Zoomancy

Tarot cards pack a lot of meaning and symbolism into some rather small spaces, and these are drawn from a wide variety of sources...but do take note of the Falcon in the 9 of Pentacles, third from left: animals undeniably play very important roles in and among all the Astrology, Alchemy, Kabbalah, Mythology, Color Theory...
Tarot cards pack a lot of meaning and symbolism into some rather small spaces, and this is all drawn from a wide variety of sources…but do take note of the Falcon in the 9 of Pentacles, third card from the left: animals undeniably play very important roles in and among all the Astrology, Alchemy, Kabbalah, Mythology, Color Theory…

I write a lot in this space about different forms of divination: Tarot (a form of cartomancy, which is divination performed by using and reading cards), Astrology (arguably a subset of astromancy: that’s divination by observing the stars), Runes (a form of grammatomancy, which is divination by using the letters of an alphabet), crystal divination (crystallomancy), palm reading (chiromancy), communication with the dead (necromancy), divination performed by observing smoke (capnomancy) or clouds (nephomancy)…

In all this time, though, and throughout all of these posts, even though I also like to write a lot about animals and the concept of the Spirit Animal, it’s never before occurred to me until now to connect the two things — animals and divination — directly.  Until last night…

So to set the stage for this a bit, I should first explain that this past weekend, I uprooted myself from Los Angeles in particular (my home for the last 4.5 years) and from California in general (where I lived for 24 years straight) in order to return to New York State, which is where I spent most of the first half of my life before heading west to CA.  I made this move with mixed feelings, and some bittersweet nostalgia for those people and places I’ve come to really love out toward the Pacific.  One thing I was excited about, however, in making this move back toward the regions where the younger me grew toward adulthood, was the chance to be in a less-settled, less-populated place, where I could be more readily and more fully immersed in nature, and surrounded by an abundance of animals.  In the last few years, as I grew exponentially more spiritual and more metaphysically-minded in LA, I’ve found that the precepts of shamanism — very much including a reverence for animal life and the natural world — have really resonated for me.  But as I said above, while I’ve loved divination and I’ve loved the animal realms, I’d never thought much about combining them directly.  Sure, animals do figure into many major forms of divination as symbols — think about how many creatures populate the symbol-sets of, say, Astrology or Tarot — but I hadn’t consciously considered that my observations of animals, and of their appearances in my life in both literal and symbolic guises on a daily basis, could be viewed as yet another form of divination…

I took this shot about a month ago while visiting here, but imagine this scene taking place more toward dusk, with a colony of Bats performing a dizzying Cirque du Soleil routine just above, and you'll maybe have some sense of what I witnessed last night...
I took this shot about a month ago while visiting here, but imagine this scene taking place more toward dusk, with a colony of Bats performing a dizzying Cirque du Soleil routine just above, and you’ll maybe have some sense of what I witnessed last night…

Last night, though, I was taking my first evening stroll around my new neighborhood, and was feeling absolute delight to see how much the surroundings here are just teeming with wildlife: in my one foray around the local area, I was treated to sightings of Robins, Rabbits, an aquatic rodent that may or may not have been a very wet Beaver, a large gray Heron, a huge Dragonfly, a pulsing tapestry of glowing, eldritch Fireflies, and at one point, a large and very friendly-looking Deer ambled out of the woods while a host of large, agile Bats put on an aerial sky-show just above us in the fading light.

As I looked on in wonder, grinning like a fool, it dawned on me that instead of taking such moments as instances of some vague approval from the Universe that I could smile at and then walk away from, I might instead approach them more as a form of direct divination.  That is, I now believe that any and all animal sightings I experience are occasions of Existence itself displaying symbols rife with meaning for me, exactly like I’d pulled a Tarot card or looked at a chart showing astrological transits.  The only difference would be that with Tarot or Astrology, I have to make the conscious effort to actively perform the divination, while with the animal appearances, the Universe takes it upon Itself to flash these omens and portents at me…

Interestingly, in a burst of real synchronicity, in the very instant in which I resolved to myself to dig much deeper and much more purposefully from now on into this idea of practicing active “zoomancy” (= divination performed via deriving meaning from the appearances of animals)…one of the daredevil Bats swooped down from the sky from directly behind me to cut a swath straight ahead of me and on into what looked to me to be my own actual future pathway.  The Bats then escorted me all the way to the foot of my new cul-de-sac (they halted there, I have to assume due to the comparative abundance of artificial street and house lighting in and around the circle).  As I walked the last few strides up to the house, though, thinking about how I need to write much more from now on about this subject, I noticed that there was a single star twinkling away right above my new home.  A quick check of one of my phone apps told me that this star was Spica…which is believed to be one of the single most fortunate and positive stars in all the sky…

Therefore, expect more from your resident zoomancer here in the days and weeks to come!  Also: requests for posts on the symbolic and divinatory meanings of specific animals will be cheerfully accepted and contemplated!

Every type of animal is unique -- consider what sets the Giraffe apart from its mammalian fellows, for example.  We can distill tremendous meaning from our sightings of various creatures in our travels through the world...
Every type of animal is unique — consider what sets the Giraffe apart from its mammalian fellows, for example. We can distill tremendous meaning from our sightings of various creatures in our travels through the world…

Goddess of Wisdom

My attendance at the local courthouse has been excused for the day, so while the trial at which I’m serving as juror will continue on Monday, I’m free until then…which means I can post something today!  What, then to post about…?  Well, to be honest, all signs have been pointing loudly and repeatedly at…Athena, Greek Goddess of Wisdom!

Athena, the Olympian Goddess of Wisdom...
Athena, the Olympian Goddess of Wisdom…

And wisdom is not actually the only province over which Athena holds sway: among her areas of governance, Athena presides over such things as courage, justice, the law and civilization, mathematics, inspiration, skill, and various arts and crafts (most notably weaving).  Some scholars hold that while Athena’s brother, Ares, is pretty much unanimously characterized as the Olympian God of War, it might be more accurate to view him as the more Yang aspect of war: that is, Ares is predominant when it comes to things like bloodshed, violence, savagery, berserker-ism, pain, injury, rage, conquest, and bloodlust.  Athena, on the other hand, is more like the Yin aspect of war, overseeing such things as military strategy and tactics, battle-planning, cool-headedness in conflict, fighting for just causes (as opposed to fighting just for love of violence), she’s often accorded some credit as being involved with the conception and forging of metal weaponry and armor (although the bulk of such work would most likely fall under the scope of another brother of hers: Hephaestus, the Smith-God), and Athena is also cited as being the creator of the chariot.

She’s a Deity-Figure rich in individual symbolism, too, and you’ve likely seen depictions of her, even if you didn’t know that’s who you were looking at.  The Goddess of Wisdom will very often be rendered wearing a plumed helmet and an aegis (= “breastplate”), she will generally be shown carrying a very long and imposing spear, she similarly bears a large round shield, and she will very regularly be accompanied in imagery by an owl; by the winged Goddess of Victory, Nike; or by both.  Many, many artists will also incorporate an image of the slain serpent-haired Gorgon, Medusa, into Athena’s shield and/or aegis, as well, as the Goddess was involved in Medusa’s tale (more on that below…).

No Nike in this sculpture of Athena, but all the other major symbols are there: the plumed helmet, the aegis, the spear, the owl, the shield with Medusa's grim visage glaring out from it...
No Nike in this sculpture of Athena, but all the other major symbols are there: the plumed helmet, the aegis, the spear, the owl, the shield with Medusa’s grim visage glaring out from it…

And Athena’s not just a terrific figure for symbol-analysis — she also features in quite a bountiful collection of myths…starting with her rather unique birth…

Athena’s father is Zeus, the undisputed monarch of the Olympian Pantheon.  Upon overthrowing his own father, Cronus, and toppling Cronus’ regime, Zeus chose as his first wife Metis, the Titan Goddess of Prudence and Cunning.  This was tricky business, as it had been prophesied by Gaia — Mother Earth herself — that if Metis gave birth to a son, this male offspring would rise up to conquer his father, even as Zeus had conquered Cronus (who had in turn defeated and cast down his own father, Uranus…)…  Zeus didn’t want to lose Metis, or her sage counsel, but having only just dealt with Cronus and assumed rulership of the Cosmos, he was also in no hurry to prolong this odd family tradition of a father suffering a terminal beat-down at the hands of his own son.  He then hit upon a plan: he proposed a game of shape-changing with Metis, each shuttling through a kaleidoscopic variety of animal forms, seeing if the other could keep pace.  When Metis transformed herself into a fly…Zeus swallowed her.  Being immortal, this wouldn’t kill, or even truly harm, Metis, but she was now imprisoned within Zeus, and he believed this would enable him to go on receiving her advice, while closing off the possibility that she might give birth to some unbeatable, upstart son.  What Zeus hadn’t planned on, though, was the possibility that…Metis was already with child when he swallowed her…

Metis was actually a fantastic sport about the whole “being swallowed alive” thing, and made her way to the inside of Zeus’ head, agreeably continuing to dispense her keen thoughts to him from there.  She was also, however, feeling the full blush of proud, impending motherhood, and she began hammering out a helmet, breastplate, spear, and shield for her blossoming child.  Given that all this hammering and pounding and crashing was going on right inside Zeus’ melon, this caused him no small amount of distress.  The rest of the Olympians came running at the sounds of Zeus’ agony, and his son, the aforementioned Smith-God, Hephaestus, took his tools and split open his own father’s skull so as to directly address the problem.  When he did so, the new Goddess, Athena, sprang fully-formed, armed and armored, from her father’s head…

Poseidon, great Olympian God of the Sea, looks on as his nephew, Hephaestus, splits open the head of Zeus, thus welcoming the already formed Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, into the world...
Poseidon, great Olympian God of the Sea, looks on as his nephew, Hephaestus, splits open the head of Zeus, thus welcoming the already formed Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, into the world…

Maybe in part because he’d in some way “given birth” to this one out of all his many children, Athena became Zeus’ very favorite.  Known far and wide as the gray-eyed, white-armed Embodiment of Wisdom, Athena became an extremely popular Deity.  She even became the Patroness of arguably the single greatest city-state the Greeks ever founded: Athens, which shared much of its name with the Goddess.  She was actually chosen by the people of Athens in a sort of competition held with her uncle, Poseidon, the great Ocean God, who also favored Athens.  Each Deity was to give the city a gift, and the giver of whichever gift the people judged most beneficial, would be adopted as the city’s primary Patron-Figure.  Poseidon struck the nearest hillside with his mighty trident, and a new spring welled up…but while the people marveled at the God’s power, the water of the spring itself was salty, like the sea, and didn’t yield much in the way of drinking or bathing facility.  Athena then granted the city the olive tree, thus ensuring that the people would always have food, oil, shade, and lumber.  The Athenians judged her gift the greater, and Athena became their official Patroness, and the olive and the olive tree have since also become additional symbols associated with the Goddess.

Further myths abound.  One involves Athena in her Weaver-Aspect…  A Greek woman named Arachne caught the attention of the Goddess with her unparalleled skill at the loom…but like many figures in Greek Mythology, Arachne committed the grave error of daring to compare herself to one of the Olympians, here claiming she was a better weaver than even Athena herself.  The Goddess, unhappy with such prideful and disrespectful words, engaged Arachne in a weaving contest.  Athena herself — adherent of the concept of fairness that she was — admitted outright that Arachne’s resulting tapestry was just as expertly done as her own…but whereas Athena’s work depicted the Olympians as noble figures, Arachne had chosen to create a piece that ridiculed Zeus and his many wives and concubines as he chased after them.  Outraged by Arachne’s grossly inappropriate choice of content, Athena destroyed her tapestry, and struck the girl with her shuttle, transforming Arachne into a spider, dooming her to now weave picture-less works forever…

Oh, Arachne -- never compare yourself to Deities, and *never* make fun of them!  They don't like it, and it won't turn out well for you (illustration by Gustav Dore, 1861)...
Oh, Arachne — never compare yourself to Deities, and *never* make fun of them! They don’t like it, and it won’t turn out well for you (illustration by Gustav Dore, 1861)…

Other myths involve Athena in her role as an Aider and Protectress of heroes, most notably those on the grandest of quests or possessed of special shrewdness.  Among the recipients of her Divine Intervention here are numbered such mythic greats as Odysseus, Heracles, Jason, and Perseus.  It was the latter who, with help from not only Athena, but also from her brother Hermes and from Zeus himself, slew the monster known as the Gorgon, Medusa.  Like Arachne, Medusa had once been a human woman who offended the Olympians, and was transformed into a monster.  She had fangs, and scales, and snakes instead of hair, and her naked gaze would turn any observer to stone.  Athena loaned Perseus her own shield, polished so brightly that it served as a mirror, and he was able to look into it to track Medusa’s position when he confronted her, instead of trying to operate blind or hazarding a direct glance at her that would have turned him into a statue.  After making use of Medusa’s severed head to complete his own quest, Perseus then gave the horrible thing to Athena, who, depending on which account you prefer, affixed it to either her breastplate or her shield, thereby greatly increasing her own already considerable power.

Those stories, plus even a few others, comprise the “what” of Athena: who she is, what she did in her mythology, what she represents to us today.  But what about the “why” — why am I talking about her, specifically, here and now…?

Several reasons:

For one, WordPress keeps statistics for us bloggers, and it’s become evident to me that the one search term that’s lately been driving people to this site has been…”Athena.”  Apparently, the Goddess is on people’s minds of late.

For another thing, as I’ve been attending these trial proceedings this past week+, every morning as I enter the courthouse, I’m confronted with a huge rendering of the Great Seal of the State of California in the courthouse lobby.  The Seal looks like this:

California very officially recognizes the essential greatness of Athena!
California very officially recognizes the essential greatness of Athena!

The Goddess herself would in fact hold sway over things like the courtroom affair that’s been eating up my days, and there she is gracing our own state’s Seal!  I’ve come to feel like Athena has been taking a personal interest in having me get all legal, and being a part of the judiciary process…

And a final thing…  Some of you may remember my post of some weeks back about an exceptionally vivid dream I had in which an owl flew down and landed on my hand…?  Well, part of the “why” of this particular post being written now, deals with a similar occurrence — two connected occurrences, actually…

I’ve also mentioned that last month, I moved to a new home.  I now have a stone patio outside the uppermost level of the house, and from that patio, there’s a ladder I can, and do, climb to the roof, so that I can look out across the western part of the city.  I generally like doing this in the evenings, because that’s probably my favorite part of the day in general, and also because the planet Venus has been glowing brightly in that segment of the sky at that time ever since I moved here, and quite frankly, I like looking at her.  So a couple of nights ago, I was just standing there at the top of the ladder, contemplating Venus, and even musing on Athena, as luck would have it…when a very large owl appeared from above and behind the trees that overlook the house here, soaring in utter silence (this even despite actively flapping its wings from not very far away from me — I heard nothing!) across my field of vision, disappearing into the twilight gloom to the north.  The sun was already down, but the light wasn’t completely gone yet from the sky, and I had a very clear view of the airborne creature, and I tell you without the slightest shred of uncertainty and with the full benefits of vision last gauged at 20/15 that it was an owl I saw, not a more common kind of bird, not a bat, not an insect flying really close to me and tricking my eyes.  It was an owl, and a really impressive one at that.  Does this mean it was Athena’s owl, sent by the Goddess of Wisdom herself…?  Hey, it’s not for me to tell you what to think…

But I can tell you this: I climbed the ladder the very next night, at roughly the same time — it was maybe a bit later than I’d ascended to the roof the night before, but no more than maybe 20 minutes later.  And guess what?

It happened again.

I can’t swear that it was the same owl, but it could have been.  Maybe it has a nest nearby, and maybe it takes off to go hunting at around the same time every evening.  Or maybe Athena really is out there, even in our modern, “rational” world, and she was sending a message to me, specifically.  Either way, what are the odds of seeing a large owl at dusk, up close and personal, even once…much less twice??  So yes, Athena has been very much on my mind, and I knew all week long that as soon as I had time in which to post, she needed to be the subject of a blog article.  I apologize for the long-windedness, but even weighing in at a beefier word-count than usual, I fear I skimped a bit in lavishing some rhetoric upon one of my most admired Deities out of myth.  I feel I’m being reassured that my experience as a juror is highly significant in whatever fashion, and so while I do miss posting as regularly here as I generally like to do now, it seems that my absence from this site is somehow serving some highly worthy cause.

So I enter the weekend wishing you all much Wisdom…and maybe an owl-sighting of your own!  Happy Friday!

Synchronicity

So, synchronicity — it’s not just a 1983 album released by rock band The Police (although it is that, too)…

Like several other intriguing concepts, this one comes to us from the fertile mind of Carl Gustav Jung.

C. G. Jung himself...
C. G. Jung himself…

Synchronicity involves a perceived connection among two or more events, despite those events sharing no discernible cause/effect kind of relationship.

Here’s an example…

Say you’re a kid in high school.  Your English teacher assigns the book “Lord of the Flies” to several classes, including yours.  Later that day, in three different conversations that you stumble across, people are talking about “Lord of the Flies.”  Is this synchronicity?  Not especially, no, as there’s a clear cause for the sudden preponderance of references to the book: namely, a bunch of people just got obligated to read it for class.  No big mystery or surprise, then, that it would feature in various chats in your vicinity.  However…

Let’s now say that you’re that same kid in high school…only no teacher in your school has ever assigned “Lord of the Flies.”  In fact, let’s say you barely know what that title refers to, aside from it being some book or other that’s considered a “classic,” whatever that might mean.  But then say that one day, you’re on your way to school, and someone is talking about it on the bus behind you…  Then while you’re at school, you hear one English teacher recommending it to another as a book that should be required reading.  Later on, after you’ve arrived home, you catch a rerun of an old “Simpsons” episode that your mom, wandering by the TV set, points out is making clear and obvious references to “Lord of the Flies.”  That’s three distinct references to this book all in one day, and in this scenario, there’s no causal event to explain them all appearing in such close proximity to each other (that is, no teacher assigned the book to the people talking about it, and those people aren’t really even connected to each other, aside from being in your orbit in general).  Now that’s synchronicity!

"Lord of the Flies" -- what might repeated, unexplained and seemingly unconnected references to this book mean...?  (artwork by Greg Capullo on deviantART)
“Lord of the Flies” — what might repeated, unexplained, and seemingly unconnected references to this book mean…? (artwork by Greg Capullo on deviantART)

So what could you, as this high school kid, take from all this?  If this is synchronicity, okay, great…but what does it mean?  Does it mean anything, or is it just a weird coincidence, barely worth noticing?

Well, that all depends on you.  Me?  I take this kind of thing very seriously.  In fact, I believe that synchronicities such as this are a very primary way through which the Universe speaks to us.  Synchronicity is a message delivery system for us…it’s like the red Bat-Phone that Commissioner Gordon uses to contact the Caped Crusader.  The trick is in spotting the synchronicities as they come, and then knowing how to interpret them.  Some people would just dismiss such occurrences out of hand as mere coincidence, sure…but others (like me…) don’t really believe very much in the concept of coincidence to begin with.  I kind of feel that what we call “coincidence” really refers to examples of us simply not being able to recognize the greater overarching patterns in things (think of it this way: being in this world is like being a spider sitting on a vast tapestry — you’re usually too close to even understand that the tapestry is telling a story with its images in general, much less grasp what that specific story and what those specific images are…).

But this is all down to the individual.  Do you have room in your philosophy for things like this “Lord of the Flies” hypothetical representing synchronicities rife with meaning for you?  Or is it all “just coincidence,” ultimately dismissible…?

If you find yourself falling into the former camp — the synchronicity camp — what, then, do synchronicities mean?  What does the “Lord of the Flies” one mean?

Through synchronistic appearances, this book and what it represents could be attempting to supply answers to a question you didn't even know you were asking (sadly, I've been unable to determine who created this intriguing image...)...
Through synchronistic appearances, this book and what it represents could be attempting to supply answers to a question you didn’t even know you were asking (sadly, I’ve been unable to determine who created this intriguing image…)…

I approach these kinds of synchronistic phenomena the way I approach more intentional bouts of divination: that is, I look at what’s been going on for me lately in my life, and then I view the synchronicity itself as if it’s a sort of Tarot card or Rune or other occult symbol that I’d drawn in response to asking about my situation.  So if I was in the shoes of that suddenly “Lord of the Flies”-peppered student at Hypothetical High, I’d first look into the notion that it could be that this is all a case of the Universe telling me that I’ve reached a point in my life at which I simply need to read this book…that maybe it holds a lot of meaning and wisdom that will be very important for me at this particular juncture in my development.  That’s just in general…

Next, I’d dig into some of the primary themes and symbols in the book.  Do I have a need to contemplate some possible predisposition toward savagery inherent in humankind?  Or would I benefit from pondering whether our Earth and our “civilization” are really no more than a bunch of scared and precariously balanced children lost on a small island with no rescue in sight?

And then the specific symbols: the conch shell that the kids use to signify order in their meetings…the eyeglasses worn by the youngster nicknamed “Piggy,” which could be taken to represent civility, or some measure of a more refined intelligence, and which serve as the only reliable means the children have for starting fires on the island…the “Lord of the Flies” itself, the pig’s head placed upon a stake by the dark-souled boy, Jack, as a despoiled perversion of life used as an offering to “the beast” (evil itself, “the Devil”)…  It could be that synchronistic references to this book are flagging one or more of these symbols for me, and that in studying them or meditating upon them, I can glean wisdom that will be very relevant for me within the context of my present circumstances.

Is there coincidence in this world?  Or does "coincidence" actually signify some greater design...?
Is there coincidence in this world? Or does “coincidence” actually signify some greater design…?

So if you do feel open to the idea that the Universe sometimes essentially pulls Tarot cards or Runes or other divinatory symbols for you just out of the goodness of its ethereal heart, then you can try to keep your eyes and ears open, and your antennae extended, so that you can pick up on those synchronistic messages.  It can take some practice, and it’s always possible to get a bit overenthusiastic, and start seeing messages in everything for a while, but with that aforementioned practice, you can become pretty adept at spotting instances of synchronicity, and even deciphering their meanings.  It can actually become a real source of joy and fun in your days, too!

Oh, and by the way, that Police album isn’t a bad set of tunes, either…

Hummingbird whir…

The story behind today’s post begins a day ago, when I had a chance encounter with one of my neighbors…

There’s a walkway that runs by my front door, and several neighbors — including the gentleman in question — are obliged to use this walkway if they want to get out to the street, and then to the greater world beyond (the only alternatives would be either a prohibitive climb up to the roof and a subsequent great leap across to one of the adjacent properties — a procedure that might make Spider-Man himself blanch — or the digging of a subterranean escape tunnel…not too surprisingly, my neighbors have all so far elected to just use that walkway…).

Directly across from my front door, just on the other side of the walkway, there grows this very large cactus plant.  I’d say it grows to just about the height of a regulation basketball hoop…meaning, it’s a fair bit taller than I am, and I’m not exactly a short individual when viewed in the context of the field of adult male humans currently walking the Earth.  My neighbor is even taller than I am, and some of the cactus’ spines had begun to rake the air at about the exact height of my neighbor’s eyes, and right where he would have preferred to walk when entering or leaving the grounds.  So yesterday, he’d addressed the issue by pruning back a not insignificant percentage of the cactus…

The cactus that stands guard at the mouth of the passage that connects my building with the outside world -- you can see some of the various stumps on the plant where my neighbor had performed his impromptu tree surgery...
The cactus that stands guard at the mouth of the passage that connects my building with the outside world — you can see some of the various stumps on the plant where my neighbor had performed his impromptu tree surgery…

Cutting back some of the reaching arms of the cactus not only cleared away some of the spiny threat from my neighbor’s daily trajectories, but as it turned out, it also revealed a little marvel of nature: a bird had made a nest in the crook of several branching offshoots of the trunk of the plant, and this mother bird was nurturing two baby birds therein:

The bird's nest housed in the cactus plant: cute, and also very smart and practical, as the plant's needle-like outgrowths help to keep predators away!  The nest is empty at the moment, as Mama Bird has the kids out for flying lessons farther down this same walkway as I write this...
The bird’s nest housed in the cactus plant: cute, and also very smart and practical, as the plant’s needle-like outgrowths help to keep predators away! The nest is empty at the moment, as Mama Bird has the kids out for flying lessons farther down this same walkway as I write this…

So to now laboriously connect all this preamble stuff up to the real subject of today’s post: the hummingbird!

First, I should state that the birds currently living in that luxurious cactus-crib are not hummingbirds.  They’re whatever this species is:

One of the cactus-nest denizens: the little fledgling flyer rests up between bursts of aeronautic schooling...
One of the cactus-nest denizens: the little fledgling flyer rests up between bursts of aeronautic schooling…

But here’s how we get from those birds to the hummingbird:

When I got up this morning and lurched into the kitchen for a glass of water (I am not a morning person, and am very…slow…to truly awaken…), I remembered the little family of birds in the cactus, so I peered through the Venetian blinds of my kitchen window to see how they were doing…and the first thing to greet my eyes was not them, but was instead — far closer to me than the cactus I’ve been droning on about — a single hummingbird, whirring away, while extracting nutrition from the big flowers blooming just beyond that same kitchen window.  I’m not sure of the exact distances involved, but I’d say that the little hummingbird was only two or three times the length of my arm from where I was standing at the window.  This was quite the unexpected little treat of a sight with which to start my day, as I’ve always admired the unique flight patterns of these little characters!

This is not my photo, nor is it "my" hummingbird from this morning, but this is extremely similar to what I saw out my window today...
This is not my photo, nor is it “my” hummingbird from this morning, but this is extremely similar to what I saw out my window today…

I was reminded of how when I was just a tyke, one or more of the older kids in my neighborhood maintained with great apparent authority that scientists had proven — proven!! — that hummingbirds shouldn’t be able to fly under the prevailing laws of physics…but hummingbirds didn’t know this, and therefore flew anyway.

As my own research in recent years shows (translation: “According to some stuff I read today on the internet…”), this is not exactly true.  What is true, though, is just how unique these adorable little air-sprites are in terms of their flight.  For one thing, they share some traits with insects with respect to flight that other birds do not.  The hummingbird actually distributes about a quarter of its weight-bearing function while flying to the upstrokes of its wings, whereas virtually all other birds bear their weight solely with the downstrokes.  The odd variations help to enable the hummingbird to not only fly as other birds do, but to add to their collective bag of tricks the abilities of hovering, flying backwards, and even flying upside-down!

Also of note, the hummingbird has a highly souped-up metabolism, but can enter a sort of pseudo-hibernation state to conserve energy when slumbering or when food sources are scarce (that is, they can drift into a sort of “sleep-mode” to save on power, much like our computers do).

Hummingbirds don’t show up in some of our greatest bodies of classic mythologies (such as Greek, Norse, or Egyptian) because they only inhabit the Americas, but you can find at least one major Deity in Aztec lore named Huitzilopochtli who often took on the form of a hummingbird.  There’s even a hummingbird geoglyph found among the Nazca Lines of southern Peru (these are large, pictographic markings found on the earth that are believed to date back about 1,500 years, give or take a century or two — the Nazca Lines could easily provide fodder for a post of their own…).

The hummingbird, as depicted in Peru's fantastic Nazca Lines...
The hummingbird, as depicted in Peru’s fantastic Nazca Lines…

Also, the smallest bird in the entire world…is a hummingbird.

The Bee Hummingbird -- adult birds don't come any smaller than this!
The Bee Hummingbird — adult birds don’t come any smaller than this!

So I think the Universe was helping me to start my day by flagging for me the idea that the smallest things can be some of the most remarkable — so I should pay attention! — and that it’s possible to be part of a larger group, while still maintaining a tremendous sense of individuality (the way hummingbirds are part of the much larger group of birds in general, but they still possess these very odd specific traits that other birds don’t share).  Such are some of the lessons of our extraordinary little friend, the hummingbird!

The sea of ourselves…

Topic for today: the group mind.  The collective unconscious (and maybe the collective conscious, too, even)…

Now, to draw a certain distinction, Occult thought has within its bounds, a concept that’s very similar to what I’m getting at here today, but which isn’t quite entirely the same.  This concept is called the “egregore.”  An egregore is defined — roughly, more or less — as “an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people” and “a kind of group mind which is created when people consciously come together for a common purpose.”  I pilfered that language freely from Wikipedia, and while you may say what you will about the online encyclopedia, the article in question does offer the very helpful and illustrative comparisons of likening an egregore to “entities” such as the corporation or the meme…except the egregore would be a psychic sort of entity, while the corporation is a legal one, and the meme is a mental/social one.

The Egregore concept: can a group that channels their will together actually create an entity...?
The Egregore concept: can a group that channels their will together actually create an entity…?

But I think that this element of people consciously coming together in the egregore notion is what mainly sets it apart from what I’m about to get into here…  To put it another way, I’d say that an egregore would be something distinct in and of itself that’s purposely created by a group mind…but what I’m discussing is the group mind itself.  I’m now talking about the collective unconscious rather than any collective consciousness or product thereof: something that isn’t thought, willed, or directed into being, so much as it just is.  This would be the same kind of idea as what I believe Carl Jung was referring to when he spoke of his archetypes and the collective unconscious (Jung is, in fact, credited with coining the very term, “collective unconscious”).

This concept seems to crop up in almost any of the kinds of symbol-sets I was writing about in yesterday’s post, and to get more specific, the group mind or collective unconscious is very often symbolized by…water.

Water: often the Occult representation of the collective unconscious here on Planet Earth...
Water: often the Occult representation of the collective unconscious here on Planet Earth…

You’ll find water to be a major symbol in almost any of the primary symbol-sets you’ll encounter in the realm of the Occult.  The Suit of Cups in Tarot is associated with water, and can be held to represent the group mind or collective unconscious (among other concepts).  The Elder Futhark’s Rune, Laguz, similarly signifies water, and can be imputed to hold meanings that revolve around the same collective unconscious principles (again, among other meanings).  The I Ching deals with water, as does Astrology…  This is a thoroughly important theme in seemingly every mechanism for breaking existence down into more manageable conceptual component parts.  Water is of course just a symbol for the group mind/collective unconscious, though, as the group mind itself is an invisible thing and an intangible thing — it can’t be seen or touched…

Or can it?

Okay, that might all apply to hope, sure...but does it also apply to the group mind...?
So does that mean that hope sees and feels the group mind…?

Ever since we really jumped fully into the Digital Age, it’s seemed to me that we’ve been steadily building up and fleshing out if not the group mind itself, then a somewhat visible and tangible representation of it…and this representation comes into sharper focus each and every day.  I’m talking about:

The internet!!

Is the internet actually our group mind gaining a sort of visible and tangible form...?
Is the internet actually our group mind gaining a sort of visible and tangible form…?

Now, it could be argued that the internet itself isn’t exactly visible or tangible — without technology to serve as intermediary, we humans can’t directly see it or touch it (and sidenote: this poses the fascinating question of whether cyberspace was always there, waiting for us patiently until we advanced our technology to the point where we could finally reach it, or did it only leap into being when we invented the necessary tech…?).  I can’t dispute the literal direct invisibility and intangibility of cyberspace.  But the internet at least affords us the chance to access all that it contains, to draw from it and to add to it.  It’s like it’s the group mind, the collective unconscious, spinning an actual semi-physical form for itself simply because it now exists, and we continue to feed it…

Obviously, this form won’t be fully complete until every mind on Earth can add itself to the greater group mind of the internet, recording their individual thoughts and feelings and traits…and this isn’t happening yet, as not everyone on the globe has access to a computer, not to mention the time, privacy, and freedom with which to encode themselves into the mix.  But we do seem to be moving in that direction.  The internet can already be seen as a mosaic of sorts, comprised of all the myriad little bits of psyche that we each contribute to it, and the more that we kick in, the more the whole can accurately be held to represent our entire species.  I also think the internet is not a thing created with direct intent to do our will — it’s not an egregore, as such — but rather, it just exists now, a reflection of us, an incredibly complex symbol that signifies us.  Like water in Tarot, or Runes, or the I Ching, or Astrology, I believe that in many ways, the internet is our group mind, our collective unconscious…

Of course, one quick look at what’s to be found within the sea of information that is the internet will show that we have a long way to go as a people, but I also feel that the very fact that we’re beginning to record and learn from this reflection of our species-psyche is a tremendous step in the right direction.  And I like to think that this very website here is my own way of trying to add my own positive individual little wave to the overall collective sea…

Symbol-Sets

I woke up today thinking about sets of symbols, and how these sets seem to claim so much of our ways of looking at the world.  This makes sense: the world is an infinitely complex place, so it helps to break it down into subsets that we can more fully grasp.  Why try to comprehend in detail the zillions of elements that comprise our lives, when we can first start out by simply dividing all of those elements into, say, two vast categories in binary fashion…two categories that are each represented by a major symbol for ease of reference and recollection…two categories like Yin and Yang, for instance…

Dividing existence into a manageable number of symbol-sets helps us to comprehend it...
Dividing existence into manageable symbol-sets helps us to comprehend it…

Once we have those two categories in place, then instead of trying in vain to get a handle on every single distinct element of existence — which is obviously an impossibility for us — we can instead get down the major characteristics of each of the two categories…and once we’ve accomplished that, we can at least determine which of the two categories a given element belongs to when we encounter it.  And even though we won’t necessarily know and have memorized every factoid associated with that element, we’ll at least have a lot of information about it within our reach simply because we know which of the two categories it’s a part of, and we’ll know that the traits intrinsic to any member of that category do apply.

Here’s a more specific example…  Say someone you know wants to introduce you to an acquaintance of theirs.  This someone that you know can’t possibly know every single detail there is to know about this acquaintance, and even if they did, there’s no way they could get that across to you…but what if they at least said to you that the acquaintance is definitely more a Yang type than a Yin type.  In one fell swoop, they’re telling you that on the whole, the acquaintance is generally more likely to come across as more active than passive…more extroverted than introverted…more “warm” than “cool”…more “positive” than “negative”…

This is a huge benefit to this practice of breaking existence down into component sets of symbols: this ability to then communicate huge amounts of information via a sort of symbolic shorthand.

Reducing existence into a finite number of puzzle-pieces we can grasp leads to far greater efficiency in understanding the world around us...
Reducing existence into a finite number of puzzle-pieces we can grasp leads to far greater efficiency in understanding the world around us…

Using just two categories — such as Yin and Yang — will only get us so far, though.  Binary thought has its merits, but it also has its limits.  Consider sex/gender realities, and try to apply a binary breakdown: that would mean reducing life into the female and the male.  But wait…where does that leave the hermaphroditic individual, say, who has traits of both…?  Or what about the transgendered individual who might be en route from one sex/gender type to the other but hasn’t yet completed the trip entirely, or who maybe has no intention of ever doing so…?  Doesn’t binary thought seem to disenfranchise such individuals?  Doesn’t binary thought prove kind of flawed all of a sudden…?

So the next logical step might be to add new categories, and/or to turn to different sets of symbols that are geared toward greater numbers of such categories.  Occult thought is rife with many, many such symbol-sets…

Beyond Yin/Yang, you don’t have to travel very far before arriving at symbol-sets with only a slightly greater number of categories: how about the four classic elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water?

Four symbols in the set, to Yin/Yang's two...but is this then twice as helpful...?
Four symbols in the set, to Yin/Yang’s two…but is this then twice as helpful…?

We can keep going, too…

If you’re drawn to Runes, for instance, the Elder Futhark — the earliest Runic symbol-set used for Divination and magic by the wandering, seafaring Germanic peoples of northern Europe quite a few centuries back — consists of 24 symbols in total.

The Elder Futhark: 24 Runes, or Symbols, that together capture all of existence...
The Elder Futhark: 24 Runes, or Symbols, that together capture all of existence…

Now we have a lot more to memorize — 24 Runes takes up more mental storage space than just remembering the gists of, say, Yin and Yang — but each Symbol comes packed with more specificity.  We can press further onward in this direction, too…

The I Ching — the classic Chinese Book of Changes — offers us 64 Hexagrams ( = Symbols) with which to peer through at the Cosmos.

Tarot goes as far as 78 cards ( = Symbols) for use in similar ways.

And then there are symbol-sets designed for combination usage.  Consider Astrology: here we have no less than three distinct subsets of symbols — Planets, Signs, and Houses — that are combined together in a person’s birth chart.  These may seem relatively modest in size when taken as three distinct sub-categories, as there are only 10 Planets, 12 Signs, and 12 Houses…but once you start mixing and matching them (“Ah, so you have Saturn in Cancer in the First House…”), the floodgates are flung wide open: 10 Planets x 12 Signs x 12 Houses = 1,440 possible combinations thereof!  Now that’s a lot to keep track of!

Planets, Signs, Houses...keeping track of all of this starts to become a full-time gig...
Planets, Signs, Houses…keeping track of all of this starts to become a full-time gig…

So we’re each of us then kind of obliged to determine just which symbol-sets work best for us as individuals.  We need sets that enable us to understand the world with the efficiency mentioned earlier, but we’ll also each of us have an upper ceiling on just how many individual symbols we can effectively keep track of.  Beyond a certain point, we’ll no longer be able to keep all the mental plates spinning, and they’ll come crashing to the floors of our minds, leaving us as befuddled as if we’d had no symbol-sets to work with in the first place.

So that’s Idea #1 for this post: consider contemplating symbol-sets, and which ones might prove most beneficial for you to adopt (I love symbols, and this is a never-ending exercise for me, personally…).

And here’s Idea #2…  Get hypothetical with me for a moment, if you will, and pretend that you don’t have that upper ceiling on how many symbols you can retain in detail.  Pretend with me that you have unlimited and flawless mental storage capacity, and unlimited and flawless retrieval ability.  Then say that you reduce all of existence down to not just two primary symbols…not just four…not just 24, or 64, or 78, or even 1,440…  Say you can reduce existence down to billions of such symbols, each one incredibly detailed, a fractal work of art in its specificity, but that you can still instantly understand and make use of any such symbol…  Can you imagine such a thing…?

Okay, so Idea #2 is that if there’s some Creator-Being that encompasses all, a conscious Oneness of which we’re each a component part…then maybe that Creator-Being is the Symbol-Set that is all of Existence, and each of us is one glorious individual Symbol within that Set…

Are we each a Rune in some Divinity's cosmic Alphabet...?
Are we each a Rune in some Divinity’s cosmic Alphabet…?

I like that notion: each of us is a Symbol, an Archetype, a Mythic Figure, with a place in the greater Whole.  Our own mortal minds maybe can’t grasp that much highly individualized meaning, but I can easily see that some Higher Consciousness might.  And if that’s so, then the question is: what Symbol, what Archetype, what Mythic Figure are you…?

You can run, but you can’t hide…(and you maybe can’t even run)…

As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the field of Tarot, I’ve come to realize that its practitioners seem to fall into two camps: one camp consists of those who devote themselves almost exclusively to one single deck, while the other is comprised of those who cultivate collections of a much larger number of different decks (sometimes to the point of needing storage space on the order of an entire, separate, walk-in closet dedicated to housing them all).

Maybe I should back up for a second to explicitly state something for anyone reading along who doesn’t actually have much acquaintance with Tarot: there are many different decks out there in the world at this point in our societal evolution that fall under the heading of “Tarot.”  If you’re like I once was, you may be laboring under the (mistaken but understandable) assumption that “Tarot” equates to one certain deck, and you may further be holding in your mind a picture of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (the “RWS”) where your mental file for “Tarot” resides.  And the RWS is definitely by far the single most widely known and widely used Tarot deck on the planet, so who could blame you?  It’s the one that basically looks like someone’s photo diary from when they visited the local Renaissance Fair:

The RWS Page of Cups: "Greetings, comely lass!  Dost thou then come hither hereabouts often...?"
The RWS Page of Cups: “Greetings, comely lass! Dost thou then come hither hereabouts often…?”

But as I soon learned when I began exploring Tarot more vigorously, there are literally hundreds of different decks, if not thousands by now.  The RWS still remains the most widely utilized template, and many deck creators simply put a new stylistic spin on the by now traditional images, without doing much else to set their decks apart from the RWS itself in terms of actual meanings — Tarot aficionados will often refer to such decks as “clones” of the RWS.  In a distant but fanatically adored second place for widespread use and template-status would be the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck (the “Thoth”).  The artwork of the Thoth is very different from that of the RWS, but then again, the respective visionaries behind the creation of each — Arthur Waite, who accounts for the “W” in “RWS,” and notorious Aleister Crowley — both came up out of the same occult organization, something called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and a peek below the surface level of artistic style will show as many similarities between the two decks as differences.

The Thoth equivalent to the RWS Page of Cups -- Crowley replaced Pages with Princesses, and the artwork is drastically different, but you can spot similarities as well...
The Thoth equivalent to the RWS Page of Cups — Crowley replaced Pages with Princesses, and the artwork is drastically different, but you can spot similarities as well…

So the point here is that there are oodles of different decks out there, but if you look past the surfaces of them, a huge percentage can be seen as all hewing to the same overall templates and the same libraries of symbolism.

You’ll probably also notice that, as mentioned above, the RWS and the Thoth get treated as sort of the Coke and Pepsi of Tarot decks, and you might even perceive a sort of “either/or” binary effect going on, under which Tarot enthusiasts seem to hold this odd, implicit view that you need to choose one or the other, much like people once played a game of “Beatles or Elvis?”  Me, I tend to find merit in both, although I have to confess that as a Tarot beginner, I was far more attracted to the Thoth deck for multiple reasons, but was then kind of dismayed to find that it was the RWS system that lodged way more firmly in my gray matter.  I still bang my head against the Thoth periodically, and I don’t intend to ever stop, and I do feel comfortable enough reading with the Thoth and with other Thoth-based decks…but I’m much more of a natural with the RWS and its progeny.

So having said all that, back to that thing I said up above, about how some people stick to one main deck, while others amass these sometimes giant collections…  I’m not that much of a hoarder, not like some people I know who keep up collections of decks numbering in the triple digits, but I do tend to like having multiple decks on hand.  I’m a fiend for symbolism, and I find it keeps my mind very engaged to shuttle back and forth among different decks, always readjusting to the ways in which various artists have rendered the same overall concepts…

Many Moons!  Cards drawn from (L-R) the Fey Tarot, the Tarot of the Sweet Twilight, and the Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA
Many Moons! Cards drawn from (L-R) the Fey Tarot, the Tarot of the Sweet Twilight, and the Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA

I tend to pick decks that have artwork that really triggers my own imagination, and I seem to lean toward the modern, the busy, and above all, the surreal.  And as touched on above, the easiest decks for me to read with are those that, underneath their individual artistic trappings, seem to cling the closest to the RWS model.  Some are virtually identical beneath the finer details of the artwork, and some vary quite a bit…and I have to say that the most frustrating are the decks that are mostly straight-up RWS clones, but which have just a few cards that veer off into new symbolic territory.  These can baffle me, sometimes for long periods.

And with all that preamble now out of the way, we arrive at the main point of this post: I finally cracked one such frustrating card, whose seemingly non-RWS thrust in an otherwise very RWS deck has been giving me grief for many months now…

The deck of which I speak is the Deviant Moon Tarot, which made quite a splash when it debuted a few years ago.

The Moon card from the Deviant Moon
The Moon card from the Deviant Moon

Its creator apparently spent time taking photos for reference in abandoned factories and cemeteries so as to help him capture the vibe he wanted, and making etchings of actual gravestones and such for incorporation into the deck.  This made for quite the unique feel, and the imagery that I saw online began to grow on me, to the point where I eventually grabbed myself a copy.  I was surprised to find, though, that behind all that odd impish imagery, the deck was actually very faithful to the RWS model.  With one major (for me) exception:

The Hermit card.

Now, the Hermit card is possibly one of the better known images drawn from Tarot, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of it as the interior illustration in the fourth album by landmark rock band, Led Zeppelin.  This is the celebrated sonic platter that gave to the world the beloved anthem, Stairway to Heaven (among other fabulous cuts).  Check it:

Jimmy Page expresses some of his Tarot and occultist leanings...
Jimmy Page expresses some of his Tarot and occultist leanings…

That image there gives a very accurate depiction of the general gist of the RWS Hermit: old man, isolated, big walking stick, lantern — all of this is in line with the Hermit’s meaning as a symbol of the spiritual seeker, one who quests for knowledge that can’t generally be found within the context of our own daily lives here in regular, bustling civilization.  An overwhelming majority of other decks generally offers up identifiable spins on this archetype.

But then there’s the Deviant Moon version:

The DM Hermit: wait...what...??
The DM Hermit: wait…what…??

Is that an old man?  An old woman?  Neither?  Both?  Why is he/she/it within the city’s limits?  Where’s the isolation out in the wilderness?  Where’s the staff?  Where’s the lantern, for crying out loud??

Like I said: this image baffled me for a long time.  And I know I’m not the only one, as I discovered threads on various online bulletin boards, filled with posts in which people all bemoaned the same interpretive problems: What the heck did this thing mean?  How does it reconcile with the RWS Hermit, which it must have to do, right?, as the rest of the deck is so clearly RWS-based…?

And then a couple of days ago…epiphany!

Eureka!!  (I wish I knew who drew this, so I could give proper credit...)
Eureka!! (I wish I knew who drew this, so I could give proper credit…)

It struck me that this Hermit represents a very specific moment in the quest for spiritual discovery and growth: it’s that moment when the spiritual seeker has gotten herself/himself into a position such that it’s necessary to weather a sudden, unstoppable incoming flood of knowledge/sensation/input, and there’s nowhere to hide from it, no way to elude or evade it.  You, the seeker, have asked for it, and now you’re getting it, even if that means being steamrollered by it.  Contemplate the person who gets so deep into trance that, for the first time, they’re not sure they’ll be able to find their way out of it.  Consider the seeker who leaps into the existential Abyss, and gets so far out into actual ego-death, that the sense of “I” that we generally carry with us completely disappears.  Ponder the psychonaut adventurer who plunges out into the cosmic seas of something like DMT or Ayahuasca for the first time, and realizes for one screaming microsecond as the substance comes on, that this will be far, far more than was ever bargained for, and that there’s no hope for control here — all that’s left is surrender…

And of course, it’s often through such staggering, transformative experiences that we derive the most Truth and Enlightenment…but they’re certainly not the easiest experiences in the world to endure!  And so I believe that that’s what this particular Hermit represents: that aspect, that specific moment, in the quest for spiritual Knowledge.  The moment in which one is transported, shrieking, toward some new and vastly greater Understanding.  And that doesn’t fly in the face of the traditional Hermit’s meaning at all — it actually fits with it exceedingly well.  And now that I’ve seen it as such, I doubt I’ll ever be able to un-see it.

…And now I just need to have similar epiphanies regarding a few dozen other frustrating cards scattered among the various other decks in my collection…