Saturday, 24 December 2016

The Eagle and the Gremlin



To do this work we need to be open to ourselves in all ways, the gremlin bits as well as the eagle in the sky. The eagle isn’t earthbound, she sees things differently from up there. It’s a place from where the gremlins, the icky bits which we all have, are no longer ‘bad’. Because the first thing we need to do is to stop judging who we are, and just be open to experience. The judgements we make about ourselves, which we may not even know we are doing, are somebody else’s idea. We weren’t born with them. They belong to the past. They are what our parents needed us to be, or what religion needed us to be hundreds of years ago, or what society needs us to be to make us productive and docile.

This judging can take a lot of resisting when there are still strong messages coming in from society about who we ‘ought’ to be. To not judge ourselves, we also need not to be overly bothered by what others think of us, or at least our perception of what they think.

These things are never all at once. And we can begin by not judging ourselves for judging ourselves! We need huge sympathy for the way we are, for there are always reasons. It’s very simple, and very transformative. It’s the basis of many ‘mystical’ traditions. Just being open to who we are, and not judging.

This change in attitude can be quick, but it can take a long time to get to that point, to be able to see it. Judging can go very deep, it can seem like part of the fabric of reality – it can express itself as ‘moral standards’, a sense of being above ordinary people and their ‘mundane’ concerns. But that’s religion, and it always casts a shadow. We need to go beyond good and evil.

Age can help: it’s like we’ve seen over and again what we and others are like, and we can forgive it. It’s just what it is to be human.

So it’s a simple thing, even a quick thing, but it takes a long time and it’s difficult.

And we’ve been part of a judging culture for so long, ever since Christianity took hold 1000 years ago, that judging has become integral to who we are, it’s like the bones of our personality.

Once we begin to stop judging, then much that is unconscious can become conscious, because it is no longer bad or shameful.

With ‘shamanic’ work, if you are fortunate, something in you will hold you back until you have a decent handle on who you are. Hold you back, that is, from being some kind of healer. This can go on for decades, because really we may not be ready till we’ve been around a long time. Enough time to build up an ego and then start to dismantle it.

This seems to me to be in line with a traditional perspective. You don’t do courses to become a ‘shamanic practitioner’, that packaged product, largely shorn of traditional context, that we can ‘add on’ to our life in the space of a few short years. It’s about who we are, and about a context of participation in, and gratitude to the natural world and the spirit world, which are not different. It’s slow. There’s no pressure: the spirits have it in hand. The sense of reconnection to what we have lost – the massive soul loss of the last 3000 years, since we began to distance ourselves from nature – is joyful.

These are the things that matter. Finding ways to not judge ourselves and being open to who we are. And letting the natural world begin to reclaim us. Nature does not judge.
 NB Please note the Free Email Subscribe button, top right of the page 😼

Friday, 11 November 2016

DREAMS


I still remember a dream from 35 years ago, when I was just starting out on this thing: I was on a very high, very white mountain crag, and in front of me was the vast, deep blue sky. I was an eagle, and I took off, and then I got scared by the height. I was afraid to soar, unlike my companion eagle. I don't think I'm soaring yet, I'm still being led to mend the bits that need mending. But it's where I'm headed. 


The house position of Pluto is where you need to look to find your power. My Pluto is in the 12th House, the place of dreams and inner work. If I don't make that place the foundation, I feel out of sorts.

Dreams are not an add-on, a supplement to our waking experience. As my friend June O'Brien said recently, "I have begun to wonder if it isn't this daytime stuff that is the dream."

Dreams are where the Spirit speaks to us. They therefore tell us what is real. I have had some dreams lately that confront, contradict my waking experience. They are forcing the issue of what is real.

But dreams also unfold over time, they are multi-layered. What they mean changes. As with all inner experience, I think it is best to be circumspect about talking about them. It can be like taking the lid off the crucible: the intensity diminishes, the development slows. For dreams are not one-off things, they are gifts that stay with us and enrich. If we cherish them.
 NB Please note the Free Email Subscribe button, top right of the page 😼

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Evolution vs The Perennial Philosophy

I don't believe that consciousness 'evolves'. Evolution is a 19th century abstraction that we impose on our experience. And I'm suspicious, because the primary mechanism for evolution is 'survival of the fittest', a harsh and unforgiving ethos that merely reflects the capitalism of the day. A Creation Myth (for that is what it is) that justifies the worst in human nature.

A few months ago I had a dream in which I saw a speckled moth, beautifully part of and belonging to its surroundings, and at the same time I understood that evolution as we know it told us virtually nothing about how this moth came to be.

I'm not a creationist. You could say I'm a metaphysical agnostic: I just don't know how these things come to be, and I don't think they can be understood in any simple 'rational' way.

I think that Evolution is generally understood mythologically rather than scientifically. This is because most of us haven't seriously studied the evidence, yet so many accept it as a fact that you don't seriously question. It is therefore mostly a belief. We accept it because it tells a story about how we came to be, that is more acceptable nowadays than the Biblical creation myth. We accept it more for emotional than intellectual reasons.


There is nothing wrong with this. We need stories about the world that are emotionally appealing. It has always been this way. These stories contain truths about existence, and ideally you need some of them to contradict each other, just so we don't think we are in possession of the 'one truth'.

The problem with evolution as a story is that it twists life into a brutal struggle, and reduces the scope of existence to the visible, material world. (As quantum physicists have asserted, it is consciousness, not matter, that is primary.) Evolution is a story posing as an unassailable fact, that continues in an inverted form the brutal creation myth of the Old Testament.

It is this resonance with what came before that contributes to the emotional appeal of evolution. Intellectually we are satisfied because evolution opposes the religion we have left, emotionally we are satisfied because it resembles that religion, with the added bonus that humans are now at the top of the Great Chain of Being instead of somewhere in the middle.

It is because of this emotional appeal that Evolution is firmly accepted as a theory on the basis of evidence that would be laughed out of court in most other scientific disciplines. There is more direct evidence, for example, of homeopathy working, but again for emotional reasons, that evidence is frequently rejected.


--------------------
Ad Break: I offer skype astrology readings (£60 full reading, £40 for an update). Contact: BWGoddard1(at)aol.co.uk
---------------------

No-one has seen evolution occur, the most we have directly seen is a bit of adaption to circumstances, which is not the same thing. The evidence is partial and circumstantial. Something has gone on, we know that from the fossil record. And DNA studies show that all forms of life on earth are closely related to one another, which is a wonderful result.

But how a whole new species arises is not understood. Assuming it is consciousness, not matter, that is primary (though that statement itself suggests a divide between matter and consciousness that I don't think exists), I think new species are dreamed into being by consciousness, as much as they are generated by physical processes.

Though to what purpose they are dreamed into being is a mystery, part of the Great Mystery, the unknowability of existence.


This piece was prompted by an article by astrologer Glenn Perry, in which he sets the development of astrology in the context of a purported 'evolution' of human consciousness, in which he (wrong-headedly) declares "It must be emphasized that human awareness at this stage (4000 B.C.-1500 B.C.) was still quite dim, more like a toddler’s consciousness than a modern adult human."

Evolution has become central to the way we think about life, and it is natural to take the step of thinking of evolution as not just a physical process but as a mental/emotional process.

Evolution implies progress from an inferior stage to a superior stage of life. It is not just saying that change occurs - which would be fair enough - but that there is a value to it that makes the later stage in some way 'better' than the earlier stage.

It is one way of making sense of human history, but I think it is hard to get away from the implication that we are more 'advanced' than our forebears. I don't think this is justified, and if you junk that idea, then I think you have to junk the whole idea that human consciousness 'evolves'.


I used to have a Canadian Indian friend visit (yes, they call themselves Indians, not native this or that) and he was brought up speaking the language of the Chippewa Cree and immersed in their stories and philosophy. One thing that impressed me was their subtle understanding, through the stories of Wisahitsa, of the human ego and the tricks it gets up to: one of those tricks would surely be the self-important idea that we are 'superior' to our ancestors! Philosophically the tradition is keenly aware of how unknowable the universe is, refusing, for example, to take a position on what happens after death. And their philosophy and psychology is set in the richly imaginative context of the traditional stories, which my friend was able not just to tell but to expound on their meanings.

The usual patronising evolutionary story is that early people had their wonderful participation mystique with nature, which we have lost, but that is the price we have had to pay for the development of self-awareness, individuality, a strong ego and rationality.


In "The Passion of the Western Mind", astrologer Richard Tarnas says that it has been the task of masculine consciousness to forge its own autonomy and then come to terms with the great feminine principle in life, and thus recover its connection with the whole. This will constitute "the fulfillment of the underlying goal of Western intellectual and spiritual evolution." (p442)

In "The Philosopher's Secret Fire" (pp 263-6), Patrick Harpur takes issue with this position: "Evolution is a spirit notion which soul does not recognise. Traditional societies do not evolve. They live within a mythology which contains all imaginative possibilities, Earth Goddesses no less than Heraclean egos... Because we are changing, we think of ourselves as evolving. We are not. We are literalising the old myths...  If the rational ego is to disappear it is more likely to be destroyed by the ricochets of ideologies made in its own image."

My experience with my Indian friend suggested to me that early peoples are NOT lacking in rational egos - if you think about it, they needed to be a lot more creative and thoughtful than we need to be just to survive, apart from any philosophical sophistication they may have had - but rather, that ego has not become divorced from a sense of participation in nature.

As the poet Ted Hughes said: "The story of mind exiled from Nature is the story of Western Man."

I think that is the real story.

I think there are perennial truths about existence that have always been available to people from the earliest times, along with elements in our nature that can take us away from those truths. And the big truth we have lost is a felt sense of our participation in nature. What has gradually developed over the last few thousand years - ever since Plato and his separation of 'ideal forms' from nature - has been a massive loss of soul.


For a great exposition of this theme, see Anne Baring's book The Dream of the Cosmos. She explores this idea in the context of a well-researched account of the shift from lunar to solar mythologies.

There has been dazzling technological progress, and in a way it is natural to assume that makes us more 'advanced' than people who do not have that technology - as if we personally invented it! But I don't think it has made us more whole as humans.

What has developed has not been the rational ego - that has always been there - but the rational ego divorced from nature. Nature as something we can separate ourselves from and look on dispassionately, out of which has come at least as much harm as good, as the environmental crisis testifies to.



I think it is possible to view much of the technological progress of recent times as a mad dream created by an out-of-control rational ego. We didn't need all this technology for tens of thousands of years. It has been produced by a crazed mind, crazed because it has lost its roots in who it is.

The world we live in needs re-dreaming. We need to recover the perennial truths of existence, in which we are participants in, rather than observers of, the cosmos, and use that as a point of balance.
 NB Please note the Free Email Subscribe button, top right of the page 😼

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Depth Psychology of Shamanism



In 1997, I was organising some shamanic journeying at a small festival in the UK, and the space was packed for each session, like 70-80 people. The word shamanism had a buzz to it, and I think it still does, even though it can also be a cliché.

But the buzz was genuine, and I think it was about people wanting a taste of the Otherworld, something which has almost become a race memory, because it has been so squeezed out by religion and then science. But it is still there in us, this desire for an untrammelled experience of Spirit, that feels ancient, and that is not hedged around by dogmas of what is and is not possible.

It is Spirit that ultimately teaches us about Reality, not humans and their books. Shamanism – a recent, western phenomenon – is about that return to a direct experience of Spirit, that connects us to a universe that is so much more than the literal, material universe of modern science.

That taste of the Otherworld is, for some, enough as an accompaniment to their regular existence. For others, it is not enough. Or we may think it is enough, but the spirits have other ideas!

And this is where the idea of the 'shaman' comes in. A slightly problematic word, as it carries connotations of spiritual stature, which ain't a good thing to claim. And a shaman is technically also a healer and diviner, a spirit consultant.

But the spirits can drag us kicking through that initiatory journey without the end result being a healer. You may end up as a counsellor, or an artist, or a stand-up comic - or as Mozart: what was it that spoke through him if it wasn't the Otherworld? Or you may be nothing in particular that you can put a name to! You just have that look in your eye that says I've been somewhere else.

As Leonardo da Vinci said: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Or as the Ancient Mariner said:
 
"I pass, like night, from land to land;

I have strange power of speech;

That moment that his face I see,

I know the man that must hear me:

To him my tale I teach."

The Ancient Mariner
The archetypal event has become, for us, the shaman's illness, which will often bring him or her to the gates of death or madness, and once she has accepted the wishes of the spirits to be a vehicle for them, he recovers.

And I think this illness, this trial, this ordeal, needs to be interpreted broadly within our shamanism, even though the original definition was quite specific. And I think we need to be quite broad too about 'the spirits'. Yes, some of us will have guys upstairs that tell us stuff, or who work through us. For others, it may just be this other place in us, and when we speak or act from it, there is some kind of deeper wisdom or insight there, that may not even make sense to us at the time, but we learn to trust it. The so-called 'mid-life crisis' (which can go on and on - see The Middle Passage by James Hollis) has a resonance of this type of ordeal.

As an astrologer, I encounter these trials in the form of Neptune and Pluto acting on people's charts. I had my own experience of Pluto for much of the 90s: after 10 years running Buddhist institutions, I was unable to do anything for several years. Anything I tried to do wouldn't work. And it was like the plug on my life-force had been pulled. I realised that it is not 'I' who lives, it is something from deeper within that calls the shots, and it was saying we're not going to let you carry on in that wilful way, we're going to fuck with you until you listen to us. And there was this deep, magical pull towards that other voice. 

Abdominal Surgery



At the same time, I felt like I’d had major abdominal surgery, and that I’d been brought about as low as I could be, to this faraway place. And after a few years I had a dream telling me to pursue shamanism - as well as something else, which was a trick dream that catapulted me out of my old life.

And since then there has always been this place within me that is a kind of dark wisdom, that I can forget about sometimes, but when I'm coming from there I am aligned with my life. It is the glittering eye of the ancient mariner. And in the last few years it's been happening all over again, but under Neptune's rule, and I'm still in the thick of it, so I can't say too much. But it's been like this overwhelming call that I haven't quite known what to do with.

Pluto with his hellhound
The classic story behind Pluto, who is Lord of the Underworld, is that one day he abducted Persephone, daughter of the nature goddess Ceres, who went into mourning and the earth went into permanent winter. Eventually it got sorted, but Persephone was by now Pluto's wife, and spent half her time in the underworld.

So this is a good way of understanding the shaman's illness. There is another side to life, beyond what is presented to us by society, and you can be taken there forcibly by the demands of the spirit, which has no regard for conventional niceties and sanities. And in a deeper kind of way, you grow up, move on to the next stage - as did Persephone, in becoming Pluto's wife.

A traditional society understands this ruthless dimension to Spirit. As Holger Kalweit writes in Shamans, Healers and Medicine Men: 

“The suffering and exhaustion that accompany a vision quest do not correspond to the mild and gentle style of modern psychotherapy. Westerners do not want to have to exert themselves to solve their problems.” (p102)



And Goethe understood what happens if you resist the call:

“And so long as you haven't experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

So this initiatory journey that the shaman undergoes isn't just about acquiring magical powers under duress. I don't think it is like that. The main emphasis is on the development of psychological depth, in the sense of moving beyond the narrow, conventional self that tells us how to live, and whose rules are shared by the other members of society. That kind of living is 'normal', it gives a kind of psychological security to many people, and it is necessary for the stability of society.

But that ain't what the shaman lives by. No, he/she has another loyalty, a deeper loyalty, that is not to the rules and 'shoulds' of the tribe, but to the spirits, to the daimon, to the Otherworld, to the Jungian Self. And that other place to which we have our loyalty is more real, for it recognises that the world isn't what it seems, it is not to be taken at face value, for it is only one pole of existence, the other being the spirit world, and these 2 poles are profoundly interconnected. The world is not an absolute, it is fluid.

So it is this loyalty to the Otherworld that is the real qualification to be a healer - or whatever. It is the shaman's wholehearted response to the imperatives of the Otherworld and its values that make him/her a shaman. Once you have that new basis to your life - that look in your eye - then the spirits will allow you to be a healer, or require you to be.

Of course, this is a kind of ideal scenario, because we are human, and we fuck up, and sometimes people have real healing abilities who seem in other respects to be such messes.

But the principle remains, and it is the 'depth psychology' of shamanism referred to in the title. It involves a radical turning about, so that the guiding principle of our lives becomes not what society expects, nor is it based on our personal desires, but on a commitment to something beyond us, that also is us, and that is more real than a purely conventional notion of existence ever can be.

It is a completely different basis for living, and that is why the shaman's illness can take him/her to death's door: the conventional, which is so deep-rooted, has to die. It can almost be like I cannot continue to live like I have been, so how can I live? And the answer is there within, and always has been.
 NB Please note the Free Email Subscribe button, top right of the page 😼