Tag Archives: philosophy

Thoughts on “The Angels” by Rainer Maria Rilke

Gustave Dore – artist

They all have weary mouths,
bright souls without a seam.
And a yearning (as for sin)
often haunts their dream.

They wander, each and each alike,
in God’s garden silently,
as many, many intervals
in his might and melody.

Only when they spread their wings
they awaken a great wind through the land:
as though with his broad sculptor-hands
God was turning
the leaves of the dark book of the Beginning.

(translation by C. F. MacIntyre)

I read this poem a couple times and struggled with it. There is a tension here that is tangible but not easy to identify. I did a little research online about Rilke’s ideas concerning angels, and he would go into deeper exploration of the topic in his Duino Elegies.

Throughout the Duino Elegies, Rilke explores themes of “the limitations and insufficiency of the human condition and fractured human consciousness … mankind’s loneliness, the perfection of the angels, life and death, love and lovers, and the task of the poet”. Philosopher Martin Heidegger remarked that “the long way leading to the poetry is itself one that inquires poetically”, and that Rilke “comes to realize the destitution of the time more clearly. The time remains destitute not only because God is dead, but because mortals are hardly aware and capable even of their own mortality.” Rilke explores the nature of mankind’s contact with beauty, and its transience, noting that humanity is forever only getting a brief, momentary glimpse of an inconceivable beauty and that it is terrifying.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So Rilke appears to be grappling with the contrast between the fragmented human condition and our divine nature as manifested in angelic beings. What is particularly interesting in “The Angels” is that the angels appear sad and lost, just as humans are. Additionally, within each angel is the possibility of sin. It is like every angel recognizes that it has the potential to follow the same path as Lucifer.

Like humans, the angels in Rilke’s poem wander aimlessly, lost and searching for meaning in a reality void of meaning.

Finally, we have the image of an angel taking flight, which causes a “great wind through the land.” This image conjures the myth of Icarus, who tried to escape the world but flew too close to the sun. Do the angels also long to escape from their limited existence, to ascend to new heights? In doing so, are they destined to fall, like Lucifer? Are we as humans, trapped in our reality, fettered to this broken world, and if we attempt to transcend, do we have that brief moment of exaltation before we crash into oblivion?

This poem leaves me with more questions than answers, but that is good. It is important to ponder questions about our existence and our place in the universe, and this poem succeeds in eliciting the deep questions which all of us should be asking.

I hope you enjoyed the poem and my thoughts about it. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 6 – At the Abbey of Thelema

As I have now finished reading all of Crowley’s autobiography, it’s probably time to address the question: Was Aleister Crowley the evil black magician that he was portrayed to be? The short answer is, I don’t know. To quote Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And I think this was Crowley’s take on magick, that there is no good or bad magick, there is just magick. He uses the metaphor of music as an example.

Imagine listening to Beethoven with the prepossession that C is a good note and F is a bad one; yet this is exactly the standpoint from which all uninitiates contemplate the universe. Obviously, they miss the music.

(p. 838)

In a manner that is very familiar in our current political climate, Crowley blames the news media of his time as spreading “fake news” about him and his practices, asserting that what was written about him amounted to nothing less than slander.

I replied ‘Allegations utterly absurd.’ My only annoyance was having to pay for the telegram. Presently copies of the Sunday papers for November 28th arrived. I read them with tireless amusement. I had read in my time a great deal of utter balderdash, but nothing quite so comprehensively ridiculous. It gave me the greatest joy to notice that practically every single detail was false. There was, for instance, a description of the abbey, without a single failure to misstate the facts. If a thing was white, they called it red, if square, circular, if stone, brick; and so for everything.

(p. 914)

To sum up, this is a long book, probably longer than it needed to be, but interesting in providing context for the development of the occult ideologies that have had a profound impact on the ideas and practices of those circles ever since. I also, personally, ended this book with the impression that some of Crowley’s stories were embellished, either to establish a cult of himself, or to convey symbolically some mystical information to the careful reader who could notice the subtleties of metaphor woven into the text.

I will close this series on The Confessions of Aleister Crowley with a quote that is most appropriate.

‘The mind is improved by reading.’

(p. 853)

Hope you enjoyed, and keep improving your mind.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 61” by Lao Tzu

Shiji Niangniang: goddess in Chinese religion and Taoism (source: wikipedia)

A great country is like the lowland toward which all
streams flow. It is the Reservoir of all under heaven,
the Feminine of the world. The Feminine always conquers the Masculine by her
quietness, by lowering herself through her quietness. Hence, if a great country can lower itself before a
small country, it will win over the small country; and if a
small country can lower itself before a great country, it
will win over the great country. The one wins by
stooping; the other, by remaining low. What a great country wants is simply to embrace
more people; and what a small country wants is simply
to come to serve its patron. Thus, each gets what it
wants. But it behooves a great country to lower itself.

I really like this passage, particularly because Lao Tzu establishes a correlation between a powerful country and the divine Feminine. In Western thought, power is often associated with the masculine, but this is clearly not the case in Lao Tzu’s philosophy. It is within the subtle, the yielding, and the fluid where true strength resides, and these are characteristics of the divine Feminine.

Another metaphor that resonates with me is that of the Feminine being a lowland, or Reservoir, to which all streams flow. Lowlands are associated with fertility, since valleys are fertile areas. Hence, the divine Feminine is both the source of being, and the place where all life must return. There is a sense of cycles here.

The symbolism of the great and small countries establishing a symbiotic relationship likewise represents the symbiotic relationship between the Masculine and the Feminine. Each needs the other to maintain balance, and each provides the other with the aspect that is required to create wholeness and unity.

I trust you enjoyed this passage and that you found my interpretation interesting. I hope you have a blessed day, and keep reading things that uplift your soul.

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 5 – The Magus

In the timeline of Crowley’s life, this section of his autobiography corresponds to a period when he spent a significant amount of time in the United States, and also began to sink into poverty.

During this period, Crowley became involved in Freemasonry and assumed a leadership position. He claims that one of the first things he set out to do was define Freemasonry.

I proposed to define freemasonry as a system of communicating truth – religious, philosophical, magical and mystical; and indicating the proper means of developing human faculty by means of a peculiar language whose alphabet is the symbolism of ritual. Universal brotherhood and the greater moral principles, independent of personal, racial, climactic and other prejudices, naturally formed a background which would assure individual security and social stability for each and all.

(p. 700)

While the Freemasonry stuff and his personal history were intriguing, what I found the most interesting in this section of the book is Crowley’s theory that there is a symbolic connection between Christ and the god Mercury. I have read plenty of texts comparing Christ with other manifestations of the divine (Mithras, Osiris, etc.), but this is the first time I heard of anyone attempting to establish a relationship between Christ and Mercury; and I must admit, Crowley makes a convincing argument.

In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, who is Mercury, and is therefore to be identified with Christ. Both are messengers; their birth mysteries are similar; the pranks of their childhood are similar. In the Vision of the Universal Mercury, Hermes is seen descending upon the sea, which refers to Maria. The Crucifixion represents the caduceus; the two thieves, the two serpents; the cliff in the Vision of the Universal Mercury is Golgotha; Maria is simply Maia with the solar R in her womb.

. . .

To continue the identification, compare Christ’s descent into hell with the function of Hermes as guide of the dead. Also Hermes leading up Eurydice, and Christ raising up Jairus’s daughter. Christ is said to have risen on the third day, because it takes three days for the planet Mercury to become visible after separating from the orb of the sun. (It may be noted here that Mercury and Venus are the planets between us and the sun, as if the Mother and the Son were mediators between us and the Father.)

(pp. 720 – 721)

Crowley cites other similarities, but I think this is sufficient to demonstrate his assertion.

Crowley’s ideas are difficult to grasp and often misinterpreted. As he states in the text, “you’re not the first people to fail to understand Mr Aleister Crowley!” (p. 755) But this is the challenge when approaching a text of this type. Mystical and occult literature is difficult to understand and the symbolic nature of it makes it prone to myriad interpretations. It is always prudent to keep this in mind when reading books of this sort.

Thanks for stopping by, and always read critically.

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Occult Correlations in “He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace” by William Butler Yeats

I hear the Shadowy Horses, their long manes a-shake,
Their hoofs heavy with tumult, their eyes glimmering white;
The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,
The East her hidden joy before the morning break,
The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,
The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:
O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire,
The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay:
Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat
Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast,
Drowning love’s lonely hour in deep twilight of rest,
And hiding their tossing manes and their tumultuous feet.

Yeats was a member of the Golden Dawn, and therefore very familiar with Hermeticism and occult philosophy. This poem contains a weaving of occult correlations, and to begin to understand the poem, you need to be aware of the connections.

Four is the key number in this poem: four directions, four elements, four vanities, and four horsemen. Yeats establishes a correlation between elements, directions, and emotions, and then implies a symbolic connection with the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

In Western Hermetic thought, the four directions are associated with the four elements as follows:

  • North – Earth
  • East – Air
  • West – Water
  • South – Fire

Next, we need to factor in the four associated emotional states:

  • North – Earth – Sleep
  • East – Air – Hope
  • West – Water – Dream
  • South – Fire –Desire

It appears that Yeats viewed these emotional states as ills, states of being that are detrimental to the development and advancement of humanity.

Finally, let’s connect these with the four horsemen:

  • North – Earth – Sleep – Third Horseman (Famine) on black horse
  • East – Air – Hope – First Horseman (Pestilence) on white horse
  • West – Water – Dream – Fourth Horseman (Death) on pale horse
  • South – Fire –Desire – Second Horseman (War) on red horse

At this point we see the pattern emerge, and the pattern is reflected in the lines of the poem.

The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,
The East her hidden joy before the morning break,
The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,
The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:

So what does all this mean? What was Yeats ultimately trying to convey? I think he was attempting to provide us with a map delineating the progression of the apocalypse, both on an individual level as well as a global level. We begin our journey with hope, but this leads us to desire, then we become tired and sleep, and ultimately, we pass away and slip into the eternal dream.

I hope that you found this post interesting and that it helped you to form some of your own interpretations of this poem. Thanks for stopping by, and have a blessed day.

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Thoughts on “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön

My wife recently bought and read this book and told me she thought I would like it. Since it is short (only 150 pages) I decided to squeeze it in between my other reading projects, and am very glad I did. The book provides practical, spiritual suggestions that are pertinent to coping with the stresses that we have all been dealing with during these chaotic times.

In her introduction, Ms. Chödrön encourages you to allow this book to help you to:

… settle down with your life and take these teachings on honesty, kindness, and bravery to heart. If your life is chaotic and stressful, there’s plenty of advice here for you. If you’re in transition, suffering from loss, or just fundamentally restless, these teachings are tailor made. The main point is that we all need to be reminded and encouraged to relax with whatever arises and bring whatever we encounter to the path.

(p. xii)

Pema eloquently reminds us that  these difficult times can actually impart important life lessons to us if we allow them to teach us.

Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors—people who have a certain hunger to know what is true—feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

(p. 13)

And it’s not just difficult times that teach us. All of life’s experiences, all of our spiritual learning and seeking, ultimately help us to discover who we are and instruct us on how to navigate the world around us.

Listening to talks about the dharma, or the teachings of Buddha, or practicing meditation is nothing other than studying ourselves. Whether we’re eating or working or meditating or listening or talking, the reason that we’re here in this world is to study ourselves. In fact, it has been said that studying ourselves provides all the books we need.

(p. 73)

There is a wealth of wisdom in this small book, and it is written in a style that is easy and conversational. We can all benefit from the insights that Pema shares, and I encourage you to read this book if you even have the slightest bit of interest. I am sure that, like me, you will be glad you did.

Many blessings, and thanks for stopping by.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 60” by Lao Tzu

Ruling a big kingdom is like cooking a small fish.
When a man of Tao reigns over the world, demons
have no spiritual powers. Not that the demons have no
spiritual powers, but the spirits themselves do no harm
to men. Not that the spirits do no harm to men, but the
Sage himself does no harm to his people. If only the
ruler and his people would refrain from harming each
other, all the benefits of life would accumulate in the
kingdom.

“Ruling a big kingdom is like cooking a small fish.” I had to think about this for a little bit before grasping the metaphor, but once I got it, the entire passage became clear. Cooking a small fish requires being gentle and careful, and not to use a high heat. High heat represents a hot temper in a ruler. Essentially, society should be governed with compassion and care, with support and understanding. To rule with an iron fist is detrimental to the health and prosperity of a society.

The last sentence is particularly poignant in our world: If only we could refrain from harming each other, the world would improve. It is really simple, yet incredibly difficult. As long as we maintain an us v. them  mentality, and as long as we allow our self-centeredness to dictate our behaviors, there will always be unnecessary suffering in the world.

It is the responsibility of all of us to do what we can to make the world a better place for all people. Remember, small personal changes can lead to grand global changes. Let us try to keep this adage in mind as we go about our day.

Thanks!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 59” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

In governing a people and in serving Heaven,
There is nothing like frugality.
To be frugal is to return before straying.
To return before straying is to have a double reserve of virtue.
To have a double reserve of virtue is to overcome everything.
To overcome everything is to reach an invisible height.
Only he who has reached an invisible height can have a kingdom.
Only he who has got the Mother of a kingdom can last long.
This is the way to be deep-rooted and firm-planted in the Tao,
The secret of long life and lasting vision.

There is an old adage which should be familiar: Everything in moderation. While this seems like sage advice on the surface, reading Lao Tzu’s passage made me aware of the flaw in this. It should read: Moderation in everything. While the difference may be subtle, “everything in moderation” implies the desire for everything, feeding that constant striving for more which has created so many issues in our society. “Moderation in everything” implies that you temper your drive to acquire, and that you also temper you response to situations.

As Lao Tzu points out in the opening line, this guidance is applicable to both governing leaders and those on the spiritual path. If individuals in government practiced moderation instead of extremism, if they were more temperate instead of fiery, they would likely be better leaders, creating an environment of collaboration instead of division. Regarding those who are “serving Heaven,” it is better to move slowly along the spiritual path, instead of rushing forward or engaging in aggressive proselytizing. Living a humble, moderate spiritual life will have a greater impact on others that climbing the pulpit and trying to force your beliefs upon the masses.

These days, emotions are running high, and those who are passionate about causes and ideas tend more and more to be in need of moderation in everything. When you feel yourself having a strong emotional response to a situation, it may be good to take a breath, consider, then have a measured response. In 95% of situations, nothing is lost by pausing to reflect before reacting.

This will now be one of my mantras: Moderation in Everything.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Stay safe, and may you and your family be blessed.

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Thoughts on “Crito” by Plato

This short dialog is included in The Last Days of Socrates which I originally read in college (and yes, I still have my old copy). It takes place while Socrates is in prison awaiting execution, and his friend Crito offers to help him escape and leave Athens. The two discuss whether it is right to do something that is wrong if something wrong is done to you, ultimately concluding that it is not justified, that the ideal of the social contract is more important than an individual’s self-interest. Essentially, Socrates would not break the law by escaping prison even though he was wrongly convicted, because upholding the ideal to which he agreed to live mattered more than his life.

Reading this in a time of social unrest as a result of individuals being frustrated with an unjust legal system raised a lot of questions for me, particularly: At what point does the social contract become invalid? If the laws themselves are just, but the people enforcing and applying those laws are unjust, is it right to respond unlawfully to foment social change which is clearly in the best interest of society? These are not easy questions to grapple with and I do not feel equipped to address them, but I felt I would put them out there for individuals to contemplate on their own.

There are a couple passages worth sharing and considering.

SOCRATES: I only wish that ordinary people had an unlimited capacity for doing harm; then they might have an unlimited power for doing good; which would be a splendid thing, if it were so. Actually they have neither. They cannot make a man wise or stupid; they simply act at random.

(Last Days of Socrates: p. 81)

There are some interesting things to think about here. First, it seems that Socrates is asserting that a person’s ability to do good is equal to that person’s ability to do wrong, and vice versa. This is important, especially in our current world of social media where people tend to view others as either good or bad, depending upon how that persons actions or ideologies correlate with the person making the judgment call. In our drive to squeeze everything down to a Tweet or a meme, we’ve lost the ability to recognize the complexity and range of scope that every individual possesses.

The other thing that struck me about the previous quote is Socrates’ claim that ordinary people “simply act at random.” At first glance, this seems rather insulting, but upon further reflection, one begins to see the truth in the statement. The problem with many people in the world is that they react to situations without taking the time to adequately think through the ramifications of their actions. A wise person would pause, consider the situation, and come to a logical conclusion. Conversely, a stupid person would pause, consider the situation, and come to an illogical conclusion. Too many people do neither. They react without consideration, essentially acting at random, as Socrates would claim.

Later in the dialog, Socrates debates whether it is best to listen to public opinion or to defer to a single authority.

SOCRATES: In that case, my dear fellow, what we ought to consider is not so much what people in general will say about us but how we stand with the expert in right and wrong, the one authority, who represents the actual truth. So in the first place your proposition is not correct when you say that we should consider popular opinion in questions of what is right and honorable and good, or the opposite.

(ibid: p. 86)

Socrates builds on this to establish that the law is the one authority that represents truth and that the public opinion that he should break the law by fleeing prison is the wrong course of action. But this again leads back to my quandary, which is, at what point does public opinion outweigh the law and previously agreed-upon social contract? It is a really difficult question, and one worthy of analysis via Socratic Method. But that is beyond the scope of this post, so I will leave you with the questions to ponder.

This dialog is very short (a mere 16 pages), but evokes a lot of questions relevant to our society today. I encourage you to give it a read. I suspect you can find a digital copy online for free.

Thanks for stopping by and for reading and thinking.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 58” by Lao Tzu

Where the ruler is mum, mum,
The people are simple and happy.
Where the ruler is sharp, sharp,
The people are wily and discontented.

Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on,
Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in.
Who knows the ultimate end of this process?
Is there no norm of right?
Yet what is normal soon becomes abnormal,
And what is auspicious soon turns ominous.
Long indeed have the people been in a quandary.

Therefore, the Sage squares without cutting, carves without disfiguring, straightens without straining, enlightens without dazzling.

This passage seems especially timely given the current state of affairs in the US. As we grapple with public outrage and social disruption, the sharp responses we have seen have failed to calm the situation. As Lao Tzu points out, people are discontented.

I can’t stop thinking about the last line of the second stanza: “Long indeed have the people been in a quandary.” It has been a painfully long time that we seem to have been dealing with the same set of social issues. I do not claim to know how to begin addressing the myriad problems facing our society, but I agree with Lao Tzu that our normal has become abnormal. All I can do is try to encourage change through personal example.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe and be a positive power in the world.

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