Snow Falling On Faery

Snow Falling On Faery

Crossing Westminster Bridge after a meeting yesterday morning

Crossing Westminster Bridge after a meeting yesterday morning

It takes one hour and forty seven minutes to walk from my new office to my house.

I know this because I have made the journey a number of times already.

On the surface of it, this may seem like a ludicrous waste of time, given that the bus ride is -traffic willing- around half an hour.

But on fast days… what am I rushing home for? Certainly not to cook supper or go drinking with friends.

Nor am I rushing home to sit on the couch and rail at the nightmarish, imperial Roman circus that is British television: Endless ‘talent’ shows where -for our entertainment- the poor and the odd desperately beg for the approval of a panel of our self-appointed “betters”. Like dogs that -perceiving this as their very last chance to escape their miserable lives- have somehow learned to cook or sing. (Or not, as the case typically is.)

Fuck that.

There is a peculiar sense of freedom that comes with episodically avoiding food. Your day isn’t dictated by alimentary custom. Lunch breaks stretch on forever, books are read, thoughts are thunk… it’s like being outside of time. It’s as if you are Tom Cruise back when he was Out. (About being a vampire. Why? What did you think I meant?)

I know I have mentioned the impact fasting has on your dream state, but for the magically inclined there is something else. Such a conscious abnegation of consensus reality feels two thirds of the way to ritual.

And so I walk and think.

Thoughts of work politics have typically abandoned my head by the time I have left Marylebone. Then from the top of Hyde Park and through Notting Hill it is all fragments of books I have read crashing into childhood memories, archetypes, old ghosts, Middle Earth, lost friends and old lovers… and then… elsewhere. A threshold of revelation.

It’s not a walking meditation in the traditional (boring) sense of extremely slow and deliberate movements, but a reasonable proficiency in recognising monkey mind and letting it wash over you inevitably leads you to this elsewhere.

Which brings me to Tolkien and an article that so impressed me that I instantly bought the book.

Snow in Queen's Square in Bristol.

Snow in Queen’s Square in Bristol.

Should we not wonder at the fact that a mind of such brilliance and imagination should be happy to be contained in the petty routine of academic and domestic life; that a man whose soul longed for the sound of waves breaking against the Cornish coast should be content to talk to old ladies in the lounge of a middle-class watering-place; that a poet in whom joy leapt up at the sight and smell of logs crackling in the grate of a country inn should be willing to sit in front of his own hearth warmed by an electric fire with simulated glowing coal?

Yet it is precisely because Tolkien was a visionary that he was content to lead a life that to some, like poet W. H. Auden, appeared so appallingly staid. For Tolkien, Numenor was as real as, if not more real than, Oxford town. Although he himself may have disguised and felt ambivalent about that, psychologically Middle Earth existed as a literal place that he journeyed to. Whenever Tolkien found an unresolved mystery in the etymology of his Elvish languages or the history of the various races that populated his mythos, he would state, “I must find out” the answer, as would any intrepid empiricist seeking objective data in this world.

Perhaps it’s inherent in magic… this risk of intellectual laziness. Despite being obsessed with his work since the age of six, despite even visiting his grave, it would never really occur to me to devote time to exploring how he squared his imaginary Elvish circle with his ‘real’ life because wizards know how big his head was.

(As a side observation on his seeming disinterest in travel. When his mother took him on his first trip to England from South Africa as a child,  his father died, leaving them penniless. Later he was at the Somme. Auden can go fuck himself. Tolkien’s disinclination to physically travel -and a corresponding obsession with a warm, safe home- is entirely forgivable if you ask me.)

What wizards also get -and thus don’t look too deeply into- is the notion of filters. A common, if unsophisticated, criticism of Middle Earth is that it is a Tory pastoral fantasy. Sure, it is. That’s how Tolkien was built. Grant Morrison is the son of lefty, radical, anti-nuke activists and when Faery filtered through him it came out as space aliens, archons and hypersigils. We get this. Yet in both cases it is the same Source, the same Journey and -too often ignored- the same War. (Sauron is unquestionably the best ever fictional depiction of the Demiurge.)

My previous assumption -because I never looked into it- was that Middle Earth deemed its time had come to manifest… like the Cthulhu Mythos. Not that I thought Tolkien was unwilling, but rather that its discovery was… for want of a better word… accidental.

Then I read this from the above article:

Consciousness, in the way it is being discussed here, was not a concept Tolkien would have been inclined to embrace, yet we can see a remarkable correspondence between Lewis-Williams’s intensified trajectory and Tolkien’s own descriptions of inner journeying, especially in his last creative work, “Smith of Wootton Major.” In this deceptively simple tale, Tolkien left a veiled autobiographical account that might as well be, in the words of Tolkien scholar Paul Kocher, of “any practitioner of the White Art who travels far ‘from Daybreak to Evening’ and in his old age comes home, tired, to hand his passport on to his successors.”

Considering that the old master laid aside work on his treasured Silmarillion to compose this guide to the realm of Faery, it is worthy of far closer attention than it is usually given.

‘Treasured’ is putting it mildly. Tolkien wanted the Silmarillion wrapped up before his death with the same zeal that Hitler went at his Final Solution in the last years of the war. For him to put it aside in favour of something else… yeah. Pay attention.

Faery might be said to represent Imagination (without definition because taking in all the definitions of this word): esthetic, exploratory and receptive; and artistic; inventive, dynamic, (sub)creative. This compound — of awareness of a limitless world outside our domestic parish; a love (in ruth and admiration) for the things in it; and the desire for wonder, marvels, both perceived and conceived — this “Faery” is as necessary for the health and complete functioning of the Human as is sunlight for physical life.

As Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger comments, “No great leap of imagination is needed in order to see that Tolkien was speaking from experience and that Faery was as necessary for his own spiritual health and complete functioning as sunlight for his physical life.

Cold, cold lion. Cold, cold Gordon.

Cold, cold lion. Cold, cold Gordon.

This next quote holds no small amount of personal appeal, and hints at Tolkien encountering a kind of collective realm. More on that after the jump.

While Tolkien might be surprised to find his fantasy works compared with the enthnography of Amazonian Indians drinking psychoactive brews, his depictions of Aragorn’s doctoring skills in the bush are distinctly shamanic and use a resident plant divinity for healing purposes.

After Frodo is stabbed by the Morgul-blade on Weathertop, Aragorn sat with the weapon and “sang over it a slow song in a strange tongue. Then setting it aside, he turned to Frodo and in a soft tone spoke words the others could not catch. From the pouch at his belt he drew out the long leaves of a plant.” This plant, athelas, he explains, “is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle Earth.” He throws the leaves into boiling water, and the hobbits find “the fragrance of the steam refreshing, and those that were unhurt felt their minds calmed and cleared. . . . Frodo felt the pain and also the sense of frozen cold lessen in his side.”

The divine provenance of athelas, which responds especially to the hands of a rightful king, is made clearer when Aragorn performs a type of soul retrieval on Faramir, who has been gravely sickened by the Black Breath of the Nazgul. “Taking two leaves, he laid them on his hands and breathed on them, and then he crushed them, and straightaway a living freshness filled the room, as if the air itself awoke and tingled, sparkling with joy.”

The divine realm within the plant manifests, “like a memory of dewy mornings of unshadowed sun in some land of which the fair world in spring is itself but a fleeting memory.” Faramir awakens, summoned, and speaking softly, says, “My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?”

Royal Horseguards

Royal Horseguards

Three rings, given to the Archetypes

This isn’t where I wanted to go with this post because if you look in my fuckbasket you’ll see I have none to give. But an exploration of Faery -of where Tolkien went when he had to “find out”- inevitably bumps up against a recent semantic exploration of paganism. So we’ll tangentally look at is.

Here is where chaos magic and all forms of theism -by mutual consent- part company.

It strikes me that the divide between whether divine beings exist as externalities or whether they are “just” psychological is rather unsophisticated. And the minutiae of what a particular being may want or like seems overly literal and, frankly, boring. From the wonderful Lupa:

The anger and debate seem to all be on the human side of things. When someone doesn’t perform a ritual properly, or refers to several goddesses as aspects of one Goddess, I haven’t seen divine bolts of lightning streak down and smite them. There are historical debates, of course, where we can argue the facts of what the people of such and such ancient and no longer extant culture did, but that doesn’t lead to proof of what a particular deity or spirit wants.

Nor, indeed, whether their tastes and appearance may change over millennia. Are they separate, discrete beings or are they not?? To be honest, they probably are. But the risk in this way of thinking is not the acceptance of this, it’s the rejection of the psychological. There are just too many babies in its bathwater. From John Halstead:

I believe that this rejection of Jungian archetypes is the result of a misunderstanding by many Pagans of Jung’s concept of archetypes. Jung would say that, while the gods may be a part of us, we must remember that they are also other than us, if by “us” we mean our conscious mind or ego-self. Thus, Jung could say that “the world of gods and spirits is truly ‘nothing but’ the collective unconscious inside me”, and in the same breath say that “the collective unconscious is the world of gods and spirits outside me”. This is why Jung called the archetypes “gods” and compared the psyche to an “Olympus full of deities who want to be propitiated, served, feared and worshipped”.

The archetypes arise from the unconscious, not the conscious mind. Jung writes, “Psychologically speaking, the domain of ‘gods’ begins where consciousness leaves off.” This is why the gods visit us in our dreams, our imagination, and in our art. The notion that one could consciously create archetypes would have been as foreign to Jung as the so-called “plug-and-play” gods of some Pagans are to Polytheists.

There is a kind of circular argument that creates a hole many people fall into when it comes to psychological interpretation. And it’s not really anybody’s fault. We have had almost a century of less talented psychologists trying to whitewash over an uncomfortable fact about Jung.

He was a balls-out, motherfucking wizard.

What is missing is an entire episode from Jung’s life, and arguably the most important one.

In December 1913, Jung deliberately and repeatedly induced trance states using methods he had learned from his experience with spiritualism. This technique, which he would later call “active imagination,” sparked a series of intense visionary experiences that Jung interpreted as his direct mystical initiation into one of the most ancient of the pagan mystery cults of the Hellenistic world.

After Jung underwent the mystery of deification in December 1913, his personal and professional life changed markedly. Within a few months he resigned from the presidency of the psychoanalytic movement and withdrew from his lecturer position at the university. He maintained his private practice in Kusnacht, and his sexual relationship with Toni Wolff intensified. He continued his visionary explorations and researches into mythology and the history of religion. He gathered his core disciples around him and gave them special lectures on “complex psychology,” psychological types, and mythology. By 1916, he began to teach his disciples that analysis was an initiation into the mysteries of the impersonal, the transpersonal, or the collective unconscious. By 1917, he transformed the imaginal entities he met in his visions into elements of his new poetic brand of analytical psychoanalysis.

My local in the snow. Hopefully Tolkien-approved.

My local in the snow. Hopefully Tolkien-approved.

Jung regarded his own visionary experiences as the path to redemption — “individuation” as he called it after 1916 — that could be taught to others. Analysis became an initiatory process, a descent into the unconscious mind in order to spark a process of individual transformation through a direct encounter with the transcendental realm of the gods. Just as the Last Supper became the central event upon which the mystery of Communion in the Roman Catholic Mass was based, Jungian analysis became a ritualized reenactment of Jung’s own inner drama, a story of heroic confrontation with the gods that is enshrined as the sacred myth of analytical psychology. For those who survived an encounter with the god or gods within, Jung promised rebirth as a true “individual,” free from all the repressive mechanisms of conventional beliefs about family, society, and deity. The successful survivors of such pagan regeneration became reborn, spiritually superior “individuated” beings…

Jung cultivated a special relationship to Wotan, whom he believed to be the true god of the Germanic peoples of Europe. Wotan came to him in a dream in the form of a wild huntsman as a sign he was taking the soul of Jung’s mother with him to the Land of the Dead. Wotan appeared in other guises as well throughout Jung’s life. Eugen Bohler, who was on very intimate terms with Jung from 1955 onward, recalled that Jung “had several intuitions about death — of the death of his mother before the First World War and of the death of his wife. On both occasions there was Wotan, the German god who is said to dominate Northern Europe. He had a dream of Wotan riding in the sky …. Wotan is also a psychopompos, one who leads the souls of the dead, like Hermes.” Bohler added, “Jung had several dreams with Wotan flowing, so to speak, beside him on the lake when he was at Bollingen.”

The circular argument is as follows: A hundred years ago, based on nineteenth century European occult best practice, a man develops his own system of shamanic journeying into a realm he calls the collective unconscious, encounters mythological beings in these journeys, these beings are absorbed into the early psychological worldview thus making them palatable(ish) for non-theistic head doctors. These beings are then rejected a century later because they’re “just” psychological and the gods are self-evidently “real”. (whatever any of those words mean.)

And where did Jung get his cornerstone archetype? Oh, only the Mithraic Liturgy!

My street in the snow

My street in the snow

Like so:

(T)he showpiece in Jung’s theory was a patient known subsequently as “the Solar Phallus Man.” The patient had visions of the sun endowed with a swaying penis from which the winds issued. Jung was struck by the similarity of this image to a Mithraic liturgy stemming from late antiquity. On numerous subsequent occasions, Jung claimed that the patient could not have had any knowledge of the ancient mysteries and that the particular Mithraic text had not even been published at the time of the vision.

Thus the Solar Phallus Man assumed an important role for Jung and his followers, providing evidence of the universal, transchronological character of archetypes drawn from the collective unconscious. As Noll has convincingly shown, however, Jung knew perfectly well that the Mithras liturgy had been translated and published both in German and English before the patient’s remarkable vision and that the symbol was available in other sources as well. Jung engaged in a deliberate pattern of deception to buttress the scientific validity of his collective unconscious, itself an outgrowth of nineteenth-century occultism.

Yeah. Maybe. But to that last point, here’s a counter argument:

Strangely enough, Jung’s inspiration for the Collective Unconscious theory came from a schizophrenic patient who was experiencing hallucinations that a tube or phallus burst forth from the center of the Sun. Jung had been studying the Mithraic liturgy, recognized this icon from it and was struck by the synchronicity. Ever since critics have been trying to poke holes in this story, but as we recently saw here, the Mithraic liturgy has extremely powerful and compelling parallels to hallucinogenic ritual and to alien abduction lore, parallels that cannot be dismissed or explained away through cultural contamination.

Despite what Jung’s critics may claim, experienced psychonauts would take the solar phallus hallucination for granted these days. We have a large and fairly consistent corpus of reports of shamanic visions from all over the world, which Jung did not have in his day.

My local park.

My local park.

And actually, far from deliberately concealing the fact that the image had been published a few years before the patient had his Mithraic vision, he went to great pains to examine whether there was even the remotest possibility he had somehow otherwise absorbed it. (But we know about magic and Black Swans. It only looks explicable after the event.)

Schwyzer, who was not well travelled, particularly religious or well-educated, was almost certainly not exposed to these ideas or this imagery at any point in his life. (Jung even verified that other mental hospitals where Schwyzer had stayed did not possess libraries or similar collections of books.)

Parallel images and motifs from mythological traditions of different cultures and periods of human history — many of which could not have influenced or cross-fertilized one another — served as one of the primary proofs for Jung of the existence of collectively shared archetypal energies. Moreover, instead of merely debunking long held religious beliefs or doctrines, appreciation for the existence and power of archetypes usually results in the following: a deeper awareness of the instincts, fears, desires, and drives of human nature; a stronger bond between individuals and “the Other,” especially as it takes shape in other cultures and belief systems; finally, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of religious connection to Something which is at one and the same time spiritual and soulful, transcendent and immanent.

As for these archetypes. He didn’t just ‘think’ them up. He stitched together various currents going on in Continental Europe at the time as a means of understanding how we relate to these non-physical beings that appear to have been co-existing with us since… well, since forever.

There is also an indication that Fouillée’s conception of the force ideas shaped Jung’s notion of the archetype. On a couple of occasions, he used the term (in French) interchangeably with that of archetype. The one occasion that he referred to Fouillée explicitly was in 1912, in a list of authors who recognized the significance of instincts. In 1929, in an abstract for a lecture presented at a congress in Zürich titled “Outline of Modern Psychotherapeutics,” he wrote:

The therapy does not consist of a negation and depreciation of the unconscious contents, as in Freud’s doctrine, but of an addition of the instinctive forces to the conscious as a reinforcement of an individual attitude through collective ideas (“idée-forces”).

Similarly, in 1956, he argued that there was ground for assuming the fantasies of individuals in different epochs sprang from different idées forces from ours. The function of myths, he claimed, had always been to enable a bridge between “consciousness and the effective idées forces of the unconsciousness.

Sounds like an encounter with a god to me. Back to Tolkien, then. By way of The Secret Sun.

As I’ve written before, all of this began when I noticed that artists who immersed themselves in the Mysteries seemed to produce art that was more resonant and influential than those who did not.

Why did Led Zeppelin seem to resonate on such a deep level when Deep Purple, who essentially followed the same formula, did not? What about David Bowie versus Elton John or Jimi Hendrix versus Eric Clapton? Or Jack Kirby versus Steve Ditko? Or Philip K. Dick versus Ben Bova, or William Gibson versus Bruce Sterling, or Alan Moore versus Kurt Busiek?

Immersed in the Mysteries? Like translating Beowulf and dedicating one’s entire life to giving England a mythology? Like accidentally writing an explorer’s guide for entry into Faery? Like that?

Don't look into it or anything but this is totally my house.

Don’t look into it or anything but this is totally my house.

The entry into Faery may be comparatively simple but its denizens are anything but. So… are the archetypes gods? Yes. The briefest exploration of the original Platonic meaning can leave you pretty confident in taking such a position. Are the gods archetypes? How would you know? To paraphrase Illyria… we are plankton speculating about the ocean that holds us.

And where do I go, then, on these after-work walks when I go elsewhere? The answer is self-evident.

I go home.

Aiya Eärendil elenion ancalima.


Add yours
  1. 1

    Gordon, on the subject on Faery, archetypes and myths – have you read any books from the Ryhope Wood series by Robert Holdstock? (Mythago Wood, Lavondyss and others). I’m interested in what you make of them :)

  2. 2

    You know, I’m a writer (well, aspiring writer, but that sounds lame), and deeply into occult, and I can tell you one thing about these archetypes.
    You cannot set out to write them.
    They come at their own pace, if they wish to come. Inspiration just strikes, takes your hand and forces you to write them. IMO great stories that really resonate with people can be made in this way, but it cannot be “manufactured”. Not that I make *great* stories.
    I still haven’t tried deliberate invocation/evocation before the work, because I prefer a kind of randomness to my inspiration. Only invocations to my muse.
    Johnny´s last blog post ..Thoughts on „A dance with dragons“

  3. 4

    Incredible piece of synthesis and the best commentary on this whole What is Paganism thing I’ve read.

    I love your insight into archetypes. In the tradition I practice, we work with 4 straight logic and 4 crazy logic Archetypes (i.e. Healer/Death) as the anchors of our cosmology. For example, doctors have no idea what exactly causes healing, and this is where the archetypal energy comes in. How the archetype appears to us in our work indicates our relationship with that archetypal energy and it grows and changes as our relationship does.

    These are the energies that would exist whether humans were here or not, whereas while (in my experience) Gods can certainly have agendas separate from the humans who work with them, they are often far more influenced and shaped by the cultures in which they originate in. Just to add more complexity in, Jason Miller in the Strategic Sorcery class very elegantly talks about how many Gods, such as Shiva and Hekate operate on a spectrum from the very earthy, human-like to the very cosmic/archetypal depending on how you are approaching them.

    I could go on forever about this but all in all, it’s clear that there’s a lot more interesting concepts and depths of diverse experiences to explore than “you’re right and I’m wrong”. Thanks for starting this conversation with your usual artistry, clarity and imagination.

  4. 5

    Oh, and I think the best illustration of deity and archetypes relationship to each other is not in some ancient grimoire or The Red Book but in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman =)

  5. 6

    Great post – I walked a lot of paths during my work on the Sefer Yetzirah (the A47 became a kind of yogic Ganges) :-) I wonder if you have thought about specifically opening an ‘astral path’ over the real before you walk. For instance these days working with the G4J I typically open the Gate of Gimel before I go on one of these walks and then use the opportunities that arise along the path as a form of Theurgy (I play ‘the rich man running to give to the poor’) or I interpret the Jupiterian clues along the path as omens and portents. Each ‘Thursday’ tends to be ‘a path’ if I am at the theatre or rehearsal and not able to do something more altar based. Its mobile theurgy.

    During my early work I did this for each of the letters (a month per letter with several clear pathwalkings) and my real path was overlaid by a ‘Qabalah path’ – on a very obvious level one of these paths led from Bath to Prague (both cities steeped in Qabalah). Anyway I am not sure if you are hinting in this direction but this is very much what I understand by Abracadabra, speak the path and then walk it truly hearing and seeing what is going on as a study of the internal through the external. However you may coming at this completely randomly (as a chaos magician???) but I think there is something to be gained by *systematically* working the paths and effectively mirroring the cosmos in the self, much as Giza was a mirror of the Galaxy.

    Excuse the rhetoric and thanks again for a great post.
    Blogos´s last blog post ..Metabolism – Physiognomy (Pituitary)

  6. 7
    Andrew B. Watt

    Blogos, Oh, that is an ELEGANT idea. I like it a lot. It’s the kind of thing that one could also do with the 28 mansions of the moon — call the angel by name of the mansion, and by the angelic name, and by some of the attributes, and by the image, and use that as an astral doorway, before going outside to talk a walk under the moonlight.

    I’ll be trying THAT one soon.
    Andrew B. Watt´s last blog post ..Taiji Day 321: Windmill Like Mad

+ Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge