Since my previous journal update I’ve had time not only to reflect more on this idea and project of perfecting the vessel but also a fair bit of very stimulating correspondence with various insightful folk I have the pleasure to be in contact with.
There’s nothing like the sympathetic exploration of other points of view to help you develop, expand, or clarify your own. In this case, I feel might be in a position to find a point of agreement between my own rather anti-ego model of spiritual development and the more ego-focussed models of modern Satanism, Rune Gilders, etc… and also perhaps the more subtle considerations of ego made by Jung and others.
As I have previously illustrated, my spiritual philosophy boils down to a few simple propositions, informed by the old heathen worldview of memory and ørlög:
1) Everything is interconnected, yet each individual entity is unique and divine;
2) Any individual being requires nourishment from the flow of the water of life throughout the worlds (yes folks, that is a metaphor!) if it is to flourish;
3) Isolation and separation cause amnesia, confusion and death;
4) Opening to connectedness is (or can be) terrifying because it forces us to confront our finitude, no matter how good for us it might be or even how good it can feel;
5) Therefore the spiritual task is to develop one’s capacity to sustain connection to what is beyond one – to become a good vessel and conduit for the flow of the waters of life throughout the World Tree.
A corollary of point 5 might be that we need to find our right place in the order of things in order to facilitate good flow of the waters, but this is a new idea to me and I don’t yet know what it means.
Now I generally take a dim view of the ego, that is, the physical and psychological sense of being a separate will or being, a sense which can run the whole gamut from reptile brain reactivity to hyper-cerebral intellectualising. I suppose I have generally regarded the ego as armour, blockage, analogous to the hardened arteries that bad diet and poor exercise cause.
The ego on this view prevents us from being good vessels for the flow of the water of life because it occludes our connection to that flow. Rather than embrace ego magic as a model for growth or transformation, my view seems to imply that the opposite of ego magic – ego destruction – is the door to positive change or evolution.
However in the process of dismantling the ego (which is an ongoing process as the ego is very durable) we risk also destroying the integrity of our vessel, which is after all a finite being. In order to be truly connected to the whole of the Tree we need to retain some specificity, some particularity. In this way the age old philosophical problem of universal and particular is transcended in an almost Hegelian fashion.
A word at this point is called for in relation to the terms Left Hand Path and Right Hand Path. These days in the western world Left Hand Path seems to refer to spiritual practices related to ego development; where as Right Hand Path seem to refer to spiritual practices related to devotion. People like to think of the Left as ‘evil’ and the Right as ‘good’, though such Manichean ideas need have little place in heathenry or magical practice more generally.
This distinction irritates me for two reasons. Firstly, it implies that unless you are a budding ego-maniac you cannot be interested in your own spiritual (or other) growth or development. Clearly a load of rubbish! Secondly, it implies that if your spiritual focus is largely devotional then you are more of a dim-witted follower than an exciting maverick. Again, a load of rubbish.
However there is a deeper reason why the distinction irritates me – that being that these terms, Left and Right Hand Path, do not refer originally to the goal of spiritual practice, but more the journey taken.
The Left Hand Path is the quick but dangerous road to union with God; this is the road that the well-known Sufi Irena Tweedie took under the tutelage of an Indian Sufi master. The Right Hand Path is the slower, but surer, road to union with the divine.
Of course, some Left Hand Path practices involve the use of transgression in order to free the individual from slavery to their received social mores, but if anything this sort of practice is part and parcel of ego destruction – dismantling the individual’s concrete sense of identity and throwing them into a much more vast ocean of possibilities.
Coming back from my digression – how do I find a rapprochement with ego magic? David Tacey makes the point that the ego is an archetype too. Ego has its mythic patterns of manifestation and withdrawal just like any transpersonal being, deity, or indeed the tides of history or the flow of the waters.
If that is the case then a simple linear determination to shatter the ego becomes itself an egotistical project. As I’ve quoted before – “the struggle to free myself of restraints becomes my very shackles” (Meshuggah).
In order to perfect the vessel – to effect a union of universal and particular within our being – we need to have a more organic – and less egotistical – relationship to the ego.
Now my impression of most self-professed ego magicians is that they really don’t grasp this point at all. That isn’t a surprise, since I am suggesting that we need to develop the ego in non-egotistical ways!
Since we cannot do away with our particularity (not if we want to stay alive) we need to find a way to prevent it from occluding our capacity for opening to the flow of waters; but also to find a way to house it in our lives so that it might even enhance our ability to see the forest for the trees, to be good conduits for the flow of waters.
And there’s a lovely seeming contradiction for you – how to invite the ego to serve us in remembering the bigger picture of the World Tree in its full all-encompassing and connecting (and ego humbling) glory?
If anything, Woden is a master of dissolving impossible conundrums. Perhaps he has an answer to this almost alchemical conclusion that my reflections on heathen cosmology and spirituality have led to? Feel free to drop by and make some suggestions, One Eye… and in the meantime the practices outlined in my last post could all provide a good start.
Oh yeah, one final thought, a realisation I had after one of my bands (Sword Toward Self) recently shared the stage with Aleister Crowley-inspired progressive death metal act Aeon of Horus (who incidentally have just released an utterly astounding album).
Crowley on the one hand seemed an inveterate ego-magician; yet on the other hand he seemed obsessed with the fine art of dissolution. I wonder whether his method of keeping the ego groomed for maximum flow was to indulge its excesses – then shift just as dramatically to something new?
Perhaps by playing the ego up to the hilt he absolved it of its power, not unlike a paradoxical injunction in Ericksonian style psychotherapy. If so, then once again it seems we can draw yet another straight line through from Crowley to chaos magic. I have to go back and re-read the Book of Lies perhaps… here are some of Crowley’s own comments about the writing of said marvellous book:
“One of these chapters bothered me. I could not write it. I invoked Dionysus with particular fervour, but still without success. I went off in desperation to `change my luck’, by doing something entirely contrary to my inclinations. In the midst of my disgust, the spirit came over me, and I scribbled the chapter down by the light of a farthing dip.. When I read it over, I was as discontented as before, but I stuck it into the book in a sort of anger at myself as a deliberate act of spite towards my readers”.
I hate to say it… but this sort of thing reminds me of me.