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!


Shy Stories of Freedom

Stories have power. We tell ourselves stories all day long. Stories about the past and what it meant, as well as stories of how we want the future to be.

Other people tell us stories as well. Media bombardment about what and how we should think: slow-bleed toxicity leaking into our systems as we seek some space to think our own thoughts and to live our own lives. Their desperate hands claw at us as we try to break the surface to gulp in the fresh air of our own freedom.

Michel Foucault knew about the power of the stories we tell. The big stories or meta-narratives that we get told, and tell ourselves, profoundly shape our beliefs about who we are and what we are worth. In fear of nuance and complexity,  we create stories to help manage our fears, and often push the source of our confusion outside of ourselves and as far away as possible! It’s hard not to do this, but as we wake up to it, we can begin to explore the possibility of writing something new.

In his groundbreaking work with David Epston, the family therapist Michael White recognised that his clients were often bringing a particular set of stories into the therapy room. Because of the nature of his work, these stories were often “problem saturated narratives”, i.e. ones that focused almost exclusively on the problems being experienced, and often bowing under the weight of medicalised diagnosis. In their evolution of Narrative Therapy, White and Epston sought to help people recover the lost, “shy” stories of function that were often hidden. In helping people uncover these stories they often helped them tap into forgotten veins of resilience.

The stories that constrain us are like the Gnostic Archons of old. They are spirits invested in inducing an amnesia that causes us to forget our true potential. They are the dusty layers that accrue on our Buddha Minds, impairing our ability to see and be seen for who we really are. These archonic tales make sense—of course they do! Otherwise we wouldn’t pay them heed. Sadly they often play to our fears about the other, the different, and the new. They deal in certainties that downplay the detail and rely on the grouping together of humans and ideas so that tidy labels can be applied.

Perhaps the first stage in recovering these shy stories is learning how to listen. Rather than anxiously projecting into the future or getting lost in the labyrinths of past “what ifs”, what happens if we try to taken in our current situation with a bit of Zen beginner’s mind? Contemplative practices are good for this, allowing silence and space to turn down the volume on our endless narrative that we keep telling ourselves. This is not an easy place to start as the uncertainty and apparent emptiness can feel bewildering as we sit with things rather than endlessly updating our internal status. If nothing else this is a good chance to do less and cultivate some curiosity: “What the hell is actually going on here?!”

Part of the power that big stories (meta-narratives, dominant discourses) hold over us is the sense of inevitability that they engender. These stories often like to fix identities and to locate qualities within groups or individuals rather than trying to understand the more complex interaction that occurs between ourselves, others and the social context we sit within.  Yes, patterns can be reinforcing—e.g. you might bomb the shit out of people and they may get angry with you—but it doesn’t follow that all those people are angry at all times and in all situations. Thankfully Systemic thinking and Narrative approaches (with all their postmodern grooviness) have some interesting ways of interacting with, and disrupting, such viciousness circles.

In contrast with more Freudian approaches, rather than locating qualities within a given individual, Systemic and Narrative approaches are more interested in the dynamics between people, and the scripts and stories that are constructed as we interact within a variety of socio-political settings. Rather than being overly preoccupied with prying secret meaning from the depths of the unconscious, it seeks to explore new or lost meanings by being curious and Columbo-like about the way we communicate.


Just one more thing…

One technique that can open up such curiosity is that of externalisation. If we tend to locate current challenges internally: “I am a failure” or “I am depressed”, externalisation invites us to decentralise the issue and enter into a dialogue with it. E.g. ‘how long has depression been affecting aspects of your life as a whole?’. In working with this approach we might write letters to the given issue-

“Dear Book Buying habit….”

In writing we are not seeking a quick fix, rather we are seeking to explore both the negative and positive aspects of a given issue in our lives. Book buying might be connected to an academic pressure to know more than others but equally it might represent more helpful urges towards self-development. By de-centralising issues that feel problematic, good Narrative practice then seeks to explore the space created. Are there other stories of function? Can we tune into shy skills and talents that have become buried by problem saturation?

To disrupt, de-centre and externalise are innate to much of magical practice. Our engagement with spirits is a way of understanding and negotiating with differing aspects of ourselves. Things that we may want to exorcise and/or build pacts with.  This is not to reduce them to mere psychological parlour tricks; rather it helps us understand the deeper motives for the alliances we seek. Those interested in this approach should check out the awesome work of Philip Farber, and Ramsey Dukes’ Little Book of Demons.

To be a magician is to awaken to the narrative being told, both by ourselves and the cultures that shape us. We can’t really turn the story off, but we can choose to slow the story down, listen more clearly and become more active in creating narrative rather than simply consuming those that others give to us.  Don’t let the Archons grind you down!