Hermes Beckons: Laughter Keeps Him on the Edge of Existence
The front door bell rang, its sound simulating a wind chime. Ralph looked at the clock levitating above his desk. It was one-thirty, and Rafé was not due until two. He went into the front vestibule and peered through the peephole in the oak door. Harold Magian was standing there, smiling directly into Ralph’s eye. Ralph opened the door and beckoned him to enter.
“Good afternoon, Ralph. How are you doing?”
“Fine. And you?”
Harold followed Ralph into the studio, glancing at the packing boxes scattered about the floor. “Your new equipment has arrived, I see.”
“I’m setting up pieces right now. Rafé will be over this afternoon, and we’ll start practicing our routines with the props.”
Harold plopped down in the rocking chair. After a few moments appraising the situation and examining Ralph’s demeanor, he asked, “Do you have a drama director to assist in this production? Someone who has knowledge of acting and the theater?”
“No. I didn’t think I would need one, what with all my years of magical performing. Besides, Rafé is majoring in theatre arts at SF State and has already made several adroit suggestions.”
“An experienced director is a must in today’s theatrical climate. The top magicians all have gained assistance from experts in drama. Allow me to act as your current coach. Later you can seek out someone, perhaps from State’s theatre arts department.”
“But what would such a person know about performing magic?”
“That’s the point. Find someone who is not a magician and can offer the advice of a lay person as far as magic but an expert in theater. Let’s start the acting class now.”
Ralph walked over to the stage and turned toward Harold, who was gliding back and forth in the chair. “What routine shall I perform?”
Harold gazed intently at his protégé. “First we need to establish the character you are playing in the show.”
“Why, an alchemist. I thought you knew that?”
“Have you ever been an alchemist?”
“No. Well, I’ve been studying the art.”
“The first step is to understand your character so that you can be it. Who is an alchemist? If you saw one, could you tell?”
Ralph rotated and looked into the mirror searching the image for identifying signs. After some deliberation, he remarked, “Why anyone. My neighbor, a salesperson, an auto mechanic, a teacher, or hairdresser. The occupation is irrelevant.”
“Any of your friends or acquaintances?”
“Perhaps. How could I tell?”
“Could you be an alchemist?”
“Sure. I’m trying to be one.” He looked closely at his mirror image.
“Do you see an alchemist there?”
“Now I do. Being an alchemist is only one of many things I am.”
“Yes. A magician who is an alchemist. But can you be an alchemist doing real magic?”
“You’re saying that my magical effects are me?”
“Aren’t you hiding behind them?”
Ralph glanced at the posters of famous magicians hanging on the wall and then about the room at his magical apparatus and library. He realized that he always carried something with him to perform a routine any time and any place. He felt naked and uncertain of himself when he stepped away from the props.
“What should I do?”
“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 non sequitur startled Ralph. Quickly, he walked to his workbench and picked up the mirror. “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.”
“What trap?” Ralph was astonished.
“You’re acting like a puffer or literalist, using your own pejorative 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 one 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 form 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 and student of Hermes.”
“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. Harold was humming a melody that Ralph was familiar with but could not recall the title. “What’s the song you’re humming, Harold?”
“Why, it’s ‘Stardust.’ Hoagy Carmichael. Remember?”
“It’s coming back to me: ‘The music of years gone by.’ That’s my parents’ generation. They liked that kind of music.” 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’ 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 his 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 phrase that Merle Leong had mentioned to him 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. He had remarked to Merle that this 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 another favorite 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 dream.” 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.”
Harold stood up. “Rafé will be here soon. I’d better be going.”
Ralph noticed a bright aura around his mentor. “I’m grateful for your assistance.” He felt like embracing Harold, but restrained himself. At that moment the door bell chimed.
“I’ll let Rafé in as I’m leaving. Oh, one further thought. Ask Shasta to be in your show as a major character.” Harold winked at his apprentice and whistled the melody of “Stormy Weather” as he left the studio.
I do need to find my inner woman, my queen, Ralph thought. No wonder I’m on an emotional roller coaster. Only Shasta can guide me safely through this night of torment. ***
The magician was in a pensive mood when Rafé entered the studio. She glanced around the room, noticing opened boxes. Unexpectedly, Karma leaped out of a box and onto the desk while at the same moment Lucy stuck her head above a box and then jumped out onto the floor. She stood quietly watching him peer into a packing box, his eyebrows drawn together as if an inner debate were ensuing. Sensing a presence, he glanced toward the door and noticed her standing there quietly. Smiling, he pointed to the boxes scattered about the room. “Our new apparatus has arrived. We can begin practicing our routines in earnest.”
She welcomed his enthusiasm. “What shall we work on first?”
“Let’s start with the floating sphere.” Going to the storage cabinet, Ralph removed a lightweight, transparent synthetic globe, which he carried over to the stage and placed on the utility table. Rafé picked up the camcorder, ready to film the performance.
Ralph stood beside the sphere and, passing his hands around it, spoke, “Arise sphere. Arise and journey through space.”
The globe rose slowly to the level of the magician’s hands, and then it moved toward the edge of the stage. Ascending further, it began a graceful dance movement toward the center of the studio. Pausing, two feet above the desk, the sphere lit up, shining a soft glow of brightness; and then it glided to the levitating clock and danced rhythmically around the clock before floating over to the posters.
The mage stood beside the utility table bewildered. At the beginning of the routine the sphere was under his control, but once it left the stage, it gained its own will power, and it had lit up without his assistance. Rafé was recording the globe’s movement with an expression of wonderment on her face.
The bright sphere, whirling and gyrating in spiraling patterns, gamboled around the studio, pausing here and there, speeding up and slowing down, ascending and descending according to its frolicking delight. The two magi watched in amazement. After several minutes the lambent ball completed its choreographed ballet and floated to the stage, stopping in front of Ralph. Moving up and down, as if acknowledging the mage, the globe descended onto the utility table and its light vanished.
Rafé put down the camcorder and applauded. Ralph was speechless until his assistant said, “I can’t believe what I saw. The performance is here on tape.”
Ralph broke through his flummoxed mental state. “That was impossible, but of course it happened. We saw it. Yes, please put the tape into the VCR, and we’ll watch it.”
After rolling the desk chair over to the rocker, Ralph sat down in the rocking chair as Rafé sat beside him. With the remote control he switched on the TV, and together they reviewed the sphere’s weird animated existence. When the tape ended, Ralph commented, “That performance was full of wonder and delight.”
“The globe’s movement was so graceful,” Rafé remarked.
“Whoever choreographed its dance is a master.” Ralph was now feeling light-hearted as the unsettling fear caused by the bizarre event faded.
They watched the tape for a second time and a third. During the fourth replay they noticed a slight movement by the black velvet curtains on the side of the utility table opposite to where Ralph was standing. Ralph reran that section of the tape in slow motion, and they studied it. Rafé pointed out a shadow against the curtains, a shadow shaped in human form. Ralph broke into a sweat, his heart palpitating. Calming himself, he froze the image on the TV screen.
“I felt a strange presence during the globe’s routine.” Rafé looked at Ralph, waiting to learn his experience.
“I don’t know. I was so flabbergasted that I wasn’t really aware of anything besides the unexpected happening.”
Too many odd, inexplicable events had been occurring, and they seemed to be increasing. Rafé decided to speak directly about her premonitions. “Do you think a manito might be joining us?”
“A spirit? I . . . perhaps, but why?”
Rafé focused beyond the TV and deliberated. Reaching a decision, she spoke softly but with an underlying strength. “Ralph, there have been other weird happenings. Altogether they remind me of a spirit-calling, at least if this were occurring to me. My Neshnabek background interprets the events this way.”
“Spirit-calling? What . . . what do you mean?” Ralph turned a lighter shade of pale.
“The Midewiwin tradition. Some people are called by a manito to become a mide practitioner. If they don’t heed the request, they find themselves in great difficulty and often become ill.”
The rocker began gliding more quickly. Feeling light-headed, Ralph closed his eyes and breathed deeply, repeating his mantra silently. Rafé observed him closely. Her intuition touched her, and she was aware that she was speaking the truth. Whether it was a manito or some other spirit being, Ralph was definitely involved in a spiritual crisis.
Once he regained his composure, Ralph rose and walked over to the sphere. Placing a hand on it, he asked, “What can I do?”
Rafé got up and went over to him. “Find out what it wants. Talk to it.”
A darkness flickered across his face and was gone. He stared at his assistant, who exhibited wisdom beyond her years. “Rafé, I have a secret. You’ve told me some of yours. Well, I’ll reciprocate. I’ve a deep desire, stemming from the center of my soul, to perform real magic, the magic of nature. My alchemical studies have recently caused definite changes in my thinking and attitude, and I hope the changes are beneficial. I’m glad you’ve witnessed some of the strange events, so I know I’m not going mad.”
“You’re not mad nor crazy, Ralph. I can empathize with your situation. I certainly believe in the spirit world, at least what I know of it because of Peyote Woman and my mide relatives.”
Ralph gently touched Rafé on the shoulder. “Yes, I do need to communicate with my spiritual side. I guess things must get worse before they get better.” He walked over to the magical history section of the library. A surge of optimism buoyed him.
“The alchemical light show is your initiation into the mysteries, isn’t it?”
Turning, he smiled at her, a brightness surrounding his head. “Yes. I think you’re right. The show is my initiation; something I’ve never admitted to myself. Thank you, Rafé, for helping me see that.” A sincerity exuded from him and touched her.
He took a book from the shelf and showed it to her. A slight chuckle was emitted from his lips. “This book speaks volumes about real magic and stage magic. In 1584 Reginald Scot published probably the first public revealing in English of the secrets of magic in The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Most scholars think that the publication was in response to Jean Bodin’s The Demon Mania of Sorcerers published in 1580. Bodin’s book launched a witchcraft fear and attempted to instigate a new wave of investigations into anything that even seemed slightly magical. Scot countered by arguing that witches did not exist and that magic was only an entertaining performance. His proof focused on revealing the secrets behind common and popular effects, illusions, and sleights-of-hand. The sixteenth century was the time of religious strife in Europe with the Reformation and Counter-Reformation conflict oscillating between life and disaster. Inquisitions were popular forms of public entertainment with the burning of witches, wizards, and religious heretics, who, of course, were in cahoots with the devil. Scot’s position was so controversial King James ordered the book burned!”
“Christians thought that about my people’s traditional religion and outlawed it, making us criminals when we worshiped.”
“Stage magicians, who originally earned their living as street performers, concentrated the public’s attention on the entertaining value of their conjuring, yet the idea of the spirit realm as the foundation for magic still remains in the background, although obscured by our modern, scientific attitudes.”
He replaced the book on the shelf and strode back to the stage. “I thought the sphere’s dance was aesthetically pleasing, but we can’t trust that it will happen again.” He winked at his apprentice. “So let’s try to incorporate as much of the choreography into a routine we control.” ***
Ralph placed a log into the wood-burning stove. Staring through the glass plate in the stove’s door, he watched as many fingers of flame embraced the log and ignited its surface. In a few days he would carry a bucket of wood ashes out to the compost heap. Thus, nature demonstrated the eternal cycle of life-death-rebirth. He had been receiving many ideas about the structure of reality recently, as if his philosophic fountain had been turned on. Analogies had been occurring among apparently unrelated phenomena.
After Rafé had left that afternoon, he tried to locate the raven basket. Panic erupted as he searched the studio, first in all the likely places and finally in the least likely. Was the Zuni bear episode repeating but with the raven basket? He believed in their continued existence even if they were unmanifested, invisible to his senses. To overcome his anxiety he reclined in the rocker and soothed his soul by the rhythmic gliding. He was relaxing, and his mind was clear when he rose and walked over to the workbench. For an unknown reason he lifted a coin box which he had been refurbishing and discovered the raven basket lying beneath it. Caressing the basket, he went back to the rocker and sat down.
Several ideas manifested themselves. The information of the basket’s location was stored somewhere in his memory, but he had difficulty retrieving the data and using it in his search until he relaxed and cleared his mind. Then without any internal speech or imagery his body went directly to the basket and brought it back into the visible world. One conclusion he drew was that an awareness or knowledge of the unmanifested dimension existed. The adept developed skills to tap data hidden within the invisible realm. His finding the raven basket demonstrated the potential for what is attainable.
Shasta entered the living room and seated herself at the round table. “The vegetable soup should be ready in about an hour. I’ve added some barley.”
Ralph glided over and kissed the top of her head. She turned her face upward and received a kiss on her lips. v“I’m filled with enthusiasm for the alchemy show.” He stepped to the couch and sat down.
“Dale is half finished composing the background music. His ensemble will record it on a CD.”
“That’s fascinating. Oh, Merle left a message. He wants to show you his designs for the setting and scenery.”
“I’ll phone after dinner.” Ralph gazed at the flames; thoughts flickered in his mind. “Shasta, I’m going to need a second assistant. Would you do it?”
She was surprised at the request, and it seemed to come out of the blue. She had enjoyed assisting at the performance for Merle’s art reception. “What will I do?”
“I haven’t worked out the details yet. Sometimes you’ll be on stage as a performer and other times assisting off stage with the props.”
She realized that now she could play a greater role in his healing process. The door was opening wider, and he was stepping out into the sunshine. Beaming, she replied, “I’d love to.”
A childlike happiness shone on his face. “I’ll start composing the third part tomorrow. I know where extra assistance is necessary. Now that you’ve agreed I can develop the role even more. Once the script is in good shape, Gordon’ll review it and suggest improvements.”
She laughed. “I’m sure he’ll notice places for revisions.”
Ralph chuckled. “He’s agreed to be the storyteller, so he’ll definitely want the script to be to his liking.” Then he rose and asked, “Ready for a refill?” She nodded affirmatively, so he picked up both glasses and headed for the kitchen.
Gazing at the fire, she doodled absentmindedly. An idea sat in the back of her mind, waiting to flower. For the past week Leila’s story about the cube wave and the weird occurrences connected to it had been bothering her. The disturbance had to do with telepathy. She did not doubt its existence at least in a weak form.
After Ralph had returned with more martinis and placed hers on the table, Shasta remarked, “I’ve been thinking about Leila’s cubee story. The strange anomalies have fired my imagination. Let me throw some ideas out and see what you think of them.”
“Fine. I’ve had thoughts about it too.”
“I’m most concerned with telepathy: what it means if it exists, which I believe it does.” A cluster of ideas manifested in her mind. Expressing her delight, she presented the thoughts. “The first telepathic experience anyone has is during pregnancy: a fetus communicates with its mother in a symbiotic relationship. All mothers and their infants share this bond. After birth the infant gradually grows away and separates from this bonding, but the indelible imprint is always present. Although I’ve never been a mother, I know this intuitively; it’s an innate impression.”
Ralph reflected on the phenomenon. He had never considered the possibility. “Yes, of course. That would explain so much. The father is physically and mentally separated from the embryo and can only bond after birth. Human culture in its many variations is based upon this phenomenon.”
“According to traditional stories the best prophets, seers, and diviners were women.”
“Not for the ancient Hebrews, at least as recorded in the Old Testament. In the shamanic tradition both men and women have become people of power.”
“That’s true. And in many cultures, no doubt, men have been favored with this psychic talent.”
“Perhaps, it’s there in all of us—the potential actualizing during pregnancy—and after birth the culture either enhances or hinders, even destroys the power.”
“Hmm. That’s an aha.” The cluster of concepts was spiraling slowly for her enlightenment. “In a culture that centers on the religious nature of the mother, the feminine, the bonding of one flesh is the basis for the religious idea of at-onement with God, a reuniting as in an embryonic state.”
Ralph felt the arching movement of a dance of ideas. “Of course, the bond between mother and child is the biological illumination of the spiritual essence: the link between spirit and soul, creator and created, is analogous to that of mother and child.”
Since their trip to Healdsburg when Ralph had shared deeply rooted ideas and acknowledged a budding level of psi ability, she had felt more connected to him; their bonding was strengthening. The encouraging signs upon which her understanding was based were intuitive. She was more a part of his world, and he of hers. Now that she would play a role in the alchemical light show was further assurance. She took delight in his philosophic mood and the bantering about of ideas, sometimes serious, sometimes comic, but always exhibiting a profoundness.
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