Monday, April 20, 2009

Llyn y Fan: The Mysteries and the Merging

"A favorite Celtic motif, and one found in many European faery tales, is the requirement for the hero to perform some impossible task before he can marry the woman of his dreams. Usually the task is assigned by the woman's father and is a variation of the riddle, which at first glance also seems impossible. In the faery tale, the purpose of the impossible task is to keep separated two opposing worlds, or worldviews, symbolized by the young man and his intended bride, just as we are accustomed to keeping ordinary and non-ordinary realities separate in daily life. But mystical insight and enlightenment occur when the veil between the worlds is lifted, the worlds are bridged, the gap closes, and we cross over."

-Tom Cowan, Fire In The Head

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Right Before Your Eyes

Some people spend a considerable amount of time looking for the "mysteries"- "mysteries" here meaning the secrets of the cosmos, the occult secrets or occult knowledges that many believe exist in some objective form, which can transform us from the sorts of people who "don't know" into the sorts of people who "know".

My understanding of "mystery" has become quite different these days. The term "mystery" has had many meanings in the Pagan world- from the runa of the Teutons to the hidden spiritual messages in mystery plays and dramas from the ancient Mediterranean. But for me, as for many of the other primal peoples I've studied, it has come to be known as something far more immediate and intense: the mysteries are everything that I experience.

There are two sides to experience- and I am talking about everything, up to and including you reading this blog right at this moment. There is the actual experience, and then there is the simultaneous and habitual "meaning generating" reaction that your mind and person has as soon as it has experienced, or while it is experiencing.

We use our language and our words to "give meaning" to what we experience. We let feelings inspire words and descriptions; we let intellectualizing shape them; the words come from many places, and are positioned to give meaning to what you experienced- meaning for yourself, and meaning you can try to transmit to others with words.

What few people stop to become consciously aware of is the fact that we don't know what the experiences themselves are, at all. Strange that! Every experience is a mystery, even the most commonly repeated ones that have long ago been explained away and named away with words. When we recount our experiences to another, we never offer the experience- we only offer our memories and impressions of it, with our words. We recount the words and descriptions we applied to it to give it meaning and presence in our memories.

So there are the mysteries- here they are; everywhere you look. Every thing you hear or feel. This brings up one of my favorite subjects: the Gods.

What are Gods? We can experience them in many ways, but what are they? They are as mysterious as any other thing we can experience- but not more mysterious than anything else. To consider it like that would be to lose track of what I'm saying. Everything is mysterious.

We don't actually know what the Gods are; we only know what we've said of them, or what's been said of them. We know what we remember, but we remember in line with the meaning-granting words and labels we applied. In no manner should this suggest that the Gods are not real; they are as real as any other experience that has been draped in the sorcery of words.

Near, Vast and Deep

This brings up the next point of knowing the mysteries in this way- the sheer immensity of the Otherworld. Part of my religious experience is feeling what I describe as the "immensity" of the unseen- for every gnarled oak I stand in front of, or every star I gaze at, for every person I meet, I sense the vastness beyond. When I focus on a "thing", I always try to remember- and oftentimes spontaneously do- the great vastness of what is "not this thing", and beyond that, what is unseen, past what is seen.

We are gazing, every moment, into the immensity. Thinking like this orients a person to the Otherworld's presence, and makes things like poetry, prayer, and invocation take on a new meaning. We drape intention and feeling and yearning in words, and launch those words into the vastness of what we call "the world out there" and "the world unseen"- but even these "things" of ours- intention, feeling, yearning- are mysteries. There is a lot of power moving here- as us, in us, through us, all around us- but we are only being "let in" on the tiniest amount, on the most surface of levels.

How do we "go deeper"? In my view, we go deeper when we remember the mystery of it all, the vastness of it all, and stop trying to imagine that we grasp things perfectly. We disguise things with words, apply meaning to mysteries that may or may not have anything to do with what word-sorcery we use. We are making cosmic guesses and staging cosmic stage plays, with powers that run deeper than we can imagine.

If we accept this and focus on it, we go quiet- we begin to listen more than speak, and feel more than we ever thought we would. We have to become comfortable with uncertainty again. We have to remind ourselves that we have limits, and with a twist of spiritual irony, realize that adjusting ourselves comfortably and respectfully to limits opens up new, greater vistas in us than we could realize. The truths we win may not be things of the head, but things of the heart. Is this not so?

Great Poetess beneath the hills and lakes, Mother of inspiration in the boundless deep, give us our sense of wonder back! Let us know our smallness, and through it, our vastness- for nothing exists which is not a part of all else. Let us know the depths that remain hidden to our eyes; let our hearts be the channels of truth and wisdom.

Crossing Over

How will we cross over? How can we answer the impossible riddle which bridges two seemingly incompatible things: the seen and unseen, the seemingly predictable with the absolutely unpredictable, the worlds of words and opinions with the worlds of mystery?

We will cross over on an impossibly narrow bridge which only reveals itself to those who release themselves from addiction to the notion that "things" must be one way or another- they will shatter the boundary, part the hedge, and find the way. The seemingly impossible things to reconcile are that way because we believe they are. What if their reality was something totally different?

Tom Cowan recounts: "In the Welsh tale of Llyn y Fan, the hero sees a faery woman on a lake who refuses his gift of baked bread. So he resorts to giving her dough. This too, she refuses. Finally, he offers her a loaf that is half-baked- bread that is "both baked and not baked." The she accepts him, and his world of ordinary reality and her realm of enchantment are united."

The "either/or" duality is shattered by the "both/and" complementarity. What is this? It is the ultimate expression of inclusivity and wholeness. I "have" the mysteries through my experiences, but don't have them at all, with my words and memories.

And yet, through words, through the sorcery of words, poetry, and song, something strange comes about- I become oriented to a place that is both here and not here- an open "space" of mind wherein my own experience may occur.
I am both alive and not alive; I am both here and not here; I am both foolish and not foolish; I am both human and not human. This poetic door continues: "I am both animate and inanimate... there is nothing of which I am not; there is nothing I have not been."

This is the spirit talking. It's time we began listening and believing.

Solitude Teaches About the Gods

Those people are very smart who can hear the words of poems and songs and make good sense of them, and unlock their hidden layers of meaning.

But they are very wise who can hear the silence, too. The space of silence between each sound is as much a needful part of the song or the poem as the sounds and words. Without silence, no words or poems or songs would be. Silence is, in a sense, the mother of sound. Silence is a corollary to the "space" or the womb of things, which is the mother of everything. Every great truth told with words is a finger pointing to something silent and unreachable with words. Every word, like every tree, or stone, or person, is a child of something greater, more silent and immense, something deep beyond.

Tom Cowan tells of Matsuwa, a Huichol shaman, who teaches of the need for solitude in the wilderness. He says "If you want to learn to see, to learn to hear, you must... go into the wilderness alone. For it is not I who will teach you the ways of the Gods. Such things are learned only in solitude."

Mother of solitude, let us be unafraid.

1 comment:

  1. I like this a good deal. I have always thought of silence as the Mother of poetic utterance, and that all the best poems exist in the space after the fullstop or suspension dots. For a long time I preferred not to speak on account of this. Afraid that the little that I had seen would be lost in all the binaries and misprisions that language is heir to. But it is as you say, there is a way that is both of words and of silence. As you put it: 'Every great truth told with words is a finger pointing to something silent and unreachable with words.'