Shams of Tabriz was a Persian Sufi and roaming dervish who lived at the end of the twelfth/ early thirteenth century. He was the spiritual teacher and advisor of Rumi, and indeed it’s often said that Rumi was a professor who Shams transformed into a mystic, a lover, and a poet. They spent months together, lost in a kind of ecstatic mystical communion known as “sobhet” — conversing and gazing at each other until a deeper conversation occurred without words. There are many legends describing their meeting in Konya: Rumi was taught by Shams in seclusion for 40 days, and the period after this is described as Rumi’s ‘mysticism’, where sufis danced, played music (rabab), and drank wine. It is in this time, that the concept of “whirling dervishes” originated.
It is strange how the worship of the Christ-child penetrated the hard old Roman-built world. It was like the perfume of a lily, of a mass of lilies, whose roots have broken rocky soil, whose shining whiteness enchants the air. An infant conquered the nations; the human race lifted up its eyes and sang a new song.
Slowly, through those centuries of a crumbling empire and a resilient faith, the perfume, the song reacted in beauty in men’s minds, and the beauty took to itself form and colour and rhythm, became incarnate in churches and statues, gorgeous in tapestries and paintings, vocal in poetry and music. The human spirit passed from Caesar to Saint Francis, from the Colosseum to Chartres Cathedral, from pagan frescoes to Fra Angelico, from Greek choruses to Palestrina, from Virgil and the cynical later poets of a disillusioned autocracy to Dante and the epics and lyrics of new languages seeded and nourished by the old.
The Symbol of the Serpent: Introduction to Blavatsky’s work
Blake’s art speaks in symbols. But what exactly are symbols? And why are all of the deepest ancient esoteric truths always communicated through symbol and image? Pike suggests that symbols are the most powerful way to mediate and convey a “truth” that lies beyond ordinary conscious, “rational” thought programmes and parameters: “The first learning in the world consisted chiefly in symbols. The wisdom of the Chaldæans, Phœnicians, Egyptians, Jews; of Zoroaster, Sanchoniathon, Pherecydes, Syrus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, of all the ancients, that is come to our hand, is symbolic. It was the mode, says Serranus on Plato’s Symposium, of the Ancient Philosophers, to represent truth by certain symbols and hidden images.”
And one of the most powerful, and recurrent, of all these ancient symbols, he notes, is that of the serpent or dragon. “This will be found to be confirmed by an examination of some of the Symbols used in the Mysteries. One of the most famous of these was THE SERPENT. The Cosmogony of the Hebrews and that of the Gnostics designated this reptile as the author of the fate of Souls. It was consecrated in the Mysteries of Bacchus and in those of Eleusis. Pluto overcame the virtue of Proserpine under the form of a serpent; and, like the Egyptian God Serapis, was always pictured seated on a serpent, or with that reptile entwined about him.”
In The God of the Left Hemisphere I explored the remarkable connections between the activities and functions of the human brain that writer William Blake termed ‘Urizen’ and the powerful complex of rationalising and ordering processes which modern neuroscience identifies as ‘left hemisphere’ brain activity. In The Divided Therapist I extend this analysis, exploring its implications for our mental health and the practice of therapy itself – the regeneration and reintegration of the psyche. If the first book was about the “fall into Division”, this book is about the “Resurrection to Unity”: the restoration of psychic wholeness.
Introduction: Entering the Serpent
Sometimes it’s good just to look at Blake’s images, and let them approach you, without any verbal text, theory, or explanation. An encounter with their other-ness. Over the next few weeks this site will be posting a number of articles exploring the meaning and importance of the symbol of the serpent in Blake’s work, which weaves throughout his vision, and twists and turns throughout his images.
Introduction: The Wheel of Birth/Death
|On ignorance depends karma;
On karma depends consciousness;
On consciousness depend name and form;
On name and form depend the six organs of sense;
On the six organs of sense depends contact;
On contact depends sensation;
On sensation depends desire;
On desire depends attachment;
On attachment depends existence;
On existence depends birth;
On birth depend old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair.- The Buddha’s twelvefold concatenation of cause and effect
The sixth century BC saw the rise of rational philosophers, who used withering arguments to discredit Vedic rites and beliefs. Paralleling the surge in logic was the appearance of super-rigorous practices whose aim was to help the individual achieve union with the god-head by bypassing the priesthood. The Jains were an ascetic sect that advocated the denial of all bodily wants as the highest form of spirituality. The more extreme adherents believed it was a triumph to die of starvation.
Despite its austere creed, Jainism gained many followers. Counterbalancing the ascetics was the increasingly popular Bhakti cult, which proclaimed that a communion with the divine could be only achieved through the senses. Worshippers chose a god or goddess upon whom to project their feelings, then used right-brained experiential pathways to achieve a state of ecstasy. Dance, chanting, shouting, and unbridled sexuality accompanied Bhakti rituals.
The hypertrophy of reason that results from the introduction of alphabet literacy inevitably galvanises a countermovement that seeks to exalt the wisdom of the senses. I would suggest that alphabet literacy was the impetus behind Rationalism, Jainism, and Bhakti in India. It also prepared the ground for a new religion – Buddhism.
Frozen is now the second highest-grossing animated film of all time, and one of the highest-grossing films in any medium ($1.3 billion in worldwide box office sales). 676 million youngsters have viewed and sung along to the YouTube clip of it’s hit song Let It Go, and as Dorian Lynskey notes, “it’s shaped the imagination of a generation”. Beyond the sparkle and CGI patina something about the movie clearly resonates powerfully with children and young people, and I think it’s secret – and what lies at the heart of its appeal – is its potent exploration of themes of childhood anger, ‘ice-olation’, inner devitalisation and self-absorption, which the film both addresses and amplifies.