getting out of Dodge?

Another wonderful chat with our friend Brent yesterday; the wonders of palmistry and elemental hand shapes, considering sympathetic approaches to demons (before Brent gets dragged to the stake, that is my thing rather than his), and the language of pathology and illness.

Healing in the broad sense is an interest of mine, though I am a long way from being a health freak, a prospect I find about as inviting as the lycra clad yuppie cyclists that hurtle through London. Not only do I view health as more than  physical, and material events as more than coincident, but also disease and pathology as more than simply the “bad guy“. Which isn’t to say that you don’t just sometimes fight that stuff and get all the help you can, but there are deeper levels to so much of our lives.

The idea that pathology forms a language is I think clearest in the case of psychological disturbance; a language that is in process of unfolding, or articulating. And behind this thing which seems to push towards illness and even death, there is something else, nascent but intelligent, serpentine but subtle and saturnine, which actually seeks life and consciousness. Resolution. Seeking greater wholeness in fact. Yet being unconscious, the course charted is not necessarily one that takes into account the life and well being of the medium in the here and now.

I think such an idea is most clearly discernible in the case of psychological disturbance, which gives us a great modern metaphor, but I do believe it can be there even where it is more obscure, in physical illness, and in those instances of “life gone wrong”  that people do have the misfortune to experience. I do not here mean any sense of blame, or diminishing of the experience of illness or tragedy. I mean in the sense that a buried splinter troubles the sufferer to find and extract it, that an abscess moves to burst through the surface of the skin and be released, that pain troubles us to remove our hand from the knife or the fire.

In us there is a deeper sense of wholeness and being, greater than our bodies, emotions, minds or circumstances of life, but not unconnected with them. Behind the old fashioned mask of the malefic is a message that is also the greater cure.

I know these are not ideas that would be popular or complimentary to our culture, which requires both blame and the expunging of blame. Such ideas are open to misuse, and our knee jerk world requires a litigation free insurance policy, whether it concerns health, politics or what drugs a person enjoys. Not only that, but our culture requires an atomized, fractured and quantifiable, discrete sense of being, which is the effective antithesis of real life. No matter how much we might need to surf  life, we are taught that only control will do. We live not so much in a material world as a materialist superstition. We live in a scared world with a lot of conformist attitude.

But I think in spite of that, our instinct to seek meaning, and to make sense of our predicament, does sometimes join with deeper perceptions. We might have emptied our world of soul, or had it jailed by religion, but we’ll seek soul in our lives as surely as the repressed seek hookers and hard spirits. Even in a figurative ghost town of sickness and decline or madness. When the grope for meaning is unconscious, and follows the black dog to trouble, the language isn’t meant to stop there. The splinter is not meant to stay buried.

I wish health and fulfilment to all, and none of these hardships. But have a thought for the language that seeks to articulate itself, beyond what was and what seems to be, to a greater, more truly alive whole. Listen. Loosen. Ask what the saturnine mask conceals, what warmth and softness behind the cold hardness? What poetry behind the waster’s loss, what vigour unimagined, behind the illness and injustice?

We think heroes and heroines live in myth, but sometimes they explore hells in common disguise. Actually not sometimes. All the time, and not for nothing.

I think if we can wake up and listen, and help each other to do so, we can discover new stories, wonderful stories, and find that our descents have been trips down the mine shaft to bring back gold, and we can save a lot of people the trouble of going down the mine shaft physically. It’s a terrible world for so many people, including people you think have it ok, or privileged. Pick a hell, any hell, then  make it invisible. Is it any wonder people are ill or lost?

Dream is a great teacher and healer, and film has always seemed a bit like dream to me. We don’t get an unchanging script, but we do get a film that we star in. We get an authentic uncertainty that we can authentically do something with. The creative process works, I know that; and the unconscious is wise, I know that too.

It’s true that getting here is a pretty foul process, and no one gets out alive (at least in the sense we’re used to it), but still this is it, and you’re the artist.

Write. Pick up the camera. Dream. Heal.

Bring the ghost town to life, and move on.

Ghost Town Utah by Mike LoCascio (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ghost Town Utah by Mike LoCascio (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. Image electronically altered for colour desaturation.

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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

bearing water

Aquarius. The other half of the saturnian winter pairing. At this latitude it is pretty frozen. This is “high winter” for sure. Capricorn brings rebirth, the transformation work, turning point. Through Aquarius the light slowly, minutely grows, as the cold intensifies, amidst all that dark. It’s like we have sped into the Universe Unplugged. The cold and bare emptiness can be almost awe inspiring.

This could be the most grindingly dull time of year, a great stiff upper lip kind of “stick to it and carry on” with good intentions thing. But with the cold can come clear and starry night skies, and some dazzling days. There is real beauty to the bareness. And you really have to say that there is no sign quite as queer as Aquarius. Out here, everyone is queer somehow. And look a little closer, and things really aren’t that cold. In fact, maybe its time to smuggle back in Aquarius’ modern ruler, Uranus. The planet that spins on its side. Eccentric, genius, always a deviant to someone. Light beyond vision, heat of an inner fire, colours never before seen. When Aquarius is fun, it’s like no fun you ever had before, and it’s so frickin’ interesting. And it can be astonishingly brave, almost instinctively so. Aquarius has to live its truth, even when the rest of the world can’t accept it (yet).

Where is it mythologically?

Well one association is Ganymede. Ganymede who so beguiled Zeus with his beauty that in the form of an eagle he stole him, up into his world to be his lover, and cup bearer to the gods. He charmed all, except Hera, who saw him as a rival for Zeus’ affections. And Zeus placed him in the stars as the constellation Aquarius. I always remember the astrologer Liz Green recounting this myth in connection with the zodiac sign, and doing so with a barely disguised snideness. I think it detracted from her sense of the “power of the mother” or something (Jungians, ya know). A mere trifle going on between males. Probably tips barmen badly too lol.

Another association is the Egyptian god Hapi, god of the Nile inundation. Hapi was shown as a plump, blue or green coloured god, with feminine, pendulous breasts. He was accompanied by crocodile gods and frog goddesses, and was associated with water and fertility. He united both Upper and Lower Egypt, both the land of the delta and the land of the desert south, and there is something wonderful about this fat god of mixed gender appearance, crowned with papyrus reed and lotus blooms, a god of greatly nurturing and fertile qualities. The season dedicated to Hapi was Akhet, during which the inundation occurred, and this season went from September to January. I don’t know if it is just coincidence, but the name of the third (harvest) season of Shemu contains a hieroglyph  which closely resembles our sign for Aquarius, though this was actually the dry, low water season. Aquarius actually comes at the end of the old inundation season.

Another mythological figure that reflects Aquarian themes is Prometheus, who steals fire from heaven to give to mankind. For this act of kindling the god-like within human beings Prometheus is punished by Zeus with being chained to a rock and having his liver ripped out daily by a great eagle. Only when the centaur Chiron offers to die in his stead, and Hercules kills the eagle, is Prometheus freed.  When Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” she subtitled it “The Modern Prometheus”, and the modern myth does indeed embody a facet of the Aquarian myth again (which is appropriate, for the first science fiction writer), humanity reaching for the god-like but not escaping consequences. Aquarius is a tremendously intelligent sign, but wisdom comes with experience, and an understanding of the shadow side of our natures. It may be ruled by the brilliant and crackling intensity of Uranus, but its original ruler was still Saturn. Not a sign of easy answers, Aquarius. The necessity of its inner, truthful, passionate impulse is every bit as unavoidable as the limitations which it must overcome. It must do, and it can’t freely, but it will find a way. Its intelligence will lead to progress, to knowledge revised, to humanity realized more fully, in a better everyday life.

Another Aquarian figure is the Sumerian god Enki, a god of wisdom, magic, water and civilization.

In the tarot Aquarius is assigned to the card “The Star”, and it shows a naked female figure pouring water into a river or pool with one hand, and onto land with the other, with eight stars in the sky, the central star being very large. It is interesting here that the inundation of the Nile (mentioned above) was marked by the visible rising of the star Sirius. The Star is a card of hope, a renewal of original benediction, clarity, the rain washed sky after the storm. Floods, deluges and inundations accompany quite a few aquarian motifs. The zodiacal card before The Star is “The Devil”, assigned to Capricorn. In between the two lies the storm and downfall card of “The Tower”, assigned to the planet Mars.

I feel that “The Devil” here encapsulates the potential, the problems, and the challenge of transformation. In here is “the hidden god”, for though one can have the experience of Oneness of Being, the realization of the continuity of all, and the illusory nature of separation, here we still are. And in the individuality which arises here is all our original insight, and the real grinding of the grain into the flour of wisdom. The path of “The Tower” shows the great levels of energy involved here, and the element of hazard involved in actually gaining wisdom, rather than collecting the products of wisdom. The Devil and The Tower ask for understanding and faith.

The aquarian dilemma is I think very concerned with individual and social reality, and where they can’t coexist. It is very concerned with the demonized and marginalized. Nature, and what is cast as being “against” nature. Civilization and its own barbarism. Much of Aquarius looks like it is concerned with the trans-personal and collective, the social and the mass functional, but I think that is also a symptom of our state. The aquarian is also deeply concerned with the deepest and most difficult parts of our separate individuality, the parts which are seen as the most alien and incapable of inspiring empathy. Our culture still labels such a place “evil”, by a kind of mammalian reflex. This is the place we choose to act out collectively rather than face individually, because we cannot own it, and we cannot own it because we don’t know how to transform it. The Star, and Aquarius, gives us the message that we can be transformed, and that our judgements of “the other”, the outsider, the foreigner, even Nature itself, are only passing storms on the face of an underlying good. Even where that “other” is within ourselves.

Sometimes we must come to terms with the complexity and moral neutrality of our natures. Make peace with the wolf, so that we may hunt again, and hunt well. Flood the Nile, rather than create monsters to chase with torches.

Hapi - by Jeff Dahl (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hapi – by Jeff Dahl (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

agents of transformation

The Solstice day has come and gone, December 21st (this year and most years in the UK) the Sun went into Capricorn. Shortest day, longest night, renewal of the light.

It really didn’t feel like it yesterday, despite it being a sunny day here. Sometimes it really does, or you feel it coming ahead of time, the rebirthing energy, dark and sparkly. This year the actual solstice felt more weighted down for me; I don’t know if that was due to the amount of garbled expectation there was about the end of the Mayan calendar, casting some kind of pall of commercial misinformation over the group mind, but I found yesterday more heavy and shadowy than open to rebirth. Today the energy has shifted, and even though it is grey and rainy, Yule has come.

Lying in bed this morning, half awake and half tranced, something or other was rising up, negative or worrisome, I can’t remember exactly what it was, or what collection of things, but I reached with my mind to release and transform that negativity, using the kind of “words of power” formula that Marion Weinstein teaches in her books. These are simple formulae that program intentional thought with clarity and purpose – no glamour, no mystification, just work. And it does work. And there it occurred to me, more acutely than usual, just how crucial the work of transforming negativity is.

There are obviously all kinds of spiritual practice, but most essentially I feel there is what happens with consciousness and mind, and what we do with that. Of course, that does not need to be separate from our bodies, and it is good to have integration, but most essentially it is all about consciousness. That is how people doing quite different things, and even apparently doing “nothing”, can be doing the same work. The translation into “way of life” surely flows from that.

As I noted in this post in 2010, the astrological signs that lie at the heart of Winter are both traditionally ruled by Saturn, and if there were ever a planet associated with work it would be this ancient agricultural god with his sickle. Capricorn and Aquarius are so different (just as Cancer and Leo are), but they both fall under his rulership (just as Cancer and Leo are both ruled by “luminaries”). Between these two, the natural opposition to light and eternity, and the resurgence of a redeemed light, are worked out. Which is which is sometimes the chewy bit lol.

It often seems in popular neopaganism that we just celebrate, mumble some platitudes about light and dark, death and rebirth, yin and yang, yadda yadda, and celebrate again. Like a free slot machine, it’s going to go round and round. But of course that’s not what our ancestors were doing, I don’t believe that, anymore than I believe that “the mysteries” were really about biological fertility. I have to give them more credit than that.

Naturally I don’t really know what “the ancients” were doing, but I believe it was spiritual, otherwise this would just be an extended feel good vacation. And that it ain’t.

So I have this here. To transform negativity. The work of transformation. Whether it’s a rebirth, an unbirth, or something else, the essential deals with our predicament, born into time, space and apparent separation, and through a spiritual work offers redemption.

Hans Sebald Beham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons