Tag Archives: Plotinus

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 38” by Lao Tzu

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades

High Virtue is non-virtuous;
Therefore it has Virtue.
Low Virtue never frees itself from virtuousness;
Therefore it has no Virtue.

High Virtue makes no fuss and has no private ends to serve:
Low Virtue not only fusses but has private ends to serve.

High humanity fusses but has no private ends to serve:
High morality not only fusses but has private ends to serve.
High ceremony fusses but finds no response;
Then it tries to enforce itself with rolled-up sleeves.

Failing Tao, man resorts to Virtue.
Failing Virtue, man resorts to humanity.
Failing humanity, man resorts to morality.
Failing morality, man resorts to ceremony.
Now, ceremony is the merest husk of faith and loyalty;
It is the beginning of all confusion and disorder.

As to foreknowledge, it is only the flower of Tao,
And the beginning of folly.

Therefore, the full-grown man sets his heart upon the substance rather than the husk;
Upon the fruit rather than the flower.
Truly, he prefers what is within to what is without.

This is an extremely challenging passage, and I can only interpret it based upon other mystic/occult ideologies with which I am somewhat familiar. Specifically, I see this as a parallel with the concept of emanation as put forth by Plotinus.

Emanationism is an idea in the cosmology or cosmogony of certain religious or philosophical systems. Emanation, from the Latin emanare meaning “to flow from” or “to pour forth or out of”, is the mode by which all things are derived from the first reality, or principle. All things are derived from the first reality or perfect God by steps of degradation to lesser degrees of the first reality or God, and at every step the emanating beings are less pure, less perfect, less divine.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So in emanationism, the Divine One is in the center of all existence, and then there are series of emanations moving away from the source, each being less divine than the previous. I see Lao Tzu’s example as being similar: the Tao is the divine center, and all other virtuous forms that emanate out are less and less like the Tao, until we get to the point where there is nothing but a shell of what was once the Tao.

If this is the case, we can use this hierarchy as a map to get back to the Tao, or center. If we begin by practicing ceremony, we may attain morality. If we continue living moral lives, then we may reach humanity. Once humanity is incorporated, we can work towards gaining Virtue. Finally, as we reach the state of High Virtue, we can step across the threshold to the Tao.

This is some very heady stuff, and I again emphasize that this is only my interpretation. For me, it makes sense, but I am open. If you have other insights into this passage, I would love to hear them. Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Blessings, and thanks for stopping by.

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“Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

(excerpt from poem)

This is a fairly long poem, and I debated whether to include the entire text here. I decided to include some excerpts and a link to the entire text. Click here to read the poem on the Edgar Allan Poe Society website.

This is a poem about being haunted by the loss of a loved one, not unlike “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven.” It is set in October and incorporates seasonal metaphors symbolizing death, such as withering leaves, ashen skies, and cypress trees. But for me, the most intriguing aspect of this dark poem is the exploration of the subconscious mind.

The protagonist describes travelling with his Psyche, or Soul, through the boreal regions of the north.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

As I read this, I envision the frozen northlands, the Aurora Borealis, and vast expanses of wilderness coated with ice and frost. These represent the speaker’s subconscious mind, where memories and dreams lie frozen in an area that is difficult to reach. He enters this realm with his Psyche, the part of his consciousness connected with the realm of dreams, imagination, and memory. There is also an active volcano, which symbolizes fiery and painful passion and emotion surging up to the surface from deep within. It’s an incredibly powerful image and captures the deep sorrow that the protagonist feels.

While in the deepest recesses of the subconscious, Poe describes the appearance of the goddess Astarte.

At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

Astarte is a goddess of fertility and sexuality, often associated with Venus. I interpret this as the protagonist envisioning the soul of his departed love having merged and become a part of the divine feminine. It’s an interesting idea, that male souls emanate and return to the masculine aspect of the godhead, while the female souls emanate and return to the feminine aspect of the divine. It is almost like a dualistic version of Plotinus’s theory of divine emanation. I suspect this is something I will be meditating on for a while.

Overall, this is a beautifully crafted and evocative poem that works on many levels for me. While I don’t think it’s as popular as some of Poe’s other poems, I feel it is as good if not better.

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Black Science: Issue #3

BlackScience_03

In this third installment, the writer introduces a cool name for the inter-dimensional travelers: dimensionauts. Very nice! I like that a lot.

Anyway, I had expected (based upon how Issue 2 ended) that this one would focus on the techno-shaman, but not so much. There was a little with the shaman, but not a lot. This issue’s emphasis is on building the back story, which works well. Much of the issue is a flashback to where Grant McKay shows his kids the Pillar, which is the name for the inter-dimensional transport device that he built.

There is a great section where McKay describes how the device works.

“So here it is. The tool we will use to acquire, well—anything. The cures for cancer. Rare minerals. Unimaginable technology. Anything you can imagine exists on some layer of the Onion.”

“The Onion?”

“The building block of infiniology. The theory that anything you can imagine exists in some layer of the eververse. We call this construct ‘The Onion.’ Layer upon layer of parallel dimensions. The Pillar is the tool that pushes through these layers, allowing us to travel to these other worlds.”

“Wow.”

“Each layer represents an immeasurable number of realities, each created from the choices made by every living being in the universe. Once we map them, we can find the solution to every problem mankind faces.”

“If it is like that, layers built upon layers—what’s at the center of it?”

“That’s a damn good question, Nate. We all have our theories, but it’s just speculation. One day, some dimensionaut will travel deep enough into the Onion to find out. Maybe it will be you. Whatever is at the core, it’s the first dimension, the first life that made the first decision that then broke off into other dimensions.”

“So it’s like God?”

As I read this, I could not help thinking about Plotinus’ theory on emanation. Simplified, the theory posits that the divine source (or God if you will) exists as the center of all creation. Everything that exists is emanated from the divine source, becoming more fragmented and less divine the farther out it is emanated. The metaphor of the Onion in this comic is a great representation of Plotinus’ idea. If the center of the Onion is the divine source, then every creative thought or emanation from the first being has added a layer of reality. This is then compounded by the thoughts and actions of every living thing that came after, exponentially adding layers of reality to the universe.

So far, I really love this series. As someone who is fascinated by mysticism but at the same time loves science and technology, this comic offers the perfect blend of both. If you’re a comic geek, I highly recommend that you take the time to explore this series. Check back for my review of Issue 4 in about a month.

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“A Descent into the Maelström” by Edgar Allan Poe

DescentIntoMaelstromThis is one of my favorite short stories by Poe. I remember feeling overwhelmed the first time I read it. The imagery is so vivid and the symbolism so powerful that it made a lasting impression on me. It was over 20 years ago that I read this story last, so I decided to read it again today. I have to say; it was even more intense this time than when I read it all those years ago.

The tale is actually a story within a story, where an old man tells a younger man about an event that occurred while he was fishing. A hurricane came upon his boat while at sea and the ship was pushed into a vortex. They were drawn down into the swirling whirlpool and he was the only survivor.

In this story, the maelström is the central symbol, although there are many other symbols that Poe incorporates; such as storm, the moon, mountains, just to point out a few. For me, there are several things that the maelström represents. On one level, it is a symbol for the subconscious mind. It also represents the passage between dimensions, such as the tunnel connecting this life with the afterlife, or the passage between Heaven and Hell. Finally, on a grander scale, the maelström is God: powerful, terrifying, and beautiful all at the same time.

Water and the ocean are common symbols for consciousness: fluid, undulating, shifting. In this story, Poe uses the whirlpool as a metaphor for spiraling downward into the unseen depths of one’s consciousness. It is a terrifying experience when one loses the connection with normal reality and descends into the uncharted regions of the mind.

It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in a new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek—such a sound as you might imagine given out by the water-pipes of many thousand steam-vessels letting off their steam all together. We were now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss, down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we were borne along.

Once inside the maelström, the protagonist describes the images he sees while suspended. Above, the full moon emanates rays of light; below, darkness and mystery. The words conjure images of an Heironymus Bosch painting. He is suspended between two worlds, or two realms of existence. Floating between the two worlds, he has a unique vantage of each realm.

Never shall I forget the sensation of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

When faced with the manifestation of God, the protagonist becomes aware of his insignificance in the cosmic scale of existence. He is awed by God’s power and experiences what could almost be described as rapture, as his fear is replaced by the wonder of gazing into the unfathomable depths of the Divine.

It may look like boasting—but what I tell you is truth—I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power. I do believe I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the great sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see.

While in college, I was introduced to Plotinus while taking a course on Yeats. One of Plotinus’ concepts which continues to fascinate me is that of emanation. He asserts that the Divine source is the center of all existence. Emanating from the source are concentric circles, each populated with forms emanated from the source. As forms are emanated farther and farther away from the Divine center, they become more and more fragmented. Poe includes this imagery in his depiction of the maelström, where fragments are caught in the concentric circles of the vortex.

Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building-timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company.

Poe was undoubtedly a master in the art of the short story. Sadly, though, I feel that this story is eclipsed by his more popular works. I hope that you take the time to read this story, if you have not done so already, because it truly is a masterpiece of short fiction.

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“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

HowlIf you read just one poem in your lifetime, it should be “Howl.” This poem not only captures and expresses the unspoken reality of post-WWII America, but it shattered social taboos and paved the way for artistic expression that continues today. It is truly a masterpiece.

The poem is much too long to include here. You can click here to read it online; or better yet, go and purchase a copy from your local indie bookstore. Ginsberg would certainly approve of that.

The poem begins with one of the greatest poetical openings ever, in my opinion:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

It is free-form poetry that has a distinct rhythm. I’ve heard it compared with Walt Whitman, and I can see that, but the rhythm is unique and heavily influenced by the jazz music of that period. Reading the words, the cadence makes me feel like I am in a smoke-filled basement and losing myself in hypnotic beats.

In addition to the long, winding lines of verse, Ginsberg brilliantly uses alliteration to create the musical feel of the poem. The following line is a great example of this, where he uses the “B” sound to accent the verse and drive the natural rhythm of the language.

who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,

The 1950’s were a time of repression. Thinking and acting in a way that didn’t fit in with the social mores could be very dangerous. As a result, people began exploring new spiritual and intellectual paths. Ginsberg expresses this searching and longing in the poem.

who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,

who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,

who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,  

who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels,

who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,

Travel and mysticism were not the only ways in which Ginsberg and his contemporaries searched for meaning in their world. They also turned to sex and drugs, and for Ginsberg, this was open homosexuality, something that was not accepted at that time. Ginsberg expresses his homosexuality with frank openness, something which led to an attempt to ban the poem as pornographic. Thankfully, the courts upheld the artistic value of the poem in one of the landmark censorship cases.

who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,

The poem is divided into three parts. The second part focuses on Moloch. Moloch was a god worshiped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites who required parents to sacrifice their children by fire. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moloch) Ginsberg adopts the symbol of Moloch and employs it as a metaphor for America. People were expected to sacrifice themselves and their children to a culture that demanded obedience, crushed individuality, and thought of people as nothing more than cogs in the great wheel of capitalist consumerism. It was a society where money was God.

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

The third section of the poem is all about how Ginsberg relates with Carl Solomon, to whom the entire poem is dedicated. Solomon was a writer who was influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism. He was institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital where he was subjected to shock therapy. (Source: Wikipedia) In the final section, Ginsberg uses the refrain “I’m with you in Rockland” to express solidarity, and most importantly, to assert that, like Solomon, we are all institutionalized. We are all trapped within the society that seeks to dull our minds with the continuous zapping of our thoughts. All creativity and deviation from the societal norms is systematically extinguished by a culture that demands conformity.

Again, I cannot stress enough how important this poem is. It is one of the most ground-breaking works of literature ever. While I have your attention, I’ll also recommend watching the film “Howl” starring James Franco, which has some great reenactments of the court sessions where Lawrence Ferlinghetti from City Lights Books was on trial for publishing Howl and Other Poems.

Finally, there is a “Footnote to Howl” which stands alone poetically. You can probably guess what my next post will be.

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“The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker

GolemJinniI first heard of this book on the Huffington Post. They compared it to The Night Circus, which I loved. Later, I was perusing the shelves of a local bookstore and noticed it was one of the staff recommendations. The book itself was beautiful: quality pages, stunning cover, fine quality. I was hooked. I went ahead and splurged for the hardcover edition.

The story takes place in New York City in the late 1800’s, where two mystical beings attempt to survive and avoid being discovered. They meet and as the story unfolds, they learn the secrets of the magical bond that connects them to each other. The book is very well-written with rich imagery and engaging characters. In fact, for me, I found some of the secondary characters to be the most interesting, particularly Yehudah Schaalman, the Jewish kabbalist who creates the golem.

I love books that weave mysticism and the occult into an engaging work of fiction. It’s like searching for kernels of hidden truths within a fable. This book accomplishes that magnificently. It’s an easy read, but below the surface are some thought-provoking ideas that warrant contemplation.

One of the ideas addressed in the book is the existence of the soul, particularly whether a golem can possess a soul.

On the surface, the answer was a simple no. Only the Almighty could bestow a soul, as he had ensouled Adam with His divine breath. And the Golem was a creature of man, not God. Any soul she could have would be at most partial, a fragment. (p. 157)

I’m also fascinated by the concept of fragmentation, particularly as it relates to Plotinus’ theory of emanation. The short version is this: Everything is emanated from the source, which is the Godhead. From each emanation, other emanations are put forth, expanding the act of creation. But, at each level of emanation, the thing in existence becomes more fragmented and separate from the Godhead. Hence, the golem, being removed several times from the divine source, must be more fragmented.

Throughout history, drugs have been used to alter consciousness and evoke mystic visions. I personally do not recommend this path, since the dangers far outweigh the benefits. That said, there is an interesting passage in the book where Schaalman smokes opium and envisions the world as an illusion.

He now saw that the material world was only an illusion, thin as a cob web. (p. 326)

I like the use of cob web to describe the illusion of the material world. On one level, it is woven, just like the constructed illusion which many of us have come to accept as reality. But a cob web is also diaphanous, allowing one the ability to glimpse through it. With practice, one can learn to see through the web of “reality” and glimpse visions of the infinite.

The section of this book that had one of the most powerful impacts on me is near the end. Schaalman taps into a form of the collective unconscious and is overwhelmed by the experience. While I am fascinated by the prospect of connecting with the divine consciousness, I’m also scared, for the exact reason described in this book, that a human mind can only handle so much of the collective unconsciousness before it becomes overwhelmed and possibly damaged.

The human mind is not meant to house a thousand years of memories.

At the moment of contact with the Jinni, the man who’d known himself as Yehudah Schaalman had burst apart at the seams. He became a miniature Babel, his skull crowding with his many lifetimes’ worth of thoughts, in dozens of warring languages. Faces flashed before him: a hundred different divinities, male and female, animal gods and forest spirits, their features a blurred jumble. He saw precious gilded icons and crude carved busts, holy names written in ink, in blood, in stones and colored sand. He looked down, saw that he was clothed in velvet robes and carried a silver censer; he wore nothing but chalk, and his hands were clutching chicken bones. (pp. 439 – 440)

This really is an amazing book and I recommend it to everyone. I read a fair amount of books and I can say that this is the best book I have read in quite a long time.

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“All Religions Are One” by William Blake

As a change of pace today, I took a look at my old copy of Blake’s Poetry and Designs, and in a time when people seem to be fighting about which religion is the one true religion, this piece called out to me.

I feel that the first line is a subtitle and deserves a closer look: “The Voice of one crying in the Wilderness.” Voice and Wilderness are both capitalized which signals that they represent something larger. The Voice appears to represent the Poetic Genius which Blake claims to be “the true Man.” He continues by asserting that “the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic
Genius. Likewise that the forms of all things are derived from
their Genius, which by the Ancients was call’d an Angel & Spirit
& Demon.” Blake appears to be referring to the Platonic concept of the forms, particularly as expressed by Plotinus and Proclus, who asserted that all that exists were emanated from the divine source. Personally, I feel that Blake is also drawing on the imagery of Adam Kadmon, which, according to Jewish mysticism, was the divine form from which God created the first human. Finally, the Voice of the Poetic Genius could be interpreted as the Divine Consciousness that is within all of us.

So then what is the Wilderness? On one level, the Wilderness could be seen as the material plane on which we exist. But I suspect that there is more. I see the Wilderness as a representation of the darker side of our internal psyche, our baser selves which keep us from acknowledging the divinity that exists within all of us. Trapped inside of us is the Voice, screaming to be recognized and to move to the forefront of our being. For me, this is the essence of what Blake was expressing.

In Principle 5, Blake writes: “The Religions of all Nations are derived from
each Nations different reception of the Poetic Genius.” What a great line!! This is so true. One of the most influential books I read as a teenager was The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley. If you have not read this book, I strongly recommend that you do. In this book, Huxley breaks religion into categories such as truth, faith, suffering, and so forth. He then includes quotes from various religious texts to show that the same message is being taught by each text. Essentially, every religious text contains kernels of divine wisdom, just presented in a different manner for different audiences. This is what Blake brilliantly expresses in one single line.

On my personal quest, I keep myself open to knowledge and ideas, regardless of the source. To assume that any one book, writer, or religion has a monopoly on Truth and Wisdom is about as foolish an idea as any. I hope that you all will read widely and with an open mind. You can start by clicking here to read Blake’s piece online.

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