The Goddess as Active Listener



Archetypal Presence, Brian George, 2002

1

When I was first introduced to my wife I told her that I had always missed her, but had never realized it until we finally met. She was present as a kind of pregnant absence. I was aware on some alternate level of the self of a kind of negative space, like the shape of a missing puzzle part; to which her image corresponded, and into which it would one day lock to complete the predetermined structure.

Are we meant to have certain experiences, or to connect with certain people rather than with others? At a multidimensional intersection it is possible to see how precarious forces constellate. Habit is not harmony. Safety is an illusion of the microcosm.

Perhaps earth-shattering events happen every day around you, more or less invisibly, as you brush past in your haste to buy a donut. A catastrophe that occurred in 9800 BC is only just now informing you of the whereabouts of your heart. After so much time, it has decided to return, again to advocate for its role as the seat of true intelligence. If you do not stop the world, for just a moment, to talk to the stranger standing next to you at the Greyhound Bus Station, it could be that you have thrown away your one and only chance to meet that significant Other. A mutual friend may demand to introduce you to a soul mate, or else he or she may turn suddenly around a corner at the Museum of Modern Art, with a puzzled expression, to ask a pregnant question about Kandinsky.

But where was the music of the occluded sphere hiding, and why did love’s messengers take so long to appear? No doubt we are bad.

The more romantic among us are used to thinking that there may be one true soul mate for each person. It is less common to imagine that friends or teachers may also play their parts in this apparent drama of predestination. Perhaps the meeting with the teacher has all along been programmed by a bird at the Institute of Interplanetary Symbols. Each student of a good teacher might well view the meeting as a one of a kind event. Such interventions by the avian programmer most often have about them a great sense of uncanniness; the world has changed, and it is not possible to return to one’s simpler view of existence. The experience of transformation can go so deep that it forces you to invent a mythological cause.

Perhaps the soul’s alignments can be best explained as just an accident of geography, but so often such accidents would appear to erupt on schedule. Do those special people remind you of someone in your past, or do they remind you, much more strangely, of themselves? When you encounter a person who is meant to be important to you, it can expose a need that, until then, you did not (consciously) know to exist.

As a finger points to a wound, there is no reason to be embarrassed. A touch sets the healing sap in motion. One simple look communicates the lost history of an era, reversing the great wheel of devolution, and freeing one from the crimes of the last 52,000 years. Green buds open on the derelict branch. Hallucinatory blossoms are not long in arriving. Messengers bring fruit from a tree already old when the first Earth had contracted from a dream.

 

The Catalyst, Brian George, 2002

2

Of whom does the inner teacher remind us? Is the outer teacher a key to unlock the inner teacher’s door?

Demanding that the code of silence be removed, is each synchronistic meeting like a knock that echoes through the Hall of Records? Is this one of the major functions that good friends perform for each other, before the magnetic force that once connected them later pushes them apart?

Is the inner teacher led by the hand of the preexistent one- that teacher as demanding as he/she is omniscient- whose influence is most often not seen or heard, but rather felt in the peculiarities of external circumstance?

Is there any moment when the teacher behind the teacher is not present?

If it is true that we are always subject to surveillance by the almost alien intelligence of the Other, is there any way that we can escape from the web of the life-pattern as woven before birth, of which the teacher is the most direct ambassador?

 

3

Omphalos

Each of us starts life as a world center, indifferent to the laws of time and space, sure that our call will result in a response. Our unconscious mind is more inhabited by symbols than an ocean. New sensory data float on the surface.

We are everywhere, but in need of much. Soon, we are shocked, as we discover that the world does not cooperate in affirming our self-image. Donations from the maternal breast aside, perhaps there is something wrong here. It is not that others do not also come to kneel, or offer tribute, or express their joy and wonder. They do, but their actions are unpredictable. Colored toys revolve like intoxicated planets.

A revolt is immanent, perhaps; we note that one by one our caretakers have started to disobey. Earth is cold and wet. Life will kill you. It is probably better to keep the real story of one’s predestination hidden, even from oneself. Once consciousness was big. There was no fear. By sharing songs all species could communicate. No art was needed to interpret the transparent image. The new body is small. Ego mediates between the two. The bigger one gets the less of one’s original purpose can be remembered.

One had come with a gift; it was not like any other gift, and no one else could offer it to the world. This gift was not an object, in the everyday sense; it was an aboriginal totem on the move, an individuated Uroboros, whose tail is in its mouth. It takes the form of a not-yet-spoken-story. Already perfect, it goes in search of an audience. Making the dream immanent, synchronicity turns the inside out, and then brings home the great outdoors. Welcome. Dead matter all of a sudden means. The gift cannot be separated from one’s nature; it simply is — a matter of fact, beyond argument — and also is why one is here. There was a task to perform for which no one else was suitable. Each year the path back to it grows more and more circuitous.

School is an idea whose time has come. Help will be offered, or not, according to the good or bad intentions of those alien engineers whom the fates have put in charge of remodeling our natures. Leaps of imagination that reconnect us to our center will also occur if and when they choose to, whether or not we rigorously prepare ourselves, and often at the most impossible of moments. Deep memory will be opened by an inner clock.


Uroboros, Brian George, 2002

4

Gnothi Seauton or “Know Thyself”; attributed to Socrates.

But also to Chilon of Sparta, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Solon of Athens, and Thales of Miletus. Juvenal, in his 11th Satire, claimed that the precept actually descended “de caelo” — directly out of heaven.

 

When I met Sue Castigliano, my speech teacher during senior year at Doherty Memorial High School, it was not at first apparent that she would one day change my life. Gently pushing aside my defenses, she reached out and down through the soul to touch me on the most elemental level.

Even now, looking back from a distance of almost 30 years, and far removed from the melodrama of that period, it is hard for me to imagine who, what or where I would be if that meeting had never taken place. Again, I exhale a sigh of relief.

It is said that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Luckily, the teacher may also choose to appear when the student is not at all ready. She drags him, if need be kicking and screaming, into a new, more direct, but also more paradoxical relationship with the self. Socrates’ injunction: “Know Thyself,” which, according to Pausanias, was inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, is far more demanding than it has any right to be. It is a simple statement, composed of only two small words. The injunction becomes more demanding, not less, as we attempt to translate our (inflated) insights into action. Who, exactly, is doing the knowing? What is the nature of the self that presents itself to be known? Perhaps what we see is the illuminated crescent at the edge of an almost unimaginable sphere.

Is the ego the knower of the self, or is the self the knower of the ego? Perhaps the soul is itself a mask, soon to morph into a different form with the astronomical rotation of the fashion industry. Driven by implanted memories, the human genome dreams of a real voyage to the stars.

It is 1972, and as my hunt for occult wealth intensifies, I am attempting to round up my predecessors; to determine, first of all, if there was ever anyone else like me who had existed on the Earth.

“Perhaps even the greatest of geniuses are like toys — very strange toys — which a child takes apart to see what is inside,” said de Chirico in a 1918 manuscript. And also, “To live in the world as if in an immense museum of strangeness…”

One rages against the war machine. Anger prompts the transvaluation of all values. Revolution by night results in the achievement of omnipotence. Following in the footsteps of Rimbaud, one practices the “systematic derangement of the senses.”

“Disaster was my god. I called to my executioners to let me bite the ends of their guns, as I died. Spring brought to me the idiot’s terrifying laughter.” (Rimbaud, “A Season in Hell,” translation by Wallace Fowley.)

True beauty should be convulsive. “The I is Other.” Nietzsche is a better friend than Jesus. An experience of the “eternal return” is triggered by the turning pedals of one’s bicycle. 10 speeds hold the secret to perpetual motion.

A dragonfly landing on a milkweed pod is somehow taken for an omen.

Expanded consciousness may yet give birth to a race of cyborg ubermenchen.

The entire visible world is always just about to pass out of existence. Fear follows the ego’s dissolution into orgiastic energy. The young soul wanders through a labyrinth of mirrors.


Split Head, Brian George, 2002

 

The process of self discovery is a paradoxical one, as I have said, and for most of us demands the steady hand of a guide- of a living person who is fated to perform the role of the psychopomp. His or her magnetic power draws us to the self. It is shocking that so many students can go through 12 years of school without ever finding a teacher to serve in this capacity.

(But then again, a public school is probably the last place that one should expect to find such guidance, and the tarred and feathered pyschopomp would probably be run out of town on a rail.)

What would have happened to me if I had not met this particular teacher when I did? I would probably be more or less who I am, but without a sense of trust and confidence equal to my desire for self-realization. As self-determined as I like to believe myself to be, so much of what and who I am is the result of the well timed intervention of others, in this case Sue Castigliano, who generously gave what I could not provide for myself.

Through the years of adolescent angst I had grown away from childhood without making any progress towards adulthood. My parents had divorced when I was four years old, and my mother never quite recovered from the experience. Until the day he died, she would not speak to my father. His name had gone into her black book of real and imagined wrongs. She did not forgive. It would not be taken out. As though out of nowhere the happy nuclear family had exploded. I remember the shock of being evicted from the garden, at whose gate a fiery sword revolves.

At the age of four I had been unofficially appointed to serve as a kind of surrogate parent for my mother. As though she and not I were in need, I would sometimes rock her as she sobbed, uncontrollably, in my arms. I had to pretend to be strong enough for both of us.

I was left with an unacknowledged sense of abandonment. Distantly aware of being angry, I knew the emotion only through its symptoms. I did not choose to confront my reflection in the mirror, for fear of falling through. If I stepped through the mirror would I be able to return to the realm of normal consciousness? I did not dare to explore the anatomy of my unresolved trauma. Black magic had turned the inner child into a headless plastic doll.

Used to being around adults, I could camouflage my thoughts in articulate form. On a good day I could pass for a responsible young revolutionary. In due course my comrades would overthrow the government. The industrial age would spontaneously combust. Chants would levitate the Pentagon. An urban gorilla at 17, I could strip and reassemble my attitude like an AK 47. Bourgeois robots would creak and beg for oil on a forced march to the amber fields of grain.

A part of me was still very much a child, hurt and confused, who had no desire to expose his vulnerabilities to others. I wanted to disappear into the branches of my favorite apple tree, to daydream for hours as the clouds changed shape, to feel the Earth darken as the afternoon wore on. I would watch in secret as smoke billowed from a factory, beneath whose stacks the ant-sized workers crawled.

I cannot say exactly how Sue Castigliano changed me. I can only say that through and because of her a change took place. Stepping from the cave mouth of a dream, the goddess of active listening took my hand. By the end of the year I was an approximate version of the explorer I have since become. It is as though she had said:

“What’s in front of you is already yours for the asking. The world is no longer a vast and anonymous space. It is a book waiting to be opened.”


Time Spiral, Brian George, 2002

5

When I remember Sue Castigliano I think of almost naked dancers vaulting above the gold tipped horns of Creatan bulls, to the sound of waves breaking in the distance.

Wandering with the ghosts of an exploded island empire, I enter the doors of a library that I first thought was an octopus.

When I think of her I see wheat bound in sheaves, corn hanging from a makeshift wooden peristyle, grapes being stomped by rhythmic feet in vats.

I think of the minute preparations of a glad community in the month before a human sacrifice.

When I remember her I think of a face that encompasses multitudes, whose each component is distinct, the dark face of the goddess, projected against lowering clouds.

I think of Ceres, of Inanna, of Isis, of Coatlique, and of Oshun.

I think of olive oil sleeping inside of prehistoric jars, the sibyl smoothing out her wrinkles in the shadow of the arch of Constantine.

Her body is the world tree. Her navel is omphalos, the place of interconnection.

In her left palm, time’s comptroller Saturn tilts and revolves. The fingers of her right hand touch the Earth with a gesture of abundance.

This is the role that she acted out for me. It is not, of course, who she was. In hindsight my memory manufactures images.

 

6

Oddly, there was nothing supernatural about her persona, quite the opposite in fact.

She was a middle aged woman from Ohio, about 42, the wife of an Episcopalian minister, a bit overweight, in no way unusual in appearance. She confessed that she found it difficult to loose weight from her hips and thighs. A few varicose veins were visible. The birth of two of her three children had been difficult, resulting in a number of physical problems.

To me she was quite a beautiful, and even glamorous, figure. Her imperfections removed her from the realm of mythological fantasy. They made her real.


Discourse on the Egg, Brian George, 2002

7

I am tempted to say that Sue Castigliano’s method was that of direct communication between one human being and another. To some extent this was true.

One might note in passing the resemblance of her approach to the “logical consequences” theory of Dreiker, the “self-awareness” model of Meichenbaum, the “reality therapy” of Glasser, and the “teacher effectiveness training” of Gordon. In retrospect, I am surprised to see to what extent her actions were informed by developmental theory. When she interacted with her students no abstractions were allowed to show.

A prerequisite for the guide is a mastery of what Buddhists call “skillful means.” The good teacher disrupts. He or she has a killer instinct for the best way to subvert the status quo. After interfering the true catalyst allows nature to take its course.

Speech class took the form of a circular discussion group, in which every voice was heard. Sue Castigliano would steer but not dominate the conversation. She would set an idea in motion, then sit back to see what might develop. For no apparent reason one morning I decided to attack a girl who had transferred from St. Peter’s High, the school from which I had been terminated, with extreme prejudice, two years before.

I was outraged by her wholesomeness, and finished a nonsensical diatribe by saying: “Did you leave your fuzzy pink bunny slippers at home? You should wear them to school. They would complement your outfit.” The girl launched herself across the room at me, swung once with her book bag, and then yanked with the intoxicated fury of a maenad at my hair. Its two foot length allowed her to wrap it securely around her hands. When she had almost succeeded in removing it from my scalp, my psychopomp said: “Enough.” Another teacher might have put a stop to things before they went that far.

She later asked: “What do you think you said that made her so upset? Are you really angry with her, or are you angry about something else?”

 

8

I remember her response when I informed her that I felt as though I was growing stupider every day. I could not imagine what was wrong with me. My mind felt numb, and passively chaotic. Words disappeared across the horizon, to loose themselves on the other side of the globe. Sentences self-destructed. Could I really have become stupid? An irrational fear, you say? I could feel the force of petrifaction coiling like a boa constrictor to squeeze the life force from my neo-cortex.

She did not argue with me, offer to help, or in any way attempt to talk me out of the experience. Practicing a bit of reality therapy, she said: “Why do you think that your stupidity is so unique?

“You do realize that there are stupid people all around you, and that one of them is speaking at this moment?

“I have been searching all week for an image for the end of the poem that I’m working on. It is right on the tip of my tongue, but it refuses to come out. You probably would not like the poem. It does not have any exclamation points.

“It’s about slowly getting up each day to change one small part of the world.

“I often feel as though I am moving under water. Everything seems too difficult.

“This morning I reached for a box of cereal on the top pantry shelf. My fingers were not long enough.

“I look at myself in the mirror. I am not young. Years just disappear. At times it does not seem possible that the girl that I used to be is gone. Who is this middle aged woman in the mirror?

“And then I think that I was able to reach the cereal box after all. The image that I am searching for will probably arrive tomorrow, or perhaps it will be waiting for me to notice it in a dream.

“My husband is a good man. I love being a teacher.”

It may seem odd that such a confession should have a liberating effect. The reason is not complicated. My teacher gave me permission to be human, to begin from where I was. It was wonderful to know that the goddess too had doubts.

She also said: “Why don’t you keep a notebook to write down everything that comes to mind, stupid or not?”

Shortly thereafter I was inhabited by a swarm of primordial energies. Like an egg, the world cracked open. “The I is an Other.” At 3 AM I wrote the first installment of my own ancestral myth. It occurred to me suddenly and with violence: “You have the power to create.”


Revolution of the House, Brian George, 2002

9

By contemporary standards, the “personal influence” model was no doubt pushed to an extreme. This was the heyday of the counterculture. Boundaries were fluid. We would sometimes talk through the afternoon on the back porch of her house, sipping on lemonade, as the shadows projected from a distant war lengthened slowly across the grass. Troops would reenact on a cloud the opening games of the Mahabharata. Suddenly, we might note that the sun had vanished from the sky. Revolving on one spot- where we were seated- the wheel of time appeared almost motionless as it flew. A kind of natural hallucinogen was produced by the mere proximity of the beloved. A storm would make the oak leaves rustle. The scent of lilacs would overwhelm the senses. Rooting itself in the moment, the self moved deeper into incarnation.

 

10

Again, my teacher has moved into a dream that powers the perpetual beginning of the world, whose initiates will at length restore the transparency of space.

The beloved now becomes anonymous.

It is of no importance who or what she was, but only that she play each role that memory invents.

Falling as though from a distant planet, the shadow of Sue Castigiliano opens like a door. The footprints of a prehistoric goddess lead straight across a tiny but quite terrifying ocean.

 

Bindu Over Ocean, Brian George, 2002

 

All Images by Brian George