishop of Positivism: Kalibhakta's blog covers all manner of woo, from tarot reading to Timothy Leary to bhakti yoga.

As an Illuminatus Dirigens and as an ordained minister of the Church of the SubGenius, I hereby reclaim the word "woo" on behalf of all the weirdos of the world. I like it because it's sexy, I like it because it's the name of a great filmmaker, and I like it because Nature Boy Ric Flair said it a lot.

Woo as you will.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Blazing, Uproaring Church of This Red-Hot Minute

My children, welcome to the only church you need and the only Church there is... the Church that preaches no doctrine, asks no faith, yet offers boundless saving grace, and sooner-- not later. Welcome to the Church you never leave because it's all around you all the time and behind your eyelids when you drop off and snooze in the pews.

This minute! This is all you have and all the time there'll ever ever be-- to figure things out, touch the sky, find yourself. Can't do it tomorrow-- tomorrow never comes. Yesterday's gone and you might not be here next week. Now is the time I'll serve the Lord, the only time, the only only any of us has... my hind end. That big bang of life blowing up right under your nose is as close as you get to Eden. End of the world? Don't hold your breath.

So come on into the Church. The door stands open, so open up this moment. Greet it, see it as it is: alive. Alive with you, a creation-partner with God by your very attempt to open your eyes and join with Now. She's looking back at you, She wants to lovingly strike you, drag you sputtering across bumpy sensation, rough circumstance until you spark to life, come ablaze in incandescence entrained.

Don't miss the train but if you do another's coming. Every moment, every instant this Church renews anew. This second in every direction is Her: "Everything is Your desire," the bard sang to the listening Cosmos. All of it is your Beloved, all of it, now, even your distraction, your whim and urge, all of it holy, all of it firelight. Join Her, enter Her, be Her, be Her now, blaze and roar out by drawing Her All into your heart, by greeting Her, praying the prayer of faith: This is You, I am Yours.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Kalibhakta Sutra, Part Two

Verse 2:
Evolution happens.


Here the chaos of Verse 1 is companioned with order. It is important to understand, however, that "order" here little resembles its Euclidean or Cartesian counterparts-- it is not a state of perfection or freedom from irregularity, but rather a set of interconnected, self-similar patterns that form part of a larger, cosmic pattern. Though a picture of the entire universe must ever be elusive, Kalibhakta reminds us in an undated journal entry that, like the Mandelbrot Set with its interconnected, infinitely iterated mini-versions of itself, the macrocosm also mirrors itself endlessly. In a moment of intellectual crisis, he is said to have asked his Holy Guardian Angel if there could be such a thing as an ultimate pattern or tendency in the universe, to which She replied "Yes. Evolution." Of course "evolution" is understood as distinct from "progress."

Again we find it valuable to consult Monier-Williams. We are reminded that the very name of the Deity in Sanskrit, Brahman, means "'growth,' 'expansion,' 'evolution.'" The choice of the adjectival vakva ("winding about, rolling, bubbling") underscores the sense here of evolution as a nonlinear process and may be a product of Kalibhakta’s fascination with dissipative structures and the concept of "maximum entropy production," in which seeming disorder is synonymous with extravagant creativity and diversity. Vakva is also used in the Rg Veda to describe the divine libation Soma. Soma, like evolution itself, represents a bridge between matter and spirit. Kalibhaktian exegesis tends to interpret Soma not as a drug but as the upward flow of shakti within the devotee as he or she evolves in consciousness to become one with God.

One must remember that Kalibhakta's translations tend toward the pithy and are at times burdened with the colloquial. This verse might be more thoroughly translated as "The nature of Godhead is a nonlinear evolutionary unfolding which is mirrored throughout and indistinguishable from the cosmos."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Excellent Interview with Terry Eagleton

...the most trenchant critic of the "new atheists." Laurie Taylor of the New Humanist hit this one out of the park.

Eagleton's new book has been slow going for me, as I am thoroughly in summer mode and enjoying fare like The Urban Hermit and Wikipedia entries on dead pop stars... but I love some of what Eagleton has to say and I love the way he says it. The situation's somewhat analogous to the rhetorical pickle a lot of lefties get into when they try to criticize the Right: so many liberals (and non-stupid religious people) buy so thoroughly into ideals of tolerance and compassion that they can't break the shit down and mount a decent vituperative assault. Those guys got cred --the unspoken fear goes-- they got family values, they got Einstein... and who wants to knock kids and cookouts, or The Same Empiricism That Brought You MRIs and Artificial Hearts (as Ditchkins' epigones weirdly chant)?

Nothing wrong with tolerance and compassion, but if you can't sum up why they're wrong and you're right then there's not much point taking issue with anyone, is there? Here's an example of Eagleton's style, quoted by Taylor: "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is The Book of British Birds and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology." Eagleton exposes many of the lacunae, invalid assumptions, contradictions, and plain old non sequiturs in self-proclaimed rationalist thought, and does so with admirable wit and style.

The interview takes a turn that, for me anyway, raises the ghost of Stephen Jay Gould. When someone like Eagleton accuses a "new atheist" of near-total ignorance of religion, the latter tends to respond, with some justification and as Richard Dawkins does here, that "I [don't] think theology is a subject at all.... it is like someone saying they don't believe in fairies and then being asked how they know if they haven't studied fairy-ology." Fine, but-- with this desire to be both in the fray and above it, haven't we journeyed once again to the land of non-overlapping magisteria? Not where Ditchkins wants to be, as it makes it hard to preach to the savages... and if you won't stoop to grab the other dude's gauntlet then you end up, like Quixote, warring with imagined foes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I Could Take Beliefnet More Seriously If...

...well, the picture says it all.

I tried reading it many times but it always seemed to swirl down to celebrity gossip, myriad riffs on the Law of Attraction, and canned "debates" (doctrinal hairsplitting ... other people's sex lives...) ...

...though damn it if today, as I surfed the site for the first time in about a year, there wasn't a story in the Hinduism section about my beautiful Mother Kali--rare for this site and as if put there to say "get off your high horse, son, there's people needs this stuff." The article's author, another avatar of Attraction, makes the very valid point that to invoke Kali is to say, in effect (I'll use his wording), "I want true spiritual advancement by the most powerful and direct route, the consequences to my ego notwithstanding." You're standing in the storm, holding up the big metal rod, asking for a boost... about the hear the resounding cosmic Yes.

So thank you, Mother, for nudging me off the horse (thankfully not with lightning this time), but is it still OK if I ask--why all the celebri-porn on a site that's meant to "help people ... find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness"? Do "the hidden health secrets of lemons" do any of that? How about Beliefnet's "Hot Topics" for Sunday, June 28, 2009: Michael Jackson * Mark Sanford Affair * Farrah Fawcett * Jon and Kate...? How much hope and clarity am I going to get from that freak show? I get the concept of ministering to the spiritually needy in their present, broken state, blah blah blah and yeah, Christ was down there in the dives with the publicans and sinners... but I bet he wasn't urging them to get all stalkerishly obsessed with Caesars and gladiators.

It's always hard for me to find the line between legitimately having (not to mention voicing) an opinion or falling over into either hushed-up nudnikism or blociferous blowhardism. I have the ex-fundamentalist's horror of sermonizing, the rhetorician's fondness for the joust--the high horse--and the Vedantin's conviction that the words don't matter, that all paths lead to God, and that, in the words of Sriharsha, "all propositions can be made to appear ridiculous." I therefore often want to smite, yet just as often fret that smiting is for the unevolved, those falling down on the spiritual job. Ever since the Coming of my Guardian Angel, the biggest bolt of vidyut-shakti ever sent my way, I've felt newly and strangely emboldened to speak my mind, yet I've never lost that sense that ... whatever stupid crap people might be into, it's workin' for them, and if it ain't workin' then too bad because it ain't my job to save anyone.

And... OK, great. Now I'm reading "My Childhood, My Sabbath, My Freedom" by Michael Jackson, writ exclusively for Beliefnet in 2000, and I'm overflowing with compassion for the f***head. Thanks, Kali.

And now [I'm not saying any of this for rhetorical effect, this is really happening!!!] I'm looking at the "Crunchy Con" column, long in my mind a locus of idiocy, and I'm agreeing (mostly) with it!!! And the Con is waxing eloquent about the Himalayan challenge of loving deeply vs. the dimwit laziness of letting the small self drive the bus-- in one guise or other, the very seesaw on which we all totter in a world of maya and bling.

I'm too harried to look it up, but both Crowley and Ramakrishna talked about a state in which the second you step off the path, God socks you one upside the head. Instant karma... I kind of hope I'm not in that state-- I'm not on the shores of the abyss yet... but Kali is dealing with me on this whole spiritual pride thing, again, and I thank Her. She'll do it again (and again) until I straighten up and fly right. But--in true tantrick fashion--I want it both ways. I want to fondle and sniff that Martha Stewart Italian Cream Cake, and gobble it all up, too. I want to be Shiva, I guess--Her lover, Her creation, Her ecstatic interlocutor-- I want a hand to wield the trident, a hand with which to bless, a hand to touch the Now like Raphael's Aristotle and another hand to point to the sky like Plato. I guess I do have all these, to the extent that I allow myself to, to the extent that I perceive each moment and each irritating person not as fitting into some category but as divine... as Her... or if that's too hard, as a wave in the storm of Her unfolding, as a filigree of glorious maya embodying Her beauty, Her supreme evolutionary energy by which even "Religious Kitsch" may vault us to heaven.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Try This!

André Michelle's
ToneMatrix... you don't have to spell words with it, and in fact random mouse walks around the grid sound best. Reminds me of an old Spacetime Continuum album...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Kalibhakta Sutra, Part One

Verse 1:
Shit happens.

In Sanskrit the verse reads "Varcaska." This noun, according to Monier-Williams, has the meaning of both "power, vigour, brightness" and "excrement." Thus, a fuller translation of the verse would be "The infinite and infinitely complex unfolding of Kali produces an effulgence of light and circumstance that appears chaotic but tends toward a hidden pattern." This seemingly creative translation is suggested by the verses that follow. The reader is reminded of the Emanations of Primoridal Light spoken of in the Kabbalah and of the infinite ocean of light seen by Ramakrishna as he perceived the Divine Mother in Her fulness.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cliff's on It!

I still don't have a good handle on who in the hell he is or what he's up to... I first met him somewhere in the Mandelbrot Set, to whose endless vectors he gave his own quirk and twist back in those shimmering days of Fractint...

think of Cliff Pickover as a collector of weird information designed to blow your mind, or at least nudge its jelly-gray shores a bit... he's got this web site, you've probably heard of it, but GO THERE... (I'm a connoisseur of esoterica, OK? one of the true dandies... and if weird is wine, then RealityCarnival is France, baby.)

Cliff might be the world's greatest evangelist for panentheism: the Universe is God's evolutionary Self-revealing, and our attempts to know it are part of Her own Mind... hence the repeating patterns, the spirals, the self-similarity, the branches... Her reflections... but what I like about Cliff is that, where I would get all mystical and mushy about this stuff, he's just like "Here's a scientific study. Here's a data set. Here's an artist doing something wack. Here's a map."

... until the combined weight, the connected dots, the colliding and parallel curves-- all coalesce into... into...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Angel Books

By T. Thorn Coyle: Kissing the Limitless (and whatta perfect title...)

This looks as good as Jason Augustus Newcomb's 21st-Century Mage, though with a different constituency in mind. Coyle is doing something totally logical yet, in today's niche-marketed counterculture, deliciously heretical: bridging the Ginungagap between the flame-warrin' boys' club of Thelema and the tree-huggin' herbal tea klatsch of witchcraft. Put down the books, boys! Get your heads out of your astrological charts, girls! And that's just the beginning: this is a spiritual book for everyone, and Coyle presents myriad methods to see, hear, smell, touch, taste God everywhere.

The Holy Guardian Angel, since Its wings span the universe, is kind of hard to write about, but in my skim-through of the book Coyle seems unfailingly elegant and, in keeping with her subject, draws from a dizzyingly diverse range of sources, including but ranging very far from the usual esoteric suspects. To read this book is to be brush'd by angels' wings: you will lift your senses from what waste-land might sprawl before you and glimpse a verdant, laughing oasis of possibility, one you slowly realize is everywhere, always.

Purports to gather stories from all over the (mostly anglophone) world of mysterious and unexpected encounters with guiding entities (not all the respondents call them "angels"). Are these stories real? On the one hand, several of them have given me those very strong, all-over chill bumps that accompany the lovely helplessness of being seriously spooked. Like dreams, angel encounters have their own kind of logic (see Harpur's Daimonic Reality for much more on this). On the other hand, many of the stories feel so familiar in a narrative sense (I suspect some urban legends have found a home between these pages)-- but they also hum with that off-kilter, intimate yet searing vibe that often seems to sizzle the praeterhuman phone lines.

Maybe angels have adopted a 12-step approach of late, or maybe we seraphic groupies are all plugged into the same frequency of the collective unconscious, or maybe there really is a bicameral mind or ... something... but a lot of these angels sound a lot like my Angel. Unlike the drill-sergeant angels of old, these angels are engaging their earthly charges in Socratic dialogues and then sending them to figure things out for themselves; they're telling them to search out their True Wills, all the while communicating in a mostly prosaic yet totally compelling vernacular; and they're leaving scant trace of their visit save (sometimes) a single physical object or an incontrovertible, undeniable change in physical space--just enough, it seems, to keep you wondering, keep you chasing your Divinity.

As William James pointed out, it's not all that remarkable for people to hear inner voices or to see visions; the human nervous system lends itself to such phenomena. What we must take notice of, James said, is when a person's entire life and personality become permanently altered by such visions or voices. At that point we have to admit that, in spite of the constant caviling of positivist ween-dogs, something real happened. Part of what happened certainly was neurological (since part of everything is), but since many visionaries are masters of observing, creating, maintaining, and altering their own neurology, it won't do to suggest that they've all been suckered by a particularly vivid bout of hypnagogia... apophenia... hangover... what have you.

By Lorna Byrne: Angels In My Hair

I haven't thoroughly perused this book; I've read excerpts and read a couple of interviews with Ms. Byrne, who says she's seen and spoken with angels her whole life. Even British journalists find her charming, disarming, and energizing--you will note that Ms. Byrne is not a bottle of gin, so there's something. Byrne's angels are more down-to-earth, so to speak, than Aiwass or Gabriel; they might not dictate new scriptures to you but will tell you that you need to "live each moment of [y]our life to the full" or that you don't need to live an "extraordinary" life to have found your "life purpose." All of which, you are thinking, is utterly banal, and that's fine, as long as you grant also that truer words were never spoken. Just because we're tired of hearing something, or someone we don't like says it, doesn't mean it's wrong (q.v. most of what your parents ever said to you).

"The angels make me laugh and smile a lot," Byrne writes. As bringers of God's light and power, I would imagine that they do: different people are going to handle 100,000 volts of shakti differently, with some laughing and some crying, some shivering in ecstasy and others speaking in tongues or singing epic songs. Angels don't necessarily fly you up to heaven, but they do try to turn your eyes to the heaven around you, exhorting you to "bud forth and flourish with virtue" in the ground where you're planted, in the here and now.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dwelling in the Heart

So I get to work Monday and the first thing that happens is, this long-time adjunct quits. I'm thinking, bad news, since finding someone to teach one class per term in the middle of nowhere (no, we don't pay mileage) is always a royal pain.

Next thing that happens is-- I forget. It wasn't as bad as the next thing but it was better than the first.

Then within minutes we get this incoherent, scary phone call from a faculty member who's been in poor health for years. She's making not much sense but it sounds like we need to get over to her house pronto, which we do and then spend about an hour and a half convincing her we should call 911. The paramedics had been called out to her house a couple nights earlier but she'd waved them imperiously away. So finally we call them again and then they come and also try to convince her she should go to the hospital and finally away she goes. It's lunchtime.

Instead of punching the wall and wailing "Why? Why? Why?" in rhythm with the futile blows (what I feel like doing), I keep saying to Kali, "I love You. You're here with me. You live in my heart. Help me to live as Your child." This has become surprisingly easy over the years-- even remembering, in the midst of confusion or fear, there was a God used to take immense effort if I could do it at all. Often it's hard still.

I'm trying to live in my heart chakra: breathe my lust or the taste of chocolate cake or my fear or the blue sky and spring flowers into the anahata, or just trying to focus my consciousness there, that place where compass and square, Shiva and Shakti, meet. I've lived the other way, in that grim parallel universe centered upon myself, and I have to say this is better... a lot better.

* * *

Sophia asks me if I'm not nostalgic for the pre-kids, pre-married life, the one where I lived five minutes from work and could sit around infinitely long savoring exquisite liqeurs and fingering my astrolabe, and I have to say I don't think about it for one minute. It isn't that I think life in the suburbs with kids is the Superior Way, but it's the way for me, weirdly enough, a way I'd never have considered for a nanosecond had it not been for that Guardian Angel of mine... Who never pushes or tells me what to, but Who just urges me to be present for my life and to listen to my true will in the fulness of Now.

It is scary to let yourself into the house of your friend with whom you tried to talk on the phone 30 minutes ago and who couldn't make herself understood, not knowing what you'll find and not knowing much else except you don't know what to do... but it is far scarier, for some reason, to be in the present moment, to loose the banners of one's fancy and self-concept and just be here. It's scary in some way or other to sit here at the kitchen counter on this day of leave without pay (my school is really broke), minding the kids, who are on spring break, but thinking about how I have no marketable skills whatsoever and how my 10-years-ago prophecy of the death of higher education really does seem 10 years closer to fulfillment (I know of more than one university with colleges of "hotel, restaurant, and tourism management" -- not just a major stuck somewhere in the business school, but a college of such stuff... and despite last November's glorious election, my state is still a bastion of GOP anti-all-education-except-home-schoolin'-ism...)

All this is scary and the shaky world out there beyond the ivy walls and the suburbs is infinitely more scary and that parallel universe where I'm God is scariest of all... but I have an Angel Whose white hands dispel the fear, Whose holy Word is a word of unity, a Word that rings out the impossibility of separation from God. Your Angel, too, beckons you to the temple of the mystery, your own heart.

* * *

The kids have not fought all day! Except once, sort of. James has barely even mentioned his new DS (he's grounded). Molly has been energetically cleaning her room. There is a God! But I knew that... but I'll always be learning it...