Human Beings in Space

The maps that we create as human beings are usually attempts to avoid confusion and the inevitable sense of distress we experience when we lose our bearings. In trying to deal with the complex experience of being alive, we undertake cartographic projects to help us feel more secure. Whether our adventures are geographical or psycho-spiritual, we hope that our maps (whether self-created or inherited) will bear some resemblance to the landscapes we move within.

In my last two posts, I have been musing over the potential value of the maps that various World Trees might hold in connection to our spiritual aspirations. These trees can provide us with powerful images for exploring what balance and growth might mean as we dig into the deep places of personal and ancestral memory. When we engage with them consciously, they can provide not only a macrocosmic map for comprehending the mythic currents of history, but also a microcosmic plan as to how we might experience the complexity of self. As roots might reflect our longing for nutrition via connection to history and place, so our branches stretch upwards seeking light, space and the new.

Ironically this stretching, yearning impulse often feels as if it is taking us “off the map” and into unknown territories that might need new skills. Rather than pouring over the minutiae of hill contours and grid-references, we might need to look up and fully take in our surroundings. Inevitably we will view new experiences through the lens of what we know, but the challenge and clear air of the new often provides us with an opportunity for awakening:

“A person needs new experiences. It jars something deep inside, allowing them to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
Duke Leto Atreides (Dune)

Godzilla BD 00427-2.indd

Compulsory Viewing.

As we reach upwards, we are often seeking to grapple with the mystery and vastness of space. These branches are often our attempts at entering the realm of Asgard as we seek to interact with the numinous world of the gods. Whether we view our deities as actual or imagined, they often represent our longings and aspirations. They often embody key aspects of our future magical selves, and our attraction to them often reveals important dimensions of our own becoming.

Now this is all well and good, but it prompted me to wonder how I might maximize my own internal state, so that I might be more receptive to the incoming of such gnosis or new insight.

I have written previously about the ways in which we might work with our awe at the vastness of space as a way of gaining perspective on our existence and in managing our terror. For me, the wonder of space is that it simultaneously provides a glimpse into an unknown future while also plunging us into a primal void from which the possibility of creation can occur. We are at once viewing the place where our branches will grow while experiencing a vastness that exists before consciousness and the uttering of the first word.  When we first enter into this territory it can feel decidedly challenging as the uncertainty and sense of emptiness threaten to overwhelm us.

Different traditions describe this type of space as the Pleroma, Sunyata or the primary Chaos of the serpent Apep. Even when these states of being/non-being are viewed more positively, the question still remains as to how we should work with them. Unsurprisingly such territory can seriously mess with your head, but here are a few things I have been working on so as to stay rooted; and to avoid losing my shit.

1. Sitting practice/working with silence: Perhaps the most radical way in which to work with space and its uncertainty is to befriend them. The easiest temptation to give in to when we experience this void-space is simply to fill it with more thinking, more interpretation or more spiritual toys to play with. Chogyam Trungpa described this tendency as “Spiritual Materialism” and as a magical practitioner with Chaos tendencies, I’m all too familiar with my ability to use the clutter of occult theory and practice as a way of avoiding the harder work of sitting with the not-knowing.

If we can set aside our constructs and schemas in order to embrace a Zen-like “beginner’s mind”, what might we find ourselves encountering? When we let ourselves experience a greater sense of space, we create the possibility of truly hearing new words arising from the depths.

2. Using Creativity: When seeking to work with uncertainty and the emergence of new insights, the use of visual art, music and dance can be powerful ways of accessing both the deep roots of the unconscious and the incoming of the numinous future. As we let go of the linear and the known, so new insights become possible. Cut-ups and Collages especially have provided me with a dynamic set of tools for exploring the dynamic tension between ideas and images emerging from the unconscious/superconscious aspects of self.

3. Working with the Spacious Body: In seeking to work with our sense of the incoming and unknown it can be easy to tie ourselves into knots of anxiety as we try to anticipate an avalanche of what ifs.  As with our sitting practice and creativity, when we engage the body through conscious movement it becomes more possible to turn down the volume on the voice of our internal critic. Like our minds, our bodies too can become full-up with those familiar, automated patterns that can leave us feeling stiff and armour-plated. For me, gentle dance, Qi Gong and shaking practices have provided the opportunity to explore movements that disrupt machine-like tendencies, and create a greater sense of spaciousness and opening out. It would seem fitting to conclude with a quote from that mighty Tantric sage Abhinavagupta:

Thus one should think of the body as full of all the Paths (to enlightenment and cosmic emanation). Variegated by the workings of time, it is the abode of all the movements of time and space. The body seen this way is all the gods, and must therefore be the object of contemplation, veneration and sacrifice. He who penetrates into it finds liberation.

From  Tantraloka. Quoted by Mark Dyczkowski in The Doctrine of Vibration.

SD

The Queerness of Gnosis

It’s probably not very surprising that I find myself trying to write a reflection on how Queerness and Gnosis intersect given the importance they both play in my life. My blog posts, and the book A Gnostic’s Progress, bear witness to my attempt to explore the complexity of human life and how we utilize experiences of direct knowing in our attempts to manage the dilemma of existence.

While others may view the conflating of Queer experience and Gnosticism as being a personal eccentricity or indulgence on my part, I would ask for your patience as I try to unpack some of the resonances that I experience. For me the starting point for both the Queer-identified and the Gnostic is a sense of discomfort and dislocation in response to binary attempts at classification.

While the Gnostics are often typified as dualists, for me a large part of what lies at the heart of gnostic exploration is dissatisfaction with attempts to divide our experience of the world along binary lines. An orthodoxy that seeks to classify things in terms of the works of God or those of Satan made little sense to those religious free-thinkers who wanted to embrace complexity more fully. Rather than being satisfied with the simple answers of faith, the Gnostic sets out into deep space in order to explore  the tension, complexity and contradiction that seems to lie at the heart of life’s mystery.

The Gnostic is the sacred scientist in the truest sense in their attempts to openly explore; question and pressure test their findings. Their metaphysical insights may fail to meet the rigour of the strict reductionist, but their attempt to map the weird cosmologies experienced through inner perception still provide us with much of value. These strange inner landscapes had a clear resonance with depth psychologists such as Carl Jung as he felt that they provided insight into the nature of human experience and how we might work with the process of personal transformation.

Somewhere over the Bifrost

Early Gnostic cosmologies such as those mapped out by early groups, for instance the Sethians and Valentinians, contain a wide variety of spiritual couplings (or syzygies) that seek to convey the dynamic dance at work in the process of creation. For the Gnostic, the numinous realm is full of a wide array of beings such as Aeons, Archons, Powers and Principalities, all vying for expression and manifestation into both matter and the realm of human consciousness. While diagrammatic attempts to depict such systems usually come off looking quite linear, in reading the oft-confusing description of them in primary Gnostic texts, the heavenly host often feels far more fluid, over-lapping and multi-directional.

For me the Gnostics embody a type of heretical free-thinking that seeks to challenge a form of certainty that relies on blinkered tunnel-vision.  Neat delineations that require us to ignore the messy complexity of our deepest longings are challenged by the heretics’ brave act of choosing. While the pedlars of certainty proclaim loudly that their polarised, black and white world is either the result of natural order or God’s will, the heretic is listening to a quieter inner voice.

The awakening to Queerness can of course happen in a whole host of ways. It might be an internal awareness of the complexity of desire or (as was in my case) communication from the straight world of the demi-urge that my way of presenting was not working for them! These realisations may happen suddenly or in a more slow-burn fashion in which you become increasingly aware of dissonance. Whichever speed it happens at this is a profound unfolding of who we sense we are and for me it definitely had a Gnostic dimension. If the admonition to “Know Thyself” was to have an authenticity then it needed to account from the outsider experience that I experienced as a Queer person.

Gnostic explorers of most stripes are usually willing to question what we mean by the natural. In trying to grapple with the discomfort associated with our experience of living, they sought to question the narratives about this transmitted by both Church and State. These organs of authority have been keen to get us to believe all sorts of ideas, in the name of their being natural. Whether it’s the inevitability of reproduction, the subjugation of Women or the exclusion of Black people, both Church and State have the potential to become archonic in their restriction of personal expression and liberty. In their attempt to control and contain they seek to minimise the complexity of our life experience and to present a dominant narrative that limits the possibility of a deeper connection based on a truly rich diversity.

The syzygies so loved by the Gnostics often sought to embody a richer story in which the binaries experienced were held together as they moved through a process of reconciliation. Manifestations of this unification often pop-up in androgynous figures such as Adam Kadmon or Abraxas, but I think that we risk losing something crucial if we see them as fixed icons and fail to appreciate the Queer dynamism that they embody. Queerness often presents a disruptive challenge to our attempts at neatness. At best it moves beyond mere hip theorising and compels us to enact, perform and intensify the often blurry reality of who we are.

In this fluid dance, Queerness can be experienced as identity, mood and the dynamic that exists in the interactions between people, objects and organisation. For me it provides a way of knowing that provides not only a space for inhabiting the present, but also a lens for viewing the past.  In asking us to stay awake to sensitivity to context and process, Queerness provides a necessary challenge to the type of brittleness that can come when we get overly invested in fixed identities.  In my view, such a dynamic creates a type of optimism as I see glimpses of the type of human creativity that Jose Esteban Munoz refers to as “Futurity”.

I have already spoke of the inspiration that I have gained via Nema’s description of N’Aton as an embodiment of our future magical selves, and part of my attraction to this figure is in the way it manifests a type of magical optimism and Futurity. Depictions of N’Aton often hold together the individual and collective perspectives and for me such images embody a type of spiritual awakening that allows for a multiplicity of perspective. When we step away from the tunnel-vision of either Christian or Orthodox Thelemic eschatology, we can begin to explore the Queer possibility of our aeonic utopias overlapping, blurring with and potentially strengthening each other as they balance and inform each other’s insights.

This is a tightrope walk in which we try to balance the reality of both our individual and collective struggles with the need to explore the possibility of what hope might mean. When the Archons shout their “truth” so loudly, we must dare to keep the richness of our stories alive! I’ll end with this great quote from Sara Ahmed in which they discuss the possibility of what we might create when we radically reappraise the type of future we might have:

To learn about possibility involves a certain estrangement from the present. Other things can happen when the familiar recedes. This is why affect aliens can be creative: not only do we want the wrong things, not only do we embrace possibilities that we have been asked to give up, but we create life worlds around these wants. When we are estranged from happiness, things happen. Happiness happens.
The Promise of Happiness p.218

SD

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.

hand_with_reflecting_sphere

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.

horse.jpg

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!

SD

Smells like Queer Spirit

Being the parent of two teenage humans can often prove to be quite thought provoking in terms of trying to articulate what I actually “believe” in terms of my own metaphysics. My eldest helpful summarised my spiritual path as being “some sort of weird druid, meditation thing”. Credit where credit is due, that’s probably not far off!

While I have had some past attempts at spiritual brand loyalty, they have often ended in consumer dissatisfaction. My path has always been a blurry one, a fuzzy inexact ramble along a path that is much more about exploration and the privilege of travelling with some rather excellent companions. I can understand why others like certainty, and given the current scary state of the UK, I can appreciate why such apparently vague, postmodern and Queer perspectives don’t appear to be muscular enough to confront our current difficulties. But hey! It’s not my fault, I blame Magic.

Queerness and Magic are a bit of a chicken and egg thing. It’s hard to know whether Magic’s strange ways are innately attractive to the fey, liminal shape-shifters within a culture or whether it makes the curious even Queerer; as a lover of strange loops and circularities I’ll take both ☺

rainbow loop

Queer loop

To engage with Magic is to engage with the whole of life. It is art and it is science, it is both acceptance and change. It is many things, but I’m pretty sure that it demands a heroic pursuit of curiosity and a willingness to question almost everything we thought was true of our lives and selves, as I have said elsewhere:

Whatever else Magic may or may not accomplish it aims to transform our own awareness so that we become more effective. By self-willed mimetic infection, the change that we seek becomes more likely as we sensitize our perception to themes and opportunities.” (Deep Chaos part deux)

To enter the circle or to cast a spell means to lift anchor on what we thought we knew about ourselves. Whatever scripts and stories that we may have inherited about what our lives should look like, are called into question as we are sailing more uncertain seas

Many find the descriptor “Queer” problematic because of its historic associations as a homophobic slur or because it is viewed as attempting to summarize the complex terrain of “non-straight” identity (LGBT+) with a single (albeit complex) word. I certainly don’t wish to imply any form of flat-land homogenization of people’s lives and politics. Language and self-identification are important markers and means for both self-understanding and collective response. Part of why I view my own magic as Queer (as well as being that of a Kinky, Bisexual and gender fluid person), is the way in which Queerness for me embodies the role that we as magicians have as edge-dwellers who question oppressive catergorisation and help pull our cultures forward.

Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.” David Halperin  Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography

michel_foucault_by_ivankorsario-d5qvsbt

Queer discourse

While some may  view the conscious deconstruction of category as being overly hip or laboured, for those of us who find liberty within Queer’s punk rock attitude, Queerness challenges us to experience relationship and uncertainty in new ways. Rule books that rely on clear categorisation and the safe assertion that problems are located in “the other” can longer be as true. While the urge for individual emancipation and freedom seem innate to the human project, a Queer awakening might also attend to the complex tendrils of connectivity between self and other. Indeed our liberty may ultimately be within context as much as it about liberation away from it.

Part of my own current context is as a human who lives in the United Kingdom. Recent weeks have been a bewildering and deeply saddening time for many of us who (despite its many imperfections) view remaining in a larger Europe as being an important factor in seeking to reduce ignorance, hatred and less effective communication. Whatever economic arguments that “exit” advocates might have been able to proffer, for me my identity as a magician and Queer limit my ability to embrace the lax, childish worldview that Britain’s current difficulties can be located in those other people over-there.

Whichever framework one employs in trying to understand how Magic works, most magicians seem to rely on concepts of connection, alliance and symbiosis. Over 20 years of frontline social work may well and truly kicked most naivety out of my system, but I still know that my own Magic seems to be maximised when I have the possibility of exploring creativity from a position of flexibility and relative fearlessness. For me it’s hard to reconcile such freedom and connection with a siege mentality that imagines safety behind a balsa-wood drawbridge.

In recent times I have been working with the Goddess Sophia and the way she is made manifest in Gaia. In offering devotional practice to Gaia-Sophia, my coven-mates and I have been seeking to promote greater connectivity and Wisdom. This prayer is still on my lips:

“Praise to the Wise one,

The Connected One,

The Whole one,

The Holy One!

Gaia-Sophia!”

Sublime Strange Attractor-

Illuminate our intuition and give us neither-neither genius!

Help us to spin our webs of connection with silver and gold

Help us to seek Wisdom and apply its insights with kindness.

We give thanks to you and to each other

For this time of nurture and deep listening!”

SD

A Gnostic’s Progress: A book from our own Steve Dee

A_Gnostics_Progress_Cover_for_Kindle

The word ‘gnosis’ was adopted by early explorers of what became known as ‘chaos magic’; essentially as a synonym for ‘altered (or ‘extraordinary’) states of consciousness’. Gnosis is imagined as the engine of magic; a radical awareness where the relationships between self and other are destabilised and a visceral, direct and unmediated knowledge can be encountered. Within A Gnostic’s Progress Steve Dee provides a reflection of this understanding and asks instead what insights chaos magic can bring to the tradition of Gnosticism?

The usual Gnostic universe consists of a top-down, hierarchically framed series of relationships between principles such as the Pleroma (the spiritual universe as the abode of God and of the totality of the divine powers and emanations), the Demiurge (the creator of the world, sometimes imaged as a power antithetical to the purely divine), and Sophia (the spirit of wisdom and allegedly the reason we’re trapped in material reality). Such models come with plenty of value judgements about good and evil, spiritual versus material but how, asks Steve Dee, can we make sense of the relationships between these concepts if we use in its place the relativist and questioning approach of contemporary chaos magic?

Steve

As a professional therapist Steve Dee leads the reader into the territory of Father Gods, Divine Feminines, Archons, Aeons and all the rest and, rather than repeating patriarchal conclusions, instead approaches these divine players as members of a family. How, asks Steve, can we re-imagine these relationships in a way that acknowledges the differing perspectives and insights of these forces?

Looking into the relationships between the actors in the gnostic universe isn’t just a cerebral practice and Gnosticism ritual doesn’t need to look like a pseudo-High Church ceremonialism. Rather our author provides a range of practical methods for gnostic/chaos magic unapologetically postmodern exploration including stripped back ritual technology, contemplative and meditational methods, along with tales of gnostic practice from other practitioners (the book features an interview with and art work from Jung scholar and Temple of Set initiate Lloyd Keane).

Written from the perspective of contemporary magical practice and informed by depth psychology and artistic process, this is gnosticism, but not as you’ve ever seen it before…

JV

A Gnostic’s Progress can be found on Amazon. British sales here, US here; other countries please search on the appropriate Amazon site for your location. A Kindle edition is also available, with some illustrations in colour.

 

 

From the Foreword:

Steve, on the other hand, is demonstrably eager to do something with Gnosticism. Anyone who feels the same way will find plenty of examples of devotional and magical approaches to the legacy of the Gnostics here.

These essays may be delivered in bite-sized chunks but these are nourishing savouries not quick-fix sugar bombs. He is very aware of being a modern or postmodern spiritual explorer: “We make no claims to lineage or secrets shared on Grandma’s knee, rather this is a Witchcraft born of a connection to a raw coastline, the beating of drums and a desire to awaken.”

So enter a world filled with speedo-clad yogis and surfer fundamentalists, in which the ancient Nag Hammadi text Thunder Perfect Mind is declaimed to a backdrop of trance drumming. Steve’s writings do not merely reflect a lowest common denominator of the above influences, a Venn diagram intersection of three or four contemporary spiritual trends. His tastes are more eclectic than that, perhaps, but more importantly I sense that he is always bringing his experience to bear and is always trying things out. As the reader will discover, Steve even encourages us to try things out too.

Andrew Phillip Smith

Editor of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality.

 

Growing-up Gnostic

Most spiritual paths seem to have as part of their focus a desire to help us create a sense of certainty and security as we try to try to engage with the challenging messiness of human experience. Whether via the provision of a coherent world view or at least a set of practices that help provide meaning and alleviate boredom, religions of various stripes work hard at trying to create a buffer between ourselves and the existential anxiety that appears to be innate to our shared humanity.

One of the core questions that Gnosticism seeks to grapple with is whether the religious answers that we seek are real solutions, or whether they are more likely to perpetuate a sleepy engagement with a world that actually needs answers with a sharper edge. Do our attempts at meaning help us grow to our full potential as human beings; or do they sustain a child-like dependence and immaturity?

Existential shock

Existential shock

Scott Peck in A Different Drum sought to identify the various developmental stages that a person might go through as they try to grow within their chosen world view. Peck saw an adherence to formal/institutional forms of faith as being quite childlike in its desire for certainty. To remain in this state requires a degree of blinkeredness in shutting off new information that might be viewed as introducing unnecessary confusion. These believers may well deal with high levels of stress and complexity in other areas of their lives, but in the realm of metaphysics and faith, dependence and clarity are vital.

In contrast with the position of the child, the rebellious adolescent is perpetually sceptical and questioning. This highly individualistic perspective when imbued with rebellion and punk rock energy seeks to actively deconstruct those literal, less critical versions of belief that they formerly embraced.  While this approach might be ideal for generating heresy and polemic, it may not be so great at sustaining an enterprise.

For Peck the more mature, integrated adult position is that of the Mystic who is able to approach the mythic richness of a given faith with a more nuanced and communal perspective. The questioning of the rebel is retained, but their sceptical energy is directed at trying to access a richer, more archetypal appreciation of stories that were once scorned. The exploration of spiritual meaning will (by necessity) have a more collaborative dimension, in which we allow our relationships to support us in tolerating uncertainty and allowing us to explore greater psychological openness.

The Gnostics were often keen to push us toward this more adult position, challenging us to adopt radical reinterpretations of biblical myth that were often triggered by a daring trust in personal religious insight (Gnosis). In their perception of humanity’s core dilemma, the Gnostics also mapped out a three-fold schema of the differing responses that people gave. In contrast to the hylic’s coarse materialism and the psychic’s inability to rise above their immediate context, the pneumatic aims of the Gnostics asked them to seek a spiritual dimension (the divine spark) that transcended the sensory bombardment and impermanence of the material world.

While the Gnostics were often startling in the originality of their vision, it would seem fair to ask whether their approach was simply too stark and demanding a path to follow. If this is growing up, do I even want to?

Gnostic vision

Gnostic vision

To be fair to the Gnostics they never claimed that life was easy or that their path was universal. To reflect on impermanence and the path of liberation necessitates a greater awareness of the tricky nature of reality, and the lack of fulfillment that our current paths are providing. To seek Gnosis as a means of greater freedom will always involve risk and the possibility of rejection by those seeking more orthodox answers.

Recent commentators on the Gnostic revival (e.g. Stephan Hoeller and Hans Jonas) have been keen to point out the similarities between the aims of the Gnosticism and the philosophical pursuits of existentialism. In struggling to find coherent meaning in our experience of life, the existentialists often proposed a heroic engagement with uncertainty, and an exploration of how personal action into the world might affect it. Both of these paths seem to be pointing to a place where our struggle with meaning asks us to take responsibility for the path we take. As the existential psychologist Rollo May observed, “courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.” (The Courage to Create)

The call “to put away childish things” will have different implications for all of us. For me this call to adulthood is not one in which playfulness or simplicity are abandoned, rather it presents a challenge to stop expecting either spoon-fed answers or to pay too much attention to my own inner-parent’s demands that my current path is not quite good enough (“meditate more, acquire more information!”).

Unlike the moody rebel this path is not one of arid isolation and false independence. As much as this path is uniquely my own, I gain much from the company and encouragement of others. The connections that I make and sustain are hopefully more shaped by shared adulthood and the desire to co-create; and while I continue to respect and seek counsel from those further along the path, I no longer expect them to have the answers that only my own internal alchemy can produce.

SD

 

Exercise 4: Writing Your Own Gospel…

In my last post about fan fiction I got to wondering about how great works of art can trigger our own process of inspiration. Any material that stirs something deep within us can catalyse our own creative juices in a manner that leads us to express our own creativity into the world of manifestation. The nature of what moves us can be as diverse as the new series of the X-files or the Tao Te Ching.

Gnostic inspiration

Gnostic inspiration

We also considered the way in which the Gnostics of the early church could be seen as generating their own fan fiction is response to the life of Jesus and his followers. In contrast to orthodox attempts to delineate “truth” within a recognised canon of scripture, the Gnostics often viewed the boundaries as far more permeable. If the incoming of gnosis was available to Jesus and his apostles why limit such inspiration? He keeps speaking to us and through producing new Gospels us as we encounter new challenges and evolve deepened understanding.

In this exercise I’d like you to consider an existing source of personal inspiration that can help you generate your own fan fictional gospel or “Good News”. For this fan fiction to be truly good news it must open up for you a greater possibility of freedom and liberation from something that you feel is limiting to you; in gnostic terms we might define these as being archonic.  For our art to have gospel force, it must offer us a potential key to a greater sense of “peace, freedom and happiness” (as we say in the Nath tradition).

In my view the best fan fiction tends to be generated by those who are deeply moved by the original source material and have spent time soaking in the canon of that work. From an overtly spiritual perspective, the practice of Lectio Divina (divine reading) offers a number of interesting methods for deepening our engagement with material that we experience as being sacred. Lectio Divina identifies a number of stages that the aspirant or fan might go through in order to further internalise something so as to transform themselves.

In this exercise I’m proposing that we utilise each of these steps in engaging with material of your choice e.g. Principia Discordia, Bhagavad Gita, the script from True Detective (series one!) and then to take this one step further so as to create your own liberating art work.

Stage 1: Lectio (Reading): Here we read or engage with our primary material in a deliberate, conscious manner. You may want to break it down into small chunks like a couple of verses or a specific scene within a film. I often find reading a text aloud can give it a different voice and provide new insight. If nothing else the reading of something aloud vibrates it through our bodies.

Stage2: Meditatio (Meditation): During this stage we are reflecting upon or pondering what we have engaged with. In some senses we are seeking a Zen-like “beginner’s mind” where we try to let go of our assumptions and perhaps the previous meanings we have attached to it. There is perhaps also a sense of slow simmering or percolation as we let the text speak to the varying aspects of our being.

Stage 3: Oratio (Prayer): This might be a spontaneous prayer response directed towards a deity or we might view it as the bubbling up of our inspired response to our meditations. As we simmer in contemplation so the deeper aspects of ourselves vibrate in response. Such responses should be neither censored nor scripted; rather they reveal something real and unguarded about how something impacts upon us.

Stage 4: Contemplatio (Contemplation): Here we rest and reflect on the impact of our inspired response. Rather than a fevered response at the height of ecstasy, now we sit with our own process of transformation so as to allow a further maturation of any gnosis gained.

Okay, so far so good! Hopefully you can appreciate how this approach might profoundly enrich and personalise your experience of your chosen form of inspiration. What I’d like to propose for the purposes of this exercise is that we move this method on one stage further in engaging in a further act of creation…

Stage 5: Creatio (Creation): Having read, meditated and been inspired we are now able to channel this response into our own creative activity. In seeking to work with those archonic forces within our lives we can allow our triggered inspiration to explore those potential routes to greater freedom. For some people this may inspire a freedom-text in the style of the original, but we shouldn’t be too tied to producing a replica:

“And lo, on the third day Steve decided that he must flee his pressured job and head to the beach more…”

When inspiration takes hold it may be that your approach will be less linear! Your acts of creation may be in making collage, cooking a great meal for friends or having a proper dance around your kitchen. So much of the stuckness that we experience comes from our need to get it right, but like many things in life most of us do better when we are allowed to relax a bit, to be curious and the explore things playfully.

I hope you have fun playing with this approach and allow yourself the space to explore how the things you love can inspire the creation of your own art. Peace, love and freedom to those willing to respond to their inner Muse!

SD