“If you speak on the mythological level, you may speak of what the Divine is like because myth is not a falsehood as one uses the word in a sophisticated way. A myth is an image, a concrete image in terms of which man makes sense of the world.”
– Alan Watts
Doc and I have been living in the southern Californian region of the Mojave Desert for almost six years now. We came here from England for the first time, at the beginning of an extended tour of the States, two summers prior to our full time desert resettlement.
A couple of restless souls, searching.
By the time we journeyed back across the Atlantic, our souls had temporarily, gleefully, absconded, deciding to remain in the desert, while we were summarily dispatched back to London to see to the urgent business of relocation. Had we failed in our mission, it would have been gruesome: they would surely have refused to return. But the Moirai, those great, wild Fate-goddesses, had already made it so.
At sunrise one early October morning, we arrived at the gates of our new home in the desert wilds. Wide-eyed at the endless expanse of horizon and sky, and the liminal light gradually illuminating everything as the sun rose over the mountains, just for us. Here was land that was ours to tend to, seemingly barren and rocky like the surface of the moon, yet upon closer inspection, replete with wildlife and vegetation: cottontail bunnies and jackrabbits; roadrunners and birds – so many! The dawn birdsong was deafening. Coyotes yipped and howled, invisible and ever-present, like the snakes. A pomegranate tree, fig trees, the lush canopy of a Mesquite tree by the front door of our house; mature, fragrant rosemary, cacti and agave in abundance. And plenty of open, virgin desert peppered with ancient creosote bushes overlooking the valley of the old dried lake-bed which, millennia ago, contained water. Beyond, mountain ranges presided, the curves and contours of their peaks seemingly shifting with the shadows cast by clouds.
As I write now, I look out over this vista, marveling at the audacity with which I gaze upon this tremendous face of Nature – the Divine, if I may be so brazen as to use that word – everyday. It is no small feat. To call it beautiful in the ordinary sense would be trite. The consort of true, unapologetic Beauty such as this is Terror: Aphrodite and her lifelong union with Aries, the god of war.
And this terrifying Beauty shakes and rumbles rotten foundations to the core so that one may finally, and without distraction, begin to know oneself. This transcendent archetype of Beauty cannot abide the stagnant complacency of the human out of touch with their Truth.
She demands that we listen and pay attention if we are to remember the indigenous wisdom of our souls, before the trauma of our collective colonization, when, as saplings, we were forced to forget the truth of our shared heritage; before we were taught to dominate, repress and destroy this still, small voice of knowing within. A voice as old as earth and sky. And as part of the ancient Hermetic dictum goes: ‘As within, so without.’
The war within rages without.
To continue to repress the increasingly audible echoes of that innate knowing, here in the wilderness, face to face with the visible Beauty of its transmundane source, is true heresy. And so we are confronted with Terror.
The etymology the word ‘diabolo’, from the Greek ‘diaballein’ literally translates as ‘throw across’, also to be understood as ‘throw apart’: from ‘dia’ – ‘across’ or ‘through’; and ‘ballein’ – ‘to throw’, as in ‘ball’, ‘ballistics’. Terror, that diabolical sensation, lies in our being thrown across and apart from an original state of unity, of being separated from, or forgetting this indigenous wisdom of our souls.
The opposite of ‘diabolo’ then, is not God or Divine, although they are an implicit effect of what its polarity is. The opposite is ‘symbol’, or ‘symballein’, literally ‘that which is thrown or cast together’, from ‘syn’ – ‘together’, and ‘ballo’ from the aforementioned ‘ballein’. Symbols and their sensed, intuited meanings, and insight into truths confer unity.
Symbol, and its conjoined siblings, Metaphor and Art, dwell in our timeless, intuitive, unity-perceiving ‘feminine’ right-brains. This hemisphere connects most directly to our hearts. This hemisphere is the domain of the primordial Goddess, that dynamic consciousness that births the Divine Hermaphrodite: The Rebis, the product of the alchemical Great Work.
As humans, our truest essence is that of the Divine Hermaphrodite. We contain the repressed potential of our opposites. Our Great Work involves the reconciliation of our opposites, of uniting with the ‘otherness’ of ourselves.
The language of science, bureaucracy and commerce is an instrument of measuring, categorizing, dividing, quantifying and calculating; it is the perception of separation from our environment and each other; it creates the subject-object experience of scientific materialism – a ‘throwing apart’, in other words. It originates in our younger ‘masculine’ left-brains.
In order to live a sane, useful and authentic life, it would be safe to say that a balance between both hemispheres is necessary: this is a meaning of the symbol of the Divine Hermaphrodite, of the balance of polarities within every human being. And it is through the practice of invoking this balance that our hidden treasure, our unique soul, and her connection to the Anima Mundi, the World Soul, is revealed.
No prizes then, for guessing which side is throwing its weight around in our current pathology of imbalance and all its attendant ills.
What are we to deduce from this segue into obscure etymological excavations? Something radical, it would seem.
The antonymous meanings of ‘diabolic’ and ‘symbolic’ point to the felt sense of a fundamental paradox that is foundational to the human experience, the paradox that the symbol of the Divine Hermaphrodite points to.
My understanding of it is this: we are born into this world, literally thrown into it, and apart from the unified state of being in mother’s womb. We are thrown apart from our original, unified state of non-duality. This in itself is a symbol, a breadcrumb in the trail, a pointing to something of who we are and where we come from. This throwing apart is not a punishment doled out by a vengeful Father-God to teach humanity a lesson for Eve’s audacious desire for knowledge, thus condemning all her children – especially the females – as the ever-suffering inheritors of her ‘Original Sin’. It is not a punishment for the false notion of us being essentially wrong and bad and ‘fallen’.
It is not a punishment at all.
Instead, it is the ecstatic, primordial dance of the all-encompassing consciousness of non-duality, of Anima Mundi, sparked by the desire to know itself, which it does through duality. Eve’s wise curiosity was a blessing, not a curse. The word, Lila, from Hindu cosmology speaks to this: the play or dance of unified consciousness, through the duality of feminine and masculine, and all other dualities. Propelled by a desire to know itself, it gives birth to duality, to the entire cosmos and its eternal cycles of birth, death and rebirth.
It plays hide and seek with itself.
Symbols are the breadcrumbs it leaves for itself, so it is not forever lost in the play-dance of forgetting; so it is not forever thrown apart and can find its way home. Symbols are the pre-verbal, right-brained apprehension of meaning into something transcendent, into a remembering of ourselves. Symbols are non-linear, simultaneous, and sublimating. Indeed, that deeply false notion of being wrong and bad – sinful Eve and her damned human offspring – of being ‘thrown apart’ and forgetting what we are is also part of that play: the mythic journey of the departure from home, the quest of exhuming the hidden treasure of remembering and the triumphant return back to the world with it. This treasure is always the same, but the unique way that we share or express that into the world is our soul’s gift.
The instruction to ‘Know Thyself’ carved above the threshold to the ancient Temple of Apollo, before entering the presence of Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, referred to this journey of remembering.
Far from being sinful bags of skin then, we are thrown into this world as the sparks of embodied consciousness that we are; as mythic and brave heroines and heroes, here to discover the hidden treasure troves of symbols all around and within us. Symbols that will remind us of who we are. We come here with our unique soul signatures, drawn to and compelled by inexplicable forces that are impossible to categorize and box in.
These categorizing tendencies of the left-brain can be rendered less stifling and soul-destroying when we recognize that it’s just a way for this younger aspect of ourselves to make sense of the unknowable mystery that it senses it is fundamentally a part of. We can begin to look upon this simple-minded tendency of scientific materialism to reject all that cannot be measured and perceived by the physical senses, with the compassion of a mother coaxing her frightened young child into learning how to swim in the ocean. We can remember that this too is Lila. By bringing this playful, compassionate remembering of our ancient, indigenous soul-wisdom to ourselves and to a world colonized by fear, violence and division, we can be truly radical – and truly subvert the trance of forgetting.
If we can lean in towards opening up and listening with the heart’s ears, we discover that certain symbols speak to us. We find them in art, myth and stories, poetry, music, dance, lovemaking, in silence, in eating a delicious, nourishing meal.
And always, always in Nature.
These symbols are a remembering. They move something deep within us, and call on us to express them through our creative endeavors, through our relationships, including the one with ourselves. And as we start listening, participating and expressing, we begin to notice symbols everywhere. The world begins to speak to us in metaphors replete with meaning, and we discover that what we always suspected somewhere deep down is true: that we are poets, artists, creators. We have unique gifts seeded deep in our souls patiently waiting for us to discover them. They are given to us not to be dustily hoarded, feared or forgotten about. They are given to be shared, in order to reciprocate the world’s gifts and secrets, and to commune with that aspect of ourselves that is infinitely greater than the sum of our parts.
Through making a commitment to the practice of compassionately, curiously, and gently exploring within, and listening for the echoes of things we knew long ago, we begin to perceive the whole of existence as symbols and metaphors pointing to that source of all that is. This is the Art that is being called forth from us. And no one else can tell us how this practice ought to look, whether it should be painting or music, poetry, dance, spirituality or whatever it is that puts us in touch with that unknowable mystery within, that place where we discover our hidden cache of symbols.
Our guide is the sense of authentic, playful curiosity that is aroused within. If what and who we are looking at for guidance is feeding a desire to ‘fix’ ourselves somehow, leaving us feeling lopsided in our quest for balance, listen for that indigenous wisdom within. Chances are, it’s been there all along quietly telling us that this is not for us. It doesn’t shout, or behave like a bull in a china shop. It sends signals and symbols through our bodies, through Nature, through our dreams and intuitions, through synchronicities. It is upto us to practice learning how to open up, listen and feel.
There is no perfection here; only play.
This desert has been patiently teaching me how to feel. For the most part, I haven’t been much of an enthusiastic student. I am still shedding skins of past narratives that have deep roots, narratives that I have unconsciously inherited and that I had to accept as true in order to survive as a child in the world. And those narratives of trauma, of repressing, denying and destroying stuck, like a scratched old record on the turntable. These old, ancestral layers of skin do not shed easily. Sometimes, I have to pick and peel them off, and curiously peer at the raw, new skin underneath. Sometimes, doing this hurts. Emergence into ourselves can hurt but it is what Doc and I came to this desert for. Unbeknownst to us, of course.
To really lean into and feel what’s happening in our depths, what’s been sleeping, sometimes lurking there in our uncharted territories is uncomfortable and terrifying. And also beautiful. It is what’s being asked of us at this time. How else can we remember our authenticity, our own indigenous wisdom, and birth that out into the world?
After initiating a physical, mental and emotional breakdown, the desert is rebuilding me and showing me the vastness within, not only myself but all life. Except this time, instead of the habitual intellectual grasping or pushing away of the easily-distracted, never-satisfied, controlling demands and addictions of the simple-minded ego, there is a gentle, tentative opening up to the feeling-world all around and within. Friendly curiosity is the collaborator that’s needed for meaning to emerge from the feeling-realm of the symbolic. And it’s from this place that a beautiful, poetic subversion of this paradigm of war and strife can take place.
It’s dying anyway, this status quo.
Through connecting with the indigenous knowing of our souls, which has always been inextricably connected to that of this planet’s, we can at once be the death doulas for this fading cycle, and the birth doulas for what is waiting to emerge.
Since my descent into the underworld, or breakdown, in the sterile, disconnecting parlance of science, the desert has been teaching me about fractals; specifically, how to experience the world, and myself, as fractals. Before this underworld adventure, it would not have been possible. I would have been trying to apprehend fractals through a linear, intellectual understanding, which, by the very nature of fractals, is futile. Fortunately, those ways of seeing are being stripped away. Fractals cannot be experienced except through a gestalt, a spontaneous, non-linear knowing of the whole thing at once.
The buzzing and swarming of bees around the rosemary bushes in our yard are a fractal. The teeming communes of ants in the summer are fractals. The pomegranates hanging from the tree are fractals. The migratory flights of turkey vultures. The ancient creosote bushes releasing their sublime, earthy, aromatic oils into the air when it rains, filling nostrils and homes with their prehistoric scent are a fractal. The appearance of a venomous Green Mojave rattlesnake right by the rosemary bushes. Me, noticing her as I’m dragging the hose in that direction to water the bushes is a fractal.
All of these are complex systems that coalesce around a specific meaning, which is a signpost in the direction of something bigger, all encompassing. Scientific observation can reveal those meanings, up to a point. Learning to decipher those meanings through the intuitive language of symbols, of myth and metaphor allows for the emergence of something more vast, a truer meaning, towards which all of these fractals point.
Myth, replete with symbols, is a fractal. Our personal myths, which inform our own individual physical, mental and emotional complex systems, feed into society’s collective mythology, which then connects to something bigger. My ‘breakdown’ in the desert revealed that my own personal mythology, and what created and informed it, had built a network of beliefs entrenched in shame and self-annihilation. Ultimately, this was destroying the coherence of the complex system that I am, which in turn was cutting off my connection to the Anima Mundi, the animating world soul, mythologized in indigenous shamanic folklore as the World Tree; the ‘something bigger’, from which emerges all nature, myth, symbol and art, and all that is.
And this connection to the Anima Mundi is reciprocal and dynamic. If our personal and collective myths disconnect us from Her, if they remain static and unchanging when all around us the symbols are urgently speaking to us, asking us to remember our indigenous soul-wisdom, then we will perish, and so will She. It is upto us to undertake our own underworld journeys, to shine a light on our false, disconnecting myths, and transmute them into new ones; into a network of healthy connective tissue – symbols that unite us to the source of all meaning.
Doc and I were called here to the desert. Before the turgid tug of doubt and fear could take hold, our swift souls answered that call unquestioningly. It is only now, through experiencing the transcendence of Beauty and Terror, that we are beginning to understand why our souls brought us to this desert. Here, Doc and I have also intimately come to know the Beautiful and Terrible in ourselves, slowly practicing the alchemy of learning to remain present for both. If successful, the result is Temperance, or Art, as Aleister Crowley called it; the realm of Tiphareth or Beauty on the Quabalistic Tree of Life. The solar heart of consciousness reflected without obstruction by the cycles of the lunar unconscious, the two finally resolved and at play.
Catch up on previous missives from ‘Letters from Luna’, click here.