Category Archives: Inner journey

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

These are selected extracts from a longer article that appeared on September 21st 2017 on Rubedo Press – link can be found at the bottom of this page

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi

GARY P. CATON.

ANTHROPOLOGISTS suggest it was a “creative explosion” of primal art, such as cave paintings and figurines, which formally marks the transition to what we consider to be modern humans during the upper Paleolithic period. So, it is first our image- and later our symbol-making capacities which stand out as distinctively modern human adaptations and characteristics.

[…]In the 2010 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a researcher is interviewed confessing that the lions painted on the walls of Chauvet cave had invaded their dreams with such a powerful and profound presence that they had to stop going inside the caves in order to process the profound emotions stirred by the experience. This encounter truly exemplifies the raw primal psychic potentials capable of evocation through images.

The zodiac itself is a circular image, the word in Greek meaning “circle of animals.” While the zodiac as a formal coordinate system originated with the Babylonians around the seventh-century BCE, it has been hypothesized that the 17,000 year old paintings of animals in the Lascaux caves represent the constellations in what could be described as a kind of proto-zodiac. This proto-zodiac hypothesis is difficult to prove, however it is generally accepted that at the very least the cave paintings represent a form of “sympathetic magic,” wherein painting the animal becomes a kind of spiritual communion between the souls of the animal and the painter.

Evidence suggests that early modern humans existed in an undifferentiated state of consciousness and lived by a worldview which anthropologists call animism. For these people, there was no separation between the spiritual and material worlds, and so animals were naturally seen to have souls too. In fact, in an animistic consciousness, everything has a soul—including rivers, mountains, valleys and plants, minerals, etc. So, the ritual act of creating the image of an animal is practiced to enable the artist to invoke the sympathy of the animal’s soul—either to gain its sacrifice in the hunt or to take on some of its attributes and power.

Perhaps this sympathetic magic is also partly what was intended in the creation of the zodiac, and helps explain its continued popularity. After all, who has not occasionally wanted to roar like a lion in the face of life’s trials?It is one thing to wistfully wish for the presence of one’s inner lion, or even to accidentally stumble upon and arouse it, but it is quite another thing altogether for someone to consciously and deliberately summon such a presence.  Outside of a children’s story, many modern people might find the concept laughable. And yet, ironically, we can regularly see humans engaging in behaviors that make those of a wild lion seem almost tame.

Is it possible that suppression or repression of our more primordial urges has only fated us to become possessed by them, forcing them to reveal themselves to us in a more perverted form? […]

Philosopher Jean Gebser theorized that humanity has transitioned through several modes or structures of consciousness. The problem with what he calls the mental structure that humanity is transitioning away from is that it seeks to deny the other structures with its claim that humans should be exclusively rational. However the structure that we are transitioning toward is integral, and carries the need to “make present” all the various structures of awareness. When all structures are recognized and accepted this enables a person to see and live through the various structures simultaneously, rather than be subjected to, possessed or “lived by” one of them.

Perhaps this tells us that an openness to and understanding of an animistic perspective or worldview may help (or at least begin) to provide or reconnect us with conscious access to the ancient instinctive resources shared by all human beings, and might also help prevent these same instincts from taking over our lives through unconscious animalistic behaviors.

Although it is quite common for people today to think of god in terms of a trinity, it seems seldom that modern people dare to think of themselves, their lives or their world in these same terms. Yet, some familiar with more ancient forms of awareness know that animistic cultures have long considered there to be three worlds. In many ancient religious systems, there were three cosmic levels: not only heaven and earth, but an underworld as well. Rather than simply the nightmarish vision of hell imagined by Christianity, the underworld was seen by many cultures as a place of natural riches and ancestral wisdom. In this worldview, the axis mundi, the vertical feature of the cosmos, was seen to be at the center of the world and served to link together all three cosmic levels. This axis could be represented by various symbols such as a mountain, tree or ladder. From an animistic perspective, all three of these worlds are not only connected, but also accessible to, and indeed part of every human being.

From an animistic perspective, because there is no separation between the material and spiritual world, we can also conceive of three “selves” with which to navigate these three worlds. For the animist, what most people think of as their entire identity, the every- day awareness of the conscious ego, or what Kahuna shamans call the “talking self,” is actually far from the totality of being. Our “higher” spiritual self has access to transcendent spiritual wisdom, and our basic self accesses our “lower” animal/visceral intelligence, the instincts and inherited tribal wisdom that have kept us alive as a species for many millennia. From this perspective, the admonition to “know thyself” takes on new complexity. There is a need to comprehend, understand, and harmonize all three essential aspects of being human and to bring our three “selves” into alignment and integrated partnership.

In this way, the triple-alignments of Mercury, occurring in the same degrees and also linking the above and below, can become a kind of axis mundi—a sacred linkage, connecting the three worlds and three selves. Remember, from a visual standpoint, the image of Mercury’s retrograde journey is that of a disappearing act: from above to below, and back to above. Images often tell a story. The visual transformation process that Mercury performs every four months, of disappearing in the west and later re-appearing in the east, also happens to the other planets at various intervals and was mythologized by the Babylonians and Egyptians as the journeys of various gods through the underworld.

Of all the Greek gods, only Hermes was able to fully traverse the axis mundi and visit the heights of Mount Olympus as well as the depths of Hades. Sky astrologers can use these visual and mythical perspectives to better understand Mercury retrograde.[7] After Mercury passes evening elongation, his highest appearance above the horizon in the west at dusk, he is in the process of slowing down and descending. Later he turns retrograde and becomes invisible, disappearing in the west. After making the invisible inferior (below) conjunction with the sun, Mercury re-appears in the east and then makes his highest appearance above the eastern horizon at morning elongation. Visually, Mercury is “switching skies,” appearing in the same degrees three times: first as evening star, then becoming invisible and making the inferior conjunction, and finally crossing for the third time as morning star.

Source: Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

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Working through Depression with Alchemy

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“More than a school of thought, alchemy is a gnosis, a “way” of knowing. It is a deliberate attempt to grasp immortality in which the process is paramount. We all embody the archetypal journey of life, consciously or unconsciously. We are born in our essential nature but it quickly becomes covered with a hard-shelled core of the false ego. We long to return to our true nature. Alchemy amplifies and accelerates this process of self-actualization, connecting with a sacred sense of self.

Naturally, there is no absolute actualization, no final self-reflective insight. It is a recursive formula of returning, over and over on more subtle levels, to the sacred center where heaven and earth meet. You don’t have to heroically “succeed” at alchemy.

Not succeeding will deepen you as you improvise the narrative that is your life up to that point. How many times do we make, then lose the Stone? How many times do we lose our hard-won happiness or wholeness? The trick is to not paralyze yourself with New Age guilt over it. If a scientist has a failed experiment he or she doesn’t wallow in shame or analysis paralysis but starts over with new boundary conditions.

First, you must separate yourself from the herd mentality. When your comfort zone becomes constrictive, you have grown beyond it. Still, only a few adventurous souls will move beyond the cocoon of their self-imposed prison. If you suppress yourself too much, you become a stranger to yourself. Alienation is felt as chronic depression.

You have to change your level of game play, change your reality map. You die to one level to be reborn at a higher level. Dis-identify from the social hologram, dis-identify from rigid roles and soul-diminishing victimization to become open. To step up your game, you have to reconnect with your core, your deep presence and awareness. Reality speaks for itself if we listen closely enough to nature and our nature. But you have to retrain your eyes, ears, and heart to comprehend the intuitive language of alchemy.”

“The spiritual landscape is changing and alchemy offers a safe harbor for the drifting spirit beyond institutional or cult affiliation. Many paths are vying for participants but alchemy chooses you. It is a self-initiatory path that provides a structure or scaffolding for metaphorical death and rebirth, a generic process described in many traditions. But you must remain dedicated to the process.In exploring the unknown you are exploring yourself. The journey to wholeness often begins with a retreat – into oneself, your interior nature.”

From: Working through Depression with Alchemy http://ionamiller.weebly.com/nigredo-depression.html

Encountering the Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Young Man’s Search, by David Ulrich | Parabola

“What Gurdjieff calls the magnetic center represents an inner formation that helps orient us in the right direction, toward what can serve our individual evolution and inner development. Our search is often born from contact with certain kinds of influences—books that may help show the way, other people that touch us in a deeper fashion, inspiring works of art, and one’s own intuition—that, upon reaching a certain force, will attract help to the seeker. Influences that derive from a conscious origin have a different quality, a unique flavor, that resonates with the seeds of consciousness within oneself.

I think of it as a magnetizing force that attracts us to what we genuinely need—and draws what we need to us. It is a reciprocal movement. But, especially in these times, there are dangers at every step of the way. Is this teacher authentic and truly connected to a source of knowledge? Has he or she sufficiently traveled the inner journey, enough to really help us, and not distort or injure our search? Discrimination is essential. And rigorously following the dictates of one’s intuition, and listening to the still voice of our inner senses, is a central challenge in our search. The smorgasbord of spiritual teachings today allows for all manner of distortions and dilutions of great knowledge.

The magnetic center must work with a finer quality of energy than is found in our usual fragmented states of being. The word magnet is very accurate here. We find a resonance with a teaching, a book, a teacher, a work of art that corresponds to something finer in ourselves that we wish to know better and to develop. However, the danger of our search being usurped by our ego is not only ever-present but is prevalent in contemporary times. There is much evidence of a wrongly formed magnetic center or the type of seeking that endeavors simply to become a better, more effective person. Ken Wilber knows this type of spiritual seeking as the “ego in drag.”

The desire for mere self-improvement on an ordinary level, the hypnotic seduction with trance-like states found in shamanism and other exotic rituals, the dangerous work of prematurely opening the “chakras,” the new-age impulse towards abundance and the belief that everything is “divinely perfect,” and that no part of us could possibly be out of step with the divine plan—these are all common manifestations of Chögyam Trungpa’s famous phrase: “spiritual materialism.”

American materialism has affected the spiritual path deeply—manifesting in seeking magical states, instant gratification, and a shallow, results-driven spirituality.

Genuine search places us in the eye of the tiger. It is raw and an anathema to our ego. It demands rigor and discipline, and the striving towards impartial self-observation which brings in its train a certain kind of suffering and discomfort.

Genuine spiritual growth is fundamentally transformative, not merely a rearrangement of our personalities or an increased ability to meet the demands of life. It is learning to serve a different master, our search for higher consciousness and for the awakening of conscience, and placing our ego or our conditioned personality in a secondary, not primary, role.

Awakening exacts a price, and we pay in different ways at different times, at different stages along our path.  The first payment is to follow the dictates of our genuine search, to accept the inevitable struggle and discomfort of turning towards our inner life. We are asked to place our ego and conditioned personality in question, not to blithely follow its insistent voices, but to open ourselves to the deeper impulses that lead us towards the influences that we need, whether in the form of books, people, or a wisdom teaching.

A certain leap of faith is required here, one that we can only resolve from looking deep within.

The seeker in us is authentic; we know by the “taste” of certain influences what it needs, and we must open to those influences and begin to allow them to act on us, like a young plant seeking water and air. And we must stay in touch with the “inner taste” of the influences that we allow into our being. Impressions are food, and to some degree, we are what we eat. Where rigor and discipline is required, is to maintain this discriminating faculty that knows from within what our nascent real selves need for their growth and evolution.” – David Ulrich

Source: Encountering the Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Young Man’s Search, by David Ulrich | Parabola