Lifting the Veil
© 2008 John Caris

During the spiritual quest, seekers aspire to gain profound knowledge of the sacred reality, the one beyond the veil of appearance. Many have sought the proper ceremony with its attendant equipment for opening the portal and emerging into the mystical realm. Acquiring the requisite awareness is not easy, nor can a useful guide be found at a retail outlet. To assist the earnest seeker, the following modified excerpt from Hermes Beckons is offered. This dramatic scene portrays a conversation between Ralph Garland, a semi-retired stage magician and sleight-of-hand artist, and Harold Magian, a friend and fellow magician who exudes a strange aura. They are visiting in Ralph’s studio. Ralph is assembling a magical stage performance that will present and express his interest in alchemy, a discipline he has studied intensively.

Looking pointedly at Ralph, Harold remarked, “You’ve been studying Hermes’ art for years. Now is the time to look inward and find the hermetic egg from which the alchemist will hatch. Tell me about the magic mirror you’ve made.”

The request startled Ralph. Quickly, he walked to his workbench and picked up the mirror he had prepared a few days earlier. “There’s nothing magical about it. It’s just a small mirror. I was only fooling around with some ancient text, more of a game than anything else.”

“So you tried it out, and it didn’t work as the text indicated. I’m not surprised. You were caught in the same trap that you’ve ridiculed others for who’ve pursued the study of alchemy.”

“What trap?” Ralph was astonished.

“You’re acting like a puffer or textual literalist, using your own terminology.”

“I was? How?” Embarrassed, Ralph felt guilt touch his soul.

“First, a prefacing question. Does it make any difference how you use your magical props during a routine? Are some techniques better than others?”

“Of course. Techniques, methods, personal style—all these are extremely important.”

“Wouldn’t the same be true for ancient props that supposedly do real magic?”

Ralph had an aha, a small awareness flashing in his mind. “The text never discussed the way to use the mirror. Of course, in those days a budding mage had a mentor, a teacher who could give advice.” Staring at Harold, Ralph fully understood the significance of today’s tutoring session.

“Remember Felicitas Goodman’s book about trance states? The different rituals and their postures create different visions or bondings with the spirit realm. Here is your analogy, a basic premise of all real magic. The wizard’s use of props is connected to saying the appropriate words. You might call them a spell or incantation, but more important than the props and spell is the mage’s mind-set. The props and spells are only a channel for a spiritual bonding, an opening between realms. Great mages don’t need these physical appurtenances.”

Ralph had become very pensive, his thoughts flowing from his center. “Do you mean that the outer forms of rituals and ceremonies are empty husks?”

“For example, anyone of the rituals, ceremonies, or spells in the different grimoires is a metaphor for bonding. Once mind and body are fused and then soul and spirit, the mage draws power from the spiritual realm. Energy flows both ways along the link, which is a communication channel.”

“I think I understand. The literalists believe in the power of the physical act, that is, the ritual, but the ritual is only a channel for a specific vision. When I tried using the magic mirror, I failed because I was thinking like a literalist, who believes he has power by performing the ritual, yet actually he is only hiding behind it.”

“Indeed. Remember the medieval ritual concerning the blood contract that Satan required?”

“Of course. The blood contract is a literalist’s act because the blood is only a metaphor for the spiritual bonding.”

“But don’t forget that ritual has immense psychic power to bind. That’s one reason that all religious traditions have ceremonies. Let’s get back to your mirror fixation.”

Ralph laughed, a spontaneous release of repressed energy. “It certainly is. I’ve never realized what a fixation and security blanket it is. The physical mirror is unnecessary once I can use my mind. Yes, the Buddhist metaphor that the mind is a mirror. I’ve been hiding in the mirror for so long I’ve lost myself. I must step out from the mirror and observe its operations!”

“The looking-glass is a misdirection so powerful that many have forfeited their lives. Never forget that it is only a shadow, a projection of the physical world. Apply these principles to being an alchemist.”

“The alchemical operations focus on the preparation of the vessel and the marriage of the soul and spirit. The specific ceremonies employed should be those that enhance the success of the marriage.” Ralph meandered slowly about the studio, deep in thought. He paused by the section of the library where books on ceremonial magic were shelved. He stared at Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy or Magic.

“Harold, what can you teach me about the shadows—the shadow world?”

Harold scrutinized his student, kenning Ralph’s soul. “This first lesson will be linked to your role as alchemist. Darkness and light are not opposites nor separate entities, but complements, parts of a whole cycle. Darkness appears empty yet contains light, luminosity. Thus, the nature of darkness is light.”

Ralph shrugged. “That’s like some of the texts I’ve been reading. I’ve only a glimmer of understanding.”

“Think of light as energy, the photon. Complete darkness, which would be the total absence of any energy, is abhorred by nature. Scientists delving into the subatomic realm have begun to realize that energy is everywhere and filling all space-time.”

“What about the dark mass that supposedly makes up ninety-five percent or more of the universe?”

“The Darth Vader of scientific imagination. That mass you’ve read about boggles the scientific mind. Seventy-five percent is energy, which is an opposing or repulsive force and fits into mental categories like antigravity, and the remaining twenty percent is matter. If the dark baryons, which are about four percent, are included, only about one percent of the universe’s mass is available for scientific investigation. It’s amazing that ninety-nine percent of the universe is, as yet, beyond the ability of our astrophysicists to penetrate and understand because it doesn’t radiate energy that they recognize. Once they can communicate with it, they’ll then find that it’s no longer opaque. It seems invisible to them only because they can’t interact with it. An object is invisible if it doesn’t emit or reflect light. Dark mass in space reveals itself by its influence on visible objects, for example, its gravitational field. Today astronomers use ‘gravitational lenses’ of dark mass to map and investigate the universe. These lenses, however, distort the data and the view of distant space.”

Ralph laughed deeply. Scrutinizing his apprentice carefully, Harold understood the cause of this peculiar behavior. Ralph was suffering and in mental pain. Laughing prevented him from falling into the black hole of sorrow and grief. Laughter kept him on the edge of existence.

Thoughts were bouncing around in Ralph’s mind. He focused on the tip of his nose and slowed his breathing. In the silence of his soul, a paradoxical phrase emerged. It was revealed in the Dragon-Tiger Classic, a Taoist source of wisdom: the yin in the yang and the yang in the yin—each contained the other. When he had read the text, the phrase had reminded him of the light-in-the-darkness concept. Although the visual icon had been popular for decades, he had only recently begun to understand its depth of meaning.

Ralph looked intently at his mentor. “Yes, I’m gaining some comprehension. An analogy is the pair manifested and unmanifested or the lunar cycle of four phases.”

“Indeed. The existence of things creates shadows—pockets of darkness. Solid objects block light and generate hidden places.”

“But not for humans who have superhuman power, like x-ray vision.”

“Definitely. Now humans psychically project their own images, which act as shadows hiding the sacred light that guides. These shadows are the images we project.”

“So we must overcome not only our personal shadow but also the collective, social shadow. Both these shadows act as oppressors and prevent us from ‘seeing’ our guide of light.”

“Indeed. To break away or separate from one’s shadow is to make possible the transformation for uniting with the light that guides.”

Ralph walked over to the stage and gazed into the mirror. His image was looking out at Harold, whose reflection was also present in the looking-glass. Was Harold his guide of light? If so, then he as the student must advance toward his guide, learning the secret of light, and imitate the perfect nature that Harold exhibited. “I’m thinking of the black art technique and many stage illusions. A shadow enhances the contour of a body. If the shadow is eliminated, the body will become invisible.”

“Black isn’t necessary. Any color can be used. Variations of color, shades and tints, and patterns can create perceptual deception. Shadows are needed to create three-dimensional realism in images and paintings and emotional realism in magic”

“Paradoxically then, shadows can hide or enhance visibility.”

“Indeed. The perennial philosophy teaches that in ordinary existence change governs and creates the appearance of manifest and unmanifest. Change involves movement from one mode to another. When something vanishes, it may not reappear again in exactly the same form with the same attributes. From the mage’s viewpoint shadows are misdirections that can be useful for many purposes. If you wish to remain invisible, stay silently in the shadows.”

Harold began humming a melody that deeply touched Ralph, who felt pulled into his psychic being. A ray of recognition struck him. “‘Day and Night,’ isn’t it, Harold. Cole Porter was a favorite composer of my parents. Why are you raking up my childhood memories?”

Harold stopped humming. Fixing Ralph with his gray eyes, he responded, “Yanking on that yearning of yours to live and dare. Back last spring you were asked where your woman was. Have you found her yet?”

Ralph frowned, perplexed by the question, and then a smile creased his face. “Red Buddha. Of course. In the weird dream I had.” Searching his heart for the truth, he responded, “Not exactly, but the desire is hungry and burning in the basement of my soul.”

“Doesn’t the hermetic craft instruct us to cleanse our body and soul?”

“Are you going to hum that song, too?”

“Only if you request it.”

Ralph stared directly into Harold’s penetrating eyes. “Who are you?”

“That was a question when we first met. My answer is still the same. Have you gained a better understanding?”

“You’re definitely from the spiritual realm, the unmanifested, and you have been helping. I seem to possess greater awareness of my identity.”

Seeking