The sparrows…have accepted even harsher limitations to achieve even more spectacular results. Like most birds, they have embraced many limits and traded in a galaxy of other possibilities in exchange for the supreme achievement of flight. Every cell in their bodies is shaped by the demands of life in the air…they are masters of a single trade, and its requirements are strict enough that every other option has dropped away.
-John Micheal Greer’s Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Chapter Four: The Law of Limits (44-45)
You know, this post has been sitting for a while now, all written up but I was unsatisfied with it for some reason. Attempts at editing didn’t help, something about it just felt wrong, there was something I wanted to say about limits and taboos but it wasn’t coming together.
One part of my daily routine (and I feel I can talk about that more now that it has firmly established itself) is divination, a single tarot card. I had never seen the point of doing that on a daily basis, after all most people’s lives don’t change that drastically from day to day, mine perhaps less than most, so wouldn’t it just be the same thing over and over again? But hey, that’s what the experts I read say should be part of your basic foundation, along with some daily ritual and meditation (or, for me, grounding, centering and shielding plus devotional practice, offerings and time spent with the gods) so okay, I’ll give it a go. And I’ve found that yes, indeed things don’t change that much from day to day, but there is something oddly gratifying in seeing those consistent patterns developing (oh, look, it’s working!).
Then there are the times when you pull the same damn card every day for an entire week like it’s the only one in the deck (no, it’s not a bad shuffle, I know how to shuffle cards, and either way I never pick from the top of the deck). Some message here, but what the hell is it? You slowly work it out, the general idea first then the specific it’s applying to; you make a move in the right direction, stumble, and the card the next day tells you it’s not good enough; fuck off completely the following day and you get that first card again, stuck to an even uglier one that all but screams I’m getting sick of your shit.
I may need to be told more than once, but I’m not that thick. And so here I am, knowing what I need to say and this post still has the same title and the same quote, but the rest of it is very different. This is both to really cement it to myself and make something of a public vow that I will be making those needed cuts to my life to avoid mental miasma, so I can be better in tune with the gods.
There has been a lot of that going on lately, paring down, focusing. Much of it has not had to come down from on high, they’re decisions I’ve made for myself because I realized after a time it was the right thing for me to do. I’ve been living a fairly monkish existence for a little while now, been in this city almost a year and I don’t know anyone here apart from nearby relatives, I’ve made no effort to change that nor wanted to. I’ve not been a total hermit as I once was, I’ve engaged plenty with the city itself, with the nearby ocean, but not with other people, and that mostly goes for online as well. I won’t say definitely never, you never say that where Hermes might hear it, but unless and until something falls out of the sky and into my lap, this is how it is and where I need to be.
I haven’t been very good at that, being where I need to be; I spent a long time trying to live against my nature, thinking it was just what I had to do. When Hermes had me uprooted from my family’s home and out into the world, I don’t think I handled that transition well. All of a sudden (and it was sudden, it took a month) I was in a completely different place and I don’t just mean a city I’d never been to, and there seemed to be a lot more opportunities available to me that had never been on my radar before. Well, other people live like this, I told myself, very easily too, it’s just the way it goes. I tried to adapt as I had done every time my life changed on me (changes that were usually temporary and highly volatile), and it worked for a while but it wasn’t going to work indefinitely, not for me and not for the people I was mingling with; I do not fit in, very obviously, and even when that fact is consciously acknowledged it can still create long term strain within the group, let alone when everyone’s ignoring it (me because I’m still finding my footing too late in life, them because…well, because maybe you’re not as all welcoming and open minded as you like to think you are, but fuck honesty, you’re just going to keep on telling yourself otherwise while your frustration shows up in other ways). I’d never gotten anywhere that close to a normal life before (and it wasn’t even that close, with all the spirit workers and druids and the large number of interestingly, and sometimes frighteningly crazy people that passed in and out of my home), I found I couldn’t do it, and those opportunities started naturally going away.
I also finally got an idea of what my life looked like from the outside. You don’t always know that, if you’re far off the beaten track, far out of the world and only ever meeting people in the same fucked up boat as you, you might have an idea but you don’t really know until you come across a fleet of very different ships. Now I knew, and with that knowledge in mind I could watch everything contracting back into its proper shape, those opportunities I’d thought I’d seen at first proving to be mirages after all; life turned out to be a long corridor with every door sealed shut save one, the door Hermes was standing in front of. And that brought out anger and resentment, which was allowed to take over during the crisis time when my mind snapped and I had little else. Because gods damn it that wasn’t fair (and no, it’s not, but life isn’t fair and it never pretended to be). Anger and resentment driving me to waste my time banging against those sealed doors, like I could somehow force them to open through sheer will power. I won’t say it was all failure though it mostly was, but whatever wins I managed to tear free were always so small, so insignificant compared to the immense amount of effort I put into achieving them, and the further immense effort required to hold on to them, it was never worth it.
But of course it was never about wanting those doors opened, not about the things I didn’t have or the opportunities I was not given. No, it was about not having been given the chance to decide, about feeling herded down that single corridor; even that feeling, and the urge to fight against it that it brought, was more about proving something, to the world or myself I’m not sure. The saner part of me knew this couldn’t keep going, something had to be done, the hardest thing for a stubborn asshole like me to do when I’ve got my fists up and my heels dug in: total and complete acceptance.
Assume that this is it, I’d said to myself, over and over, until it sunk into my brain, this is the shape of your life, the patterns have all been set, no radical change is coming, you will never be given any more cards to play than what you have right now. Find a way to live with that. Keep to your box. Play the hand you were dealt.
If that hand contains only one playable card, the God card is nothing to sneeze at, and I wouldn’t trade it away, not for the Career, Family, Quiet House in the Suburbs and Private Yacht card master set. I never lost sight of that, it was never a question that, when the time came to make those hard choices, I’d still be on this path. Even when doubts were growing that I could ever go as far as other people were with it. I’d see the people I knew online, what they were talking about (the ones I believed, and still do), and I’d think to myself, and if you laugh at this believe me I’m laughing at myself now – if I had the sort of signal clarity that was more reliable, more consistent, more immediate, more like what they’re talking about, it would be so much easier to sacrifice everything for it.
Yes, I know, you have to put the work into that, moron. But it’s not that, that’s the secondary lesson in this fable. I never realized, back then, how much of my limited supply of energy was going into just getting through my day to day life and all the interactions that required: a multitude of room mates, both an online and in person large community I was trying to be an active part of, so many people every damn day with barely a break in between. And I’m sure it doesn’t sound like all that much to the more socially oriented types (which is the vast majority of humanity, I am an anomaly and I do know that), but it was well past too much for me. That I had the signal clarity I did, back then on the fraction of mental power I had left to spare, is amazing; the improvements that have come in just a short time of regular every day multiple times a day practice with most of my attention and energy has been even more incredible. I could, in all likelihood, progress far in this path, if I take all that will power that I once wasted living out of place, or trying to tear down impassible barriers, and put it to real use instead.
There are many reasons why the gods might request other aspects of your life be sacrificed or restricted, but one very simple, easy to understand one is just a matter of time and energy. We all have limited supplies of it, the further you spread it out the less is going into each individual thing; for a lot of things that might be fine, but some things require more energy if you want to do them even marginally well. If you want to be, say, a top surgeon or an Olympic athlete, we understand such people are not going to have much of a social life because everything is going into learning and perfecting their craft; that’s a reason not a lot of people pursue those careers (not the only, by far, but one of them), they’re not willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and no one blames them for it. You have to really want it, really want to succeed, to be willing to risk or give up so much else; in my own observation over the years, that sort of dedicated passion is in very short supply.
Easy to understand, I say, but the fact has always been (and probably still is) that a lot of Pagans have a hard time accepting that. They want to believe religion is the single grand exception, where all paths are all equally easily accessible to all people. But I’m not here to shake my head at the Pagan community, just acknowledging the attitude and saying I don’t agree. Like the above quote says, which I left up because I really liked it, hard limits are a part of the way things work, part of natural law and you all like nature, right? (that it was birds was interesting, I do have a minor spiritual fascination with them, the name Hermes gave me is a bird name, so them being the example of hard limits for great power, adds another dimension to it)
Silence, another important factor, you need silent time in order to give the gods an opportunity to get through. I have a slight advantage there, I’m far less internet dependent than it seems so many people are: I never got into social media, my cell phone is not online, and I can wait in line, wait for a bus, take a short ride while absorbed in my own thoughts without needing (or wanting) some distraction. Television though. Oh man, I used to have it on all the time when I was at home, even if I was barely watching it, even if it was something I’d seen a million times already and didn’t give a shit about. For a time there, I didn’t think I could function without some background noise.
Again, I didn’t need anything to come down from on high, I made that choice myself. Odd maybe, but it happened when we cut cable and started streaming instead. Before, I had a limited number of channels (let’s say thirty that were actually worth watching) and within those limits I could always choose something that would be tolerable; suddenly the options weren’t limited, we have everything, so now, what do you want to watch? And you know what, most of the time I could not be assed to hunt through unlimited options to find something to just brainlessly stare at; days would go by while the TV sat unused and I found I didn’t miss it as much as I once thought I would. Which isn’t to say I don’t watch television at all anymore, it means I watch it more deliberately; I watch shows because I want to see them, not because they happen to be on.
I had said, previously, that I once expected Hermes would take far more control over how I live my life as things got more intense, but then it didn’t happen and it was a cause of some distress. It may be just as well, I don’t think I was ready to accept it, that I may have needed the experience to really understand why things have to be the way they are, the point and purpose of taboos and limitations. And it may be that it’s always better I come to the right conclusions on my own, without needing to be told, that I learn my limits and make the conscious choice, over and over, to stay the path, and shed anything that’s getting in my way.
But it is true, the closer you get to the gods, the more they intrude on your life; limitations and taboos are part and parcel of these paths and it was very premature to declare that it wasn’t coming. Even in a short amount of time of regular every day several times a day practice, it’s started to come. Points get raised as they’re needed, things branch out, the uncomplicated basics I started out with grow and little rules start to appear.
(There are also some grey areas, where I’m not sure if I should be calling it a taboo. Like my diet, that I was pointed toward by the gods in a rare moment of clarity back during the bad years. It’s seemingly common for food taboos to come up, and I’ve always credited the gods with the adoption of that diet, but my diet needed to be changed for other health related reasons, and the times being what they were, I was never sure if it was just this will help you lose weight or if there was more to it than that. As a side note, I’ve been making my way through Phillippe Borgeaud’s The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece for other reasons, and there are ideas in there about food and the ancient mindset that could shed an interesting light on my chosen diet and what it might imply, but that’s a rumination for another time)
And now here we are, with the first hard line in the sand, where he needs to step in and taboo me away from something that I was not self selecting out of. I’m not going to say exactly what, not because it’s a big secret but because of the potential for public bullshit if I do (I am trying to get away from this crap, not attract more of it to me). There are things in the world I’ve paid more attention to than I need to, that I think it served a purpose once, helped me understand a few things, solidify my beliefs, learn that where I do and do not find common ground can and has shifted. It’s long since lost it’s purpose, I know that but I haven’t walked away from it.
He wasn’t kidding about the mental miasma I’ve been accruing. I can feel it, now that it’s been pointed out. The first day after that out of patience tarot reading, I paid more attention to my thought patterns throughout the day, I can see how it’s a distraction, I can see how it affects my mood, it’s won more momentum than I am comfortable with.
It’ll be a big change, that will further limit where I can go online (not just the obvious places, like there is a movie review site I used to visit that I realize now I won’t be able to go to anymore – just as well, really, I’d grown disgusted with that site some time ago and just haven’t yet made the effort to find a viable alternative so I can still keep an eye on foreign films and non Hollywood blockbuster releases). Some time this week I’ll set things up and change things around on my computer so as to avoid temptation, look for better hobbies and better ways to spend my time. Things that feed into my spirituality and not detract from it. I scoffed at that idea once and I was wrong, I was dead wrong; the more I keep him in the center of my mind, the better everything comes together.
You can learn a lot about the path a person is on by seeing what is tabooed to them; I read that very recently. So what does this say about me and my path? Less engagement, moving further away from civilization, further out into fringe. It’s not a new message; I think back to all the times, when I was trying to be involved in communities online and in person, when there was drama or people were having difficulties and wanted some help (not from me in particular, just in general), he’d crawl to the front of my mind: eyes on your own paper; let someone else take care of that; that’s not your problem, don’t get involved. Sometimes it seems like everything in my life, from the moment I was born, was preparing me for this, shaping me into the sort of person who could survive and thrive where few others would go. To what end I’m not sure, if there is some greater purpose living in a sort of exile, if there is something in particular (or some private service I can render) I’ll find along this road and no other, or if it’s just how it is. At this point, either way is fine with me.
Hail Hermes, as my circle grows a little smaller and my mind a little clearer. When the dust settles once again I doubt I’ll miss this much either, and be better off for its loss.
power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be (p. 47).