We piled in the skiff and I rowed toward a dilapidated pierhead while McWhirr continued his narration.
“My grandfather also told a darker tale. He said the streets of old Batavia were paved with sorrow, the walls built with the grief of mothers who toiled over an illusory harvest, it’s ramparts manned by desiccated souls who invested all their goods in the virtual fun-house of Mammon.“
Rubio brought us to the crumbling, neo-classical facade and we passed through the weathered teak door into the club. While McWhirr ordered a couple pints I looked around. A Strawberry Alarm clock tribute band blasted onstage.
Soon McWhirr came with the drinks and said: “Here’s to the Queen.”
I picked up a battered book lying on the table and read:
–And it came to pass that a great swarm of splog descended upon the land and the
soundcloud was darkened with idle slander and empty promises of sensual delights. Worshippers of the true faith were subjected to the false blandishments of priests and the perfidious purveyors of illusory commerce. And the once mighty creatives of the realm looked upon their followers and found naught of artistic merit and grew heavy in spirit, seeing therein ought but Jezebelian allurements by comely maids in unseemly attitudes of licentious repose–
“Ya really read that BS? “
Asked his mate in a voice that sounded hollow and grating-like 50 fathoms of hause-fouled chain.
I’d heard of the splog pirates, but thought them mere paranoid tales by rummy tars around the fo’c’sle stove. And now here they were, as big as life, waylaying the earnest efforts of my myself and my literary colleagues like the nefarious ship wreckers luring unwary vessels with false
lights on the storm-wracked coast of Cornwall.
I continued reading:
-The once proud sites of the righteous became barren wastes of vacuous splogs and brazen images of bouncing titties–
“Maybe there is something to it after all,” says McWhirr.
“Aye, Captain. And look what we have now in this rank grog-shop of the internet-a foul lot of brazen cut-throats who’d just as soon steal your traffic as say how-do-ye-do.”
One such galoot, a skanky brigand with a striped shirt and cutlass, approached the bar next to McWhirr with the slithery movement of a wolf eel saying:
“Eh mates, stand us a pint.”
I hastened to intervene.
“My good sir, may I introduce Saturnius Machirr?”
At this, the miscreant grew pale as an albino beluga and withdrew with an obsequeous bow.
“Most honored to meet you.”
The bewitching breezes that had vexed our northerly course along the bleak, rocky coast gaveway to an absolute calm as we steamed into Sunda Kelepa Harbour and brought up under the ornate, lofty spires of Jakarta. It was as though the anchorage were under the spell of somevengeful deity that held the stagnant seaport in irons– a fitful sleep of waking dream.I gazed up at Jakarta’s towers and heard, high on the ramparts, Rama’s gong-struck plea to deliver a flute-weeping Sita from Ranga’s jangling curse. A sword held against a blood-red sky by masked Barong tragediennes brought down the threadbare, red curtain in the ritual re- enactment of the primal leave-taking and arrival; when carved gods glared from the bowsprit, holding vigilant watch against marauders while we were moored off the savage isle of dreams. I too, have sat hungry around those ancestral fires, a villan, hero or common swab, subject to the changeable turns of karmic law..
.“Skip lively, Mister Spencer.”
The resonant voice was hoarse, as if weathered by eternal watches on the Greenland ice, or worn ragged from hurling oaths into the teeth of a gail. I flaked out 5 fathoms of chain from the locker with hamfisted elegance.
“Nicely done, lad. Ye’ll be a sailor before long.”
McWhirr is a pain in the ass sometimes. He’s a relic of working sail and can be as dark as Ahab in rehab on a bad hair day. He stood stark against the red sky like a weathered piling on a rocky cape. Light flickered through the dark shrouds, his shadow looming on the limp stays’l behind him, as if projected on a movie screen. The harrowing passage through the Sunda Strait had frayed my nerves and I groped clumsily the 3/8ths chain from the locker.
“All right, Mister Spencer.”
I let go the anchor. There sounded a low rumble as I paid out 3 fathoms of chain into the muddybottom of Sunda Kelapa Harbour.
“Have you paid out enough scope, lad?”
“I cast the anchor in 6 fath…” I said.
“Avast, Ya greenhorn! You don’t “cast” anchors. This isn’t fly-fishing! My gorge rises at suchlubberly misuse of sailing language.”
His wrath, like a line-squall, subsided as rapidly as it came.
“Did you know that to raise an anchor you must first let it go?”
“That’s true, sir.”
He always makes these pithy pronouncements like they were scripture. And, for McWhirr the act of sailing is a religious rite. He hails from Zoroastrian, Quaker stock and, for him, a ship is a vessel to carry his weary spirit ascending through the 7 concentric spheres of corporeality to the final landfall of essential being. He has seen the beatific vision reflected on the sea’s mirror and it draws him ever northward in search of the true face of divinity behind the mask of appearance.
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.