I have recently been going down a spiritual rabbit-hole regarding how we as magicians might use contemplative practice. Having spent a lot of years exploring the use of meditative states within yogic and Buddhist traditions, I have also (via that mighty Trappist Thomas Merton) started looking at the way in which deeper internal states were being articulated within Abrahamic mystical traditions. Via his exploration of St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Merton dives headlong into the mystical depths of spiritual practice.
The early stages of most spiritual journeys are often filled positive, affirmative statements aimed at locating meaning and exerting control. Those walking the paths of more orthodox religious expression might speak of Cataphatic theologies or the Via Positiva in which we aspire to affirm the promises of faith and the joys of our newfound purpose. I’m pretty sure we magical heretics also have our own version of this. While we may be sceptical about the big promises of father/mother gods, we may well experience the rebellious sugar high of our newfound antinomianism. Having gained our hard-won freedom from the conditioning of family and culture, we often get busy with the project on greater understanding, greater control and endless amounts of information. This of course very cool, knowledge is power and knowledge of the previously forbidden can be truly liberating! But is it enough? Is it enough to sustain the long haul of becoming through initiation and countless cycles of alchemical refinement?
Many of us are drawn to magical or Pagan spiritual traditions because they offer a more balanced and integrated way of engaging with the dance between darkness and light. Whether via those deities that express the destructive aspects of life or the wheel of the year itself, we are forced to articulate and explore the aspects of life that many of us (if given the choice) would choose to ignore. While part of us might shy away from the challenge of such work, the deeper parts of our soul seems to recognize the need to engage with the dynamic tension present within life. The balancing of darkness and light is key to the alchemical work we are engaged in. I really like the quote below and the mention of the emerald vision brings to mind our own internal work with the darker aspects of reality:
“The passing from the ‘black light’ from the ‘luminous night’, to the brilliance of the emerald vision will be a sign…of the completed growth of the subtle organism, the ‘resurrection body’ hidden in the physical body.”
Henry Corbin The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism
So often it is our encounter with the world and the other that challenge any simplistic notion of control. For the freshly minted magician it’s an easy mistake to make, as much as we might place a high value on spiritual autonomy, it is not the same as an imagined utopia of hermetically sealed isolation. Yes our personal Great Work often leads to an increased sense of our separateness as part of our refined sense of self-awareness, but we still remain within the world with all the connections and context that this entails. The complex mess of our world means that we eventually have to confront the dryness of our meditation, our emptied rituals and our unanswered prayers.
The way of the Via Negativa is one in which our words run dry and the work becomes truly gritty. We may to struggle to describe our work and it may feel easier to say what it is not. We are those who die before death so that we can fully become what the mundane world can’t handle.
The early visibility of the path dims and we feel that are operating as much by touch and instinct as we are with planned intentions. This may be the place where silence becomes our friend/enemy we may need to find those contemplative tools that allow us to sail its seas. Mystery may become our watchword as we feel the gravitational pull forwards into goodness knows what!
We may sense vast spaciousness within the self; the orthodox may describe this as ‘not self’ but we are the magicians who are often called to cross desert places in search of wisdom. This realm of dark light is where the unconscious bleeds in and our art and ecstasy often reveal more about who we really are than our well-devised narratives. In the desert our uncertainty can be treasured and when treasured these ‘WTF?’ moments become the fuel for our unfolding.
In the desert the light pollution of our self-story gets turned down and in this silence we look upwards. It’s unsurprising that magicians spend so much time staring up at the stars. This is the realm in which we encounter distant sparks in a vast darkness. In looking we are filled with the dread and awe that reflect our internal world and the journey we must take.