Monday, 13 July 2015

Pied Beauty, Pied Pipers and Paradox

Sailing by Starlight

In Ursula Le Guin's wonderful book "The Earthsea Quartet." The young 'prentice Sparrowhawk,
learns that to become a Mage he must realize the true name of things. 
In other words he must learn how to "see" the true essence and nature of reality, with clarity.

In  old folk tales the archetypal crone named "BabaYaga the bony legged" is part of the cycle of Mother Nature that represents death and rebirth.
whenever an unsuspecting  sojourner enters her hut, they'll be asked by Baba Yaga if they were sent or whether they came of their own free will. They must answer carefully here, for there's only one correct answer.
The correct answer is the honest one, and usually the honest answer is piebald; a mix of two things. Those that are allowed safe passage will say that they were sent and that they came of their own free will, thus proving that they are first true, second, humble and third, ready to understand the true nature of things.

We imagine truth to be immutable. And maybe it is in essence but that doesn't prevent it from being distorted by subjectivity. Depending on the perspective of the artist, an object such as a cube can be drawn in a variety of different ways, it can look like a 2d square, a hexagon, a box, etc...

Corporate, political and media outlets know how to create subliminal associations in people's minds between emotions, desires and the brands, politics, ideologies they want to promote. This is often called promoting the dominant narrative.
It is also a form of dis- in -formation.

Understanding the true nature of reality, behind the veils and layers of language, culture, tradition and society has traditionally been the task of spiritual guides.
However, those with knowledge but not understanding have learned how to manipulate truth in order to delude and confuse rather than clarify and liberate.


Spiritual guides whether in the form of monks, nuns, hermits or shamans are often called to live apart from the rest of the world.
In solitude, the metaphorical waters of life still and clarify well enough for them to see a true reflection of things. After time they may be ready to return with a revelation from the world beyond, often at much personal cost, such as Prometheus when he brought back fire from the Gods.

Traditionally holy people such as Shamans, Sadhus or Hermits take a burden of sacrifice upon themselves, absorbing, transfiguring and redeeming the negative energy of their communities to psychically assuage the wrath of the Gods by restoring balance.
The well known Trappist Thomas Merton used to say that monks were a little like spiritual trees; taking in the Co2 of our collective subconscious and transforming it through prayer, contemplation and compassion into oxygen for our consciousness'.

In Hinduism evil is brought to the surface waters through the churning of the Milky Ocean
The struggle of creative and destructive opposites in this story draws truth (however unpleasant) to the surface where it can be made visible and dealt with consciously.

Lord Shiva is God destroyer in Hinduism yet his destruction is a refiners fire which consumes the small ego and leads to transformation, enlightenment and union of the individual soul with the divine in all creation.

There is a wonderful story of Parvati and Shiva in Joseph Campbell's "A Hero with a Thousand Faces."
In it Shiva disguises himself and visits the praying and fasting Parvati to ask her why one so beautiful would live  a life of such asceticism.

"My desire," she replied, "is Shiva, the Highest Object. Shiva is a god of solitude and unshakable concentration. I therefore am practicing these austerities to move him from his state of balance and bring him to me in love."
 "Shiva," the youth said, "is a god of destruction. Shiva is amidst the reek of corpses; there he beholds the rot of death, and that is congenial to his devastating heart. Shiva's garlands are of living serpents. Shiva is a pauper, furthermore, and no one knows anything of his birth."
  The virgin said: "He is beyond the mind of such as you. A pauper, but the fountainhead of wealth; terrifying, but the source of grace; snake-garlands or jewel garlands he can assume or put off at will. How should he have been born, when he is the creator of the uncreated! Shiva is my love."
 The youth thereupon put away his disguise - and was Shiva.

The revelation of truth is the beginning of humility.
And humility is simply to know the truth about ourselves, no more, no less.

Brennan Manning Author of the Ragamuffin Gospel also evoked the pathos of our disparate and paradoxical nature when he wrote, "“...Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

As human beings we are always balancing the material and spiritual aspects of ourselves.
The mistake is to place too much emphasis on one aspect while repressing the other as various puritan sects such as the Manichean did.

 The poet Rainer Maria Rilke traces the trickster's piebald role in his poem "The Winged Energy of Delight" The last lines well capture the shape shifting Shaman that builds bridges between worlds on this "Middle Earth."

 "Take your well-disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two opposing poles.
Because inside human beings
is where God learns."

Magi have always been associated with opposites. Opposing forces have potential for both creation and destruction. Indeed creation comes from destruction as life comes from death.
Flowers spring from the compost of last years fallen petals and leaves. As the ancient Buddhist Mantra states the Lotus blooms from the muddy pool: "Om Mani Padme Hum"

The Romany mascot is a wagtail and piebald horses are highly prized  by Gypsies, as are all creatures that are able to hold both light and dark. 

Merle (Merlin) meaning parti-coloured and the "Pied" Piper Hamlin are two mythological examples of western tradition.
When the people of Puritanical Hamlin seek to be delivered from rats that have grown at the same rate of abundance as their store barns, the Pied Piper is summoned with a Devil's bargain reminiscent of theHandless Maiden.
His is a cautionary tale, reminding us that we cannot eliminate shadow without also extinguishing  light.

As The aged Mage says to his young Prentice in Earthsea Quartet

"To light a candle is to cast a shadow."

.."To change this rock into a jewel, you must change it's true name. And to do that, my son, even to so small a scrap of the world, is to change the world
A rock is a good thing too, you know," he said, speaking less gravely. "If the Isles of Earthsea were all made of Diamond, we'd lead a hard life here."


I believe that God does not want us changed, purified or rarefied like recalcitrant offerings on a sterile alter. Jesus says many times, "I seek mercy not sacrifice."
We put on many natures, many masks and many persona's at each stage of our lives.
The real pearl of great price is our truth, our true nature; the part of us that is connected to all beings. 

To be made whole "holy" is to be whole and that means to be authentically  ourselves; living in close communion with our soul and the souls of those around us, including the plants animals and elements. 

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.” 
― Thomas MertonThe Way of Chuang Tzu 

Knowing how to embrace imperfection in ourselves and others is a hard art.
In the Navajo tradition an imperfection is always woven into the corner of a mat or rug to remind the people of the true nature of things.
In the Wabi Sabi tradition of Japan integrating imperfection into the whole is literally an art as cracks in vases are glorified with gold inlay. 
As Leonard Cohen famously said 
There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." 

Maybe it is where  compassion, acceptance and forgiveness gets in too.

Pied Beauty
  By Gerard Manley Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

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