Working in Dark Light: Magic on the Via Negativa

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.

Nightside Cistercian

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.

Vastness Without, Vastness Within

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.

Steve Dee

Divine Androgyne (Part 3): Monstrous Alchemy

The impact of Queer experience on the ideal of androgyny is a truly disruptive one. Gone are our neat Kabbalistic flow charts and clear cut Neoplatonic stages of descent. In contrast to these linear sequences, this Queered Androgyny is an ever oscillating, multi-directional chaos-star whose many rays can be simultaneously moving both outward in expression and engagement, and inward in reflection and self-nurture.

This principle of Androgyny is fed as much by the lived experience of unique, individual Androgynous people as it is by the realm of aspirational metaphysics. It as much as about the creativity of the Radical Faery and Butch Lesbian as it about Adam Kadmon or Ardhanarisvara. For me, to work with this form of Androgyny means to acknowledge both a dialectical process that seeks to capture the world of ideal forms, while at the same time experiencing a dialogical reality in which a multitude of positions need to be held together without a necessary resolution.

Ardhanarishvara

‘Can’t tell if you’re a boy or a girl’

To seek deep benefit in engaging with these ideas and images seems to require that we tolerate a certain degree of uncertainty. So often this form of doubt, confusion and psychological tension is seen as a negative or a hindrance to spiritual development and yet I believe this does not need to be case. For those of us seeking to walk an occult path, we are often called upon to make use of emotions and methods which our exoteric cousins view as dangerous or retrograde. If however we are able to engage consciously with the sense of resistance experienced in grappling with the complexity of such dialogues, then this very tension can bring about alchemical change.

If the stated aim of magical work is to create change, it would seem somewhat odd to then resist the transformation when it comes; and yet in my own life this has so often been the case. Change can happen at many levels and impact both how we experience ourselves and how we engage in relationships with others. Often the routes to change are manifested in dilemmas, loss and conflict, and the keys we need are to be found in attending to the strangeness of our dreams and the currents of the unconscious made manifest in our Art.

This is the unconscious territory that the Surrealists were so adept in exploring in their work, with the strange often jarring images revealing aspects of self that were bizarre, blurred and often monstrous. In alchemical terms this connection to the unconscious and the shadow represent the stage of nigredo or “blackening”. For the surrealists such territory was vital to their artistic inspiration and similarly for our magical work to have any really depth or sustained power, we must tap into this libidinal black flame of inspiration.

carrington

Leonora Carrington Inn of the Dawn Horse

We have already explored something of the fertile intersect that exists between Surrealism and the artistic deployment of occult ideas and images. Themes as diverse the etheric double, the daemonic and the Witches’ sabbat were explored to varying degrees and there seems to be a significant connection between this use of magical themes and the often weird animalistic characters with which they populated their artistic landscapes.

The link between the magical, the animal and the potentially Queer is present in much Surrealist work and for me the most engaging aspects of such exploration, lies in the way in which it seems to capture that zone of liminal strangeness and mystery. The Surrealist imagination was alive to potency to be found in understanding the animal (whether actual or in more mythic forms) as a way of recontacting the sensual and instinctual realms that weave through the body. For me this wilder magic seems to connect to an almost pre-verbal stage of development that resonates with Spare’s idea of “atavistic resurgence”.

The folklore of the Lycan and Vampyre point us towards a magical worldview in which we can explore the vitality gained through a deeper connection to the visceral. Similarly the Witches’ animal familiar the “Fetch”, or the animal-dimension of Norse soul-lore breach our polite attempts to conceive of a humanity devoid of wildness.

In contrast to the clean, vertical fusing of Ardhanrisvara, the truly Queer genius of Levi’s depiction of Baphomet is partly located in the way in which the animal sits alongside the male and female. In trying to work with our own processes of dissolving and coming back together, Baphomet’s animal dimensions remind us of the power, joy and danger that can be accessed when we risk tuning into the whole of ourselves.

My own attempts to access these states has come via bodywork, dance/shaking states and prolonged trance drumming. I have also had a great deal of pleasure revisiting Gordon MacLellan’s excellent book Sacred Animals which provides some excellent practical guidance for exploring these themes. The ability to inhabit these places feels vital for those of us seeking to embody both freethinking and the magic of the Queer. These places beyond binaries and old certainties rarely allow prolonged rest, but they are undoubtedly transformational!

SD