Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
On David Marshall's Integral Archipelago forum, a member there named Shashank recently posted a blog (and initiated a discussion) on the relationship between horror and
fantasy literature and spirituality that I am quite enjoying. I invite
you to read it, if you're interested. Here, I wanted to open a related
discussion, based on some of my comments to Shashank, particularly if
any of you enjoy the horror or fantasy genres. (I wish I had time to
compose something nice, but I don't, so here are a few jotted notes).
I no longer read fantasy or horror, but I used to read and write quite a lot of both, and I still enjoy an occasional horror or fantasy film. In my conversation with Shashank, we were discussing the respective approaches of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft. I was noting that Barker tends to see "order" behind the terror and horror, and redemptive or transformative potential in the encounter with darkness and evil, whereas Lovecraft attempts to present a vision of reality as ultimately alien, containing dimensions which are wholly other -- realms and beings that are wholly unassimilable, human contact with which can only result in madness or destruction. In other words, absolute limit conditions.
In my reading, Lovecraft's Otherness is an Otherness that must remain Other for the human center to hold, and for our higher ideals to flourish (though those who encounter it now come to see those ideals largely as flimsy defenses in the face of a vast, menacing, terrifyingly alien realm). If I had to place Lovecraft along the values line, I'd say he was a Modernist -- writing for a genteel Modern audience, many of whom were likely in hard flight from "animal nature." This is revealed, I think, in his preference for pre-human, visceral images to represent the Other: slime, gelatinous substances, crustacean or invertebrate anatomy, etc.
But while Lovecraft is primarily a modernist (as opposed to Barker's more postmodern approach, where otherness is a functional limit condition of particular stages of development or perspectival frames rather than a concretely identified, metaphysical "thing" or "realm"), I still find his work offers something interesting to consider, particularly in the context of Integral spirituality: he presents a powerful challenge to complacency and a "comfortable" anthropocentric view of the universe, a view that honestly I sometimes feel marks much New Age and even Integral discourse and thought. I don't think Lovecraft is an Integral thinker (as I said, I view him as essentially a Modernist, though some post-metaphysical materialist writers find kinship with him as well), but I think he makes a kind of move -- a firm presentation of That which intractably challenges and disturbs present boundaries and narratives -- that we could use more of in Integral circles, in my opinion. With talk about "making sense of everything" in Integral marketing, and even in the popularized use of phrases like "swallowing the whole universe in one gulp" (assimilating it in its entirety to the "known"?), I feel there is a move towards what we might call the suburbanization (or urbanization) of the Kosmos. No spooky corners left, no pesky unknowns, no threatening or destabilizing shadows. (This is why King, Barker, Lovecraft, etc, are so powerful: they bring the 'unknown,' the terrifyingly alien and powerfully Other, back into our comfortable suburban back yards).
So, I guess what I'm groping toward is the question, What is an Integral nightmare? What, in its appearance or irruption, would deeply disturb, even terrify, Integral consciousness? What are the boundaries of our (often comfortable, suburban) narratives, and what has the potential to shred them?
I enjoy and appreciate this topic because I think wrestling with, encountering this sort of "dark" or Otherness, is both humbling and chastening (something Lovecraft cultivates through his shocking, chthonic vistas) and potentially transformative (a la Barker). I am thinking here of several things: Rilke's terrible angels, which perhaps show up in modern popular form in something like Strieber's Communion series (where the Other is a vastly more evolved and powerful entity, an entity that has a disturbing, inscrutable agenda for us); and which showed up for me, in a wilderness visionary experience many years ago, as powerfully disturbing -- even terrifying -- entities who I associated with Krishnamurti and who put me through a mind-blowing (and humbling) ordeal. And I think also of the "darker" aspects of Tibetan practice, which I explored when studying with Dzogchen teachers: practicing ch'od, for instance, or purposefully going to graveyards or other frightening places in order to practice. But even doing that, I also was aware of bumping up against worldview differences: not all of the images cultivated in traditional Tibetan practice were really terribly disturbing for me, and I recall wondering at the time what a modern equivalent could be -- how could the practices be made more challenging and relevant for our time?
What would scare the bejeesus out of the Integral community? :-)
'... cubic chair'
'wrapped in the mystery of your... hair'
you must have been tempted to add an adjective to 'hair.' :-)
The tarot keys used. You can see I literally stole the lyrics. You can point and click at this link to see larger images.
I've shared this before, lyrics for a song I wrote called Goddess that was performed to open a ritual in the mystery cult to which I formerly belonged. There is a lot of tarot imagery involved, as was used for 'skrying in the spirit vision.'
Looking back I might have phrased that line differently to describe her hair as mysterious, or perhaps shrouded, as I was basing it on the shroud the Priestess wears. I had to consider meter and rhyme, which limited my choices.
Unless you're suggesting pubic hair!? Women (in the US) generally don't have any these days, as is the popular custom.
you must have been tempted to add an adjective to 'hair.' :-)
Speaking of horror and spirituality, I just started a novel that would qualify, The Babylon Rite. It combines one of my fav mystery topics, the Templars, with a sexually perverse and bloodthirsty Peruvian Moche cult.
Interestingly, Crowley renamed the tarot key Strength to Lust and changed its attributions. In keeping with the thread theme and the last post, some of his writing on this Key from the Book of Thoth:
There is in this card a divine drunkenness or ecstasy. The woman is shown as more than a little drunk, and more than a little mad; and the lion also is aflame with lust. This signifies that the type of energy described is of the primitive, creative order; it is completely independent of the criticism of reason. This card portrays the will of the Aeon. In the background are the bloodless images of the saints, on whom this image travels, for their whole life has been absorbed into the Holy’ Grail.
This sacrament is the physical-magical formula for attaining initiation, for the accomplishment of the Great Work. It is in alchemy the process of distillation, operated by internal ferment, and the influence of the Sun and Moon.
Behind the figures of the Beast and his Bride are ten luminous rayed circles; they are the Sephiroth latent and not yet in order, for every new Aeon demands a new system of classification of the Universe.
At the top of the card is shown an emblem of the new light, with ten horns of the Beast, which are serpents, sent forth in every direction to destroy and re-create the world."
PS: The cult of Babylon is now accepting applications for initiation. You won't however find them; if eligible they will find you!
I wrote about the Crowley "Lust" card vs. "Strength" here.
Basically, Crowley's version is an inversion of the standard interpretation of North-Above. Where the Strength card is a depiction of the "Above" part predominating, Crowley has the "North" aspect predominating.
Putting it colloquially, we could say that the two choices or modes of operation are: Thinking with your dick or thinking with your head. Will rules over self-conscious awareness or self-conscious awareness rules over will.
Of course once you take leave of your self-conscious awareness, there's no way of telling what Kosmic Address this will or driving compulsion is coming from, nor would one care, I suspect!
Crowley's version could also be interpreted as a depiction of what happens when one's self-consciousness awareness is overwhelmed by a constellating autonomous complex. You're carried off on the back of the beast.
"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the love. Love is the law, love under will."
Your interpretation is a common one when it comes to Crowley, especially of the more traditional GD adepts, Case included. They see Crowley as a licentious and ill-disciplined whore, the above infamous saying and his Lust card as evidence. But others do not see it this way. Too much taming of the life force waters down this fire resulting in too much rationalization, weakness and ineffective force when needed (like in fighting regressive politics!) For example, Crowley explains in this source:
"From these considerations it should be clear that 'Do what thou wilt'' does not mean 'Do what you like.'' It is the apotheosis of Freedom; but it is also the strictest possible bond. [...] Note further that this will is not only to be pure, that is, single, as explained above, but also 'unassuaged of purpose.' This strange phrase must give us pause. It may mean that any purpose in the will would damp it; clearly the 'lust of result' is a thing from which it must be delivered. But the phrase may also be interpreted as if it read 'with purpose unassuaged''--i.e., with tireless energy. The conception is, therefore, of an eternal motion, infinite and unalterable. It is Nirvana, only dynamic instead of static--and this comes to the same thing in the end. The obvious practical task of the magician is then to discover what his will really is.
"Thou must (1) Find out what is thy Will. (2) Do that Will with a) one-pointedness, (b) detachment, (c) peace. Then, and then only, art thou in harmony with the Movement of Things, thy will part of, and therefore equal to, the Will of God. And since the will is but the dynamic aspect of the self, and since two different selves could not possess identical wills; then, if thy will be God's will, Thou art That.
"There is but one other word to explain. Elsewhere it is written-- surely for our great comfort--'Love is the law, love under will.' This is to be taken as meaning that while Will is the Law, the nature of that Will is Love. But this Love is as it were a by-product of that Will; it does not contradict or supersede that Will. [...] The Love of Liber Legis is always bold, virile, even orgiastic. There is delicacy, but it is the delicacy of strength. Mighty and terrible and glorious as it is, however, it is but the pennon upon the sacred lance of Will, the damascened inscription upon the swords of the Knight-monks of Thelema."
Yes, of course, the whole meaning of the card (with North predominating over Above) is what the meaning of "Will" is! What is Will? North (Key 16, the Tower) shows the destruction of false personal will by the ONE WILL.
By titling the card "Lust," however, Crowley is giving to the common mind one kind of impression, like for example in Tarot Key 0, titled "The Fool," where the common impression given by the name is quite different from the esoteric interpretation. Same goes for K15, The Devil.
So, if we give Crowley the benefit of the doubt and assume that he put in the title "Lust" as a kind of blind, the question remains. Why? As a kind of test for aspirants to see through while throwing the profane off of the trail?
Since these images are used injunctively for meditation, one interesting thing would be to understand how meditating on this kind of imagery (Lust) would affect the aspirant. This may be similar to Dzogchen and Tantric practices of meditating on images of wrathful Dakinis.
Dakinis are sometimes called goddesses and sometimes demons. They are always fearsome and often beautiful, depicted in iconography as sinuously dancing women, usually naked, usually wrathful, often decorated with skulls.
The dakinis' task is to integrate the powers liberated by tantra visualization practice and to transform poisonous emotions and thoughts into pure awareness. Their nakedness symbolizes the mind stripped of defilement.
In the postmodern era, however, many of these images have been appropriated and recontextualized for other uses, and so it's almost impossible to say what something "means," since the original contexts can no longer be assumed to be in force. Therefore in order to be able to say what something means, we have to also specify the Kosmic Address of the subject (both individual subject/perceivers and/or a given culture) as well as Wilber writes about in his latest piece of writing on Integral Semiotics.
So what does Crowley's "Lust" card mean?
With the "Lust" card as a signifier (pointer) to some established referent, we'd have to specify the Kosmic Address of the specific worldspace where this referent exists.
From Wilber's post in Integral Semiotics:
Thus, because referents exist only in particular worldspaces, if you have not developed to that worldspace—if you do not possess the developmental signified—then you cannot see the actual referent. Thus, anybody can read the words (the signifiers) that say “Buddha-nature,” but if the person has not developed to the causal dimension, then that word will basically be meaningless (it will not elicit the correct signified, the developmental signified, the interior apprehension or understanding), and thus that person will not be able to perceive Buddha-nature, just as the six-year old cannot perceive the square root of a negative one.
Thus, other people, who have developed to the state-stage of the causal dimension, might forcefully maintain that Buddha-nature exists, Spirit exists, and that everybody possesses it, yet for those who have not developed to the stage of the causal dimension, the notion of “Buddha-nature” or “Spirit” will be “all Greek” to these people, it will be “over their head.”
Hence, all referents exist in specific worldspaces (i.e., in some location in the overall AQAL matrix); all signifiers exist in the material and empirical domain (Upper Right); and all signifieds are actually developmental signifieds, and exist in the Upper Left at some specific altitude (red, amber, orange, green, indigo, etc.).
A Kosmic Address (KA) is the location in the AQAL matrix that the referent can be located. The very simplest KA is to give the quadrant and the level. (Although more dimensions can be given, and the more dimensions—lines, states, types, etc.—the more precise and accurate will be the KA. But quadrant and level can get us started just fine). [...]
For a full address, the KA of the perceiver or subject has to be given as well, since subjects at different levels perceive different worldspaces.
So what would be the Kosmic Address of the causal God, the radiant Abyss, the dark but shimmering Intelligence, the Ground and Source of All? First, for the “objective” dimension, we notice that, as a state of consciousness (which has just as much ontological reality as a rock, dog, tree, or mountain), causal God can be represented as Q/1 (found in the UL quadrivium), and S/c (the state is causal). Thus, as a state- stage, its KA is (Q/1, S/c)o.
Of course, the subject of this mystical state could be at any number of levels (the Wilber-Combs Lattice)—red, amber, orange, green, turquoise, indigo, violet, or ultraviolet—and in each case, “God” will be experienced differently. The highest, fullest, most authentic, and greatest experience will come from the ultraviolet level, or overmind (which is the causal state structurally coupled with the next-to-greatest number of perspectives—or the next-to-greatest degree of consciousness—the greatest being clear light supermind, which would be experienced, not with God, but with Godhead or Suchness. This is why we are saying the highest structure for causal God is overmind). Thus, the highest realization of causal God—as a structure and a state—will be in a subject that is (Q/1, Ultraviolet, S/c)s—which is the KA that includes both the structure (ultraviolet) and the state (S/c). Hence, overall causal God =
Causal God = (Q/1, Ultraviolet, S/c)s x (Q/1, Ultraviolet, S/c)o
So to "get" the true? meaning of Crowley's Lust card, the subject has to be at the same (or higher) Kosmic Address as the referent for this signifier.
But what usually will happen is that various subjects, carrying various perspectives, at various levels, and in various states will encounter this signifier (Crowley's Lust card), perform a semiotic enactment and enact various signifieds which may or may not coincide with the original referent that Crowley intended when he had this card commissioned. Like Derrida wrote, once the text gets out there, there's going to be a differance' between the original utterance and the text which now circulates out there in all kinds of other contexts.
Sacred imagery, recontextualized and floating out there in all kinds of unintended contexts can make for unintended results or it can be seen as nature's way of reproducing and evolving. It could be like the rouge gene that moves evolution forward or it could act like a virus ....
Why does he do it? Same 'reason' reiterated in this thread. Horror can shock us out of our complacent and often repressed views, provide that moment of openness when confronted with something far beyond our comfort zones. That is the process of initiation itself. Thus opened a new 'program' can more easily be input with 'spiritual' explanations of the meanings.
Recall the 'sexual revolution' of the 60s? Sure, promiscuity was a part of it. But most went past that into actually learning about sex, thereby adding new heights to their 'love' relationships, thus deepening them in ways previously not possible.
I'd also add that initiatory societies tended to be 'secret,' i.e., their images, rituals and totems etc. not revealed to the general public for the very reason you note. Granted Crowley, Regardie and others broke such oaths of secrecy in revealing this stuff but that's another story. It still needs to be within a committed initiatory context to understand and embody the meaning and effect its enactment. There are all sorts of warnings in the traditions about using such info without the context and within a sanctified space-time (or generative (en)closure).
Yes, I agree. The lack of a container is a huge issue when these images, practices, and teachings get recontextualized.
To use an analogy from electrical theory, if one is not properly grounded, the current may flow in directions which are unintended or even destructive to existing structures. Or to use another analogy, potent pharmaceuticals which have healing and life saving effect when used under an expert's care, may have quite another effect when used for self-medication or pleasure by an untrained individual.
And yet, THIS IS THE POSTMODERN CONDITION, where anything and everything is getting recontextualized at will, and often transgressively.
And yet recontexualizing the traditions progressively is one of the forum's goals! And which was also one of the points of Crowley's Lust card, that the new aeon of Horus requires a new system of classification. Hence even the requisite generative (en)closures themselves must change in response to this 'new age,' especially our economic system (plug for this thread).