Blog: Totem Poles and The Unity of Life

 

 

Totem

This week, I had the privilege to visit The World Museum in Liverpool, where an entire exhibit on the third floor is devoted to preserving artifacts of ancient cultures all around the world. On this magical and spiritual journey, I was able to look directly into the eyes of African dance masks; tremulously admire Congolese idols used for black magic and sorcery; and regard with wonder the fold-out books of a hieroglyphic Mayan ‘dream book.’ I came face to face with statues of Vishnu and Ganesha; priceless suits of samurai armor; Buddhist hanging scrolls and Tantric deities straight from Tibet; and beheld with awesome fear relics that were never meant to be witnessed outside of ancient secret societies and mystery schools.

I was in this large, circuitous exhibit mostly by myself, with the pregnant silence only occasionally interrupted by tribal drumming and chanting bursting out of the speaker system. As in the Egyptian exhibit at Bristol, I once again had the mystical experience of being confronted with a spiritual presence far greater than myself, overwhelming me with raw emotion. This presence commanded great awe and respect, and I was repeatedly moved to press my hands together, bow, and chant, in order to properly express my deference.

But, overwhelmed and humbled though I was, nothing could have prepared me for The Totem Pole. As I rounded the corner, and was confronted with a deific figure towering above me, its face frozen in a martial rictus, I was so frightened that I had to retreat for a moment to sit down, and stitch back together the thread of my courage.

Composure regained, I tentatively re-entered the room, building myself up to it by looking at the other exhibits. But towering at between 15-20ft tall, it really was the proverbial elephant in the room, commanding every part of my being to kowtow to it with my attention.

The totem itself was a chimaerical hybrid of human, animal, and spiritual elements, effortlessly fusing a man, a killer whale, a serpent, and two mythical giants into one single, phallic entity.

Once I observed this unity, my fear began to subside. Despite its fearsome appearance, I realized that the pole was not an apotropaic structure, but a potent symbol eloquently depicting the holographic truth of the ineffable unity of all things. Man, Nature, and Heaven are not separate from one another, but are one another, interwoven so that all things are within them, and they are within all things – a true hologram.

This truth was so evident to the Native Canadian artist, Richard Hunt, that I was amazed to learn that the human head on top was actually a self-portrait. These animals, these ancestors, these myths were so much a part of him so as to actually constitute his very being.

If only we were all so in-tune with the world as to recognize it as our being, and to recognize our being as the world.

Lost Technology of the Mind

Akashic

 

It occurred to me that much of what we consider to be our civilization’s culture has largely been architectural in nature. All the wisdom, learning, accomplishment, folly, history, and vanity of our culture has been stored and encoded in buildings; infusing every library, temple, pyramid, castle, and palatial structure.

But, since the invention of the internet, despite the mass-production of useless gadgets, gidgets, and geegaws, much of our culture has become digitized. It’s no wonder that so many technophiles gush over the internet, almost as if it were a god, when it contains such an infinitude of information: some practical and inspiring; much of it trivial and disturbing.

But say the internet were destroyed, and electrical technology as we now understand it became a lost concept – what would our descendants make of our culture – so much of it able to be condensed onto wireless tablets and iphones?

We face the same dilemma when look back to the mythological ancestors of The Golden Age. These people had no need for buildings, pyramids, libraries, and especially not digital technology. They didn’t need buildings, because they were capable of regulating their own body temperature and living in harmony with their environment. They didn’t need such buildings as pyramids and temples, for they lacked vanity, and saw the universe as their temple. Accepting impermanence, and living at one with creation, what need did they have to create? They didn’t need libraries, because their consciousnesses were capacious enough to record everything. They would only need hear or observe something once in order to remember it for all time.

And, most of all, they did not need digital technology, because they were in possession of the spiritual technology of the fully awakened mind. A technology we all still possess, and are capable of using, though most of us are wholly ignorant of that, or reluctant to put in the work to awaken it.

Though this might sound like an absurd fantasy to most of you, it is worth remembering that many such abilities are still with us today, or were prominent in only the recent past.

The Australian Aborigines went nude throughout all seasons, even during the winter, for they were capable of controlling their internal thermostat. Yogis capable of remaining indifferent to even the most extreme of weather conditions have long been recorded. Anthropologists have long been amazed that illiterate tribal peoples were able to convey long accounts of their history, mythology and pre-scientific knowledge without changing so much as a single word. For us, literacy is considered a touchstone of civilization. But, to our ancestors, writing was a considered a backward step, in which we added an element of artifice into reality, presenting a barrier between ourselves and the truth.

So great achievements are not just visible, tangible things – great monuments and landmarks that we create to ejaculate onto our own egos. The greatest landmarks and achievements are internal and exist within. They can only be witnessed by those who’ve developed the eyesight to see them.

So, which type are you more interested in? Are you willing to do what it takes to develop and nurture the insight?

Egyptian Art and the Sacred

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Statue of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet,

Last week I went to the Art Gallery and Museum in Bristol. I originally went there to meet up with my friend and my partner. But, as soon as I entered into the main hall, my mind was on other things.

To my right, there were two enormous statues of Gods and Goddesses from Ancient Egypt.  Having long studied this ancient culture, I was familiar with these objects from books and movies; but, actually seeing them in the flesh was not an experience I could have prepared myself for. It was a life-changing experience.

But that was just the intro. The two statues just signaled the entrance to a whole exhibit on Ancient Egyptian artifacts. Within, the exhibit had been carefully crafted to give the visitor a sense of the numinous, the sacred, the mysterious and dangerous. The lights were kept so low that everything except the artifacts was enshrouded in darkness, and overhead speakers played ambient sounds of the birds and other wildlife one would expect to here in The Land of the Nile.

As I entered, I was filled with fear, dread, and awe. I came face to face with ancient sarcophagi, ushabti, and other ritual objects, all engraved with sacred hieroglyphs. Such was my reverence for them that I could scarcely bring myself to look at them. I felt like one of the prophets in The Old Testament or The Book of Enoch, who, coming face to face with an Angel or a Watcher, were unable to look directly into their shining faces. Though these things were fashioned many millennia ago, they still had a living presence, and the prana of those long-passed tingled through my body. The collected veneration, awe, faith, and mystic feelings of millions commingled in my being, demonstrating that time is an illusion for that which is eternal.

The best however, was in the Assyrian exhibit adjacent, which included several walls taken directly from The Palace of Nimrud, including this Gryphon:

Gryphon

The chi still emanating from it was intense. It made me want to fall to my knees and weep, and I came very close to doing so. Even when I came back the next day, the effect had not diminished, and I still felt unworthy and terrified in its presence.

In comparison, the exhibits of the European masters were disappointing. In their paintings (except for one or two masterpieces) I did not find a numinous or living energy; only the dead ego and pomp of vainglorious artists searching for fame, renown, and wealth. There was no spirit in these paintings, and it was a misery to look at them.

Art is never just art for its own sake. Until it is imbued with the sincere and devoted spirit of those who create it, it is just a meaningless exhibition of talent, waiting to filled with truth and life.