Saturday, 23 March 2013

How to Perform an Initiatory Death, in Six Easy Steps

[Warning: this is a bit tongue and check, and stemmed from a discussion on a Facebook group that shall not be named, posted by someone who shall not be named, and discussed by people who shall not be named.  It is *mostly* satire and humour, but there is truth in it.  So take is as you will.]

So, how would one go about performing an initiatory death?  Or put another way, what is a generic way to perform a initiation, given no tradition for context, and no details on what is being looked for?  [Note: All initiation adherently is a death based initiation or an initiatory death.]

1.  Prepare the sacrifice, um, I mean victim, um, I mean novice or candidate for initiation.

Preparation would involve teaching, and tests to determine if they are plump enough, um, tender enough, um, dry enough, um, I mean ready for initiation.  The teaching should provide tools and techniques that will be helpful, a framework to understand the initiation (after the fact, if they survive), and a world view conducive to the initiation.  Testing should determine if they're "getting" the lessons at all, on a deeper level, and forcing them to apply them.  Basically, exercise to get them tender enough, um, to get them ready.

2.  Drive them or lead them to a remote place, in the mountains, out in a swamp, to a dense undisturbed forest, to somewhere remote and wild.  And a place you know the spirits and know the spirits are hungry, um, I mean active.

Plan the drive or hike to get them to the site about half an hour before sunset.  Make the journey there as long as possible, and mix silence with monologues about the spirits, getting them in the mood, and open.  The journey is half the experience.  The spirits like their prey frightened and scared, um, I mean, the spirits like a sense of mystery and mood.

3.  At the site, while the sun is still up, have them prepare a space.

Have them marking it off, set up props, I mean tools and worship items, get the space ready.  Make it clear to them that they are creating a sacred space for the monsters, I mean spirits, to manifest in, that it isn't for protection to keep things out, but a space for the initiation to occur.  But also that it is imperative that they don't leave the space, because something *BAD* will happen.  You don't want the spirit's meal to run away, they might turn on you.  Um, I mean, the sense of location will help with the initiatory experience.  While helping them get the space ready, talk about what they need to do, what the props, um, items mean.  All conversation should be about the coming experience, and you want as much conversation as possible, to whet the appetite of the spirits, um, I mean so the silence and night sounds are more impactful.  Candles or fire should be involved, but limited, so they go out at some point.

4.  Leave them.

Just before the sun sets, leave.  Tell them you will be back for them, but to call your name in an emergency.  Make it clear this is to be avoided.  Leave as silently as possible with no light yourself, not looking back.  Know the area well before hand.  Go far enough that you can't see the site, but can still hear in case the spirits need help with the butchering, um, in case the novice has some emergency you need to run them to the hospital for.

5.  Come back at Dawn and clean up the mess.

Put the props, um, items back in whatever they were carried up in, put out any coals, clean up any blood so it doesn't attract animals.

6.  If they are dead, hide the body.  If they are mad, take them back to down and drop them off in an alley and leave.  If they are a poet, take them back to your house, get water and food in them, let them sleep the day away to recover, then have a feast in the evening.

~Muninn's Kiss

Friday, 22 March 2013

Liminal Equinoxes

With the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox just past, I've heard a lot of, it's too cold or snowy for it to be spring.  I had some thoughts about that while driving back to Colorado in a snow storm today.

Picture the year as a circle.

Place the Winter and Summer Solstices at the top and bottom, doesn't matter which is which, just whichever makes most sense to you.  Now draw a line halving the circle, horizontally.  Think of half with Winter as the Winter Half, and the part with Summer as the Summer Half.  The Solstices are very clearly one season or the other, the further you go around the circle to that middle line, the less clear.  Now make a mark half way along the circle between each Solstice and the centre line.  These points are Bride's Day, Beltaine, Lugh's Day, and Samhaine (or whatever order makes most sense to you).  Now, the top quarter of the circle, the arc from a point marked to a Solstice then to the other mark near that Solstice, and same on the bottom quarter, those two arcs are clearly Summer and Winter.  You may get some odd weather that doesn't fit, but those two sections are fairly clearly set (at least if you're far enough from the equator, especially outside the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn).  They are stable, static, passive, unchanging.

But the arcs between the points marked crossing the centre line, these are liminal, changing, dynamic, betwixt and between.  These are of course the Spring and Fall, Vernus and Autumn, arcs, with the centre line marking the equinoxes.  But these seasons represent the transition between Winter and Summer, Summer and Winter.  They are liminal.  They are neither Winter nor Summer.  And because they are liminal, winter characteristics can stretch later some years and earlier others, and the same for summer characteristics.  So the Spring Equinox isn't "spring" because of distinct spring characteristics, but because it's the midpoint of the transition from Winter to Summer, and the Autumn Equinox isn't "autumn" because of distinct autumn characteristics, but because it's the midpoint of the transition from Summer to Winter.

You can see this also by putting a day on the same circle.

Place Midnight where Winter is, and Noon where Summer is.  Midnight is clearly night, for even at the most extreme latitudes, it is the lowest point of the sun in summer and darkest sky in winter, and closer to the equator, clearly mid-night.  Noon is clearly day, for even at the most extreme latitudes, it is the highest point of the sun in summer and lightest sky in winter, and closer to the equator, clearly mid-day, especially south of the Arctic Circle and north of the Antarctic Circle.

Unlike midnight and noon which are obvious and static, Dusk and Dawn are dynamic and changing, both moving closer to midnight in summer and closer to noon in winter.  At lease outside the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, inside they are more static.  But regardless of latitude, Dusk and Dawn aren't set points like Midnight and Noon.  They are transitional, a change from clear day to clear night.  Twilight.  Neither day nor night, neither night nor day.  Liminal.  They aren't the point at which the sun appears or vanishes, they are the transition from the point the sky begins to lighten to the time the sun is fully visible, and from when the sun begins to set to when the sky is fully dark.  Just like Spring and Autumn, they aren't distinct, exact points of conditions, they are a liminal borderland between two exact conditions.

This is also true of course if you look at the directions.

North and south run to exact points, the axis of the world, whereas east and west keep going forever, overlapping.  You can go far enough north that every direction is south, and far enough south that everything is north.  But no matter how far east you go, you're still facing east, west is still at your back, north is on you left, and south on your right.  No matter how far west you go, you're still facing west, east is still at your back, south is on your left, and north is on your right.  East and West are liminal directions, relative directions.  Like Dawn and Dusk.  Like Spring and Fall.  North and South are absolute directions.  Like Midnight and Noon.  Like Winter and Summer.

~Muninn's Kiss

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Mercy and Judgement, Rules and Transgression: A Look at Left and Right Hands

I addressed this some in my post, Cup of Life, Cup of Death: The Two Hands of the Poisoner, and have touched on it in other posts, but I'd like to talk about it directly.

There is some confusion on the terms "left hand path" and "right hand path" due to misunderstandings of the terms.  Ultimately, the terms refer to India Subcontinent practices, not to the Pillars in Kabbalah.  The conflation of the two is actually contradictory.

The term in India refers to transgression.

Right hand paths are those that keep the restrictions, denying in order to break from the illusion we live in and escape the reincarnation cycle (another thing that causes confusion, as Western thought most often sees reincarnation as a good thing, but in Buddhism and the religions the West call Hinduism, reincarnation is a trap to be escaped).  There are others, but the Vedic traditions are the most popular right hand paths.  Those that follow the Vedas, the written rules, basically.

Left hand paths take the opposite approach, breaking free from the cycle through transgression.  A set of practices that break the rules to break the illusion, seeing the rules as the framework that binds us into the illusion, and transgression as the way out.  The most common left hand paths are the Tantric traditions (which is about far more than sex), which follow a set of Tantras, actions or practices, which are a sequence of deliberate violations of the Vedic restrictions, some traditions symbolically, some literally.  But we also have those traditions that go a step further with the eating of rotting human corpses or living in piles of dung.

Now that's the same application in the West.  Right hand path is used to refer to rule-based religions or traditions that seek to be good and follow what is generally seen as acceptable by society.  Left hand path is used for religions or traditions that transgress either the rules of a given right hand path or of accepted society.

But it gets confused, as the Kabbalah Pillars have been conflated with these.  Because of the masculine nature of the Right Pillar and the feminine nature of the Left Pillar, people assume any path that is matriarchal or worships a female entity must be left hand and all left hand paths are matriarchal and worship the feminine.  And that any right hand path is patriarchal and worships the masculine, and that any path meeting those must be right hand.  But there are notable examples that contradict this.

Part of the confusion stems from the use of the words, "right" and "left".  It's important to note the the India use of the words is from the Sanskrit words and is Indo-European in understanding, where as the Kabbalic use is from the Aramaic words (the language the Zohar is written in) and is Semitic in understanding.

The Sanskrit term translated as Left Hand Path is वाममार्ग, Vāmamārga.  वाम, vāma does mean left, but more literally means in an opposite or different manner, contrary, or perverse.  It also means beautiful or pretty or splendid, and also hard or cruel.  मार्ग, mārga, means passage, path, route, way, journey, walk, search, course.  The Sanskrit term translated Right Hand Path is दक्षिणमार्ग, Dakṣiṇamārga.  Literally it means "southern course".  दक्षिन, dakṣiṇa, means south but also right.  This dual definition makes sense if you stand facing the sun at sunrise.  South is to your right, north is to you left, the opposite of dakṣiṇa, opposite of south.  Consider that India is at the south end of Asia. All of Asia is to the north.  The English word north is of Germanic origin, a people on the north part of Europe, with most of Europe to the south.  North comes from *ner ultimately, a Proto-Indoeuropean word meaning left, but also below.  Standing facing the rising sun, the north is one the left, hence the name.  In India, the land people live in is south of the mountains, north of the mountains is other, opposite, different, vāma.

In Hebrew and Aramaic, right hand is יָמִין, yamiyn, and left hand is שְׂמֹאל, semowl.  Yamiyn means right hand, the direction right, and south, for the same reason dakṣiṇa means south and right.  Likewise, semowl means left hand, the direction left, and north.  Yamiyn comes from יָמַן, yaman, meaning to choose the right, go right, use the right hand, be right handed.  Yaman is likely connected to אָמַן, 'aman, to support, confirm, be faithful, to support with an arm, to carry a child.  It has the sense of the bare arm used to hold a child, the left being covered with cloth, and in the the sense of swearing an oath or making an agreement, with the right hand reached out, the left hidden.  We see similar in semowl, which is likely related to שִׂמְלָה, simlah, meaning wrapper, mantle, covering garment, garments, clothes, raiment, a cloth.  It could be argued that the idea of the right hand being used for agreements and the left hand concealed relating directly to the Sanskrit idea of the left being contrary and the right being that which is normal.  But this ignores the fact that the Zohar refers to the right hand as יד הגדולה, the great hand, and the left hand as יד החזקה, the strong hand.  They are considered the two hands of G-d, though the Zohar refers to a third and fourth hand as well.  This contradicts the idea that the right hand is that which is agreeable and good and the left hand the opposite and evil.  The symbolism is different.  The revealed hand, the right, is the one stretched forth in agreement, but the concealed hand, the left, holds the knife of judgment, which becomes the sword of fire at the gate to the Garden, swinging in all directions.

The other source of confusion comes from Lilith in the Zohar coming from the Left Side.  We focus on her as transgressor, so assume the Left Side in the Zohar is transgressive, as with Left Hand Path in India.  This, however, is not the case.  There's a second term also used, the Other Side, which does refer to evil and transgression.  But it is not the same as the Left Side.  Other Side is אַחֵר שְׁטַר, sitra achra or shetar 'acher, sitra meaning side, achra meaning other or different, very much the sense of vāma.  Lilith came from the Left Side in the Zohar.  Sammuel might be from the Right, though the similarity between his name and semowl is striking, the two words sharing the same Hebrew letters.  But in the Zohar, together they lead the Other Side, Lilith as the Serpent and Sammuel riding on her back.  Lilith is from the Left Side, so she finds comfort after Adam and Eve are kicked out near the sword of fire that flashes all directions, Geburah manifest, that guards the Garden.

The Left Side is defined by its centre, Geburah, and the Right Side by its centre, Chesed.  Judgement and Mercy.  The Left Side is not transgression and allowance, it's judgement and restriction.  It is the rules and their consequences.  The Right Side is not rules and denial, it is mercy and expansion.  The Left by itself restricts and denies all.  The Right by itself expands and allows all.  Just the opposite of left hand vāma and right hand.dakṣiṇa.

So conflating the two concepts of left and right just brings confusion.

~Muninn's Kiss

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