julia holter – goddess eyes i (2012)

This track comes from her brilliant 2012 album, Ekstasis, which you can listen to HERE. Video directed by Jose Wolff.

“The first thing that came to mind was an image that gradually deteriorates with visual noise, echoing the sonic noise present in the song. We go from lightness to darkness, away from a structured, fabricated place and into raw territory.” – Jose Wolff – August 2012

simone weil – attention and will

simone weil gravity and graceWe do not have to understand new things, but by dint of patience, effort and method to come to understand with our whole self the truths which are evident.

Stages of belief. The most commonplace truth when it floods the whole soul, is like a revelation.

We have to try to cure our faults by attention and not by will.

The will only controls a few movements of a few muscles, and these movements are associated with the idea of the change of position of nearby objects. I can will to put my hand flat on the table. If inner purity, inspiration or truth of thought were necessarily associated with attitudes of this kind, they might be the object of will. As this is not the case, we can only beg for them. To beg for them is to believe that we have a Father in heaven. Or should we cease to desire them? What could be worse? Inner supplication is the only reasonable way, for it avoids stiffening muscles which have nothing to do with the matter. What could be more stupid than to tighten up our muscles and set our jaws about virtue, or poetry, or the solution of a problem? Attention is something quite different.

Pride is a tightening up of this kind. There is a lack of grace (we can give the word its double meaning here) in the proud man. It is the result of a mistake.

Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.

Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.

If we turn our mind towards the good, it is impossible that little by little the whole soul will not be attracted thereto in spite of itself.

Extreme attention is what constitutes the creative faculty in man and the only extreme attention is religious. The amount of creative genius in any period is strictly in proportion to the amount of extreme attention and thus of authentic religion at that period.

The wrong way of seeking. The attention fixed on a problem. Another phenomenon due to horror of the void. We do not want to have lost our labour. The heat of the chase. We must not want to find: as in the case of an excessive devotion, we become dependent on the object of our efforts. We need an outward reward which chance sometimes provides and which we are ready to accept at the price of a deformation of the truth.

It is only effort without desire (not attached to an object) which infallibly contains a reward.

To draw back before the object we are pursuing. Only an indirect method is effective. We do nothing if we have not first drawn back.

By pulling at the bunch, we make all the grapes fall to the ground.

There are some kinds of effort which defeat their own object (example: the soured disposition of certain pious females, false asceticism, certain sorts of self-devotion, etc.). Others are always useful, even if they do not meet with success.

How are we to distinguish between them? Perhaps in this way: some efforts are always accompanied by the (false) negation of our inner wretchedness; with others the attention is continually concentrated on the distance there is between what we are and what we love.

Love is the teacher of gods and men, for no one learns without desiring to learn. Truth is sought not because it is truth but because it is good.

Attention is bound up with desire. Not with the will but with desire—or more exactly, consent.

We liberate energy in ourselves, but it constantly reattaches itself. How are we to liberate it entirely? We have to desire that it should be done in us—to desire it truly—simply to desire it, not to try to accomplish it. For every attempt in that direction is vain and has to be dearly paid for. In such a work all that I call ‘I’ has to be passive. Attention alone—that attention which is so full that the ‘I’ disappears—is required of me. I have to deprive all that I call ‘I’ of the light of my attention and turn it on to that which cannot be conceived.

The capacity to drive a thought away once and for all is the gateway to eternity. The infinite in an instant.

As regards temptations, we must follow the example of the truly chaste woman who, when the seducer speaks to her, makes no answer and pretends not to hear him.

We should be indifferent to good and evil but, when we are indifferent, that is to say when we project the light of our attention equally on both, the good gains the day. This phenomenon comes about automatically. There lies the essential grace. And it is the definition, the criterion of good.

A divine inspiration operates infallibly, irresistibly, if we do not turn away our attention, if we do not refuse it. There is not a choice to be made in its favour, it is enough not to refuse to recognize that it exists.

The attention turned with love towards God (or in a lesser degree, towards anything which is truly beautiful) makes certain things impossible for us. Such is the non-acting action of prayer in the soul. There are ways of behaviour which would veil such attention should they be indulged in and which, reciprocally, this attention puts out of the question.

As soon as we have a point of eternity in the soul, we have nothing more to do but to take care of it, for it will grow of itself like a seed. It is necessary to surround it with an armed guard, waiting in stillness, and to nourish it with the contemplation of numbers, of fixed and exact relationships.
We nourish the changeless which is in the soul by the contemplation of that which is unchanging in the body.

Writing is like giving birth: we cannot help making the supreme effort. But we also act in like fashion. I need have no fear of not making the supreme effort—provided only that I am honest with myself and that I pay attention.

The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real. It is the same with the act of love. To know that this man who is hungry and thirsty really exists as much as I do— that is enough, the rest follows of itself.

The authentic and pure values—truth, beauty and goodness— in the activity of a human being are the result of one and the same act, a certain application of the full attention to the object.

Teaching should have no aim but to prepare, by training the attention, for the possibility of such an act. All the other advantages of instruction are without interest.

Studies and faith. Prayer being only attention in its pure form and studies being a form of gymnastics of the attention, each school exercise should be a refraction of spiritual life. There must be method in it. A certain way of doing a Latin prose, a certain way of tackling a problem in geometry (and not just any way) make up a system of gymnastics of the attention calculated to give it a greater aptitude for prayer.

Method for understanding images, symbols, etc. Not to try to interpret them, but to look at them till the light suddenly dawns.

Generally speaking, a method for the exercise of the intelligence, which consists of looking.

Application of this rule for the discrimination between the real and the illusory. In our sense perceptions, if we are not sure of what we see we change our position while looking, and what is real becomes evident. In the inner life, time takes the place of space. With time we are altered, and, if as we change we keep our gaze directed towards the same thing, in the end illusions are scattered and the real becomes visible. This is on condition that the attention be a looking and not an attachment.

When a struggle goes on between the will attached to some obligation and a bad desire, there is a wearing away of the energy attached to good. We have to endure the biting of the desire passively, as we do a suffering which brings home to us our wretchedness, and we have to keep our attention turned towards the good. Then the quality of our energy is raised to a higher degree. We must steal away the energy from our desires by taking away from them their temporal orientation.

Our desires are infinite in their pretensions but limited by the energy from which they proceed. That is why with the help of grace we can become their master and finally destroy them by attrition. As soon as this has been clearly understood, we have virtually conquered them, if we keep our attention in contact with this truth.

Video meliora … In such states, it seems as though we were thinking of the good, and in a sense we are doing so, but we are not thinking of its possibility.

It is incontestable that the void which we grasp with the pincers of contradiction is from on high, for we grasp it the better the more we sharpen our natural faculties of intelligence, will and love. The void which is from below is that into which we fall when we allow our natural faculties to become atrophied.

Experience of the transcendent: this seems contradictory, and yet the transcendent can be known only through contact since our faculties are unable to invent it.

Solitude. Where does its value lie? For in solitude we are in the presence of mere matter (even the sky, the stars, the moon, trees in blossom), things of less value (perhaps) than a human spirit. Its value lies in the greater possibility of attention. If we could be attentive to the same degree in the presence of a human being…

We can only know one thing about God—that he is what we are not. Our wretchedness alone is an image of this. The more we contemplate it, the more we contemplate him.

Sin is nothing else but the failure to recognize human wretchedness. It is unconscious wretchedness and for that very reason guilty wretchedness. The story of Christ is the experimental proof that human wretchedness is irreducible, that it is as great in the absolutely sinless man as in the sinner. But in him who is without sin it is enlightened…

The recognition of human wretchedness is difficult for whoever is rich and powerful because he is almost invincibly led to believe that he is something. It is equally difficult for the man in miserable circumstances because he is almost invincibly led to believe that the rich and powerful man is something.

It is not the fault which constitutes mortal sin, but the degree of light in the soul when the fault, whatever it may be, is accomplished.

Purity is the power to contemplate defilement.

Extreme purity can contemplate both the pure and the impure; impurity can do neither: the pure frightens it, the impure absorbs it. It has to have a mixture.

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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

virginia woolf – a room of one’s own (1929)

VIRGINIA WOOLF

Undated photo of Virginia Woolf. (AP Photo)

I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young – alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives.

She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her.

For my belief is that if we live another century or so – I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals – and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s hogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.

Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.

Read the full essay.

flower power

Something wonderful I came across HERE this week while trying to find Rock Rose essential oil online. 

echo

Echo and Narcissus. Helen Stratton, 1915.

The daffodil has been adopted by both the American Cancer Society, and the Madame Curie Society, for whom it symbolizes simultaneously hope and disease. The Greeks today call N. tazetta Dakrakia, “Little Tear Drops,” as this flower’s association with grief and the dead is both exceedingly ancient, and modern.

The legend of Echo’s fertility daemon Narcissus, who pined to death desiring his own reflection, is parallelled by similar flower boys such as Adonis “the scentless rose” (i.e., a windflower or anemone) who was the slain beloved of both Aphrodite and Persephone; and Hyacinthus, the slain catamite of Zeus and Apollo; and the hidden son of Aphrodite, Hermaphroditus, cavern-raised in secret by naiads of Cybele’s Mount Ida. He came to the Fountain of Queen Salmacis, to whom boxwood and clinging ivy was sacred, and he became one with Salmacis after drinking of her mystic waters, achieving a unity which Narcissus appears likewise but unsuccessfully to have sought.

Like these others, Narcissus is fundamentally impotent or sexless, though erotically appealing to goddesses or nymphs and even to the more masculine gods. We are reminded that Cybele’s boy companion Attis, born of an almond tree was, like Narcissus, sexually incapable – indeed was literally unmanned. Such sexless lads seem to originate in a very early level of myth when the Mother Goddess, being Absolute, had no actual consort, at a time when the male principle was at most a companion, son, or a priest who had unsexed himself.

Most such fertility daemons are straightforward “dying and reborn” grain-divinities, including even Jesus whose worshippers co-opted the daffodil as well as the lily as symbols of death and Easter resurrection. But Narcissus appears additionally to be partly related to a large number of female nymphs transformed directly into flowers, trees, or reeds to escape unwanted sexual encounters. Because there is something essentially female in his myth, he somewhat bridges the Attis or Galli type of mythology of self-castration, to the Daphne type of myth of nymphs escaping either lust or an unwanted marriage or the pursuit by unwanted rape by a god.

He loved his own reflection (which he mistook for female), then turned into the flower bearing his name, ignoring the erotic desires of Echo all the while. But in an alternative version, he had an incestuous affair with his twin sister, who subsequently died, and his obsession for his own reflection was due to his own resemblance to his beloved.

Echo herself had been cursed never to be able to seduce Narcissus directly, but only to repeat his words. She was, in essence, his reflection, so his sentiment that his reflection was female, or that it was his twin sister, was correct. But Echo herself is a dwindled form of a once very mighty Goddess of great antiquity, Akko, mother of all language, whose Voice was that which called forth creation at the beginning of time, and who bears a close association with the Cretan Crocus-goddess Kar.

We know that Echo’s worship was significant within the secretive rites of Demeter. One day was put aside to honor Echo during the Demeter Festival of Eleusis. The precise nature of worship at the Echo shrine was forbidden to be written down, and is today unknown. Her worship was also part of the cult of the Argive Hera; and while in Latin versions of her myth Echo angered Juno (Hera) by covering for Jove’s sundry sexual liaisons, within the Argive cult Echo was Hera’s beloved handmaiden. Echo’s central myth within this cult binds her to the erotic nature-divinity, Pan, to whom she was reluctantly betrothed, and by whom she bore a daughter, Jynx or Yunx, who cast a spell that caused Zeus to fall in love with Io, for which reason Hera turned Jynx into a wryneck bird.

Or Echo gave birth to Peitho, Goddess of Soft Speech or of Seductive Persuasion. Peitho was handmaiden to Aphrodite, and became the bride of Hermes. Peitho had her own cult in Athens, said to have been introduced to the city by none other than Theseus. She is given several genealogies and isn’t invariably a daughter of Echo, but the notion that she was Echo’s daughter was sensible in that both were associated with speaking.

Dionyssiaca calls Echo the Goddess Who Never Fails to Speak. Though in later tales this meant she was an annoying chatterbox, there is ample evidence that any negative connotation was imposed by rival cults, and that Echo was in her own right a powerful divinity. Her cult was always of a secretive kind associated with lustiness and death, and never spoken of outside the confines of secret initiations. She was depicted as an angel-like being with enormous wings hiding her mouth behind a veil, signifying secret wisdom; just such an image of Echo is shown at the top of this page, and she is clearly distinct from any sort of nymph.

As a Virgin Goddess, she rejected not only Pan, but also Poseidon who sent a flood up the mountains in pursuit of Echo. She even refused to attend the wedding of Dionysios because of her dislike of the marriage bed. It is an interesting aside that a surname for Dionysios, Antheus (“Flowery”), was an alternate name for Narcissus. Echo’s disdain for marriage would have been quite normal for huntress-goddesses or nymphs of Artemis, yet Echo may have taken her disdain for all things connubial to extremes, and insulted Dionysios when she refused to participate in the violent drunken dance of the maenadic Oreiades or Hill-nymphs at Dionysios’ wedding.

In none of her myths is Echo given a genealogy, very likely because she was part and parcel with the First Cause in that it was her Voice that called forth creation. But some have speculated she was a renegade Oreiad of Boeotia, and that she left her sister-band of the pines and oaks of the mountain forests to live alone in a deep cavern of an alpine cliff, in order to not be seen and courted by any man or god.

If she were indeed an Oreiad this would make her a sister of the Dactyls and Satyrs, perhaps even a sister of Pan. The Oreiades were sometimes likened “the female Dactyls” and were wedded to their brothers, the Dactyloi. The children of the Dactyls and Oreiades were the Curetes or Corybontes, who were priests of Cybele and defenders of infant Zeus, and were male equivalents to the raging maenads who danced madly and noisily about the hillsides.

The mother of the Oreiades and Dactyloi was the Titaness of radiant heat, Anchiale, sister of Prometheus. Their father was the Titan of hands Hekateros. The sons and daughters of Anchiale and Hekateros invented iron metallurgy and brought the Bronze Age to a close. These sons and daughters were also great artists of anything involving use of the hands, and as light-bearers were bringers of wisdom out of darkness. Though it was said that Echo was educated in the arts by the Muses, it may once have been that Echo instructed the Muses!

These Oreiades were of the same generation of divinity as the Olympians, although since these children of Anchilale secretly nurtured the infant Zeus in a mountain cavern in Crete, really they are older than the Olympians. Anchiale herself dwelt originally on Mount Ida in Crete, and later on the Phrygian Mt. Ida, which association identifies her most strongly as a byform of Cybele Idaea, greatest of the Great Goddesses, the mother of Zeus.

But it’s important to remember that Echo’s recurring association with the Oreiades never explicitly makes her one of them, and this may well be due to her having been known to be herself a Titaness of the first generation of divinity. Rather than being the Nymph of Mt. Helicon, she was an aspect of the All-Mother herself.

When Pan was spurned by Echo, he visited madness upon local goatherders and sent them raging up the mountain sides until they found Echo, ripping her to pieces and scattering her bones. The behavior of the goatherders was commonly assumed to be an activity of Dionysios’s maenads, and Echo’s fate both duplicates that of Dionysios in his infancy (when he was cut up then restored, sans penis, by Gaea) but also punishes Echo for refusing to dance the mad dance with the maeanadic Oreiades at Dionysios’s wedding.

Gaea gathered up the far-flung bones of Echo and buried her part by part in sundry cliff-faces, where not just her voice can still be heard, but where her spirit inspires poetic gift for any voice beautiful enough to sing inspired lyrics or comprehend the mystic meanings.

By all this we see that Echo had a large presence apart from the best-remembered tale of her downfall for loving Narcissus. But most revealing of her original nature is an ancient Greek assumption that she was Persephone’s personal messenger (as Hermes was the personal messenger of Zeus), and flew upon her dark wings between the living world and Thanatos bringing perfect knowledge to and from the underworld.

In this we find again the real nature of Echo, whose lips are veiled, for the secret knowledge cajoled from her is incorruptible. It was an oral tradition forbidden to be written, but she repeated it verbatim from Persephone the Maiden aspect of Hekate. This Echo is, then, the same as the Jewish Bat Kol, “Daughter Voice,” who brings news from God and repeats it verbatim in her soft womanly voice directly into the hearts and spirits of humanity. In times of need Bat Kol can be heard to speak from out of a fiery light. Echo is also encountered in Vedic religion as the Goddess Devaduti, the Divine Messenger, feminine power of communication without whom even the greatest of gods is mute.

This association of Echo with Persephone, or Black Aphrodite, feeds back to the mythology of the narcissus flower, which was sacred to Persephone. Persephone had been picking daffodils on the very day she was kidnapped into the underworld. These flowers did not formerly bow their heads, but do so now, for shame of their role in the kidnapping. A beautiful meadow of these flowers grew near the River Styx, bringing sunlight to that dark land; and during her captivity, Persephone often walked amidst these flowers.

From the lingering bits of a largely forgotten mythology, it seems probable that Echo worship regarded Her as the “spark” that dwells within each of us, that which Narcissus mistook for his twin sister, a beautiful maiden, or his soul. All the Greek words for Spirit or Soul are feminine words, and so in Greek myth the soul is often personified as a nymph or goddess, Psyche as lover of Eros being most famed of these. Not coincidentally, in Semitic and Sanskrit languages too, the words for Soul are invariably female names. The last great flourishing of Soul worship in western religion was classical gnosticism. Among Gnostics, a central idea was that Sophia (the Mother-goddess Wisdom) spun out from herself, without need of a consort, the whole of the life-force of the world, diminishing herself to become infused into the material world, the energizing power of all life. Such belief remains current in India among saktists or Kali worshippers.

So the diminished Echo is still really that earlier Creatrix trying to call out to humanity, to Narcissus, striving to correct the Error of Sophia and liberate us from the world of Matter by calling us back into the pre-created universe of light and unity. But because she is fused to us, we can never quite perceive Her as anything but a reflection of ourselves, an echo of our own voices, and we are undone by our own vanity and remain snared in the material realm.