My soul course begins at the isolated pounding stone that faces the reservoir. The course proceeds up to Trimmer Springs Road, which connects to an old mining road near a cattle grate. What was once a dirt road soon features a trail kept distinct by cattle, which is apropos, since the road was probably first a Native American trail used for thousands of years. After about half a mile, the old road runs through a clearing where baby blues eyes grow. Since I love the flower, I once scouted the area and soon discovered an abandoned Native American site. At this site I meditate on the element of Earth.
So many roads lead through ancient Native American village sites, and the old mining road above Sycamore Creek is no exception. In recent years an off-road vehicle club used the mining road until too many gray pines collapsed onto the road. The earth, however, tends, if left untouched by humans, to change at a glacial pace unless a cataclysm occurs, so one can easily track the subtle disturbances in the terrain caused by human activity, sometimes even after many years, if one remains sensitive to the earth. On a ridge just south of the mining road, unbeknownst to most hikers and hunters and off-road enthusiasts, several large, distinct house pits remain, undisturbed for a century, next to a pounding stone.
In the cosmic scheme of creation, the Great Unmanifest shadows forth three “veils of negative existence,” in other words, three transcendent states that are “negative” in the sense that the human mind within manifestation at this stage of evolution cannot access them. From these transcendent states emanate the ten states of manifestation that can be known by the human mind (the sephiroth), each of which contains four worlds, or levels. The level known as Atziluth, the “World of Emanations,” or the “Divine World” of Deity, is a plane of spiritual force. Briah, or the “World of Creation” of the Archangels, also known as the “World of Thrones,” corresponds to the mental plane of archetypal form. Yetzirah, the “World of Formation” of the Angels, corresponds to the astral plane. The fourth world, closest to the level of pure matter, known as Assiah, or the “World of Action,” contains the energy of the etheric and lower astral planes that is the background of manifestation. On the physical plane the divine emanations manifest as the “Mundane Chakras,” which on the microcosmic level of the individual are the energy centers of the human body.
The Elements of the Wise, Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, are metaphors for states of manifestation. As Dion Fortune, in The Mystical Qabalah (Weiser Books, Boston MA, 1998) points out, Fire is a kind of overstate of matter, a state of relationships rather than a thing itself. Air is the capacity to achieve those relationships. Water represents protoplasm, and Earth inorganic matter. Protoplasm holds the magnetic force of Fire of the Wise in its subtle, web-like structure, transmitted through Elemental Air. The magnetism of protoplasm supplies the basis of manifestation for forces brought through into the sphere of Malkuth, the Kingdom. The four Elements of the Wise originate in a fifth element, known as the Aether, associated with Yesod (251). So whatever form is built-up in the sphere of Yesod, the ninth sphere, will be embodied in Malkuth unless there are incompatibilities with the laws of nature. Spirit works through mind and mind through the Aether, the framework for the life-forces and the vehicle for their manifestation.
As Fortune mentions a little less cryptically in Ritual Magic (Thoth Publications, Louborough, Leicestershire, 1997), the building up of an image in the sphere of sensation will attract to it the corresponding influence from reality (110). Fortune elsewhere describes the practical application of the process in even more straightforward terms. She describes first creating a clear mental picture of the appropriate symbol and then filling it with feeling that corresponds to the cosmic force. She then describes imagining appropriately colored light (using the Tree of Life as the key) descending upon the chosen symbol and attracting an influx of subtle, cosmic force into the sphere of sensation. From then on the symbol built up and ensouled in the imagination needs only to be visualized again to contact the force (38).
A basic tenet of the mysteries is “Know Thyself.” Standing in sensitive, loving relationship with all aspects of the self, one develops a reverence for the densest element. Earth of the Wise is inorganic matter, but Earth is also the body with its trillions of cells all functioning so that the organs work harmoniously and effectively to support and maintain consciousness. Earth is the body of this watershed, full of niches for numerous species with their own unique DNA and their own unique consciousness as they cycle through the processes of birth, life, death, and regeneration, each species at its own pace. Earth is the body of the planet with all of its interconnected biological systems working harmoniously together, and in the broadest sense, earth is the body of the manifested universe, the smallest atom of matter connected with field upon field of interconnected energies creating and sustaining what we perceive as matter and form in the vastness of space.
Meditating on the element of Earth, I picture everything that is solid, stable, and dependable in my life, then imagine “seeing” everything not with my eyes but with my sense of touch. Then I imagine touching whatever is cold and dry, like a stone, the floor, or a kitchen counter. I imagine mountains and canyons, plains and valleys, with crops flourishing in rich, dark soil. I imagine strong, powerful animals in the fields and mountains, domesticated animals like horses and cattle, wild animals like bears and wolves, and insects renowned for their strength. I imagine descending into a cave or mineshaft, searching for treasure, and picture gems and metals formed in the crucible of earth. I imagine encountering a gnome, an earth elemental, for a moment. I ask it a question before it vanishes into the darkness. I think of cycles, focusing on winter and night. And I imagine myself in advanced old age, remembering the practical wisdom that has helped me to survive. As I meditate on stability, I inevitably think of its opposite: change and death and transformation.
The myth of Demeter and Persephone on one level reveals the acceptance of indeterminacy, of the “otherness” beyond the sense of identity and the civilized consensus of reality. Demeter, the Greek Earth Mother, Goddess of fertility often associated with agriculture, is also associated with wildness: the free reign of instinct, hedonistic pleasure, pain, frenzy, violent death, unexpected personal and natural disasters, desires and events beyond the control of any civilizing influence. Demeter is married to her brother Zeus (the Roman Jupiter), God of expansive up-building, who fought the titans to establish a more civilized order. Demeter and Zeus have a child, Persephone, who is kidnapped by Hades, God of the Underworld, and forced to marry him according to an arrangement between Hades and his brothers, Zeus and Poseidon. Grief-stricken and furious at the male relatives who arranged the marriage, Demeter leaves Olympus and withholds her bounty from the earth, ultimately preventing seeds from taking root. Finally, Zeus, afraid she will destroy all life on earth, sends Hermes (Mercury) to Hades to ask for the release of Persephone. Hades appears to consent, but secretly causes Persephone to swallow a pomegranate seed, which magically binds her to the underworld. She must return for four months of the year, the Mediterranean winter, to resume her role as the Queen of the Underworld, returning to the surface for the remainder of the year, with the felicitous result that Demeter fructifies the earth again.
On the surface, the myth appears to be a “pour quoi” story explaining the occurrence of the seasons. The myth, however, suggests the meaning of indeterminacy, which exists despite all laws and civilizing influences to allow creative possibilities within the cycles of nature and human life. Underlying the sense of surface order is always the potential for “something else,” which is an eternal aspect of wildness that never entirely disappears, no matter how much humanity paves or cultivates the earth. The harmonious order is not stifled by law nor lost in death but regenerates through cycles containing the creative possibilities of expansive Being, which ultimately transcends all sense of personal and collective order. This indeterminacy, the element of uncertainty within the wild and the unknown, remains a veiled aspect of the element of Earth.
On one level, the modern “magician” is a kind of shaman who not only uses symbols and archetypes to connect with invisible subtle energies, but also strives to connect with the subtle energies of visible living creatures, which requires deep cleansing of the subconscious, great empathy, and a kind of rebirth of the self. In other words, the modern shaman is reborn into kinship, relying on the ego as a survival tool but seeing beyond, through sympathetic imagination, to the deep connection he or she has with all living things, and seeing beyond also to the possibilities of indeterminacy. The shaman strives to know the element of Earth as much as any other element, to know living plants and animals as well as invisible spirits. After all, the ability to know one goes hand in hand with the ability to know the other because sympathy is required in both situations. The modern shaman thrives on the adventures of otherness and the creative indeterminacy of Being, which is the mercy of eternity.
Earth is the basis for consciousness as we know it on this plane, mind and matter forming two sides of the same coin, and by implication, the element of Earth for humanity must be the basis for connection with otherness and expansive Being. Humanity at this stage of evolution has a unique opportunity to experience consciousness as it manifests in all of its forms, the heart and mind linked with other species through sympathetic imagination. When I allow myself to connect with a genius loci, a spirit of place, for instance, if I can move beyond fear, I sense its powerful psychic connection with all living organisms within its realm, each species, from the smallest worm to the largest tree, an essential strand in the web. The ability to connect with visible and invisible beings exists if one can move beyond limiting belief systems.
That means on one level accepting the contrasts created by the polarities within manifestation, instead of labeling some as good and some as evil. Nurturing and strong, solid and enduring, often harsh and unforgiving, the element of earth is associated with the satisfaction of basic needs and prosperity, with sublime splendor and beauty, with the north and winter, with severity, suffering and death. Earth can ravish the soul with its splendor but can also completely obscure other energies and dimensions. Earth energy grounds the spirit in reality but sometimes blinds the soul with detrimental attachments. The densest element within our natures, earth energy can lead to passivity and inertia, yet earth is also where thought-forms manifest desires--extending the original act of creation every moment, earth is a plane of action that manifests the will, leading to pleasure or pain, magnificence or horror. Through the intelligent use of will within all the inevitable polarities, however, one can move by degree from an adverse “pole” to a state of harmony and balance in almost any situation.
At this time in history, humanity must address problems on a massive scale: global warming, environmental degradation, overpopulation, economic disparity, to name a few, which requires intelligence, will, deep empathy and psychic sensitivity--“seeing with the heart.” By opening the heart and developing the feminine elements tied to feeling and sympathetic imagination, men and women are more likely to polarize from the self-preservation instincts of control and dominance to more selfless concerns for the welfare of community, human or otherwise. Unfortunately men traditionally have been taught to value strength and to scorn weakness, which leads men to fear the feminine elements within themselves. As the proverbial strong ones, men also tend to fear the power of women, which includes sexual power, maternal instinct, emotional strength, mental acuity, and psychic sensitivity. I risk stating the obvious by suggesting that even now most men are not encouraged to “see” with the heart--to develop their emotional and spiritual natures--even though women more and more are encouraged to develop the “masculine” elements within themselves . Despite the "men's liberation movements," men are still expected to dominate through physical strength, reason, and economic power, and patriarchal societies still tend to fear and subjugate the feminine elements.
Earth is receptive, passively internalizing the impulses that stimulate creation of form, and form, in some spiritual traditions, is evil because the unity of the Source is fragmented into the transient Many, creating a sense of separation and disconnection as well as suffering and death. A simple dichotomy surfaces in these traditions of spiritual versus physical, force versus form, good versus evil. From the female comes physical form, which means severity, suffering and death--becoming yet another reason for banishing the Goddess from spiritual practices.
However, it would help to view force and form as two sides of a sacred polarity. Without severity and limitation, there could be no harmony or beauty or understanding, only formlessness and chaos. The universe is a predatory system, but without selfish predation, altruism would be meaningless. Without the discipline of form, one could not understand force, just as without the experience of the Many, a soul could not truly understand the unity of the One. Through the female, manifestation occurs, revealing the glory of the One manifested as the Many. The Goddess wears a robe of concealment, but that robe is interwoven with thread upon thread of diverse energies, visible and invisible; if one is capable of recognizing divinity within the diverse energies of manifestation, one is also more likely to understand the opposite concept: divinity within unity. Celebrating the Goddess on a cosmic scale means celebrating the divinity of manifestation, from the smallest atom to the largest star, the energies of which are expressions of the Source as much as any formless spiritual energy. Despite all the polarities, the principle of equilibrium dominates in nature, stability on the human level maintained through conscious, willful balance. It is that balance of the elements in our nature, of form, reason, emotion, and spirit, which leads to harmony in family, community, and society--and enables our species to maintain balance with other species locally and globally.
At this village site, baby blue eyes bloom in or near the house pits. Whenever I encounter the first baby blue eye of spring, around the beginning of March, my soul thaws in one rush of heat up my spine, and often this ancient village site is where I first encounter it. Since the flower has five petals, I associate it with Gevurah, the fifth sephira, or level of reality, represented on the Tree of Life. Gevurah means "strength" or "severity," and is referenced as "the power" in the ritual of the Kabbalistic cross at the end of the Lord's Prayer. Gevurah sits on the feminine pillar of severity associated with form, in opposition to the pillar of Mercy, a masculine pillar of force. Gevurah, also associated with Mars (whose number is five, hence The Pentagon), burns and cuts away whatever does not serve the spiritual will. Arguably the sweetest flower in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the baby blue eye contains a simple, ravishing beauty that could only have emanated from a powerful severity that burns away all but the quintessence.
One house pit at the edge of the ridge forms a large, smooth cup. The other distinct house pits are more disturbed, the midden earth churned by rodents, a rotting gray pine now sprawling across the site. Baby blue eyes, popcorn, fiddle neck, gold fields and red maids bloom profusely, mainly at the edges of the house pits, a few inside. A Manzanita with the fragrance of honey overhangs the pounding stone, where mortars sprout grass or brim with stagnant water. A rivulet runs across the trail and then down the east side of the encampment, sculpting a ravine. Over many years the tribe with its collective will sculpted the pounding stone and the earth where the huts stood. Nature is slowly taking over with its cycles, flourishing in and around the decay, the water regenerating and wearing away at the same time. Even from this high on the ridge, one can hear and see the manifested thought-forms of modern civilization, the road, the bridge over Sycamore Creek, the cars and trucks, the guns, revealing the current collective sense of our place in nature.
The force of severity in the human mind once sculpted a little niche out of nature on this ridge, while not far away in the Central Valley, people over the last century have cultivated the land and developed the city so much that nature no longer exists at all as it used to. Crops and buildings of all kinds continue to sprout on the Valley floor. The severity of thought is apparent everywhere.
Continuing up the hill in the watershed, leaving Sycamore Creek far below, one finds several collapsed mine shafts and another pounding stone not far from a waterfall. The trail climbs a little to another cleared area where one has a sense of wide open spaces, with a good view of the ridges on the other side of Sycamore Creek.
The elements of Air and Water are similar in several respects, which sometimes leads to confusion. The element of Air represents the flow in the conscious mind of thoughts and emotions and desires. Thought-forms imbued with emotion and desire follow one another in ceaseless currents, unless one makes a conscious effort to still the flow. Even the notion of “dropping into the void” in meditation is a thought-form, but if one stills the conscious mind long enough, other thought-forms--archetypal symbols--sometimes surface from another level of the mind associated with the element of Water and the "mental plane." The element of Water is receptive to spiritual impulses and embodies them with archetypal form. Archetypal symbols appear in vision during meditation without any emotion or desire attached to them, yet they can ripple out into one’s life through the astral plane into the physical realm and take on great emotional significance, revealing the interconnectedness of the different planes, which are really simply different levels of being. Air, also associated with breath, the essence of life, symbolizes spirit in many traditions as well. Everything is spirit manifested in one form or another, but Air represents the active, conscious currents of spirit, which we associate with awareness and intellect.
Emotions, sometimes negative, and desires, sometimes inappropriate, well up into conscious awareness, occasionally causing conflict, and Swords, the suit of the Air element in the Tarot, reflects this conflict and destructiveness, which can tear through the thin fabric of rationality. Yet a sword can also swiftly cut through difficult problems, eliminating illusion for truth, and so Air at the other end of the pole is associated positively with the intellect and rationality.
A Hermetic axiom is “Everything is mental energy,” so, in a sense, everything is an aspect of mind, including perceptions of the physical world, and so, too, in a sense, consciousness is symbolic. We perceive energy fields as separate objects because from an early age we are trained to do so, but the fields that we label as objects are on a basic level connected with all the other fields of energy in the cosmos. Language, as a symbolic system, enables us, indeed requires us, to perceive fields of energy as separate from each other, so the cup is separate from the table, and the table from the floor, and the floor from the rest of the house, and the house from the rest of the cosmos.
The act of perception makes symbols of energy fields. What we see or touch or taste or smell or hear is translated by the nervous system into the brain, the impulses taking on a meaning that we label with words and call “reality.” The simple act of perceiving reveals a process farther removed at each stage from pure experience: direct sensation, translated through nerve impulses and chemical reactions into impressions in the brain, ultimately translated into symbolic meaning which is then remembered as experience. The image and feel of the cup, the smell and taste of the coffee, the sound of the cup hitting the saucer are the product of nerve impulses received in the brain, which then identifies and separates out the different impressions of the energy fields and gives the energy a meaning remembered as the experience of drinking coffee.
As a species, we tend to agree that particular fields of energy have particular meanings. The very moment that a field of energy “means something” is the moment it becomes symbolic. The energy field holding the coffee becomes identified as a general type of object known as a cup. From that moment, similar energy fields can be classified as cups containing a specific purpose. From there, the object can take on a more abstract meaning. The cup can become the Grail, representing the force of spirit manifesting in matter. People, in a sense, have developed the tendency to “collapse” the energies within the perceptible spectrum of energy into a collective reality with a distinctly symbolic meaning.
What you perceive and what if really "out there" is possibly quite different. Imagine, for a moment, gazing at a knife on a table. For you to perceive the knife, light waves must hit it, some of which become absorbed and some of which are scattered. Some of these light waves cause chemical changes in your retina, which trigger cells in your optic nerve, which relay patterns of electrical charges into your brain, and there, through a process no one understands, the nerve messages are translated into an image of a knife on a table. Brain cells retain the image to create a memory that you can draw upon to compare to other energy fields. The image, a symbol of an energy field, is even farther removed from reality by words that provide a meaning that the culture agrees on. Words by themselves are simply arbritrary sounds or scrawls on paper. This tendency to symbolize continues as you apply abstract concepts to the image. The knife becomes the sword that symbolizes the intellect.
Between what we perceive, and what the brain transforms perception into, is an infinitesimal gap that quickly deepens into an abyss if you stop relying on symbolic associations. On one level, this is an aspect of a mystical experience related to Daath, the invisible sphere on the Tree of Life between the conscious mind and the Abyss. The moment that the mind no longer perceives a separation between “out there” and “in here” is a moment when symbols lose their dominance over the mind. A sense of nothingness or emptiness underlying action and form can accompany such a moment, but it can also be a moment oddly filled with an overwhelming sense of the unity of all creation. This sense is slightly shocking to the Western mind, which is accustomed to the material world of forms and symbols, and so the sense of unity rarely lasts long unless you can train your mind to extend it.
“The mind slays reality, so one must slay the slayer” is an old mystical adage, and the element of Air in one sense is the sword that slays the sense of unity underlying existence. Conversely, it is also the tool that enables the mind to create, for good or ill, a symbolic reality that lends itself to survival on the physical plane. However, recognizing the “emptiness” of action and form and their symbolic associations is also an essential aspect of Air, an element that is, after all, invisible, empty of form.
The element of Air on one level is also the zone of dreams and daydreams and Gods and magical creatures and angels and demons, the zone where humans bring fear and desire through imaginative form into manifestation on the physical plane. In the history of the human race, astral consciousness evolved before the conscious, rational mind and still speaks in images and symbols and visions representing the force of emotions and desires. Though overlaid by the conscious mind, the "astral" aspect of the psyche never quite disappears, containing impulses like wind--because the astral plane itself is a plane of force which can be molded by the intellect and will. People use the astral plane, whether they know it or not, to focus and project desire into manifestation. The astral plane is mind stuff that lays the foundation for the physical universe; it is the zone where humans can consciously connect with entities of higher and lower spiritual vibrations. Since the universe emanates from the Source "down" through spriritual and mental levels first, the astral plane must be passed through in the other "direction" before the mind reaches the higher consciousness and connects with the essence of the Shining Ones. The astral plane is where the Shining Ones sometimes agree to meet with humans who fashion a suitable astral form for them in the imagination.
Since the invisible natural forces that organize the cosmos are made of "mind stuff," and since our souls are also invisible but made of the same mind stuff, shamans and initiates throughout the ages have used a common method passed down through the mystery traditions that enables them to connect with intelligences of other planes. Even though it can shift with the quickness of thought and lacks physical substance, the astral plane contains life just like every other plane in the cosmos. Because of this astral mind stuff, humans are able to create a special kind of being called an elemental by fashioning in the imagination a form suitable for the normally free-flowing force to ensoul. Once domesticated, the elemental can perform certain tasks within its limited nature for the shaman or magician. Another special type of elemental containing great power is known as a God or Archangel. These mighty intelligences will sometimes manifest within an appropriate astral form, pouring their force into the hearts and minds of the worshippers and providing spiritual assistance. The shaman, magician, or priest goes about his work by building a symbolic astral image and reaches out to the intelligence through feeling, in prayer or sacrifice or ceremony, until the intelligence responds favorably with its presence or its "ray" of energy. Great healing and purification and exaltation of consciousness is possible through this connection.
Native Americans must have used fire to clear this ridge, letting a few trees stand at the edges, long before the miners came. I imagine children in this clearing playing games that helped them develop survival skills and men and women giving lessons and telling stories that passed on the practical knowledge and spiritual wisdom of the tribe. I imagine the shamans, both men and women, creating thought-forms that manifested abundance and healed the sick, as well as thought-forms of local deities and Shining Ones that channeled the spiritual forces into the individual and collective consciousness of the tribe. I imagine, before the development of language, feelings and thoughts communicated telepathically between humans and intelligent natural and spiritual forces. Telepathy is an ability essential for spiritual connection, and like most other psychic abilities usually occurs when one is free of negativity, relaxed and in tune with otherness. My wife and I, for instance, were immediately “tuned” to each other when we first met, and over the years, whenever we have relaxed together, like when we are alone in the car on a long trip, we have read each other’s minds, connecting on a mind-boggling range of topics first with thought-forms and then with words. The element of Air is on one level this flow of the mind stuff of thought energy which people tend to block or ignore.
The suit of Swords in the tarot is full of conflict and negativity because the astral plane, which in its highest vibration accomodates the Gods, also contains the vilest impulses and imaginings of the human race. One must be extremely careful not to attract the negative forces and intelligences by giving free reign to those impulses within oneself. The astral plane is responsible for a great many spiritual and "mental" illnesses because people allow those negative energies to dominate them by opening a channel to them in the mind. "Like attracts like" on the astral, mental, and spiritual levels. Working for the highest possible good is the best way to avoid disaster, but as with all other choices, your karma is your own.
Humanity has always needed the intellect to survive the challenges of nature, and arguably, culture, which is communicated from one generation to another, is the evolutionary niche created by the mind most responsible for our survival as a species. Without the ability to build appropriate shelters and weapons, the human race would not have survived against much more powerful predators. Thought and spirit both flow like wind, and the discipline of thought on the astral plane maintains order and harmony within the self, the family, the community and the nation.
On the highest arc, the God Thoth, heart and tongue of the Sun-God Ra, is the Logos who commences the act of creation--and continues it, like all human beings, in every moment. Like the messenger God Mercury, his Roman counterpart, Thoth communicates the will of the spirit to the conscious mind. Thoth is the God of magick because he molds the spiritual forces into form, manifesting thought in the physical realm. Mercury, however, is also the God of rogues and thieves because the negative pole or vice of the sphere of Hod is deceit. Every sphere on the Tree of Life has its spiritual standard. Truth is the highest ideal in the Mercurial realm of the intellect, an ideal which is much abused, especially where one expects it to be most hallowed, such as the halls of academia. Thoth is also associated with technology, from the creation of the wheel to the development of the computer. The ability to think in words as well as images is a relatively recent development in human evolution. Language enables humans to pass on information from one generation to the next and is responsible for the great proliferation of technology within the past century. Thoughts are manifesting everywhere, in one form or another. Unless one is in the wild, one tends to find very little that has not been molded by human thought, some of which reflects the adverse aspect of the sphere of Hod and the element of Air.
Following a trail next to the stream which empties into Sycamore Creek far below, one often finds the watershed snaking with rivulets. The old trail becomes slippery and turns into a small stream bed for forty feet at certain times of year. Soon one finds a pounding stone. This for me represents the realm of the Water element where the Goddess flows and undulates, dancing through eternal cycles.
Once, when I was meditating on the element of water during a ritual invoking the Archangels, I felt a physical sensation of swaying in the ocean. A few weeks later, I traveled to the coast and actually waded out into the waves. Even though I had not gone swimming in the ocean for over twenty-five years, the sensation was exactly the same as it had been during my meditation. As I felt the sensation of swaying in the rolling waves, I recognized that water, like physical form, is constantly changing, the volume of water in the water cycle remaining pretty much the same. Water, a receptive, feminine element like earth, also represents the primal form of symbols and archetypes. Water, associated with the dark depths of the subconscious mind, is also an energy with a high “vibration.” One must dive deep into the subconscious in order to ascend to the level of archetypes, where the abstract spiritual impulses first take shape. Unfortunately, because symbols and archetypes are from the feminine element of Water, visions, and the information they contain, are too often dismissed.
The symbols within the plane of Water awaken energies and potentials within individuals that correspond to macrocosmic energies of the mental plane. A person meditating on archetypal symbols can sometimes feel that he or she has slipped from the individual mind into the collective mind, from the personal to the transpersonal, as though channeled from a stream into the ocean. At those moments, the symbols have both a unique personal meaning as well as a collective archetypal meaning that often begins rippling out in the individual’s life in significant ways in the days and months and years that follow.
The tradition of the Qabalah provides symbols from the mental plane as signposts. As in everyday reality, certain symbols and events stand out more than others for each individual. For example, one individual on the path of “The Emperor” during meditation might experience falling into magma and being cleansed by fire, only to rise as an ankh or scepter, while another might encounter royal figures against a backdrop of springtime or the creation of the world. What one experiences are archetypal figures and events that represent spiritual principles--the individual must examine the symbols for their spiritual significance as one might examine a dream for its psychological significance.
The intellect extends from the mental plane, but the intellect as we know it, so full of the intensity of desire and emotion, is an aspect of astral consciousness. The mental plane is actually the "archetypal world." Only when its significance is revealed in astral consciousness and in the world of action--the physical plane--does its emotional significance ripple out into manifestation. For instance, a person who envisions a golden equal-armed cross during meditation might find out later that gold symbolizes the incorruptibility of spirit, and then that the cross itself corresponds to the four elements of the wise in harmonious relation to each other. The person might then discover that the cross is the basis for key rituals where the magician creates a three dimensional space in order to launch the mind into the fourth dimension of spirit. Then the individual might actually begin practicing rituals as a way to progress in the Great Work of self-transformation. The meaning of a symbol from the mental plane often takes weeks or months or even years to unfold, but a symbol can have a life-changing impact on anyone who is sensitive. And one such experience can lead to a lifetime of adventure in the “forest of symbols.”
Trudging up the trail, after climbing close to a thousand feet, one finds the largest pounding stone in the area on a ridge saturated by sunlight, with three tiers on the slope for huts. Here, one feels close to the sun, associated with Tiphareth (Beauty) on the Tree of Life. One is in the element of fire, which is the impulse behind all natural life, associated with Venus and the sphere of Netzach on the Tree of Life, just below Tiphareth. At this site I encounter a grandfather God full of fierce wisdom, who knows how to channel the passions through willpower to manifest harmony for the tribe and the nation. In my mind’s eye, this God shines with great power to destroy or generate, and contains the pure life force, which ultimately manifests on all levels of the human psyche, from the spiritual to the instinctual to the sexual to the artistic to the intellectual to the intuitive. This is the energy closest to the Source, the fire which motivates, the fire which burns everything but the spirit away (even if it takes a lifetime), so that one can proceed to the summit and commune with Source alone. The invisible flame is all that remains after desire for external things has vanished. No ritual or book or guru is enough: This flame is what motivates one to reach the heights, despite all adversity.
The top of the ridge is the holy of holies for the element of Spirit, which is empty of form. There one communes personally, and alone, with the Source. (One gives great leeway to the imagination; what one really finds at the top of the ridge is a distinct trail that leads to a seemingly bottomless pit dug years ago by miners.) The element of Spirit is associated with the central sphere of the Tree of Life, Tiphareth, which reflects the Source of manifestation, the Crown of Creation, Kether.
I should emphasize that before the age of forty-two I was an existentialist, with no belief in other spiritual dimensions or a supreme being. The intrusion of the spiritual realm into my world came as a complete surprise. Ten years ago, I would have laughed to scorn anyone trying to convince me of what I am telling you now. Like most people, my mind has been overlaid by rationality through years of education, and the life force has been blocked and distorted by socialization and various traumas. Only because I stubbornly continued to exalt consciousness by immersing myself in the arts and nature did I eventually reach a point where my higher self surfaced for a few moments.
As I continued to experience visions during meditation, I studied more and more, struggling with esoteric terminology and practicing rituals until through experience I slowly began to understand. Nobody tabernacled in the house of flesh has assisted me in this course, and except for the wonderful personalities I’ve encountered in a few valuable books, I have had no training from a guru or an adept, and I do not claim to have the blessing of an occult lodge or an incorporeal master. Most people like me do not have access to a living adept or guru (and probably wouldn’t trust their help anyway). I am telling you what I believe based on years of personal experience--and I believe it is possible to initiate oneself into the mysteries if one is intelligent, balanced, willful and persistent enough. Most of what I consider genuine practice is based on the symbols that I have envisioned; for instance, many effective rituals are based on the equal-armed cross, enabling the practitioner to invoke or banish powerful energies. I have found these rituals in various books by members or former members of The Golden Dawn. (One should seriously consider reading them before beginning any spiritual journey and keeping them close at hand as a resource.)
Soul paths, wherever they begin, move toward greater sympathetic connection. I have returned to this terrain because the spirits of place and the Shining Ones are here; their Native American names have been lost to all but a few perhaps, but I believe these deities fit on the Tree of Life like the pantheons of other cultures because the human mind has the same needs everywhere--and the Tree of Life comprehensively maps the human mind. An energetic connection overlays the Sycamore Creek watershed like a fog emanated by the collective subconscious of the tribe that once lived here. Like Egypt and Avalon, the watershed is a symbolic territory of the imagination where one can cycle through and integrate the levels of the psyche, represented by the "elements of the wise," earth, air, water, and fire, so that the higher self in Tiphareth, which is linked to the Source, can peek through. Once the higher self shines through on a regular basis, one can cycle back and invoke the local deities and the great Shining Ones, forging links that maintain kinship, harmony, and order on numerous levels.
Play a game.
The world is a forest of symbols. Beyond the ancient village site with the distinct house pits, the mining road leads to a higher ridge with several collapsed pits and one miner's grave covered by large rocks veiled by grass. In spring, the hillsides often blaze with the gold of fiddleneck and poppies, which the miners no doubt noticed, if only for a moment, before descending into the darkness of their pits. The mine, needless to say, is a symbol in my magical forest with great personal meaning (which it might have for anyone who has struggled in a pit of their own making).
As I begin again, looking down from the pounding stone on the denuded slope and feeling the weight of the collective shadow, I am at a loss because my culture seems to be degenerating, perhaps even disintegrating. Due partly to intuition and partly to the horrors of recent history, I believe that it is important to climb the mountain once again to get a clearer view and maintain dialogue with my higher self. If I can, I am hoping that I will be able to look out through the eyes of the soul at all times in history.
The Basics of the Pentagram Spread.
Go on a hero's journey with Claire.
Take the next trail.
Follow a path of light.
Take a slightly different trail.
Follow the River.