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Friday, 17 March 2017

Elemental Disharmonies

Part One

My most recent post was intended to primarily say something about the importance of images in my life - and I didn't even get round to mentioning Jung and archetypes, and James Hillman's archetypal psychology (I forgot). But it got me thinking - or imagining. more like - around that first trip to Italy......

There I was, chilling out a little in Siena, in the company of Duccio and the licorice-looking Cathedral. Although some of the candles and incense had gone missing, I still had my sights on a solitary meditation-and-writing retreat. I even got so far as phoning up a woman who had a little cottage available in the surrounding countryside. At this point, it is worth mentioning that I hadn't bothered learning much Italian before heading off south of the Alps: it is, after all, a long-held English tradition not to learn  other peoples' languages. 'Pronto' the woman answered. I froze. 'Pronto' she said a little louder, and with a tough of exasperation. I slammed down the telephone. It was only later that I learnt how, in Italian, 'pronto' does not mean 'Quick! Quick! What are you messing around at?' It's the normal way in Italy to say 'hello' on the phone.

At this point I made a bizarre decision. Why, I cannot recall: the memory would probably be too painful. Anyhow, I decided to head south.

Anybody with a modicum of knowledge about Italy and Italians would know that heading south is probably not the smartest move for a person still frayed around the edges from a series of slightly bruising encounters with a new and different culture. Plus the fact that aforementioned frazzled person was showing early signs of an influenza-like illness coming on. But head south I did.

After two hours in Naples - plenty - I eventually turned up in Salerno. Located at the entrance to the famed bejewelled coast of Amalfi, Salerno was brash, bold, and balmy, in a bold and brash kind of
way. As was my wont, I headed straight for the cheapest dive listed in 'Let's Go' and got a room at a great price. As I was settling in, I noticed a large hole in the wall above the wardrobe. It was the perfect size for someone to crawl through in dead of night, gas you and take all your belongings. That's the sort of thing people do in southern Italy, I'd been told.

I strolled out into the warm November evening. Just starting to unwind in the Mediterranean ambience, I was suddenly assailed by a group of kids. 'Inglesi, Inglesi' they chanted as their hands deftly touched my jacket and pockets. It was mischief rather than downright criminality, but the magic of the moment was well and truly shattered.

I was beginning to feel really ill. In brief diary form, the rest of the trip ran like this: a) straight back to Rome b) unable to change flight back home without long wait c) take overnight train to Paris d) feel extremely unwell e) robbed of £30 at Gare du Nord f) reach Buddhist community in London the following evening g) take train to Buddhist retreat centre in Wales for non-solitary meditation retreat, and gather disparate bits of self together again.

Part Two

I relate this tale, not because - or only because -  my life is so fantastically important and endlessly fascinating. It is also a story about disharmony, elemental disharmony. In Tarotspeak I travelled to Italy with a rucksackful of wands; swords, as usual, were in plentiful supply. Meanwhile, chalices were leaking water all over the place, and the pentacles had mysteriously gone missing.

Following my recently reported penchant for images, I find it more powerful to speak of chalices and wands than of 'elements'. Funnily, they present themselves to me in a direct and concrete way, while 'elements' is a bit abstract - needs more thinking about. Should a translation into elements be insisted upon, however, I suffered from a surfeit of fire (wand), plenty of air (sword), unstable water (chalice) and very little earth (pentacle).

This magic quaternity can be mapped onto a whole variety of signposts of reality: the four seasons, the four directions of space, Jung's four psychic functions, the four humours of the body. And plenty more besides, I guess. All of this can be used to create a wealth of readings in Tarot for those so inclined. Whatever, it provides a marvellous map for both universe and consciousness (should there be any difference).

Harmonising the elements has been a major ongoing task during this lifetime. As years have passed, its necessity in regard to physical health has become more apparent. A takeover bid by swords inevitably leads to severe migraine, sinus pain, and general misery. But it's always been there uppermost in terms of consciousness. On the basic levels of day-to-day satisfaction. And in terms of direct insight, deeper experience of reality beyond the veils and distortions. Without a degree of harmony between the wands and the pentacles, there is no chance of a more stable, sustained, experience on deeper levels of the psyche.

So it's an ongoing project. It's like bringing all the players in a football team into play, not just the goalie and the centre-back. And it's harmony rather than balance. 'Balancing the energies', 'Balancing the chakras': this stuff is all over the place nowadays. But to me 'balancing' suggests taking a discrete quantity of a discrete number of objects, and organising them so they don't topple over. Whereas the trick is more expansive, more magical. It involves a continual flux and flow, an interweaving of constantly moving pieces, interacting, morphing, taking on new forms and disguises. As somebody
once wrote, 'wisdom' is not about 'no self' so much as 'flow self'. And as Jung wisely pointed out, it's not about having all aspects of equal prominence. We are unique individuals with our unique tendencies. I shall always have more wands in my rucksack then pentacles; I shall always prefer Tarot to decorating the bathroom. That's fine.                  

Images:  Salerno (wikimedia commons)
              Wand energy embodied: The Magician, Gilded Tarot Royale
              The DIY card: Eight of Pentacles, Waite-Smith Tarot