contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Magic

ROWAN

Walking in the woods yesterday, I was struck by the vitality of rowan leaves and berries. I haven’t done this walk for a while, so I’m not quite sure when the berries became so vivid. All I can say is that they powerfully drew my attention. They were just what I needed, in this time of tentative emergence from Covid-19 lockdown. I look forward to their companionship as the high summer leans into autumn and beyond.

Sometimes I feel ambivalent about tree lore. Too much lore can get in the way of living connection with a tree, or even displace it. But in this case it seems to fit. To me, rowan does look magical, and feels potentially protective. I am not surprised that our ancestors planted it for this use down the ages – to guard stone circles, sacred groves, churchyards and houses. The very name rowan is linked to the Norse runa, meaning ‘charm’. In Ireland, rowan was considered a Druid tree and linked to the blackbird as a Druid bird. The berries themselves present a pentagram image, linking us to notions of magical protection.

Rowan is said to be concerned with wisdom and foresight. Breathing in smoke from the burning wood was an aid to foreseeing danger. Rowan is associated with solar goddesses of wisdom, skill and fire energy: in Ireland, Brigid; and in Britain, Brigantia. Both are said to have possessed arrows of rowan, which could catch fire if necessary.

I find the presence of rowan subtly morale boosting as I negotiate a new normal with my wife Elaine and, together, with the wider world. We work with the knowledge that Covid-19 is not going away and that we do need to re-engage more directly with that world. The very physicality of the rowan tree is an invitation to step out, whilst also encouraging a sense of what to look out for, and how the next phase is likely to be.

HONOURING ‘THE WAY OF MERLIN’

The Way of Merlin came into my hands at the right time. It seeded a number of key understandings, which nudged me onto a Druid path in October 1993. The first is that “sacred space is enlivened by consciousness. Let us be in doubt that all space is sacred, all being. Yet if human beings dedicate and define a zone, a location, something remarkable happens within that defined sphere of consciousness and energy. The space talks back”. Author R. J. Stewart backed this up with the further declaration that “The mystery of Merlin is a backyard mystery, for it declares the smallest, most local space to be sacred, to be alive, to be aware.” I was living in South London at the time and remember being challenged in this book to befriend a spring and a tree. At first, I thought, ‘what?’. Then I found them both, on the day I started looking, in a local park.

Such activities went with the view, “yourself and the land are one”, and that this apparently humble work has a larger context of “holism … identical to the deepest perennial magical and spiritual arts”. Magic is seen as a process of having intent and applying energy and imagery in service to it. Working within mythic frameworks asks for an enabling suspension of disbelief rather than a dogmatic literalism.

I did not work with the suggested programme of visualisations and rituals concerning Merlin, the weaver goddess Ariadne, and other scenes drawn largely from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Merlin. As practices they seemed too long and formal. But reading Stewart’s text was psychoactive in itself. The weaver goddess Ariadne is a key figure, and the vision of Ariadne reveals a cosmic mother at the threshold of Being and Unbeing. She draws us into the empty silence of the Void, out of which emerges the sound of breath – our own breath and at the same time the breath of all Being. Being breathes through us, “and we realise that we have a body that is the body of all Being. The stars are within us. We are formed of the weaving”.

The specific image of Ariadne never took root in my imagination. But I acknowledged the power of this Pagan Gnostic creation myth. Its sense of our reality emerging from empty potential at the behest of a cosmic mother has stayed with me. My work with Sophia earlier in this inquiry pointed in the same direction. So does my recent post about Dancing Seahorses and Modron (2). I am happiest with the Modron image, because it is less defined and anthropomorphised than those of Ariadne and Sophia. At at the threshold of being and unbeing, she shows us that we are not separate from the divine breath that forms us, or from the creation that is formed. The stars are indeed within us, whether we know it or not.

The Way of Merlin has something like an ancestral role in my spiritual life. R. J. Stewart and I were born in the same year, but he was doing this pioneering work in the 1980’s when I was busy with other things. He influenced me in the period immediately before I embarked on a Druid path, and I have revisited his work over the years. It still has riches to offer.

(1) R. J. Stewart The Way of Merlin: the Prophet, the Goddess and the Land London: The Aquarian Press, 1991

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/06/25/dancing-seahorses/

THE VERY EARLIEST TIME

The words of Nalungiaq, an Inuit woman interviewed by the ethnologist Knud Rasmussen early in the twentieth century.

In the very earliest time

when both people and animals lived on earth,

a person could become an animal if he wanted to

and an animal could become a human being.

Sometimes they were people

and sometimes animals

and there was no difference.

All spoke the same language.

That was the time when words were like magic.

The human mind had mysterious powers.

A word spoken by chance

might have strange consequences.

It would suddenly come alive

and what people wanted to happen could happen –

all you had to do was say it.

Nobody could explain this:

That’s the way it was.

Quoted in: David Abram The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World New York: Vintage Books, 1997 & 2017

 

BOOK REVIEW: MERLIN

Elen Sentier’s Merlin Once & Future Wizard is a marvel, highly recommended. The author effortlessly charms us into a fresh and extended understanding of Merlin, introducing us to a “huge, ancient, wise and powerful” being –  teacher, trickster and friend. For me, her introductory Who Is Merlin? chapter offers the best description of the essential Merlin I have ever read.

“Merlin is a liminal being. Liminal means a threshold, a place between past and future, between here and there, between one world and another … and he is always standing at that threshold. He is that place. And that ever-changing constant threshold is now, the here-and-now, and it’s constantly in motion like the sea”. Merlin teaches us, if we are willing, to “be continuously and consciously aware that you stand in the middle of change all the time, whatever is going on”. This is a lifelong learning. It cannot be hurried, and it cannot be branded or packaged.

Happily, however, it can be pointed towards, “if you can find someone who knows Merlin intimately and is willing to walk beside you on your journey to know him – and there are quite a few of us about if you look … You don’t feel alone, and they help you stop that nasty subliminal feeling that you really are nuts.”

Elen Sentier walks beside us to great effect. She has known Merlin since early childhood, when she joined the company of walkers-between-the-worlds, which means having a foot in the everyday world at the same time as having the other foot in the otherworld. She describes herself both as “an ordinary elderly woman” and an “awenydd”, or spirit-keeper in the old Brythonic tongue.

For readers who are new to Merlin, the book takes care to cover Merlin in history, stories and poetry – and even adds (for me at least) new material from the Welsh Marches in the chapter Pig Moor: Dyfrig, Ergyng and Mynydd Myrddin. But the greatest strength of Merlin Once & Future Wizard is the personal sharing interwoven with this traditional lore, showing how the author’s own relationship with Merlin has unfolded. At heart this book is a personal testament to a life lived under Merlin’s influence and inspiration. The effect is to give it added weight and authenticity, supported rather than undermined by an informal and chatty style.

Elen Sentier Merlin once & future wizard: Winchester UK & Washington USA: Moon Books, 2016 (Pagan Portals series)

ONCE AND FUTURE WIZARD

I first encountered Merlin when I was nine years old, through T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone. It includes a wonderful account of shape-shifting and indeed of education (as imaginative, experiential, self-reliant). As time went on I didn’t exactly get Arthur, the Wart’s, education. But I got enough to feed both memory and hope as enhancements of here-and-now experience rather than distractions from it. I didn’t forget, or if so, not completely. Thanks to Elen Sentier for reminding me in her recent book, which I plan to review soon.

“The thunder-clouds which usually go with hot weather were there, high columns of cumulus with glaring edges, but there was not going to be any thunder. It was too hot even for that. ‘If only’, thought the Wart, ‘I did not have to go into a stuffy classroom, but could take off my clothes and swim in the moat’.

“They crossed the courtyard, having almost to take deep breaths before they darted across it, as if they were going quickly through an oven. The shade of the gatehouse was cool, but the barbican, with its close walls, was hottest of all. In one last dash across the desert they had reached the drawbridge – could Merlyn have guessed what he was thinking? – and were staring down into the moat.

“It was the season of water-lilies. If Sir Ector had not kept one section free of them for the boys’ bathing, all the water would have been covered. As it was, about twenty yards on each side of the bridge were cut each year, and one could dive in from the bridge itself. The moat was deep. It was used as a stew, so that the inhabitants of the castle could have fish on Fridays, and for this reason the architects had been careful not to let the drains and sewers run into it. It was stocked with fish every year.

“’I wish I was a fish’, said the Wart

“’What sort of fish?’

It was almost too hot to think about this, but the Wart stared down into the cool amber depths where a school of small perch were aimlessly hanging about.

“’I think I should like to be a perch,’ he said. ‘They are braver than the silly roach, and not quite so slaughterous as the pike are.”

“Merlyn took off his hat, raised his staff of lignum vitae politely in the air, and said slowly, ‘snylrem stnemilpmoc ot enutpen dna lliw eh yldnik tpecca siht yob sa a hsif?’

“Immediately there was a loud blowing of sea-shells, conches and so forth, and a stout, jolly-looking gentleman appeared seated on a well-blown-up cloud above the battlements. He had an anchor tattooed on his stomach and a handsome mermaid with Mabel written under her on his chest. He ejected a quid of tobacco, nodded affably to Merlyn and pointed his trident at the Wart. The Wart found that he had tumbled off the drawbridge, landing with a smack on his side in the water. He found that the moat and the bridge had grown a hundred times bigger. He knew that he was turning into a fish.

“’Oh, Merlyn,’ he cried, ‘please come too.’

“’For this once,’ said a large and solemn tench beside his ear, ‘I will come but in future you will have to go by yourself. Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance.’”

(1) T. H. White The sword in the stone Volume 1 of The once and future King London: Collins, 1958

(2) Elen Sentier Merlin once & future wizard Winchester UK & Washington USA: Moon Books, 2016 (Pagan Portals series)

 

WORD POWER

“In Hebrew, the word davar … means word and thing. No distinction. We see and hear the world with our minds, with words, in categories, not in raw sensory data.   I believe in holiness because I experience it. I don’t view it as a personal presence, but holiness is as vivid as sexual pleasure or hunger.”

The words are spoken by Malkah, the central and anchoring figure in Marge Piercy’s He, She and It (1) and one of two given prominence as a point of view character. The other is her granddaughter Shira. Their spiritual lens is Jewish and they live in a 2059 imagined by the author in 1991. This world has experienced social breakdown, massive population loss and partial desertification due to the co-arising phenomena of corporate oligarchy and unchecked climate change.

I read this book again last week because I half remembered it and wanted to refresh myself. I had no other agenda. But as I went on it seemed to be contributing to my inquiry about the meaning of ‘creativity’ and ‘magic’  (Druidry’s Awen) in a context where material and social forces need to be addressed at their own level. For me, He, She and It also shows how speculative fiction may itself be a creative cultural force.

Malkah asserts that, “in fascination with the power of the word and a belief that the word is primary over matter, you may be talking nonsense about physics, but you’re telling the truth about people.    A person reacts and decides what’s good or bad. For us the word is primary and paramount. We can curse each other to death or cure with words. With words we court each other, with words we punish each other. We construct the world out of words. The mind can kill or heal because it is the body.”

Hence, the creative word is always “perilous”, giving true life to what has been inchoate and voice to what has been dumb. “It makes known what has been unknown, that perhaps we were more comfortable not knowing.” What we cannot name, we cannot talk about. When we do name something, we empower it, and the naming has consequences – “as when we call an itch love, or when we call our envy righteous”. More creatively, “we may empower ourselves” for if “we can think about and talk about what is hurting us”, then “we may come together with others who have felt this same pain,” and try to do something about it.

Malkah likes to tell the story of the Maharal of Prague*, who in 1600 defended the Jewish Ghetto there against anti-Semitic attack through the creation of a golem, a man of clay, large and strong, animated through Kabbalist magic. It becomes a second timeline in the book, though always in the form of Malkah telling the story. She describes the creation of Joseph, the golem, with relish.

The face of the Maharal is pale with ecstasy. He feels the power coming through him. It is the power of creation. It is always dangerous, it is lightning striking the tower and the world set on end. Word into matter and everything born again. He feels the energy of something strange and new and terrible and focused to a spear piercing through him and into the clay before him. He sees his own hands shining with a blue-white radiance. His hands are crackling. His hair stands up with electricity.

All the combinations of letters and vowels he chants, and the hidden name of G-d he speaks, and the sacred numbers that built the atoms of the universe. He has become transparent with power that is pouring through him. His flesh is blackened like glass that has stood in a fire. His eyes are silver as the moon, without pupils or iris. He knows in that moment more than he has ever known in his life and more than he will know in five minutes.

But we also know that power like this, even within the mythos,  is a rare and precious gift. When the assault on the ghetto comes, developing out of a Good Friday procession, the strong but simple Joseph says to the Maharal, “’your prayers as strong as my fists’”. The Maharal demurs. “’Prayer doesn’t work that way’, the Maharal says quietly and sadly. ‘It makes the heart and mind strong in belief, but it doesn’t keep one leaf falling from the tree. Still, I will pray’”. The ghetto defence is successful, though with many losses and much destruction. The aggressors are turned back. This is partly down to Joseph directly and partly because he inspires the community to rally. The Christian state levies reparations on the Jewish community for all the trouble that’s been caused, and life goes on. Survival – but with no change in underlying conditions. Joseph, who has an inbuilt tendency to violence, is put to back to sleep (though not destroyed) by the very magician who made him that way.

The same is true of 2059. The people there are vulnerable and have enemies. They live in harsh physical conditions, though without losing the capacity to recognise and create beauty. They too wrestle with the ethics and politics of what we now call artificial intelligence, which in their world has become, and in our world is becoming, a realistic proposition.

Malka’s conclusion seems to be that we can sometimes access resources beyond our little selves, though we don’t really own them, and can’t rely on them to exempt or rescue us from things we don’t like or want. But they do have a role to play and can at times make a difference. “We partake in creation with ha-Shem, the Name, the Word that speaks us, the breath that sings life through us. We are tool and vessel and will. We connect with powers beyond our own fractional consciousness to the rest of the living being we all make up together. The power flows through us just as it flows through the tiger and through the oak and through the river breaking over its rocks, and we know in our core the fire that fuels the sun.”

(1) Marge Piercy He, She and It (Kindle edition). First published in 1991 (as Body of Glass outside the USA). 1993 Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

*The Maharal was an historical figure, the title being the Hebrew acronym of Moreinu Ha-Ra Loew, used for Judah Loew be Bezalel,1512/26? -1609) and widely known to scholars as the Maharal of Prague. In 1592, he was granted an audience with Rudolf II, the mystically inclined Holy Roman Emperor. This was probably to discuss Kabbalah. The legend concerning his creation of a golem to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks is thought to be a German literary invention of the early nineteenth century.

BOOK REVIEW: LESSONS IN MAGIC

 

In a seemingly artless little book*, Philip Carr-Gomm celebrates a kind of magic that is “supremely natural”, like conceiving a child or planting seeds in the earth. He defines it as “the art and science of bringing ideas into form, of making what is intangible tangible. It is, in essence, the creative process – but informed with spiritual understanding”.

Lessons in Magic is organized into six chapters and ends with a list of resources. The first chapter, Apprenticed to Magic, describes the author’s own journey and sets the tone for what follows. The other five are a series of lessons. The resources include poems, songs, films, books and meditations.

The author describes his life-long attraction to magic, beginning in childhood, and nourished in youth by apprenticeship to the Druid magician Ross Nichols. His understanding was later extended by Jungian analysis, the study and practice of esoteric spiritualities from around the world and a training in modern psychology. To capture the essence of life lived magically, he quotes Fiona Macleod: “there are moments when the soul takes wing; what it has to remember, it remembers; what it loves, it loves still more; what it longs for, to that it flies”.

The stance is unrepentantly romantic and transcendentalist, whilst earth and life loving as well: we are here because we are meant to be. This is our theatre of becoming. Thus, the five ‘how to’ chapters show us how to align ourselves with what our soul wants, rather than what we think we want as average sensual folk. How do we tell the difference? One suggestion is to draw up lists of what we want to have, to do and to be – and then reverse cultural custom and tackle them in the order of be, do, and have. Going first for what we want to be may save distracting levels of concern with doing and, more especially, having. Another recommendation is to look for unsuspected strengths in our apparent weaknesses and failures. They may be the key to our flourishing.

Through such means, the book suggests, we find passion and purpose. Following our bliss, in this sense, is experienced as the best and most natural way of serving a higher purpose, and of bringing healing and joy into the world. To achieve this, we will need to draw both on an open receptive capacity and on the powers of focus and intention. The author takes us through the processes of finding and establishing our magical purpose, letting it gestate and grow, and asking for help at all levels (including prayer and divination). We are also warned not to over-specify outcomes once the work is under way. In this magic, we are always serving a higher purpose as well as our own. We are working in a larger context than we can expect wholly to own or control. Eventually we find that magic is happening around us. Unsuspected possibilities present themselves. The quality of our experience changes. We are in partnership with the living cosmos.

Philip Carr-Gomm speaks with the authority of someone who has walked the talk. Just under thirty years ago he re-founded the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) [1] based on a visionary prompting. It has been a highly successful venture, both itself and as a catalyst for others, playing a major role in the modern Druid and Pagan revival. One of OBOD’s key offerings has been the distance learning course offered to its members. This isn’t just a training in knowledge and skills about Druidry. It includes a thread of personal development work understood in magical terms, which students may follow at their own pace and in accordance with their own inclinations. A kind of apprenticeship, made more widely accessible, to meet modern needs in modern conditions.

Although this book is an introduction, it clearly presents a significant lens on magic, as understood by Philip Carr-Gomm and within OBOD Druidry. Highly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in the subject.

*Philip Carr-Gomm Lessons in magic: a guide to making your dreams come true Lewes, East Sussex, England: Oak Tree Press, 2016

[1] www.druidry.org

METHODS IN CONTEMPLATIVE INQUIRY: PART 1

This post is about methods in contemplative inquiry. It is the second in a series looking at what forms of inquiry best serve our times. The first (1) concerned values. This is the first of three addressing methods. A final post will be about issues of interpretation. My focus below is on the ritual container for my early morning Temple of Sophia practice, and how it enacts the values discussed on 16 June.

I inaugurated the Temple on 22 March of this year, and described it at the time (2) as a “magical space”. As my inquiry has developed, I have tended to let go of words like ‘magic’, ‘mysticism’, ‘gnosis’ and ‘enlightenment’ as too imprecise and in a way too theatrical for my current purpose. Yet I stand by what I said at the time. In particular, I continue to understand myself as using “a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns”, the definition of magic I used in March. I use all five of the specific methods I listed: concentration, meditation, visualization, ritual patterning and mediation. I particularly want to re-emphasize a key point about replacing a deliberate, effortful style of concentration with one based on interest and excitement like the concentration of children at play. (If it doesn’t work, do something else). But the last of the five methods above is now reframed. Instead of ‘mediation’ I would talk about the state of empty awareness and its influence. In the Headless Way (3) the phrase “clear awake space, and capacity for the world” is often used to describe the state as both experience and resource.

On arrival in my Temple space, I stand in what will be the centre of my circle, facing East where the image of Sophia gazes back at me. I begin with words inherited from my Druid practice, because I strive for continuity and integration wherever possible. The words are from Irish and Scottish Gaelic tradition, alternatively known at St. Patrick’s Prayer and the Cry of the Deer. They are a means of bringing in and expressing the humility and reverence I discussed as values in my last post, and are best declaimed slowly and spaciously.

I arise today through the strength of heaven, light of sun, radiance of moon, splendour of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth and firmness of rock.

I continue – again following modern Druid tradition – by calling for peace in the directions, and aligning myself to them:  May there be peace in the 7 directions – East, West, North, South, Below, Above, Within. May I be present in this space.

Then I circle sunwise, spinning slowly at the centre of the circle, extending my left arm at chest level, index finger pointing down and saying: I cast this circle in the Temple of Sophia. I continue to move sunwise round the circle, speaking as I reach the appropriate cardinal points:  I thank the Source for Land (North), Life (East), Light (South), and Love (West). May they continue to nourish me. My I continue to honour them. May the harmony of this circle and of my life be complete. When facing East again, I say: I open my heart to the Wisdom of Sophia. I do not use ‘Source’ and ‘Sophia’ as theological terms. They are a way of expressing gratitude and connection. The way we are made, the very social way in which our capacity for language has developed, create a yearning for I-Thou rather than I-It forms of relationship with the Cosmos and whatever we met here, without or within. It seems to me to be a first person need, and I notice that it doesn’t seem to require literal reciprocation.

This opens my Temple, and a mirroring reverse process closes it at the end. For me these processes are an important ritual patterning in themselves, setting the note of my day overall, and not just markers for the Temple space. Before I begin to close the circle and exit the Temple space, I perform a ‘blessings’ practice, which has some resemblance to Buddhist loving-kindness practice whilst not being the same. Here I extend my circle of care from the centre outwards, until it becomes universal. Again I have to say that OBOD Druidry has a culture of commitment to blessings and the energy of blessing, and I continue to hold to that culture. Elaine, named below, is my wife.

I say: A blessing on my life.  May I be free from harm; may I be healthy; may I be happy; may I live with ease – repeating the sequence for Elaine’s life, the lives of our kin, the lives of our companions, all lives I touch and am touched by and all beings throughout the Cosmos.  A blessing on our lives (arms raised); a blessing on the work (hands over heart); a blessing on the land (touching the ground).

I am not, after some hesitation on the matter, working within a set of formalized ethics. Rather, the culture of practice seeks to generate a patterning of awareness that supports choice-making based on a view of love and wisdom. Methods enact values, which are then taken out of the Temple precincts and into the wider world.

I will talk about my physical/energetic and contemplative work within the circle in a dedicated post. This will include a look at why I do the entire practice standing or moving, and also why and how stresses and pathologies are given their space and voice.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/values-in-contemplative-inquiry

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/sophian-magic-101

(3) http://www.headless.org

 

SOPHIAN MAGIC 101

My Temple of Sophia is a magical space. So what do I mean by magic? What is its place in a contemplative inquiry? What makes it Sophian?

On magic, I tend to take my cue from R.J. Stewart (1). He says: “Magic is a set of methods arranging awareness according to patterns. The serious application of magical methods leads to transformation; it is the transformation that is of value, not the magical methods themselves. The basis of magic is utterly practical and experiential”.

This is very good news from an inquiry point of view. Stewart is careful to say that magic is neither a truth or religion – nor yet a philosophy, though “echoes of profound philosophy” are to be found within magical traditions. In my universe, the Way of Sophia is more than a magical tradition. But magic, with its precise focusing of will and intention, its experimental approach, and its interest in outcomes, has a strong and valued place.

When starting an inquiry, I prefer to start with some sort of model, from which I will depart over time after I have gained enough experience to evaluate and modify it. R.J. Stewart – again – is a good model of Western Way integration, in particular through bringing together Celtic traditions and Kabbalah. In my Way of Sophia work I will be drawing on  Kabbalist patterning – again with the intention of gaining experience and then playing creatively. Indeed, this process has already begun.

I inaugurated my Temple of Sophia at about 4 a.m. on Tuesday 22 March and I am following Stewart in his view of five fundamentals in magical practice. As I move around the circle, I notice a cousinship with my previous OBOD Druid practice, whilst also recognizing difference.

CONCENTRATION – linked to the east, the element of air, and a view of origination.

MEDITATION – linked to the south, the element of fire, and a view of creation.

VISUALISATION – linked to west, the element of water, and a view of formation.

RITUAL PATTERNING – linked to the north, the element of earth, and a view of expression.

MEDIATION – the fifth fundamental, associated with Spirit, and in circle terms at the centre. Stewart points out that in mystical and religious discourse, the word ‘inspiration’ is used as an alternative. But in this context I find mediation the better word, more powerful as well as more specific. In the most general terms, we mediate the “constant power of Spirit”.

I want to say a little bit about all five fundamentals, with a particular emphasis on CONCENTRATION at this stage. Stewart says that before even starting, we need some ability to achieve inner silence, stilling the repetitive dialogue that we all have. In this context we are simply looking for a level of silence that will allow us to switch our focus fully onto the relevant inner disciplines. We are not here in the business of investigating the monkey mind itself. Stewart (1) offers brief exercises specifically for stilling the mind and generating silence. Having achieved this, we launch the work. Achieving silence is the first use of concentration. Holding it throughout the magical working is the next. Will Parfitt (2) has a valuable comment about concentration. It is often seen as strenuous, about being “very deliberate”, indeed somewhat compulsive – and above all an effort. He reminds us that it does not have to be this way. He notes that children at play concentrate effectively – to the point where it is hard to draw them away – yet without obvious strain and effort. This is possible because they are interested and excited. He says “it is that simple – if you are interested you can concentrate; if you are not interested you can’t and would be better off doing something else”. When I re-read this I felt sad for the many children and adults who lack adequate choices in this matter. More happily, I have noticed that I am finding concentration in the Temple of Sophia easy. My will and enthusiasm are behind it.

R.J. Stewart offers concise and simple definitions of meditation, visualization and ritual in magical work, and I will see how I go with these, in this inquiry, as time goes on:

MEDITATION: the discipline of directing consciousness inwardly upon chosen subjects.

VISUALIZATION: the act of controlled image making and development of inner vision.

RITUAL PATTERNING: the fusion of creative imagination with effective expression.

On MEDIATION I need to say a bit more, because this is where I become specifically Sophian. The purpose of my Temple is to mediate the Light of Sophia. For me, at this stage, this involves both energetic and contemplative work.

The energetic work is based around a strong development of Kabbalist middle pillar practice where I open myself to the light presence and light energy of Sophia, and let them fill me. Over the last few days this has had very strong effects. At an inquiry level, outside the Temple, it raises a Kabbalist version of the “are chakras real?” question. I’ll be writing about that in due course. On the contemplative side – again using an R.J. Stewart definition relating to magical work – I enter into a “wordless, formless fusion of consciousness with a chosen subject”.

This is the Light of Sophia – and I sit within the light generated by the energy work, and indeed go through a process that leads, when the work is going well, to the wordless, formless fusion described, wrapped and rapt in a form of Samadhi. But the larger aim is both to be and to represent that Light in the world – to mediate it. I will say more about all this, and what it means, when I better understand the implications for me. So far I know only that I have a strong sense of contact and a general direction. The inquiry itself will show me the way.

  • J. Stewart (1987) Living Magical Arts: Imagination and Magic for the 21st. Century Poole: Blandford Press
  • Will Parfitt (1988) The Living Qabalah: A Practical and Experiential Guide to Understanding the Tree of Life Shaftesbury: Element Books

BOOK REVIEW: PAGAN DREAMING

jhp551bfc27c579fHighly recommended. Pagan Dreaming: The Magic of Altered Consciousness, to give it its full title, is an informed and thought provoking introduction to dreams and dream work. Although tailored specifically to a Pagan-oriented audience, it will be of interest to many other people as well.

Author Nimue Brown follows her familiar path of avoiding hackneyed or formulaic approaches to the subject. Instead, she draws on a rich variety of sources including her own experience of dreaming and working with dreams to ask fruitfully open questions and invite dreamers to explore this territory for themselves. She says of herself: “I am not a scientist or psychologist. I have not trained as a counsellor or psychoanalyst. … I am simply a Druid who has always worked with dreams, and I am sharing what I have. There is no dogma here, just ideas”. Whilst being clear that she is not writing as a therapist, she does indicate that dream work can have triggering (and therefore potentially therapeutic) effects, so that people doing it may want professional support in some circumstances.

The book discusses the physical, emotional and meaning-making aspects of dreams, emphasising how dreams work differently for different people – suggesting that standard schema for interpretation are of very limited use. Everyone has their own dream language and needs first to listen in to this. Only then are they in a position to interpret their own dream symbolism and develop their own dream work. The author includes a chapter on ‘Exploring a Dream Diary’ where she shares extensively from her own, and shows how to assess and draw conclusions from the material presented by the recorded dreams. She includes “daydreaming … along the edges of sleep” within the overall umbrella of dream work, and identifies this as a significant and creative state for her.

After a chapter on ‘Dreams and Magic’ (though “not the kind of magic that leads to definite outcomes”) the book concludes with ‘Into the Wilderness’, which explores the idea of “re-wilding your sleep” – physically, mentally, spiritually and socially. She moves on to speculation about where dreams come from – products of our own minds? The universe whispering to us as we sleep? The gods of dreaming as they carry us into other-worlds? Ancestral memories? She ends by saying: “none of these explanations is any less miraculous than any of the others”. That sense of an open and affirmatively questioning stance towards the ‘miraculous’ is for me the defining feature of this book: a refreshing treatment of a fascinating topic.

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