My recent reflections on the unconscious, the ego, and the place of magic and spirituality as bridges between, have been opened wider in the alchemy of fire and water.
A mysterious ally gave to me some perspective on who I am and how I function, and it bears some exploration.
I regard this and my previous post (Dissolution) as falling in some sense at more the chaos magic end of the spectrum of my interests. In truth however, there are no hard lines, only a seamless continuum.
These considerations are as much the concern of Kali, of Wotan, indeed of Hermes Trismegistus. They are Loki’s bastard children and I have felt the play and tension of my own ancestors within these insights.
So this is in a way an invitation for my reader to utilise me as a mirror. It is clear to me that “change is coming through” (Tool). I am in the cauldron, boiling away, seething like the sacrificial meat my Germanic ancestors offered to the gods. Perhaps in the bubbling surface of the water others might find themselves and profit for it.
In my life the play of passivity and activity; of control and submission; of ego-will and deep impulse; has been a powerful and recurring motif. I spent many years locked in dark and shadowy halls, the nightmarish chains of my own psychology. Those days are mostly laid to rest, but they mark the point of departure.
The heart of my struggle has been this – I am not a creature of will but of submission. Submission to wyrd, to the tides, to the impulses of gods and the fire of odrerir. Submission to imbas, berzerkergang and a thousand other imperious states of creation and destruction.
Most of my best achievements I can take little credit for, they being so significantly shaped by that which comes through me. My task in this life is to make myself as fit a vessel as possible for these forces – so that they are given as full a range of expression as possible.
As such I have for some years waged war with something that I choose to name the ego. For me this thing I call the ego is that sense of self I have which feels itself as detached and isolate from all that is around me. It is amnesiac to the infinite mystery and divinity of all things; it feels itself the sole author of its acts.
Fortunately and unfortunately for me many of my early spiritual influences – both individuals personally known and philosophies encountered – were very strongly of the view that only the ego matters! That isolation is the goal, that the ideal of the spiritual path is perfection of the self at the expense of all else.
Oddly – no one I have met who extols this path comes anywhere close to being an admirable individual. I cannot judge others who hold this philosophy whom I have not met; however it seems to me that those who spurn their egos seem to have better chances of perfecting themselves than those who make such self-perfection their goal.
Hand in hand with this ego magic approach goes something which I will here refer to as will-based living. Will-based living is an approach to life in which I seek to force things to fit with my conscious expectation and desire. I try to use myself as a source of life energy and impulse and I rapidly burn up into cinders.
Will-based living is no way for me to forge a life because as a single being I am extremely finite. There is little energy for me to draw on unless I steal it from others. But I am not a thief – I have (perhaps ironically) too much self-respect. I don’t see how ego magicians can get very far – perhaps they just don’t.
Regardless, will-based living has one very exciting advantage – it feels safe because it relies on the conscious mind to be the source of all things. The conscious mind, being far more limited than the Deep Mind, rarely presents us with anything particularly challenging, threatening, exciting or profound.
This also means that will-based living is not a very effective method for creating a life worth living. Not only does it encourage a barren horizon for one’s hopes; but one is forced to drawn one’s energy from self-destruction or theft from others. Since the latter is not an option for me, I have tended to the former, which is not healthy.
Some time ago I realised there is another way to live life – what I will here refer to as heart-based living. Heart-based living hands trust to my heart, the seat of my emotions and life force. The heart encourages circulation and transformation of the blood – our very life relies on this alchemy.
Furthermore the heart underscores our connectedness to all things. It is crucial in our use of an external substance – oxygen – to live. It also helps evacuate carbon dioxide – a chemical which other beings are able to use to live. The heart, that most individual of all parts of a person, is in the business of connection and exchange (Gebo).
Whenever I have opened my heart, made it as a cup or chalice to the water of Urd’s well, profound and positive changes have occurred. My expectations have never been fulfilled, but rather exceeded in remarkably lateral ways. I have become a pure student, an ardent lover of mystery – of Runa in its deepest sense.
Here however lies the trick – it is hard to trust in the heart, in the submission required by this agent of the gods and the Deeps. And so I lapse back into will-based living and into self-poison or mediocrity.
At various times in my life I have even sought to impose – by act of will – a more heart-based approach to life on myself. Indeed, I have been shown that this is why I talk so much about waging war on the ego – this is nothing less than my gods and ancestors attempting to awaken me to my hypocrisy.
Conversely, sometimes the amnesiac will plays at being the chalice of the heart by miring me in cold isolation. There, in the hovel of my own “mean-spirited road house” (Rumi), I curse the light and life that flows through others. But to be receptive is not to be quiescent – this is an illusion, a nightmare that the isolate will weaves.
To be receptive might be to be extremely active – but the art is to act only in accordance with the heart, without seeking to understand outcome. It is to attend to the unfolding of wyrd without presuming that Skuld can be easily tethered – or indeed, even should be tethered! I think. This is where I am very much still learning.
This kind of trust, this action without will, has served me well in my life. There are gifts it has given me that are of incalculable value. My ego will cannot make the same claim.
So now it is time for me to embrace this heart-based way of life with a new clarity – with awareness that it is not the stagnant pond of retreat that my will imagines it to be. It is time for me to have trust in the currents of water that falls throughout the words, back into Mimir’s Well, then up Laerad’s trunk again.
I would be lying if I claimed that I knew quite how to make this heart-based living the prevalent pattern of my life. But it has been given to me as a new challenge – to come into an accord between fire-will and water-reception. And to make the change without getting tangled in the illusions that my cowardly will weaves.
This is perhaps the challenge that Woden embraced on the tree; perhaps the challenge that Sigurd stumbled upon when he tasted his burned thumb.
The great goddess Kali – who I have a deep affection for – has spoken through to me a great deal recently. I invite her to shower her blessings upon me! She can have any man’s head any time she likes, and only love can still her all-conquering rage. To arm myself with great power I must disarm first it seems.
For many years the phrase “empty-handed magic” has been a star guiding the course of my ship through the mists of night. Now perhaps the phrase “open-hearted magic” must replace it.
None of this is to say I am now a rainbow-spangled hippy of course. Apart from the fact that such folk (in my experience) often have rather vile shadow-selves, my intention is informed by one of Nietzsche’s more fertile ideas – the challenge of the eternal return of the same.
Suppose, says Nietzsche, that time is a great circle, a great snake that coils about itself, birthing and devouring itself forever. And suppose that this life we have is destined to repeat, exactly the same every time, for all eternity.
Here is the challenge – can you face the prospect of living out your life, exactly as it is, repeatedly, over and over, forever, and declare “YES!” with all your being? Can you affirm and celebrate even your deepest miseries, failures, wounds and betrayals? Can you look upon all of the mountains and ravines of your life with equal delight?
It doesn’t matter whether time really does circle around itself like this or not. The point is to set this attitude before oneself as a challenge.
Not many of us have the strength or stomach for such an outlook on life. It is certainly not the kind of perspective that the blind optimist – or the blind pessimist – would adopt. But somehow I feel this is the door, the lock and the key to my task of cultivating a heart-based approach to life.
So onward we go, and I invite my gods and ancestors to offer whatever aid they may in this holy task.