Surreal Christology (Part 2): The Mirror

It’s hardly surprising that mirrors get used a lot in magic; frankly they’re a bit weird. When we look at them they extend space, they reverse and they potentially distort. Whatever we think we look like in our heads, when we look into a mirror we are pushed into a dialogue between that internalised self-perception and the version of self represented in front of us. We may be delighted by what we see or we may become flooded by dysmorphia. Our dis-ease may be skin-deep or it may reveal deeper truths about who we want to be and how we wish to interact with the world around us. Whatever we think is driving us, if we see ourselves more fully we may be confronted by aspects of our daemon that are as likely to shock as they are to empower.

The magical use of mirrors can be manifold, ranging from aids for spirit evocation to scrying tools that allow the diviner greater access to their own unconscious processes. To explore a mirror nocturnally, via candle-light, is to journey to occult edges, and the practice of covering mirrors following a recent death alludes to a need to stabilise our environment in the midst of grief. Given the way they seem to play with the nature of time and space, it’s of little surprise that the Surrealists found them so fascinating.


Self-portrait in Spherical Mirror, 1935. MC Escher.

The Surrealists on occasion had mirrors explicitly within their art (often as puddles of quicksilver or mirrored melting clock faces) but more often their presence seems far more implicit. Via their use of depth of field and inversion, when we engage with surrealist art we can often feel that we are gazing at a reflection, with all the subtle strangeness innate to that process. Like the melting clock we are required to relinquish our hold on our sense of time and solidity; i.e. things get a bit wobbly and dream-like.


Self-portrait: The Inn of the Dawn Horse, 1937-38. Leonora Carrington.

In many ways myth and mythic heroes can act as powerful mirrors for viewing ourselves. When we consider those stories or figures that we are drawn to, they can often reveal some significant aspects of who we are at both a conscious and unconscious level. While our initial attraction to a myth may reflect a need or a connection that seems quite obvious e.g. a promise of liberation or an exemplar of individuation, when we renew and revisit this process over time, arguably something subtler takes place. When we truly engage with and internalise these spirits, their strangeness starts to haunt and shape our dreams and outlook.

In terms of my own experience, while my initial flight into Christianity was largely related to my adolescent confusion about the fluidity of my sexuality and gender identity, the Queerness of mystery still managed to break through via my interactions with the myth of Christ. While recognising my personal projections onto the gospel narrative, I eventually uncovered in my reading of Jesus a blurry ambiguity that remains inspiring. Yes this was still the radical who threw over tables in the temple, but he was also the mother hen who wanted to gather the lost underneath his wings.

In a personal world where the versions of maleness, certainty and force made little sense to me, my own gnostic encounter allowed access to a gentler, more mysterious experience. This Christ became a mirror through which I could view myself more closely. Such looking can be far from comfortable, but over time it allowed me to engage with deeper truths about who I needed to become. For me this magical process of engaging with the Christ myth allowed me (somewhat ironically) to become accepting enough of myself that I no longer wished to call myself a Christian.

This Gnostic Christ seems to be asking me to both take more responsibility for my path, while at the same time doing less violence to the core of who I am.  This reflective process is most definitely a work-in-progress and has been far from tidy or pain-free. To walk a magical path requires that we “dare”, even when it means the willed deconstruction of those stories and heroes we hold as precious. This is a narrow road, but it holds the potential of liberty from the claustrophobia of childlike sentimentality.

Whichever mythic mirror feels most attractive to you, I would recommend revisiting it with a Zen-like state of beginner’s mind. Find some great art concerning these myths, or better yet create some art of your own. In my own recent explorations of the Queerer dimensions of Christ I have been inspired by some of the art on sites such as Kittredge Cherry’s  “Jesus in Love” blog. Often these creative explorations into the surreal and less-lateral aspects of ourselves provide us with gateways to discovery and the possibility of further evolution.

Find art that feeds your soul and allows greater insight into who you are and who you can become. Seek the Mysteries!


Surreal Christology (Part 1): The Haunting

Have you ever felt haunted? Haunted by an idea or a person who, despite all your best efforts, seems to be lurking at the edges of your vision and prodding your unconscious to give them a bit more space. These phantoms of our history often point towards past explorations and adventures that were left unresolved; untidy longings that may seem embarrassing when viewed from a more urbane present.

In all my recent writing about the Gnostics and other Christian heretics, the figure haunting me from the shadows is that old trickster Yeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus to his Greek speaking friends). It may well be a projection on my part, but in my mind Jesus and I are trying to negotiate a different kind of relationship. Those dusty half-truths from fan-boys of old simply don’t fit any more. Rather than taking shape within a dogma that does violence to either kindness or thinking, I keep getting glimpses of this Jesus in the dreamtime and the strangest of places. This is a decidedly Surreal Christology.

It is hardly surprising that Surrealism’s emphasis on the unconscious and the realm of dreams coincided historically with the birth of psychotherapy and fin de siècle occultism. For me, the sense of mystery and strange juxtaposition that are synonymous with Surrealism have helped me to explore aspects of my spiritual history that I had previously felt unable to reconcile.

In the “Art and Science” definition of magic according to Crowley, I will definitely acknowledge my own personal bias towards the art end of this equation. Surrealism as an artistic movement manages to capture the creativity and willed engagement with the unconscious that was later embodied so potently in the work of occult artists as diverse as Austin Osman Spare and Thee Temple of Psychick Youth. Such art revels in the conscious distortion of the familiar as we push up against the fuzzy edges of the known and the knowable (think melting clocks and fish on bicycles). Such an approach is radically subjective and relational, but uses images in a way that connects to shared meaning so as to provoke new ways of perceiving and understanding:

“Artist, you are a priest: Art is the great mystery and, when your effort leads to a masterpiece, a ray of the divine shines down as on an altar… Artist, you are a magus. Art is the great miracle and proves our own immortality.”

– Joséphin Péladan

Surrealist artists such as the fabulous Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) took this emphasis on the magical and alchemical a step further than most of her male forebears, and her work remains a potent example of the surreal genius engaging with the spiritual realm.

Ab Eo Quod 1956

Leonora Carrington Ab Eo Quod 1956

Whichever occult tools we think we may have mastered as we enter the faery realm of sleep, we soon realise that we are riding on waves of unconscious that are ultimately beyond our control. The esoteric skills of automatic writing and dream interpretation (both of which the Surrealists employed) may be effective vehicles for entering these waters, but we must still realise the limited control that we finally have over what creatures emerge from its depths!

I would highly recommend the use of Surrealist art (especially Carrington’s and Max Ernst’s) as an aid to meditation and reflection. The Surreal landscapes encountered via dreams and our art can be challenging and uncomfortable, but their jarring and vivid images can trigger awakenings more potent than if we were relying on words or reason alone.  

Max Ernst The Robing of the Bride 1940

Max Ernst The Robing of the Bride 1940

For me, my own departure from Christianity came following a profound psychological crisis in which I was no longer able to tolerate the exclusivity of that religion’s claims. My book A Gnostic’s Progress looks at this experience in greater detail, but it would be fair to summarise the direction of this journey as being inwards in search of greater, more authentic depth, a move away from faith based belief, and towards an acceptance of responsibility for insights gained.

This journey inwards was greatly aided by the works of Jung, and it was via his work that I encountered the richness of the Gnostics for the first time. Jung was also a person who was haunted. His desire for personal authenticity and integration drove him to break with Freud and he emerged from this crisis with insights that are truly profound. At points Jung’s haunting was quite literal, and his reception of the Seven Sermons to the Dead was accompanied by etheric and poltergeist activity: “The dead came back from Jerusalem, where they found not what they sought. They prayed me let them in and besought my word, and thus I began my teaching.” Sermon 1, 1913. For more insight on this critical chapter of modern Gnostic history, you may want to check out Stephan Hoeller’s excellent The Gnostic Jung.

In many ways my fairly persistent preoccupation with the Gnostics and heretical Christians is also evidence of my own ongoing struggle with the ghost of Jesus past. For me this is a relationship that feels markedly different to previous attempts at belief and certainty, for now my haunting is about the discovery of what the sacred flame of my own Christhood might mean for my liberation.

 The Madonna of Port Lligat

Salvador Dali The Madonna of Port Lligat 1949