I was recently chatting with one of my teenage children about how Queer identity is being discussed in Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature. In the course of our conversation we got on to the brilliance of Ursula Le Guin’s work The Left Hand of Darkness and how the people of the planet Gethen were able to change sex as part of their natural life cycle. Ursula was (and is) awesome!
I find it hard to convey the richness that I have gained from Le Guin’s work and the way that it has provided inspiration to me as both a human being and a magical practitioner. With her recent death, I was once again impressed by the wide impact that she has had upon my friends and other creative people that I’m connected to. Le Guin brought the keen eye of the anthropologist to her imagined worlds, and used them as powerful vehicles for exploring concepts without doing violence to the narrative. Her engagement with ideas around race, feminism and alternate family structures, helps us challenge and question our reliance on worn-out social norms and stereotypes.
One of the ideas that Le Guin skillfully wove into the magical universe of Earthsea was the power of words and names. To know a thing or a person’s true name was to have power over them, and the act of sharing your true name with another was an act of profound trust. This concept of a true name (usually received during adolescence) also contains within it the idea that we each hold within us the possibility of bringing something unique into the world.
In a recent blog post I made mention of James Hillman’s excellent The Soul’s Code in which he considers how the idea of the daimon can help us discover those passions and vocations that might provide a sense of coherence to our life’s journey. The challenge for Hillman, and for ourselves, is how we tune in to intuition and creativity, to align our lives to this deeper sense of calling and purpose. When we are able to bring about this sense of greater congruence with our daimonic, deeper selves, so it becomes possible that greater inspiration might flow through us.
For Hillman a critical part of this experience comes via a positive, mythic use of loneliness and self-isolation. So often the voice of our vocation can be stifled via the constrictions of family or social conditioning. To recover the “still, small voice” of the daimon, we are often required to walk a path that may be viewed as willful antinomianism by those around us, as we question or reject their perspectives and values.
For some their sense of daimonic purpose feels so clear, that they have little doubt as to the life’s work that they need to pursue, yet for many of us this process takes more time. The work of tuning in to the voice of our deep self is aided by tools and approaches that allow exploration of hidden or “occult” terrain. Ritual practice, dream-work and art can all be highly helpful means of recovering those powerful longings that may have become lost.
In reflecting on this process of discovering our ‘true name’ or ‘diamonic purpose’, I was once again drawn to the Grail story of Parzival and the way in which his mother attempted to protect him from both the rigours and glamour of Knighthood. While we can sympathize with her aim, having lost her husband to the crusades, such attempts at control were destined to fail once his own vocation is activated.
As Parzival journeys along the road he finds that his certainties and self-perception are repeatedly challenged as he seeks to find the meaning of true knighthood and what it might mean to be worthy of the Grail. When he begins his quest, the literal and the masculine provide him bench-marks for how he thinks he should be in seeking to make sense of his universe. His first guru Gurnemanz is more than adept in teaching him the use of the lance and shield, but when considering matters of the heart and deep pain he is sadly lacking. It is this “stiff upper-lip”, don’t ask questions attitude that causes his initial failure when confronted by the wound of the Fisher King.
To walk the path of taking our true form demands a form of self-remembering and reflection that asks of us considerable effort, yet to not undertake such work is to stifle the process of initiation unfolding in our lives. Many of us will be all too aware of what it feels like to have our creativity blocked, and the cost this incurs on our sense of psychological and spiritual health, as Hillman puts it:
“Without inspiration, what is left is bare, aimless ferocity.”
The sharp edges of such ferocity often remind me that I’m working too hard on things that don’t really matter or that I’m using such busyness in a desperate attempt to escape the true cost of awakening. To close my ears to this deeper truth, risks denying both myself and the wider world the unique manifestation of who I am and might become.
“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Urusla Le Guin’s, The Left Hand of Darkness.
Steve Dee’s new book A Heretic’s Journey is out now, details here.
Deep Magic retreats – places are still available for our first autumn retreat at St Nectan’s Glen in Cornwall, details here.