Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Fell?

This is one story about how the universe was born.

There is a school of thought in Qabalistic circles that the Tree of Life originally had just four sepira. It was perfect. Nothing moved. Nothing breathed. Nothing died. Nothing loved.

And that was just too unbearable. So we cracked it open, dropped the bottom out of the whole shebang and came up with the universe. All sorts of things happening now.

What was the sound of the Tree falling at the beginning of time? It was the sound of a billion billion particles of light bursting out of a singular point of possibility. Duh.

We call the stuff that fell furthest “matter” and some people believe that's all that's left of the Big Bang. These materialists can't tell you why the Big Bang happened nor anything about what happened right before, but they will think you are awfully silly if you think there's more to the universe than this far-flung stuff.

Other people believe that this far-flung stuff is eeeevil. Flesh is evil, sex is evil, eating is evil. They call the distance we've fallen a sin and work to flee towards the center by leaving all this shit behind.

But every bit of stuff, no matter where it landed, was once part of perfection. So what really fell? G*d (whatever that is.) We did this. We the people, and the animals, the plants, the minerals. Thoughts had a hand as did hunger, beauty and sorrow.

The story goes that the journey back to the perfect source is actually amazing. We can't always tell because we're too caught up in it. And it's not really a journey back because we are what we came from and by journeying we are changed. But whatever...

The stuff that fell furthest is the stuff that has the longest journey. It's the stuff that believed in the plan the most, leaped off the cliff with the greatest trust and the biggest YEEHAW! Let's get this incarnation party started! They say that's why Malkuth, the lowliest sepira, the kingdom of Earth, looks up at Kether, the Crown, and blows kisses.

That's the story, anyway.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Let's Start Downstairs in the Afterlife

If you're ever in San Jose, California, check out the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium.

My friend and I had gone down to see another friend in a stage production of Clockwork Orange where Alex and the gang are women. Total horrorshow! Who wouldn't want to see that! But we got our times mixed up and ended up getting to the theater about seven hours early. Fortunately, the Rosicrucian Museum was just across the street and rather than lament the missed play, we decided to enjoy the museum.

The museum has replicas of all sorts of ancient artifacts from statues of Bast, to perfume jars, to a full scale Rosetta stone*. It even has a passageway built like a tomb. And for a small museum, the bookstore was great. There was a Bast statue that would look fetching on the Altar of Strife, a large selection of Egyptian themed refrigerator magnets, and an extensive collection of books written by members of the Rosicrucian order such as "Rosicrucian Principles for Home and Business," by H. Spencer Lewis and "Great Women Initiates, or the Feminine Mysteries," by Helene Bernard.

And did you know that rich Egyptians used to insure they'd get out of working in the afterlife by placing “shabtis” or “Answerers” in their tombs. This figures were expected to volunteer for duty if any gods came recruiting for hard labor. I want my own answerer.

*(One of the heartwarming moments of the day was when a young girl of about eight or nine stopped dead in her tracks upon spying this. Her jaw dropped and she whispered, “The Rosetta Stone.” That's what we need to be teaching our children, not how to get out of doing anything useful in the next life.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Real Alchemy

This is for you, this is just for you.

I'm getting too heady and theoretical. I need to bring this whole subject back into the real world. So I'm going to focus for a moment on something that may seem at first to have little to do with whatever you've read before about Alchemy. But this has everything to do with Alchemy. It's Alchemy taken out of the laboratory and done right here and now, every minute.

Depression is unlike anything else. It is its own thing. And we don't have much in the way of language to talk about depression. This makes depression even more isolating. It's impossible to tell someone your experience when they've only ever been sad. So to understand what depression can be like, we have to liken it to other things.

Depression is, in some ways, like diabetes. If a diabetic's blood sugar gets too low, all sorts of bad things, including death, can happen. Diabetics have to learn how to avoid doing things that will bring their blood sugar down too low. They have to eat well, test their blood levels regularly, measure their insulin accurately, and understand what might make their blood sugar levels irregular (like coming down with a cold or being under a lot of stress at work.)

People who are prone to depression–either those who are in a major depression or those, like me, who deal with the continual state of dysthymia–will find that lots of outside things will bring on depressed symptoms. Eating the wrong food, seeing the wrong movie, failing, succeeding, falling in love, getting in an argument, can bring on depression just like too much insulin can bring on low blood sugar.

Depression, like a diabetic low blood sugar, can be fatal. Depression is a delusional state (whether it's any more delusional than happiness is another matter.) When our sense of well-being drops too low, we become delusional and capable of really hurting, even killing ourselves. Just like a diabetic with low blood sugar may struggle against eating, a depressed person will struggle against whatever might help them out of that state. It's really, really important to remember this when you're severely depressed. Just like a diabetic must just eat something, a depressed person must just do what they've learned will help.

Eat blueberries. Get some exercise. Look at uplifting images. Listen to happy music. Make these responses to depression a medical treatment; think of these activities as tools. They are not the end in themselves. They are the way. Doing them will physically change how your brain is working. You can calm your amygdala and invigorate your basal ganglia by doing certain simple things.

You will have different things that lift your well-being. When you are less depressed, look for these things. Collect them. When you get depressed, do these things, even if you feel they can't possibly work this time. (That feeling is part of the delusion. Simply deciding to do something and following though will be enough to get some wiggle room.)

Like a diabetic must learn what drops their blood sugars, you must learn what drops your well-being. Well-being is a feeling of aliveness, of optimism. It is the sense that we can plan for a future we desire and take steps that move us toward that future. We experience ourselves as beings who can affect change in our lives and in the world. We sense our deep connection to other living things.

When we are not feeling this, something is dropping our well-being. It's okay to arrange your life to include enough good stuff to keep your well-being up. It's okay to exclude those things that drop your well-being. It's more than okay. It's what you need to do to live.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Great! Great! Great!

People sometimes talk of the Old Gods as if they went away when Christianity came along. Some did. I imagine them going to other planets or planes of existence and starting new cults where their followers run through the countryside kicking over the current resident's shrines and terrorizing the populace into loving one another. Some gods took a vacation, only coming back in the last century when things had calmed down a bit and their followers weren't getting cremated every five minutes. Some stuck around and got new jobs.

Hermes has always traipsed through history and the advent of Christianity didn't even slow him down. He is master at putting on thin disguises that never quite cover him completely but somehow manage to conceal him long enough that he can slip by without alerting the authorities. In Ancient Egypt, he wore a monkey suit to play cards with the the Moon, winning just enough days in the year so that Nut could give birth to the new pantheon. In Ancient Greece he dressed up as a baby to steal cows. In more recent centuries, he's been seen dressed as a centurion delivering express mail. (Seriously, a centurion delivering the mail. That's funny!) He's been Thoth, Hermes, Saint Expedite. And whatever role he's played, he's always been something more. He's neither Oz nor the man behind the curtain. He's not even the wind that blew everyone off course. He is that which takes advantage of the wind, of deception, of whatever he finds.

And that leads us to his role in Alchemy. In Alchemy, he is Hermes Trismegistus, otherwise known as a fraudulent scholar who wrote a book pretending to contain ancient wisdom. While other gods were getting their temples destroyed, Hermes proclaimed himself Three Times Great! and got himself a book contract. It takes a special kind of genius to flourish as Hermes has done.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

What’s a carbuncle

To paraphrase Wittgenstein, “carbuncle” is a funny word. It sounds like a coconut dropped down a stairwell. It bounces from the ah!-I’ve just dropped my coconut!-to a deep, hard “unk”-Oh, that’s a chunk of wall I’ll need to replace!- to the final, horrifying yet comical “ul”. Better call 911. That last bounce took out the building's super.

But unlike coconuts, carbuncles themselves are rarely funny. They are either beautiful or painful. You see, "carbuncle" has collected a pair of the most mismatched definitions ever. A carbuncle can either be a beautiful gem, such as a ruby, or a skin wound that oozes pus.

A carbuncle is something that can be beautiful and priceless beyond measure, coveted and killed for. Or it can be that painful thing which makes others reel back is disgust. We all have our own carbuncle, and at times it can be difficult to see the ruby in the boil because it's not just a matter of perspective. When the carbuncle hurts, it is not a ruby. We can't turn it into a ruby just by knowing it could become one. We have to work to make it a ruby. And that's hard to do when you're in pain and don't really believe carbuncles can be rubies.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

First Matters

Dogs fighting to the death in laboratory beakers. Green, drooling lions swallowing the Sun. A peacock standing on a two-headed hermaphrodite.

In the Western Mystery Traditions, Alchemy is just plain weird. Sure it’s got dead women having sex with giant snakes, but can Alchemy really speak to modern people?

Of all of the various practices and philosophies that make up the spiritual apparatus in the West, from Qabalah and Christian Mysticism to Wicca and the various Reconstructivist movements, Alchemy gives us a process, a practical guide to the direct experience of the universal reality underpinning all mysteries. It is the Western version of Tantra, Taoism and Ayerveda. And it just may involve having sex with giant snakes.

You never know.