Monthly Archives: May 2012

Pure Color

Twice, so far, the experience of color has been utilized as an analogy for Spiritual Experience on this project: once by me, and once by a commenter. I find the analogy quite fascinating. Color does not, in fact, objectively exist, but is an artifact of the way we perceive light. There is not, simply put, any such thing in the world which is by its nature red. The existence of red is a thing which requires first a particular biological apparatus and then a particular mental construction for its most basic existence. What we perceive as color is nothing more than selective reflection of certain wavelengths of light. That light which an object does not absorb, but reflects away from its surface, we perceive as color due to the peculiar nuances of our neurology.

This becomes even more fascinating when one reflects on the way that color is then encoded in various human languages. Japanese, I have been told, does not distinguish between blue and green. The Poetic Edda names only three colors in the rainbow (though, interestingly, this essay by Kirsten Wolf, explains that this was a common view in Ancient Greece, as well, referencing Aristotle and Aristophanes). It seems as though there is more than mere physiology which plays into our perceptions of color, but some form of inculturation as well. The perception of color is as much a result of form as it is of concept.

I am fascinated with the way that our culture interacts with color, particularly in the realm of home decor. A wall is no longer merely pink, but Ballet Slipper Pink, its name raised to a proper noun and turned from mere word into phrase. Color, in this context, is no longer meant to speak simply of optical effects, but of a subtle emotional details, of a lifestyle: of a way of being within a particular space. Within a room painted Ballet Slipper Pink, we become like little girls, playing at being ballerinas, we are returned to a child-like state of easy imagination. There is, in this forum, a great mythologization of color. Color has the power not only to transform a space, but also the occupant in a purely ephemeral way. An act as casual as walking through a door can now render a strange transmutation, an entire demeanor and manner of existence is altered as one navigates through the rooms in one’s house: from Greek Sailor to Ballerina to Fly Fisherman all in twenty paces.

I think this strange elision goes further, as well, especially with the generations of people who grew up with artificial colorings and flavorings. Drinks are often no longer defined by the fruits whose flavors they are meant to mimic (and fail at, terribly), but by the color of the liquid. Blue is now a flavor, and I can describe and contrast it with the flavor of purple (purple is mellower and slightly more sweet, whereas blue is tart and a little cooling, occasionally with a salty note). I find it incredibly interesting how color, centered in our visual perception of the world, comes to overwhelm other sensory inputs.

Color is pervasive throughout our experience of the world, and yet the subtleties of color become incredibly hard to describe without resorting to poetics. As such, I find the analogy of color to spirituality to be quite useful. Both are artifacts of the particular ways in which we experience the world, and yet both are slippery and elusive in definition. I wonder at the cultural forces which produce the varied discourses on color, and wonder if there could be a linkage with spirituality as well. At what pint does it become necessary for a rainbow to have more than three colors? At which point is it necessary to fracture blue into green and blue? I don’t feel as though we can say that the originators of the Poetic Edda or Aristotle simply did not see all the colors, it simply wasn’t necessary for them to define the gradations beyond three divisions. When does the linkage between color and concept demand that the discourse of color complicate itself to the point that we, today, have a vast array of English color terms?

I would argue that the discourse on Spirituality is just as tied to cultural pressures. I don’t necessarily mean to imply that Spiritual complexity is directly linked to cultural complexity, merely that the needs different culture phenomena impact and alter the ways in which a culture will contextualize Spirituality. How much is Spirituality a cultural product? While one might turn away from the idea of color as cultural product, the meanings and allusions which we link to the experience of color are as much embedded within a cultural context as within the realm of our pure experience.

I think, as far as Spirituality goes, it is incumbent upon us to examine those culturally instill definitions and sensations and analyze their inherent usefulness. I would never imply that one is entirely bound by one’s culture, merely that culture supplies a set of ready made meanings which we quickly map on to given experiences, and which we, as Spiritual Seekers, must be aware of and resist as necessary. The pure enjoyment of color can become quickly muddied by certain cultural allusions (men must not wear pink), and Spirituality is just as prone to such contamination.

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Being and Divinity

After having written my last entry, I had a long discussion with a friend of mine who holds not dissimilar views to mine. However, that conversation led me to realize that my own views, as previously explicated, require further refining.

I do firmly hold that the only useful definitions of Divinity are those which arise out of experience, however, I also feel that Divinity is not a thing which exists in the objective, formal world. It is my belief that Divinity is entirely entrenched within subjectivity, that it is a mode or aspect of the subject, and not a thing in the world, like a table or the sky. It seems to me that Divinity is a thing experienced, purely, in being.

As I stated earlier, I posit that being, as a verb implying continued action, requires a subject to execute it. Objects cannot be in the same sense as subjects. Objects subsist. Their presence is one without awareness, and therefore one without the sort of action which only the subject is capable of. Were I to posit a grammar of being, only subjects would take the perfect and progressive tenses, objects would be left with the simple present, the simple past & the simple future. Objects do not execute actions through time, but exist in successive present states, each moment a totality isolated from former and future positions. It is only the subject who presses itself against these objects which recognizes, through its own temporality, a temporality of objects. Objects subsist devoid of time.

Therefore, Divinity, belonging solely to the subject, cannot be constrained by the same sets of rules which apply to objects. This is not to say that there are no rules of the subject. There undoubtedly are. The subject, being within the objective world, is constrained by the formal nature of the world, yet, by its presence, radicalizes that world. That which would be purely formal, possessing no awareness or change, is transformed through the primary action of the subject, that of being through time, into something significantly queer. Within the objective world, all which can exist must exist. All relations are carried out explicitly and totally according to the natures of those objects in relation without variation or change: the initial conditions of such a world define explicitly the conditions of its conclusion. However, the subject, through the experience, mutates the world with the addition of meaning, quantification, categorization, organization and manipulation. The objective world is no longer simply formal, but thoroughly suffused with intangibles, theories, concepts which could never be present without the being of the subject. All of these are entrenched thoroughly within subjectivity, yet arising from the objective world as experienced by the subject, and, through that movement, pressing back upon the objective world in the reflexive nature of  being.

By its presence within subjectivity, Divinity possesses the mutable powers of the subject. The Divine, as mode of being, is given by pure experience: as the subject resolves itself out of the experiencing of the objective world, so does Divinity manifest through the subject. I suggest, then, that first we must have a subject, and then we may have the Divine. Divinity, then, acts upon the world in as much as the subject does, or through the same motion or set of processes: the action of the Divine is analogous to the action of the subject.

As yet, I have made no attempts to define Divinity, merely explore its nature in relation to subjectivity. In short, I am at this point merely attempting to establish the proper conditions in which the Divine can be explored. As a mode of being, as a thing which dwells in and resolves out of experience, I suggest that the only proper way to define Divinity is phenomenologically. Any definition of the Divine must begin within experience and then seek to clarify and comprehend, but, always and at every moment, maintaining its link to pure experience.

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I Am Here

After my fusillade against traditional western occult philosophy (which, I also suspect, could land some decent strikes against certain eastern philosophies as well), I feel like it is necessary for me to outline my own metaphysical constructions. As I said before, foremost the flesh must determine our explorations. I hold by this as the major tenet of my philosophy. I firmly hold that Divinity must be immanent and present at all times, in all things. Indeed, I argue that in order for a concept like Divinity to actually refer to anything, it must refer to something entirely present in the world.

Of course, I recognize the difficulty with such an assertion. If divinity is a thing in the world, where is it? The response, as stated above, that it is in all things, everywhere, at all times,  seems, well, easy and useless. What does it honestly mean to refer to Divinity if everything is, by its nature as a thing objectively present, Divine? Well, in a practical sense, I think it means absolutely nothing. Everything, being equally Divine, is stripped of any intensity, and left in the same state as a world evacuated of Divinity. I don’t mean to say that Divinity requires a contrast, indeed, the Divine should be that to which no contrast is possible. What use is there in comparing the Divine against the Profane, if the Profane, in order to exist, by its nature as existent, is infused with Divinity?

Here, then, lies the volta. The subject, that which is not object, but, existent and contained with the objective world holds the key, and thus my fascination with the flesh. The primary action of the subject is to infuse the flesh with being. Being, existing, as a state, requires an a priori subject. What does it mean to be, without a being already present to grasp such being? The objective world, merely existent, is not aware of itself or the relations contained therein. The objective world is purely formal, governed by relations according to the natures of the objects contained. Those objects act only as they must in accordance with their natures and the natures of the other objects pressed upon them. As such, mere objects cannot be in the same sense as subjects. They have no being inherent to them, merely presence in relation to other objects. Objects have no in-themselves and for-themselves, only systems of relations which tie them to other objects in a coherent total unit. All objects, absent of the subject, represent a single unity of relation, devoid of any individual being.Objects possess no interior states. In contrast to the vast interiority of the subject, this is the defining characteristic of the object.

The flesh, mere object, does not, nor cannot experience nor possess Divinity, as experience is, by its nature, embedded within the subject, an interior state. The subject infuses and transforms the flesh from mere object to total subject. All of the flesh, the body, through the action of the subject is transformed from mere thing to total experience and invested with interiority, with states which are no longer merely objective and formal. The rebuttal that all interior states are the result of mere objective relations is quite obviously facile, as formal relations fail to describe the experience of those objective relations by the subject. The subject, then, is, by its nature as such, transcendent.

The primary action of the subject transforms itself from mere flesh to total being. The flesh represents the lens through which the world is experienced, and as such, the vehicle of the subject, though the subject, save under duress, does not recognize the flesh as mere vehicle, but as a totality of being. Indeed, it is this totality of being which, I believe, describes the normative state of the subject. It is within this total being, this primary act of existence as performed by the subject, that Divinity can be grasped. Divinity is an experiential thing, embedded within the nature of the subject as possessing interior states. Divinity, then, is an interior state (that which is Divine may describe a being, but Divinity is the attribute possessed by the Divine as an interior state, and may be grasped by other subjects as relating to the Divine). The effulgence of Divinity is directly linked to the effulgence of the subject. Where the subject presses itself against the objective world, and doing so, renders a transformation upon it, Divinity is present and recognizable. Indeed, the resultant implication seems to be that Divinity is linked purely with being in itself, as reliant upon the a priori subject.

I recognize a certain deistic bent with this argument, and I admit that I am fairly uncomfortable with that. I flex against the Divine as mere presence, and yet I wonder if the distinction of the Divine as pure being is strong enough. The Divine is not an object, but a form of being, resting upon the nature of the subject as being. I feel, as well, like there is much more to be done to in order to resist dangerous elisions between the nature of subject and the nature of the Divine (yet are such elisions dangerous? Are they elisions at all?). There is something uneasy, to me, in the implication that all subjects are, by their natures, Divine. I happily ascribe transcendence to the subject as its most basic and primary act, yet I shudder at following through with Divinity.

Clearly, I have a great deal of work left to do, as this represents a relatively short period of personal reflection when weighed against the mass of merely my own life, let alone the grand sweep of history, and yet I feel like it is a more honest starting point than most which I have encountered within my readings.

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Foremost, the Flesh

If it is not yet obvious, I have a great deal of difficulty with the traditional foundations of Occult Philosophy. My own philosophical leanings are strongly influenced by Post-Modernism (and by this I don’t mean the pop philosophy watered down bullshit that reduces the complex actions of Post-Modernism to nothing more than vapid relativism and moral disintegration, but the rigorous political and literary critiques of Deleuze and Foucault), as well as Phenomenology, with a fair dose of Queer and Feminist Theory thrown in. All of which is poised, emphatically, against Ideal Forms and Absolutes.

In no small part, the thrust of these various philosophies has been to dismantle the work of Plato and Aristotle in establishing the realm of the ideal, which, it just so happens, is also the frame work for, well, all of Hermetic Philosophy (and before we try and pretend that modern Paganism is its own discrete thing from Hermeticism, let us recall how many key texts for today’s large Pagan communities were written under the influence of the Golden Dawn and the Victorian and Early Twentieth Century occult organizations that made no secret of their Hermeticist connections). Ideal forms and hidden realms of truth pervade Occult Philosophy, and I frequently wonder, given their ubiquity, whether it is possible to derive a properly Occult Philosophy without them. Indeed, the very meaning of occult is “hidden”, the foundations of the philosophy rely upon the unseen before you even get past the name.

I don’t mean to say that all modern Metaphysical Traditions (let’s drop Occult, for the time being) rely on these constructs. Hedge witchery, hoodoo, rootwork, and various other earth and land based practices take for granted the innateness of magic and the divine. For these sorts of practices, Divinity and Power are directly manifest in the world at large. It seems to me that these more, dare I say, naive (and by naive, perhaps I mean pre-analytical) practices are closer to an actual description of the function of the Divine within the world. They derive, foremost, from experience and interaction, and use that as the basis for their reflection and analysis, rather than the inverse.

I would never assert that Hermetic Magic is ineffective, I have am fully aware of its power, however, I do not feel like the foundations of its philosophy adequately reflect the function of the world (though they do, I charge, reflect the power and function of the word). As an aside, I grow easily frustrated with Hermetic Philosophy in its frequent assertions that it contains the only truth, that all else is an illusion, that all gods are merely reflections of the Great Hermetic God. These sentiments are widespread throughout early modern occult writings, particularly those of Dion Fortune (who is also terribly homophobic. Don’t believe me? Read the Mystical Kabbalah. She calls gays pathological, flat out).

However, I also think that these sentiments of single truth are a manifestation of the Platonic world view, which relies on a truth which is always distant and inaccessible (save to the truly inspired and initiated) that governs and directs the physical world. As such, the physical world has no power, no substance: all is removed and separated from that which we experience, for we experience nothing but the shadows of the divine cast upon the wall of our flesh. This kind of logic is flatly offensive and dehumanizing.  The divine cannot be present in the world by such a philosophy if, by its very nature, the flesh cannot contain, experience, or manifest divinity.

We are, before anything else, embodied. All of our knowledge, all of our experience, everything that constitutes us derives entirely from our fleshliness. Therefore, this must be the starting point of all philosophy. A proper Philosophy of the Spirit must, then, begin with the flesh and move through experience until the Spiritual is encountered manifestly.

Case in point, the concepts behind the practice of sacred geometry hold that all is an instantiation of divine mathematical principles. However, such a starting point ignores the key point that mathematics is itself a construction of consciousness and has no force in the world at large. What we define as mathematics are relations which first require an active subject to observe and codify. Without the mind, there is no math. Math does no press forth into the world, the mind constructs and utilizes math to describe the formal relations which it perceives around it. The symmetrical growth of a crystal is not a result of divine principles, it is a result of mere formal relationships which demand that it must, given its nature, form in a particular way. The symmetry, the perfect geometry, of its growth is not pressed upon it, it is present in its very nature at all moments and merely named and categorized once the mind encounters it. Indeed, the crystal does not recognize its growth, nor is its growth recognized by the world itself. The crystal grows because it must given its nature and the nature of its environs. There is no divine principle governing such growth, merely formal relations.

The insertion of divine principles here more obfuscates and confounds the issue, particularly when dealing with irregular patterns and distorted forms. If all is a reflection of divine principles, one then must account for why the crystal rarely grows in geometric perfection. Surely, if the divine were absolutely guiding from beyond all physical instantiation, then all instantiation would be a perfect reflection of the divine. However, we do not possess that total mathematical purity that our invented geometry demands, therefore the world must be somehow fallen, declined, degenerated from the divine. In order for this mathematical purity to hold, the world itself must be, again, removed from divinity, which is always elsewhere, always removed, always beyond. And, again, this is obviously and patently the wrong move. So enamored with the idea of purity, the world is cast into shadow to salvage the bizarrely idealized divine.

The distorted crystal reflects divinity just as powerfully as the perfect form grown in a vacuum. Each, being instantiated, being encountered by the mind, is enriched and enlivened with the power of the subject. From the flesh, from the complicated growth of the subject, springs all spirituality. That which is Spiritual means nothing without first the subject out of which such experience blossoms. How can we remove the Spirit from the Man? In doing so we evacuate not only Man, but Divinity of Spirituality, for suddenly the spiritual is no longer subjective, and if it is not subjective, it is nothing at all.

There for, foremost, the flesh must dominate our reflections. It seems to me that Spiritual reflection must grown out of an experience of the world, and that Spirituality should manifest in and enliven the world itself. As the subject forms out of interaction with the world, so Spirituality blossoms from that same source.

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