red as rust and sweet as honey

Probably due to the conjunction between the Sun and Mars that occurred this week, I have had some reason to think about the red planet, though I actually feel some real curiosity and interest about Mars in any case.

There’s a lot of traditional bad vibes attached to Mars, he’s a bit of a bad guy to a lot of people really, as the litany goes something like: war, violence, aggression, murder, rape, destruction and the kind of wildness that people don’t consider romantic and noble. But is that really the story?

There is a clue in astrology of course, for though he is traditionally the “lesser malefic”, he is in modern astrology associated with energy, vitality, drive and sex, as well as aggression and conflict and accidents. When we say sex of course, we don’t so much mean flirty, toying eroticism and all the refinements of love making. The eroticism of Mars is a fiery, locked on chemistry where you know already that full consummation is gazing right into you, intelligently and deeply.  You might say “no thank you” and so might they, but the horse power is on the tracks, and it shakes and humbles all. Not the chase and the charm, but the timeless end game. Put it down, condemn it as you like, try to control it as you will, the eroticism of Mars is the unfurled plot line of eroticism. Which in part is probably why Mars rules Scorpio as well as Aries.

If Mars is destructive, it is the destruction that life depends upon. If his wildness isn’t all nice or controllable, that’s because that is what real wildness necessarily includes. So have a heart for a god not so simple.

His metal is iron, that rusts red, that colours our blood red also, so that the blood can carry oxygen to our cells to burn fuel, and carry carbon dioxide away to dispose of the waste of respiration.

Iron that conducts lightning, and forms much of the heart of our own planet Earth, and gives us (along with nickel) a magnetic field that protects us from the radiation of space. Iron that is one of the last elements to be formed in stars, which can only be burned into heavier elements by the star exploding as a super nova.

Iron than gives rose quartz its delicate pink colour. Is it a surprise that Mars’ mineral is what gives rose quartz its pretty, misty colour, with its association with the heart? I don’t think so really.

And if Mars has an association with blood and muscle and exertion, there is surely an association somewhere here with menstruation and childbirth?

According to Ovid, Mars himself was born from Juno without being fathered, except by the touch of a special flower which Flora provided for Juno. The tale goes that Juno wished to bring forth a child all of her own, as Jupiter had brought forth Minerva from his head without a mother. Juno’s own child was Mars.

In fact Mars has associations not just with war, but old associations with agriculture. The kind of war he was associated with was a protective fight that should lead to safety and peace, not jubilation in  bloodshed. He is very different to the Greek Aries in this sense. He has associations with the wild as well, and with forests, but again there is a sense of a balance here. Wilderness must have its place, so that cultivation can as well. Mars’ animal was the wolf, which we endow with endangered nobility often nowadays (and I find them extraordinary and beautiful animals), though our fairy tales betray an older prejudice.

Some years ago me and my husband had a therapy business, combining hypnotherapy and Reiki. We had a number of concessionary offers, eg for students, and one of the concessions was for military veterans. I found people’s reactions to that to be puzzling, because some were quite bemused, almost verbalizing “why do you do that?”. Why would you make special offers for soldiers? Like, is that a necessary thing to do? As if no one should be looking after the soldiers themselves, as if that were a strange idea. It reminds me of people who seem to resent firemen their wages. Like, can’t they just get on with it, doing that physical, risky stuff? Didn’t they sign up to be sacrifices? Well, no. They signed up to protect you, and be respected for it, not to be your willing sacrifices. And I do wonder what part the eye on the blood sacrifice has to play in our attitudes and subconscious relationships to martial issues?

And as blood flows through the vampire myth with an almost mystical allure, morphing between sex, seduction, violence, bestial transformation, immortality, life, soul, magical power, the body and it’s transcendence, I would say that Mars has his place there as well.

Richard Gardner used to say that blood sacrifice was one of the fundamental characteristics of human civilizations. I don’t know how accurate that is anthropologically, but he made a poetically persuasive argument. Basically that we are here to transform energy, and the bargain basement way of doing it is bloodshed. That’s part of our relationship with the Earth, and with being here. It doesn’t need to be blood, but in the absence of a finer consciousness, blood becomes the default. Richard thought we could do away with this subconscious need for bloodshed through the cultivation of good will. Gurdjieff also used to characterize human civilizations as going through cyclical processes of periodically destroying everything that they had built and developed, a process which his Beelzebub bewails as a tragedy. Richard was of the opinion that we couldn’t transform consciousness (and so energy) effectively without the free and enlightened exploration of Mars’ other domain of sex, so enlightened sex also becomes a remedy for social violence, as well as much else in his view. Love transforms energy basically, so that violence does not need to do it as a default. On this he was in broad agreement with Wilhelm Reich I think.

The transformation of energy must inevitably fall partially under Mars’ domain astrologically, because he is our personal, passionate and fully embodied experience of energy. So it makes sense that Mars is associated with sex, drive, energy, violence (and you should probably add sacrifice), and of course, transformation of energy. He should also be associated with a profound kind of healing.

Mars is a great and mighty need. The Wolf cannot be condemned or denied by a few inches of conscious awareness, and a mountain of righteousness. Blood and sex will have their way, because what both he and they spell out is the transformation of consciousness.

It is not Mars’ fault if we choose our own default of denial. But it is an ever present opportunity, that we could have such wonders and bliss in a world where our relationship to energy was affirmative, enlightened and free.

 detail from "Mars and Neptune" by Paolo Veronese, retouched electronically. Original image in public doamin via wikimedia commons


detail from “Mars and Neptune” by Paolo Veronese, retouched electronically. Original image in public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Naked

“we live in a world where we have to hide to make love,

while violence is practiced in broad daylight”

John Lennon

I saw the above quote this morning, and like so much of John Lennon’s perceptions, it was awesome in its simple clarity. A clear perception makes questions possible.

Coincidentally we were in town yesterday sitting outside a cafe,  and a really delightful thing happened. An enormous and joyous naked bike ride went down the end of the road. Just lots and lots of naked people on wheels, all shapes and sizes, ages, sexes, naked and beautiful and bringing laughter and surprise. Also a few disgusted expressions from passers by, just a few, but mainly people seemed just amused or supportive.

My reaction, after simple delight, was that we so need more nakedness. It was so healthy to see naked people, not naked models, or the standard (usually slim, young and female) consumer depictions of  the unclothed, but real naked people, with bellies and dangly breast, smooth and hairy, genitals showing without it being a big deal. Happy, real nakedness. It was wonderful.

Yet as per Lennon’s observation, our culture still finds it hard to get it. You can have films that show appalling violence, and video games that do the same, but passionate consensual sex gets hedged around with restrictions. A face full of hate is ok, or a fist used to hurt, but what is dangerous and too much? An erect penis, a vagina, an anus.

Moreover, what is the spill over of this into our life and living culture? What on earth is wrong with public nakedness? What is wrong with seeing someone have consensual sex? We watch people box and bloody each other, and seriously injure each other at times. Why is watching people fuck less acceptable than that? We can happily see someone dressed to kill (literally) for war, but we shy away from someone dressed for something entirely natural and pleasurable, and overwhelmingly associated with affection. What is our culture saying to us, and to our children?

We need less violence and less hurt, and less valuation of violence. We need more nakedness, more life, more love and more sex.

I don’t think the promotion of the one is unrelated to the suppression of the other. On that I tend to feel that Wilhelm Reich may well have been on to something.

World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) in Zaragoza (Spain) – By Enrique Matías Sánchez (Quique) (dsc_5495) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

sex, pornography and human community

Reactions to pornography are often very strong, simply to the idea of it, never mind the actual phenomenon, which tends to mask the fact that things labelled pornography or “pornographic” can be very different in nature, circumstance and function.

The word “pornography” goes back to a Greek word relating to prostitution, and that term goes back to an Indo-European root relating to “selling” (see podictionary and online etymology dictionary). So we’re already onto the conjunction of sex, commodification and money right back then. Pornography in this very old sense would have related to writing about prostitution, but the link back to prostitution is there. I am no scholar of Greek social history, but we all know you don’t buy something you can get for free, nor sell something without a market, so there are implicit questions about the valuation and freedom of sexuality even that far back.

The word starts to appear in its more modern form in the 1880s (possibly earlier in the French speaking world), relating to depictions of sex, or “portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction” (Wikipedia) and “salacious writing or pictures” (online etymological dictionary). Here we are getting a more explicit focus on attitudes and judgements about sex and sexual arousal itself. Feminist critiques of pornography used to focus on exploitation of human subjects though (specifically of women in this case) when I was young. I was very aware of this criticism of porn, and selective as it is, I think there is no doubt that people have been exploited in the production of pornography at times, even though this is not always so. Many kinds of depiction of women and men, not just in pornography, can be seen to have an oppressive subtext or overt message, which was another analysis of the destructive action of pornography. But just how far and wide, and universally, does this apply?

If we wish to separate out the exploitation aspect, then I think we look to the choice, autonomy and conditions of those working in pornography. Are they free, are they safe, are they reasonably paid, is it their free choice (given that we’re talking about work)? Slavery and abuse are unacceptable under any circumstances – but why do we have difficulty decoupling the erotic from this area?

If we separate out the exploitation aspect, is paying for something bad in itself? Well, only if we disapprove of it apparently. We pay doctors for their services, in spite of healing being considered something approaching a sacred responsibility. We pay priests similarly. Do we object to these people “prostituting” their services? No, not really, though in the UK we have transferred the transaction to taxation in the case of doctors. Financial transactions can certainly distort human relationships, depending on the nature of the transaction and the attitudes of those taking part.

We live in a society which has had a problem with sex for a very, very long time. Think back to the various obscenity trials and controversies we have seen over the years, and the role that the term “pornographic” used to play in the censorship of writers and artists. Think back to the hounding of DH Lawrence and the book burnings of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Think of Henry Miller, and of Ginsberg’s “Howl”. Think of the vandalising of ancient statues and sculptures by colonialists and missionaries. I can remember performance artists ending up in court on such charges in the 1970s, and Gay News being prosecuted on related blasphemy charges about the same time. Remember the controversy over Cronenberg’s “Crash”? There’s clearly a powerful censoring and anti-sexual (and sometimes anti-intellectual) cultural drive that can come into play here which really has nothing to do with preventing or critiquing exploitation, and it meshes with attitudes towards “pornography” and eroticism. These are strands which we need to separate and gain some clarity over, yet they are strands which many still cannot achieve that clarity on.

Given that our society still suffers from anti-sexual attitudes, and has not kicked the habit of it being ok to exploit people, it would be something of a miracle if the entire field of pornography did not somewhere reflect these distortions. But is pornography the problem, or is it “us”? Is porn the demon seed, or is it our own problem with sex and human equality? Is porn the malaise, or is it an attempt to articulate an answer in spite of the malaise? Is it even that much different to the rest of life? It’s sometimes hysterical detractors characterize it as “bestial”, “dirty”, “perverted”, which is odd given that a good deal of it does seem strikingly plastic, verging on the hilarious at times. But what these terms really point to is the body, sex and sexuality and human difference. Or rather, they point to our inexplicable trouble with these things.

While for some porn is a simple source of pleasure, or employment, or mirth, for others it is something akin to moral panic, which they would feel guilty of even by association. This seems strange in this day and age, but it is so. The only word really I can think of is shame, with a whiff of damnation, to describe the complex of quite irrational reactions surrounding porn for some – surprising given that these folks presumably do not view porn themselves, let alone make it.

I think a lot of this comes down to what sex can and can’t be for, in the society we live in, and I think we have one hell of a moral hangover. Where sex had to be for procreation in order to be sanctified, then of necessity we made of sex and sexuality an iceberg with an impossibly policed “tip”. Most of the iceberg is below the surface. Every time the sea moved, you had problems. It’s a big iceberg, and the sea of Life never stops moving. You can see many driven and convoluted scenarios arising from this scheme, but is it not the denial of sexuality that powers these scenarios, rather than the implicit nature of sexuality and eroticism?

One question here is: do the things we associate with things like pornography and prostitution make sense in a sexually free world? Sexuality is a mighty force, which for some reason we think less sacred and more morally culpable than the drive to have a child say, even in these horrendously over populated times. Procreation and sexuality are two different things, circumstantially linked for heterosexuals, but only some of the time at that. If these things were not so, then we would view someone expressing the desire to have sex with the same rosy glow we are encouraged to feel when someone says “I want to have a baby”. At least we’d say “congratulations”! Until we kick the habit of procreative necessity, and can look at everything calmly and reasonably, then we are stuck on that wobbly iceberg where everything is perfect and pure, but actually nothing really is. These issues are also another reason why effective contraception was such a landmark development, and why it led to greater sexual freedom for all I feel.

But in an area as contrived and conditioned as pornography, does any real sexual liberation happen? Well actually yes, as a side effect, or more particularly dependent on our relationship to it, and the type of porn. I only really have experience of viewing male gay porn, and a good deal of it seems to be, as I said above, plastic and unintentionally funny. I hope some of the actors have a sense of mirthful irony in this, because I do think a good few viewers enjoy both the comedy and any incidental turn on. Anything that helps us laugh at sex and the predicament of human desire is a good thing, and if it turns us on as well, that’s even better. We are in a sense laughing at ourselves, and celebrating what human beings will do in honour of the erotic.

Having said that, in general it’s pretty much a turn off seeing even attractive men being professional in front of a camera; the posed tough scowl, the faked passion, the “come hither” narcissism that somehow sends the libido plummeting. Not just the pose, the formula, but something in the eyes, that makes you feel like you’re actually stuck on top of someone else’s frigid iceberg again. It is emotionally unreal. A good film, or even watching a guy weight lifting, is actually better porn, but of course that isn’t porn at all. But there are of course other things.

If well paid, well treated, autonomous porn models and actors take us away from the old Greek associations of the word to a healthier part of the river, other people have actually burst that river’s banks. The gay Bear community brought about a mind blowing world of non-commercial amateur porn, of men sharing themselves with the adult male community by means of their own cameras on the internet, entirely for free. This was not for money, and this was not formula, it was an overflowing of male generosity and self revelation (and I suspect self discovery in many cases). This was not producers and consumers, plastic “perfection” marketed to the “imperfect” – the “objects” were all subjects themselves, which was very much part of the message of this medium. You could see it in people’s eyes, and their average Joe smiles. Someone real was home, and the lights were on. It wasn’t even porn in the usual sense, because it was freely given. It was genuine “community porn” and that entirely bucks the term.

I think these men gave an enormous amount, in a way which was nurturing, sustaining and profoundly humanizing. For me they brought recognition, empathy and self-understanding to an entire area of sexual manhood during an important time in my life. Beyond that it was sheer celebration of the goodness of the erotic, and may it remain so.

Far from the demonized myth, these men were benevolent, humorous, harmless, ordinary and embracing. The only way in which this was porn was either in a redefined personal sense, or in the sense that it would be judged too sexual and naked, and too candid by an outsider, which is exactly the kind of judgement we need to disregard. They did just that, with immense good will.

Would such a phenomenon have arisen without professional pornography being there in the first place? Given the repressiveness of our sexual history, I don’t know, but I know that professional porn couldn’t do it. Of course they wouldn’t have gone through any of this analysis or theorizing that I just have (any more than I did when I saw it), and thank the gods for that, because they let the real into an area of human sexuality and shared it with us, and debunked all the porn myths in one go, without even thinking about it. What an education. Bless them all.

There is hope.

“solarized version of public domain image by Priwo”

29/1/12 – corrected inaccuracy re payment of priests in the UK.

Esotericism – how we laughed and cried

I had quite a nice time yesterday and today, reading through online writings of the astrologer Dane Rudhyar, and indeed I had picked up an old book recently on the Sabian Symbols by him. Dane Rudhyar produced some very interesting writings and was himself a Theosophist with many interests, and a long and active life.

I enjoyed reading through some of his stuff and may well return to it, there are real insights in his work, but eventually I just had to come to a halt and sit outside and shake it off. It wasn’t the man or his obvious talents, but the spiritual edifice of early twentieth century esotericism that did it. It recalled for me what it used to be like reading occult literature at one time, with its spiritual hierarchies and avatars, it’s immutable laws and ineffable planes, and its sour moral undertone (though Dane is more sweet than sour, I have to add). Madame Blavatsky rattled her chains, Alice Bailey and Dion Fortune put on their rubber gloves to barely mention homosexuality and similar “vices” that would soil your evolution (not to mention Bishop Leadbeater). Dane Rudhyar was a modernising and open-minded saint compared to this, but the terminology and the inherited structure just brought it all back somehow. It just leaves a kind of chill. A gay youngster reading through any of the old stuff had to take a deep breath and be ready for the standard objectified condemnation, pathologizing, or complete silence on anything beyond the holy heterosexual couple in occult teaching. It’s a good thing that youth is resilient.

But just to show a little of what Dane Rudhyar was capable of, see this quote:

“Scorpio is usually considered to be related to sexual activity and to all passions connected with sex (for instance, jealousy). But actually we must differentiate clearly between two aspects of sex. Sex as a strictly biological and procreative function of the human animal is expressed in the zodiacal sign, Taurus — the sign of fertility. The sign, Scorpio (its opposite in the zodiac) refers, on the other hand, to what I might call ‘personalized’ sex. And it is with this latter that Freudian theories and the Kinsey Report deal primarily.

“Psychological problems related to sex, sexual behavior as an indication of psychological attitudes and of inner pressures, fear or desires — and all sexual abnormalities, sex rituals, and religion induced frustrations — should be referred to the sign, Scorpio. The intentional prevention of birth, either as a social measure, or for personal reasons, comes also under Scorpio. Scorpio opposes Taurus; the more “personalized” the approach to sex, the less it tends to result in fertility”.

Astrology and the Kinsey Report

January 1954

Elsewhere he goes a little into the needlessly negative associations attached to Scorpio on account of this, associations which ought to be changing with a changing world (which indeed they have in a lot of quarters). It’s interesting stuff worth reflecting on.

You can see from this how gay sexuality would feed straight into this Scorpionic association, for it truly fits the bill as non-procreative sexuality. It is also apparent from this how the linkage with the “personalization” of sex would lead an outdated culture to completely misjudge gayness as a “lifestyle choice” (which it is not, any more than heterosexuality is). Yet the central thing that this spiritual ideology fails to address is that non-procreative sexuality is entirely natural. It’s right there in the “Taurean” realm in that sense.

The transpersonal aspects of Taurean sexuality relate to different realms than Scorpio, realms which are readily visible and apparent. The transpersonal aspects of Scorpio relate more to the invisible undercurrents of life. Maybe this is also why Scorpionic sexuality was seen as more personalized, as the collectivity of Taurus is more physically obvious. But it is also a question of what we see as normative – that sex has an almost ordained function as reproduction, or that this is not necessarily so. Nature would seem to indicate the latter, as I think did many cultures older than Victorian and Edwardian Christianity.

Gay folks might fit the Scorpio model in this discourse (though gay people are found in all types in fact), and Dane Rudhyar’s characterisation of the sign by the zoomorphic image of the Phoenix rather than the Scorpion fits the experience of the modern gay movement rising from the ashes of patriarchal, monotheistic culture (the bisexual D H Lawrence also identified with this symbol) quite poetically. From my early teenage years my sense of sex and sexuality as something sacred was overpowering. But the association can become something of an imprisoning cliché.

A gay person is not born opposed to Nature, but as a less common manifestation of its diversity. We experience sexuality maybe in a more Scorpionic way on balance, by virtue of where society puts us in its scheme of things, but there’s a great deal which is the same, both ways. Take away the imposition of social values, and would a “barren” heterosexual couple’s sex be seen as “personalised”? There seems to be a whole battery of value judgements surrounding this scheme.

Separating nature and nurture, and data and social judgement, is not always simple, but at times the old esotericism appeared to have a great investment in the separation and the question not even being looked at. This is one of the problems of unexamined tradition, and of sacrosanct “teachings”. This very attitude seemed to feed into the popular approach to Jungian psychology as well.

The occult and the esoteric are immensely rich areas, with deep roots and multiple flowerings. The output of the Victorian and Edwardian eras are not necessarily characteristic of these things as a whole either, and imposed their own blue print of values and selective perception upon the occult, as I’m sure all eras do. I think it was only during the 20th century that a freer and more self reflective perception slowly grew, though who knows what the distant past sheltered in obscurity? For now though, it is neither relativism nor dogmatism, but a more flexible open-mindedness in this area that is most interestingly offered.

For LGBT people vis-a-vis the occult interpretation of sexuality, I think there is little doubt that we are still stationed in the realm of Scorpionic experience by society and our history. The question is how do we get out, and how do others come in to find what is theirs too. Or put another way, how do we realise that when it comes down to it, we are all pretty much the same.

Our commonality is the gift we all receive, and the means by which we may give back our little bit of transformation to the world, that in the mirror of each others experience and loves, we see that we are each other.