This week we continue a monthly discussion of The Cosmic Doctrine by Dion Fortune, which I consider the most important work of 20th century occult philosophy. Climb in and fasten your belts; it’s turning out to be as wild a ride as I expected. If you’re just joining us now, please go back and read the previous commentaries, which are listed here; the material covered in these earlier posts is essential to making sense of what follows.
As noted in earlier posts, there are two widely available editions of The Cosmic Doctrine, the revised edition first published in 1956 and the Millennium Edition first published in 1995, which reprints the original privately printed edition of 1949. You can use either one for the discussions that follow. The text varies somewhat between the two editions, but the concepts and images are the same, and I’ll be referring to both.
Revised Edition: Chapter 6, “The Beginnings of a Solar System,” pp. 31-34.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 5, “The Genesis of a Solar System,” from the second complete paragraph on p. 43 (which starts with the words “You have heard how these atoms…”) to the end of the chapter.
As with previous chapters it’s probably wise to revisit two points before going on. First, it’s essential to keep in mind the basic rule Fortune puts at the beginning of the text—“These images are not descriptive but symbolic, and are intended to train the mind, not to inform it.” Second, this is a textbook of occult philosophy, not of astrophysics. When Fortune discusses solar systems in this chapter, she’s using concepts borrowed from astronomy as a set of metaphors, not trying to compete with the astronomers of her time (or ours) by offering up a physical theory of the formation of solar systems.
There’s a further level to the metaphor, however, and it’s one that will become increasingly important as the book proceeds. From ancient times onward, it’s been common in Western esoteric writings to identify the sun as the representation, the habitation, or even the material body of the principal divine power active in the world we know. That habit almost certainly has Egyptian roots, tracing its origins to the veneration of the sun god Ra; you can find the same solar vision all the way through classical Western occultism from the emperor Julian’s hymns to Helios the sun god straight through to Robert Fludd’s identification of the sun as the habitation of the Logos, the second person of the Christian trinity.
Fortune’s work is squarely in this tradition. For her, the Solar Logos—whom she also identifies as the second person of the Christian trinity, by the way—is the god of this solar system, the Great Organism who organizes and conditions everything on Earth and the other planets that orbit our sun. In the chapters we’ve already studied, Fortune has sketched out in metaphoric terms the evolutionary process by which the Solar Logos (and countless other Great Organisms of the same type) comes into being; we now proceed to the chapters in which she explores how the Solar Logos creates a solar system in the image of the greater Cosmos.
That process begins as the traveling atoms discussed in last month’s commentary find their way back to the Central Sun. Each traveling atom has gone out and back again along each of the twelve Rays, absorbing the influences of each Ray on each of the seven Circles or Cosmic planes of existence. Each of these atoms started out as a vortex of movement in space based on a simple geometrical pattern; each finishes its journey as a fantastically complex structure of forces in equilibrium, having experienced every possibility the cosmos has to offer and made each one of those possibilities part of its internal structure.
These Great Organisms, as we may now call them, started their outward journey when the Ring-Cosmos was turning toward the Ring-Chaos. As they complete the journey, they come to rest in the Central Sun and stay there as the Ring-Cosmos begins pivoting away from the Ring-Chaos and the Cosmos sinks into its negative phase. Once the Ring-Cosmos begins moving toward the Ring-Chaos again, the Great Organisms leave the Central Sun again, following the lines of the twelve Rays.
In the previous phase of activity, the atoms moved outwards to fill empty space, and some of them became complex enough to go all the way out to the Ring-Pass-Not and begin the career as a traveling atom that would transform them into Great Organisms. In this new phase of activity, the atoms that didn’t become traveling atoms are still there, distributed by density (or geometrical structure) among the seven Circles. As the Great Organisms go out along the Rays, they gather up as many of the atoms of each plane as their mass can attract, and their outward movement slows down accordingly. Eventually each of the Great Organisms, with its cloud of accompanying atoms, comes to rest in one of the Circles and begins to revolve around the Central Sun at a fixed distance, passing through each of the Rays in turn.
What determines the Circle in which any given Great Organism settles down to stay? Here again, we have the trap mentioned in last month’s commentary, the one Fortune laid with exquisite care for would-be fundamentalists. Remember how an earlier chapter had only the ten-sided atoms becoming traveling atoms, while all the other atoms settled out to stay in one or another of the circles, from the three-sided atoms in the first circle, all the way out to the nine-sided atoms in the seventh. Here, all of a sudden, the Great Organisms can have atoms of any shape at their core, and each one settles out into a circle determined by the number of sides of its basic form. “If the vortex set up in the angles of the Rays moved in a three-sided path, it could go no further than the first plane beyond the Central Stillness,” our text says; “it would have to be a ten-sided figure to reach the seventh plane and evolve there.”
Did you hear that click? That was the trap closing shut.
The difficulty Fortune has placed in the way of a simplistic literalism here is straightforward enough: the numbers don’t work. If atoms based on three-sided figures settle out in the first Circle, atoms based on four-sided figures in the second Circle, those based on five-sided figures in the third Circle, and so on, then the atoms assigned to the seventh Circle would be nine-sided, and ten-sided atoms would have no place to go. Try to turn The Cosmic Doctrine into an allegedly infallible sacred scripture and you crash headlong into that obvious problem. Accept instead that it’s a set of metaphors meant to train the mind, and you’re fine; sure, the numbers don’t work, but they don’t need to.
You can imagine, with perfect serenity, the Great Organism that created our solar system having a ten-sided figure at its core. You can see it drifting out along one of the Rays, gathering a cloud of other atoms with it as it goes, and settling into its permanent orbit on the seventh Circle. Since the rest of the book focuses on events inside our solar system, that’s as much as you need. Since all this is metaphor, getting bent out of shape because every detail doesn’t mesh precisely with every other detail is like responding to Robert Burns’ claim that his love is like a red, red rose by seeing if she has thorns and green skin.
With that in mind, let’s return to the metaphor. Once each Great Organism settles into its permanent orbit, the cloud of atoms that surrounds it sorts itself out into a miniature Cosmos, with the Great Organism at the center and a disk of less complex atoms around it, reflecting the Central Sun and the disk of the Ring-Cosmos. That’s a newborn solar system, as Fortune comments elsewhere, to the nearest approximate metaphor: the Great Organism as the sun-to-be, and the cloud of atoms surrounding it as the great swirling cloud of cosmic dust and debris that will eventually coalesce into planets, asteroids, and comets.
With this picture sketched out, Fortune proceeds to drop several important hints. The first is that the solar system we happen to inhabit is nothing special. Even the subset of them that settle into orbits on the seventh plane are so numerous that the stars known to human beings are but an infinitesimal fraction of the total, and each of the other Cosmic planes has a comparable number of Great Organisms building solar systems there, outside the reach of our awareness in this phase of our evolution. The point being made here is one that nineteenth- and twentieth-century occultism liked to stress: human beings are not the be-all and end-all of existence, and the cosmos does not exist solely for our benefit.
We have a place in the scheme of things. As we’ll see in more detail later on, it’s by no means a shabby place, all things considered, but it’s not unique to us, and there are other beings who rank far above us in the scale of things and will always do so. The sort of giddy anthropocentric arrogance that claims vast cosmic importance for human beings, and only for human beings, was already far too common when the nineteenth-century occult revival got under way, and it’s become even more so since then. Where Renaissance occultists such as Giovanni Pico di Mirandola spoke of the dignity and potential power of humanity, to try to counter the contempt for the human condition so common in the Middle Ages, modern occultists have had to grapple with the opposite problem, and labored to deflate the overblown collective ego of our species.
That’s the first hint. The second one is another of those remarkable prefigurations of systems theory that pop up all through The Cosmic Doctrine. In Dion Fortune’s time, the very first tentative efforts toward systems theory were trying to find a way to describe the way that every system divides itself into subsystems structured like the original system, and these subsystems do the same thing in turn. When I studied systems theory in college in the early 1980s, systems theorists had assigned that property a variety of names, such as self-similarity and recursive structure.
Not long thereafter, though, a branch of mathematics that had begun to explore the same process in numerical and geometrical forms got its fifteen minutes and more of fame, and gave the rest of us a straightforward way to talk about the property in question. Were Dion Fortune to reincarnate now for the purpose of bringing out an enlarged and revised edition of The Cosmic Doctrine, she could sum up half a dozen lengthy paragraphs with a single sentence: the Cosmos is fractal.
In a fractal picture, each part of the image—all the way down to the smallest—duplicates the overall structure of the picture, and vice versa. That same dynamic structures the relationship between the Cosmos, individual solar systems, and individual beings that exist within a solar system. That’s what Fortune is getting at in the last half dozen paragraphs of this chapter. The Cosmos has Rings and Rays and Circles, and so each solar system develops its own rings and rays and circles; within each solar system, in turn, the atoms that got scooped up with the Great Organism who is that system’s Solar Logos go through a reflection of the same experience that made a Solar Logos out of a traveling atom, and themselves become Great Organisms, and the process continues.
The Cosmos is fractal, and so everything we have discussed in terms of the overall structure of the (metaphorical) universe is also part of the structure of each individual human being, and each human society, and each ecosystem, and any other whole system you want to understand. As a human being, a microcosm of the macrocosm, you have your own Ring-Cosmos, Ring-Chaos, and Ring-Pass-Not; you have your own Rays (the cusps of your natal horoscope) and your own Circles (the various bodies, dense and subtle, of the human being); your actions spiral outward from your Central Sun to your Ring-Pass-Not and back again, evolving into habits that find their proper orbit and continue in it thereafter. As above, so below: the great axiom of the Hermetic tradition is a continuing theme of The Cosmic Doctrine, and this is one of the places where it’s central.
Though the Cosmos and the individual have the same basic structure, in turn, there’s a crucial difference between them: the Cosmos forms the environment that conditions and influences the individual, not the other way around. At every moment your consciousness and your life are being shaped by the forces of the cosmos; some of the ways in which this happens are obvious, but a great many more are not. The essence of the Secret Wisdom—that is to say, the essence of occultism, since “occult” simply means “that which is hidden”—is the knowledge of those hidden influences, and of the times and places and forces that cause them to change. To know those influences is to attain wisdom. To wield them in harmony with the innate patterns and directions of the Cosmos is to become the equivalent of a traveling atom: in a phrase traditional among occultists, it is to enter onto the Path.
Notes for Study:
As already noted, The Cosmic Doctrine is heavy going, especially for those who don’t have any previous exposure to occult philosophy. It’s useful to read through the assigned chapter once or twice, trying to get an overview, but after that take it a bit at a time. The best option for most people seems to be to set aside five or ten minutes a day during the month you spend on this chapter. During that daily session, take one short paragraph or half of a long one, read it closely, and think about what you’ve read, while picturing in your mind’s eye the image you’ve been given for that passage of text.
As you proceed through the chapter and its images, you’re likely to find yourself facing questions that the text doesn’t answer. Some of those are questions Fortune wants you to ask yourself, either because they’ll be answered later in the book or because they will encourage you to think in ways that will help you learn what the text has to say. It can be helpful to keep a notebook in which to write down such questions, as well as whatever thoughts and insights might come to you as you study the text.
Questions and comments can also be posted here for discussion. (I’d like to ask that only questions and comments relevant to The Cosmic Doctrine be posted here, to help keep things on topic.) We’ll go on to the next piece of the text on December 12. Until then, have at it!
Re the nesting of systems and the directional flow of influence
Understanding the direction of influence is unidirectional from Higher/Outer to Lower/Inner, what of “neighboring” sub-systems at the same level? Would their influence on one another be bilateral? (I’d presume so, taking the example of the human being as one “level” of system, as two human beings can certainly influence one another.)
Re the “trap”
I do suppose it would be too much to ask for Fortune to proceed from definitions, lemma, and theorems… 😉
I’ve tried framing the text as an exercise manual. Do this regimen, then this one, then that series of exercises over here. In that case, yes, a fundamentalist/literalist approach makes no sense (“This is the One True Way of exercise!”). But exercises have an end goal (getting fit, losing weight, being healthy). Does she, later in the text, address the end goal of this training? (Whether cloaked in metaphor or not?) Or are we just to understand that this training produces a “healthier” mind?
Thanks for this very cogent explanation – I could not make heads or tails out of this text without it. Incidentally, there was a program about Native American history and religion on PBS last night that noted the biggest North and Central American civilizations all considered the sun as the major divinity also.
I think a possible reason 10 was used instead of 9 to describe the base geometry of atoms that reach the Seventh Circle is a hint that these cycles of evolution never end. The number 9 represents the end of a cycle, but add 1 to it to make 10, and we have the beginning of a new cycle, because 10 reduces to 1 by theosophical reduction. When a composite atom reaches the Seventh Circle, a new cycle will eventually start. All is motion, even while in rest.
I also find it interesting that in many traditions, we rest during the seventh period of a cycle: fields are left fallow in their seventh year, God rested on the seventh day of creation, etc. Maybe the idea behind using the number 10 is that the composite atoms do not actually rest in the Seventh Circle as one might think they should as part of a cycle of 7; rest takes place only after they follow the Ray back to the Central Sun, symbolized by the number 10. Thus, the Seventh Circle is not a place of rest. The 7 Circles and a cycle of 7, such as the days of the week, may be similar but are not really fractals of each other.
Can’t wait for December 12! Thank you so much John for your dedication and work!
For about the last 10 years the verse “Spiral out. Keep going!” has been a bit of an inspirational mantra for me… why that might be is perhaps sinking in a little deeper now thanks to the text and your commentaries. Thanks!! (: the song is Lateralus by Tool if anyone cares… )
The association of Christ and the sun extends to Rudolf Steiner, who, like Fludd, was also closely associated with Rosicrucianism. “… evolving into habits that find their proper orbit and continue in it thereafter”. Are these unchangeable habits, and if so, what is another name for them, or are all habits unchangeable?
David, there’s always the possibility of bilateral influence, and later on in the text we’ll get into how that works. (It has a lot to do with the possibilities of polarity magic and other forms of multiperson magical workings, among other things.) As for the end goal of the training, it’s considerably beyond having a “healthier mind,” whatever exactly that might be. Fortune is trying to teach you how to think like a mage, so that you can make full use of the toolkit of magical practices, and understand the deeper dimensions of occult philosophy. We’ll get to that, too, as the journey continues.
Dewey, you’re welcome and thank you — I’m glad my commentary is helpful. As for sun worship, that’s quite true, of course.
Dan, good. That’s the sort of thinking that makes for good meditations on this sort of symbolic system.
Eduardo, you’re welcome and thank you. Just remember, you can use the time between now and December 12 to meditate on the text… 😉
Matt, it’s good advice!
Case, there may also be a more direct connection between Fortune’s vision and Steiner’s, since both were profoundly influenced by the teachings of the Theosophical Society, and I think the term “solar logos” is Theosophical in origin. As for habits, like anything else in orbit, they follow their existing trajectory until something interferes with them. Any habit can be changed by replacing it with a different habit.
Thanks for your always helpful commentary, JMG! I have a couple of questions (naturally).
There’s a part of the text where Fortune talks about the great organisms bursting forth through the Ring-Pass-Not after the cosmos attains sufficient complexity. Is she using “Ring-Pass-Not” figuratively, to indicate the boundary of the Central Sun? Or is she indicating that eventually the most complex organisms actually slip the bounds of the cosmos which generated them and fly out into Unmanifest space? In other words, is she describing a matryoshka-doll process of endless internal complexification, or a Faustian one of endless outpouring into external space?
I’m also somewhat confused by her description of the Absolute rings as sentient but simple. Wouldn’t this conflict with her belief in Christian theokogt, which views the Creator as a being vastly more intelligent and complex than its creations? I had always understood this to be one of the major points of conflict between materialism and theism – that materialism posits a world that emerges from interactions between simple particles obeying simple rules, while theism posits a creation guided by an active intelligence.
Re the end goal
Glad to hear that she gets to that! As for a “healthier mind,” I have no idea what that might be either; I was just to relate what we’re doing here to the notion of an exercise manual. That is, we are performing actions that don’t “do” anything (like running in a circle, for example, or lifting weights), but which develop capabilities (endurance, strength). Knowing what the end goal is and understanding how the in question activities further that goal help (at least, help me) see the point in doing exercises that otherwise appear to be without purpose. (Yes, I’m just running in a circle and going nowhere, but I’m building my cardiovascular capability and burning calories in the process.) I’m working very hard to roll with “train the mind, not inform it” while we wander about in metaphor 🙂
As has been mentioned above, your explication of this text has been invaluable to getting to this point. Thank you.
“At every moment your consciousness and your life are being shaped by the forces of the cosmos; some of the ways in which this happens are obvious, but a great many more are not…To know those influences is to attain wisdom.”
One of the things I’ve noticed is that Faustian cultural influence is unavoidable right now. Even those of us who reject Progress, who reject the idea humans are beyond nature, show plenty of influences from the culture around us. If you name a religion alive in the west today, I guarantee you can find Faustian influence.
I suppose most would never notice; the fool would run from it, screaming about how everyone’s mind’s are influenced by the worldview but his; while the wise would take it for what it is, and accept that the thoughts he thinks are shaped by the culture in which he lives.
It’s an interesting thing to contemplate, but it seems especially important with many of the most destructive features of Faustian culture on full display right now, because one of the first steps in avoiding most such traps is admitting you can fall victim to them.
I had been reading her writings on the cabala at the same time (and now your Paths of Wisdom) and had assumed that the ten sides was a point toward adding the number ten, the ten spheres, to the special numbers provided so far (7,12,3). Dion does say else where that the first atoms are three sided – the lowest number of form, of course, so I assumed this was a “magic trick” of addition to show us the seven spheres below the abyss end in ten, even though three is the number of Binah, which is form’s introduction, even as it also stands for the first state of the cosmos bounded by the ring chaos. A fractal trick, if you will 😉
“Each traveling atom has gone out and back again along each of the twelve Rays, absorbing the influences of each Ray on each of the seven Circles or Cosmic planes of existence. Each of these atoms started out as a vortex of movement in space based on a simple geometrical pattern; each finishes its journey as a fantastically complex structure of forces in equilibrium, having experienced every possibility the cosmos has to offer and made each one of those possibilities part of its internal structure.”
This seems like it might apply to Druid theories about reincarnation, emerging from Annwn and cycling through many experiences to get to Abred. https://www.ecosophia.net/a-few-notes-on-reincarnation/
Going to do the broken record thing now and thank you again, JMG, for publishing this series. I consider you the J.S. Bach of Western magic, truly.
To enter into the path, is to open up the gut, putting the brain in the attic, so to speak. Yes? No? Ancient wisdom, spinning forever, trying to find a home.
Here I’ve been freaking out that I haven’t at all understood what the cosmic doctrine was trying to say and just about ready to give up. This morning after a considerable amount of contemplation last night, I set out on a new project to study Egregors. However as I was doing my first meditation on the topic, I started using Models from the cosmic doctrine, and the short amount I wrote ended with the phrase “as above, so below.” Apparently I’m doing something right?
This is the most comprehensible post I have seen yet! My understanding of these matters pretty much stopped at the Tree of Life, which I have a fairly good grasp of, so maybe it’s relating the Solar Logos to Tipareth that does it here And “The cosmos is fractal” also makes very good, clear sense to me, almost “Duh! Obvious!”
Finally, “To know those influences is to attain wisdom. To wield them in harmony with the innate patterns and directions of the Cosmos is to become the equivalent of a traveling atom: in a phrase traditional among occultists, it is to enter onto the Path,” is precisely what I was groping for when asked “Why do you want to be a Witch?” Though back then, 28 years ago, I saw it more in terms of a river and a canoe-er paddling deftly through the rills and eddies. But that’s what I wanted, to know and navigate those currents.
Fred, (1) she doesn’t make that clear. Remember that all this is metaphor, so you can apply the metaphor either way and see how well it works.
(2) There we get into one of the huge differences between Fortune’s variety of Christianity and the orthodox kind. The Solar Logos, “without whom was not anything made that was made,” is the God of our solar system, and is a creative intelligence far greater and more subtle than human beings can imagine. The three Rings, which comprise God on the scale of the cosmos, are far vaster but far more simple, and the Absolute, which mystics tend to think of as God, is without history and without qualities — intelligence, please note, being a quality. So Fortune’s cosmos starts (in a certain sense) where materialism ends, and shows how gods emerge out of that.
I’m reminded of an elegant little argument for the existence of at least one god that Gene Wolfe put into one of his science-fantasy novels. Either the universe was created, or it wasn’t. If it was created, someone had to create it, ergo there is at least one god. If it wasn’t created, then it has existed for infinite time, and given infinite time to work in, at least one intelligent being would have attained the qualities we normally associate with gods, ergo there is at least one god. QED!
David, fair enough! Exactly; this running in metaphoric circles is meant to give your mind the stamina and skills it needs for the hard work of occult philosophy and practice.
Will, bingo. You and I cannot stop being what we are, and “what we are” includes a heavy dose of Faustian consciousness; if we pretend that isn’t the case, we fall victim to its influences all the more easily. If we accept it there’s at least the chance we can move away from its worst aspects toward its more constructive potentials.
SaraDee, yes, and that’s also involved! There are many levels to the metaphor.
Kimberly, thank you. I’m pretty sure that the implied reference to reincarnation was intended, as Fortune — like everyone else in the occult scene of her time — accepted reincarnation as a fact.
Dennis, not at all. The path of occultism requires the full commitment of every capacity you’ve got; you need your brain, your heart, your guts, and everything else you have. This notion that you can achieve perfection by mutilating yourself, discarding or distancing yourself from some part of you that’s been arbitrarily labeled “bad,” is one of the worst hangovers of the Piscean era we have to deal with.
Varun, indeed you are. Don’t worry about understanding the Cos.Doc.; it’s meant to train the mind, not to inform it. You don’t need to understand the physics of gravity to get a good workout with a barbell!
Patricia, you’re welcome. Glad to hear it! One of the things you’ll find as we proceed is that things do get a little easier; Fortune started out with very basic, abstract concepts, and is moving closer to the universe that humans experience with every step. She’ll get all the way down to our reality in due time.
Hmm. I must admit I don’t like the fact I’m a Faustian intelligentsia, but I am what I am, and trying to be something else isn’t going to work. I guess this raises a rather odd question though: how can someone be what they are, when what they are is trying to be something else? I suspect that’s yet another theme for meditation, isn’t it?
One of the ironies of being influenced by Faustian culture is the fact that one of the core ideas of Faustian humanity is independence from the environment: “Of course my thoughts are my own, and have not been influenced by my culture!”
Suddenly, a lot of strange things make a lot more sense: if I just assume nearly everyone can’t see how their worldview is influenced by their environment, but see it as objective fact, it makes perfect sense people would find it so hard to deal with anyone disagreeing with them on anything: they can’t understand how anyone could see things differently, since their worldview is objectively true.
Thanks, JMG, and to the commenters for their insights. I meant to say the J.S. Bach of Western occultism.
There’s a prayer in the Druid Magic Handbook that goes:
Grant, O holy ones, thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences, the love of Earth our mother and all goodness.
Here is how I am attempting to connect it with the Cosmic Doctrine:
The Trinity is the Ring (protection), the Ring-chaos (strength), and understanding (Ring-Pass-Not)
Understanding to knowledge is the resulting twelve rays
Knowledge to knowledge of justice is the Circles or planes where “karma” as we know it is acted out
Prime Atoms are the resulting love of all existences
Recombination and return to the center is the love of Earth our mother and all goodness.
I sense that the prayer relates to Ogham symbolism as well but I have yet to crack the code.
“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Not sure who coined this, has been used by Margaret Thatcher among others. Its a beauty, and seems to dovetail nicely with what your saying
When you say the universe is fractal, to clarify what you mean is that in some ways and sometimes to humans it appears to be fractal, but in occult theory it’s not an absolute, right?
JMG “You and I cannot stop being what we are, and “what we are” includes a heavy dose of Faustian consciousness; if we pretend that isn’t the case, we fall victim to its influences all the more easily. If we accept it there’s at least the chance we can move away from its worst aspects toward its more constructive potentials.”
Slightly off topic (and being ON topic is going to take me a few days to mull, as usual) I can’t help feeling that if you substitute “racism” for “Faustian consciousness” you would have an important clue to some of the (other) cultural influences we are (mostly) falling victim to, rather that accepting them, and with that acceptance, receiving the chance to move away from their worst aspects…
The liberal game of “name/blame the racist” is premised on the idea that “I’m not one.” But, it’s darn near impossible for anyone who grew up in our racist culture to have achieved a place of neutrality from which to be objective about the racism of others. And, of course, no one likes being called a racist, at least, not by another racist, so the pretense keeps us all pretty firmly in racism’s grip, and liable for all the workings out of its long and complicated karma.
Will, excellent! “Trying to be what you’re not” is a central theme of Faustian culture, and so part of accepting who you are is accepting that constant striving to be who you aren’t. As long as you realize that the striving never achieves its goal, that “who you aren’t” is at an infinite distance and so all your inevitable efforts in that direction will always fall short, it’s perfectly healthy. It’s those who convince themselves that they’ve achieved it who fall into the trap of bad faith Sartre discussed so incisively. As for the people who can’t see how their thoughts are shaped by their culture, that’s a huge point, and one that’s playing a massive role in the dysfunctions of our present culture. It’s not even that they don’t see it; it’s that they’re frantically running away from the recognition that, as the song says, they are what they are and they ain’t what they ain’t. That way lies madness, and I’m not talking in metaphorical terms here.
Kimberly, wow. That works, and it’s not something I’d thought of, nor (to my knowledge) that anyone else has explored. Thank you; you’ve just built a bridge between Druidry and the Cos. Doc. that will bear much further travel.
Tsutomu, a very solid point. There’s a slightly different version of the same saying in Druid circles, which (predictably) makes use of nature symbolism:
“Sow a thought, reap a word;
Sow a word, reap an action;
Sow an action, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character;
Sow a character, reap a destiny.”
Either way it’s excellent advice and good fodder for meditation.
Dashui, good! I wondered if anyone would catch that. Yes, “the Cosmos is fractal” means, when translated into less gnomic form, “thinking of the Cosmos as fractal is a useful way to focus attention on some aspects of the universe of our experience not so well grasped by way of many other interpretive tools.”
Scotlyn, I’m far from sure that the label “racist” actually means anything any more. If you want to talk about ethnic privilege, I’m all ears; if you want to talk about ethnic prejudice, ditto; but I’m increasingly scratching my head, trying to figure out what that word “racism” means — well, apart from a conflation of those two things backed up by a shriek of hatred and rage.
I think racist these days usually means little more than “How dare you question my privileges?!”
Gene Wolfe’s argument creates a false dichotomy, because temporally finite things can and often do come into existence through mechanical or chance causes. Also, if the universe had existed for infinite time it would not follow that one or more entities in it must have attained godlike power; that attainment, like fast affordable interstellar travel, might be impossible, or it might be that almost-godlike beings reliably use their power to destroy their own peoples, or that the lifespan of a single solar system isn’t long enough to let them complete the process. It reminds me of Descartes’ arguments for the existence of the Christian God: sound good on the surface, but when looked at hard, totally bogus. (Although after reading Philosophy Between the Lines, I have a suspicion that Descartes knew that.)
“I’m far from sure the label “racist” actually means anything any more. If you want to talk about ethnic privilege, I’m all ears; if you want to talk about ethnic prejudice, ditto; but I’m increasingly scratching my head, trying to figure out what that word “racism” means.”
I won’t belabour this, and will enter no more comments on this subject here, because it’s not at all topical. But it just seemed so apt (to me) to re-write your sentence and explain (to myself) a number of things that are occurring in my world.
I think I’m not talking about a thing that IS, certainly not about a label, but about a cultural consciousness and set of meanings that I know *I* was raised in. In that cultural consciousness, people are categorised in various ways, but one of those ways of categorising that I learned (or maybe absorbed is more accurate) includes the use of racial categories. Black skin, white skin – they are assigned meanings in this cultural consciousness in which I was raised and those meanings still resonate within me.
Therefore, to avail of the opportunity to change how racial meanings resonate within me (which I would very much like to do), means starting with an acceptance that those racial meanings are already constructed into my awareness and worldview, and so to get anywhere else, that is the very place where *I* have to start from. The main reason it would not make sense, then, for *me* to call anyone else a racist, is not that there aren’t racists, it’s that, if I examine the cultural furnishings that my culture has given to my mind as its inheritance, I can see that I myself am one.
Anyway, I’m enjoying the exchanges between yourself and Will J, and so, please ignore my temporary excitability on this score.
Before we go on, I’ve fielded several comments that were completely off topic — as in, not even an attempt to relate them to anything anyone’s said this week — for this week’s post. Please read the last paragraph of the post. There’ll be an open post in the 28th, so please save your off-topic comments for that, and please save this conversation space for discussion of The Cosmic Doctrine and things at least peripherally related to it, or to something someone here said about it. Many thanks!
With that said…
Will, I’m not at all sure I can find any reason to disagree.
Dewey, good! Of course it’s not a conclusive argument.
Scotlyn, fair enough. I know I have something of a kneejerk reaction to that word these days. The points Will J. have raised have set my mind racing — there’s something very important going on in the frantic attempt to push bad faith to its ultimate extreme, and I want to understand it.
@Scotlyn, you’re not only on to something, you’re using THE framework for anti – racist activist work that every good social justice group I have belonged to uses, good stuff! 🙂
(and yes good social justice activism exists, though I know the majority posters on this forum have decided to take the Far Right’s word for what that means and sneer about “SJWs” instead. A habit which has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the environmental influences on thought patterns you have just described, and which social justice theory critiques, of course…nope….)
“[T]here’s something very important going on in the frantic attempt to push bad faith to its ultimate extreme”
Ah, isn’t that the logical result of Faustian culture though? You take whatever it is you want to be, run to its logical extreme, and then… Well I don’t think Faustian culture thinks that far ahead. But, even if you want to be spiritual, let’s say, it’s usually thought of as all or nothing: you’re either purely spiritual or not at all. The reality we live in, where everyone is partially there, but few reach the extremes that monks reach, for example, is ignored.
This is to say nothing of the fact that the material world is usually seen as the antithesis of the spiritual, and the fact monks still have to eat is used as evidence that even they are not “really spiritual” by some who wish to argue humanity is not spiritual, and never can be.
So, of course we would take bad faith to its logical extreme. It’s not even just civilizations tend to do it, but our culture loves the logical extreme. Faustian humanity loves to ignore the middle: we desperately try to pretend that there is nothing except for the extremes.
Since that is the reality, all of us in Faustian humanity are drawn to the extremes. This means, since most people (and, quite often, nearly everyone) are in the middle of things, neither perfectly left, nor perfectly right; neither perfectly good, nor perfectly evil; neither perfectly spiritual, nor perfectly atheistic; neither perfectly introverted nor perfectly extroverted; and on and on through the litanies of dualisms that Faustian humanity embraces, everyone in our culture wants to be something we aren’t.
But, it’s even worse than that: what we are is something utterly unthinkable: somewhere in between.
In the last paragraph of chapter six, we are encouraged to align our “ends with those of Cosmic evolution” so we may evolve to become Great Organisms ourselves. This seems like a tall order to follow, but I think we can use the Book of Nature to find some simple practices as a place to start. All the cycles mentioned in the Cosmic Doctrine, from the rotation of the Rings, the cycling of the Rays, and probably the rotation of the Circles follow a simple pattern of alternating positive and negative phases. In Nature there are three simple cycles that also follow this pattern of alternating polarity: the yearly cycle, the lunar cycle, and the daily cycle. Maybe a simple way to start harmonizing our energy with the greater Cosmic cycles is to align our lives with these natural cycles. Practices such as planting and harvesting by the lunar cycle and celebrating the yearly festivals such as found in the Druid spiritual path are two simple examples of ways to harmonize ourselves with Nature, and by extension the Cosmos. Mother Nature has within her the movements and memory of those who have already traveled the pathway to become Great Organisms. We just have to consciously begin to follow these paths, already written in the Book of Nature, in our lives.
“No atom goes twice around the Circuit; therefore the Central Stillness grows as evolution proceeds, and those atoms which have come home rest from their pilgrimage.”
That got me wondering…why doesn’t an atom go around again? Is it because it has already experienced and learned from all the forces present in the Cosmos at the time, and there’s no point to going through it all again? That would imply the purpose of the atom is to experience, learn and evolve. Is that the purpose of the entire Cosmos? It seems to be set up in order to allow the atoms to have the possibility of evolution.
Looking again at “the Central Stillness grows as evolution proceeds.” In other words, it gains somehow? It gets bigger, grows in power? This might imply that the Central Sun is helped by the atoms returning, and wants (needs?) the atoms to evolve and return to the Central Stillness. I have noticed at times it has felt as though I was getting ‘help’ from an odd assortment of conscious beings on my personal journey on the path – is this because a conscious being (or beings) somehow want us all to succeed?
And moving on to “the organization of the Cosmos becomes so mighty in the force it has generated, that it bursts the Ring-Pass-Not, and the great organisms rush forth into the Unmanifest, and…in their turn build new Cosmoi.”
So the purpose of evolution is to build new Cosmoi and start the process all over again, eternally? To what end?? I guess that’s one of those questions that may not be answerable by humans. It seems downright Faustian, although perhaps I am only interpreting it that way since my mind has been formed in a Faustian environment, and I can’t conceive of it any other way. I get a few different impressions though…one is of escape, of bursting free from the Ring-Pass-Not. Is the Central Sun in captivity somehow? It also strikes me as a never-ending game being played on the part of the universe, although that impression feels quite cold. What about love, which seems to play a big part in the path of initiation?
I get the impression that the universe wants the atoms and great organisms to evolve in this manner, since the replication process of Cosmoi, or its underlying fractal nature is built right into its very structure. So when we align ourselves with the forces of evolution, we are helping the universe to do what it has been seemingly set up to do. As Dion says, “Should his ends be those of the Cosmic evolution he grows and develops through all its phases till he attains completeness, and…he gives rise himself to a system.”
Another impression that’s coming across is that the idea is not to be “right” all the time, (or, for that matter, wrong all the time), but actually to learn through experience, making many mistakes along the way.
By the gods, the insane moral posturing makes sense now! Faustian culture loves duality, so what is not perfectly good must be perfectly evil. Of course, no one wants to be evil, and Faustian culture also loves the idea of being what you want, not what you are, so everyone is certain that he is on the side of good.
The insane moral posturing is a logical outgrowth of this: since everything not perfectly good is evil, you need to repeatedly affirm your status as good, so that people know for sure you are, in fact good. More importantly, I think it’s also a way for Faustian humanity to reassure himself, he is, in fact, good.
Also, the obsession with differences rooted in biology makes sense, as Faustian Man tries to convince himself biology doesn’t matter at all. How does he deal with the fact that biology matters? By insisting it matters because we make it so!
SaraDee (if I may), I’m delighted to hear that there is, as you say, good social justice activism. I’d be even more delighted to see that in action from time to time, in place of the bullying, the hate speech, and the straightforward advocacy of hatred and violence against political enemies that so often goes on under the social justice label. In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t get that impression from right-wing media; I got it firsthand from watching the science fiction community, among other subcultures, go through a very bad case of it — if you’re not familiar with RaceFail 2009, please do look it up sometime.
Will, yes, but I think it goes further than that. The in-between space is something that Sartre explored in quite some detail; I foresee a close rereading of the relevant passages in Being and Nothingness soon…
Dan, excellent! Yes, very much so.
Will, good. I suspect there’s another, in some ways simpler, aspect as well. A lot of people these days are caught in an extreme double bind — they believe (with good reason) that a modern industrial lifestyle is driving devastating environmental changes, and yet they continue to live a modern industrial lifestyle. Thus, by their own moral logic, they are evil, and yet they have to claim to be good. So they have to find someone else to be more evil than they are, so they can be good by comparison.
I should take a good read of Being and Nothingness myself.
As for the modern lifestyle driving extreme changes, I think that’s a good reason to think of yourself as flawed. Not evil, but flawed. Of course, flawed but redeemable is not something many people seem to acknowledge, which is a whole other issue.
This would also mean that the human condition, flawed, but not evil, would be intolerable. Hmm. A lot of the insanity could be related to refusing to accept that we are human, not something pure.
I have to say this month’s discussion has sparked some fascinating commentary!
Re the Faustian tendency toward extremes
The first thing I thought as I read Will’s comment above was “Well, of course — optima always occur at extrema,” translating everything (as I tend to do) into math. One of the standard results of optimization theory is that your optimal solution will occur at an “corner” of the solution space (an extremum point).
Then I realized that this standard result was for a certain (broad) category of optimization problems, namely those which deal with convex spaces (a brief definition of convexity: given two points in a space, any linear combination of those points is also contained within that space). Given that “convexity” is a simplifying assumption which may or may not be true for a given space, I then wondered: what corresponding assumption might be being made in the Faustian worldview that would not necessarily hold true in reality?
Re “to what end”
Reading Stefania’s comment, which raised many points with which I wrestle myself, I heard that familiar voice from my meditations: “The point of the Dance is itself.” I suspect I’m going to continue to receive that response to most of my questions…
Which also touches on our host’s reply to a previous weeks comment of mine wherein he observed that history is like a merry-go-round. Perhaps the cosmic evolution is of a similar nature — that it is the process/experience, not an end result, that is the purpose of it all.
For JMG and Will J: “Hmm. I must admit I don’t like the fact I’m a Faustian intelligentsia, but I am what I am, and trying to be something else isn’t going to work. I guess this raises a rather odd question though: how can someone be what they are, when what they are is trying to be something else? I suspect that’s yet another theme for meditation, isn’t it?”
This is precisely why I was driven, against both the Zeitgeist and my own fundamentalistic upbringing, into accepting the doctrines of theosis, and spiritual practices designed to “open the channels of grace” so that contact (however limited) with higher reality could be established. It may look differently in people, but if Reality is transcendent at its highest level, and if the subtle rules the dense, then contact (again, however limited by mortal shortcomings and constraints) follows to be necessarily possible and desirable. Nicholas Berdyaev claims that man is not merely the Microcosm as the Renaissance made lucidly clear, but actually a Theocosm – the mystical dogmas/doctrines of the Church are filtered greatly through time and space (there is no doubt), however, the core teachings and practicum are operative. If enough internal friction builds up in the vice of this grip between who I am, and what I hope to become, it can transmute the inner being. The Russian connection (Bulgakov-Florensky-Mouravieff-Tomberg) is important in preserving these teachings (eg., Gnosis, Meditations on the Tarot).
After I hit “send” (of course), I thought of a visual example, to the extent anyone is interested 🙂
Consider the lunar cycle. Any phase on the gibbous side of a half-moon would be convex, as one could connect any two points within that shape with a straight line which would also be contained entirely within that shape. Once you are into the crescent phases, the shape is now concave (“not convex”), as it becomes possible to connect two interior points with a line that extends outside of the shape.
Returning to my question above, what analogous property might the Faustian worldview be assuming (in its pursuit of extremes as optimal solutions) that is not actually true?
For me, when I hear the word “racist” what I’m really hearing is “sinner”.
i.e. contemporary liberalism has morphed into a substitute for Christianity.
There’s an absolutely fascinating essay on this here:
Huh, I had a weird thought on Faustian society: given the myth of progress, we reject everything the past has to offer. We also have a rich literary and cultural tradition from the classical world which tends to seek balance.
I wonder if our obsession with extremes is in someway related to refusing to recognize classical Greek influence on our civilization….
@Phil Knight: do you not also hear the same thing with the use of “classist”? If not, why not?
What I’d like the people here to imagine every time you saw someone post their disgust and relish at come uppance against the “SJWs” on this forum (SJW being the right wing manner of saying “THOSE people” – it is a slur) , you put the word “rednecks” instead. People here have happily grasped classism exists, while even being able to realize they’re IN the privileged class, and that’s uncomfortable, and they suddenly realize part of them is compelled to try to say “not me!” to resolve that moral impurity, that discomfort if they could… It’s the identical process I see when people realise what white privilege means. IDENTICAL.
Will J’s thoughts are excellent, and on point, and the crux of our culture’s matter – and I have seen them all before in social justice spaces where people discuss what racism is and does (or sexism, or any other ism you’d like to scoff at), and how so much activism fractures specifically because of that drive to duality. Yes indeed, RaceFail 2009,and 2010, and, and, and… I’ve seen that, again and again, it drives good people out constantly – and posted about that before here – it was well received. What had not been well received is to bring up that the social justice groups that DON’T fracture – that continue to acknowledge there are core ideas they have within their critique of our Faustian culture that cannot be thrown out simply because people within our culture produced them and did what our culture does with them – have deliberately adopted the framework of “we’re all stewing in toxic worldviews, so we’re all compromised. Thus, no one is disposable, everyone has to be kept in the community, otherwise we fail.” those with the most powerful teachings tend to be quieter groups, who receive only serious students who seek them the right way so they don’t bring in people wanting to just blow stuff up, as anyone who studies the occult knows 😉
To create that community despite the stew is The Work. Community with the rest of the beings on the earth, despite the fact many of them want to kill you or liquify your insides to spread their spore capsules, or were simply in the way of a fast buck… with other humans despite much the same problems (less so the liquifying). Someone above asked – what about love? That’s the love. It’s not individual evolution out, the end is not just being Perfectly Oneself- it’s the individuals going back as Perfectly Oneself learning *how to come back in after they’ve taken on their individuality* to be Perfectly *Ourselves* again.
To use the Cos Doc –
It’s the start of evolution for atoms that are the same to be united in the Sun. But at the end of each cycle of evolution, atoms with the irreducible differences that come from their individual travels rest again, following the same inflowing forces, adding to the central stillness with their individual learnings. I suppose after that, they burst out and go on to join the Unmanifest, starting the movement, perhaps, that forms new cosmoi that have to learn something else or the same thing, in a different way.
Dear argusandphoenix: On the subject of theosis and “opening the channels of grace’:
In conversing with someone who claimed to be able to see people’s past lives, a question arose in my mind I have been turning over since. I think this post may even be on-topic with CosDoc!
We started from the premise that some part of us is already divine; there is the notion that we each contain a ‘divine spark’ that is the part of us that stays the same through multiple incarnations.
If that is true, and we are, in a limited sense, already divine–why on earth do we subject ourselves to all the trouble of living multiple human lives? What is the point of being here?
Part of the answer might be that we need to learn how to ‘open the channels of grace’ so that the part of our Self that ‘stands perpetually in the presence of God’ can flow into our conscious minds, into our worldly lives, and out from us into our world.
Another part–and this is the one that blows me away—may be that the divine part NEEDS whatever it is we acquire in our fourscore and ten or so years of mortal life at this exact time in history and in this exact place. Shakespeare’s King Lear speculates that we humans are ‘god’s spies’.
So, I have to start taking very seriously the possibility that the purpose of my life is not just to transcend material reality, but to live it to the concrete, fleshly, worldly max.
Maybe all the worldlings are doing the right thing!
Though our own modern society suffers for a dearth of such stories, one common theme among peoples everywhere is the story of a kid who seeks out the old mage, has a long apprenticeship that involves lots of hardship and hauling buckets of water uphill for reasons that only become apparent later, and the eventual mastery of wizardry, kung fu, musicianship, and ultimately of self. I think this directly applies to the CosDoc so far and especially this lesson with its traveling atoms that finally return home at long last.
Our culture, though, has huge problems because our current appointed wizards are all of the wealthy robber baron type or are clueless elites who haplessly fell into positions of great power and influence, only to abuse their privileges. We lost craftsmanship and the apprenticeships that went with it somewhere in the 20th century and replaced it with cheap, disposable landfill fodder. It’s distressing when you realize the modern world you live in has almost no forms of available fulfilling employment — it’s either invent your own niche job and be willing to starve, as I did and was, or enter a meaningless race to be the best office plankton you can be right before your retirement savings gets snatched away by a random medical event. The only answer I can see for this is to stop competing in the bizarre race all of these people are running to the death. So many think of a skill that takes an entire lifetime of dedication (more like several lifetimes) as a “hobby” and therefore essentially not worth doing. It’s also bizarre but not surprising that a spiritual path is seen as a quirky, quaint way of accessorizing one’s life instead of returning to the essence of one’s being.
@JMG on your comments to Scotlyn, others
The extremes of bad faith and emotional coverup suggest a covert Game, in the Transactional Analysis sense, is (unconsciously) being used to freeze into place the (failing) macro Rescue Games of the current intelligentsia.
Alas, I can’t identify it any better than that.
Two more comments on Faustian culture: with regards to the way environmental destruction unfolds from our lifestyles producing a nasty double bind, there’s another key to that: by Faustian culture’s logic, this shouldn’t happen, since people ought to be able to change their own lives. Of course, there are systemic factors here, but I wonder if a large amount of the paranoia in our culture is a desperate attempt to convince ourselves that there are factors that keep us from doing what we think is right, when deep down we don’t admit they’re real.
Second, we are obsessed with explosions, both literal and metaphorical, and I wonder if the desperate attempts to push bad faith to their logical extreme are a result of strongly desiring an explosion, and pursing bad faith as a way to get there: “If we’re going to lose, we might as well lose in the most spectacular way possible, and take out as much of everything else as possible!”
@JMG, I just want to say than you for your essay and analysis of the CD. I could not read and understand it without your elucidation of the text. It’s given me so much to think about.
Hi John Michael,
Maybe it is just me, but I’m entirely comfortable with not being at the top of the food chain, and in fact being only one among many. It is not lost on me after all that this solar system is only one among many, so I hardly feel that there is some sort of special pass – even though there may be assistance, if the price for that assistance is/was paid. Even those who are far above me are held in thrall to their destiny – and I’m self aware enough to see that, but at the same time, I can still have respect for those others. It is complex.
You know, I’ve been recently coming to understand that my wiggle room comes from the stories I share.
Have you ever considered the situation from that perspective and what do you reckon about my observation?
KKA, you raise great questions, but the ending answer is capable of being greatly misunderstood: that is, I agree with what you mean, but not how you say it. Someone might use it as an opportunity to veer to the right or to the left. Part of our trial of crucifixion is to hold one point without wavering or flinching – the very point of Incarnation itself after all. But, that being said, I think it was what Jesus had in mind when he said “the children of this world are wiser in this generation than the children of the Light”. But he still distinguishes children of the Light – there’s a difference in the end between succumbing to a trial or temptation, and continuing to resist it, or struggle with it. So I can’t endorse materialistic secularism, although we can learn from it. Great questions though – a lot of the German mystical writings (Eckhart for instance) pertain to that topic of Who is doing the experiencing and Why? The Image of God is latent in us, but we have to co-create His likeness. The Church has totally forgotten the second part. Isn’t this what you are getting at with some of these questions?
The usual Saturday morning discussion with my intuitive, artistic better half induced some insight into my previously-posed question, as well as an observation regarding this month’s reading. It all connects in the end, if you’ll bear with me for a bit.
First, the observation, which ties in later as well. The rhythm of Day and Night, the sequence of activity and rest, the atoms/systems/Organisms cycling for a time then settling into the Central Stillness for a time — all of this reminded me (again) of the contrast of Nature and the linearity of typical modern thought. That there is a time to be active and a time to be passive, that it sin’t always all-the-time-in-this direction-full-steam-ahead is rather antithetical to our society’s (Faustian) view. (This is hardly a new insight, but I need repetition it appears.)
To return to my mathematical analogy, it occurred to me that one of the important consequences of convexity comes into play when seeking those optimal points. Think of it as looking for the top of the highest peak, while only being able to see your immediate surroundings. Convexity ensures that there is only one peak, that your are on one mountain, and therefore if you simply keep moving “up” then you will eventually reach that peak. (Indeed, if you always seek out the most severe incline, then you’ll reach that peak in the shortest possible time — this is known as the “steepest ascent algorithm”). What convexity guarantees is that you never have to “go down in order to go up,” that you’ll never get trapped at a local maximum that is lower than the absolute maximum (that is, a smaller hilltop next to the mountain) because those hills don’t exist in a convex space.
Faustian insistence on extremity in a the one “true” direction strikes me as being very similar to this steepest ascent algorithm. We must keep going “up” and doing it efficiently means seeking out the steepest slope. Where this algorithm fails is when it encounters not a single mountain but a mountain range with peaks and valleys, where one may indeed have to descend in order to ascend.
Similarly, the insistence on all activity all the time, rather than cycles of activity and rest, represents a convex view of existence. it is indeed a significant contrast as I consider the two perspectives.
(And apologies to all for my math geekery. It helps me frame things.)
I’m beginning to think pushing bad faith to its logical extreme is over-determined, since I have another possible explanation: the self-identity Faustian humanity likes is, frankly, absurd. It’s not based on what we really are, but rather its based on what we want to be. There’s no need to acknowledge the real you, since what’s important is who you want to be.
This is fine, as long as the image of who you want to be is close enough to who you really are. If they diverge, then bad faith is the logical result. It also doesn’t help that people are desperate for an identity of any sort, and so will grab whatever’s available. I think it’s not a coincidence that the extremes of bad faith have emerged when events started which prove that the two political parties are based on lies: the Democrats, rhetoric aside, are committed to the existing order of things, while the Republicans under Trump, again, rhetoric aside, are pushing to change things, both of which drastically contradict their self image.
Meanwhile, neither side is engaged in particularly moral actions, which, again contradicts the image of the “good people” they project on themselves. And, since the Faustian worldview says we are what we want to be, regardless of the reality, the results include an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance.
Finally, the other weird thing I’m mulling over right now is this question: if you already think of yourself as being who you want to be, is the any incentive to change? Because I find it ironic that, whenever people I know are able to, they tend pursue the same kind of stasis that they project on the past in their personal lives. The idea we live in an exceptionally dynamic, vibrant society, but with a static, unchanging personal life could also cause some intense cognitive dissonance.
Dear argusandphoenix: re: what I’m getting at: Being in the world
It’s not ALL about feeding this bag of flesh and being a good consumer.
But before getting exclusively obsessed with getting out of here, trying to understand what’s going on here (in all its many dimensions), negotiating a way through it as well as possible, giving credit to god’s good reasons for creating the material world and putting us in it.
I nominate this as the most Faustian thing ever:
Will, that’s an excellent point. The notion that human beings can be pure…hmm. I’m going to want to brood on this for a while.
David, “optima always occur at extrema” — is that by any chance from von Neumann’s game theory? I know one of the points he made is that it’s impossible to maximize more than one variable at a time, so that the optimum for one variable is inevitably the pessimum for at least some and usually many others. That’s valid for human life generally; compromise, by foregoing extremes, generates better results across the whole range of human variables.
Argusandphoenix, and that’s certainly one way to go about it; if it works for you, excellent.
David, I have a relentlessly unmathematical mind, and am not at all sure how concavity and convexity apply to solutions!
Phil K., liberalism started out as an offshoot of Christianity, so that’s not surprising.
Will, interesting. Certainly the current rejection of classical learning could well be tied into that.
SaraDee, fair enough. I think, though, that there’s some serious false equivalency going on in your comparison of social justice activists to rednecks. What irritates many people about the social justice scene has nothing to do with the class, ethnicity, gender, or other (more or less arbitrary) categories to which its members belong, and everything to do with the ideas being pushed by the great majority of those who make a public show of commitment to social justice. “Redneck” is a label for an ethnic subset of a social class; “SJW” is a label for an ideology.
That matters because it’s the ideology, and the behaviors guided by the ideology, that are what many of us object to — and because arguments like the one you’re using here, implying that challenging social justice ideology can be equated with class bigotry against rednecks, function as an attempt to shield the ideology from criticism. The insistence that everyone is immersed in a toxic worldview is equally defensive in its effect, since it blocks criticism of the ideology according to which worldviews are judged to be toxic. If we’re all horrible racists, after all, how can we trust ourselves to assess the standards by which we’re all being defined as horrible racists?
But all this is raising some huge questions in my mind, about which I’m going to need to do a lot of brooding.
Kimberly, an excellent point. I should do a post on Apollonius of Tyana sometime soon, because he came up with an effective response to the same problem.
Jeffrey, that’s very plausible. Hmm!
Will, both those make rather too much sense.
Tude, you’re most welcome. I remember how hard a slog my first pass through the Cos. Doc. was!
Chris, it’s not just you, but a lot of other members of our species don’t share that ability to be comfortable with reality. The major occult schools of the late 19th and early 20th centuries labored long and hard to try to get people to realize the very modest place we have in the great scheme of things, but never got it to spread very far beyond their own membership. As for your observation — when you say “the stories you share,” do you mean the ones you have in common with other people, or the ones you introduce to other people?
David, I more or less get what you’ve said, mostly via the metaphors. What happens, though, if you’ve got more than one variable to take into account? To extend the metaphor, optimizing the view is one goal, and takes you up a mountain, but having enough oxygen to breathe is another goal, which may get in the way of the first goal…
Will, you’re just knocking ’em out of the park. Much to think about here.
Phil K., I second the nomination!
The result would be from linear optimization theory, of which von Neumann was one of the major researchers. (So, linearity might be another assumption to be examined.) Absolutely — when one gets into multi-objective optimization, things get much fuzzier.
There are numerous issues involved: from the nature of the constraints defining the solution space, to the form of the objective function to be optimized, to the “shape” of the space in question (convexity/concavity being one particular kind of property). Simplifying assumptions can make the computations easier, but then there is always the question of mapping back to reality…
What this whole train of thought brought to my mind was your image in A World Full of Gods of a ring of mountains, rather than a single mountain, for the spiritual seeker. In the latter case, one has a convex space and the steepest ascent algorithm works; in the former, one has a concave space and the algorithm will not necessarily take you to where you want to go.
This in-depth study of the Cosmic Doctrine must survive the Age of the Internet. Too many people in this and future societies need it.
The mother of a friend of mine is visiting her adult daughter and my friend reports that a toxic mood has her questioning why my friend is not “further in life”. Simply it is exactly what Will J. is talking about — the Faustian narrative of upwards and outwards, striving for the perfect life that is a trap by design, too miserable and consumed with achieving the pinnacle of success to smell the roses trampled underfoot. My friend has two healthy children, a friendly ex-husband, and is a sweet, insightful, kind human being as well as a good mom. I’m not sure what else one is supposed to achieve in this lifetime — at least from my simpleton’s point of view, I think she has made it. She’s not rich or famous though, so according to trendsetters, she is behind.
I was meditating on the Ogham tree letter Gort today, which is Ivy. I see Ogham letters as having three sides: one well-dignified state of balance and two potential types of imbalance when the tile turns up ill-dignified. One state of imbalance is excess and one is dearth/not enough. Ivy, which I personally comprehend as “perseverance”, is a great letter when it is in balance: it’s success after hard work, tenacity, weathering storms. In excess, it’s our time: too much riches and bounty and you fail to appreciate fine and fleeting luxuries, like the obscene selection of imported olives at the grocery store where winter winds blow outside, and we all know the olive bar is just the beginning of the decadence everyone seems to take for granted. Excess prosperity and humans gorge like Wendigos while stealing from future generations. In dearth, it’s weakness, inertia, and pusillanimous surrender because of the debilitating cognitive dissonance that sets in when you sense you cannot have all the cake and eat it too.
Where the Cosmic Doctrine depicts the Universe moving in loops and ripples, times of growth and times of falling leaves returning to their roots, the Faustian version is a straight arrow pointed at outer space with no other possible alternatives. In other words, it is a recipe for failure, disaster, or both.
I’m embarrassed to admit I did not know of Apollonius of Tyana. I have now looked him up, of course. He was a Neo-Pythagorean contemporary of Jesus. Basically I consider this blog to my continuing real college education, twenty-three years after the expensive one.
David, fair enough; linear optimization theory is way over my head, so I’ll take your explanation of it on faith. 😉 As for the mountain metaphor, that makes sense — and we can factor in the detail that you only have enough time to climb one mountain…
Kimberly, thank you. I’ve already lined up a publisher for this commentary once it’s finished, which will be about two and a half years from now. As for Apollonius, he’s not exactly famous these days, you know! I’ll have more to say about him sometime soon.
Another way of describing a travelling atom perhaps is “Not all those who wander are lost”
It is no doubt taking the metaphor too far, and almost off-topic, but I cannot help but to think of Tolkien’s memorable poem:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
On Druidry, ‘Protection’ and a bridge to Cosmic Doctrine
Please forgive the somewhat speculative nature of this comment. I guess I am using the thinking space to probe my own thought.
Despite limits imposed by the ‘laws’ of consequences, I am aware of a sense of protection, perhaps a Sphere of Protection: but, why ‘protection’ for me and my privilege? ‘Solar’ seems the singularity, the gift that goes on giving to life, without much discrimination. ‘Protection’ thus might seem a bit odd for any individual if we must define the world in terms of ‘winners and losers’, predator/prey, host/parasite, friend/foe. My survival might be your disease?
And what avails protection when the very exacting process of change that we call energy (as in ‘physics’) must flow forever in one direction?. And of course we build a life at the expense of other lives. Nevertheless, more concretely perhaps in human life, what if to ask for ‘protection’, (as in the Druid Magic Handbook recently referenced by Kimberly), is not to ask for privilege, but rather to prepare a kind of sanity? Sanity could be a form of knowledge – not necessarily identical with rationality, but a ‘building-from-the-ground-up’ that makes enough room for love, whereas justice if left uncompleted by charity might keep us undeserving?
Can we sensibly use intention to align a sensibility? I sense that if we can make the move we enter upon ‘a large and open space’, or from another metaphor: ‘Charity … a tent with an open door for our mind / beyond is a vision of firelight / provisional humanity and open ground’.
PS By a round-about route I have just re-read your essay on Schopenhauer (Feb. 2017) ‘The World as Will’ and your insight: “If he’s right, then the universe is not rational. Reason—the disciplined use of the grade of will I’ve called the intellect—isn’t a key to the truth of things.” My speculation is that sanity as I refer to it, is a matter more of recognition and being recognised?
Your patient acceptance of limitations still surprises, even after these many years of discussions on your blogs 🙂 Only enough to climb one mountain (and perhaps only enough to get part way up one mountain); two and half more years to complete a project; the death of our civilization; the messy, irrational, irritable nature of human interactions (particularly politics). I realize that, in the end, we have no choice about the reality of these things, but still, I find myself a good ways from being able to (continuously) accept them — I have good days and bad days, I guess.
More on the point of this month’s reading, however, I do have another question. (Ok, a series of questions, it turns out.). During the discussion on the An Infinite Path podcast, you spoke of that five-fold layout of the planes, but also of those above and below that range. IIRC, you mentioned that because of our limited perspective, we are essentially modeling (I’m translating here) the interactions of the higher planes “as though” everything originates from the spritual planes and moves downward from there, but that there in fact planes above what we see as the source which feed into that plane.
First, did I understand that discussion properly? Secondly, and this gets to the aspect of the fractal nature of existence as mentioned in the discussions above, does this regression into higher (and I suppose, lower) planes continue ad infinitum? That is, in the context of our image of nested cosmoi and trinities of rings, is there an “outermost” cosmos, a “highest” plane, that contains all, or is it elephants all the way down?
We are working with metaphors, I understand; but I find myself thinking of the number line, which continues infinitely in both directions (higher and lower), versus a line segment (bounded in each direction, with a highest and lowest element) or a ray (bounded at one end, but unbounded in either the higher or lower direction).
Using that number line metaphor, what is it about the material plane that makes it the appropriate zero point, and why would lower planes (negative numbers) be “bad”, if indeed they are? If the etheric plane were the demarcation point, for example, then the material plane would be -1. Do enteric entities consider material incarnations daemonic, as we would consider the denizens of the lower planes? Is it simply a matter of relative perspective?
I have a new contender for “cause of insanity around us”: Faustian culture says we are what we want to be. This includes thinking about what we want to think about. It’s also rigidly dualistic, so anything negative means you must be a negative person, which means you must want to be a negative person.
So, anyone who even notices the impending disasters, the collapse of civilization, mass die off, etc, must want it. This is fine for believers in apocalypse, since it’s a purifying disaster, and things will get better after. For anyone who can’t see the upside for it, however, even thinking a disaster is possible is enough to make them, by their own logic, horrible monsters.
The cult of positive thinking is one outcome, but the other, far more insidious, is the frantic attempt to convince yourself that the future must be better, and that even if things go wrong, they’ll turn it fine in the end. Finally, it also explains the increasingly frantic efforts to avoid noticing anything is wrong at all with the world, since to even admit to it is to admit to being a monster who wants everyone to die.
I’ve also thought about it some more, and the stasis we project onto others is probably an attempt to run from the fact we pursue stasis in our own lives. Of course we would though: we are already what we want to be, so why change? Any change would be going further from the ideal, so why do it?
And thus why we worship TV and the internet, as mediums to keep us from having free time, because we might use the free time to change things. The horror!
I think that might be it! I’ll challenge you with a question though: what’s the most Faustian thing you do? I think mine would be D&D and other RPGs, which play with the being what you want inherent to Faustian culture. I’ve noted before that it doesn’t seem fun to play an RPG where you’re playing yourself, or where someone else has made the character, which suggests to me that the escapism is a big part of it.
One other thing that I also want to consider is that Faustian culture has a powerful sense of certainty and a powerful ability to strive for the impossible. Both of those could be useful, if directed in productive ways. I’m not sure how to use it yet, but I figure after tearing apart Faustian culture I should aim to look for something positive in it 😉
@JMG, Hmmm, yes, I see – I was raised in a town where “being redneck” and “redneck life “was an ideology, albeit unspelled out, which was completely arbitrary and did not follow simply from social class and wage. What do you mean not everyone shares my inner head definitions?
The definition involved, among many of things, silly things like avoiding reading, under the mistaken impression this would turn one effete and unable to now work with one’s hands, or too big for one’s britches. If the person you were speaking to had any whiff of a book learnin’ vocabulary, you could dismiss anything they said out of hand. This of course is something being deliberately cultivated by The Powers That Be to ensure at no time do the labouring classes get sedulous ideas from books or anarchist university students and rise up again like the original Rednecks. But it also means that a lot of very bad ideas get artificially tacked on and expounded into ideology when all that the term can reasonably be agreed to mean is “rural tradesworker”.
Redneck ideology also involved a lot of faith in Faustian/Calvinist ideas about what good working men deserve, by God, which resulted in a lot of domestic violence, sexual asault, rampant racism against them undeserving Indians; as well as men dying early of alcoholism, drug abuse and untreated diseases because real men don’t feel pain. My stepdad actively eschewed the former parts of the identity, yet still succumbed unfortunately to the latter.
In short, when someone says they’re a proud redneck, it conjures a lot of things about what values they hold, which may or may not overlap with what values they actually hold, or intended to convey in addition to “rural trades worker”. Until you interact with them, personally, you don’t know what portion or extreme of the ideology they have internalized as important to the identity, or what additional assumptions about that identity means in their part of the world.
Enter, when someone says “I engage in social justice work” (at no time has a person adopted the term SJW for themself, it’s meaning had never been other than derision), what we know for sure is that they intend to tell you “I believe inequalities exist in the treatment people get in this world due to systemic underlying assumptions about race, gender, body size, class, sexual orientation, etc.”. That’s all the word racism means. Systemic discrimination due to socially constructed racial classification. But you don’t know which ones they prioritize, to what extremes they take that ideology – whether what they do would actually align with the bullying behaviour you mean when you say “SJW”.
So what I see constantly, is someone makes a statement which uses the single word” racism” in it, and now they can be wholly dismissed, because that conjures in the readers /listeners head all sorts of ideas about what someone else once said when they used that one word, without actually paying any attention to what this person is actually saying this time. Just the same way someone from the coast would dismiss someone unfairly by saying “redneck” because they share MY mental image of what that isotopes could entail.
I think you and JMG have nailed the reasons we go off to extremes: we focus on a single variable at a time. Witness our great intellectual achievement, science: it works only as long as we can control everything except what we’re interested in.
So, since we only ever look at one variable, we lose nuance, and run off to the extremes. And of course the arguments between people never goes anywhere, since they aren’t even arguing about the same things, since both sides have found a different variable to maximize, at the expense of the variable the other side has maximized.
I’m still not sure where the dualism comes from though, but then again the idea we should be able to understand everything is absurd. I am, however, Faustian, and so a part of me rebels at the idea of accepting that I just don’t know.
@JMG, my apologies, I’m not a concise thinker… But I can put it more simply in the form of the Cabala, perhaps not the Cos Doc. I social justice is an ideology, which it is, a framework for explain the world, and how to move ethically and rightly in it – then on the way through the Vail, many fall to the traps on the paths of Ayin or Nun. The behaviours labelled as SJW are those of people who have glimpsed the power structure we seek to understand in Tipareth, but stop there and deploy it for their own ends, the dark pitfall of Ayin. Those who decide to turn back because they see their own enmeshment in the system, and decide that is all they are, and there is no way to rise above it fall to quiescence on the Path of Nun. In all trying to decide what those who realize both those mistakes are folly, but then turn back wholly and decide no ism really exists at all are, metaphorically… Perhaps those who mistake all as mere illusion, and fall victim to the negative powers of Yesod…?
Peter, I don’t think that’s inappropriate at all. You could see the second half of the poem, in fact, as a set of metaphors for the end of the negative period of the cosmos and the beginning of a new phase of activity.
Phil H., this seems very sensible to me. Protection as sanity — yes, and also protection as the establishment of mutual boundaries, so that my sphere of protection also limits me from encroaching on yours. While it’s true that all living things feed on other living things, furthermore, there’s an astonishing generosity in the structure of the food chain — from the base to the apex, everything gets to eat and eat and eat over and over again, and only has to be eaten once. 😉
David, yes, you followed that correctly. The answer to your second question, though, is presupposed by your initial comment! It’s simply this: we don’t know. What’s more, we can’t know — the spiritual plane isn’t just as far up as we can perceive, it’s as far up as we can think or imagine, in any sense but the wholly arbitrary one that allows us to posit the abstract notion of “something further up.’ In the same way, we can neither perceive nor imagine the submaterial planes in any but that same arbitrary sense.
As for beings whose lowest level of manifestation is the etheric plane, they probably aren’t aware of material beings at all. There’s a teaching in a variety of occult schools that has it that our interactions with the next plane down are the result of certain events that happened well back in human evolution, of which fragmentary memories come down to us in the various myths of the Fall. If a similar event didn’t happen in the evolution of etheric beings — and the idea seems to be that what happened with us was an anomaly — there wouldn’t be a similar experience.
Will, keep going. I think you’re on to something very useful indeed. You’re right that Faustian culture also has immense positive potential — like every other great culture, it takes one vision of human existence and pushes it as far as it will go, “down to Gehenna or up to the Throne” — and the upside and the downside both have to be grasped to get a clear picture of the whole.
@ Will J
Re optimization and extremes
Yes, the thing about optimization is that it is always with respect to a specific objective function (the thing to be optimized). Choose a different objective function, and the optimal solution—even with regard to the same set of constraints—will change accordingly. So one of the points of confusion is that different people holding different values have different objective functions and can’t understand why the other is insisting that their solution is the “right” one when it is so clearly suboptimal and “wrong”…
Just recently, I had a polite but pointed conversation with our former city council president (a wonderfully-opinionated, firecracker of a woman in her early eighties) re this recent boondoggle in Baraboo with Nazi salutes in a junior prom photo. She was quite vociferous in her view that the district should take those boys to the cleaners. I pointed out that freedom of speech is not dependent on whether or not one agrees with its content. She, being of a different generation, was appalled at the insult to those who died to protect that freedom, to which I responded, “And yet one still has the right to burn the flag. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to allow it.” Different values, different perspectives, different versions of “right.”
SaraDee, interesting. Of course terms like “redneck” and “social justice activist” are contested in meaning, partly because of different agendas on the part of the speakers and partly because of actual differences in the landscape of experience being addressed. For example, in the redneck cultures I’ve interacted with directly — in certain parts of western Washington state and in the north central Appalachians — avoiding reading wasn’t part of the local culture at all; many of the women devoured romance novels and Christian periodicals such as Guideposts; the men tended to be less into reading but took in the occasional Western or Tom Clancy-style military thriller, or subscribed to hunting magazines and the like. The bitter experience of deindustrialization in western Maryland also made a big difference in expectations, too, because everyone knew good men who’d done everything right, and still ended up jobless and hopeless and having a 12-gauge round for breakfast one fine day — that was a phrase I heard rather more than once.
I’m a little perplexed by your claim that the phrase “social justice warrior” was never something anyone called themselves — au contraire, I recall seeing it flung around quite freely online by social justice activists for about a year, until the right picked it up and started making hay with it, at which time it was dropped by the left like a hot rock. Here again, though, our experiences differ; I don’t doubt that you’ve met plenty of people who use the term “social justice” in the sense you’ve given it, but that doesn’t justify your claim that that’s the only sense that can or should be given it. The famous “no true Scotsman” fallacy applies here; it’s convenient but, I’d argue, unfair to claim that the abuses so widely committed in the name of social justice are somehow separate from the ideology that is so freely used to justify and condone them.
Your Cabalistic analysis is interesting and potentially very useful, but I’d suggest a different way of looking at it. The great challenges in the ascent to Tiphareth are two. The first, as you’ve indicated, is that of falling into the clutches of one of the two guardians on either side of the Middle Pillar — the Path of Ayin and Nun, which it seems to me you’ve characterized quite accurately here. The second is that of achieving balance in the sixth sphere once you’ve gotten there, rather than falling under the sway of the Tagiriron, the qlippah of Tiphareth. The Tagiriron, as you’ll doubtless recall, are the Disputers, and what characterizes the people who are subject to their influence is the insistence that they and they alone know the truth, and everyone who disagrees with them is wrong, wrong, WRONG! What makes the Tagiriron so dangerous is precisely that they’re a simulacrum of Tiphareth rather than the thing itself, and people can very easily get caught up in the simulacrum while being sure they’re in the real thing. I see a lot of social justice activists inhabiting this space — sure that they’re living lives of justice and goodness while engaging in bullying behavior indistinguishable from that of the people they hate.
One further thing. I get the impression — and please correct me if I’m wrong — that you think that by rejecting the current use of the term “racism” I’m denying the existence of ethnic privilege and ethnic prejudice in today’s America. That’s not the case at all. What I’m challenging is the rhetorical game that conflates privilege with prejudice, and insists that if you’ve got the one you must necessarily have, and thus can be blamed for, the other. In the real world, by contrast, you can have privilege without prejudice, and you can also have prejudice without privilege; furthermore, neither you nor I nor anyone else can change our condition of privilege, but we can certainly learn to dispense with our prejudices. The insistence that this can’t happen, that if you’re born into privilege you’re inevitably tarred with prejudice, is among other things a very effective way to covertly excuse a refusal to change…
I suppose the most Faustian thing I do is that I’m a historian of military technology (amongst other things).
It’s very difficult not to be impressed by the sheer power of massed 20th Century weaponry, and i think this is one of the things that future civilisations will really envy about us.
One of the oddest aspects of Faustians is their insistence on being armed to the teeth, and their equal insistence that they hate war. I suspect that future civilisations, like previous ones, will be much more honest in their enthusiasm for violent conflict.
Hi John Michael,
Thanks. I reckon the word ‘infinitesimal’ may not be quite appropriate, but it is close. 😉 The Universe is a way big place.
Oh! Ah, clarity of written thought is a complex skill. Well both of those explanations, but as a third option, I also like introducing the tools for decision making processes that may work better in a declining society – by providing solid examples of my own actions. It may be a sweeping generalisation, but I reckon a lot of people don’t have the mental tools with which to move in a different direction away from than the dominant narrative, and the stories I write often expose the way I’ve had to wiggle through the swampy morass of difficulties that I regularly (and so do most people) encounter.
Plus there is also the advantage that I enjoy of having some minor status within the community (as a recognised professional) and undertaking hard, complex physical labour. Getting that concept across, is not as easy as you’d think. The powers of the dark side is strong! 😉
But the stories themselves show how little wiggle room that I have to exercise – and this week was no exception. Still with a lot of personal effort there is still some to be found. What do you reckon about that?
Ah, yes. That subtle yet ever-so-important distinction between unknown and unknowable. The latter doth bedevil me, forsooth.
Quote JMG: “As for beings whose lowest level of manifestation is the etheric plane, they probably aren’t aware of material beings at all.”
What about beings such as faes, elementals etc. which have etheric, but not physical bodies, yet reliably interact with human beings and the physical world from time to time? Or does level of manifestation mean something else in this context than what I assume it does?
I’m finding that analyzing Faustian culture like this, and the way my own mind is influenced by it, has shredded my self-identity already. It’s worth going further, but I’m beginning to think I may want to slow down to process what I’m coming up with….
Re elephants all the way down
Ok, so I’m starting to mix metaphors horribly here, but a thought occurred to me: if the point of the Dance is itself, is the Dance then the elephant which stands on its own back? Then it would indeed be “elephants all the way down” because you hit a recursive loop which continues forever.
@Phil Knight, I envision post-collapse societies as being potentially extremely anti-war, considering that their collective memories will include knowledge of nuclear weapons, not necessarily how to build them, but the general knowledge that there was once a civilization that actually gave it self the ability to bomb humanity into the Stone Age in space of an afternoon.
Chris, well, living a story is far and away the most powerful way of telling it, so I think you probably have a handle on something very useful.
David, it’s a major challenge in this culture to grasp the reality of limits. I suspect that bedevils all of us from time to time.
Sven, I’ve come to think that Rev. Robert Kirk, he of The Secret Commonwealth fame, was more accurate than were my earlier speculations on that subject. He argued that elves do in fact have bodies on the physical plane, just not as dense and obvious as ours; this is why they interact so freely with physical matter and physically incarnate beings.
Will, by all means!
David, good question. You’ll have to ask a being who knows more than the five planes we can access! The image of an elephant standing on its own back is a fine bit of surrealism, btw. 😉
David re: the dance itself
I was starting to feel frustrated about not being able to make heads or tails out of the Cos Doc, and your comment really helped to put things in perspective, so thank you very much.
I think I lost sight of the part about ‘training the mind, not informing’ it. I can almost see why the book would be written in such an abstract way – the danger lies in the reader thinking they have understood everything with their regular mind, but the higher intellectual mind has actually not been engaged. The change of consciousness through meditation resulting in gnosis has not happened. I tend towards the overly-analytical in my thought processes, and I can almost not stop myself from trying to figure the book all out all at once. Hopefully I’ll learn some patience one of these days; then I think the book will slowly communicate its message through meditation.
I was drumming at church this morning, and I realized I would never try to ‘figure out’ what the meaning of drumming is. Its merits lie in another realm of being beyond the analytical mind – sheer delight, joy and love of the rhythm, and the shared experience of making music.
John Michael Greer wrote, “As long as you realize that the striving never achieves its goal, that “who you aren’t” is at an infinite distance and so all your inevitable efforts in that direction will always fall short, it’s perfectly healthy.”
Children naturally act out dreams of being “who they aren’t” in the healthy process of discovering who they are. This week it’s an astronaut, tomorrow she’ll be a veterinarian, next month he’s a rock star, five minutes later they’re all Bedouin nomads. As a teacher of vey young children, I have long valued a distinction that our culture at large avoids – trying to be who you are not is a very healthy impulse, while trying not to be who you are is a deadening one.
Like Fortune’s atoms, children pass through every potential trajectory in their environment, trying out being every possible way they are not. They accrete bits and pieces of every trajectory they try. Which bits end up clinging to them give them an unfolding glimpse into who they are, what their affinities are, and where they will eventually settle down into themselves.
A healthy, balanced environment where the human cultures (family, school, religion, nation) line up with and aid understanding of the natural ecosystems (including the child’s own nature) ends up creating a large cosmos for the child to explore. An imbalanced environment where the human cultures are out of alignment with the natural ecosystems constrains the child to a small, impoverished cosmos with few possibilities. Our human cultures’ fears and denial of natural ecosystems require that we not be who we are, leaving little room to try being who we are not and discovering who we are.
Faustian culture’s puritanical streak focuses intently on not being who we are – mortal, jealous, sexual. Faustian’s humanist streak focuses on being who we are not – immortal, altruistic, rational. From inside the Faustian worldview, I have a difficult time imagining what just being who we are, in all our incompleteness, would look like. Maybe like atoms travelling along their path through all the circles despite being at home in one circle. Maybe like young children so very present in themselves while playing at being who they are not. Or maybe there is no way of separating being who we are from being who we aren’t.
All I can picture right now is an elephant standing on itself doing disco…..
I know I said I wouldn’t keep digging, but I’m Faustian, and so leaving stones un-turned is not in my nature. I also find it actually helping me to find peace with myself, so I think I’ll keep going and process later on.
I’m going to have to disagree with you/Spengler: I don’t think it’s the dream of infinite expansion that forms the core of Faustian thought. I think it’s linearity. The dream of infinite expansion comes out of it: it’s not expansion in all directions, but expansion along one direction. The infinite ego is the result of it as well: it’s the logical consequence of thinking of ego as the only thing that matters.
The multi-nested ironies around Faustian culture unfold from the fact that we are drawing lines on an elliptic space (like a sphere), to use a math reference (which is also very Faustian): they all, sooner or later, cross, and meet themselves, and since we focused on each line without worrying about anything else, where they meet it’s a mess.
The will to power is also a result of the dream of the line. A little power is a good thing, so more must be better. Of course, this also leads to negative results, but that’s hardwired into a system of thought that rejects whole system thinking.
Which, also logically flows from linearity. Whole systems are messy, not neat, and don’t give themselves over to a way of thinking based upon lines, so we are bad at whole systems thinking. I don’t mean as a culture, I mean every one of us is bad at it. It’s why we need to get training to do things people in other cultures find second nature.
The rejection of limits also unfolds from linearity. If the line is there, then it must be able to keep going off to infinity. The idea that something could possibly block it is unthinkable to us. The rejection of the distinction between want and is, so obvious in so many people’s identities, unfolds from the rejection of limits.
Finally, the dream of expansion is the logical outgrowth of the line. The dream of the pursuit of the line further, and farther, than we already are, is a consequence of the line at the heart of our world.
One of the ironies that has occurred to me, is that since there’s only time to climb one mountain, a worldview obsessively focused on the one mountain you wish to climb is actually a benefit. As long as you recognize that other people could reasonably choose other mountains, I think it could actually be a very strong positive.
Ah, and that’s exactly the kind of problem we have issues with: we have no way to resolve issues of conflicting rights. It does seem to cause us a lot of problems, and I’m far from sure there is any way to resolve the issue of freedom of speech vs decency in a Faustian worldview. Personally, I’m not even willing to try: I’m a free speech maximalist, which is probably a very Faustian view to take.
Interesting that you consider being a military technology historian to be Faustian. I don’t find it to be very Faustian, truth be told. The technology is Faustian, but the interest in it seems less so. Then again, history in general is an obsession of our culture, much more so than most other cultures, so it might be. I’ll have to mull it over.
A few more notes:
First, I think the rage inherent in Faustian culture is a result of the universe, and self, not doing what its supposed to. Of course, the duality again means we can’t accept being angry without being angry people, and of course we all know someone like that, and we don’t want to be that person. So, we deny it. Thus our obsession with war technology, while screaming about how we hate war.
Second, I think I’m having less luck figuring out positive aspects of Faustian culture because time hasn’t sorted out the gunk. I’m sure a thousand years from now, some of our literary, spiritual, cultural traditions will be known for having achieved greatness, but it’s hard to figure out which ones in the thick of things.
Third, I think it doesn’t matter if I identify the positive manifestations right now. I’m seeing the dangerous ones, and I’m seeing how they have impacted me (much more personal, so I’ll skip discussing it here), which has given me a great deal to work with regardless. Once I’m ready to build, instead of tearing down, I’ll need to think through the positives, but for now, it’s enough to start seeing the influences on my own life.
Re the Dance
I cannot lay claim to that insight, as it was given to me early in my meditation practice by Whomever She May Be, but you are most welcome!
Re the mapping of the planes
It suddenly occurred to me this morning that our mapping of the planes, the Tree of Life, all the tools we have…these work with the cosmos not as it is in some absolute way, but rather as we perceive it. Like how the constellations look as they do because of the vantage point from which we gaze, but would form completely different patterns if we stood on the surface of another planet circling a different star. Everything we are doing here is from this relative position as human beings manifested as we are–our zero on the number line, as it were.
In general: wanted to note my appreciation (as is maybe seasonally appropriate) for these posts! They’re new enough to me that I mostly just read rather than having opinions, but I always enjoy them, and get a lot out of them.
@David, by the Lake: “Yes, the thing about optimization is that it is always with respect to a specific objective function (the thing to be optimized). Choose a different objective function, and the optimal solution—even with regard to the same set of constraints—will change accordingly.”
Yes! I was having a discussion in a LARP last weekend with a recently-created and morally dubious divine being (as one does) about whether caring about people is a “design flaw.” I pointed out that the definition of a “design flaw” depends on the intention of the design.
This is also, IMO, something the social Darwinist bootstrap types fail to see–they substitute “evolution” for “design”, but evolution isn’t toward One Perfect Goal. It’s toward (and it’s not really directed, but I’m simplifying for the sake of argument like whoa, as the kids say) the best fit for your circumstances. (An octopus isn’t any better or worse-evolved than a falcon, but neither would do well in the other’s environment.) Adding to that, circumstances change all the time–a stegosaurus, for its era, was a triumph of evolution, and yet…
@Christophe: Totally agreed, and–perhaps naturally, because I like my hobbies–I think RPGs can serve a similarly useful function in adults. No, I will likely (and sadly) never be an elven mercenary leading armies, or a sun priestess with magic healing powers, but the experiences I have in those roles and what I enjoy about them can tell me a fair bit about what my own life maybe needs more of that I haven’t thought about: physical challenges or more leadership roles in the first case, maybe, or more community service and faith-centered activities in the second.
(Also, a personal semi-triumph in living closer to the fossil-fuel bone: brought up the notion of making future PA-ward trips on a bus to my father, and mentioned the environmental impact. He barely kicked at all, so I’ll be doing that in the future!)
Re the elephant which stands on its own back
I always did enjoy the surrealists 🙂
@ Will J
Re free speech versus decency
I can’t disagree. The perspective I’d take on that particular score, however, is one of appropriate roles. Decency (or politeness or respect), I’d argue, is not the role of law. Freedom of speech means allowing people to be bone-heads, rude, arrogant, and impolite — both in an”absolute” sense and in the sense that different people have different concepts of politeness. (I can point to my own experience, having been raised in the South and now living in the Midwest. These are very different worlds with very different standards.) The role of law lay in protecting basic rights and minimizing harm, not insulating one from rudeness or injured feelings. This is one area where I believe the social justice movement has gone to excess. Mandating politeness is no more effective than legislating morality.
As to resolving conflicting rights, it comes down to negotiation and compromise, as messy and unsatisfactory as that may be to all sides. What is that working definition of a good compromise? “A solution with which all parties are equally dissatisfied.”
@ isabelcooper & @ Christophe (if I may)
Re RPG and escapism
Exploring the world through role-play (like children do, for example) allows one to escape the bounds of one’s life in a way that cannot be done more conventionally. Alas, I will never be so bold and daring (and insanely reckless) as my elven thief was during his brief but glorious existence, but I was able to experience the exhilaration of his death-defying chance-taking without putting my own well-being at risk. I have the memories of those experiences in my imagination, certainly, and they have informed my life to some small degree.
Likewise, I’m rather looking forward to my new group’s upcoming Call of Cthulhu session, where I fully intend to gender-flip and play a Tommy-gun toting floozie…
I’ve been thinking of how Cosmic Doctrine applies to relationships and psychology. When someone strongly identifies a person or type of person as an enemy, it heavily influences one’s own mind and body. The hated one, the president as the most obvious example, becomes a sun in one’s mind. In a funny coincidence, he is glowing orange. How many billions of times a day is he thought of?
I once had a bad roommate who I felt very angry about after I moved out. Even one year later, I was often thinking angrily about her. That hurt me a lot, and it wasn’t hurting her at all (as far as I know). I realized this was injuring my Heart with no purpose. I learned from my Qi Gong teacher to meditate on a specific bad memory and notice where I felt unpleasantness in my body. And then, to not let my mind wander and focus neutrally on the memory and breathe the bad energy out of my body. This really worked for me. I let it go. Now when I run into her, my heart doesn’t race, I feel neutral. This has also worked on bad childhood memories.
I think PTSD could be thought of in this way. Someone has a trauma, so bad that they can’t even think about it without freaking out. So they do everything they can to not think of it. Then it becomes a black sun in the center of their psyche that everything else revolves around.
It’s funny, I read this chapter a few months ago and when I re-read it this time, it wasn’t familiar at all. I think it was so hard for me to understand, I was day-dreaming through it. Now I’m able to read a few pages before drifting off. 🙂
Okay, that’s interesting. Perhaps time to reconsider one’s basic assumptions about solidity…
Hi John Michael,
Not to butt in on a point made above, but I read Mr Kunstler’s most recent blog essay this morning and I also note the observation made in the comments above: “The insistence that everyone is immersed in a toxic worldview is equally defensive in its effect, since it blocks criticism of the ideology according to which worldviews are judged to be toxic.”
There are parallels between the two discussions, and I have a dark suspicion that the entire point of the argument – and it is an argument with no end in sight – is to tie a person up through the use of a logical fallacy. The presentation of an argument can sometimes be used to sap energy.
Being tied up generally means that for the person involved that they are less free to get on with other more pressing matters! Dunno, just my twenty cents.
In the past I’ve made the error of pouring energy into a discussion, and sometimes those discussions are like black holes and they’ll consume everything – and who knows what becomes of energy sucked into a black hole?
Re motion and rest
An interesting point on the cycles of action and stillness as I reflect on another episode in the saga that is local politics. Last night, our city council took an action that is likely to have kicked the hornet’s nest good and proper, roiling a rather vocal contingent of the local population, yet was most certainly a prudent course of action (to be fair, it was not a unanimous vote). However, while we are more responding to (needless) escalations by another party, the broader context involves issues about which we cannot speak for the time being. So we have to sit by and take our lumps in social media while “the other side” broadcasts its version of the story and vilifies our city staff. (It will be interesting to see if my name gets mixed up in all this, as I was the one who ended up making the motion last night, which is public record. It helps, I suppose, that I’m not on FacePalm or Twit.) The truth will out–eventually–but it is fascinating to see an application of the rather obtuse reading for this month so directly.
Re Faustian worldview
I can’t find the link just now, but was glancing through a brief article on CEO sentiment souring on the economy and caught mention of a reference to (Fed Chair) Powell’s opinion that “economic expansion can continue indefinitely.” If that ain’t Faustian (and horribly, horribly mistaken), I’m not sure what is! 🙂
I think I’ve found a very useful aspect of Faustian culture: there’s a burning desire, a need, to change things. It usually gets buried under the idea that we are already perfect, and the contradiction between thinking that you’re already being what you want to be, and a strong need to change is unhealthy, and I think a major driving force in the collective insanity right now, but if you acknowledge that you aren’t there yet, the desire to change could be very useful, if guided in the right direction.
@JMG and Sara Dee – just dipping a toe lightly back in here…
“What I’m challenging is the rhetorical game that conflates privilege with prejudice, and insists that if you’ve got the one you must necessarily have, and thus can be blamed for, the other. In the real world, by contrast, you can have privilege without prejudice, and you can also have prejudice without privilege; furthermore, neither you nor I nor anyone else can change our condition of privilege, but we can certainly learn to dispense with our prejudices [if we are prepared to see and own them, first].”
Re the bit I’ve added, that is to say, while I am completely on board with this entire paragraph, the bit that I found exciting in your original comment, was the implication that “to learn to dispense with[prejudice]” begins with the process of “accept[ing] it”. Prejudices (as opposed to privileges) are actually a very normal part of our mental furnishings, mainly because in relation to peoples we are not acquainted with, we necessarily take shortcuts and categorise our absence of knowledge about them under easy to remember symbols (eg. Irish, leprechaun, Irish, alcohol-drinking). Such stereotypes are convenient ways to categorise huge amounts of information we have no way to directly access, about people who are distant. Some of the shortcuts that create stereotypes are cultural, and get arranged within our heads as mental furniture long before we have a chance to choose our own furnishing style.
Anyway, I want to thank you, JMG for offering the thought (arising from the two separate quotes, put together) that if we learn to accept them, we have some chance of learning to dispense with our prejudices.
Sara Dee, thank you, also. For several interesting thoughts.
As to KKA’s point: “I’m taking very seriously the possibility that the purpose of my life is not just to transcend material reality, but to live it to the concrete, fleshly, worldly max.” I tend also to be of that persuasion. That the world is here to be lived and loved, and whatever lies ahead or behind, right here, right now, is the place where I AM, and whatever there is to experience here, is what needs to be drunk to the fullest by me.
I am reading and perusing the Cosmic Doctrine, but in the presence of many, many thoughtful comments, I am currently, mostly, awed. So to all of you, know that I lurk, and listen, and I enjoy.
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