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Posts Tagged ‘Magic’

“I’m sorry. But please-”

“Speak on, dear heart.”

“Shall I ever be able to read that story again; the one I couldn’t remember? Will you tell it to me, Aslan? Oh do,do,do.”

“Indeed, yes, I will tell it to you for years and years.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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(from a recent post I put up at Burning at the Stake)

I’m definitely an unabashed tarot enthusiast, although I am not necessarily that experienced or that knowledgeable. My understanding of the nature of the tarot is that there’s nothing magic about it–the cards only have significance we give them. Their usefulness and power lies in their powerful symbolism and the resulting ability to cause us to think about things in new ways, to see new relationships between ideas and currents in our life, and and thus make connections that we might not have been able to make without them.

I think the symbolism of the tarot is, if not universal, at least close to universal, at least for people coming out of a western-civilization cultural context. The images in the Rifder-Waite deck are simple and poignant, and deal with archetypes, emotions, and values that embedded in our psyche.

Tarot cards are not primarily used to tell the future, but to evaluate the present (and by understanding the rpesent, to see where all of this is coming from and where it is probably going). When I do a tarot reading, the relationships between the cards in their various positions suggest relationships between ideas or experiences in the subject’s life. The connections themselves are as archetypical as the images on the cards, and as such they are universal enough to have some likelihood of sparking some sort of recognition of “aha” moment. In other words, by reading the cards and attaching their symbolic meanings to specific experiences, people, or ideas in your life, the relationships suggested by the position of the cards suggests relationships between those concrete experiential phenomena that you simply may not have considerd before. As such, there is a good possibility that seeing the “pieces” of your life arranged in a new way will give you insight into what is really going on in your life and in your mind.

Nothing magical or supernatural about it: nothing but psychology at work.

On the other hand, I do not necessarily discount the possibility that there may in fact be more involved than that. If I believe in a god or gods or some kind of cosmic unity, even a basic fundamental connectedness, then there is no reason why the will of God or the connections in the fundamentally connected universe couldn’t play out in what cards you draw and where you place them. Or in the conclusions and interpretations you give them.

I’ve done enough readings that were disturbingly spot-on that I think there is definitely something of value to the tarot. On the other hand, I’ve done a lot of readings that just didn’t “click.” Probably more of the latter than the former. And if/when the tarot is emrely serving as an analytical lens, it stands to reason that there wil be at least as many “misses” as “hits.” But even the misses have value: by considering these symbols and relationships and concluding that what I am seeing in the cards at the moment is not relevant or instructive or providing me with insight, I still reap the benefits of having considered new possibilities. The fact that I ultimately chose to discount the possibility considered does not undermine the value of considering the possibility in the first place.

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I clearly had “Stairway to Heaven” on my mind yesterday, and I still do today.  I think the song is absolutely amazing, and I think it’s unfortunate that so many people regard it as played-out or cliched.  I’d be willing to bet that a staggering number of young people have heard someone disparage “Stairway to Heaven” more times than they have actually heard the song.  In fact, I think that insisting that “Stairway to Heaven” is a cliche is itself far more of a cliche than the song is.

Anyway, I think the song is powerful, mystical, and magnificent.  My dad always talked about how he thought certain songs seemed to tap into some kind of cosmic energy or some power source out there, implying God or Heaven or something like that.  I think he might be right.  There’s something about the way this song is put together, the words, the phrasing, the musical arrangement, the instruments, the guitar solo, the crescendo and decrescendo, something about the architecture of this song that makes me think of occult architecture, of buildings and statues built specifically to channel otherworldly supernatural power through symbolism.  Somehow this song is like that.

I’m not even sure what all of the words mean, and I’m not even convinced that if you broke them down and analyzed them like you would a piece of literature that they would come out the other end seeming very profound at all.  It’s like the pieces of this song are combined in such a way that the song itself–not specifically the words to the song or their meaning–works like a magic spell.  But a spell meant to do what?  Something is being invoked here, but what is it?  If this song is a key, what door does it open?

What is this taste of infinity that rolls around on my tongue every time I hear this song?

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I came across a pretty cool essay on Jim Morrison and Dionysus, and the pagan spiritual implications of Morrison’s life, music, philosophy, and his unique and fascinating madness. It gets a little closer to what I was trying to write a few days ago about the Lizard King. With all due respect and entirely without permission, I am reprinting it here in entirety:

THE CULT OF THE LIZARD KING
by Delia Morgan

I. The Rock God:

Jim Morrison–rock star, poet, prophet, electric shaman, and god incarnate. The lead singer of the 1960’s acid rock band known as The Doors, Jim Morrison identified himself very strongly with Dionysos. The Doors were the first group to really do rock concerts as ritual, as a means of taking the audience on a psycho-religious trip. They took their name from Aldous Huxley’s quote (here paraphrased) that “When the Doors of perception are cleansed, we will see things as they truly are–infinite.” Morrison described their mission in terms of trying to “Break On Through” to a bigger reality: “There are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between are the Doors.”

Morrison, with his “Greek God” beauty, his fiery passion and dark mysterious persona, has been considered a Dionysos incarnate. He certainly tried to bring something like shamanism and Greek drama to rock music and to the stage; he tried to shock people out of their complacency and into a terrifying and liberating ecstasy. Since his death at a young age in 1971, a cult has grown around him; many people, myself included, sense his presence as a guiding force, build altars to him, etc. There was even a “First Church of the Doors” at one time.

Morrison himself was, by all accounts, a man as brilliant as he was daring. At a young age he had read extensively on shamanism and ancient mythology, including James Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” (much of which is about Dionysos); he was also quite taken with Friedrich Nietzsche’s passionate vision of Dionysos as portrayed in “The Birth of Tragedy.” One of the last books he had been reading before his death was Jane Ellen Harrison’s voluminous and challenging “Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion” which is also mostly about Dionysos. It seems to me that Morrison let himself be completely possessed by Dionysos, until the man and the god were irrevocably merged; he carried the torch of his mythic Dionysian vision all the way to his death.

Unfortunately, most people never quite ‘got’ what he was trying to do at the time, which was religion. Rock critics called him pretentious for taking himself so seriously; few of them knew enough about myth and religion to put the pieces together. Ray Manzarek’s recent book “Light My Fire” is a personal history of the Doors, and also talks about Morrison as Dionysos.

Here are just a few quotes from Morrison’s songs and poetry where the dark and Dionysian mystic slips through:

“I call upon the dark hidden gods of the blood…”

“Where is the wine we were promised, the new wine…?”

“We could plan a murder, or start a religion…”

“I promised I would drown myself in mystic heated wine…”

“Let us reinvent the gods, all the myths of the ages;
celebrate symbols from deep elder forests…”

“I am a guide to the labyrinth.”

II. Perspectives on the Morrisonian mythos:

Some perceptive authors and music critics at the time caught on to the Dionysian element in Morrison’s philosophy and in his performances; others have come to realize this in retrospect. (Still others never caught on, and can’t understand what all the fuss is about.)

The following excerpt from a Doors website makes explicit the Doors’ connection to Pagan spiritual sentiment:

http://www.elektra.com/rock_club/doors/bio.html

During the late 1960’s bands sang of love and peace while acid was passed out. But for The Doors it was different. The nights belonged to Pan and Dionysus, the gods of revelry and rebirth, and the songs invoked their potent passions–the Oedipal nightmare of “The End,” the breathless gallop of “Not to Touch the Earth,” the doom of “Hyacinth House,” the ecstasy of “Light My Fire,” the dark uneasy undertones of “Can’t See Your Face in My Mind,” and the alluring loss of consciousness in “Crystal Ship.” And as with Dionysus, The Doors willingly offered themselves as a sacrifice to be torn apart, to bleed, to die, to be reborn for yet another night in another town.

The pagan/Dionysian theme is expanded upon by Danny Sugerman in the following excerpts from the introduction to the famous biography of Jim Morrison, titled “No One Here Gets Out Alive.”

http://www.thedoors.com/beta/mythos.htm

DOORS MYTHOS
by Danny Sugerman

“Though the favorites of the gods die young, they also live eternally in the company of gods.”
— Fredrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

An account of initiation into the mysteries of the goddess Isis survives in only one in-person account, an ancient text that translated reads: “I approached the frontier of death, I saw the threshold of Persephone, I journeyed through all the elements and came back, I saw at midnight the sun, sparkling in white light, I came close to the gods of the upper and the netherworld and adored them near at hand. ” This all happened at night. With music and dance and performance. The concert as ritual, as initiation. The spell cast. Extraordinary elements were loosed that have resided in the ether for hundreds of thousands of years, dormant within us all, requiring only an awakening.

Of course, psychedelic drugs as well as alcohol could encourage the unfolding of events. A Greek musicologist gives his description of a Bacchic initiation as catharsis: “This is the purpose of Bacchic initiation, that the depressive anxiety of people, produced by their state of life, or some misfortune, be cleared away through melodies and dances of the ritual.”

There is a strange tantalizing fascination evoked by fragments of ancient pagan mysteries: the darkness and the light, the agony and the ecstasy, the sacrifice and bliss, the wine and the ear of grain (hallucinogenic fungi). For the ancients it was enough to know there were doors to a secret dimension that might open for those who earnestly sought them. Such hopes and needs have not gone away with time. Jim Morrison knew this. Morrison was the first rock star I know of to speak of the mythic implications and archetypal powers of rock ‘n’ roll, about the ritualistic properties of the rock concert. For doing so, the press called him a pretentious asshole: “Don’t take yourself so seriously, Morrison, it’s just rock ‘n’ roll and you’re just a rock singer.”

Jim knew they were wrong, but he didn’t argue. He also knew when the critics insulted him they demeaned his audience. Jim knew that music is magic, performance is worship, and he knew rhythm can set you free. Jim was too aware of the historical relevance of rhythm and music in ritual for those transforming Doors concerts to have been accidental.

From his favorite philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jim took solace and encouragement in the admonition to “say yes to life.” I never believed that Jim was on a death trip as so many have claimed, and to this day still find it difficult to judge the way he chose to live and die. Jim chose intensity over longevity, to be, as Nietzsche said, “one who does not negate,” who does not say no, who dares to create himself. Jim also must have been braced to read the following Nietzsche quote: “Saying yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems; the will to life rejoicing over its own inexhaustibility even in the very sacrifice of its highest types-this is what I call Dionysian, that is what I understood as the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to get rid of terror and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous effect by its vehement discharge, but in order to be oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity. ”

It was Jim’s insatiable thirst for life that killed him, not any love of death.

III. Morrison Today

Why, among all stars in that infamous rock-n-roll heaven, is Jim Morrison uniquely qualified as an avatar of Dionysos? It’s no doubt true that various worthy and charismatic figures in rock-n-roll have gained something of a fanatical cult following. Visions of Elvis, etc. One recent translation of Euripedes’ play “The Bacchae” even put Elvis on the cover. But, really, it should have been Jim.

Morrison was, as far as I know of, the first or only rock performer to actually identify with Dionysos, and to express (sometimes subtly) the stated intent of trying to bring back the old pagan religions. He was also the only one to do serious research on the cult of Dionysos, and to attempt to recreate the cathartic experience of Greek tragedy as a ritual on the stage. He forged a connection between shamanism and Dionysiac cult: the shaman, by going on a spirit journey, could heal the tribe; then the rock performer, by making the presence of Dionysos manifest, and by bringing the audience with him, could create a healing breakthrough for both himself and the spectators/participants. He was brilliant, and possibly mad.

He was also the performer who (in my view) best expressed the enigmatic, mysterious qualities of Dionysos himself – the paradoxical juxtaposition of sweetness and violence, ecstasy and agony, deep masculinity and androgynous beauty, orgasmic chaos and graceful precision. Etc., etc.

I have no doubt that the spirit of Dionysos permeated the world of rock music in the 60’s, and even somewhat today. But it remains that Jim Morrison alone gave himself to Dionysos, entirely and without reservation, to the very end; and all for the purpose of bringing back Dionysian religion to a world without a clue.

And since his death, he has become a real and guiding presence for many devotees; in other words – a god. Doors fans have built altars and web shrines, conducted rituals in his honor and written poems about their spiritual encounters with Jim. He was certainly a powerful force in my own pagan awakening. This point came home to me, in many ways over the years; I’ll relate one.

One evening, I was sitting on the couch reading Jane Ellen Harrison’s “Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion,” a book which deals extensively with the religion of Dionysos. I was at the section where she describes how the dead hero becomes transformed into a god. I got very excited, and was scribbling notes in the margins, about how I saw this process of heroic deification as applying to Jim Morrison. (Snakes figured largely into this process, as they did in the cult of Dionysos; and Doors fans know all about Jim and “the ancient snake.”)

Suddenly, for no reason, I had a strong urge to turn on the television. (I almost never watched it; my roommate did.) When I did so, there was a program about the history of rock music, and they were doing a short segment on Jim Morrison. Then they interviewed the Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, on the subject of Jim’s death and/or possible continued existence. Ray said (paraphrased): “Jim isn’t here on earth anymore. Dionysos returned to Olympus, and he’s sitting up there laughing at us.”

This statement, coming right after my reading the same idea in Harrison’s book (and my relating it to Morrison), seemed like a remarkable coincidence to me at the time. I’m sure it was Jim who prompted me to turn the TV on at that moment. A few years later, I learned that (according to Jim’s girlfriend, Wiccan priestess Patricia Kennealy) that Harrison’s book on Greek religion was the very same one that Jim was reading just before he left for Paris, where he died a few months later.

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“Calling on the Gods…
Cobra on my left, leopard on my right…”
– Jim Morrison, from the album “The Soft Parade”

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I have been tossing around this idea for awhile, but haven’t written much about it because I haven’t really done the research to write something good, something that will capture the idea that is looming in my head. But I want to jot down the idea now. Later on I will flesh it out.

It has become increasingly apparent to me that Dionysus is the god of rock and roll, and that Jim Morrison is his prophet. What is rock and roll if not rebellion, liberation, and ecstasy? Rock and roll is not Apollo’s music. It belongs to the Liberator. Real rock and roll, not the complete shit that gets peddled as rock nowadays, but real rock and roll is a thing of incredible, monstrous power. It channels a spiritual well that is overwhelming and intoxicating. Real rock and roll is awesome. It is mystical. It is a kind of black magic. And it belongs utterly to Dionysus.

Jim Morrison was posessed of something. He was a classic tortured genius, and he was in touch with something that was too intense for him-for any human being-to handle. It was like he was taking a drink from a power main, and there was only so much he could do with it before it used him up. In the end, it was so powerful that it devoured him and left him dead in a bathtub in Paris. But while he was alive he was a shaman, a prophet. He knew that rock was the purview of Dionysus–he said as much in his own writings and poetry.

Dionysus is the god of rock and roll, and Jim Morrison is his prophet. Wherever he is now–in the land of the dead, in Elysium, or wherever he has been taken by the god–he is reaching out to us, and inviting us, calling us to “meet him at the back on the blue bus.” We listen, we let it posess us, and we invite the god in to bring us into a new kind of life, if only for a few moments.

EDIT: I came across an awesome essay about Dionysus and Jim Morrison on the internet the other day. Check it out.

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I have been turning into something of a tarot enthusiast here lately. I’ve been fascinated by the tarot since I first played around with a deck back in high school, but I didn’t have my own deck until I bought a Rider-Waite from a game shop during my first year of law school, near to the time when I first started to really broaden my horizons in terms of the scope of my spiritual search. I did a few spreads with it back then, but mostly just let it sit around until a few months ago when I finally started to grapple with the tarot in earnest.

I feel like I have a talent for the tarot. I have done spreads for myself, for my beautiful and sexy wife, and for my brother, and some of them have been shockingly insightful. I’m still using a couple of guidebooks to make connections and understand the meanings of the cards, but I am slowly gaining an understanding of my own through a combination of committing key-words and other peoples’ interpretations to memory, and also through meanings that have emerged from readings I have done. Not every spread I do winds up being useful or insightful, but enough of them seem to be so incredibly on-target that I think I have a lot of potential as a tarot-reader.

While I have not yet written the post I want to write about magic, I will say that I don’t necessarily think that the tarot cards are supernatural. A good deck of tarot cards is composed of powerful symbols that correspond to complex structures in the mind (conscious, sub-, un-, and probably super-), and can be used to make connections or better yet reveal hidden connections between emotions, ideas, and events. So my basic understanding of the tarot is that it is deeply psychological, but psychological nonetheless.

I’m kind of a purist as far as decks go. I’ve looked around at some of the alternatives, and I am generally not impressed. For most decks, I don’t even think the art is all that good, and I definitely would be hesitant to even bother with divination with any deck but Rider-Waite. On the other hand, I realize that my prejudice is purely a matter of personal aesthetics, snobbery, and a persistent nigh-insuppressible orthodoxy reflex. Which means I don’t think you’re an idiot for using a different deck, but I’m going to pretty much stick with the one I’ve got. Although I need a new box or bag for my cards, because the one they came in is rapidly disintegrating, since I habitually take my cards with me, stashed in a pocket of my backpack or rucksack.

Personally, I have grown to identify strongly with the Knight of Cups, and I am considering eventually getting a full-sized tattoo of the card, probably on an upper arm or back shoulder. I imagine at that size and in full color it’s not going to be cheap, so I will probably wait until at least next summer when I have a job and a steady income. Anyway, the Knight of Cups is the consummate questing knight, the grail-knight, on a journey of discovery that is a journey into the depths of the subconscious. Cups have a lot of water-symbolism, and water is an element of mystery and the subconscious. It’s also a strongly female element, particularly when associated with cups or the grail. So there are aspects to the quest and the quest’s object that are associated with the divine feminine, the deep places of the soul, and the mysteries of the unconscious mind, all of which are intensely relevant to me. It’s also the card that I used as a significator—purely because of the color of my hair and the instructions in the little pamphlet that comes with the Rider-Waite cards—way back in high school when I first started to become familiar with the tarot.

I plan on spending a lot more time and effort with the tarot. I’d like to have a deep understanding of all of the cards, even the tricky ones that elude me, and I would like to start moving past individual cards and out into the relationships between them. It’s exciting and compelling stuff for me. And also, it is just plain fun.

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Or, other ways of explaining the experiences I have had…

So, having personally experienced the presence of two separate divine figures–Dionysus and Aphrodite–I immediately assumed that the next step was Hellenistic Reconstructionist Polytheism.  Simply put, it didn’t work.  I have an intuition about where to go from here, but I am still assuming some kind of variation of ful polytheism, that (probably, I guess, more-or-less) multiple distinct gods exist and can interact with human beings.  But that is not the only possible explanation–there are others.

Before Aphrodite came on the scene, I realized that in many ways the story of Dionysus has stong parallels to the story of Jesus.  I recognized the possibility that I was getting at Jesus through Dionysus somehow, that Dionysus was a pagan step on the path to Jesus Christ.  This would definitely be consistent with C. S. Lewis’s assertion that you have to learn to be a good pagan before you can learn to be a good Christian.  Even with Aphrodite in the mix, this isn’t out of the question–Aphrodite, a divine female figure, could easily be a shadow of Mary or of the Mormon Heavenly Mother.  I’m not sure what to make of all of this, though.  My intuition says that my experiences with Aphrodite have been too… much like Aphrodite, too sexual and too warlike, to seem like a plausible aspect of a Christian divine female.  In any case, I think that if my paganism is a step on the road to ultimate conversion to Christianity, it’s more of a wait-and-see thing than a suddenly-realize-it-was-Jesus thing.  I’m not closed ot the possibility that I’m really talking about Jesus after all, but I’m also not really convinced.

Another thing I am acutely aware of is the fact that I really haven’t strongly experienced the reality of more than two deities–Dionysus and Aphrodite.  I could certainly be dealing with a male/female dualism, which is a hallmark of Wicca’s fertility religion, and probably some other variations of paganism aswell.  Even to the extent that I have intuition about other deities–Hera, Zeus, and Odin–I might simply be talking about various masks or manifestations of an ultimare divine male principle and an ultimate divine female principle.  I am also open to this interpretation.  Although my immediate reaction is to reject it, I realize that the rejection might be a knee-jerk product of my long-standing prejudice against Wicca and my age-old belief (really a product of Mormonism) that only Reconstructionist paganism–marked by decidedly hard polytheism–is valid and legitimate.  And furthermore, I don’t necessarily believe in magic (hmm… future post?  you can count on it), or feel any desire to practice any kind of magic as a part of my spiritual life.

At the moment, those seem like the most significant and plausible alternate hypotheses.  On the other hand, my spiritual life is still growing and developing in its infancy, and so whether my hard/soft polytheism or one of these alternates hapens to be true may not ultimately wind up mattering.  For now I am going to act the same way towards the gods regadless of what they really are and how they relate to each other.  Most important to me right now in terms of my spiritual development is how I experience them and how they relate to me.

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