Goddess

Transcript of Episode #007 of the OEITH podcast, Surrender to the Goddess, exploring personal experiences of connecting with divinity, considering how to recognise the divine, and possible pitfalls.

One night a man was crying,
Allah! Allah!

His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.

He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.

“Why did you stop praising?”

“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing
you express is the return message.
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.”

Rumi

That’s the translation of a poem by the Sufi poet, Rumi, called “Love Dogs”. As magicians, perhaps we find ourselves quite often calling out to entities of various types: gods, goddesses, angels, elemental spirits – sometimes, maybe, as we explored in the last episode, demonic spirits.

Anyone can call on spirits, but how is it that we obtain a response? Sometimes we might call out to an entity and receive a communication or feel a sense of connection with it. Other times, it’s a struggle to get there or, on some occasions, we might get nothing back at all. Rumi, in his poem “Love Dogs” offers a take on what it requires to establish a deep connection with spirit. “This longing that you express is the return message”, Khadir advises the man in the poem.

The suggestion here seems to be that somehow it is the magician’s desire or will itself that embodies and enables the response, the communication, from the spirit, whatever it might be, or from the divine itself. And, of course, an objection might justifiably be raised here that what I’m talking about has more to do with religion or mysticism than with practical magic but, as ever, I have to confess an inability to see the difference.

In magick, as magicians, I think our aim is always to arrive at a specific experience of reality. What we decide to make true for ourselves might be union with God, or it might be the fact that we’ve won the lottery. In every case, magick is about making a specific experience true, and from that perspective it’s difficult to say what the difference is between magick and mysticism.

What I’ll be doing in this episode is sharing some experiences of evoking and connecting with the divine in a specific form, the form of the goddess, and also thinking about why it might be that sometimes we connect with entities and sometimes we don’t and looking in more detail at this idea offered by Rumi that somehow it is the magician’s own desire that embodies that connection with spirit.

Desire is a very strange thing. To explore it a bit, maybe it’s helpful to distinguish desire from needs or wants. Needs, we might say, are impulses that have to be met or else we’re not around for very long – we don’t survive – whereas if desires aren’t met, life does continue, and probably our lives are led mostly without whatever desires we have throughout life being fully met. Wants, on the other hand, are like desires in the sense that if they’re not met it’s possible to go on living, but there’s a difference. And this is where things start to get interesting, because once wants are satisfied they go away – at least until the next time they arise. Desires, on the other hand, don’t. They don’t behave in the same way. Desire persists.

Let’s take an example from the sphere of sexual desire. Suppose there is somebody who likes to have sex with men. It might then be said that they desire men. Well, suppose they’re feeling horny, and they have sex with a man. That’s that particular want satisfied, and it goes away until the next time. But the desire of this person for men doesn’t go away. Having sex with one particular man doesn’t diminish the desire for men.

When we look at it in this way, desire starts to seem like something that’s fixed, a kind of structure, almost as if it’s like a part of our personality or our identity. It’s strange, if a person reveals to us their needs and wants, it kind of doesn’t really amount to much. They tend to be the same needs and wants that most human beings share, and it doesn’t really reveal much about them. But if we discover a person’s desires or they reveal their desires to us, even though these too may not differ in any great regard from what most people desire, still it feels as if what’s been uncovered or revealed says something about that person. Somehow, it’s a glimpse into them. We feel as if we’ve uncovered something intimate. Desire is somehow personal, and desire is somehow authentic, genuine. It reveals something that feels somehow true about us.

If we find ourselves saying to somebody, “What do you really want?” then we’re probably not really asking them about their wants at all, but about their desires. We’re asking them to reveal themselves, to be honest, to be authentic. It’s also a question we can often end up asking ourselves. What do we really want? I mean, we know what we want. We feel wants. But desires can be part of us, closer than close, and that’s the reason why they’re not always within our awareness. It can often take a lot of work to arrive at what it is that we truly desire.

As magicians, I think, we’re probably more aware than most people of this arena of needs, wants, and desires, and working out the differences between them, and trying to come to terms with which are genuine, and which are superficial. In our magic, we’re constantly trying to find ways to manifest our needs, wants, and desires in reality. The essence of what we do is probably our work on trying to define and realize these, to really, really work out what it is that we actually want.

In magick, the terms “intention” and “will” also come into play alongside needs, wants, and desires, and I think those terms “will” and “intention” are things that we bring in when we feel that we’ve done a bit of work in recognizing what we want. The difference between “it is my will that…” and “it is my desire that…” is, I think, that in the former there’s just a greater degree of recognition.

Crowley, of course, famously talked about the “true will”, but I think he might easily have used the term “true desire” instead. Between the idea of true will and true desire, I think, there would be very little difference in meaning at all. Will is, perhaps, just desire that has been recognized and is being channelled in a particular direction, because it can be, as a consequence of having been recognized.

So, desire, it is a strange thing. On the one hand it impels us, and it drives us through life. It gives us passion, intensity, vitality, but at the same time it’s not some sort of animal, biological force because we also feel it very personally. It seems to mark us out as individuals, as who we truly are, and if we undertake the work of confronting our desire and getting to know it better, then we arrive at a greater recognition and understanding of ourselves, and we begin to talk instead about the “will”.

There’s a fundamental paradox here, however, that desire feels very much as if it’s about impelling us towards something else something beyond ourselves, something that isn’t us – satisfaction in something other and yet, at the same time, when we encounter and confront our desire, what it reveals is not very much at all about the other, but very much more about ourselves.

This is our daily work as magicians, I think. This is our daily grind. Thinking always about what we want. Thinking always about how it might be right and good to shape reality into an image of our desire. To begin with, on the magical path, perhaps it’s about confronting our wants and trying to find ways to turn them into reality. But over time, perhaps, we start to engage more deeply with these questions, asking ourselves where these wants and desires are coming from. What kind of person are we, that we would express such things? And whether there could be other configurations of our desire that might serve us better. Could there be something that, if we had it, would mean that our lives were totally transformed in such a way that we wouldn’t actually need to have all the other wants and desires that we may have noticed in ourselves?

We might start to wonder, then, that if our desire were focused and directed in a specific way, paradoxically, would that mean that we would have fewer needs? And maybe now we start to get a glimmer of what Rumi might be getting at in his poem with this idea that what we desire is, in itself, the message, the response, that the universe is feeding back to us, even as it feels as though we’re the one crying out to it.

One night, I had a dream which really affected me. In the dream, I met a woman. I didn’t recognize her. She looked sort of middle-aged. She had black hair. If anything, she looked a little depressed. She was standing on a grassy bank and there was a river running beneath it, and the river was disappearing into the ground as if it was flowing underground when it reached a certain point. And the water was cold, and it was that time of day when the daylight is starting to fade. Yet the strange, powerful thing was I immediately felt a strong connection with this woman. A strange connection. First of all, I knew that she was my mother. But at the same time, I knew that I was in a sexual relationship with her also, and the feeling that came from realizing this wasn’t – like you might expect – some sort of guilt or shame, or even a kind of prurient feeling. It wasn’t that, but a kind of amazement, a sense of paradox – that feeling that you get when you’re trying to resolve something that’s contradictory and, even though it’s true, it is contradictory, it makes no sense.

Suddenly, without any warning or sign whatsoever, she suddenly jumped completely, fully clothed, directly into the water, into the freezing cold water, and vanished beneath it, although I could sort of see her under the surface, and I could see she was holding her breath under there. And she was down there for a very, very long time, just holding her breath in the freezing cold water, and I was thinking to myself: “How can she do that? How can she survive down there?” And then I had the idea that maybe I should join her, but immediately I was afraid because I sensed in my body that I couldn’t. It wasn’t possible. But there was this sense that I had to. And that overrode everything, and I jumped in, and for a while there was a horrible sensation of struggling and not being able to breathe, and then the realization that I was drowning and was going to drown. And I did. I died. It’s commonly said that you can’t die in your dreams, but I’ve had two or three where that didn’t seem to be the case, and this was one of them.

In the dream there was a sense that I was dead. Like I said, it was an odd dream, and it affected me really powerfully. It had a strange feeling about it; a kind of numinosity: the cold water, and the fading light, and underneath the water there was a sort of blackness, and it was full of waving fronds, and it all seemed very vivid and lurid and powerful. The woman fascinated me. The way that it felt that she was my mother and my lover at the same time. That conveyed an idea of something very deep, very profound. I mean, our mother is the person from whom we originate physically, and our lover is, I suppose, the person towards him we gravitate, towards whom we’re attracted. So, there was this idea here that she was what I came from as well as what I was moving to. That relationship that seemed to be being expressed in the dream seems something almost beyond understanding. She was where I’d come from, and my lover, but also the end of me. There was this impulsion in the dream that I had to join her, even though I knew that it would be the end of me. I had to jump into the water to be with her.

So, what could I do to understand this better? What could I do to understand what the woman in the dream might have been trying to convey to me? Well, of course, the answer was obvious: I did some magick. I decided that I would do a ritual and have some communication with her. Why not?

Now, there’s a shop here in the UK called Flying Tiger. It’s a Danish company and they sell all sorts of novelty items, and I regularly wander around in there just picking up stuff. They sell all sorts of random things some of which prove often quite useful in rituals, and one of the things I’d picked up was a luminous plastic glove. It struck me as such a bizarre and essentially useless thing that I somehow knew it would come in handy in a ritual sometime. So, it was a transparent polythene glove that you put over one hand (there was only one hand in the pack), and it had some sort of mechanism where you mixed in a couple of chemicals together, which caused a reaction that would make the liquid around the glove glow red for a couple of hours.

Me and my magical colleague, Frater Lepus, we got together for one of our regular meetings and I brought along a picture of the woman that I’d drawn and a sigil that I’d made to symbolize her. We made the room dark. Frater Lepus is a skilled hypnotist, and he put me into a hypnotic trance and so, using the sigil for the woman, we evoked her into the luminous glove, and there were some big sheets of paper to hand, and some marker pens. So, I was in a hypnotic trance, which meant that I was just a bit detuned from things, so that whatever might want to come through and express itself could do that more easily, and the woman was in the glove, moving my hand around, and over the next hour or so she created some pictures, some words on the sheets of paper:

“I am your child in you,” she wrote. “Fall forever down into the world with me, for I am not of it and will not fill the waters of your heart. You live in me here. I am the girl that swam in waters, me, the most terrible liar of life in you. The capture will withstand the night into urns and waters, for night is the only aspect of what may follow soon on the heels of time, for night and over-spreading night: this is only what may be. Thank you for saying that you feel me in you. I am going. You will feel into me the lovely silence.”

So those were the words we were left with on the pieces of paper at the end of the ritual, as well as some rather strange drawings. And at the end of it all, to be honest, I felt no nearer to understanding who she was or what she was trying to tell me. And I remember that ritual vividly also because we laughed so much at the end of it, at the complete absurdity of it all. What we’d ended up with was this strange, bizarre spectacle of this luminous red glove moving around in a darkened room producing these pictures and drawings because in it, supposedly, was the spirit of a woman who’d appeared in a dream and, as I’d remarked to Frater Lepus at the time, well, how the hell else are you supposed to talk to dodgy women that you meet in your dreams other than evoking them into a luminous polythene glove that you’ve bought from Flying Tiger?

But that night I had another dream which, in retrospect, seemed as if it might have been part of some sort of process. In this dream I was working in a factory that made food, and I was putting offal from human corpses into this food. And in the dream, I knew this was wrong, but it was easy, and it was easy because it was the only way of making the food that I knew how to do. This job that I was in, I didn’t really have the skill or the knowledge to do it properly. I was just doing something that was a bodge and everybody in the company and all my colleagues, everyone was turning a blind eye to what I was doing, and I woke up from this dream with a lingering sense of just having done something really wrong, and putting something filthy and disgusting out into the world and giving something filthy and disgusting to other people in the guise of something that was supposed to be good.

So, this was the morning of the day immediately after the ritual, and I woke up from that dream and, like I tended to do back then, I just got up and sat to meditate at the foot of the bed, and then something happened in that meditation. I had a vision and a fruition. Suddenly, before me there was a woman. She appeared in a radiant light, and she was about thirty years of age, and she had a bald head. But the most striking thing about her were her eyes, her gaze. Suddenly she was looking at me, and I was looking at her, and there was a feeling of something inescapable about that, because what had happened in that moment was an experience that somehow her gaze was my gaze. The being seen by her and the looking at her were one thing, one action. This being in front of me that was appearing as if she were real, as real as waking perception, this being was evidently a goddess, the divine.

It wasn’t a communication as such. There was no message. There was no content to it, but just an experience of pure sentience, consciousness, because the looking and the being seen were just aspects of one thing. There was no end to it. No one was ever going to look away, because neither of us was separate from the other. There was this feeling that we were joined. Our natures were both part of the same thing, and somehow, she’d revealed this to me, and everything stopped in that moment. I completely disappeared. In that moment I was joined in eternity with this goddess. And this, of course, is a very common variety of mystical experience that thousands and thousands of people have talked about down the millennia: the vision of some divine being, whether it’s Jesus or Buddha or a bodhisattva or Green Tara. The mystic looks into the eyes of the divinity and just feels themselves melt away into eternity and the absolute. In technical language, we might describe this as “a fruition through the door of no-self”, using the terminology that Daniel Ingram supplies in his book, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha.

There was a realization in this vision, also, that this was the same woman that I’d seen in the dream, only now I was seeing her more clearly than how she had appeared to me in the dream. The dream was like a shadowy, sinister version of what had happened in the vision when I was meditating. Instead of a being that was obviously a goddess there had been a human woman who was somehow both my mother and my lover, an idea hinting a goddess, maybe, in the fact that, like we were saying, she’s the beginning and the end, but expressed very much from the human side of things, in terms of human desire rather than recognizing her divine nature for what it is in itself. And also in the dream, the idea of death and destruction and suffering ensuing from my attempt to be close to her, rather than the spiritual destruction of ego and individuality by nondual awareness that actually took place in the vision. It’s like the dream was a shadow version of the vision played out in terms of desire and fear, rather than as an understanding, as a direct confrontation with the divine as the divine. It’s like the dream was part of the shadow play on the walls of the cave in Plato’s famous analogy, rather than a glimpse at the fire itself, which I think is a way of understanding what happened in the vision.

“You will feel into me the lovely silence,” she says at the end of the message, which seems a straightforward prophecy of what actually happened with the vision that followed the next day: that lovely silence; that lovely merging into the divine. It seemed almost as if that second dream about working in the food factory and putting human remains in food and waking up and feeling that I’d put something disgusting into the world, it was as if that dream was a kind of clearing out, like a recognition of putting something wrong and dead and disgusting into the world had to be confronted before I could see that in a sense that was what was going on in that first dream. It was a shadow of the truth. It was a lie. “I am the girl that swam in waters, me,” she said in the message, “me, the most terrible liar of life in you.”

In our last episode I put out the suggestion that one way of looking at spirits is as certain types of relationship to the absolute (to emptiness, if you prefer), so if we’re looking at experiences of spirits that seem to present some kind of aspect of the divine then maybe there’s a particular kind of relationship there, which we can specify in a bit more detail.

So, in the personal experience I’ve just described, there was an encounter with something mysterious but very arresting, very attractive, in a mysterious kind of way, and continued interaction with that led to a realization that whatever this entity seemed to be it actually had a very different nature, and the realization of that came about in an ecstatic experience of union, the realization that this being and ourselves are fundamentally one thing at a particular level. Now, this is very much in contrast to the types of experiences I talked about in the last episode, to do with so-called demonic entities. To come back to this notion of desire that we were thinking about earlier, in the case of a demonic entity there was very much a sense that the entity seemed as if it wanted to install itself as the object of our desire. Demons want us to give them attention. Demons want us to need them. Some of the analogies for that relationship between ourselves and the demonic that we used last time were things like a mafia protection racket, and a co-dependent relationship. We considered earlier how one of the strange features of desire is that it’s something very personal, something very close, almost like a facet of what we think of as our identity, so, in that sense, if a spirit becomes the object of our desire then it becomes (in a way) part of us, and that maybe starts to account, I think, for that sense that I’ve often come across in people who are bothered by demons, or work very closely with them, which is that they don’t seem to want to give them up. They’re very attached to them. And maybe that’s understandable if they’re so closely identified with that spirit; if that spirit is for them the object of desire, part of their desire.

With those spirits that seem to be aspects of the divine, the dynamic, the relationship, is totally different. Another of the characteristics of desire that we commented upon was that sense in which desire doesn’t go away; it endures, whereas interactions with demonic spirits seem to heighten that sense of desire, like I was talking about in the examples last time, after evoking one of the goetic spirits it seemed as though things were happening in my life that required me to keep doing that. In the case of spirits that are aspects of the divine, the trajectory seems to be towards an experience in which desire ceases, it goes away, and what’s amazing about that, of course, is that the cessation of desire is an experience beyond the human. That’s not on our everyday experience as human beings, which is very much characterized by sensations of desire.

And, also, these spirits, they lead us to a place where it’s very much not about them, and very much not about us either, because it’s revealed that we’re one and the same. So, these spirits don’t want to be the object of our desire. They actually lead us to a place beyond desire. These spirits don’t actually want the experience we have of them to be about them at all. They lead us to a place where we realize that we and them are one and the same so, as we saw in the previous episode, the ethos of the text of The Lesser Key of Solomon the King is all about controlling the demons, dominating them, getting them to do your will, and suggesting that if you don’t take that approach with them then you’re in trouble. Whereas, with divine spirits, it’s kind of a reverse, a mirror image. What the ethos there seems to be is about surrender. The relationship by which these spirits seem to manifest is not one of domination or control but opening, giving yourself up to them, and that’s the means by which the ecstatic experience of union and the cessation of desire comes about.

Where you could go wrong in interacting with these spirits, maybe, would be to approach them more like demons, to make them the object of desire, to identify with them on the level of the form in which they present to us, rather than surrendering to them and trying to get beyond that form as it presents through opening yourself entirely and trusting them entirely. The spirits of the Goetia are thought to be representations of old, defunct gods that Christianity felt it had supplanted. So, there is that notion there that these are spirits that are not being interacted with in the same way that they would be if they were still being regarded as full, authentic divinities. By choosing a set of old, defunct gods, the author, or authors, of The Lesser Key of Solomon the King were indicating that implicit difference in the relationship, I think, between, on the one hand, working to approach the divine as the divine, and on the other hand just wanting a spirit to fulfil our desires for us whatever those desires might happen to be. So, two radically different kinds of spirits manifesting as two radically different types of relationship.

A few years ago, I had another, similar experience, and this one’s a bit more difficult to describe. So, I went to a gathering of a particular group of people, and at this gathering there was some particularly fine “coffee”, let’s say. And I could see the people there having this coffee, and they all seemed to be having a really good time. And I’d never tried this particular blend before, so I thought to myself: “Well, they all seem to be having a good time, and it’s a nice group of people to be, with so why not?”

Well, unfortunately, although it was nice at first, it turned out that this coffee really didn’t suit me. Turns out, I’m quite sensitive to caffeine and I’m not really that great at tolerating the effects of it, and the effects it had on me were quite bizarre. I became really aware of my chakras. I could perceive them really vividly and they were full of energy that was swirling around like a huge whirlpool, and it was totally overwhelming and really quite scary. And also, I kept finding myself moving about in very strange ways; kind of wriggling around and making strange sounds. Sort of speaking in tongues. Of course, caffeine has very different effects on different people, but the way it seemed to be affecting me I recognized as a kundalini awakening: all the chakra stuff and the energy stuff. Luckily, I had lots of lovely people around me and one lovely person in particular who helped me through the effects of drinking all that coffee. And after about seven or eight hours or so, it wore off and I was pretty much back to normal, although a bit shaken by the whole experience.

So, the gathering I was at came to a close, and I went back home to my job and my girlfriend, but over the course of that next week, probably due to tantric practices I was exploring at the time, it was as if the effects I’d experienced of the caffeine were gradually coming back, and by the next weekend, even though it had been a full week and there were obviously no traces of caffeine left in my system, it was like I was back on it again and experiencing all those strange effects that I’d experienced before: sensing my chakras; feeling them flowing with a kind of overwhelming sense of energy; feeling like my mind was coming apart; like I was going crazy; and the sense that I’d done something to myself, ruined myself, and I was never going to be normal again.

I was looking around for help and fortunately came across a therapist and writer called Tara Springett. Her speciality is helping people experiencing kundalini syndrome. Perhaps the main characteristic of a kundalini awakening is that it feels very physical. It feels like a bodily process. But Tara Springett takes the view that this is not necessarily the case. Although it feels physical, it’s actually a spiritual process working its way through and as such, she argues, kundalini awakening is amenable to psychotherapeutic interventions.

Now, I really doubted this at the time, but I downloaded one of her e-books, which is called Enlightenment Through the Path of Kundalini, which I really recommend, although it’s not an orthodox, mainstream kind of text. If you’re looking for something more down-to-earth and practical in this area, she has recently published another book called Healing Kundalini Symptoms. But the e-book that I mentioned that I downloaded, was an absolute life saver for me. In the book, the text of which is channelled from a goddess, White Tara, we’re informed that the external universe is basically suffused with nondual love. Within the body, however, is an energy that sets itself apart from this, and this is the kundalini. Now, everything in the universe, remember, is nondual love, so this energy is also an expression of that love. But at the same time, it’s an expression of the individual self. In the terms that we’ve been using so far, you might link this with what we’ve called “desire”.

So, in this model of things, as offered by Tara Springett, the kundalini, the desire, which is the expression of the individual self within the human body, but which is fundamentally an aspect of the one non-dual love that suffuses the universe – this kundalini, this desire, it therefore finds an antidote in expressing love and compassion either to oneself or to others, and this is how Springett suggests that kundalini awakening, kundalini symptoms, are amenable to psychotherapeutic interventions.

If we view the kundalini as some kind of material energy or entity, then we’re likely to exacerbate it, because we’ll be giving it solidity if we approach it in those terms. But if we look at it instead merely as a build-up of desire in the body occasioning a sense of separation of the individual from the one non-dual love that suffuses the universe, then we can talk about it, think about it, and develop some techniques for directing that energy back towards and into a non-dual expression of love. Compassion practice, in other words.

Most spiritual traditions have exercises for building and directing compassion and, following Tara Springett’s advice, I started to practice these and immediately noticed a shift and things starting to feel better. Among the exercises she suggested was surrender to a divinity, and I’d done some practices involving the goddess Kali in the past, so she seemed like a natural choice to me, and things were still feeling challenging, still feeling difficult, so that night I visualized lying in the loving arms of Kali whilst sending compassion and love to her, to the goddess, and out to the whole world.

I was still in an anxious state, still experiencing overwhelming sensations in the body and the chakras, and still feeling in the background that I’d done something that had damaged myself permanently. And whilst I was doing the practice, and thinking all of this, a thought came up in my mind, a fearful thought that I wasn’t normal, that things weren’t normal, that my mind had changed in some way that I wouldn’t be able to rectify and suddenly in that moment, I realized: “Well, I’m feeling different because I really am different!” Because of the exercise I was doing, where I was surrendering myself, falling into the loving arms of Kali, I realized that things were indeed changed forever completely, because now I was with Kali, I was a devotee of hers.

And then with that realization was that moment again, that ecstatic moment, and strangely it was as if suddenly Kali was there in the room. It was like she was actually visible. Not like you see her in the traditional images, you know, with the severed heads, and the blood and the tongue, and all of that. Visually she appeared as this giant, oblong column. But that column was somehow packed with her attributes. It was like the essence of Kali was radiating out from this form. But in that moment, it was also apparent how my mind, all of it, all of me, belonged to her. But also, her being was also mine: the fact that she was here, in my room, really intimate, really close. She was mine too and, in that moment, forever afterwards we would be merged together. There was that sense of eternity again, in that moment.

So, I realized that what I’d been experiencing as the depths of suffering were actually the heights of bliss. That feeling that everything was changed, and nothing would be the same anymore and I was different from what I had been: yes, it was all true, but it was true in the sense that everything was different now because I belong to the goddess, and she belonged to me. That kundalini, that build-up of desire in the body was suddenly short-circuited, suddenly diffused outward. Everything was love: my love for Kali, her love for me, and the two of us being one in the same. Like Tara Springett had suggested the whole drama just melted back into the one, non-dual love that suffuses the universe.

That wasn’t quite the end of the story, though, because the next thing I then had to contend with was all that bliss, which was almost too much to withstand. And I remember going to work on the Monday morning and sitting there writing code all day, just absolutely blissed out in my head to the extent that when I had to go to a meeting, I was sitting there and starting to feel a bit paranoid whether people would notice that I was so high, which I was, even though it didn’t involve any substances at all: no coffee, or anything else for that matter.

Desire is the bridge that takes us to the end of desire. I think traffic with demonic spirits keeps us very much stuck on that bridge but working with gods and goddesses will take us across it into a direct experience of the divine. The trick seems to lie in recognizing how our individual desire is an expression of that one, non-dual love, and I think that involves engaging with our individual desire very closely, really entering into it, which, as I was saying earlier, is something that as magicians we’re confronting and exploring in many different ways and at many different levels all of the time.

It seems that to get beyond desire you have to inflame it at the same time. I think that’s why images of the divine often have a strong erotic component, and that’s maybe why for me as a heterosexual male, work with goddess figures has led to the most powerful experiences.

I remember Jeffrey Kripal writing somewhere about how, despite attempts to engage with Christianity, at the end of the day he realized that the figure of Christ – you know, this semi-naked wounded man on a cross – simply wasn’t sexy enough. No doubt, it really does it for some people, but not for him and, like me, he found a completely different experience in an encounter with the goddess Kali.

We inflame our desire for the divine in order to enter deeply into it and cross that bridge and transcend it into that beyond-human realm where desire ceases, and we experience ourselves as completely merged with the divine. As Rumi suggests in the poem, you’ve got to become a love dog. You’ve got to become a whining hound. And from the outside that would look like probably the last thing you’d want to be. It would look like an existence based completely on frustration and on dependency but, as Rumi says: “Your pure sadness / that wants help / is the secret cup”, and that’s where I’ll end for this episode, and hope that your secret cup completely runneth over.

Kite

I came downstairs and saw that the kite machine had finished. It had taken care of all the troublesome work of launching the kite high above the garden of my parents’ old house. Outside, it was a clear, summer day. The kite was already so high that it could not be seen. Its cord stretched up into the air, vanishing from sight, but I knew both kite and cord shared the same shade of pale blue.

Thanks to the launching machine, what remained was purely the pleasure of taking hold of the cord. I felt the tug of the kite from the other end, like something alive. This was the thrill of it: that direct connection with something vastly remote, invisible yet present.

Gazing up, a series of high-tension wires were dangerously close to the cord. I felt a surge of adrenaline, but realised the cord was already brushing against them. The danger I feared was not real. There was nothing to worry about. I could relax completely into my connection with the high and distant kite.

It felt like a good, healing dream. When I told it to my therapist he looked surprised and disclosed a synchronicity: he was running a men’s group and they were reading together a short story by Somerset Maugham, “The Kite” (1946).

It is the self-proclaimed “odd” tale of Herbert Sunbury, only son of a lower middle-class family, in his early twenties and still living at home with his overly attached mother and somewhat passive father. The story is told to the narrator by a friend, a prison visitor. Herbert is one of the friend’s cases and has been imprisoned for refusing to pay his wife alimony after abandoning her. When the friend asks Herbert why he wants to make his wife suffer he states that he can never forgive her – because she smashed his kite.

We are told how Herbert became obsessed with kites at the age of seven, and every weekend when the weather was favourable he and his parents would join other kite enthusiasts on the common, a tradition maintained ever since, until the day arrives when he invites a girl home to tea named Betty. Herbert’s jealous mother is so insulting towards his new girlfriend that he rebels by asking Betty to marry him. His parents boycott the ceremony, but Betty and Herbert set up home together as newlyweds. Betty cannot understand, however, why a grown man is still so fixated on flying a kite with his parents every weekend.

In a jealous rage, Herbert’s mother insists that the kite she gave him for Christmas all those years ago was never really his. Then, with promises of a huge box-kite that can fly at a height of two miles, his parents entice him back to the common at weekends. At this, Betty’s patience snaps. She throws him out. To his mother’s delight Herbert moves back home where, he realises, he was more comfortable anyway. Driven to desperation by Herbert’s refusal to return or to meet his financial responsibilities, Betty breaks into the coal-shed and smashes up the new box-kite with a hatchet. At least, that is what we are led to assume she did, yet none of the characters sees her do it, and her confession is delivered to Herbert through his father.

The story ends with Herbert in prison, having ignored court orders to support his wife, and relishing the suffering he has inflicted on her when the piano and all their furniture is repossessed.

Perhaps the biggest oddity of the story is its self-conscious framing at beginning and end with disclaimers by the narrator of any understanding of the meaning of Herbert’s behaviour. The narrator states that he knows little of human psychology; he evokes Freud but promptly dismisses him. Maybe this is Maugham’s way of signalling that the obvious Freudian overtones were not primarily what he was aiming at, and so perhaps the narrator’s own interpretation falls nearer the mark:

You see, I don’t know a thing about flying a kite. Perhaps it gives him [Herbert] a sense of power as he watches it soaring towards the clouds and of mastery over the elements as he seems to bend the winds of heaven to his will. It may be that in some queer way he identifies himself with the kite flying so free and so high above him, and it’s as it were an escape from the monotony of life. It may be that in some dim, confused way it represents an ideal of freedom and adventure. And you know, when a man once gets bitten with the virus of the ideal not all the King’s doctors and not all the King’s surgeons can rid him of it. But all this is very fanciful and I dare say it’s just stuff and nonsense. (Maugham 1946)

I am not convinced it is freedom that is the issue for Herbert, who enjoys the confines of his family home, nor precisely the pleasure of domination and control. At his most desperate, he expresses violent intentions towards Betty yet never follows through; his most aggressive act is to throw her onto the bed so he can leave their home, after she kicks him.

What the kite seems to represent in Maugham’s story is Herbert’s desire. A kite soars high whilst never escaping the cord that binds it. Likewise, we feel the pull of desire, but can never break free from it. Our needs and wants might be satisfied, but our desires never are. We desire a person or an object, but having that object or being with that person does not end the desire for them. Desire extends outwardly to things, at the same time presenting itself intensely and close within. Desire is an inmixing of self and other, which is the reason that working with it is so effective for accessing non-dual states of awareness, as in bhakti yoga, tantra, and sex magick. Psychologically desire reveals more about ourselves than whatever it happens to be manifestly directed towards.

In the story, whoever has the kite has Herbert’s desire; wherever the kite goes, Herbert comes attached. “If you marry that woman you’re not going to fly my kite”, threatens his mother. “I never gave it you, I bought it out of the housekeeping money, and it’s mine, see” (Maugham 1946). In her refusal to relinquish the kite it becomes apparent that Herbert’s desire is his mother’s desire. The fundamental gift a mother bestows the child that emerges from her body is independent existence, yet Herbert’s mother deprives him of this by refusing him a desire of his own.

Betty is not able to break through to him. By belittling his passion for kites she alienates herself from his desire. But that is no fault on her part; as an adult woman she might prefer to be the object of his desire rather than the custodian of it. A film version of the story in 1948 could not resist appending a happy ending: the narrator’s friend arranges for Herbert to be let out early from prison, and for Betty to join him on the common where they fly the kite together (Crabtree 1948). In Maugham’s original text, however, Herbert does not recover from Betty’s destruction of the kite. By taking a hatchet to it, she destroys his capacity for desire altogether. At the story’s conclusion he is stranded in prison, consumed with hatred, and cut-off from the world. The kite as a symbol conveys how we need desire to find a grounding in reality at the same time as it lifts us out of ourselves.

man and woman hugging whilst flying a kite
A happy ending for Herbert (George Cole) and Betty (Susan Shaw) in a movie adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s short story “The Kite” (1946), part of an anthology film entitled “Quartet” (1948).

In my dream, I was back at my parents’ old house, but they were not there. I was inhabiting a structure they had provided, whereas for Herbert his actual parents are all too present. And if it is the act of control and mastery that is important for Herbert, in the dream all of this is taken care of automatically by the machine. “Getting it up” is not the dream’s focus; it is about the sensation of connection.

On the day of the dream I had listened to Conner Habib’s podcast on the Archangel Michael (Habib 2020) and been very moved by this, and struck by Habib’s remarks on the traditional image of Michael, in which he is shown killing a devil with a spear or sword:

[…t]he sword and the dragon and Michael’s hand are always connected. In a very real way, the sword becomes a conduit or a bridge between Michael and that other being, the dragon. […] The difficulty with destroying the dragon is that you must connect yourself to it […] We don’t evolve past the dragon, we in-volve him and our hearts must be ready for him. (Habib 2020: 14’53”)

Habib is reading Michael from an anthroposophical perspective. For Habib, as for Steiner, the devil slain by Michael is the reductive materialism that characterises our era. This devil is therefore an aspect of a greater cosmic being, Ahriman. For Steiner, human beings walk a path between the deviating influences of Ahriman and Lucifer (Steiner 2009). The former manifests as a downward, earthwards pull towards materialism, literalism, nationalism; Lucifer takes the form of the opposite skyward drift into intellectualisation, abstraction, utopianism. Whereas Herbert struggles to get his kite off the ground, in the dream mine has completely vanished into the wide blue yonder.

Yet the sense of connection is paramount: the kite is grounded to my body through the exhilarating sensation of its pull. Too much identification with the kite itself would lead, as Maugham’s narrator supposes, to an impulse towards “escape” – a dynamic that finds expression in the archetype of the puer aeternus and the cautionary myth of Icarus. But the dream maybe points in a different direction. As Michael demonstrates how to defeat the enemy by exercising will in the correct way and avoiding the temptation to separate from what we need to engage with, perhaps the dream indicates how to put our desire in order.

an archangel killing the devil with a sword
Josse Lieferinxe, St Michael Killing the Dragon (c. 1500).

Allowing others control of our desire provides a promise of satisfaction, just as Herbert fools himself that his best option is to live at home, but this is to confuse desire with his wants and needs. As will is a conduit between self and world, so desire mediates between the self and the ideal. When desire is extinguished then so is our connection to what we hold to be beautiful, good, and true. Herbert’s mother prevents his desire from ever getting off the ground because she wants him, rather than what is best for him. She entraps him in her own confusion. The kite-flying encapsulates both Herbert’s predicament with his mother and his wish to escape.

As Michael’s sword shows how to destroy the devil by connecting with the devil, maybe the kite demonstrates the converse: how to communicate with the highest. Simply being human guarantees a possibility of realising this: we do not have to “do” anything, desire is a given. We automatically tend towards the good, the beautiful, and the true. Obstacles – those supposedly deadly high tension wires – are false beliefs, like Herbert’s false belief that mum fulfils his desire rather than Betty, just because mum meets his needs; and the narrator’s false belief that human nature is beyond his understanding, whereas everything he says about Herbert is right on point. We go wrong only if, in the grip of false belief, we fail to rise at all or completely lose our connection with the earth.

References

Crabtree, Arthur, director (1948). Quartet. J. Arthur Rank Productions.

Habib, Conner (2020). AEWCH 126: The Archangel Michael. https://tinyurl.com/y2x4nz3m (soundcloud.com). Accessed October 2020.

Maugham, Somerset (1946). The kite. https://tinyurl.com/y64ztas9 (blogspot.com). Accessed October 2020.

Steiner, Rudolf (2009). The influences of Lucifer and Ahriman. https://tinyurl.com/y3g87x9t (rsarchive.org). Accessed October 2020.