Cedric's Pagan Thoughts

The spiritual meanderings of a NeoPagan shaman, an eclectic Wiccan, a Celtic musician, a world traveler, a bard, and an uncompromising cat-loving Bast-worshipper

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Tower of Babel, Standing on its Head

Sometimes I have what I call a “whoah!” experience—a moment in which two disparate thought structures in my mind suddenly become connected and collapse into one another in a way that is extremely difficult to put into words. It sets off a chain reaction, and thought-form after thought-form collapses into one another, all across my psychic landscape. If any words do come out, they rush from me in a rapid babble—which, believe it or not, is not the reason I chose to call this entry “The Tower of Babel.”

Last night I went to my bookshelf and took down a book I read some years ago, which I had found mildly disappointing at the time. It is called Where Science and Magic Meet by Serena Roney-Dougal. When I first read it, I expected a work of science: cold hard data about investigations into the “magical” or parapsychological realm. I wanted evidence.

Instead, the book comes from a more lyrical, imaginative standpoint, though admittedly it is the imagination of a parapsychologist and does contain some of those cold hard facts I sought back then. Perhaps I read it too early—or perhaps I needed to read it then so that I could become who I am and get more out of it now.

Alas, babble on . . . I’m still stuck in a lyrical moment, trying to trap symphonies in words.

In any case, Roney-Dougal writes of the subliminal mind (called by some the subconscious), which operates in a pre-literate mode, not unlike my Cosmic Cabdriver from an earlier post. That is, it thinks and communicates in images, in a world of symbols and sensory stimuli, not in the world of speech. Roney-Dougal writes:

In fact, the verbal is only one of the many ways of thinking, and its prominence in our minds is an aspect of our present society and culture. Our minds are far more intricate, and the language of symbolism, dream-type scenarios and archetypes are in fact far more true of our primary aspect of mind. As I have mentioned, this primary-process thought appears to be a common method of thought across all cultures. The Tower of Babel that separates us is language, the verbal thought-form. The symbolic, imaginal, pictorial dream thought-from joins us all into one race. (p.21)

Upon reading that, I had a whoah moment. The story of the Tower of Babel was suddenly stood on its head. In its Biblical form, the story is a cautionary tale about hubris: God curses the human race with linguistic division because humans are building a tower to heaven. The story warns us not to seek the Divine through physical, external means; indeed, it even warns us not to get “too big for our britches,” thinking that our achievements can equal Heaven’s.

Re-examined as a mystical parable, the story takes on a new tenor and new meaning. In the “symbolic, imaginal, pictorial, dream thought-form”—that is, in the trance state, in the magical mode of perception and thought, the pre-logical state, the Dreamworld—we may gain access to and union with the Divine. In other words, we may build a “tower” to God. (Ascending the tower is analogous to the Eastern concept of Kundalini, the energy-serpent that ascends through the chakras at the moment of enlightenment.)

As Roney-Dougal points out, the Dreamworld is universal. All humans, regardless of language and nationality, have access to it and experience it. It is the repository of Jung’s archetypes. Thus, like music, it is a universal “language.”

Now, in the Biblical account, an angry and jealous God prevents the us from achieving Heaven by fracturing language; unable to speak a common tongue, the workers lose their common purpose. In my experience, it is not the Divine which prevents our union with it, but ourselves. The barrier to union that we have introduced is not many languages—it is language itself. The spoken word is the hallmark of the conscious mind, the Ego (in Freud’s terms), the logical faculty.

Logic is based on analysis, which is a process of breaking things down into their component parts. In order to discuss these components, we name them. (As C.S. Lewis points out in The Discarded Image, it is impossible to say anything about everything.) Thus the logical faculty is represented by the sword (or if you prefer, the scalpel)—logic begins with cutting the world into many small pieces and putting each piece into its carefully labeled box. (Remember how nothing in Eden had names until Adam named them—The Divine exists before and beyond names.)

Mind you, the logical mode of perceiving the world has many uses that I’m not going to rehash now. But as Roney-Dougal points out, it’s only one mode of thought. My argument is that it often bars our way to union with the Divine.

The Divine knows no boundaries, no categories, no limitations; it knows all and is all; it encompasses everything in unified wholeness. But in order to exist in our reality, in order to perceive itself, the Divine has fractured into many pieces, each defined by its artificial divisions from all the other Divine slices. Thus, the Divine is genderless; we, its incarnations, are gendered. The Divine is timeless; we experience night and day. The Divine is all; we imagine separation.

When we enter that universal, pre-literate Dreamworld, we are like humans building the Tower; our mortal separation falls away, and we experience the Divine Wholeness. When we introduce speech/logic/analysis, we introduce separation, and our experience of Divine Wholeness is gone.

The poet Garrison Martt once told me that there is no point describing a religious experience to another person. In order to do so, he said, you must put it into words, which are vessels too weak for a brew so strong.

That’s what I feel like I have been trying to do in this rambling discourse; and I fear that, like a construction worker in Babel, I’m trying in my own incomprehensible words to describe a blueprint too strong for this medium. If I could capture the whole of truth in these words, the fire in them would burn the page to cinders.

Perhaps, perhaps, that’s why early mythmakers gave us the story of the Tower of Babel in the first place . . .

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