We relish our supposed developments, be they technological, psycho-spiritual or wherever we put our mingling little minds to produce a new color, shape or sound. But we miss the fact that where we truly excel is in creating myths to cover our co-opting and rebranding of traditional elements, and we clap with delight when shown the same things in different packaging.
So begins David Metcalfe’s initial thoughts on this Crane Bag Dialogue which took place on the Gate under the title: Cultivating Consciousness Through Taboo. David is the creator of The Eyeless Owl , “an animated grotesquery of A Serious Enquiry Into the Vulgar Notion of Nature”, and he is joined in this dialogue by myself, Cognito and wodr.
Our view of the ancient world is skewed by an Academy that very rarely accepts the reality of the subjects that they delve into, whether it’s Christian scholars discussing the ‘literary’ quality of 4th century liturgy, or Classicists debating if Parmenides really meant it when says of people:
“Helplessness guides the wandering thought in their breasts; they are carried along deaf and blind alike, dazed, beasts without judgment, convinced that to be and not to be are the same and not the same, and that the road of all things is a backward-turning one.”
In his book The Dark Places of Wisdom, Peter Kingsley astutely points out that the reason the Academy is free to debate this is that Parmenides was describing them.
I was struck by the discovery of a sunken Roman ship from 40 years ago which yielded samples of ancient pills and after waiting with bated breath for DNA analysis on the contents, scientists in charge of the project produced this stunning and superficial observation:
“The DNA tests confirm that medicines written about in ancient texts were actually used…”
In a time when the illiteracy rate included nearly 75% of the population, and paper actually required manual labor to make, it would seem to be a given that medical texts would not be flights of fancy. In our culture’s self aggrandizing narrative, scholars are free to drift about in a hazy world of unreality, never recognizing the fact that what they are writing about, and studying, is an indulgent product of their own minds. If they read Parmenides with greater clarity they might learn something.
We also relish our freedoms, freedom to choose this or that brand of toothpaste, freedom to “program or be programmed”, but rarely do we recognize the freedom of limitations.
A recent post on the blog Cryptoforest contained an interesting quotation from Ettore Biocca’s book Yanoama which contains Helena Valero’s account of witnessing an Indian community in the Venezuelan Amazon:
“The next morning, all the men who had come to prepare the curare had painted themselves black with coal on the face, on the body, on the legs, because they said curare is useful for war. They didn’t eat that day: they said that the woman who stayed to watch must not bathe, because the poison would no longer kill animals or men. Pregnant woman must not be present because, they said, the babies whom they carried in their stomachs make water on the poison and the poison becomes weak. They do not begin preparing the poison too soon, because at that time the deer is still walking about in the wood and urinating: the deer urinates a long way off, but for them he urinates on the poison and makes it weak. Towards six o’clock in the morning Rohariwe and the others went into the forest to gather other plants, especially the plant ashukamakei, which is used to make the poison more sticky; it is a plant with long leaves.”
Wilfried Houjebek, the author of Cryptoforest, wonders how Western scientists can decode the hidden chemical knowledge that these folks obviously have. With processes cloaked in taboos, the Western mind, especially the Western scientific mind, finds it difficult to decipher exactly what is going on amidst this seemingly incongruous series of restrictions. What is missing is the realization that these restrictions are actually evidence of a wider sense of consciousness.
Imagine you are going on a hunt, what mindstate makes you a more effective hunter? One focused solely on the step by step process leading up to the kill, or an all encompassing vision that is cultivated daily through being aware of something as innocuous as a deer pissing in the distance? What better way to foster that kind of thinking than to encode it in every activity leading up to the hunt, even the preparation of the poisons that will tip your arrows.
It would surprise most people to realize that this thought process is at the very heart of our Western traditions, but it has been lost amidst our ill conceived social myths. In an essay on the ways of knowing in the Hermetic tradition Peter Kingsley quotes the following passage from the Hermetica:
“Now be completely present, give me your whole attention, with all the understanding that you are capable of, with all the subtlety you can muster. For the teaching about divinity requires a divine concentration of consciousness if it’s to be understood. It’s just like a torrential river, plunging headlong down fro the heights so violently that with its rapidity and speed it outstrips the attention not only of whoever is listening, but also of whoever is speaking.”
This Divine Consciousness is what is being cultivated in the poison making process. The restrictions placed on the participants’ actions are opening them to a wider sense of the world around them. For the price of missing a night of relaxation they are given the opportunity to find enough to eat for their people. This is access to a world without ‘literary’ litanies or clever debates, where knowledge is exchanged through enigmas and Nature lies naked and awaiting the hunt.
David, I absolutely see where you’re coming from with this.
The idea of any kind of restriction or limitation has almost, in itself, become taboo. Yet, according to the philosophy of the Western Mystery Tradition, and as shown by the symbolism of the Kabbalistic pillars, restriction, limitation or severity goes hand-in-glove with force.
Force emanates from the topmost sephirah, Kether (the Godhead) and would flow unceasingly and thus never create materiality if it weren’t for restriction or severity, which ‘dams up’ the flow of the force so that it naturally pools into solidity. That limitation of the flow of force is vital to creation, otherwise there would just be an unceasing flow of energy or force. The Pillar of Severity and the Pillar of Force are the yin and yang of the Western Mystery Tradition, otherwise known as Boaz and Joachim.
We also experience this severity or limitation in our lives when Saturn enters our astrological chart. In fact, the 20th century Hermetic author Dion Fortune said that this is the origin of the word ‘sin’. ‘Sin’, in Hebrew Kabbalistic terms, means limitiation. It did not originally mean an act of wrongdoing any more than ‘the satan’ was the bad guy. We first see the satan blocking the way of Balaam’s ass in an act of restriction or limitation. But sin or limitation has become an act of wrongdoing over time, instead of the dark component of the light and dark of which this creation is composed. And Saturn has become Satan, the bad guy, the Prince of Darkness.
I was at a Christian Imbolc ceremony recently where the prayers were asking for us to “overcome the darkness”.
I am glad to see that the tribe in the Venezuelan Amazon still understand its importance.
David, I just finished The Lost City of Z by David Gramm, an historical account of “the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett who ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization located deep in the deadly wilderness.” In one account, Fawcett was on a hunting foray where the natives ‘called’ a deer to be done in by an arrow. As you pointed out, the important part of the process was in the preparation. And yes, to Fawcett’s surprise, the deer emerged exactly where the natives expected. This knowledge has generally been lost to the modern Western mind with its self-imposed doubts, limitations and irrelevant logic.
By the way, Fawcett never found the lost city since he was standing right on top of it.
More in the same vein from here:
“I am absolutely certain this will be a big issue going forward,” said Ross Upshur, director of the Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto. He was not connected to the letter. “Science is moving so fast it is often discovering information that we won’t know is sensitive until the future,” he said.
Upshur said science has often outpaced ethical considerations on issues such as cloning, stem cell research and genetic sequencing. He agreed recommendations were needed to advise doctors on how to handle potentially sensitive information.
You can’t put Pandora back in the box,” he said. “But you also can’t stop scientists from exploring legitimate avenues of genetic discovery.”
I simply cannot find the words to describe this particular atrocity.
Ishtar, many thanks for your exposition of the two pillars, I have a habit of running down one track and only later coming to see the whole picture and you’ve provided a further exploration of these ideas in an operative sense.
As you point out ‘sin’ as we think of it today is a misrepresentation of the original meaning, both in etymology (other meanings I’ve seen beyond the idea of ‘limitation’ is ‘missing the mark) and in terms of origin. One of the earliest references to the “Seven Deadly Sins” is from Evagrius, an early desert dwelling Master of the Christian tradition (it may be contained in the collections that make up the Philokalia) and they weren’t called the “Deadly Sins” they were called the eight misleading thoughts (from Grateful to the Dead).
In terms of ‘missing the mark’ we’ve been led away from the geometric nature of the language in the Tradition. If you think of a circle and a tangential line crossing the circle, there are many tangents that cross the center, however all it takes is to follow a line that doesn’t cross the center and you’ve ‘missed the mark.’
Cognito, I studied under a professor who specialized in Mesopotamian healing rituals and she loved to point out how sociologists and anthropologists who go into cultures which still maintain a connection to the Tradition either leave very shaken due to the fact that the ‘quaint rituals’ they thought they would encounter actually work, or they ‘go native.’
Secondovius, in his New Chemical Light, lays it out fairly succinctly: Simplicity is the Seal of Truth
and continues with:
“Our longing for an increase of knowledge urges us ever onward towards some final goal, in which we imagine that we shall find full rest and satisfaction, like the ant which is not endowed with wings till the last days of its life. In our time, the Philosophical Art has become a very subtle matter; it is the craft of the goldsmith compared with that of the humble workman who exercises his calling at the forge.
“We have made such mighty strides in advance that if the ancient Masters of our science, Hermes and Geber and Raymond Lullius, were to rise from the dead, they would be treated by our modern Alchemists not as Sages but as only humble learners. They would seem very poor scholars in our modern lore of futile distillations, circulations, calcinations and in all the other countless operations wherewith modern research has so famously enriched our Art though without understanding the sense of the ancient writings. In all these respects, our learning is vastly superior to theirs.
Only one thing is unfortunately wanting to us which they possessed, namely, the knack they had of actually preparing the Philosopher’s Stone. Perhaps, then, their simple methods were after all the best; and it is on this supposition that I desire, in this volume, to teach you to understand Nature so that our vain imaginations may not misdirect us in the true and simple way.
Nature then, is one, true, simple, self-contained, created by God and informed with a certain universal spirit.”