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