The netherworld

 

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Down in the cave of the human mind where reality stops being reality lays the world of the dream. It is here that the mind’s inner eye perceives a fantasy much richer in form and function than the theater of the waking world.

In order to enter this world one needs to suffer a kind of death, for here is a place where the body cannot go.

Unless you live in total darkness there’s always a shadow, a hidden reflection of yourself–it is by definition that place where light cannot reach because of some obstruction. And that obstruction is often your ego-self.

The ego is that part of us that forms the conscious world identity that we hide behind and the inner image of ourselves that we are both proud of and afraid of simultaneously.

It is the guardian at the gate of our consciousness. It is the judge and jury for what gets sent to the shadow lands of our unconscious mind. And like our waking world prisons our shadow lands are overcrowded with what we reject and fear to face.

This is the netherworld of the shaman, medium, and mystic. But is also the hidden world of you and I. Whether mystic or common man we are called by our dreams to explore an underworld that rules the world above. Given that most of our mind is hidden from consciousness we often act, feel, and behave out of some mysterious force. When compounded by all the individuals of a society that force can become overwhelming for good or bad and lead us to our destiny or destruction.

When we don’t acknowledge the real forces behind our actions or our pathology we often make up things to explain these behaviors. For example, we will point at our parents, our upbringing, our genetics and our experiences with each other as cause for our beliefs, ideas and behaviors. But more often than not it is our un-dealt with shadow that is the true source of much of what we do, or don’t do, and it’s often the motivating force behind our actions.

Some say that to live more authentically, to be truly free, and to be more alive, one needs to deal with their hidden aspects, their shadow nature.

 

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Magic or fact: What is truly knowable? What is real?

 

quantum.jpgDo you believe in magic? Why not?

Magic, what’s magic save perhaps something that we don’t yet understand i.e. comprehend?

It can be something distant that we cannot see or measure somehow affecting something that we cannot touch that moves the oceans, throws galaxy-sized objects into holes we cannot see and keeps each of us rooted to the land when we should actually be hurled into space because of the Earth’s one thousand mile per hour spin, this is magic. It’s also called gravity. But gravity didn’t exist in the minds of humans as a fact until Sir Isaac Newton lifted the veil between fact and magic and showed us.

But what did he show us? He showed an effect and named it but couldn’t show the thing itself.

And speaking of things what is this “thing” we call space? It’s a nothing until filled with a something but is always more empty than not. It becomes bent by something unseen that cannot be measured except by its effect. Often we attempt to measure it by taking the distance between the objects floating in it but sometimes the distance doesn’t seem to exist at all such as when two particles become entangled and do a synchronized dance with each other though they be billions of miles distant. Simultaneously they respond as though there were no distance, no space, no time. Magic?

How about an object that morphs from one thing to another merely at the choice of the person who decides how they are to be observed? This is the stuff of dreams or is it magic?

What about something that exists everywhere and everywhen simultaneously until someone chooses to look at it? And what is this force that the moon exerts upon our oceans, something that is powerful enough to move trillions and trillions of tons of water but whose influence can be overcome by a mere dollar-store magnet (try it, hold a magnet over a steel paper clip. Which wins out the magnet or gravity)?

And what is it that permeates a room full of people who have a singular collective intention that then “magically” manifests into reality without any of them lifting even the smallest finger? Also how is it you can sense something happening before it happens?

We can point to things and say that they exist, we can show their effect and even name them but do we really understand them any better? For example, why does anything exist and why does it exist in the manner in which it does?

Even after we’ve explained and tested our explanation it’s still a mystery the only difference being after the testing we can call the magical thing a “fact”. It’s still magical but now it’s accepted e.g. it was once thought that the moon moving the oceans was an occult mystery, now it’s an accepted fact but the actual mechanism with all its formulas and terminology is still a mystery– it still seems magical.

When I see a hugely heavy metal object speed down a runway and leap into the air as though it weighed nothing at all it can be explained in terms of physics i.e. with airspeed, lift, and force equations but it still feels like magic.

When I see a baby born there’s a being who came together from two microscopic single-celled objects that then morphed into millions of differentiated cells that work together to form legs, hands, heart, eyes, ears, toes, fingers, skin, brain, and hair ad infinitum and all directed by a spiraling helix of some infinitesimal matter that seems to come from nowhere­– a code more complex than all the digital code that has ever been written by all the worlds programmers and hackers and all of this to create a means for the soul to express itself physically into the realm of things.

I see this and I understand some of the process, I’ve even learned to identify the processes and name some of the parts but I still don’t know how it does it or why it does it the way it does or why it does it at all. It still feels like magic.

It, or rather reality, really is all magic isn’t it? It’s either magic of the unknown or factual magic, dissected, labeled, and proved to exist, but magic none the less.

Don’t let your experience of magic be hostage to the assumptions and prejudices of others.

 

The Alchemy of Dreams: creating the Philosopher’s Stone.

 

th-1.jpegAt a Dream Conference attended in Berkeley the presenter was detailing the Alchemical method of transmutation. What, pray tell, was I doing learning about this ancient and largely discredited precursor to chemistry and what did it have to do with dreams?

The presenter spoke of the seven (combined within four primary) processes the alchemist had to perform in the most exacting of ways in order to produce the transforming element, the Philosopher’s Stone, that which would transmute lead into gold (not depicted is the seventh process and is the choosing of the unredeemed matter to be transformed–in this case, “us”).

Separate

Dissolve

   Fermentation

                                    } part of the process of letting go, by

                                      discovering what and then releasing

    Distillation

Recombine

Fix

And she likened it to the recovery of the soul. Carl Jung thought of it as representing the Individuation process, where human beings wrestled with and integrated their varied and opposing aspects so to develop into a fully actuated being, in short, the process for aligning ones outer nature with their inner nature–the quest for wholeness. To him it was the promise of our ‘becoming’. He thought that the images of the alchemical process mirrored a person’s inner psychic state of being and thus gave guidance to what was needed to achieve this inner/outer balance. Thus the emblematic alchemical arcana (see example on left) represented a roadmap to healing.

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Azoth arcana

Firstly one needs to free the soul from the body and become familiar with their unconscious identity as separated from their conscious, ego-bound identity. Dissolving, or causing one to let go, or surrendering, ones positionality is the next step. This is a form of ego-death where the ego is no longer the prime mover. In the third step one recombines the soul and consciousness to form a new and singular mind. The last step fixes ones mastery over the self after having integrated the disparate parts of the overall psyche.

So what am I talking about when I use the term “disparate parts of the self?” I’m talking about the various aspects of our selves that are usually in inner conflict with our self such as our feminine and masculine aspects. Most people operate as though they are one or the other based upon their anatomical differences and different ways of thinking and viewing the world. There’s also our wisdom selves, or radiant self, and our shadow selves e.g. for simplicity’s sake our positive and negative aspects–that which we readily embrace and that which we categorically reject.

But it is the ego-self that makes the decisions of what to reject or embrace and bases these choices on the basic need of the ego to stay in control. This is not a very good system for triage because of the limited vision of the ego-self. Thus the need to let go the predominance of this part of the ego, that can be likened to a huge mountain obscuring the landscape beyond, in order to see over the top of it. The ego-self doesn’t know everything of what it needs or doesn’t need in order to fully function. There is much in the unconscious that has been thrown away by the ego-self that can be immensely helpful if it were to be reintegrated into the overall psyche.

The internal alchemist can guide each of us to delve into the psyche where we have the power to change the essence of our stories.

I remember that during the height of the Polio epidemic in high school I painted a large billboard announcing the coming of a Polio clinic where people could get not only their children inoculated, but themselves as well. On it I depicted a large writhing dragon being slain by an equally large hypodermic needle. Little did I know that this symbol of slaying-the-dragon was to be the mythos for much of my life.

At one time I could have posed as the poster boy for “Robert The Blah”, but time and again I found myself in situations where I had to dig deep inside to find the power to draw my inner sword in order to confront whatever metaphorical fire-breathing dragon stood before me. Over time the mythos evolved into what might be called “Robert The Dragon Fighter” [i], but I continued to operate in the old myth. To fully manifest and use the power of what I had become I had to be willing to change my personal mythology.

In order to change our lives for what we imagine to be better, we more often than not need to change our personal mythology–to rewrite the story of ourselves and what we say we are. The ego-self resists this because to the ego-self it looks like death and it is death in a way because to rewrite ones life mythology they must kill-off, or dissolve, the old to make way for a birth, if you will, of something new. This re-envisionment can only happen after we have dissolved the current vision to make way for the new.

The dream world is our access to the imaginal, the vision of what is and what can be, it is a portal of discovery that can lead to an awakening in our so-called waking lives. It can reveal not only the archetypal conflicts of the human soul, but our own inner conflicts as well. It is quite literally our alchemical and psychosocial laboratory for evolutionary change, expansion of consciousness (i.e. what it means to be really conscious), and for the freeing of the soul. In fact, dreams always come to us in the service of our health and well-being and to aide us in our alchemical quest.

Jung suggested that at a deeper level the ancient alchemists were searching for more than just transmuting metals, but were meddling in something much bigger. For hidden in the common base metal of the human psyche was a wealth of grand value if only they could discover the path to its achievement. Many of our myths have hinted at this e.g. Jason and the Golden Fleece, Sir Percival and the Grail, Hercules and the hand of Persephone, and the innumerable stories where heroes try to reunite what has been separated into a more harmonious whole.

Even the dreams of those such as the Old Testament Jacob who wrestled with his God and learned to let go or dissolve his own ego position so as to evolve into someone more fully capable of dealing harmoniously in his world was an example of the kind of alchemy that is going on all around and within us. In Hebrew ‘Jacob’ is translated as, “Over reacher, or he who supplants” –an aspect of the separated ego-self–but is then given the name of Israel, “one who wrestles with God” an aspect I believe of the psyche trying to integrate itself.

Also such notable scientists as Sir Isaac Newton were also drawn to the alchemical sciences in an attempt to balance and ultimately unify the physical and spiritual aspects of reality.

Jean Houston, philosopher and author, has said that each of us “are valuable characters in the drama of the world soul, pushing the boundaries of their own local story and gaining the courage to be and do so much more.”

Many scholars in human development are convinced that our personal mythology informs the way in which we live our lives, that we make our decisions for better or worse as a consequence of our mythology. Much of therapy and dream work is about bringing ones mythos to consciousness, confronting it, and gaining some mastery over it–it is the alchemical process at work.

Much of dream work and personal therapy involves distilling the dross of the soul in order to work with the purified essence of the self. It is as Jung said that dreams are

The process, then, is the transformation of the unredeemed self into the ultimate expression of our being. In this way we can be the Philosopher’s Stone, or the fully Individuated, or fully Actualized human.

The Alchemists may actually have been projecting the inner processes of the psyche onto the objective world–pretty much as we all do when trying to make meaning of the world we live in. They may have inadvertently been the first of the Depth Psychologists and self-development gurus, or at least revealed the processes needed for the development of the self. It seems that metaphor may also run deep within the waking mind as well as in the dream.

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. She who looks outside, dreams: she who looks inside, awakes.”- Carl Jung

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[i] Note that I don’t use the term “Dragon Slayer” here because I don’t always slay the dragon i.e. get the better of him. Often my internal dragons, aka “self-criticisms” get the better of me. There are also times when slaying or fighting with a metaphorical dragon isn’t what’s called for. Sometimes the dragon shows up when I’ve been inflating my personal image i.e. acting arrogant and the dragon appears to cut me down to size. In this case even friends have played the role of the dragon and though they spit what seems like fire, they are only doing it because they care–this I want to nurture, not slay.

 

Do you believe in magic? Chapter VII: The Coniunctio

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The Alchemical sacred marriage– body, soul and divine self. Where Sun and moon, masculine and feminine become whole.

Chapter VII

Walking down the path and into the mist, large drops of water slid from the trees and splashed against his face running down his neck and into the fabric of a shirt now clinging fast to his body. He almost didn’t notice for his mind was taken up with other things, things like thoughts about something called “source” and “intention” and what if he weren’t ready to transform before the moon and sun conjoined?

Surely he could do this, after all he had a clever mind didn’t he? But his thoughts just spiraled into chaos and he couldn’t get them to settle and focus. Fear built up as he realized that he might have missed something important that the old man had given him, something that would mean either light and life or just darkness and death. If he couldn’t find it he could be trapped behind the eclipse forever.

Then he remembered that all too often the brain sends one in the wrong direction blowing like the wind through the trees and making one believe that something is real that actually was not.  A thought whispered from below and though almost ignored by the all too busy mind it was barely caught and brought to consciousness, “Your cleverness only separates you from reality”. It said. Another thought intruded into the maelstrom, “This is not just about you”. It whispered. “Caring only about your own condition will lead only to doom– your doom and the doom of us all. That is the wrong direction to travel.”

The boy stopped walking and looked about him as though trying to find the source of the voice that had so successfully penetrated his fears. And the voice continued.

“Stop trying to be so clever. All your thinking, all your so-called knowledge will only lead you further astray. There is a Way, but it is not through your mind. There are no answers in the chaotic voice of your head. It knows only itself.

Your wisdom does not lay within the voice of this clever little fellow that you think is the real you. You must reason beyond this voice. You have the power to use this reason but like so many others you have lost your way because you have forgotten the Way. You had it once when you were very young but it was just too hard to hear over the din of the older ones and you soon forgot.

You cannot ‘do’ the Way, or think yourself through it. All that will do is confuse. The more ingenious you try to be the more strange things tend to happen. Be content that there is an order within the chaos but that you cannot find it by searching for it. Desire of any kind will hide all but the edges of reality.”

“But everything is so crazy around me. How can I do this?” Pleaded the young man.

“Be simple. Be empty. Be at one with the dust. Do not resist the end for it is just a beginning. To have only ‘mind’ is to suffer death, to be in touch with the mother, the source of us all,  brings freedom from that. Seek not answers from outside the mother. Create while not claiming, be the Way.”

“What must I do?”

“Create while not claiming, be the Way. Give up your mind. Be not of one way or the other, but be it all. Let the conflict come to balance in you and you will have found your mother. Stop behaving as an adult for they know nothing but cleverness and knowledge. Let go of your adult knowing until you are empty of all you have learned. You cannot experience your mother through knowing. Stop doing and just be for a moment. Be small and your greatness will grow. See simplicity in the complex. And above all be last among all men.”

The rain had stopped and the clouds had begun to clear. Patches of blue peeked out from the grayness and the voice that had kept him company through the day and night was now gone. Sometime during the night he had let go of himself and now blended with the surrounding forest. Bewildered the boy looked about him. Craning his neck upward he saw the rising sun partially occluded by the full moon. The conjunction had begun.

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Do you believe in magic? Chapter VI: The Source

 

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Chapter VI: 

The next morning after a breakfast of fresh fruit and steamed oats the young student and his mentor took their coffee mugs to the chairs that sat before the familiar fireplace at the other end of the flat and began their study. A light rain had moved into the city and the warmth of the drink, fire, and friendship brought them both great comfort and the energy to continue the difficult task from the day before.

“So what of your dreams?” Asked the older man and the younger shared a number of dreams about dark shadowy figures of people and animals that he was either running from or trying valiantly to kill.

“These are probably representative of your shadow self– the darker sides of your personality. Running from and trying to kill them off are two sides of the instinctual coin that runs us all. The first is an avoidance metaphor or what we call the “flight” instinct while the latter is the “fight” instinct– a means of ridding oneself from ones demons. Both are resistance symbols to what is and are representative of the ego-self, not the spirit self. This brings us to the eighth law of magic that says that one needs to ‘call out’ their shadows and demons, name them rather than suppress them. Just because you have negative aspects to your personality doesn’t mean that you are your negative aspects.”

“Tell me more.”

“Everything in the universe is energy in one form or another such as your thoughts, your body, your feelings, the environment around you. You’ll also notice that for every positive occurrence, circumstance, situation, feeling, thought there is an equal and opposite negative. The earth thrives in opposition; each gives energy to the other. Simply put ‘good’ only exists in contrast to ‘bad’ and vice versa. Resisting the ‘bad’ only gives it more than its equal share of energy. One needs to learn to bring both sides of themselves into balance. You do this by not resisting what is, by accepting both sides of yourself and working harmoniously with the energy of each.”

“The next, or ninth law, states that Magic cannot come from ‘thinking’. One needs to quiet the mind and stop ‘thinking’ things to death. Remember that In the tenth law it is stated that magic does not come from the rational. Live at least some of your life in the incomprehensible and trust your intuitive self. This ties in nicely with the ‘thinking’ law of the ninth law. Thinking is of the rational self. Necessary in very many ways, but it cannot be used to summon forth the power of magic. How are we doing so far?”

“Good, good, keep going” Said the young man as he motioned his mentor to continue and gently placed his cup down on the side table.

“The eleventh law states that Magic grows from the secret orderliness of chaos.” At this the student screwed up his face in confusion. “No really! Said the magus, “Allow yourself to be confused. Thinking that you know something about what is real can be very limiting to living what is real, to perceiving what is real, and to performing real magic. To think that you know something produces an expectation, the expectation that the universe will always support that knowledge, but that’s not how it really works is it? And when the universe lets you down you get upset, right?” The boy nodded and the magus went on. “This is because you think that you are in control when you’re not at all, never have been. I might also add that before you clear out the junk you’ve buried into your unconscious mind you’ve never been at choice with anything and that so-called ‘free-will’ of yours requires the ability to be at choice, that is real choice.”

“Real choice?”

“Yes, if you can’t say no and yes to everything then you are not really at choice. You have to be okay with either state of being. What you can then do is ‘choose’ what is best for the situation and circumstance you find yourself in– best for you and everyone and thing around you. You also can’t be consciously at choice if the material not dealt with in your unconscious mind, you know, all the stuff you’ve hidden there, and all the instinctual stuff, is actually running the show. Being clear about your hidden motivations is a prerequisite for free-will. Which is of course a requisite for magic.”

“In the twelfth law one is told that they must maintain their authority over expectations and standards by remaining at choice with their behaviors, thoughts, and self-expressions. In short, young man, be what you are, not what someone else wants you to be or think or believe, even if that someone else is me. If the laws don’t resonate, then don’t follow.”

“Eh? I don’t get it. Your negating all you said?”

“Yes, because if you take these laws and expect them to do the magic, then you will be sorely disappointed. The ‘laws’ are only a framework or matrix to live within. The real secret to magic can only be found within the source of your very being. It is only by surrendering what you think you are to that source that magic can come forth. All the rest is just a ‘do’ but the source is something and an immeasurable and indescribable nothing that you connect to in order to produce magic. Connect to the source and you’ll ‘be’ the magic. Live your life in the source and there is no end to what you are.”

“What is this source?” Pleaded the young man.

“This is what you have to wrestle with over the next day and a half. I suggest that you go be with yourself and take all that I’ve taught, all that I’ve said, and all that I’ve alluded to and meditate on it. You may even want to embody some of it that is to bring it to life and dialog with it as though it were alive, alive within you. Remember that it has to be done before the joining of the Moon and Sun two days from now. For if you don’t succeed you could be trapped between and behind them forever.”

At that the young man picked up his jacket and went out into the rain, heading almost aimlessly toward the city forest at the end of the street but with an air of what could only be called intention.

Do you believe in magic? Chapter V: The boy learns of the power within

Chapter V: 

Come morning the young man staggered out of his room slowly and into the parlor. There, sitting serenely and staring into the fire’s enduring maw was his mentor. Barely able to stand upright he groaned, “I feel like hell. All night I dreamed of being split in two from head to foot while boiling water was poured over me scalding and searing my flesh. Try as I would I couldn’t force myself awake until I watched my head split open and a beautiful golden orb fly out. What horror is this and what does it mean?”

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An abstract representation of the Anima Mundi (world soul) by cyber deva ka

Slowly the old man placed the omnipresent pipe into the tray beside him and turned to face the boy. “It means that your transformation is not quite finished. Though you are not of your original substance, you have yet to release the nous within, the soul, actually what we call the Anima Mundi, the soul of the world. Until this is done you remain earth bound and subject to the ego. Go, take a shower and release the soul!” The old man commanded and the boy turned and walked back into the room where he had slept, disrobed, and climbed into the shower.

Turning on the shower he began his ritual bathing but before he could soap up the water became unbearably scalding, so hot that he felt his skin begin to slough. He opened his mouth to scream but only a yellow liquid came out and covered him all over. After a short time the pain stopped and he began to feel a warmth that seemed to wash away all the aches from the night before.

As he looked down at his half outstretched arms they seemed to glow with health. It felt as though every part of him had been reborn. And indeed it had, but no longer as the individual separate from all others but something more inclusive of the whole of the world. In short, he felt great, better than he had ever felt before and he stepped from the shower, got dressed in the clothing provided and walked out to the main room feeling refreshed and famished as in really hungry as though he had been fasting an eternity. “When do we eat?” He growled eagerly.

Together the magus and the young man prepared a small but adequate feast and after consuming most of it they sat down before the fire and sipped a cup of freshly brewed coffee to begin their talk about the day’s proceedings.

“I am going to present you with the 12 Lessons of Magic and give you an opportunity to practice each until you and I both are satisfied that you have mastered them. Are you up for that?” As the boy listened he nodded and noticed that the wizard had changed his tone in that he was now addressing him as an equal instead of the one-down relationship he earlier experienced. It felt good, he felt confidant, and cheerfully looked forward to what was next in his training.

“Now I must warn you, we don’t have much time, there’s a lot to be done and we are running out of it.” Said the old man.

“Running out? I don’t understand”

“We have spent the last few weeks calling forth the four spirits of water, fire, air and earth but now we must complete your development before the Slaying of the Dragon.” The old

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The Ouroboros: An Alchemical symbol for completion and wholeness.

man pointed toward a crest affixed to the hearth. On it was a carving of a dragon coiled in a circle and biting its own tail. That was odd thought the boy he hadn’t noticed that before.

“What does it mean? The coiled dragon that is.”

“He is slaying himself– a necessary condition for transformation. There’s an eclipse of the sun on the third day hence and upon its rise the Union of the Separates within you will come to pass. What was split asunder will come together again.”

“Once you have completed your education your conscious mind will be ready to absorb the contents of the unconscious wherein the magic lies. This absorption will be initiated by the coming together of the sun and the moon of the eclipse. But if your conscious mind is not ready to assimilate then the energy produced by the chaotic fragments in the unconscious will cause disorder and madness, even death.  Once you started down this road you had no choice but to be ready for this event”

“Would have been nice to have known that ahead of time.” Muttered the young man half to himself. “Well no help for it now, we better get on with it then.”

“Right! These basic laws of magic are deceptively simple so do not be fooled by what may seem to be obvious. Are you ready?” The boy nodded.

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Do you believe in magic? Chapter IV: Transmutation of the body psyche

Chapter IV

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Symbol for the Philosopher’s Stone

“Well?” said the Wizard waiting patiently for him to speak.

“It has been a week of tears, of joy and sadness in almost equal measure. I’ve had insights that broadened my understanding and those that crushed my very being. I have touched the face of God and have been burned by unspeakable evils. I feel as though I am not what I was having transformed myself both now and into the future and deep into the past. I am profoundly grateful and resentful of what you have done to me and now feel lost in the world that was once my home. And what’s worse, I fear that I no longer care about your stupid magic.”

“A bit dramatic are we not? Now, listen to me well boy for I am about to reveal the rest of your curriculum that only now can you comprehend. You have entered a cleansing or dissolution stage of your transformation a transformation that is necessary in order for you to attain your true spiritual inheritance. Once entered you cannot turn back for to do so would leave you at best dead or worst dissolved and no longer able to function properly. Hear now what it is you need to do in order to reclaim your birthright. Are you ready?”

The boy stood there and despite some misgivings he was ready to absorb what the Wizard was sharing and nodded his assent then cleared his throat, “I’m listening, though my fear grows by the minute and even though I can set it aside and watch it grow without becoming it, I wonder for how long can this body endure?”

The boy was struggling to control himself and remain centered in the bigger self he had discovered during his practice of the week before. He wasn’t aware of it then but he would need all his strength to make it through the transmuting gauntlet he was about to experience. As the wizard invited him to sit in the chair next to him he sunk down then straightened and slid to the very edge of the seat barely in the chair at all and focused everything on the old man who sat before him.

“Your body, mind included for I am not of the popular notion that they are in any way separated, is an instrument of magic. But like any instrument it can become useless if you haven’t taken care of it. Over time you’ve gunked it up with so many ideas, rigid beliefs, illusions, fantastical expectations, thoughts and worthless and fake knowledge that it can barely fizzle let alone sizzle or sparkle and forget about using it to consciously create magic because the natural flow from the Source to the greater reality of the Self is impeded by all the accumulated crap you’ve attached to it. Do you understand?”

“So far, yes” said the boy as he encouraged the old man to continue.

“What we’ve been doing is to scrape off this crap so as to polish the tool once again and give it the purpose for which was designed. After that you’ll relearn the art of using it properly.” The old man paused and thought a moment before speaking again, then absently picked up his pipe and took a drag, tapping it against the bowl when he realized it had gone out. Pulling a match from a container next to the bowl he held it for a moment and the match flamed without being struck. He then put the flame to his pipe and relit it. Taking a couple of drags a faint glow emanated from the pipe bowl. After another drag he leisurely exhaled a puff of smoke that created a ring that floated above his head. Meanwhile the young man just sat patiently waiting for what was next.

Holding the pipe by the bowl the old man pointed it toward the boy and went on with his lecture. “Your body is the prima materia that needs to undergo a tormenting cleansing in order to be transformed. As it is now it is like lead– heavy and without luster. When you have completed this process, only part of which you have been practicing this past week, you will shine as gold and be whole once again. After that you will learn to transcend the body and no longer ‘be it’ but include it within your greater sphere.” He paused to see if the boy were still focused on what he was saying and after satisfying himself that he was, he continued.

“The body must be consumed by fire, dismembered and dissolved before it is re-enlivened and made whole again. Though the process of living can act as a crucible where one will burn in order to prepare for the transformation into a more brilliant being, the process takes too long. Sometimes many life times.”

As he paused and took another drag on his pipe, the young man couldn’t help himself and made a comment.  “This sounds like the ravings of an Alchemist!”

“In that you are right, but their so-called ravings were in reality the process for transforming the leaden consciousness of humankind into the Golden Spirit that he or she was born to be. The truth for each of us is that within us is a Philosophers Stone but to forge it into reality requires a precise tormenting of the prima materia.”

Abruptly he stopped and became very serious in demeanor focusing his full attention on the boy. The boy squirmed in his seat at the discomfort of the old man’s penetrating gaze.

“Do you trust me, boy?”

The boy sat perfectly still and looked within to see if indeed he did trust the old man and when finding that he did declared, “Yes sir!”

“Good, then stand up, the time has come for the Torment.”

The Torment? The boy shuddered at what was next, but the old man hadn’t hurt him so far, in fact, his administrations had actually opened him to a world he didn’t even know existed– a world of exquisite emotion and revelation and he was anxious for more.

“Stand before the fire.” said the old man who then leaned forward and gently touched the boy’s forehead and the boy complied and stood.

“Let go of your thoughts and walk into it.” The young man trembled and knew that this would have been foolhardy on his own or with any one other than this particular old wizard, but for some reason he knew that this man had only his best interests at heart and he walked slowly toward and into the fire. It was warming, welcoming and felt like the right thing to do.

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Dissolution

 

Suddenly his clothing caught the flames and before he knew what was happening the flames engulfed him, the heat became unbearable and pain grew rapidly beyond endurance. He felt his skin crackle, sluff, and begin to melt from his body. “Oh my God” he thought, I’m going to die! He screamed a most blood-curdling scream that ricocheted off the walls then trailed to a pitiful whimper as he passed out and fell headlong into the flames becoming a human torch that lit up the whole room. What was left collapsed and quickly turned to blackened ash. The sickening smell of burned flesh filled the room.

All had become quiet and the wizard returned to his chair casually picking up his pipe and relighting it with another match. He stretched and lay back into the softness of the chair. He had taken many a neophyte to this point in the process and knew that for some it ended here what with the purity of their essence having been too compromised to withstand the Dissolution and then not being able to master the Recombination. He would wait to see if the boy was one of those. He hoped not, he kind of liked him, but it was taking longer than usual.

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Do you believe in magic? Chapter III: Beginner’s Mind

 

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Found on galeri3.uludagsozluk.com

It had been three days since he last left the old wizard. The sky was heavy with rain. Water rushed like a whitewater river down the street filling gutters like a dammed spillway washing all the flotsam and jetsam from the neighborhoods high on the hill toward the city center below. Here and there drains were filled with so much debris that small lakes formed around them obliterating the intersections. A wind blew down from the top of the hill with its full force channeled by the rows of houses and narrow street driving the rain deep into any nook or opening in the well-kept buildings or any man foolish enough to be outside on a day like this.

A young man braved this storm wearing only a short slicker and a knit cap hoping to arrive at his destination before thoroughly soaked. Of course it was not to be and soon he found himself standing before the familiar door and waiting for what seemed an eternity, dripping from every fiber of his being, for the invitation to enter.

Standing in the foyer and creating a small puddle on the floor beneath him he smiled, shook the water from his hair and took off his jacket hanging it on the hook directly across from the door. Before he could squeak out a greeting the old man began speaking.

“Sooo, did you let go of all your attachments?” asked the old man.

“Yes, it wasn’t easy, but, yes.” The young man exclaimed as he removed his sodden shoes and nudged them to the side.

“And?”

“And nothing! No magic, no nothing!” The boy said in anger as though he had been duped. The perceived failure of the last three days along with the miserable weather had ruined his mood leaving him none too polite with his mentor’s incessant questions.

“Then you didn’t detach.” The old man exclaimed with an air of dismissal.

“I did so!” said the boy stubbornly.

“Did you expect that when you finally detached then you could do magic?”

“Yes, of course!”

“Then you were still attached to the outcome. You probably had the thought that I had ripped you off in some way and that thought instantly took you over and you couldn’t let go of it. That’s another attachment, attachment to your thoughts. You probably felt proud of yourself having been so successful, didn’t you?”

“Yes I was!”

“Pride, expectation, thoughts, beliefs. You just exchanged one set of attachments for another. I said to detach from every thing!”

The boy just stood there, gaping. “But I thought…”

“That’s the problem, you’re still thinking. You actually think that your thoughts are important don’t you?”

“Yes sir. But now I’m beginning to wonder.”

“Stop befriending your thoughts, stop acting as though they have any real contribution to your life whatsoever!” He demanded emphatically. “They’re worthless when it comes to magic. Just let go of everything, even your silly little thoughts!”

“Silly little thoughts?” The boy exclaimed defiantly.

“Do I detect pride? Have you become the thought that your thoughts aren’t silly? Foolish boy!” said the old man as he taunted the young man without mercy.

The boy clenched his hands into fists and could feel the heat of anger crawling up his neck and onto his face. He was starting to lose conscious control of himself and words of fear and threat and rage spit from his mouth, words that he had never heard himself say. This wasn’t him speaking and then it struck him. His expectations, pride, and anger were taking over. They were in control and were beginning to dominate everything. Not only was he attached, but literally joined at the ego.

With great effort he began to relax and to let the fire of his ego slowly extinguish. Finally he found his own voice again. “This is, isn’t as easy as I, I thought.” He stuttered.

“Nothing worth being or having ever is.” Said the old man with a sigh.

“Too much thinking gets in the way of being magic. You want to let other things take you where they will. If you want to get to the place where the magic lies, you need to get outside your thoughts and let the soul move you. This is what world-class dancers, musicians, actors, poets and writers do– during creation they transcend the ego and let their soul guide them. It’s in this space that the magic will find you. Stop trying to control and let that which animates you guide you.

Now go home and wander around in your thoughts for a while. Don’t try to change them, or to not have them, just notice them as they wander through your mind. Notice what happens in your body when they come to visit and what other thoughts enter into the conversation. I want you to be an observer of your thoughts and feelings throughout your day, not a participant. Observe without judging or figuring out, or predicting, or labeling– just watch them. If at any time you notice that you’ve gotten caught up in them, acknowledge them and go back to observing without judging yourself.

Imagine having a mind like that of a baby, a beginners mind if you will, a mind that embraces nothing but the moment. I want you to especially observe your expectations. There is no expected outcome for this exercise. Whatever you do is just fine.

Let go of the expectation that if you were to practice rightly, if you were to achieve ego detachment that you will be a better person. You won’t, you’ll be the same as you’ve always been. This process is not about getting better or being better. This is not about better.  Also, there’s no meaning in the exercise, that’s an attachment to ‘meaning’. Just do it, for no reason and take what you get.

Do this for a week, then come back and see me.”

The young man nodded and turned toward the door. For a moment he was devoid of thoughts, then turned and said, “Thank you” with more earnest gratitude than he had ever experienced before. And the old man smiled for he knew that the acknowledgment came not through a thought but from the very soul of the boy himself and for one moment the room lit up brightly.

Do you believe in Magic? Chapter II: Detachment as the gateway to magic

 

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The magus picked up his still smoldering pipe and took a long, leisurely draw, slowly exhaling and engulfing himself.

 

The young man awoke late the next day. Without hesitation he rolled out of bed to his knees, straightened awkwardly and hopped to the bathroom intending to shower then changed his mind given that he was already dressed what with having fallen asleep on the bed from the exhaustion experienced the day before with the old magician. Grabbing a stick of deodorant he quickly rubbed some under his arms, slipped on his shoes, picked up his jacket from the floor where he had tossed it earlier, and bolted out the door barely taking time to lock it behind him and charged down the stairs and into the street.

It was late afternoon and the rows of aging Victorian two and three stories known affectionately as “painted ladies” so named from their elaborately architectural ornamented and multicolored façade had taken on a glow of warmth as though readying themselves for a long nights sleep. Though the sky was still light the large picture frame windows of some houses shown with a warm amber glow that added to the sense of their aliveness.

As the young man skittered up the tree-lined street he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this excited about something, about anything actually. He almost flew over the sidewalk, grabbing a tree with one hand at his destination, and using the momentum of his run to swing him around and into the alcove of the three-story walk-up where his new mentor lived.

“Oh God, what if I’m too early, or too late? He didn’t actually say what time I should show up except that it should be about the same time as yesterday. I don’t want to piss him off before we really get started. Magic, imagine, me, learning to do real magic!” He mused as he slowed his pace while walking the long entrance to the staircase at the other end where he paused to gather his wits. “What was it he said?” “You can’t ‘learn’ magic.” And then pontificated. “Learning is through the thinking mind.” He exclaimed that the process of discovering that I already know the magic is something that he could help me with, though he wasn’t sure about what the old man meant by the ‘already know’ part. “I mean what did he know?” he pondered.

He stopped at the foot of the stairs, unsure as to whether he should go up. After all, he had been so confused the night before. What made him think that this evening would be any different?

Summoning his courage he climbed to the first floor entry and knocked on the wizard’s door. He heard a muffled “Enter” and tried the knob, entering slowly and peering around the door then catching a glimpse of someone sitting in an overstuffed leather chair with pipe smoke curling up and disappearing somewhere into the exposed rafters above.

This time he noticed that the room was warm, musky and smelled of cherries and old books a rather inviting fragrance he thought.

“You’re just in time” said the old man as he pulled the pipe from his mouth and set it smoldering in the bowl next to him.

Without even a “good evening” he motioned the boy to sit on the floor before him and began to talk. “First of all you need to remember that magic is not about things. Things have no magic. To the degree that your consciousness is preoccupied with things– the having and not having of them and your unending compulsive plans around your life, to this degree you will not be able to produce any magic.

I will not teach you magic but I will teach you how to open the door to it. This is not the magic of medicine bags, wands, and charms nor is it the magic of tranquilizers, drugs, rationalism or the power of your will. You can’t even begin to see what it is as long as you’re attached to the world of things. When you realize that you are not one of those things, but the container of all things, then and only then, will you be open to magic. What we will be doing from here on is to disentangle you from all inner and outer attachments of your life.”

“When your identity is able to disentangle with the ego, the center of your consciousness, and open to the space between it and the unconscious mind you will create a new center of being that will then allow you to be magic. Do you understand?”

“I do, sort of, though I’m still confused as to how I get there.” The boy said as he trembled at the thought of what “there” might mean.

“The first thing you’ll have to do is to give up your attachment to all things.” He said dryly.

“What? What do you mean give up my attachment to everything? You mean give up everything I own? Are you kidding?” He noted that this was beginning to sound a lot like all those boring sermons at church when he was a kid.

“I mean, you must give up your attachment to these things, including your ideas about them. You are attached to the outer world and that’s your greatest obstacle to the introspection necessary to discovering your magic. You believe that you need these things in order to survive do you not?”

“Most of them, yes, yes of course!” The boy said emphatically.

“Most of them?” Said the old man as he raised one eyebrow.

“Well food, water, life seem like necessary attachments don’t you think?”

Without answering the old wizard went on.

“You also believe that no rational person would give up everything to go chasing after some fantasy do you not?”

“I do.”

“Do you label your fantasies as just daydreaming– something to just while away some boring hours but without any real substance?”

“Mostly, yeah!” He said while wondering where the old man was going with this.

“Be careful, here, for it is the essence within your fantasies my dear boy that enables magic. When it comes to magic your rational mind is your biggest obstacle to wielding it. To become it you have to be willing to embrace even death.”

This of course shocked the boy and he became highly alert and suspicious of the old man’s intentions. He quickly looked about him for some avenue of escape should he need it. The room was dark all around them except for where they were sitting. He wasn’t sure where he would go if he had to move quickly. He could feel the fear swell in his chest.

Noticing the boy’s change of affect to one of fear he quickly interjected. “Not the death of your body for goodness sake! I’m talking about detachment from that well regarded ego-self of yours that dominates your every move. The ego doesn’t know magic! It can’t because magic doesn’t come from ones ego. Understand?”

“You seem to think that who I think I am is something different than who I really am. This is me, what you see is what you get, what I really am.” The boy said defensively.

“Really? Are you sure about that? What if I told you that your personality, the thing that you think you are, isn’t who you really are, that it’s all made up?”

“I’d say you were crazy.”

“You said that the last time we met. But can you hold the image of that possibility that you are not what you say you are? Can you just for the next few days sit with the notion that you have no idea who you really are?

You have many things in your life i.e. objects and ideas such as your name, your degree, your size, your beliefs, your likes and dislikes, who your parents are, family traditions, cultural traditions, the foods you like and don’t like, the style of clothes you wear, the music you like, politics, sports teams, the type of girl you’re interested in all of which you’ve attached your identity to. What would you be if they were all gone? What would you be if you were to just be unattached to anything?”

“Well I, I don’t know.” said the boy hesitatingly.

“Go home and detach. Be without for a while and then tell me who you are. But don’t come back until you do– until you’ve let go of every thing.

Bewildered the boy got up and looked sheepishly at the wizard because he was not really sure what he was asking of him, but resolved to at least try and then absently wandered out of the room saying a barely audible “goodbye” as he closed the door behind him, started down the stairs and walked into the night.

Strolling home he looked out across a cityscape that was here and there covered in fog and landed his gaze upon one of his most favorite visions. Peeking through the fog a lighted bridge with reddish spires jutted across the darkened water of the bay’s entrance and seemingly disappeared into the mist before getting to the other side. A wry grin crossed his face when he realized that this was like a metaphor for what he was feeling, incomplete and only partially there.

The magus picked up his still smoldering pipe and took a long, leisurely draw, slowly exhaling and engulfing himself. Feeling a chill he shivered and drew the fire ever closer. In his minds eye the room seemed to flicker and a canopy of stars spread out across what had once been his parlour ceiling. With another puff of his pipe he stretched out, “Now we climb down the rabbit hole once again.”  He whispered as though talking to some unseen entity and leaving only his smile glowing through the smoke.

 

 

Do you believe in magic? Chapter I

2267148-208751-magic-book-on-a-blue-background-with-the-lines-and-lights.jpgWhat foolishness is this? Everyone knows that there’s no such thing as magic. You believe there’s no such thing, don’t you?

Are you sure?

What if I were to tell you that yes indeed there is such a thing as magic? I can’t teach it to you because it’s not mine to teach. I can, however, show you the door, that door into that part of your mystical self that holds the power of the universe…

 

Chapter I : A New Beginning

While sitting before the fire one cold and blustery evening I heard a gentle rapping, a hesitant tapping at my livingroom door. “What now?” I thought as I put down my pipe and rose to answer. “It’s been some time since someone came to visit.” I mused. Upon opening the door the visitor stood up straight and without any greeting or explanation blurted out…

“Can you teach me magic?” said a curious young man standing before me and looking at me hopefully.

Inwardly I moaned but outwardly exclaimed, “No!” I said rather brusquely, and ready to close the door in his face. But I hesitated not really expecting this to end his quest. I was really more interested in his resolve, because it was this resolve that would speak to his level of intention and commitment. If he wavered now, then he wouldn’t be able to make magic anyway, but if he persisted, well then, maybe. But so many had quit before the real training had even begun. It was no use wasting precious time on yet another wannabe.

“But I want to know. You see, I’ve forgotten how.” He said with a far off look in his eye.

Now this was a hopeful sign! I thought to myself.

“To say you’ve forgotten how presupposes that you once knew. What say you about that?” I cocked my head to one side and gestured with my palms outward so as to elicit a response.

“I know that I knew at one time, sometime before this.” Again said with that wistful air.

“Have you been here before?”

“My dreams say I have.” He looked up at me hopefully, sensing that I was showing interest.

“Do they now?” I said with much disdain. “What do they tell you about magic?”

“That I need to learn again how to do it.” He said haltingly.

“Well they’re wrong! Magic can’t be learned!” I said with emphasis on the last word and then shoving my fists onto both sides of my waist as a gesture of defiance. Abruptly I turned as though to leave.

“Please?” Said the young man practically getting down on his knees to beg.

In turning back, I invited him to exit the cold and enter. Closing the door gently behind him I asked, “Do you even know what magic is?”

He paused for a moment in thought, then said, “I know that it’s everywhere.”

Hmm, this boy has potential. I thought.

“Okay we’ll work on it.” I said and placed my hand on his shoulder indicating that I wished him to sit. I then pulled up a chair from the side of the desk and sat down facing him. His dark brown eyes widened in anticipation of what may be the most transformative moment of his life.

“First of all, magic cannot be taught, you cannot learn it, it is not a rational thing that can be understood in the conventional way things can be understood, for you see it is not a thing. It can be understood, but only in an incomprehensible way. Do you understand?”

He looked crestfallen– almost in shock. “N, no” stammered the young man looking much confused.

“Good, that’s a start! You will have to learn to let go of your rational mind, that which thinks things through, for you will not find magic through thinking. The rational man doesn’t need magic, therefore he can never hope to wield it.”

“That sounds crazy!” Said the boy disgustedly.

“Precisely! We humans spend so much time thinking about things through the rational brain, that we have lost the ability to be magic. Now I’m not referring to the kind of magic practiced by some religious ritualistic nutcase who believes that their rituals and thoughts can bring about real-world effects, where ideal causes are mistaken for real ones. Nor am I talking about the pointing of some stick and chanting a series of words so as to manipulate another person or object. That’s just sloppy thinking. That’s just “more thinking” and therefore comes through that place in the mind that filters all material on a self-interest level. Magic does not come through the “thinking” mind. “Do you get that?” I said while punching the air in his direction with my index finger for emphasis.

“Most of the time we avoid the place of real magic as though it were a contagion that if confronted would throw us into utter confusion and chaos.”

“Well I’m confused!” He said accusingly.

“That’s good! See if you can just sit with your confusion for a while longer without trying to figure out the meaning of what I say, or reject what is being said either. Can you do that?”

“I, I’ll try.”

“Good! You have now opened just a crack in the door into your deeper self, the place where chaos and confusion lives. It is in there that magic also lives. I cannot teach you the way of magic, but I can introduce you to where it lives and let you discover it yourself. Magic can never be summoned, it arises at its own will, not yours. But you can learn to open to it. It comes from disarray.”

Seeing no light in his eyes as yet I asked that he think about who is responsible for what he does or does not do. “Who is responsible for running your life?”

“Well, uh, I am!” He said as though it were obvious.

“But what if you were to find out that this has never been true?”

“Really?” He squeaked.

“Well the ‘you’ that you identify as being you, never was in control, it isn’t now! The chaos and confusion that you shut off into your unconscious runs you more than that little bit of territory you call consciousness. You spend so much time trying to be what you’re not, that you’ve hidden what you are. The magic you seek is all around and within. You are the magic!”

For one brief moment the light in his eyes shined through the darkness, very brief, and then was gone. “What was that?” I asked to get him to focus.

“What was what?”

“The look on your face. What just passed through your mind?”

“I, I don’t know.”  He said looking even more confused.

“Straighten up and sit there for a moment. Quiet your thoughts and listen to the voice deep within you that is whispering, ‘There is something more, all of your thoughts about life so far aren’t quite right no matter what anyone says’”  I said in a muted stage whisper. “Do it now and we will talk again later”.  He sat for a moment then suddenly opened his eyes and exclaimed in the same hushed whisper, “I heard it!” 

“The journey has begun.” I said and brought the conversation to a close by getting up and walking to the door and motioning for him to leave. “See you tomorrow, same time.” He fairly skipped from the room, opened the door and strode out into the night.