A few years ago I wrote a thesis that explored art and wonder in western culture. The central claim was that Greco-Roman and Native North American traditions and practices were two branches of a central river that needed to be understood holistically as “kin” or coming to delta and disseminating into the greater ocean of culture. As such, it was the duty of artists as cultural practitioners to help reconnect society to the idea that any given moment was ever pregnant with the possibility of an inclusive sublimity and vision. The ideas began in that journey have both informed and directly translated into a path that has become a circle, informed equally by Indigenous wisdom and the Hermetic and Western traditions.
One of the crucial pieces has been a better way to articulate how we experience time. In ancient Greece there were two delineations of experienced time: Kronos [regular time] and Kairos [serendipitous time], moments in which the walls between “I” and the rest of the world break down and fade away. In modernity our attention spans are corroded by social media, uber connectivity, and a need for instantaneous affirmation. Many find stillness foreign, even uncomfortable; it takes great effort to unplug, or to enjoy a moment for its own sake, unaltered by creative filters or tacitly hardwired societal expectation.
The nine-fold path attempts to begin a greater dialog between “I” and “Other,” in specific to begin thinking about both as axis points that contain and anchor not just attributes but events. I submit that to know what something or someone is, you must understand what has or is happening not just to but also within them/it. In short, ‘you’ is not a noun but a verb, the sum of those things happening inside and around whoever it may be, of their experiences and responses, memories and aspirations. They reach out through us into the future so the present may expand towards the infinite.
The vehicle that binds and catalyzes these events, actions, and interactions together is story. Normally when we think of story we attribute it to the realm of something externally produced, a product someone conveys in the manner of true or embellished accounts of what he/she or others have done. We codify it as the vehicle by which information is passed across culture and time.
But I think we discount the vastness of its nature and its ever-present and under riding role in the very foundation of our lives as animals capable of abstraction. Consider how we process information. Our senses register selective inputs; then the brain constructs its own simulation of those inputs. Only after this do we have our first conscious experience of what has been perceived. Everything outside of “us” comes into our consciousness in the form of sequence of events, a story already being told.
The meaning we intrinsically attribute to others and ourselves is both found and made in and out of the unique trajectories each of us traces, much like the streaks of molecules in a bubble chamber. We form identity and community through cataloguing and aggregating our histories of specific reactions to experiences we have along those trajectories, like an irregular and variegated line formed from soft clay that hardens as we age. It is because of this that I believe story and magic are intertwined to the point of the indiscernible. I define magic as “the emotional exchange between an individual, his or her intended actions and the environment in which they operate [this includes all actors within that environment].” For those that practice a genuine and seasoned belief in the magical there is no “supernatural” because the prefix is mute, there is only natural, only THIS place. Each moment is bound to all things before and after it, all that it can ever be or not be. In this they describe one whole action: the unfolding and transmutational process of relationships and their various and often-unforeseen a/effects. These a/ffects are forged and changed through perspectives, and in this way our emotional ecosystems are just as easily described as social grimoire.
As extensions of ourselves, stories are very much alive. Each experience we have offers us the choice to reveal or manufacture content and thus form, be it pain, awe or what have you. That form [or shape] is a part of us and grows into personal and cultural feedback loops that go on to a/effect other people, places, and things exponentially. We can shape our stories just as they can shape us. In this way, magic, becomes the membrane of interaction between our stories and us, the personified adjective of the inimitable. We are at the core, through-lines of the universe.
The reason this is worth consideration is that when we think about our stories [whether ours personally or collectively] with mindfulness and critical reflection we enter into active relationship with ourselves as interdependent parts of the world. This is how we are set ablaze; how we reveal the things we are called to do as a result of the context in which they will exist and not only what that context has to say about them, but what each needs from the other in they’re doing.
Thus, the way we interpret, process, and share our stories creates the direction and open possibility of change within our lives and the lives of others. It provides insight into the world as well as revealing ideas and messages hewn from the anonymity of greater and aggregate experience. This is the purpose of the nine-fold path, to take anyone who chooses on a journey fro birth to death, based on reflection and continually tying back into us as human animals rooted and emplaced within the animate landscape. This is how our myths and stories are woven into the living, each experience, no matter how mundane or seemingly innocuous is incorporated into who we. They are woven into the very fabric of recall and moral that our consciousness uses to determine the choices and consequences we weigh in any given moment. It is this mindfulness and import that Herman Hesse spoke of:
“Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again. That is why every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration.”
We as part and parcel of a living and animate world act out the myriad possibilities available to us, some known others not. They are born through us and in turn trace back to the roots from which they came. This is how the past speaks to the future, the living to the dead.
Summer: The South is childhood, the wonder and curiosity coming specifically out of a lack of experience. It is the small field mouse that moves about the tall grass, searching out morsels, ever moving. It is the trusting daughter or student who seeks out knowledge from the people and things around them. By being OPEN we learn to be emotional beings, but this is not enough. Summer is the inevitable realization that more lies “out there” than what sits right in front of us and an acknowledgement of our inherent need to seek it out. It is also the thick heat of summer, the deep red of passion; sexuality. It’s the resonating thrum of drums heard while dancing, heard with the body as much as the ears. Reason has not yet taken over our senses, summer then, is still a place where good and evil may take the form of parable or fantasy, where dragons still breathe fire and every manner of adventure lies just round the next bend. This will lead up to the first stage of the alchemical process.
I: We begin by seeking the prima materia or “purest” state of matter, which then must be separated by fire and violence. Psychologically it’s about entering that dark chaotic space of one’s inner demons [the shadow] By intentionally creating a container we can allow for the flame to burn bright. We lose sight of material objects, identifying who we are apart from them, thus shedding light on the differences between our core and constructed identities. Completion of this phase is signaled by a “death” of the old self. In every journey there must be a moment in which you can affix the memory of its start. Severance on the wheel is to leave the familiar, to acknowledge that experience by its very nature is paramount to losing innocence while trying to maintain a purity of intent. It is the first moment in our lives in which we give credence to death and to shedding the extraneous. It is to knowingly or otherwise be thrust into the beginning of a paradigm shift. Recall the famous phrase from Corinthians:
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
To sever is to accept that the West is an inevitable transition, that storm clouds brew in the distance and thus, that change is on the horizon. It is also the proclamation “I”: the child moves towards adolescence and begins to think more about distilling “I” from the experiences they are a part of. “I” is to undertake reflection about what “I” is and thus to move towards the realizations sought or otherwise that inevitably arise out of their seeking.
Autumn: The west is a place of deep introspection. It’s most easily referenced as the actual process or the quest itself. Some of the hardest work is done here; to openly acknowledge you are alone; no one is there to help you but yourself. Autumn can be the darkest of all the stages of development, endless and impenetrable obsidian. It’s often associated with those moments when you are lost and confused, angry and angst full. It’s the need to shed responsibility move forward with blinders on, embracing any new experience that might bring more definition to the ambiguous. You are the coiled rattlesnake, the hibernating bear, the tiger locked in a cage of your own choosing with the key around its neck. Yet it’s important to remember that though the storm clouds can look ominous, they bring the rain, food, that in turn nourish us. Autumn is the time of the harvest, Persephone has not yet been summoned to Hades, there’s bounty in the air if we choose to see it. To be stuck in adolescence is to do so of our own accord, for if it may teach us anything it’s that we learn the most when times are the hardest, when we are open and honest with ourselves about the things we would rather not be. This will lead up to the second stage of the alchemical process.
I Am: We move from the earthly power to that of the moon, which represents our own identify reflecting light back off of a surface like that of water, reminding us of who we are and thus who we’re becoming. We do the work, going through the motions while spending deep internal time figuring out just exactly who we are. The matter becomes conscious of its form just as we realize what our gifts are; we are thus changed and can’t unlearn them. This is the end of the lesser work, the identification and the marriage of opposites. It is a milestone for the seeker. To accept that a moment will come in which we are called to articulate ourselves. Moments that once past will leave us forever changed. We cannot go backwards, we may revisit the West or the South but they will never be as they were, because we won’t either. To look into the unknown without assurance but to take the experiences we’ve gained and to place enough faith in our efficaciousness, to believe that no matter what lies ahead, we choose not simply to bear it but to make the best of it. In this we move from “I” to “I am,” we exclaim “I am worthy, I am capable, I am [whatever I need to be].” If severance is a death, then threshold is in the same breath to acknowledge the possibility of new life.
Winter: Adulthood, the tedium, resourcefulness, and ingenuity that is called for to survive the harsh winter. No one has many good things to say about adulthood, at least not at first. It’s usually portrayed as the 9 to 5, collar and tie, sitting in a cubicle, counting the minutes until the end of the day. No one really wants to gather or chop the kindling, to collect and cure the meat so that there’s enough to last. Our ideas of achievement aren’t exactly paying bills or doing taxes. Winter is the buffalo with its head down piling through the snow; in short, you do what needs to be done. Yet the winter is white for a reason, that purity of intent is kept to remind us that solace is indeed the motivation to continue. We learn how to find the value in competence, in providing not just for ourselves but those we love.
Winter is adulthood, the tedium, resourcefulness, and ingenuity that is called for to survive the harsh winter. No one has many good things to say about adulthood, at least not at first. It’s usually portrayed as the 9 to 5, collar and tie, sitting in a cubicle, counting the minutes until the end of the day. No one really wants to gather or chop the kindling, to collect and cure the meat so that there’s enough to last. Our ideas of achievement aren’t exactly paying bills or doing taxes. Winter is the buffalo with its head down piling through the snow; in short, you do what needs to be done. Yet the winter is white for a reason, that purity of intent is kept to remind us that solace is indeed the motivation to continue. We learn how to find the value in competence, in providing not just for ourselves but those we love. This is where you develop the healthy pride engendered by humility and grace not the arrogant pride of youth that is never backed with the products of experience or the where with all of sacrifice. We must inevitably come down off the mountain; our new life awaits us as do those we’ve kept in our thoughts. This will lead up to the third stage of the alchemical process.
We Are: The yellowing is most associated with the sun. The light is great and strong as if it had no source, no longer reflecting like it did with the moon. It is a death of the sense of self in that it is separate and individual from other things. It is to realize the fallacy of the subject/object distinction. As stated earlier the youth’s vision was not simply their own, it belonged as much to them as it did to their community. One cannot become a man or woman in a vacuum. To do so is to pay reverence and respect to the community that acknowledges you upon your return. Just as in Communitas [to offer ones gifts], the beginning of incorporation is to admit that together you can do things impossible of the individual. It is important to remember that when moving along you don’t leave the South, West, or North behind but take them with you. Your experience, like a spark cast among the fire. After all, what is a community except the varying individual experiences made aggregate. Upon the youth’s return they were given a name, one allowing the village to acknowledge that whereas one person left it was both the same and a wholly different person who returned. This was worn like a badge of honor, a marker of achievement, of having a specific place among their people.
Spring: As we begin to come full circle, we realize that a circle is simply an evolution of the line. Just as we begun, we must end. Yet as each end and beginning interlace, they become over time one story. The vantage point of the hawk or eagle can shed light on things invisible from the ground. The things that once caused you struggle now offer you aid, the concepts you simply could not grasp, you now teach with the most vigor. Just like the first buds of spring, or the first rays of the golden sunrise remind us that the line is only a starting point, and end is folly. We allow the change to come fully into our person. As we come into a place of elderhood, it is our imperative to help those who seek the breadth, width, and edges of fear, struggle, and failure so they might learn the necessary secrets of and for themselves. This will lead up to the final stage of the alchemical process.
Rubedo: This is the fire of fusion, the return to the chthonic power. This is where we coagulate or come back together through merging of spirit and matter. To truly and finally turn material into the philosopher’s stone and thus gold [Apathea]. The Self recognizes and manifests itself as holon, both part and whole simultaneously through interconnection.
Robert Schiller wrote a book in the 18th century called the aesthetic education of man, in it he is most noted for saying:
“Man is never so authentically man, than when at play.”
After the duty and responsibilities are done, when the wood is gathered, the bills paid, when our time is our own, what we choose to do when free is what defines us. We begin to see the circle for what it truly is and thus are drawn to all directions. We realize there is a time for play, or reflection, a time to work and a time to teach, as each are all equal parts of the fulfilled life. Happiness is not simply to survive but to flourish, thus we are drawn not to any single direction but instead towards the center. We began the journey in the East attempting to understand “I,” moving to “I am,” and then “we are.” Here we come back again embodying not I or we but the very center of existence, Axis Mundi, the axis point between all things in which we pull from each stage and direction equally. Through this all things and us are one, to exist at all is to acknowledge interconnection. This is the point of actualization, to illuminate the darkness not in spite but to offer contrast to, not simply for us but for our people and thus, all people.