Chapter 9: Prayer, Ceremony & Ritual [Letters from Home]
“Home is not nearly a place, nor a term, home is a psychic integration… The home is a degree of consciousness, it is an unfoldment of principles, it is a revelation of purposes, it is something that happens as we unfold and evolve, by means of which we gain greater insights and greater opportunities for growth.”
-Manly P. Hall
George: What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.
Mary: I’ll take it. Then what?
George: Well, then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see… and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair… am I talking too much?
-It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Thus far, we have discussed some rather Cthulian concepts. The legendary author, HP Lovecraft, the lonely man that slowly created a complex fictional mythology of horror throughout the early 20th century, has a great deal to say about the process of Jungian individuation—albeit, indirectly. Lilith comes across a great deal like an Old One herself (which is Lovecraft’s fictional league of ancient beings that lived long before humanity, and continue to live as cosmic entities of horror) although I hesitate to drive this point too far home. Lilith is an aspect of the Great Mother archetype, something intrinsic to the human psyche and its relationship to Nature itself—and while Lilith represents a darker, Lovecraftian depiction of the Great Mother, the lore of this goddess and demoness should not be discounted entirely as evil. In fact, it really is not evil at all—her darkness, coldness is an ultimate gesture of her Great Motherly love. The Qliphoth and Lilith’s long history with sleep paralysis shows us that our relationship with parts of our psyche become maladaptive in these cases, and such negative symptoms are merely alarm bells from the loving Mother. The devils we perceive are not sent by the Great Mother or of her kin, they are our own personal devils that She is warning us about, like a biological mother helping her son into a rehabilitation clinic.
We should not venerate such warning signs, but we should respect them and heed their suggestions towards illumination, individuation—towards the sacred alchemical marriage of opposites. There is a reason that today the genre of “cosmic/existential horror” is coined “Lovecraftian horror”, and the Cthulu Mythos is a great fictional exploration of what happens when a darker mythos is venerated for the malevolent and psychotic qualities. What’s more: Lovecraft’s mythos depicts what happens to human faith and innocence when it is met with unshakeable, disturbing questions and discoveries about existence itself. Beyond those who would foolishly venerate psychotic archetypes, the ones that succumb to the abject terror of such existential malevolence are perhaps in worse off.
There tends to be a certain egoic strength found in the early stages of psychosis—there is a narcissistic elevation of the self beyond others that creates the fertile soil for the psychotic break. However, when we have our innocence and faith stripped from us because of abject existential horror, there is no strength. By the mere postulate of the very questions asked, everything is undermined.
Lovecraft’s characters are so often wracked with this existential terror that they have become callous, indifferent to the joys and beauty of the world. Nothing but the torment of their experiences looms over them, and it casts an overwhelming shadow onto all the light they might otherwise see ahead of them.
These are the quintessential pitfalls of the individuation process, and why Jung and his constituents have always warned against the path of a forceful or expedited individuation, like the case of my own experience and even Jung’s. We must all walk the middle path, never too naïve as to ignore the shadow and its inclinations towards pain and ultimate triumph through self-discovery—and at the same time, we must be all the more careful to not look our demons straight in the eye. They are likely to turn us to stone with the callous indifference of a boy flicking an ant off his picnic blanket.
At the time of my email correspondence to Alex, my Romanian magician friend, I was still piecing together these nuances, but I was seeing the overarching picture. Still, I had been the man to look Medusa straight in the eyes through the reflection of my shield, this shield being Ramona, the woman I had once courted. I had not been turned to stone, but I still didn’t know what to do next. Now that I could see it, there was still the task of actually killing the damn monsters in my psyche. I was unsure of what to do. My rocky relationship with Ramona was full of terror and delight, but I have come to see the beauty in Ramona that dwarfs the painful memories. Truly, this beatific nature is the weapon with which such a man strikes Medusa. I had yet to understand this, and so I found myself staring right into the mouth of madness unarmed. Granted, I was not defenseless or helpless, but who goes to slay a savage beast without something akin to the mighty Excalibur? Only a fool—but a fool can think on their feet, whereas the oaf has already sealed their fate.
Hardly oafs, Alex and I took to our foolhardy journey for the weapons to slay our dragons, for what really is the reason of chasing any dragon if you do not intend on slaying it. And, of course, who else holds Excalibur but the lady in the water…
Alex and I continued to email each other back and forth regularly, we played off each other impeccably. While both of us were versed in psychology and the magickal arts, I had a much deeper understanding of the esoteric psychology, and Alex, a much deeper understanding of the classical magickal rites and dictum. Together, we formed a powerful two-man think-tank of swirling ideas, where we shared deeply personal things as we came to know each other better and better. The both of us openly acknowledged that at times a certain therapy was taking place beyond the mere discussions of philosophy. Beyond philosophy, we began to help each other decipher our divinations, as some sort of pseudo-peer review of our studies and experiments. Having already developed a playful habit out of tarot and dream interpretations, I brought this as my working mode of investigation. Alex, much more familiar with classical astrology, began opening my eyes to the deeper, esoteric nuances of this ancient astronomy. (See Chapter Five for the analyses on astrology, tarot, and numerology.
Alex and I even began joking that our conversation was a slowly forming egregore—an autonomous spirit created by the intentional energies of two or more people—and we called this spirit “Moon Child”.
These days, he was telling me about another local magician in his Romanian town—he had learned that this magician had been attempting to hex him, and when Alex confronted him, he admitted to it. So, Alex had been playfully returning the favor by sending this man’s hexes right back at him. It was hilarious to read, because in Alex’s recounting, it never seemed like either person was paranoid or hyper-aggressive, they just seemed to enjoy the sport of it all! It was experimental entertainment to pass the time. Sometimes in such a case, one is working with concrete hypnotic mechanisms, and other times they are just throwing darts at a board with a blindfold, slowly refining their technique. Alex was always good at both tactics, as a good magician should be.
For me, I was just trying to unwind by focusing on my studies and hobbies. It was working well enough, I was social and having genuine fun where I could, but I always felt this looming cloud above me, and when I found myself alone it became overbearing. It was not overtly uncomfortable or ominous, it was just heavy. It was a sorrowful weight—extra baggage that I hadn’t the scarcest idea what to do with. I hadn’t had the energy for dreams lately—my schedule had lately not allowed nearly as much time for sleep. However, this didn’t make the cloud feel any less overbearing, and in some ways my lack of dreams seemed to exacerbate the situation. At least the dreams were slowly chipping away at this unrefined metaspace in my psych— now I was just feeling at a standstill. To account for this, I made good on the opportunities to enjoy the simple pleasures of life where and when I could.
But a dream, like usual, threw me off this rhythm and veered me into an unexpected territory of thinking. It gave a deeper perspective to my existential terror and seemed to be a crucial piece that I had been missing, and humbly awaiting.
I “awoke” on my usual raft, adrift in the middle of the ocean on a hot day. This time I didn’t bother to sit up, I just stared up at the cloudless blue sky. In the stillness, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I hadn’t heard Ramona’s syren songs yet.
“Hey, sailor,” I heard a smooth voice off to my right, dangerously close to my head.
I tensed up and coiled back, seeing Ramona’s head popping up out of the water with a small smile and a deep gaze. “Jesus H. Christ,” I murmured, catching my breath from the heart rate increase. “You scared the piss out of me, fish. Why aren’t you singing?”
She rolled her eyes and rose up from the water, concealing only her tail. “I’m not a fish. And you never listen to my songs anyway. Do you even know what I sing for, sailor?”
As I pondered the question, I noticed a spliff rolled up, resting behind my left ear. I grabbed it, struck a match that I happened to have and inhaled deeply. “You know, I can’t really tell. Are you trying to lull me overboard to eat me or are you just teasing my helpless soul out here?”
She cackled, softly but noticeably. It had a casual frustration that was also notable, yet not entirely off-putting. She gracefully pushed herself up on the raft and sat on the side of it, her tail still draped into the water. The raft titled slightly but surprisingly held the weight quite well, and as I marveled at the mermaid’s newly candid nature, she grabbed the spliff out from between my lips and took herself a deep drag. Holding the smoke in her mouth for a moment, she gazed out to the horizon and let the smoke release, inhaling it then through her nostrils.
I took the opportunity to sit down next to her, my feet now draped in the water as well.
“Why do you think I’m out here, anyway?” she asked me. Suddenly, the Shakespearian vernacular was slackened, and she spoke as candidly as her demeanor seemed. “It never once occurred to you that I might have been trying to help you in some way? Look around, sailor, there’s nothing else out here,” she said it as if being as exasperated as I. Perhaps she really was.
“Where do you come from?” I asked her, taking the spliff that she gestured back to me. “You know how to inhale smoke pretty well for an aquatic life form,” I said with a dry sarcasm.
“I’m from wherever the other mermaids come from. But I haven’t been there for some time. You’re the first person I’ve noticed out here for as long as I can remember.”
“Really? So you’re not trying to eat me?”
She just laughed and slapped my shoulder lightly. “Do you want to get back to land or what?”
“I think that would be best, but… Do you know where the nearest shore is?”
She paused in thought. “I can find one.”
“Will there be other people on that land?” I pressed.
“We’ll find something suitable,” she assured me, open-endedly. I could tell she had a general idea of what she was capable of but was not entirely sure of the immediate options we would yet find.
I just nodded. We had passed the spliff back and forth several times now, and there was around a third of it left. I took another puff. “Can you tell me what I saw last time? When I fell in the water?”
She looked at me directly and said, “You saw your shadow.” She kept her gaze on me, and I peered over to her out of the corners of my vision. I knew the nuances she implied.
“Aren’t you the shadow?” I asked her directly, now turning to meet her gaze. It was cold, steely, but had a sincerity that echoed with empathy.
She took the spliff back from me. “I have been, but that was circumstantial. I don’t need to be the shadow, I am something you can still come to learn about. There are other things that you will never understand, but I am right here.”
The sudden shift in tone was starting to dawn on me. My concept of the shadow had matured, refining its symbolic tones. This conversation was the mere articulation of it all finally beginning to bubble to the surface.
Returning the spliff to me, I took one more puff before putting it out on the wooden raft and tucking the roach in my pocket. “What do you get out of helping me?”
She sighed and replied, “I can’t remember how to get home. I can find a shoreline easily enough, but the directions home are so blurry, and its so dark down there… I can make light but it still makes navigation tricky. Maybe when you find a shore you can find knowledge to help me get home.”
I looked at her, then slowly out to the horizon, then lastly to the water we floated in. I had been out at sea for so long… Did I even care about making it back? It certainly felt like I should be more enthralled by the proposition of the shoreline. But what kind of deal would I be making here? What other choices did I have? The look in her eyes was something I couldn’t shake—it felt as though she was not an adversary, she was some sort of peer. Was I really going to leave an innocent creature out here to die because I had given up on myself? I couldn’t. “Sure. If we find the shore, I’ll help you in any way I can. I give you my word.”
She smiled, and with that, effortlessly slid back into the water. “Get some rest, sailor. We’ll pick this back up next time.” She pecked me on the cheek with a casual but affectionate kiss, and I waved goodbye with a smirk.
To end the dream, I took my feet out of the water, repositioned myself on my back at the center of the raft, and stared up at the sky.
At some point after this, I woke up, staring at my ceiling that was streaked with sunlight through the blinds. After taking a moment of restful silence, I sat up at my bedside and lit half of a joint from the nearby ashtray. Next, I grabbed a pen and my journal and began writing the dream down. Towards the end of my entry, it occurred to me what I should do next. Oftentimes, I would perform a tarot reading for the sake of experimentation with my dream interpretations, but today I would use something else.
I had been reading about Jung’s fascination with the ancient Taoist I Ching and had recently read about how to perform the divinations that the I Ching described. Traditionally used by casting yarrow stalks and interpreting a binary code of either a solid of broken line, depending on how the stalks fell, the Taoists cast the yarrow like dice six times to create a hexagram that has a comprehensive symbolic analysis that scholars have spent lifetimes studying. In essence, the Taoists saw this as interpreting the forces of the Tao itself—the metaphysical force that binds the Microcosm with the Macrocosm.
Today, people use coins. Cast three coins six times, and decipher six lines, solid or broken, to decipher the Tao’s relationship to you in that moment. Granted, the ancient Taoists took this study very seriously and considered it sacred, so to use it as a parlor trick is likely to give poor results. But at the times in our lives when we search for answers most genuinely, certain decipherments of chance can prove to have boundless insight. Certainly, I have made quite a reductionist overview of this Taoist divination, and for the reader to learn the finer methods of its performance, I recommend the litany of literature on the subject.
After writing my dream down, I cast the pennies on the desk beside me. It was a broken line. I cast them again, and upon seeing another broken line, I snuffed the butt of my joint. The third time, another broken line, and so the fourth as well. I was growing a little concerned, for I could only imagine that six broken lines could mean something like having a door wide open—a sense of vulnerability I could not afford amidst the open water.
Thankfully, the fifth line remained solid and strong, and I was notably relieved. The sixth however, was broken, seeming to suggest to me that despite a larger sense of vulnerability, something remained strong and unwavering.
The hexagram I had drawn is called Pi, and it is described by Union. The upper trigram, the Macrocosm, is symbolized by “the Abysmal; Water”. And the lower trigram, the Microcosm, is symbolized by “the Receptive; Earth”.
I felt a sudden drop in the pit of my stomach as I read about this hexagram and its symbolisms in a book I owned. It was intense, as if being touched by an intangible, indescribable presence. It felt gripping, like a fight-or-flight response, with the relieving exception of danger. There was no ominous note, it was more like an epiphany of grand proportions that slapped me into focus and pointed me further in the right direction. It was the Shoreline! And the symbolisms of the trigram further noted that land was the direction I ought to venture, giving me more of a direct answer to the dream than I had ever anticipated.
I looked up from the book and cackled in delight. “Holy shit! Land, ho! Land, ho, you motherfuckers!” I could feel a glint in my eye, if that makes any sense—there was something special happening. It was as if, after searching through a massive ring of keys, I was finally hearing the tumbler of the lock roll open. I had found that with which I would slay the dragon, and it had come from none other than the lady in the water.
Of course, I was not home-free yet, I was only assured that my intentions were thus far right-minded. Wisdom through right-minded action gives the warrior his blade and makes its aim true. But this answer, as any surely do, brings about further questions that I knew I would have to carefully, carefully decipher and interpret. Between the dream and the hexagram, there was still a great deal of symbolic interpretation to be done—and this could only be enacted through careful study and contemplation.
Although I was less aware of this at the moment, it appears that my friendship with Alex had successfully created a butterfly effect, allowing me enough psychological distance from my problem to view it from a greater scope. Thus, I pinpointed the shadow more acutely, and instead of it being a tormentor, it became through Alex a guide similar to Virgil guiding Dante. With this alignment, I came to see the inklings of Ramona’s beatific nature—meaning that of Beatrice the angel, that beckons Dante to go forth on his journey through hell, purgatory, heaven and beyond.
Most assuredly, the mystical experiences noted from taking different psychedelic chemicals are part of this quintessential motif. The reasons psychedelics are not recommended by esotericists, beyond perhaps an initiation, is because they are extremely double-edged. The variables present when consuming a psychedelic are so vast that they are practically innumerable, and the side effects can either be beatific (leading us out of our painful habits and memories) or they can be horrific (leading us into our painful habits and memories).
It is here that we are forced to consider, for many reasons, what is implied by the rules of the psychedelic that are “Proper Set and Setting.” You must have the right environment physically and mentally in order to bring about the proper results, and what such a proper set and setting may be for effective therapy is something that will be analyzed at length to the end of this novel.
Really, though, psychedelics are a segue into something lesser understood, and much less juvenile. What the set and setting of a psychedelic trip imply are ritual and ceremony. Let us pick apart what Alex and I initially opened in the prior chapter.
Rituals, in the archetypal sense, are presupposed axioms of a subjective nature that reflects the environment—they are an adaptation. Those who reach for the coffee early in the morning have ritualized the necessity of needing energy upon waking up—and the act of brewing and drinking their coffee is thus the ceremony. The ceremony, more directly, is the prescription given by the ritual, and is meant to highlight the significance of the ritual in a personalized, Microcosmic way.
So let’s cut to the chase here… Swinging a pocket-watch in front of someone’s eyes and suggesting how sleepy they’ve become, throwing coins, drawing cards, lighting candles, et cetera, are all hypnotic cues, meant to draw a person inward towards a state of inward reflection that mimics a state of sensory deprivation. They are ways of inducing inward states of lucidity, and the nature of the hypnotic cues we use dictates the language of the hypnotic suggestion and results thereof.
They are “mental prescriptions”, “rules-of-thumb” to the aspects of the unconscious mind that we are attempting to interact with. By using symbolic archetypal cues with the intention of “invoking” the unconscious states of the mind, if we have trained our minds to a certain extent and have used cues that work best in our brains, then we may induce auto-hypnotic neurophenomenology. In more scientific terms, we are using carefully refined archetypes to illicit and deduce specific chemical exchanges within our neurological network. It is likely that this is not all we are doing, but this is certainly one of the results.
Due to the nature of hypnosis, the basic mechanisms of the intuitive imagination, and the intentions behind the “ritual”, this neurophenomenology will manifest itself pictorially, as a meditative vision—a dream-state induced within the mental voidness of the ritualized ceremony, whether it be theurgy, meditation, prayer, or even clinical therapy. These visions can be anything from the sense of epiphany I received while deciphering my hexagram, all the way to full-on visionary journeys in dreams, meditation, and sometimes on psychedelic chemicals, of course.
While formulating our intentions and hypnotic cues for ceremonial rites, it is important to lastly consider the efficacy of the magickal sigil in this process. A sigil is a psychological cryptogram—a pictorial representation of various geometric patterns, meant to convey hypnotic suggestions. The sigil is a veiled intention of the magician’s will during their ceremony and is meant to be a symbol or glyph of the unconscious mind’s current chosen goal. In more classical magickal terms, sigils typically referred to a classical pictorial-glyph “signature” of gods, angels, and demons that a magician was attempting to evoke with theurgy. With today’s understanding of archetypal symbolism within the unconscious, the idea of the “pictorial signature” has taken on a new and personalized tool for psychodynamic analysis, which of course never strays far from the classical sigils of theurgy.
In reality, this state of events does not have to be something so esoteric as “invoking an angel or demon”—these are the mechanisms of clinical hypnosis, the “ecstatic visions” of the priests and monks throughout time. These are also the same mechanisms of the artists, whether they write music, literature, or paint, et cetera. It is the idea of cultivating a state of mind through a combination of the mental and physical environments, so that we can reach a state of psychological activity that we would not otherwise be able to achieve.
Just like a person should stretch their muscles before and/or after exercising, the same can be said of the psychological, and the idea of “ritual” is the idea of psychological stretching before serious psychological feats. The more we grow accustomed to these mental feats of ceremony, or the more naturally inclined we are to them, the less “stretching” we will have to do. Eventually, the “mental prescriptions” of the candle, et cetera, have the potential to become entirely unnecessary (although some classical occultists would disagree with this). As discussed in the prior chapter, all these mental prescriptions are essentially techniques for psychological “priming”. To prime means that exposure to one stimulus elicits the response of another stimulus without conscious effort—it is playing on the unconscious mechanisms.
William James stated the same principles in different ways with his work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, writing, “As a matter of psychological fact, mystical states of a well-pronounced and emphatic sort are usually authoritative over those who have them. They have been ‘there,’ and know. It is vain for rationalism to grumble about this. If the mystical truth that comes to a man proves to be a force that he can live by, what mandate have we of the majority to order him to live in another way? We can throw him into a prison or a madhouse, but we cannot change his mind—we commonly attach it only the more stubbornly to its beliefs.” [p. 414]
He also wrote, poignantly, “Such rapid abolition of ancient impulses and propensities reminds us so strongly of what has been observed as the result of hypnotic suggestion that it is difficult not to believe that subliminal influences play the decisive part in these abrupt changes of heart, just as they do in hypnotism…” [p. 264]
Through these articulated and simplified explanations, the reader can very clearly see how hypnotic mechanisms and religious rites (such as prayer, meditation, and general ritual and ceremony) are implicitly the same phenomena.
Candidly, I am surprised that the realm of hypnosis as a study seems to be limited today to either (a) clinical work like inducing states of analgesia or helping someone quit cigarettes, or (b) strange and unsubstantial fringe-work like “past life regressions” and “alien abduction experiences”. It is time that hypnosis be taken more seriously and considered for the tool it really is. I propose that as a best-case scenario, any psychotherapist should be ready, willing, and able to guide any patient through hypnotic sessions that are fueled and centered around archetypal imagery. The interpretations should be left up to the patient overall, but the therapist’s primary modes of help here should be helping the patient produce the data of imagery from their interaction with their unconscious, and also helping them categorize and contextualize the data a bit so that the patient leaves the session with a sense of direction—images for the emotions, as Jung would say.
There surely is a reason that theurgy, prayer, and meditation have survived throughout history, and I assert that the mechanisms at play here are adaptations of the cerebral cortex through dreams and hypnosis. But how can we apply this to the realms of medicine and therapy? I think it is time that professionals and private citizens alike all begin asking themselves these types of questions.
Interestingly, within Memories, Dreams, Reflections Jung divulges and elaborates many personal stories he refrained from discussing during his career. Many of these elaborations include what could hardly be considered anything less than un-orthodox ritual work, similar to the work of proto-chaos magician, Austin Osman Spare:
“Every evening I wrote very conscientiously, for I thought if I did not write, there would be no way for the anima to get at my fantasies. Also, by writing them out I gave her no chance to twist them into intrigues. There is a tremendous difference between intending to tell something and actually telling it. In order to be as honest as possible with myself, I wrote everything down very carefully, following the old Greek maxim: ‘Give away all that thou hast, then shalt thou receive.’ …What the anima said seemed to me full of a deep cunning. If I had taken these fantasies of the unconscious as art, they would have carried no more conviction than visual perceptions, as if I were watching a movie. I would have felt no moral obligation toward them. The anima might then have easily seduced me into believing that I was a misunderstood artist, and that my so-called artistic nature gave me the right to neglect reality. If I had followed her voice, she would in all probability have said to me one day, ‘do you imagine the nonsense you’re engaged in is really art? Not a bit.’ Thus the insinuations of the anima, the mouthpiece of the unconscious, can utterly destroy a man. In the final analysis the decisive factor is always consciousness, which can understand the manifestations of the unconscious and take up a position toward them… Today, I no longer need these conversations with the anima, for I no longer have such emotions. But if I did have them, I would deal with them in the same way… I wrote these fantasies down first in the Black Book; later I transferred them to the Red Book, which I always embellished with drawings.” [Memories, Dreams Reflections p. 186-88]
When probing for the archetypes within our minds, and creating our own personal mythologies of adaptation, we must remember to firstly remain unflinching and unfiltered with our analyses of ourselves, and secondly, we must remember to never bite off more than we can chew. The more ideas a person is forced to reconcile into their diachronic narrative or personal mythology, the more anti-thesis they are allowing into their lives. This is healthy and even necessary in certain doses but can quickly turn poisonous if not careful. When engaging in such extensive psychotherapeutic, archetypal activities, let us remember to always do so in the name of altruism—what is best for ourselves and others together—and let us do so without convolution and obfuscation within our minds. Be clear and resolute in commitment.
What’s more, let us remember that the deeper we dig, the more we shall find. But a human being must set their own limits, otherwise they will find no end, becoming lost in a maze instead of finding the map. We must all have the courage to change what we can, and the strength to accept what we currently cannot—without forgetting that our aspirations need no limits, so long as they do not infringe upon another person’s free will to achieve their own actualization.
Some weeks after the dream, I received a message from Ramona. I knew that I was inevitably going to be speaking with her again, but I wasn’t sure the best approach. I still cared for her deeply but was now beginning to suspect that the inklings of romance were some sort of trick of the syren. I needed to come to know Ramona in the way that she was, not just how I had come to see her. Something was amiss within me—my mind could not let go of this woman, my muse, and it could imply nothing other than unresolved business of a nature that I had scarcely considered. And there was something inside her too, a little voice that she couldn’t silence—perhaps the voice of her animus, the Great Father, urging her in similar ways to reconcile unresolved business.
She told me she had been thinking about me. I didn’t probe, instead I discussed pleasantries. I asked how she’d been, what she’d been doing lately, and how her college classes had been going. She spoke with a reserved openness, as if she chose her words carefully and was allowing a certain amount of intimacy to seep through. It was not mere pleasantries, there was something on her mind. After perhaps an hour of messaging each other back and forth, she withdrew for another few days. I eventually suggested that we get some coffee and catch up, unsure of where he boyfriend was in this unfolding scenario.
She agreed to get some coffee and apologized for not being very conversational lately. She had been going through a break-up.
Suddenly, it was like I had smacked my forehead against the mirror of my psyche, splitting it down the middle. My heart leapt and shouted; I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Could it all be so seamless? But my mind recoiled and sneered; surely this was a pitfall of a fool in the making. I couldn’t believe that something could be so seamless, there was clearly an error in my emotional feedback. A glitch I had to work out of the system. However, the real problem was that both “voices” within me seemed equally sure of themselves, and I for the life of me could not tell of the right answer was one, the other, or some nuanced mixture of both. I would have to speak with Ramona and investigate further. I did not have enough data on hand to solve these new riddles.
We met for coffee a week later, and we both seemed to experience of a sense of cautious optimism. Ramona was a strong, empowered woman without being imposing at all. But she had an extreme emotional timidity. I remember smirking as I felt like a man trying to creep up on a deer to pet it—I had to move in what felt to me like slow motion—one wrong move could send her bolting through the trees, never to be seen again.
Nothing strong was said, it was casual, yet open. We dared not probe too deeply with our questions to each other, but the ones we did ask were met with honesty. A friendship was being reestablished. She smiled often, and each time it melted my heart. I remember the rush I experienced during that time drinking coffee—seeing her smile again was greater than anything else I had felt in so long.
And in her eyes, I saw the same steely coldness as that of the mermaid’s, both echoing a sense of empathy for me. It was exactly how I felt about her—and through the eyes there was a sense of a bond, an unspoken acknowledgement of something that went so far beyond the mundane. It wasn’t necessarily romantic either—it was primal, archetypal, like we were both helping each other peek behind Oz’s curtain. There was a sense of unfolding mystery, and I wasn’t the only one to feel it.
The week after, we spoke on the phone for several hours, and it seemed like we were beginning to trek once more through old territory, although nothing had yet become direct.
She complained quite often about her workload, on a full-ride scholarship that required her to maintain something like five classes at a time.
I offered to help her study, and on her next day off I found myself in her living room, buried with her in a mound of college textbooks and loose papers. I think I might have helped her study for eight hours, leaving in the dark of night, but it had been one of the greatest days of my life. The conversations shared between us are not particularly relevant in a novel like this, but that these conversations were carried out is of great importance. The smiles, the blushes, the safety, it was something that felt sacred. It was powerful, tangible, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I remained skeptical, but the beauty of the moment left it difficult to remain firmly grounded. As I left, we made plans for me to come over at the same time, one week from then.
This became a weekly ritual for me that lasted nearly a full semester of school for her, sometimes missing a week here and there. I relished in my ceremonial duty to Ramona, it all felt so right and yet I couldn’t understand it. I shouldn’t have tried so hard to decipher. I should have let it be, for this desire within me to crack some sort of symbolic code within our relationship became something too literal to me at the time. I struggled to separate the woman from the beatific archetype.
In the moment, I could push the feeling aside easily enough, but it would never leave. I couldn’t shake the sense that I had a riddle to solve. Was this romance, friendship, or a lie? What I felt inside told me that I could spend the rest of my life with her, but I was far too skeptical to take this at face value. Still, though, my polarized motivations made it hard for me to accept the vulnerability of it all. I felt exposed, hanging out in the open, and I desperately wanted to know what environment I was in so that I could adequately prepare for it.
Throughout the weeks, I eventually performed some tarot readings for her, and we tossed some coins around for the I Ching, talked philosophy and mused about astrology, had long conversations about existentialism and what it all means—whether or not we fade into black or reincarnate once more throughout the time-space.
On one such occasion, I cautiously opened a more personal dialogue. “Remember when you told me you thought we’d met in another life?”
She looked up from her laptop as she emailed her professor the assignment we had just finished. It was late now, and we had both been drinking some wine. I was sure I’d be driving home soon, so I’d laid off the alcohol, but still felt its sleepy afterglow.
“Yeah,” she said. “Why?”
“What do you think about that now?” I asked her. “You were the first person to really get me thinking about an idea like that. I don’t know what to make of it in the long run, but I think if we do meet people from lifetime to lifetime, we’re probably an example of it,” I said with a smirk.
Now she closed her laptop and looked at me, sipping wine all the while. She was studying me, wondering where I was taking it all, just as I was doing to her. We both could so cunningly see through each other’s personas, yet neither of us could tell what was happening.
“I think you’re right. It’s pretty weird how we met. We don’t even talk to Kahlil much anymore, but if it wasn’t for him we would’ve never met. And if it wasn’t for your, um… uh…” she struggled to find the words as she thought.
“It was the dream, yeah,” I finished for her. We locked eyes again, and it was something that gripped me as it did each time. It was hypnotic. “You still believe me about the dream, right?” My cautious question caused me to avert my gaze suddenly.
, “Since it wasn’t my dream,” she said with a smile. “I don’t know what happened, but if it wasn’t for your dream in the festival, we would’ve never met. That’s pretty much true in any case.”
I smirked, “It was a carnival, but yeah, same difference.” Despite my better judgement, I was nearly ready to tell her about my dreams of the mermaid and would have if she hadn’t spoken up once more.
“Anthony, thank you so much. For everything.”
“Everything as in: all of the school work, or…?”
She smiled and said no. “Thank you for everything, as in everything. I’ve never been able to talk to anyone the way I talk to you, and no one has ever understood me the way you do. It’s so weird, like we have the same thoughts sometimes…” She stared off into open space, focusing on the words as they came. “You’ve told me some of the sweetest things anyone has ever said to me, and you seem to say them at the right times. You’re like my guardian angel. The light in my dark places…” she drifted off, seeming to realize the greater significance of the words as the rang in the open air, and growing nervous because of it.
My heart seemed to skip a beat. I really wanted to know what was happening. Was my angel telling me that I was her angel? Do dreams come true? I had to open up a bit more, there wasn’t another choice. “Do you know anything about the Divine Comedy? It’s the story of Dante being called by the angel to journey through hell and heaven.”
She raised a curious eyebrow. “What about it?”
Hmm… Well, what about it, indeed? How did I want to progress with this? “Well… we both know that when you and I first met, I was kind of a mess. A bit rough around the edges with bad habits. But when I met you, I felt something I haven’t ever felt before—it was like a glimpse of myself through you. I could suddenly see a little more clearly the person I had always been trying to be. Then, when we decided it wasn’t working, it felt like a hole had been torn in me. More than just a broken heart—it felt like I had lost that piece of a better me. I had seen it through my relationship with you, and I didn’t know how to see it elsewhere. It was painful and it made me all the rougher for a while. But, eventually, while I kind of wallowed in a hell, I realized something. It had been a hell inside of me that was around long before you were, and when you left, it just made it worse. So it was easy to make you out to be the problem. Really, though… you were like my angel, like Beatrice calling me through hell and guiding me to heaven.” I didn’t cry, but my face felt red-hot. “What’s more, Dante modeled the character of Beatrice off his, um… real-life muse, basically. Her name was Beatrice too, and they never married or anything, but they always had this deep, sort of romantic reverence for each other from afar. They couldn’t really be together, but it always lingered, and she was in Dante’s dreams ‘n stuff…” I drifted off, realizing that I could quickly begin a ramble if I wasn’t careful.
But it had worked. She was blushing a deep, bright red. We met each other’s gaze for a moment, only to both look away quickly.
Oh, God, I thought. This is it. This is the moment where you either try to kiss her or you don’t. Something is happening right now and its either going to be a swing or a miss—the ball’s already in play. My polarized motivations were screaming incoherently inside me. My heart screamed to kiss, and my mind screamed to quit while I was ahead. Was this the song of the syren, or the beatific whispers from above? Whatever was going on, I had to act with the swiftness and cunning of a hero—I had to wield my weapon and slay the dragon. It stood before me, metaphorically, towering over the moment.
I drew my allegorical blade, sized up the monster of the situation, and took a deep breath.
I went in for the kill.
Our lips interlaced and I pulled her onto my lap. It was a deep, enveloping kiss that was no mere peck, but something drawn-out, conveying the fires of a passion that burned bright. My arms around her waist, her arms around my neck… time was completely meaningless in that moment. It was nearly transcendent. Then, instead of a steady spiral into a wild night, we both stopped for a moment and smiled.
She then rolled her eyes in sudden realization. “Anthony, I’m sorry but I gotta go to sleep. I have class tomorrow.”
“Say no more,” I told her and stood up. I considered this a triumph, and I didn’t need to press any further. “I’ll get outta here for now.”
“I’ll call you,” she said before we kissed one more time.
Obviously, I left that night with an ecstatic feeling, but this feeling was eventually only to be met with a greater sense of existential horror. The next week she cancelled our study session, and when I tried to call her and chat, she did not answer. Over several days, I kept trying to get a hold of her, unwilling to accept that I had stepped on a branch and scared the deer away. After all, she had been just as willing as I in the moment.
After no response from Ramona, I tried to stop by her house one night, only to find that no one was home anyway. It seemed to so perfectly timed that it came across like a sign sent from the cosmos: regroup and cut your losses, kid. You are not yet prepared for what lays ahead.
I remember walking away from Ramona’s empty doorstep, accepting defeat, letting the weight of the existential emptiness pump through me unfiltered. The joys I had so recently experienced were now all the more baffling and painful, and I scolded myself relentlessly for being so foolish. The kiss had clearly fed the beast, not killed it.
I choked in the moment that I had worked so tirelessly for, and now none if it seemed to matter. I had not only failed myself, but failed Ramona as well. I was ashamed and couldn’t tell what the next step was. For the time being, I just sought to numb my pain through cannabis, alcohol, and research. Perhaps my dreams would come to my aid, but that seemed to leave me in a position of passivity. I felt I had to do something, and still I couldn’t yet make sense of what to do next. It all seemed so fruitless, and I couldn’t understand how, precisely, I had erred. The overall scope was clear enough, but the details seemed hopelessly blurry.
But, through conversations with Alex, it finally occurred to me that there was no other option—I knew now that there was only ever one place to go for the answers I sought. They could not come from Ramona, and somewhere therein lied my error. The answers I sought came from deep within. All other ways pointed to this, whether directly or indirectly. I had to summon my anima—I had to lasso the moon.
I challenged the syren head-on and had lived to tell the tale. But I was no better off for it. I felt further away from my goal than ever before—like I had lost opportunities that could never be reclaimed. But I had seen something that I would never forget. The steely coldness in the stare of the mermaid and the physical Ramona herself, seemed to touch something deep inside of me that was timeless. It was a glimpse beyond the natural mundane consciousness, a taste of something far more transpersonal than average life, and deeply intrinsic to the human experience. It echoed through the annals of history, a young man and the muse whose grace he revered.
I will end this chapter with a quote from HP Lovecraft’s Beyond the Wall of Sleep. Still somewhat horrifying at times, it is easily one of Lovecraft’s most inspiring, perhaps even uplifting stories. In it, a scientist, through a sort of “cosmic radio device” is able to communicate with a soul as it leaves a dying man’s body, laying in a bed. The man and cosmic entity look at one another, through the mirror of a dying man’s eyes, and the entity says to the scientist, “I am an entity like that which you yourself become in the freedom of dreamless sleep. I am your brother of light and have floated with you in the effulgent valleys. It is not permitted me to tell your waking earth-self of your real self, but we are all roamers of vast spaces and travelers in many ages. Next year I may be dwelling in the dark Egypt which you call ancient, or in the cruel empire of Tsan-Chan which is to come three thousand years hence. You and I have drifted to the worlds that reel about the red Arcturus, and dwelt in the bodies of the insect-philosophers that crawl proudly over the fourth moon of Jupiter. How little does the earth-self know of life and its extent! How little, indeed, ought it to know for its own tranquillity!”
I am not sure what, ultimately, is to happen after a person dies. But if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I cannot help but still feel that I have met Ramona many times and will continue to do so. In any case, I can say with certainly that my experiences with her echo something transcendent, timeless, and gracefully humbling. It dipped into the vast unconscious network and helped us both glimpse some of the archetypal patterns that exist between human beings, and I realized undeniably that some things in the cosmos never change.
Chapter Ten Coming Soon…
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