Friday, October 30, 2009
Don’t be alarmed. Just realize that you’ve been using them all along, which I will explain later on. Alchemy is the name given many, many centuries ago to the discovery of those archetypal processes that are basic to our existence and operate on every level. The popular image is that of a medieval man attempting to turn lead into gold. By now, dear readers, you will remember how often I write of them and the importance of viewing them symbolically. Astrologically, Saturn rules lead and – you guessed it! – the Sun rules gold, which never tarnishes.
Jung studied the matter assiduously and wrote copiously on the subject because he saw the psychological symbolism of the individual’s vicissitudes of experience (Saturn) as the struggle for spiritual growth or individuation. He found that his patients often dreamt alchemical images, which in turn, mirrored the problems and solutions necessary for growth. Solutio is one of the alchemical terms. Shakespeare and Goethe, both literary giants, were familiar with the “science” and the late great Jungian analyst Edward F. Edinger wrote a whole treatise on Faust and also on Paracelsus. Jung was pooh-poohed for his interest, but has hopefully been validated more recently.
My purpose today, in connection to Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, is to point out that if you have ever been cooking in a kitchen, you have been practicing alchemy. All that is necessary is to attach the Latin terminology to a few of the processes. The gold in this case must surely be the secret ingredient: Love! Also the nourishing of life.
One of my very earliest memories of my mother was in the kitchen when I was three. It must have been the cook’s night off. (I never saw my mother in a kitchen again until twenty-four years later because when I was four we left the only home I ever knew for our traveling days, and hotels, nannies, and boarding schools, etc. for me.) Mother had cooked some soup and was eating it, and I sat across the table which, in my memory was as wide as a billiard table! I wanted a taste, so she filled a spoon, blew on it, and reached across with a smile and fed me with love. Needless to say, she never was domestic. My father ended up cooking, making a ghastly mess, and Mother cleaned up. No dishwasher! But that once is still a most meaningful event.
The alchemical term coagulatio describes what happens when you turn raw eggs into scrambled or make Jello; the liquid mixture becomes more solid, or the batter becomes a cake.
Sublimatio occurs as the hot water for tea lets off steam.
Putrefactio takes place in the rottings of the garbage pail.
Distillatio is what you are performing if you make homemade beer or if you made coffee years ago in those glass globe coffeemakers that sent the boiling water up a tube to the top one and you put the coffee in and turned the heat off. Meditation, for me, is the equivalent! You send the consciousness to a higher level, and the Powers-that-Be put a message in and you go about your day until brrrrbrrrbloop, the Thought comes down. The only problem was that I might be getting into the tub or driving in traffic at the magic moment! But I find that if I have a question, it rarely gets answered on the spot. Alas, this system has cost me many insights. Like dreams that vanish on awakening.
Separatio – just peel and core an apple, or debone a fish.
Solutio – dissolve sugar in your coffee or honey in your tea.
The point I am trying to make, is that these basic archetypal processes are hidden in everything occurring on our planet – they are the varying ways energy expresses itself and go by an infinite number of names. The key to perceiving them, as Jung points out, is to be able to think symbolically. Can you remember those IQ tests that list church, house, womb, knife and ask, which one does not belong? You pick knife. Why? Because all the other three contain. The astrological shortcut is the sign of Cancer, ruled by the Moon as Mother, the archetypal container. This understanding can extend all the way to Mother Earth and Mother Nature. In prehistoric archeology, and the Age of Cancer, figures of the Mother Goddess had animals, birds, and stick figures carved into them. Psychologically, the Good Mother/Bad Mother complex has connections to the placement and aspects of the Moon in a man’s or a woman’s chart. There is a difference.
In alchemy the container is the vessel; in the Taoist symbol of the yin/yang, it is the circumference that holds the opposites of light/dark, each holding a tiny circle of dark/light. The entire manifest world belongs to Hagia Sophia, and the struggle of opposites is played out in history and the daily news. Humanity today is out of balance with nature because of our ignorance. Primitive man saw the opposites of womb/tomb and covered the dead with red powder to illustrate the blood of rebirth. Capricorn, ruled by Saturn, is the opposite sign to the Moon-ruled Cancer and rules, among other things, what the Dutch call stoffeljik overschot, stuff left over or mortal remains! In other words, we come into the world naked and live a manifest life but leave everything behind. I believe I have already quoted the Tibetan lama who said we make a huge mistake in making verbal opposites of Life/Death. It should be Birth/Death and both are part of that Greater Life.
It should be noted that the Moon transits everybody’s chart once a mo(o)nth and Saturn transits it every 28/29 years. I think it was Lincoln who said, “The years know much that the days don’t know.” So there is a “menu” to life. The first 28-year stage consists in dealing with what psychological gifts/lacks (karma?) we have; the second, in acquiring new experience and dealing with what we missed in the first stage; the third, combining the results of the first two, and offering that consciousness to the world. As an apple tree blossoms, grows a long summer of little green apples, and drops the fruit and seed for future generations. So by 60, ideally, you should be sharing. Personally, I think I’m making cider by now! Only a few more days and I’ll be 87! The cackling lessons are almost done! I graduate on November 13. Needless to say, this is the ideal plan for psychological evolution, but it is very obvious that the exceptions far outnumber the rule! No two people are alike. All we have in common is time, a mystery itself.
The phone just rang. One of my granddaughters’ water just broke and the world awaits a new incarnation as I write. Awesome! And one of these days, someone is likely to tell you I have departed. Just remember I refuse “to die.” I am going to celebrate my Aberduffy Day. (Later – Arabella just arrived in Maine!)
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Let me start with Wisdom, because for some reason people often think I am “wise.” This may be because in less than a month I will be 87, which is old and ready for cackling lessons(!) or because I am still semiliterate, but I wish to straighten out the matter for good. I am wise in one respect only: I know for sure how much I don’t know!! So, there, just remember that.
In Beejumstan, the land of my The Beejum Book, there is a character called Virgo Prunefiddle, a lady elk. She carries a large leather bag full of “facts”! Period. Ten thousand Lithuanians wear bed socks. A horse has no toes, etc. The problem is that for a fact to be meaningful, it has to relate to something further, or So What?
There is a gap between knowledge and understanding. Many think reading some texts equips you to be a teacher or a therapist, but book learning needs life experience to yield understanding. “Emotional Intelligence” as Daniel Goleman puts it. If you think about it, there is a huge imbalance between knowledge and understanding, and it is getting worse every day as technology makes leaps and bounds, and meaning, in the deeper sense, is lost. A dangerous example is our overuse of plastic which doesn’t deteriorate or the worst – the use of drones in warfare to kill human lives!
A sacrament could be described as an outer and visible sign with an inner and spiritual meaning. Science alone covers three levels of knowledge and by its own definition stops, but the fourth remains unspoken. This is meaning which leads both to potential understanding and greater wisdom.
Science 1) Observes and studies. 2) Experiments and proves. 3) Draws conclusions and makes assumptions.
Spirit 1) Intuits symbolic meaning. 2) Our Divine Guest, (Jung’s Self) teaches us from within, i.e., Sophia’s process of Wisdom. (The word science comes from the Latin scire, to know.)
Nothing is hidden but we are blind, and “having eyes we do not see!” which is what I learned from that dream in which Jung shouted at me: “Consider the obvious! I did!” When I checked the root of obvious, I found it comes from Latin ob via, on the road, which is where Petrus Bonus, the alchemist, says the Philosopher’s Stone is said to lie, “and wagon wheels roll over it!” I have written this before, but not in connection with science. Let me bring this down to a kindergarten level. Suppose:
1. We wind up a long length of string into a ball.
2. Hanging on to the string, we let the ball drop.
3. The drop is far quicker than the winding up.
Meaning? An analogy that applies to making mistakes?
Years ago, I was chapel lady for a group of Sunday school kids, K–3rd Grade. The reading included the mysterious saying of Jesus: “To him that hath shall be given but to him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away from him.” There was dead silence. Then a little boy held up his hand. “If he had stuff in a bowl and turned it upside down, what he had would fall out.” Brilliant! Perhaps the bowl is symbolic of our need to be receptive? The bowl in every kitchen can now instruct you further! Yang/yin?
This is my source of delight lately. I look at things and ask, What do you do? Then the archetypal process takes over and you have released the noun to become a verb.
Agrippa, the alchemist, wrote Virtutes divinae in res diffusae. Divine powers are hidden in things. I used to write that quotation on the top of every blackboard at every lecture. But recently in my old age, I see the entire manifest world concealing this wisdom everywhere I look! I am beginning to see! Shakespeare expresses it best in As You Like It:
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
I would not change it.
This all started for me in giving names to things (see Credo 82). This may seem silly to some of you, and yet the word silly comes from the German selig, which means holy, blessed. As it is, many give names to their homes, cars, boats, so why not more intimate things? The whole point is that it helps us to learn wisdom from wrapping paper, window panes, pencils, the spiral of water going down an emptying bathtub – that one yields the mathematics of the Spiral Nebula, the nautilus shell, the Golden Rectangle, and the shape of the Parthenon! Phew! God does indeed geometrize!
This is a Geometry of Being, and these archetypal processes can be found anywhere you look if you know the secret. It helps to know astrological processes because they make the linking go quicker. Remember my definition: Astrology is a symbolic language of archetypal processes! The zipper demonstrates this perfectly. Sym-bolos means putting two and two together: going up the zipper unites the manifest with its meaning, and the wee tab is Jung’s Transcendent Function! Going down, it becomes dia-bolos! which separates the two through doubt and cynicism, ridicule, and we are left with a dead world of matter only. Think this through. But even the word matter comes from mater, mother (Goddess!) Sophia is giggling and so am I!
I hope you see how etymology, the meaning of words, is another of Sophia’s clues. My friend Jungian analyst Russ Lockhart and I both came up with the phrase “Words are eggs,” because they hatch out hidden meanings. Another “obvious”!
Monday, October 5, 2009
To complete Rabbi Marc Gellman’s brilliant description of the four types of prayer, Wow! implies genuine appreciation and praise. Today we would say we are “blown away” to such a degree that only spontaneous prayer can thank God (and the Holy Wisdom of Hagia Sophia especially) for manifesting the matter (mater!). Certainly all the religions, every one, are filled with poetic psalms, hymns of joy and gratitude, leading me to link Wow! with our appreciation of beauty, which extends the matter perhaps beyond the purview of religion per se to the vast world of human creativity – to music, to dance, poetry, to painting, sculpture, and sacred architecture! Also, to the world of seasonal festivals, common to humanity everywhere. These are all tangible or visual expressions of praise and things we celebrate year in year out. The shadow here, of course, is that today so much of it is lost in commercialism, yet, as many of these feast days are set by our planet’s rotation around the Sun, in the ultimate sense, the grandeur is there and our physical bodies are impacted. The heavens, indeed, do declare!
We have only to think of Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid of Egypt, or the Gothic cathedrals of Europe; or Bach, Handel’s Messiah, Shakespeare, Goethe, Michelangelo, to name the more obvious ones, but now we know of Macchu Picchu, the great temples of Asia, and the Vedas, The Bhagavad Gita or our own Emerson, Thoreau, Steinbeck, and Jung himself. Why not the Beatles! The list is endless, but the underlying idea is that Wow! is a human expression of consciousness, a reaction to amazement and awe, whether it be seeing a man walking on the moon or seeing a newborn baby boy’s wee eyelashes or the expression of a child seeing its first tree on Christmas morning!
For me (almost 87!), the world of I-pods and Blackberries, etc., is a Wow!-a-day but this differs from a night full of stars, the sight of perfect symmetry in a flashing snowflake, the miraculous patterning of a goldfinch’s feather, the gorgeous palette of autumnal colors in the trees at the moment. To me, these are silent gifts of prayer that nature gives every moment of every day. The ocean with its tides of breathing! Lovers discovering love!
I am at a loss for words, but suggest at the end of reading this CREDO you take a deep breath and close your eyes, and make a start on what creative example of the universe you might have overlooked. Making these Wows! conscious is itself a prayer. Here is a sample from just the Wow! of memory itself:
A pleasant English summer a life ago
A pleasant English summer a life ago –
a weaving of ovals green
above the riverflow
a dappling of those chips of blue
and gold below
all from a summerswifted evening glow –
a bending of the fluted waving grasses
where the carapaced slow beetle walks
lurching its scarabed angles
through the stalks
wrens in the dusty hedgerows
wagtails, linnets, buntings
darting soundlessly about a
somnolence of sheep
marking the leys of our longing now
to sleep –
oh, what were we waiting for
those summerhays ago
lying aneath the beeches
near the river's summerglow!
The old manse, the pilgrims' eaves
and bedding by the silvers of the starcut leaves
still life, life still
our faces framed by hands and leaning each to each
hushes, whispers, hushes on our tongues
as we let each other in
reaching for – so simply, softly, softly –
the sweetness of each other's skin
what were our pleasures then
drowsing the lovelit night
waking to the scattered pealing
of a morning's feathered light!
marigolds and hollyhocks and
dew-drenched bending roses
flax, weld and foxglove
and the river moving time along
reflecting and collecting
all that lovely, lovely summersong
thinking now in winter
of our older saddened eyes
parted and yet joined
by grey and sodden city skies
I pluck insistence so
from that which summering in dreams
while ever singing deeper, deems
to bear us forth where heaven seems
still flashing in the endless rippling riverflow:
all love that time would let us know
that pleasant English summer, only a life ago!
Friday, October 2, 2009
Continuing this commentary on the four types of prayer, defined so brilliantly by Rabbi Marc Gellman, maybe a word should be added about the blessed role of humor in the great religions, because it is an important factor and, in my opinion, a desperately needed one. Wisdom and joy are placed together in the Old Testament, and there is a glorious tradition in the story of the Baal Shem Tov, who woke up one morning and decided to dance and rejoice and celebrate God in every way possible rather than pour over books and debate all the time. Just one story illustrates this. He entered a tavern to beg money for charity, whereupon a bunch of drunken Cossacks beat him up. He then picked himself and said, “Well, that was for me. Now what have you got for the poor?” At which, the Cossacks roared with laughter and emptied their pockets. He became the source for Hasidism.
In Islam, there is the Sufi “Idiot Sage” Mullah Nasruddin, whose teaching jokes still amuse us after one thousand years and are to be repeated in new versions to this day. He was looking outside his house desperately for something. “What are you looking for?” “My key.” “Where did you lose it?” “In my house.” “Then why are you looking out here?” "Because there’s more light out here!”
I have met many Buddhist lamas in my life, but have yet to meet one who is not cheerful. There are smiling Buddhas. When we met His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India, my husband had a bloody scar on his forehead. “What happened to you?” asked the Dalai Lama. Walter told him that because he was tall, he had walked into a shop awning. “Well,” smiled His Holiness, shaking his hand, “that will give you a good reason for remembering Dharamsala!”
Christianity has had the worst time of it. A family story tells of a Puritan forebear who reprimanded his little boy for saying his soup tasted delicious by pouring cold water into it. It was the Sabbath. But C. S. Lewis lightened us a bit, and today, bringing laughter and delight, we have the great and fun-loving spiritual works of British writer Timothy Freke, now a dear friend of mine. As you can see, especially today with one calamity after another, we need to remember that humankind is the one species that can laugh. It is a sacred gift. Even as the Titanic was sinking, someone quipped, “Anybody want to buy a gold watch?” It takes guts to find “laughter in the void.”
So now to the matter of Oops! which translates to the solemnities of penitentia, or asking forgiveness for our manifold sins. For this we have Ramadan, Lent, Yom Kippur, and many, many of our daily prayers that beg for forgiveness. The Episcopal “General Confession” still gets me in the middle of the night – at almost 87, I am no longer able to sin big time (I sin on the installment plan!), but the one that gets me is “Forgive me for those things I ought to have done and have not done!” That is an abyss!
It seems to me that much of what we do starts with ignorance, and I learned this from a tree: A mistake is a loop in consciousness made to expose a greater surface to experience! A tree intends to grow vertically, but branches out more or less horizontally with twigs bearing leaves exposed to the sun. And each new leaf is an aha! of consciousness, and thus it (and we) grow! Neat!
Secondly, there is a mysterious statement in the New Testament that Christ wears a seamless garment. To me this suggests a whole aura, which has led me to think that if we enter this world with an aura with holes in it (metaphorically speaking) they might represent our past failings and so we try one by one to fill them up. Well, I first became conscious of one and felt very pleased with myself. Oops! I discovered that wasn’t enough. I had to actively practice and apply what I had discovered in order to truly mend that hole.
There are both physical and mythological allusions to this. Each of us has an optic “blind spot.” That’s a fact. And there is the story of Achilles’ heel – his goddess mother held him by the heel and dipped him in the River Styx to make him invulnerable. Oops! Where she held him left him vulnerable. The Teutonic hero Siegfried bathed in dragon’s blood to become invulnerable but a leaf fell on his back, witnessed by someone, and so, Oops! a spear conveniently found that spot. Another Norse, and lovable one, was Baldur, who was protected by all that grows, except the mistletoe, which didn’t count. He was killed by an arrow tipped by mistletoe. Oops! And Chiron, the patron of all “wounded healers”! His story gives us the clue to our redemption, because unless you have experienced the mistake you cannot really help another person. You cannot become a good therapist just by reading a text!! Your personal journey of suffering only gives you that gift. It takes one to know one! This is what “Bill” learned from Jung and applied to Alcoholics Anonymous, and this is only one example. “Every saint was once a sinner” about covers it.
As I see it from an astrological point of view, our lives unfold in stages of 28/29 years, the times it takes Saturn to transit all around our charts. Supposing your karma or lesson (symbolically speaking) involves “eggs.” In Stage I, you have little choice of parents, neighbors, etc. So you have to eat your eggs hard-boiled. If you don’t succeed, then in Stage 2, as you move out into new experiences, the eggs come at you scrambled but the motif is still eggs! By the age of 56, hopefully you have recognized them and are able even to enjoy poached eggs and serve eggs up in cookies and cakes to delight others, or else you may end up in Stage 3 with a reputation as a “bad egg”! Obviously, the trick is not to repeat the same mistake over and over. Unravel the meaning of what those “eggs” represent. Fill one of those holes in your aura and move on to the next one.
Finally, a word I have not mentioned, and that is the damage done to kids with the words sin and guilt! I watch with admiration as some wise parents, applying tough love, instead of saying “Bad girl or boy!” simply say, “That’s a no!” or instead of telling them they won’t get what they want, simply say, “It’s not going to happen.” I myself watched a young mother whose child crashed his tricycle into a tree stopping and diverting the child’s tears by saying, “Oh, the poor tree!” The child realized it wasn’t the tree’s fault and tried to comfort it. These are simple steps to start the very young off without the onus of guilt and a lifetime to come of unconscious shame, anger, hatred, and blame. It’s worth a try.
The secret of redemption is indeed “Oops! My blame” Almost two thousand years later, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is still hard for many of us, but it remains the only way to go. Do no harm.
Continuing with Rabbi Gellman’s pithy contractions of the four kinds of prayer, I would first like to salute anyone of any faith who combines religion and wisdom with joy and humor.! He is a true son of Hagia Sophia, who is described in Proverbs as co-creator with God, full of delight and wanting to be friendly with humankind. Also Gellman is a member of the “God Squad” with the Roman Catholic Monsignor Tom Hartman, which implies interfaith. I say a hearty Mazel tov! to them both. Please, dear readers, check him out!
Sad to say, I think thanksgiving is the least-practiced prayer. Our ego is so occupied with worrying and wanting more, and yet it is only by saying grace (gratias) that we can receive it and consciously acknowledge how blessed we are! The problem arises with self-pity and envy. This comes through comparing ourselves with others negatively instead of positively. As many of us, particularly in these hard times, are consumed with economic or health-related problems, we look to the richer, younger, healthier ones and fail to allow the misery of a greater proportion of the world’s population to intrude on our own predicaments. As the news of this increasing global misery is displayed constantly, we tend to insulate ourselves. So the poster child of this dilemma is Madoff, perhaps, who did this all to himself! “What profiteth it a man if he gains the world and loses his soul thereby?”
After many years of pondering, I have come to realize that the only thing we collectively as human beings really have – and take for granted! – is our level of consciousness. Without it, we would be unable to be aware of anything, let alone the Great ONE or our Creator! So essentially we need to give thanks for that one basic necessity.
Without it, we might never know the unending mystery of Love!
Without it we might not be aware of the gift of Life itself.!
Without it we would not know Light from dark, or the abundant beauty of nature or the joys and privileges of our senses.
Without it we would never know the freedom to create art, literature, music, architecture, the gifts of kindness, comfort, and healing!
That we misuse it is, of course, the matter of our free will.
I am tempted to repeat Jung’s story of being in the jungle in Africa, sitting by himself and thinking he might be the first man to be sitting in that very spot watching the animals and feeling the hush. He asked himself what was he contributing? And it came to him that he was making it conscious! He became conscious of being conscious!! Now, if you haven’t already tried this – stop reading and do it!
So about twenty years ago, I had my own powerful revelation which I related in my CREDO XIII, "God Can’t Eat a Poached Egg" (q.v.).
The following quote comes from a small book called In Abraham’s Bosom by my grandfather Basil King. The words are spoken from “the other side” to the main character, a crusty agnostic, as he lies unconscious.
I found the book by chance and opened it to this, but I am taking the liberty of changing his word God to Spirit. I think Grandpa is giving me permission!
Go back to what we said as to sight being not the action of a temporary optic nerve. We see Spirit by what we understand of It by Its attributes; and we measure Its attributes by their beauty and goodness and practicality. Wherever there has been a blessing to enjoy, you’ve seen Spirit. Whenever love has cheered you or kindness helped you, you’ve seen Spirit. In sunrise and sunset and moonlight and starlight, and trees and fields and harvest and flowers and ice and snow and air, and health and beauty and generosity and friendship, and all that gives to existence, you’ve seen Spirit. It hasn’t been invisible. There is not one world in which It is not. There is not a life with Spirit and another life away from It. There is only one world and Spirit fills it; there is only one life, to which Spirit is All-in-All.
More blessed are they who learn to live in Spirit as in the One Vast Certainty – which created everyone, and supplies everyone and upholds everyone and loves everyone; and does it all with unlimited intelligence and might.
So, as the center of consciousness, according to Jung, is our ego, it is up to each of us to offer thanks and offer it to our Self, which like the individual wick in every candle holds the SAME FLAME of that Vast Certainty!