Surreal Christology (Part 3): The Trickster

Now I’ll be honest, part of problem with Tricksters is that the process of trying to define them can, in and of itself, be a bit tricky! The very nature of these liminal figures that push irreverently against what is polite, acceptable and knowable means that they tend to slip out of attempts at neat archetypal categorisation. As with my previous explorations of Queer theory and the way in which its blurry fluidity can be both liberating and infuriating, so attempts to corral figures as diverse as Hermes, Loki, Coyote and Eshu will meet with frustration.

Tricksters tend to be those figures who dwell on the outer-edges of ordered society and speak often difficult truths regarding that culture’s need to change and evolve. By inhabiting this prophetic, questioning role they are often seen as subversive agents of chaos seeking to destabilise the rule of law. While this may well be part of their role, like the heretic’s relationship with more orthodox beliefs, the relationship between the Trickster and those in authority is often far more symbiotic.

In many senses the depiction of Christ in both the canonical and Gnostic gospels can be seen as having a trickster-like role. Jesus spends time with sex workers and the drug dependent; he questions religious authority and seeks to challenge the servant/master paradigm of how we engage with the divine:

“The kingdom of God is within you” Gospel of Thomas saying 3

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends” John 15:15

Here we have Jesus as a prophet and reformer within the context of 1st century CE Palestine, challenging and questioning received orthodoxies. He asks his listeners to dig deeper, not as a rejection of historic teachings, but as a means of encountering a richer experience of truth:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” Matt. 5:17

The disruptive anarchy of the Trickster can become a powerful catalysing agent that shifts perception and allows social evolution. This is rarely as smooth or as bloodless as it sounds, especially when acting prophetically challenges the excesses of hierarchy and control. Arguably the tipping point for Jesus in the gospel narratives was less about declaring the incoming of God’s Kingdom and more about his denunciation of the misuse of religious power (Matt. 23). For the Trickster to speak truth to power is far from risk free and while Jesus’ death was at least partially triggered by his own messianic self-perception, we may want to  reduce such risks by being “as cunning as serpents” in determining how we deploy our insights.

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The Sacrament of the Last Supper, 1955, Salvador Dali

Part of the Trickster’s role within myth and culture more generally, seems to be about challenging our certainty about perception and what we think we know as real. For me this willingness to slip sideways into a blurrier, half-glimpsed reality is central to the work of both the magician and artist. To take the mantle of either of these roles is to imbibe the spirit of the Trickster and to work with the challenge that this can provide to both your sense of self and your relationships with those around you. To walk these paths skilfully usually entails profound degrees of work on the self at both a conscious and unconscious level.

For the Surrealists, the Trickster was often present in portraiture, with the artist’s depiction of self or others often reflecting the incoming of new insight. The weird process of alchemy at work in surreal art makes vivid the way in which we try to make sense of mystery both at a macrocosmic level and in relation to the differing aspects of ourselves. Our encounters with aspects of reality that are strange, bizarre or “dark” often shake us from automaton sleep-states. For the Gnostic explorer this is the still small voice of the Trickster that at once draws us in and disturbs us, causing us to question what we think we know so as to trigger new states of awakening. Unsurprisingly, Trickster gods like Eshu are the guardians of the crossroads and it is often at these junctures of choice and liminality that we benefit most from their less-lateral approach.

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Portrait of Max Ernst, 1939, Leonora Carrington

Whether via art, ritual theatre or an active engagement with our dreamscapes, those less-tidy, potentially disruptive aspects will demand that we give them space. To endlessly supress or ignore them is to invite an eventual tsunami of shadow material that inevitably leads to widespread persecution of others onto whom our fears get projected. For me, an acknowledgement of the Trickster and the creative power of misrule can be vital in fuelling and inspiring the changes we wish to see. While we must remain wary of the excesses of self-indulgence, embracing the Trickster can help us avoid the type of grim activism that loses sight of the happiness and peace that should hopefully accompany the freedom which we are pursuing.

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.

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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.

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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

Neuro-Apocalypse,  by Danny Nemu – A Review

This work by the Reverend Nemu is a heady brew that plunges us into a world of deep Kabbalah. In this second part of a planned trilogy, he leaps headlong into the realm of neuroscience and the way in which language development shapes consciousness and human evolution. Like I said, it’s deep!

neuro-apocalypse

Danny’s writing is lucid and engaging and he cuts between personal travel log, biblical exegesis and riffing about the joys of neuroplasticity. It made me think that if Robert Anton Wilson knew his Bible better he’d probably have written like the good Reverend. Nemu admits that his textual interpretations are unorthodox, but he is a serious exegete who while paying close attention to cultural context also engages in creative use of rich mythic concepts.

As much as Danny clearly enjoys playfully interacting with how language has shaped him both personally and spirituality, he has a more far-reaching exploration in mind. Not only does our learning of new languages shape us as individuals, but the incoming of the logos into the grand narrative of human evolution is central to differentiating us from other primates. Danny transports us into the deep time of Eden’s Garden and treats us to a director’s cut of what was really going on with that wiley serpent of consciousness.

While some might find the radical juxtaposition of material disorientating, personally I felt that it induced a psychedelic state of awareness that felt resonant with the type of conscious brain-change that he was seeking to describe. Yes this work is at times dense and demanding of concentration, but the author does well to intersperse his theory with some entertaining experiential vignettes.  Danny provides us with some vivid personal biography regarding his experience of the ayahuasca community and then builds upon this in seeking to draw parallels with other forms of ecstatic and contemplative spiritual practice.

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Serious exegete

I especially enjoyed his examination of what we might learn from the experiences of folks who are more atypical in their neurology (people on the autistic spectrum or who voice-hear) and what these lessons might mean more widely for human potential. While understandably speculative in places I enjoyed the positivity of this as a re-frame for mental health experiences that are so frequently problematised.

In many ways I experienced Neuro-Apocalypse as a deeply Gnostic work, as the Rev. Nemu allows us to accompany him on a roller-coaster ride through his rich personal mythology. While such journeys can be fraught with either narcissism or excessive eccentricity, I felt that Danny did a great job in remaining true to his personal vision while ensuring that we, as his readers, can glean riches that are applicable to our own paths.

Rev. SD

On Childish Religion

I tend to think of the range of human traits as being something akin to levels on a graphic equaliser. When we are born the mix of genetic, epigenetic and other factors mean that we arrive into the world with certain levels or ‘settings’. If I think about my own children for example, both are highly intelligent, loving and creative people (naturally) but I can clearly see that some of their inherent style (their settings) are quite different. Number One Son, for instance, is less physically demonstrative than his brother. The difference in their style, their settings, being rather like the difference between a cat and dog (a cat eventually sidles up beside you for petting, whereas a dog comes bounding over, tail furiously wagging). While I’m aware of the process whereby parents’ expectations influence the way they behave towards to their children, these ‘nature’ rather than ‘nurture’ differences do seem to be inherent.

Another setting in which my own children differ is in what we might call their religious sensibility. Number One Son, while acknowledging the significance of religion in culture and the possible limits of science as a means of exploring the world, is himself a rationalist. He can see the significance of archetypal motifs and metaphors but currently likes mathematics and logic as his  preferred approach to understanding reality.

Number Two Son is somewhat different. In a world where arts are contrasted with sciences (yes I know that’s a false, even dangerous dichotomy) he would be described as ‘the arty one’. His setting for ‘religious sensibility’ is quite different (at least at age 10) from that of his older brother. As an example, when one of our chickens died Number One Son wanted to dissect it (he was 13 at the time and considering a career as a surgeon, in the light of my parents’ medical backgrounds). Number Two Son instead wanted to bury said chicken, say prayers and lay flowers on its grave.

The Art and Science

The Art and Science

In my own childhood I also had a strongly developed desire to engage with spiritual or religious things. I’ve written before about my early experiments in creating my own god and developing a liturgy that I found inspirational, so it has been great to observe my younger son creating his own religious ideas. (See The Rite to Roam, in Deep Magic Begins Here….)

Recently Number Two Son has evolved his own religious system. This is centred on a figure he calls ‘Jimaon’ (pronounced ‘jum-own’).  Jimaon represents, according to my son, ‘the best that anything can be’. Thus Jimone exemplifies a sort of perfected or ideal state of being (or doing). A person, for instance, is part of Jimaon when they are being true to themselves and their ‘inner nature’ (as Taoists might express it, or perhaps ‘doing their Will’ in Thelemic language).

Within our summer house Number Two Son built an altar to his conception of the sacred. We gathered sap from a resinous tree in the local park to burn as incense, lit candles and Number Two Son led us both in prayer and song in praise of Jimoan. If you want to join in with this new religion all you need to do is pray to Jimoan each Tuesday, asking for help in being the best that you can be. (Interestingly we had the word Jimoan inscribed on paper on our altar since it was impossible, though not necessarily forbidden, to represent Jimoan graphically.)

The First Prophet of Jimoanism

The First Prophet of Jimoanism

Number Two Son (who plays guitar) and I also composed a song in praise of St.Nectan’s Glen, a magical spot in North Cornwall (where we sometimes go to attend public Pagan ceremonies marking the turning of the Wheel of the Year). I’d written the words (having been inspired following a ritual there) but it was Number Two Son who wanted to figure out the musical notation for the piece and worked diligently with me (I’ve not yet learnt to play an instrument and so was unable to write the tune) until the song was completed.

Being in a family context in which belief is something to be explored rather than to didactically defined (which, in their own way, was how my parents raised me), is a very valuable thing. My feeling is that this fits the needs of children, and indeed people, much better than a situation in which ‘the answer’ (to life, the universe and everything) is already (supposedly) known (by adults) for certain.

For some people maintaining an open minded attitude means throwing the baby of religion out with the bathwater of belief. But while the emerging forms of radical atheism certainly have their place in culture the idea that religiosity is somehow inherently stupid just doesn’t address the human need for meaning or the sacred. Our own settings can be such that the spiritual quest is important, so simply denying this isn’t realistic or helpful to adults or to children. But the issue here, as ever, is how this spiritual unfolding is permitted to happen. Philosopher and chaos magician Christopher Zzenn Loren writes in his book Unspirituality: Permission to Be Human:

“Children are defenseless to the ‘virus of dualism’ in whatever form it comes in – which is why [religious ideas] should not be introduced until [children reach] a cognitive age. Religious indoctrination is not required to raise healthy children. Their imagination should be nourished… but not invalidated or shamed. [The result can] be a neurosis, which I believe, is why [people] go to religion and metaphysics when they get older… In the best scenario, children would grow through their imagination into creative adults in an environment that is based on current psychology and a science-based education.”

The key word here is ‘indoctrination’. For while it’s impossible for parents and carers not to allow their own beliefs to inform their parenting style, and therefore their kids’ experience of the world, there are better or worse ways of doing this.

Indoctrination implies a style of teaching that aims at convincing a person to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs. An inevitable effect of indoctrination is that it erodes our empathy for other people. The ‘other’ is reduced to a series of simplistic narratives out of which arise prejudice and, more often that not, hatred.

Those who have been indoctrinated have reduced capacity to see nuance and complexity. They seek instead to maintain their cognitive make-up (beliefs) by imagining the ‘other’ as just as monolithic in structure as their own worldview. The fear of ‘Islam’, of ‘The European Union’, or whatever, prosper in such environments of indoctrination and these inflexible beliefs in turn thrive in situations that promote binary separations into  them/us (or ‘Leave’ versus ‘Remain’). It’s a truly vicious circle.

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Official UKIP Poster

Unpicking indoctrinated beliefs is tricky but not impossible. One way to do this, which is commonplace in more liberal forms of education, is to challenge the idea of the monolithic other by encountering things that don’t fit our fixed stereotypes. Discovering, through direct experience, that ‘all <name of outsider group> do not believe in or behave in ways that  <whatever our prejudices predict>’ is one way this process can happen. The difficulty is that these experiences are ideally at a lived interpersonal level rather than in the abstract. Hearing (in the context of the recent referendum in the UK for example) that ‘not all people who voted ‘leave’ are racists’ is much less powerful than having a friend (who isn’t racist) explain their reasons for voting the way they did.

Many such attempts to broker lived encounters with ‘the other’ have happened across time and cultures. Examples range from student exchange programmes, town twinning and comparative religious studies (especially where young people from different religious backgrounds get to talk to each other in mutually respectful contexts). Extremism, be it of the little-Englander variety or Wahhabism can be challenged through these and other processes. These methods rely on playing the long-game. But, even in face of apparently hardening attitudes and divisions in our societies, this is a game worth playing.

To make deep transformations at a cultural, generational level what matters is how we enable our young people to see beyond the comforting certainties of simplistic narrative. To support them in a way that nurtures the skills and courage necessary to make their way in the world without seeking safety in simplistic dualisms and enacting the prejudices that flow from those beliefs.

This is a Great Work that would make us Ancestors our children could be proud of.

JV

 

Adapting our Religions and our Pacts

I was told an amusing and instructive story recently by my Brother. He was relating an experience of a Mexican shaman we know who had been leading a ceremony in Miami. In the style of ceremony being performed it is conventional, after a person has finished speaking, to say ‘Aho‘. This is a contraction of the Lakota phrase ‘Aho Mitakuye Oyasin‘ which translates approximately as ‘I understand this [the prayer/offering/song etc] is for all my relations [ie all the beings of the universe], so be it! These ceremonies are typically very heart-felt, devotional and thanks-giving styled affairs, and so the presiding shaman felt he needed to find out what was going on with the Japanese guy in the circle. You see every time someone said ‘aho’, even if this was at the end of a powerful and emotional prayer, the Japanese man would giggle uncontrollably. The reason my shaman chum discovered was a simple trick of language. ‘Aho’ in Japanese means ‘stupid’ and that was the joke. Every time someone said something poignant or passionate they would finish by saying ‘stupid’! (And be echoed by all the rest of the circle.) Moreover when I checked this out the Japanese ‘aho’ (あほ), actually one of several possible ways of saying ‘stupid’; means something (as I understand it) less like ‘silly’ and more like ‘retard’!

This is just one of many examples we can find where particular religious customs don’t travel very well in our global culture. Another might be the fact that in British cities with high levels of immigration from the Middle East and North Africa traditional religious dress may be responsible for health problems. Long sleeves, robes and even veils mean that people (presumably especially women) don’t get sufficient exposure to the sun, and this means a lack of vitamin D. Various regional authorities have issued health guidance and, where necessary, vitamin supplements to address this problem.

alchemical sun-substance

alchemical sun-substance

Texts from religions which had their genesis in the arid regions of the world are of course full of prohibitions and practices which worked perfectly well there (and then) but make no sense, or are even actively dangerous, in other latitudes (and times). Not eating pork, keeping milk and meat separated when preparing food – these and other traditions made sense thousands of years ago, in the days before refrigeration, canning and many other inventions. But not when these behaviours are transplanted to places where rain and mould are more in evidence than blazing sun.

When we speak of tradition we’re always talking about something that imagines it’s conservative but, when considered over time and geography, is actually something highly diverse and adaptable. No matter how much literalist fanatics (and fantasists – since, as I said ‘traditional’ change is inevitable) claim that one must stick to some imagined letter of the law (be that law of Moses, Muhammad or even perhaps the Master Therion), praxis will and must adapt (or die).

Maybe the only issue (of the fitness of the belief ‘meme’) is whether that religious impulse – whatever inspired it and holds it as valuable in the mind of believers today – has the skills to adapt. The same may be said for beliefs such as Wicca or chaos magic. These traditions (which inevitably claim to be distinct and special – chaos magic for example claiming that it is not a belief but a ‘meta-paradigm’ and therefore super cool, and different, when compared to anything else…) inevitably have their roots in a specific time and place (in both cases cited – the 20th century British Isles). However these esoteric beliefs too must, perforce, adapt and change if they have, and are to have, any longevity and meaning.

In the case of Wicca this may mean the change from the apostolic succession of Gardnerian/Alexandrian lines and the absorption of a healthy dose of the earth-centred approach and pragmatic spell-craft of ‘Traditonal’ witchcraft and shamanism. In the case of chaos magic this may mean that new ‘Pacts’ (in the sense of ‘gentleman’s agreements’ to politeness and mutually beneficial working relationships) may be formed. (And of course ‘pacts’ are binding, like ‘religio‘ that binds us into our shared beliefs). While I have no doubt that Orders such as the IOT will remain useful networks for (primarily) in person group collaboration, other pacts (the full name of the IOT is actually ‘The Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros‘) are being created (especially where face-to-face interaction may not be possible or desired). A great example of this is within on-line communities such as the wonderful Chaos Magick Group (CMG) in Facebook.

The morphing banner of chaos

The morphing banner of chaos

In the (embrassingly recent) past I’d opined that I hadn’t seen much collaborative action emerging from such virtual groups. Sure there had been alliances within those spaces (including for shared ‘results’ workings) but nothing (that I’d seen) emerging beyond those groups to enrich wider occulture. However this is changing (or perhaps I’m finally noticing what’s happening and getting with the program…).

A recent collaboration within CMG has produce not one but two excellent albums of music (ranging from beautiful songs, through to ritual soundscapes). You can check these out HERE and HERE. There’s also a fabulous tarot deck which, through the power of the mighty Admins (in a manner reminiscent of herding numerous punk majix Nyan cats…), has been collectively produced by tens of artist/chaos magicians. This deck will be available for purchase soon, and details related to it, plus a sneak preview of a few cards, may be found HERE.

I’ve also been deeply impressed by the collective intelligence demonstrated in CMG and a number of other on-line chaos magic(k) pacts. CMG, for example generally maintains a wonderful level of ribald humour, deep respect for diversity, but also the strength of collective character to be able (even in such a liberal space) to eject people who are currently unable or unwilling to not be arse-holes when communicating with their peers. I’ve seen people (certainly including myself) learn in those this virtual space. Plan, plot and execute cooperative actions, have fun, argue (respectfully), fall in love and even find Illumination (as well as posting some hilarious cat/rabbit/boat/other memes…).

Let’s celebrate rather than bemoan these adaptations, of our religions, our beliefs, our practices, and our pacts as magicians. Let’s notice where we are, in different language communities, different lands on the earth and locations in cyberspace, and let these environments inform what we do. May these new forms of faith, and the pacts we make to explore them, flourish in all their exciting diversity!

Aho! 😉

JV