Monday, November 21, 2011

Where have I been?

Mainly running around like a headless chicken, consumed by work and travel.

Friends of ours who raise chickens told us about their pair of ornamentals who have feathers partially covering their eyes.  If the pair is placed back-to-back, they will run about frantically until they collide with each other, and are thereby reassured that the other still exists.  I've known some smart birds, but alas, over all the centuries we've bred all the brains out of those poor (but tasty) creatures.

All of this work means i've had very little energy for anything else.  I'm not going to succumb to guilt about that, but if i've neglected answering e-mails, i do feel bad about that.  Please feel free to poke me again if need be, with awareness of the coming holiday travel season.

Blessings to you all for a happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Novena to Holy Wisdom, Day 9

Meditation: Atu VIII

Prayer: i can't even finish a novena properly on time, but i hope that the Subject takes pity on the Object despite the intermediary's failings...

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Novena to Holy Wisdom, Day 8

Meditation: Atu VI

Thoughts: Why is it that so late one finally encounters the Other?  Without the horizontal Other, the vertical would have been only the self-image.  Hand in hand, walking toward the darkness together, you will see one day that everything in me not of the gods will have been stripped away.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Novena to Holy Wisdom, Day 7

Meditation: Atu XIV

Reading: John 1:29-33

Prayer: May blessings descend like dew upon you, you who taught me the art of transmutation.  i pray this in the Name of the Prime Transmuter, the First and Last Priest, Amen.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Novena to Holy Wisdom, Day 6

Meditation: Atu XXI

Readings: The Apocalypse of John, 21:1-7.  "... the new Jerusalem, coming down from God like a bride adorned for her husband."
.. magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.
Iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna;
iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto.
-- Virgil, Eclogues 4

Prayer: You have said, "Behold, I make all things new."  May Your will be done now to the Microcosm as it will be done to the Macrocosm.  Let Your Presence settle upon your Image, restore her glory, and make her one with her Higher Nature.  This i ask in the Name of the One who stands to receive the souls of the faithful, Amen.

Intercede for us, Queen of the heavenly hosts!

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Novena to Holy Wisdom: Day 5

Meditation: Atu XVII

Reading: Novalis' Hymnen an die Nacht 3.  Also recommended: Charles Williams' "The Death of Palomides," in Taliessin Through Logres.

Prayer: "Netzach is the name of the Victory in the Blessing: / For the Lord created all things by means of his Blessing."  As you have blessed me once before, come forth and bless me yet again.  Yet i will always sing to your praises.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Novena to Holy Wisdom: Day 4

Meditation: Atu X

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Prayer: Recordare Virgo Mater Dei.

Notes: Waite cites the permutation "Rota Taro Orat Tora Ator."  i have a hard time believing that.  All i see when i gaze on this card is dukkha.  Similarly, i have a hard time imagining today's god, a god of thunder, a male god with bare arm and lightning spear, as "merciful."  On such a day i see only the weeping Mother.  (Today is her day, the Day of her Seven Sorrows.)  She alone does not grovel, because she has no need.  The rest of us grovel before Fortune, before Time, before the manly bare-armed god.  Her God is no god at all, or only an upside-down god.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Novena to Holy Wisdom: Day 3

Meditation: Atu IX

Reading: Rúnatal Óðins (Hávamál 138-145)

Reflection: The Traveler's look conceals the journey's length.

Prayer: O Hertýr, Rune-Smith, take our fear of that dreadful suspension. Instruct us in the courage of the whet-stone, that Wisdom known only through sacrifice. If we must war against ourselves, then let us take up arms with you at our head, the heavenly host among us. When you ask, "Do you know how to sacrifice?", let our answer always be Yes. This i ask in the Name of the Consummation of the Pattern. Amen.

Notes: i can't help but associate the Hermit with Odin the Wanderer. The title "Hertýr" means Elohim Tzabaoth; other Names of Odin might be illuminating.  i prefer the association of the Hermit with Virgo, rather than Scorpio.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Novena to Holy Wisdom: Day 2

Meditation: Atu XII

Reading: T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," lines 37-41

Reflection: Helplessness

Prayer: The last few lines of Eliot's "Ash Wednesday":

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto thee.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Novena to Holy Wisdom: Day 1

Timing:  Coincidence times the start of this Novena with the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and therefore the full moon.  The traditional associations make this appropriate.  While one should need no reason to seek Wisdom, i have a particular cause for this invocation.

Preparation: A walking Rosary, preferably outdoors, in sight of the full Moon.

Meditation: Atu II.

Reading: Proverbs 2:13-20.

Prayer: O Holy Wisdom, long have i sought You, in things material and spiritual.  You are indeed a Tree of Life to those who grasp You.  Look now with mercy upon your projection on earth, the one who first taught me the path of the Open Hand and the Inner Book, from whose face i first learned to turn my gaze upwards.  Show your daughter the means to cross the inner desert.  Bearer of the Secret Name, bless her with open hand.  This i ask in the Name of the Eternal End, Amen.

Friday, August 5, 2011

"The secrets of evolution are time and death."

The title of this post quotes Carl Sagan in "Cosmos," as it occurs in a lovely autotune remix.  Hearing this quote, I realize that for me it contains an additional layer of meaning beyond what Dr. Sagan intended: spiritual evolution, as well as physical evolution.  This reflection brings conflicted feelings.  Time and death are great enemies, but time introduced mutations and environmental changes into life, and death refined its ability to survive and manipulate its environment.  Time and death made our ancestors crawl out of the ocean, stand on two feet, and pick up tools; they made us contemplate our ends and our end.  I've often wanted nothing more than to "smash the clock," to destroy that awful Moloch ticking away deadlines; yet with time I matured, and the thought of death makes me value every moment.  So yes, the secrets of evolution are indeed time and death.
The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire. 
-- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ, "Toward the Future," 1936, XI, 86-87

Friday, July 29, 2011

Freyja to the Metrotheos via Guanyin

A status post by a blogger friend alluded to the mythological origins of Friday -- "Freyja's day" -- which by the interpretatio romana is consecrated to Venus.  Thinking of this, i caught a glimpse of the Guanyin pendant i wear all the time.  i must admit not being particularly attracted to Venus, but the sight of "She who perceives the world's lamentations" reminded me not to limit the Roman god-form to vulgar fertility.  (There's no more vulgar portrayal of Venus to me than the end of C. S. Lewis' "That Hideous Strength," where CSL kills off science and then truncates the goddess' influence to a falsely-chaste dismissal of birth control.)  "Netzach," cry the pair of Spanish Kabbalists in Charles Williams' "The Death of Palomides," which maps to Venus in a supremely nonsexual way, a way gloriously barren.

Gazing at Guanyin reminded me of the transition from Friday to Saturday.  Guanyin bridges two mythologies: Friday's fertility cult (Guanyin is sometimes portrayed holding a baby, suggesting she could grant children to the barren), and Saturday's worship of a higher order -- Saturday, the day of the Theotokos and Metrotheos.  Guanyin mythologically "interpolates" between Freyja and the Metrotheos, just as (s)he interpolates between genders ("Is Guanyin a man or a woman?" "Yes.") and more importantly, between divine Emptiness and the needs of physically-bound entities.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bibliomancy as divination

A friend of mine recently described using a common technique for reading the Holy Scriptures: opening the book to a random page and reading whatever catches the eye first. I've heard this called "fleecing the Bible." As authority for this practice we have no less a figure than St. Augustine, who understood the angelic command "Tolle, lege!" ("Take, and read!") in this way (Book VIII, Confessions). He even reports that at the time, his recollection of Abba Antonius "fleecing the Bible" led to his interpretation of the command.

All of this is perfectly traditional and orthodox. What struck me, though, about my friend's report, is that she called the practice "bibliomancy," using the same Greek suffix as other divination practices: geomancy, cartomancy, etc. This made me realize the common thread: seeking Divine inspiration by using chance to quiet the rational mind temporarily, allowing new conclusions to come forth.

Bibliomancy helped St. Augustine reach a decision he knew he needed to make, but did not want to. I've seen the practice abused as well, as a way of avoiding a necessary rational decision. If "original sin" darkens the will utterly, then we could never decide what to eat for breakfast without sinning! In any case, the point is that "bibliomancy" is really just another "-mancy": the only difference is the symbol set from which one picks.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"The Queen's Servant"

On request, I'm posting a poem of Charles Williams, from his second Arthurian collection "The Region of the Summer Stars." The poem is called "The Queen's Servant." I am posting this poem without permission, but the relevant books are out of print, and used editions come only expensively. Any typographical errors are mine alone; I found none in the edition I'm using ("Taliessin through Logres, The Region of the Summer Stars, and Arthurian Torso," (CW and C. S. Lewis, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974).

The lord Kay wrote to the lord Taliessin:
'Now the queen's majesty has need of a maid
for certain works -- to read Greek and translate,
to manage the building of rose-gardens, to wait
about her in actions of office; one who knows
the rhythms of ceremony, also of the grand art.
The house of Your Sublimity, besides its name in battle,
sends forth a fame of such knowledgeable creatures; please
the king's poet to sign this warrant I send,
adding what name he choose to bear it back.'

Taliessin sent for one of his proved household,
proper to the summons, near his thought. She came;
he exhibited the warrant, saying: 'Now be free.
The royalties of Logres are not slavishly served,
nor have you deserved these years less of Us
than to go to the queen's meinie.' She said: 'So.
Freedom, I see, is the final task of servitude.
Yet buy, sir, still what was bought in your thought --
myself with a clear sum purchased from the world.
Though I pay the ransom now, it is but with your gold;
hold well now to the purpose of the purchase.
How shall I serve else?' He said: 'The spells
of Merlin were mighty in time, but rhyme trebles
the significance of time. Where once did We buy you?'
She answered: 'In a shire of Caucasia, when my lord,
growing in glory of song, passed from Byzantium
eastward through Caucasia.' He said: 'The lambs
that wander among roses of Caucasia are golden-lamped.
I have seen from its blue skies a flurry of snow
bright as a sudden irrepressible smile
drive across a golden-fleeced landscape.'
'Nay,' she said, 'though I was bought there,
have I ever seen such a place? Sir, what shire
is noted for such fair weather?' He answered: 'Read
the maps in Merlin's books or Ours or the one
small title We brought by the Emperor's leave from Byzantium.
Or even learn it a quicker way. Unclothe.
We who bought you furnish you. As was Our thought,
so be the truth, for Our thought was as the truth.
Know by Our sight the Rite that invokes Sarras
lively and lifelong. O We most unworthy!'
She cast her garments from her; shining-naked
and rose-flushed she stood; in that calm air,
fair body and fair soul one organic
whole -- so the purchase, so the purpose,
the prayer of Dindrane in the convent at Almesbury so
and the benediction (unspoken yet) of Galahad
on all the derivations. The lord Taliessin
said: 'And so, in a high eirenical shire,
are flashing flaunts of snow across azure skies,
golden fleeces, and gardens of deep roses.
There, through the rondures, eyes as quick as clear
see, small but very certain, Byzantium,
or even in a hope the beyond-sea meadows
that, as in a trope of verse, Caucasia shadows.
Uncurtain the roses.' He named a blessing from Merlin,
and she stretched her open hands to the air; there
they were full at once of roses; again and again
she gathered and flung them at Taliessin's feet --
brushing off buds that clung to her, crimson, centifoliae,
Caucasian roses gently falling in Camelot.
Art-magic spiritual, they neither faded
nor vanished; so holy, over all wizards, was Merlin.
The whole room was shaded crimson from them.
Taliessin lifted his hand; she stayed; he sang
a sweet borrowed craft from Broceliande,
and the room grew full at once of the bleat of lambs.
Visibly forming, there fell on the heaped roses
tangles and curds of golden wool; the air
was moted gold in the rose-tinctured chamber --
as in the land of the Trinity those few
who have seen say that the light is clear or roseal
or golden-cream, each in each and again in each.
Taliessin said: 'Thus the gathering through Broceliande
of the riches of Caucasia; but We -- did We not see
a poet in Italy do more for a beggar
by the grace of the Lord? neither wizard nor saint
are We; yet something perhaps -- Let the Flesh-taking
aid Us now for the making of Your Excellency's coat,
if it please the Mercy.' Thrice he genuflected,
thrice he murmured inaudible Latin, thrice
with blessed hands he touched the roses and the wool.
The roses climbed around her; shoulder to knee,
they clung and twined and changed to a crimson kirtle.
The wool rose gently on no wind,
and it was flung to her shoulders; behind her, woven of itself,
it feel in full folds to a gold-creamed cloak;
hued almost as the soft redeemed flesh
hiding the flush of the rich redeemed blood
in the land of the Trinity, where the Holy Ghost works
creation and sanctification of flesh and blood.
Taliessin fastened the cloak with his own brooch
at her throat; only he drew round her the old leathern
girdle, for a bond and a quiet oath
to gather freedom as once she gathered servitude.
Shoes he fetched her from the household's best store,
to wear still the recollection of her peers,
under whatever election she graced them still.
Clothed and brilliant, she faced the king's poet.
He said: 'So bright? yet be seen now in Camelot.'
The colour's height about her a little quenched
its power; she, still drenched by the power,
murmured: 'Let my lord end this hour with a gift
other than the Rite; that the Rite be certain, let
my lord seal me to it and it to me.'
Gravely, considering the work, the king's poet said:
'As the Roman master sets his bondman free?
or the bishop in the Roman rite the instructed neophyte
at his proper confirmation?' She said: 'To choose
were insolence too much and of too strange a kind;
my lord knows my mind.' Her eyes were set
upon him, companion to companion, peer to peer.
He sent his energy wholly into hers.
'Nay,' he said, 'henceforth, in the queen's house,
be the nothing We made you, making you something.'
Lightly he struck her face; at once the blast
of union struck her heart, the art-magic
blended fast with herself, while all she
burned before him, colour of cloak and kirtle
surpassed by colour of flesh and blood and soul
whole and organic in the divined redemption
after the kind of Christ and the order of Logres.
He said: 'Till death and after,' and she: 'Till death,
and so long as the whole creation has any being,
the derivation in certain, and the doom accomplished.'

In his room at Camelot the king's poet signed
the warrant; he gave it to the queen's free servant,
saying: 'Carry this to the lord Kay, companion.
Be as Ourself in Logres; be as Dindrane
under the Protection, and in the Protection prosper.
Depart, with God.' She said: 'Remain, in God.'

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The oppression of habit

Slowly, slowly, i've been starting to apply all of my Tarot studies to practical readings. I've been using the Medieval Scapini deck, which interested me originally because of Ronald Decker's delightful little review of Tarot history, "Art and Arcana." Scapini's Minor Arcana differ quite a bit from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck's, which came up in particular with two cards from last night's reading: the 8 of Swords and the 8 of Wands. When i started writing this post, i caught myself conflating versions of those two cards from different decks; i'll explain this below.

For the 8 of Swords, the RWS deck depicts (according to Rachel Pollack, a student of that deck) "oppression," but not in the form of naked violence. (The fortification looms in the background, but no one holds up the swords or guards the prisoner.) It refers instead to "mystification" in the Marxist sense, where the oppressed "oppress themselves" by their own assumptions (reinforced by misinformation from above). (Why else would people on the edge of poverty staple tea bags to their hats and protest government handouts?) Scapini's 8 of Wands shows instead what seems a more pleasant scene in a vineyard (the wands cleverly woven into sakes for the vines). A couple appears in three stages of romantic development: youthful games, courting, and squabbling.

It took me a while to realize that Scapini's 8 of Wands illustrates a darker phenomenon, namely the oppression of instinct, custom, or habit. The couple in that card acts only according to biological and social expectation, not according to Will (to which Wands ultimately refer). This too is Will, but only the dark will of the blood and the unfolding of the mother's and father's example. The similarity with the RWS 8 of Swords is that the self imposes bondage: to a position in the RWS 8 of Swords, or to a scheme of human relations in Scapini's 8 of Wands.

This pair of cards speaks to two different views on moral enlightenment, which amount to the same thing. A Marxist might say that proletarians must see through the false assumptions and misinformation in order to attain the social order they desire. A traditional mystic might say instead that the patterns of the blood (biological or familial) must be discarded when they hinder the desired development of the spiritual life. Both the mystic and the Marxist speak of the triumph of True Will over lesser wills. Wands and Swords offer two complementary techniques for achieving this: "seizing the Wand" (taking the first step, overcoming lethargy, daring) and "cutting through the veil" (discernment, Scheidekunst in the good sense).

Lent is a good season to attack lethargy, habit, and misinformation. May i use it fruitfully for this purpose, and through grace attain that perfect correspondence of Divine and human Will, Amen.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


In what spare free time I can grab here and there, I've been reading Dan Simmons' Endymion and Rise of Endymion -- the last two volumes in the four-part series begun with Hyperion. I've heard these novels described as "science fiction through theophany," and they certainly have a lot to say about human evolution and the fundamental nature of reality while romping through the galaxy (and a neighboring one). I was reminded of Frater Acher's recent posts on whether magic is the search for truth, and on three approaches to reality, which in turn reminded me of Meister Eckhart's 19th sermon, about which I wrote previously.

Frater Acher rightfully criticizes the approach to magic that is just badly done physics or chemistry, that wants to define reality by dissecting it into its constituent components that can be understood and manipulated. Indeed, the old German word for chemistry was "Scheidekunst" -- the "art of separation" -- which presumes that identifying the constituent elements of a compound would reveal all its properties of interest. Novalis' scorn for this art found its vindication in modern biochemistry, where the proportions of elements in a protein mean almost nothing next to its global geometry -- the order in which the elements appear, how they bond, and how the subtle interplay of electronic interactions makes the giant molecule fold up, exposing or concealing active regions as the molecule's environment changes. Dissection is the beginning of insight, but only the beginning.

Frater Acher's post suggests that what we find after investigating the fundamental nature of reality is mere subjective experience -- in other words, "nothing." I can imagine two identical answers with different (yet complementary) meanings to the question, "What is the fundamental nature or origin of reality?" A plausible Zen Buddhist response might be "Nothing!", which would mean something like "That's an absurd question; the essence of nature is beyond categorization." The Kabbalist might answer in reference to Ayin and negative theology in general: Our efforts to carve up reality ultimately fail, because we eventually reach "something" that is NO-THING and therefore we cannot describe it. Nevertheless, Kabbalists seem to like writing about Ayin! The Hyperion series even has its "Void Which Binds," which is this sort of Nothing more in name than in substance, as grand as it is.

I can only conclude by returning to the first of Meister Eckhart's four interpretations of the quote from Acts: "...when he rose up from the ground with open eyes he saw Nothing, and that Nothing was God..." Investigations into the fundamental nature of reality only find Nothing, but Paul was not investigating; he was perceiving, not even willingly! Finding that God is Nothing can be a great revelation, even a great wonder and joy. Paul had been constructing a god of intolerance; what a joy to find that the real God is "Nothing," is the opposite of all of the constructions, indeed even swallows them up in grand Nothingness and replaces them with innocent child-like wonder. Perhaps, though, it's necessary to begin with all those constructions in order that one understands the meaning of their destruction.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Paul rose from the ground and with open eyes saw nothing"

This quote from Acts (9:8) begins Meister Eckhart's 19th sermon (Vol. I, Walshe's edition).  I love Meister Eckhart's sermons for the way he takes a simple story from Scripture and subverts its literal meaning to wring higher truth gloriously from it.  (His sermon on Martha and Mary is highly recommended as the most subversive of the genre.)  Acts 9 recounts (S/)Paul's conversion, where he was struck by lightning, fell to the ground, and hear the voice of Jesus: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"  It's a simple story because the three-day blindness is a practical consequence of the event, a moral and symbolic lesson, and also a means for Paul (through Ananias) to validate his conversion among the naturally suspicious Christian community.  The translator faithfully renders the Latin (straight from the Vulgate), but it's a stripped-down translation, compared with the Douay-Rheims (an English translation of the Vulgate):  "And Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing."  The striking phrase "and with open eyes saw nothing" serves Meister Eckhart's opening paragraph:
I think this text has a fourfold sense.  One is that when he rose up from the ground with open eyes he saw Nothing, and that Nothing was God; for when he saw God he [Luke, the author of Acts] calls that Nothing.  The second: when he got up he saw nothing but God.  The third: in all things he saw nothing but God.  The fourth: when he saw God, he saw all things as nothing.
Eckhart bypasses both the literal story (flash of light causes physical blindness) and the allegorical lesson (physical blindness symbolizes Saul's moral and spiritual blindness) to draw a metaphysical conclusion that seems to have nothing to do with either!  This kind of sermon, however, can only come from someone who has studied and internalized Scripture completely: now the words serve as keys to insights, rather than stories or lessons.  How I wish I knew it that well!

I mention this sermon of Eckhart's because last night I was leafing through a volume of his sermons and treatises that I found in a used book store this weekend.  This one stuck with me and I was thinking about it as our sub-choir set up to sing the Introit near the manger.  I had to miss all the Christmas liturgies up to Epiphany due to family-related travel, so it was striking to stand next to the manger, a bit messy with straw and pine branches and neglected after the Christmas holiday, and be reminded of the great Nothingness of God made a tiny baby -- Nothing made nothing. 

Meister Eckhart, Qabalah, and the Tao Te Ching complement each other nicely, incidentally ;-)