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Letters from Luna: Meaning as Quintessence

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installment of Letters from Luna.

by Rohini Walker

What does meaning mean to you?

As I write this, I observe the various objects on my desk and environs. Things that I have chosen and placed around me for more than their externality; things  that, when touched or looked at, evoke a certain feeling or memory, called forth from within the object I am wordlessly communing with.

Here’s an incomplete inventory: a small jade figurine of a rotund, laughing Buddha that my parents brought back for me as a souvenir from Bali, sits sentry-like in front of a picture of my niece, Ila, taken not long after she was born last year; a smoothly sculpted piece of Utah quartz – a gift from a friend – and a lump of pyrite from a visit to the local swap meet. There’s a sepia photo of myself as a toddler which sits on the window ledge, and a postcard of Dos Mujeres, a painting by Frida Kahlo, that my sister sent to me from an exhibition she went to. Also, a small and brazen succulent gifted to me by Doc that receives the water from my nearby altar when I refresh it; and a palm-fitting, round, hand-hewn ceramic dish containing a looped clay snake – another gift from a friend.

Out the window, vast desert and mountains and sky. When I first came here, I was running away from a life that had become empty of meaning for me. I didn’t know that meaning was what I was looking for until I came here. Then, everything teemed with it, hidden and vividly present, and I began to walk with bare feet on hot crystals of earth towards remembering what I had been running away from for lifetimes.  

When we first moved here, onto this land, we killed a rattlesnake.

The meaning of this desert had called us, but we were not yet fully immersed in it. Still shedding the meaningless mindset of an objectified, external reality, we capitulated to its culture of corrosive fear that whispers comfortingly of safety and survival but which serves the stakeholders of domination and alienation.

The snake, as mythical creatures do, pervaded the lunar terrain of my dreams, and the secret words I wrote. She spoke through me and I knew myself as her. As meaninglessness began to unravel, we, in our own ways, saw what we had done. I trudged through swamps of shame, remorse, and grief arriving eventually at the shores of understanding; a recognition that the snake had given her life so that some scales may fall from my eyes. Understanding that, even though I consciously prescribed to none of the dividing and conquering tenets and agendas of a Christianity demystified and demeaned by patriarchy, its falsehoods had seeped into the deep soil of my unconscious; in this instance, polluting it with the toxic fertilizer of demonizing Earth’s most potent emissary of wisdom and transformation.

I saw how my psyche had been colonized into forgetting our shared indigenous wisdom of reciprocity and interconnectedness, and had in turn become colonizer.


Those dreams of flying,
make a serpent out of me,
seeking out truths
veiled in plain and milky

The tyrant king is dying,
writes the ibis-faced scribe;
put to earth all that feels false,
She will inhale and exhale
through roots and leaves
the Aeon of truth
hidden in grains of sand.

– RW

Art by Rithika Merchant

The Greek roots of the word “python” speak of “the serpent slayed by Apollo near Delphi”, pointing also to Delphi, whose old name was Pytho. At the Temple of Apollo in Delphi presided the Oracle, Pythia. Before entering her presence, the seeker was met with the words “Know Thyself”, the first Delphic maxim, inscribed over the entrance to the temple’s inner portico.

As I look out the window, in the foreground of vast desert vistas, I can see the old creosote bush under which the serpent was slain. She had been perfectly still, sensing her end and allowing it; the reactive, mindless nodes of a force-fed legacy of fear, demeaning her and us.

In the elegant, multi-layered system of the Tree of Life, a core part of the illuminating and mystical Qabbalah, there is an inverse aspect to the Tree, the other side of it, where the terrifying energies of empty, mindless destruction, severed from creation and meaning reside. A sort of hell, if you will.

This aspect is called the Qliphoth – from the archaic Hebrew, meaning “shell” or “husk” or “peel”. It is, to quote the demon Asmodeus from Book 2 of Alan Moore’s magnificent Promethea series,

“what remains once the sacred energy in things has departed. The sacred energy is meaning. When the meaning in a thing moves on, that thing becomes a husk. Beauty without meaning becomes hollow pride. Stern judgment, without the judgment becomes empty rage. Becomes a husk. A shell. A Qlippoth Becomes me.”

It would not be a stretch to say that the our current exoteric reality of dividing and conquering, where the ‘civilized’ human literally strives for “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth”,* is a system of demeaning, of demonizing the perceived ‘otherness’ of the world and of the parts of ourselves that we reject.

*Genesis, 1:26

It would not be a stretch to say that this is what inner and outer colonization is founded upon.

The Second World War and the detonation of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima are but two examples of countless world events in the relatively recent past that show what happens when we forget and demean what the world is, what we are. They are instances of the Qliphoth, of demeaning, in practice.

In Moore’s work, Promethea and her companion, Barbara are able to walk out of this hell realm unharmed, alive and richer with wisdom despite their fear and terror at meeting the demon Asmodeus, ruler of the Qliphoth. They do this not by fighting him in battle and gaining dominion over his kingdom. Instead – they relate  to him. By doing this, they bestow upon him the inherence of meaning present in everything, even in a husk. He still remains the demon Asmodeus, archetype of mindless, hellish destruction – but another part of him is also brought to light and reflected back to him: the fundament of him being a meaningful entity. And this is where the locus of transformation lies.

This is the alchemical quintessence. The rendering of base metal into gold.

Indigenous traditions across the planet relate to the world, to each other and to themselves in this way: subjectifying the world, instead of objectifying it. This is our shared indigenous soul wisdom, and the wisdom of the Anima Mundi, the World Soul.

The wonderful Ursula Le Guin put it this way:

“Relationship among all things appears to be complex and reciprocal — always at least two-way, back-and-forth. It seems that nothing is single in this universe, and nothing goes one way. 

In this view, we humans appear as particularly lively, intense, aware nodes of relation in an infinite network of connections, simple or complicated, direct or hidden, strong or delicate, temporary or very long-lasting. A web of connections, infinite but locally fragile, with and among everything — all beings — including what we generally class as things, objects.”

Pre-verbal infants also recognize this immanence in all phenomena, before being colonized by the demeaning demagogues of ownership and objectification. The Quechua people of Peru have language speaking to this subject-subject experience of the world – Ayni; the Shipibo too, call it Akinananti. Our closest English definitions would be “interconnectedness” or “reciprocity”- but really our words do not plumb the depths of the lived experience of Ayni and Akinananti as dynamic states of being in the world.

And, as extensively documented by Joseph Campbell in his “monomyth” principle, the manifold myths and stories from diverse cultures and traditions from around the world contain layers of meaning which have at their root a common origin point, a shared quintessence. All that we are, all that the world is, is also that; myth replete with symbol and meaning, the cosmos in an atom.

Ecdysis is the name given to the process of a snake shedding her skin. Her eyes turn cloudy or milky as the old scales fall away, and a new sheath of meaning emerges. It is not a comfortable process, this shedding- it requires the courage of dying to the safety of the familiar; of allowing our eyes to go cloudy to a reality that denies our shared quintessence.

And so too with mining new meaning about what we believe ourselves and the world to be – more vast and mysterious than we allow ourselves to feel into existence.

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