The magic mirror offers insight into the art, and following Hermes’ path, we can prepare our mind so that it accurately reflects spiritual energy into the alchemical process. In some ways the mirror is more similar to a lens that allows light through when clean. Because if the lens is covered or smeared with worldly vanities and desires, then little, if any, of the spiritual light gets through. What does is distorted into monstrous and frightening phantasms. Empty the mind of personal garbage and repose in the silent chamber. Emptiness like silence is beneficial and can be achieved when life’s accidentals are dissolved and discarded.
In the magic theater of the mind, we continually reenact the great cosmic dramas of our culture. This reenactment is the inspiration and source for the artistic imagination. Our dreams show us that these inner dramas are our own productions, even when they occur during our waking state. Each of us is the director, producer, playwright, and all the actors for each performance. Drawing on the cultural archetypes and symbols of not only our culture but others, we can gain inspiration and expand our creativity.
Chakras are centers of psychic energy and consciousness, where bodily functions and psychic consciousness interact. In these centers psychic energies can be crystallized, and bodily activities and qualities can be dissolved or transformed. By awakening the chakras, we can transform the body. This concept of transformation has given rise to a basic principle of magic: thinking is making. Repetition is the procedure.
During the astral energy’s ascension up the spinal column, the astral vessel is spiritualized and separated from the coarse physical body. When the energy reaches the cranium, it blossoms, becoming the lotus; and the eagle takes away its prize. Spirit rises and coarse matter falls.
The guardian spirit is a switch-hitter, who can go either way—male or female. If the soul is in a male body, and so thinks and feels masculine, the guardian spirit is feminine, the goddess who marries the masculine soul. If, however, the soul resides in a female body, the guardian spirit is masculine, the god who marries the feminine soul in the sacred bridal chamber. Angels usually appear in art and literature as androgynous. Our spiritual transformation is assisted or hindered by those outside us: the images projected by others, both men and women, on our psychic archetypes can distort and hinder or clarify and encourage our advancement.
A tree is an illuminating symbol for the spinal column. Applying the image to the body, we notice that the roots are in the underworld at the base of the spine. The navel, center of worldly consciousness, is the earth or middle zone, which is based on duality. The king and queen and the two trees of life and knowledge exemplify the symbolic paradox: the apparent duality is actually a unity. The top branches of the tree, reaching skyward, represent the lotus blossom.
Inner fire is the astral body: strange, but the thought of the myth of the cave, an archetypal image and is described by the ancient philosopher Plato in his Republic, emerges into our consciousness. The shadow of an idea moves into the light and becomes solid. Does the allegory on one level of meaning suggest that our physical body is a cave? If so, then our mental state, ordinary consciousness, refers to our experience of the dancing images on the cave wall. Leaving the cave is analogous to our enlightenment when the lotus blossoms. Another thought: at the end of the Republic Socrates narrates another myth—that of Er. The tale clothes a multi-layered concept of the immortality of the soul and the cycle of reincarnation. Several of the embedded ideas are very suggestive of Buddhism and Taoism. Perhaps the perennial philosophy and Hermes’ wisdom are the connecting threads that are woven together to form the cosmic umbilical cord.
My personal study of the phenomenology of consciousness has led me to the edge of the abyss: staring at emptiness I am confounded and baffled. When I attempt to label and categorize the view from the brink, I have only a few words at my disposal that seem an adequate description: being, is, nothing, emptiness, space. To become linked to that being is frightening. The I must go. Eliminate the I from all statements and all thinking and what is left? Where is the speaker and the thinker now? The philosopher and the magician? Magic is. Be magic. As a verb: to magic, magicking.
Opening a used copy of Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Comical History of the States and Empires of the World of the Moon and the Sun, I behold a strange reality. What an amazing, satiric fantasy! It reminds me of Jonathan Swift, although he wrote later. Bergerac challenges my self-image as a member of humanity, and my perceptions of reality are transformed. This story about love, its origin and traits, is fascinating. I especially enjoy the tale of the shepherd Hermaphroditus and beautiful Salmacis, who, after drinking the nectar distilled from the love apples, develop such an intense passion, “so violent a desire,” they embrace and melt into each other, becoming one. This new being is neither male nor female but a composite, a blending of both. I am reminded of Aristophanes’ speech on love in Plato’s Symposium, 189d. Originally there were three groups of humans: male, female, and hermaphrodite. Their bodies were globular, rounded back and sides. The males were descended from the sun, females from the earth, and hermaphrodites from the moon. Because they tried to scale the heavens like the giants, Zeus split them into halves. Once the splitting was accomplished, each half yearned for its significant other, for a reunion with its lost part, the soul mate. Love is the desire and longing to reunite, to become whole again with our lost half. Happiness is a state of completeness and wholeness. This reunion occurs on three levels: between individuals, on the inner psychic level, and on the spiritual level.
Retrieving my copy of Plato’s Republic from its dusty shelf and, opening to 359d, I refresh my memory of Gyges. Socrates and Glaucon are discussing the issue of justice and injustice. Glaucon argues that humans act justly only from necessity to prevent punishment and gain rewards. To support his position he tells the story of Gyges’ ancestor who found a magical ring that would make him invisible. He used that ring to slay the king and gain control of the kingdom. I am more amazed, however, by the way Gyges’ ancestor found the ring. The earth opened where he was pasturing his flock, and he descended to explore the chasm. Among many marvels he discovered “a hollow bronze horse with little doors” and within was a corpse wearing a gold ring on its finger. The images and their embedded meaning stir my imagination. Critical filters are dissolved. A body within a container. A gold ring that makes one invisible. Treasures within the earth. The ring is a portal between the two realms. The bronze horse represents the physical body, and the corpse, the astral vessel. The ring’s power energizes the soul so that it can enter the spiritual realm. Image of a centaur—horse and human as one entity. Within the horse is a little man “of more than mortal stature,” suggesting the quality of an immortal.
The soul is like the moon, because it reflects the light of its source, and the soul has its phases in its spiritual growth. The soul goes through the lunar cycle repeatedly until the sacred marriage when the child is born as fully illuminated. The days of the dark moon are the time of exile. Feelings of guilt and shame separate us from the divine. Yet paradoxically the new moon occurs when it journeys close to the sun, at least from earth’s viewpoint. It is hidden by the sun’s light and unmanifested to our perception. The rational mind with its linear thought process can never understand the premises of Hermes’ art. These literalists narrowly focus on their mundane desires, blindly searching for a method to obtain gold or eternal youth. The children of the art, however, will gain their spiritual at-onement and will find bliss, their philosophical gold, in the eternal garden.
Hidden deep, remaining secret, within the masculine mind is the creating envy, which has great influence over male thinking and behavior. It is all too obvious that women have the power and ability to create new life, using their own substances as the natural source for the embryo’s body. Males can never create in this real sense but only metaphorically through craft and invention. When the envy becomes overpowering and possesses the thinking of men, they thrust aside nature and the truth and build an intellectual structure that reverses natural law. Their aberrant ideas, fostered by the envious impulse arising from the unconscious, pictures a universe created by a male god, and often the female aspect is denigrated and subordinated to the masculine. One ever foolish and silly notion that European culture had maintained for centuries is the lie that the male seed is the egg, the source of life, and that the female only supplies the womb or container for the male seed to maturate. One wonders how such a deviant falsehood could hold cultural dominance for so a long time. It is so obviously untrue that people needed to blind themselves to reality. In some intellectual systems the creating envy has so distorted logical thought that the absurd idea of creating something, like the universe, from nothing is given credence. The disastrous consequences and side effects of the creating envy is evinced by the patriarchal warrior cultures for the last 4000 years: violence, avarice, meanness, and cruelty. The lack of balance and harmony is apparent. Something is missing. The intellectual system is incomplete and deranged. Daily we must chant these lies to maintain our deceptive fantasies.
The aim of Buddhism is not to gain power nor manipulate it but to acquire knowledge of power so that one can be liberated from it. Buddhists learn to transform power into a force that will guide them toward wholeness and free them from the cycle of life and death. Can we apply this idea to alchemy? Can we use an understanding of alchemy to liberate ourselves from self-deception and transform our psychic energy into a healing process?
Enlightenment is symbolized by the ecstatic love bonding of the male and female in the bridal chamber. In the Hindu Tantras the female is the active power, represented by Sakti, and the male, designated by Siva, is the passive state of divine consciousness. The Buddhist Tantric system reverses the roles. The knower takes the role of active male while knowledge (prajna) is female and passive. The Hindu system is centered on creating the world of manifestation while the Buddhist follows the path toward the unmanifested, the unformed, breaking the causal chain of repeat performances. The Buddhist concept is similar to the European that wisdom (sophia) and spiritual knowledge are feminine as are the three Graces.
The traditional method of representing inner visions and meditative experiences is to describe them as outer, external events. We project inner experiences onto the outer stage so that we can better understand and shape the underlying processes. Thus, the union of soul and spirit might be expressed in sexual terms, or inner conflicts as battles between opposing warriors. Alchemical imagery is an allegorical expression depicting an inner psychic process. The queen represents the feminine qualities in our nature while the king designates the masculine ones. Mercury is the dissolving psychic principle and sulfur that which fixates and makes stable.
The psychic centers (chakras) are planes of consciousness that influence and affect both the physical and astral envelopes. When the psyche develops these areas of consciousness, it activates an alchemical process that ultimately will transform itself into the philosopher’s stone. Psychic processes are crystallized into imagery and words for our intellect to comprehend and our emotions to energize. When their usefulness is complete, they are dissolved. If they are kept, their petrifaction will stifle and paralyze further inner advancement. Here is the alternating function of sulfur and mercury, the two basic principles. The Adept learns that any mental form or construct, all our thoughts and images, can be dissolved, leaving emptiness. All our inner and outer experiences are but phantoms of the mind: the outer world, what is normally called reality, is a product, a result, of our actions, which are initiated in the mind. By understanding the nature of our inner experiences, we realize that our world has the same essence. The act of perceiving external reality changes the self by separating the perceiver from that perceived. An inner vision can transform the self by demonstrating the synthesis rather than the separation between the viewer and that viewed. I am what I experience! I act; therefore, I exist. Existence is dependent upon acting!
One must die to live: one dies to the ego and the past deeds, attitudes, and beliefs and is reborn enlightened. This is an inner, continual process. Every moment is my last and I live it as such.
In Buddhism the world of phenomena is an emanation or unfolding from the divine unformed source, a manifestation of the unmanifested potential. The individual as a microcosm is like that. From one’s psyche phenomena emanate or unfold, presenting the world of experience. Bringing things into consciousness is a miniature of the process. Pure emptiness of space and pure light of heaven are the two basic principles of divine consciousness—Nous. Emptiness is the creative source containing all as yet unformed and unstructured. From emptiness emanates the formed and manifested into the light, which differentiates and produces the world of phenomena. Without light all is one, yet when all is light, wholeness is complete and universal.
The dense physical body is unable to penetrate other bodies; however, a more ethereal vessel can penetrate a physical one, which is the stage of our cosmic performance, of the interaction of all the cosmic forces and energies. An analogy is the x-ray, gamma ray or other similar energy forms that can penetrate dense physical bodies.
The two psychic energies spiraling up and down the spinal column can be designated as solar and lunar. The lunar, beginning at the left nostril, and the solar, beginning at the right nostril, end at their base in the perineum. Integrate the solar and lunar energies at each chakra from perineum to lotus. The coiled snake is a symbol of latent energy. In Buddhist Tantra the susumna is a hollow canal through the spinal column where the solar and lunar energies spiral. The susumna is closed at its base until psychic energies are awakened. Awakening Kundalini’s dormant energies and directing them to higher centers is the process of transformation and gaining spiritual consciousness.
Loosening and untying the mental and physical bindings which enslave me is an immediate goal. By understanding the source of my nature, I will be able to dissolve the binding. In Buddhism the six knots refer to the six sense-organs and their six centers (chakras). The knots represent coagulation of consciousness into dense matter. Untie the knots one by one in the reverse order that they were made.
Names are only useful for the external world of objects. By labeling the inner world, one turns it into a set of objects, and this act can create mental confusion. In the inner world names have no real basis, but sounds do. Deprive names of their conventional meaning by using different names for the same thing, by switching names—good is bad, bad is good. Release the power of the outer world by playing the naming game. The structure of reality is shaped by the grammar of human language.
A pleasure garden is hidden in the midst of a cemetery: discover the joy and sublime in a world of death and decay. Awaken ourselves to the consciousness that death and decay are changes or transformations, and take away their negative connotations and associations. Death is a going into the unmanifested, and decay is a change from one state or form to another—better yet, a process of ongoing change. By grasping the past—hanging on to it—we fear change and view it as negative or bad. Cyclic time helps dissolve the mindset of linear time, that is, beginning, middle, and end. When coming in and going out become significant points, they cause one to think in terms of linear time. This view and attitude, focusing on the manifested and losing sight of the unmanifested, are reinforced by culture.
Spatial dimensions can illustrate levels of consciousness: a point, no dimension; straight line, one dimension; plane, two dimensions; volume, three dimensions; add time for four dimensions; and so forth. The lower dimensions continue to exist within the higher ones. We realize, though, that they are only parts of a more inclusive level and not complete in themselves. So too our world of phenomena is not complete and only a part of existence. Once we become aware of our inner being, the outer world is recognized as incomplete. Once we understand the principles and operations of the inner world, we become conscious of a more encompassing reality. Our journey toward perfection continues to unfold as we become more whole and complete.
The form of Red Buddha, whose name is Flaming Mouth, appears in the Preta-world, where hungry, restless spirits who lust for life reside. Always chasing after the unattainable fantasies of their passions, they live unfulfilled, imbalanced, and disharmonious existences. Never being satisfied, they become more entangled in their desires, and their suffering increases. In the midst of this anguish and terror Red Buddha holds a bowl of heavenly treasures offering spiritual food and drink to the seeker. On the Tibetan Wheel of Life design, which depicts the six realms of the world, the Preta-world is opposite the world of human creativity and purposeful activity. In this latter world Buddha appears as the ascetic with alms bowl and staff. The red light emanating from Buddha signifies distinguishing wisdom and may terrify the seeker. The house of six windows—the windows being our senses or faculties: thinking, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling (touching)—refers to the Preta-world. Humans chase after the objects of their senses. Red Buddha is the light of salvation in the Preta-world, which gives off a dull yellow light. To make the perishable body the dwelling of the eternal mind, if only for a few moments, is a supreme accomplishment. Flowers fulfill their nature by embodying eternal beauty within their fragile body-form for a fleeting moment. Can we do the same?
We should not fear the pure, clear light, the cosmic divine radiance, but be one with it. We should not flee from the fundamental state of nature. Fear of the clear light is caused by its illuminating fully our consciousness. All the dark, hidden recesses with their repressed feelings and thoughts are brought to awareness. The light confronts us with the truth, which is liberating but usually too upsetting for most of us, so we flee from the truth, which resides with the light. In terror we run from the truth and seek comfort in another rebirth, continuing the wheel of life and death. The light illumines the demons and delusions in our mind.
Lucid dreaming illustrates basic ideas in meditative disciplines. Dreaming and the waking state are illusions, dependent on the mind, and we can move from one to the other without loss of memory and with full comprehension that they have the same nature: “Life is but a dream,” as we sang in school.
The astral vessel is an inert mass or stone with only vague awareness. Kundalini power, awakened on the astral level, moves to the navel, awakening the power of feeling, and then moves to the other centers. Kundalini power is used to develop and vitalize the etheric centers which link the astral and physical. The pituitary gland links astral and physical consciousness.