Books I love

The Orobouros and the Alt Right

I had been reading in Julius Evola’s book, the  Hermetic Tradition, about the Alchemical image of the Orobouros—the snake biting it’s own tail.  I first tried to tackle this ponderous work some 20 years ago, after I saw that Carl Jung cited it as source material for his classic book, Psychology and Alchemy.  I again returned to it recently when I’d heard that the alt right was greatly influenced by Evola’s dark, cyclical view of history, as well as his particular brand of arcane, spiritual racism.
I then saw an article by Maureen Dowd, who compared Donald Trump to the Orobouros.  I took this synchronicity as sign I should further meditate on this ancient image of western esotericism as a way to gain a more holistic view of a dangerously polarized political landscape which loomed beyond the hermetically sealed world of the dogfish Bay Marina.
Dowd writes of 45’s isolation by an inner circle who shelter him against the verities of the exterior world, parrot his mad ejaculations, and compound his delusional paranoia.  She evokes the Orobouros to point out his self -destructive qualities.
This mandala has long been contemplated by spiritual adepts who sought awakening to ultimate truth of Unity.  Evola says it represents not so much a philosophical concept as much as a state beyond the dichotomies of I and not-I, inside and outside.  According to the literature, the full realization of this state is the “first matter of the wise.”
In the tradition, this unitary awareness is the beginning of the great work.  But in Evola’s dark, elitist, and apocalyptic elaboration, this work is a cyclic process that, after ages of decline brought about by egalitarianism, multi-culturalism, and democratic “leveling,” heralds the triumphant return of the golden age.  He views history as a cycle of degeneration and regeneration which turns in a series toward its ultimate realization in the re-establishment of a hyper-masculine, solar king which dawns only after violent revolution upsets the status quo.  The losers swept up in this upheaval are expendable, and quaint notions like charity, love, and compassion are jettisoned for the profits of a corporate elite.  Evola may have attained some degree of genuine insight into the spiritual truth expressed by the Orobouros, as well as to how that essential unity is not obstructed by its infinite manifestations (dharmas) in the field of space and time.  Evola studied the Pali cannon of the Hinayana (lesser vehicle) Buddhism, which focuses on self liberation from the cycles of existence (Samsara.)  In contrast, the Mahayana (greater vehicle) stressed the cultivation of loving kindness as not only ethical, but the means by which we awaken to the ultimate truth of essential unity even while working to aleviate suffering in the relative world of Samsara.
  As long as we have not realized that the mode of being of our mind resides in the union of relative truth and absolute truth—a realization that corresponds to awakening—these two truths are seen as separate instead of being seen in their original unity.
Bokar Rimpoche
From the viewpoint of ultimate truth, the dichotomy between positive and negative lacks reality, but from the perspective of relative truth, the karmic results of negative actions are inevitable.  The cultivation of loving kindness is essential until ultimate truth is realized.
  This fundamental split between the two understandings of the unitary state—symbolized by the Orobouros– is reflected in the polarized debates surrounding health care and immigration. Republicans seem to champion only the needs of those inside the adamant circumference of racial and economic privilege.
  One of the strangest aspects of our rancorous, political debate is how these venerable teachings are spun by intellectuals of the alt right; and how Evola’s  brand of spiritual fascism provides ideological cover for the rise of global fascism.
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Heart of Darkness

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Of Time and the River

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The Morning Pages and the Secret Sharer’s Hat

I’ve been going over my morning pages from 2012.  The morning pages were introduced by Julie Cameron in The Artist’s Way.  Basically, you write 3 pages first thing every morning whether you feel like it or not and, after a period of time, read and annotate them with an eye toward finding  inspired or meaningful passages.  My own pages can be, by turns, inspiring, embarrassing or downright boring with my ponderous, self-centered trip.
I see I had been reading–in 2012–Joseph Conrad’s enigmatic meditation on identity and the  shifting vicissitudes of fate: The Secret Sharer.  This story tells of the narrator’s first command, and a pivotal event that marked his passage from dissolute wastrel to respectable sea captain.  He had hidden a stowaway–his mirror image, a troublesome aspect of his impulsive youth–which he must leave ashore in order to “get on” with the responsibilities his new station demands.  In the magnificent climax, the captain risks his career by sailing close to a Java cape  to jettison his double.  His ship is nearly “caught in stays” and wrecked beneath the sheer headland that looms over his limp head-sails “like the dark gates of Erebus.”  As a final gesture of compassion, the captain gives his hat to protect his “other self” from the fierce, tropic sun.  It is this hat–lost during the fugitive’s swim to shore–that provides the only visible waypoint on the dark sea; by it he accomplishes the delicate maneuver of bringing his vessel’s bow across the flukey breezes and pointed toward the the safety of deep water.
The captain’s twin is “now gone from the ship, to be hidden forever from all friendly faces, to be a fugitive and vagabond on the earth.”
The morning pages are like the Secret Sharer’s hat.  They provide a clear–albeit shifting–waypoint whereby we can weather hazardous shoals and see the secret workings that shape our lives into a meaningful pattern.  In these page’s sleepy scrawl we see our life’s dominant theme, descry our personal myth, and have the opportunity to show compassion for the errant soul who blathers on and on about the cruel hand of fate.

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An account of the In-Between

How I came to follow the mystic path of Sufism demands an allusive prose that, I hope, remains faithful to the spirit of initiatory Gnosis at the heartfelt core of all faiths.

Some 20 years ago I come across the book, Alone with the Alone, creative imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi by Henry Corbin.  At first, this convoluted explication of a particularly arcane branch of Islamic Sufism was way over my head.  Yet this book-and a powerful dream that was inspired by my first encounter with it-has since established a steady waypoint by which my spiritual life has been oriented.  It has opened vistas onto a world of  secret symbols whose meaning continue to elude, perplex and inspire me.

There is a realm, Corbin says, that lies between sense perception and the rarified sphere of pure spiritual essence.  This is where divine revelation takes place.  Those whose inner vision opens into the intermediate world (alam-al- mithal) are given the insight that liberates from the rigid strictures of dogma.  This perception–whose channel is the active imagination–requires we forsake the learned myopia of scientific materialists who accord “reality” only to those objects of sense, reason and measurable data.

In the dream, I was flying through black space, turning with outstretched arms and singing the Basmallah: Bism’allah er Rahman er Raheem [we begin in the name of the One who is all Mercy and Compassion.]  I’d learned this beautiful verse–which opens each sura of the Koran–some 20 years earlier at a gathering of the Dances of Universal Peace.  It had only returned to me again in this dream.
All was still dark when I felt myself land on solid, dream ground.  I heard a voice-over wryly proclaim: “it’s amazing what you can do with special effects” –I am heartened to know that spirits in the Sufi bardo maintain a sense of humor.
I was still turning and singing the Basmalah when I opened my eyes to find I was in the center of a large circle of men, women and children.  The men were bearded and wore turbans with long robes.  As it seemed presumptuous to occupy the center, I joined the others on the circumference of the circle.
A lively chant was taken up and I was led into a mad dance, side-steping 3 paces to thee right and shouting the word, “Kupt, Kupt, Kupt.”  We then took 3 steps toward the center singing: “Pisht, pisht, pisht.”  All were caught up in the ecstatic spirit of the dance.   It was an unaccompanied, non-melodic chant that filled the place with electric energy.  Children laughed as they were swept along in the frenzied tempo.  My dream body was being wrenched by my zealous neighbor whose left arm tightly held my neck.  Overcome, I retired outside of the circle and woke with a sudden “pop.”  My dream bubble had suddenly burst.
After long pondering the two, obscure words–those cyphers whose import I had only dimly glimpsed all those years ago–it is always to the original, immediate apprehension of their sense that I return.
In a Turkish\English dictionary I found the word Kupt, which means vault of Heaven, [shouting loud enough to bring down the heavens.]  The only definition for pisht I discovered was: an area marked on the ground for some sport or dance.
After long contemplation, I can only allude to the true sense of these words by images and feelings that relate to  our capacity for theopathy–to know God in a form that corresponds with our innermost being.  It is a timelss dance of ritual remembrance, an act of co-compassion between center and circumference, and a moving rite of worship that establishes a sympathetic bond between God and man.

I will return to this theme next post.  This brief account can hardly begin to plumb the depths of theophanic mystery.  I claim no special ability to navigate the intermediate world.  I believe all, if we really pay attention, have the ability for angelic perception; all have the capacity for revelatory experience.

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Morganatic-from Seamarks

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The Sea came to us–from Seamarks

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The Stone Steps of the Drama-from Seamarks

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Thus spoke the Man of the Sea

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The Secret Purpose–Seamarks continued

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