Settle in: I’m going to talk about travel magic, the unconscious layers of my recent trip, and Saint Teresa’s The Interior Castle. As one does. And I’m going to pull you along on my circle journey—you can think of it as me trying to help you see the twisting roads and trails I find myself on.

I haven’t traveled anywhere for ages—up until this last week, I hadn’t flown since March 2001. To a good degree, I didn’t feel like I could afford to travel, not in the ways or to places that I wanted to. But I did recently, on business (“mentoring and networking”), and the student I mentored did well. Indeed, he did well enough that, as he was practicing before his presentation, I found myself grinning triumphantly at how much he had improved. Indeed, he had listened to me and had practiced practiced practiced.

But, I had also recognized that I was looking at a low-probability situation: I hadn’t been in a situation like this one before, and I was stepping out of my normal experience of the world and all those habits and getting into a context in which causality could be a little murkier. Along the way, I wound up throwing some practical and other enchantments at this experience. Consider this post descriptive rather than pedagogical or prescriptive: here’s what I did, here’s where my spirit and mind went along with my body, rather than a string of recommendations for trip magic.

Anyway, the night before I left, I only managed about a half-hour’s doze that ended with hypnogogic journeying that is personally significant, but would probably bore most folks the way I would tell it here, but let’s say that I imagined what Langston Kahn doing a “shaman healing” for me would entail[1], and that wound up hitting on something significant that lurked in the background for me throughout my trip. If nothing else, it wound up aligning me to the “backstage dream” of the trip—to resort to a lyrical turn of phrase for what wound up feeling a bit lyrical—as I fared forth.

Pre-Flight Planning

To be fair, the tarot divination I’d done a while back about this trip—What do I need to know about this trip?—advised me to keep the unconscious portion of the journey in mind, even as the reading forecast a successful, if busy, experience. I had looked at the space weather a while back, and I saw that I’d be flying in the midst of a Mercury Retrograde while Mars and Saturn were doing their business together in Capricorn even as the Moon seemed to be afflicted on the morning of the trip out.

Now, my approaches to Mercury Retrograde entail adequate planning ahead of time and what contingencies I can manage. I had hard copies (plural) of my student’s presentation with me, just in case, and more. I decided to travel lightly, not checking any luggage, for I knew I’d be carrying everything anyway for most of both days of the trip. I only had the travel funds for an overnight stay in the hotel anyway, and I had acquired a couple of books for actual reading rather than bringing other or a laptop. I had Ursula La Guin’s translation of Tao Te Ching and Saint Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, the Dover thrift edition, both slim volumes. I didn’t get into La Guin, and I’ve only gotten a ways into Interior Castle, but it wound up being apropos for the unconscious elements of the trip. I’m still making my way through Kripal’s Secret Body (it’s been a busy grading season), and I didn’t feel like packing the larger hardcover book.

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Hermes gonna go retro.

Otherwise, for Mercury Retrogrades, I’ve taken to doing my usual Wednesday prayers and including the Orphic Hymn for Chthonic Hermes in there. I don’t remember where I got this idea specifically from other than listening to Gordon White and Austin Coppock discuss the mythic significance of Mercury in retrograde as reflecting Mercury’s time in the Underworld. I consider it a shout out to Mercury and what he’s doing during this period. Mind you, it helps that I’m also pretty tight with Mercury otherwise.

 

Regarding Mars and Saturn, I had offered Mars an Orphic Hymn on Tuesday, as well—and I was departing on my trip on the Day of Mars, even if it was clockwise early Wednesday morning. I’d welcomed Saturn into Capricorn a while back—there at the exact moment, even, which got me some interesting UPG results.

As I think about things now, it occurs to me that there are probably ways to mitigate better this more specific space weather—the Mars and Saturn conjunction that’s been tidally building and cresting and receding for a good couple of weeks. In some ways, I think it could be as simple as a “prayer” acknowledging both planets who have come together within a citadel of power for them both and bringing to them a petition to “turn back my foul fortune—bring me only good fortune.” I also wonder now what Martial-Saturnine things could I have channeled (funneled?) their presence in Capricorn to accomplish with their blessings? That is, how could I have provided an outlet for this conjunction towards some beneficial end, giving it a more controlled outlet? While I can imagine malefica could count, I didn’t have the time and energy along the way to figure out anything there, and to be honest, I suspect malefica wouldn’t mitigate how their presence would spill into my life. Otherwise, I wonder about a combined light journeying (seeing them within that Capricornic citadel where they are in their power and exaltation) and Orphic-style invocation along such lines. Although I didn’t have anything especially malign occur, I kinda wished I’d done something.

I had also launched a sigil campaign for the trip—mostly in the hopes of improving the odds of a safe trip, a pleasant trip, and a successful trip (including for my student). Like with all applications of sigil magic, you still have to put in the less glamourous work along the way to help create the conditions that the sigils can bump in your favor (per White per Carroll’s The Octavo, I believe).

Furthermore, wishing to avoid unfortunate imperial entanglements, I forewent some of my usual magical regalia, opting for the (quite intentionally) stealth amulets, talismans, and so forth I had specifically crafted a while back.

Finally, I had to figure out how to pull off my usual Wednesday and Thursday obligations and magical praxis. I didn’t want to try to get around with incense, spirits, and combustibles, and I was going to be Lyfting or using complimentary shuttles once on the ground, so I wanted to minimize unnecessary side-trips and expenses. Between a tiny bottle of Fireball whiskey, a free tiny bottle of frankincense oil, a bit of on-the-fly seal-making, and a cribbed version of my Black Book on my phone, everything wound up working well enough. And there’s something a bit illicit being outside a university union at 8:30 AM chatting up Mercury and offering up an Orphic Hymn.

In the Air, On the Ground

As I said, I haven’t flown since 2001, and on this trip, I rather enjoyed the sensations of acceleration and ascent and descent—it felt like faring forth and letting the sky pull me upwards like wind, which is apparently my jam. Where everyone else that I saw was trying to distract themselves on their phones and such, I was savoring the take-offs and landings. I mean, I did a couple of quick little prayers and call-outs (vocalized but not particularly human-audible) on take off and landing, including one to Saint Christopher, given the circumstances. The airborne time was brief—half-an-hour at most, a hop and a skip—but the compressed bit of motion “sickness” (more like giddiness) did a good job of waking me up.

I had ensigiled for travel upgrades and, specifically in the sigil campaign for this trip, a luxurious trip. While I didn’t luck into the upgrades, I can see that two flights doesn’t provide sufficient instances for the probalistic nudges to necessarily land. That said, the flights were mostly harmless, and the upset baby and her mother I sat next to on the return flight wound up being rather pleasant and sedate in the end (which I will treat as a success). All that said, I did wind up appreciating my hotel room, and even managed to get some exercise in—and, well, the room was three times bigger than my own bedroom and twice as big a bathroom, so, all things in luxurious proportion.

The only real MercRet business that popped up, that I noticed, was that my student and I had been operating under the assumption that his presentation needed to be ten minutes at most in length. It wound up that it was fifteen, and we briefly pondered ways to add to his presentation. However, in the end, that wound up being a non-issue, and his presentation was the most cogent and professional of the three. The first one was brief and cheated—opting to just “talk about” a YA novel the student had written on before throwing the chat open to “discussion.” The third one was more focused and researchy, but the speaker spoke softly. Ultimately, I’ll take the experience as a definite win for my student, though the benefit is mostly a line on his CV that should still be impressive.

Actually, the other bit of MercRet that landed was my Lyft back from the airport, heading home, as my driver—a distracted and ranting mom going on about her still-living-at-home kids, drugs, pets, and more—turned a 25-minute trip into 50 minutes while Google Maps went loopy, too. But, y’know, I’ll still take that as a win.

Mars and Saturn, I believe, had already begun to sound their malefic note back last Friday when we realized we had some kind of bug problem, and it sounded a bit more clearly when I found out exterminators were coming yesterday—giving us only 36 hours of effective notice. While my roommates managed to do a lot of the heavy-lifting, and the cat had accommodations Friday, I wound up getting home late Thursday night and, after a brief respite, had a sleep-deprived executive and emotional breakdown as I tried to process all that I needed to do and how to do it. I got most of it done by 3 AM Friday morning, managed to get enough sleep to wake up and finish the prep later.

Otherwise, to be frank, other than watching my student do very well and getting to see his parents watch him do very well, the best part of the trip were the conversations. It’s interesting to think about conversations you have with strangers who you would never have otherwise met. And not just pleasant conversations about nothing—Oklahoma’s teacher strike, the importance of taking electoral control over political offices from the county-level and up, local politics and its recurring manipulation by organized crime (and connecting that to larger, more national electoral concerns), Shakespeare, the philosophy of biology and how researchers choose to use only vaguely-defined terms that can and do mean different things in different studies, talks about graduate school, freelance work, and more. And, curiously, as I sat on the plane on the flight back, enjoying the journey, I had the sense that as much as I’d been talking about the above subjects in engaging, insightful, and mutual conversations (despite, y’know, “she continues”), I’d also been having or was still having other conversations, parallel conversations. I had this sense while sitting in my seat, feeling that I was having parallel conversations going on with the mother next to me and a student on the flight who was pondering graduate school. I had the sense that had been happening earlier. To be fair, that sort of thing probably happens constantly. But while I was on too little sleep to look more closely into what unconscious me was talking about with them, that feeling remained.

I wonder how much those conversations were in some ways more important than the main, conscious purpose of the trip, and I thought back to my own little UPG experience the night before leaving and the “advice” card from my tarot reading from a couple of months back: let the unconscious do its thing. At that point, my sleep deprivation probably made me a bit more unconsciously guidable into the chance encounters that could occur.

Unconscious Readings

Through this, I was reading Saint Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, and as I did so, I found myself appreciating having developed a far more robust metaphysic than I once possessed. The reading seemed slower going than I might want in places, but I think I can chalk that up to the sleep deprivation, the distractions of travel, and reading against my usual grain.

You see, I’ve long had a dim opinion of Christianity, and I retain a dim view for many modes and expressions of Christianity. I extend that opinion in many ways to the official Roman Catholic Church and the institutional forces that have allowed its crimes and injustices to continue or to be hidden away as much as possible. (I also have a dim view of how institutional logic is used for oppressive cultural ends and indoctrination rather than liberation.) And as much as I have wandered in pagan spiritual and other territories for many years, I never didn’t believe in angels, demons, and such: I just felt a good amount of unease about how I perceived them to be or to be categorized. I honestly didn’t know enough about saints to have an opinion on them, but I appreciate viewing them as “very special dead”—as catholic (little c) “mighty dead”—to again point to White. And allowing all that to live in a cosmos where the division between matter and spirit and real and irreal are not neatly severed through human biases—and for them to live in a cosmos with faeries, “gods,” genius loci, buddhas, jinn, oni, naga, and jotunn and any and everything else imaginable or not—well, it makes for a more ecosystemic approach to a life and weds it to having a spiritual life.

I tell you this to make this point. A while back, I would’ve read The Interior Castle and would have turned my nose up at the “trust in God” discourse and Teresa’s self-deprecating turns as “that Catholic” or “that Christian stuff.” I would’ve rather facilely described it as “yay God—go pray!” I would’ve sneered at Teresa describing herself as a worthless or idiotic woman.[2] But, as I’m reading The Interior Castle, I have a far richer context to put it all within.

In the text, Teresa describes a form of prayer and meditation that has, as its goal, negotiating deeper inside the self to the innermost “mansions” of the soul’s “interior castle,” where God dwells. Now, as I’ve been reading, it often seems to me that Teresa’s descriptions of God and God’s place within the interior castle and how one has to work with, to be guided by, to even surrender to God—well, her God started sounding to me rather like the Dao. She’s using the language available to her—that of early modern, sixteenth century Catholicism—and I’m sure she would look at me like a witch for suggesting such a notion (at least at first), but her God seems rather like the Dao. Indeed, I’m finding my choice to pack both La Guin’s Tao Te Ching and The Interior Castle as itself a remarkable synch on my part.[3]

And having read Jung’s The Red Book, having read Crowley’s The Book of the Law, and having read some of Giordano Bruno’s works and Frances Yates’s books on Renaissance hermeticism and memory palaces/theater and so on, including on Bruno’s—I am seeing a very similar enterprise on The Interior Castle’s part. Bruno also describes the use of interior imaginal spaces for esoteric ends. For Bruno, he adopts a hermetic circle of the cosmos centered around oneself—a microcosmic representation of the macrocosm, engineered in architectural terms within the soul but, perhaps, encompassing the cosmos. Teresa’s interior castle strikes me as very similar, but she repeatedly and explicitly argues against any kind of systemized approach to negotiating the mansions within the castle. Instead, she says, you have to follow whatever path is the one that God (or, perhaps, the Dao) and your soul guide you through the mansions, however twisting that path winds up being.

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Ecstasy of Saint Theresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (but Napoleon Vier wants credit for his photo so CC-BY-3.0). Yeah, I’m sure Teresa was otherwise a normal woman. Also, this work is never not cool.

In that sense, I start to suspect that Teresa’s book—while contemporary to Bruno, which I find interesting—seems more kin to Jung’s The Red Book, where the psyche/soul has to negotiate the inner depths—to engage with the Spirit of the Depths. That journey is a necessarily personal one, thus Jungian individuation. I can see active imagination as akin to Teresa’s prayer and meditation. And given the Daoist-like, Unconscious-like, currents that Teresa worked to entangle herself with, and given how I noticed myself being drawn by similar currents (not counting my unconscious-selves) on this trip, I think there’s much to sit with, to think with here for how we live our lives—how we move through our lives. Those considerations, for practitioners, will necessarily entail whatever tech we use to entangle ourselves better with the cosmos and in a manner more integrally on our terms.

 

You see, all this didn’t only happen on the trip: it’s going on all the time, on all my little journeys. My little trip just helped me notice it, and I will ultimately have to discover their significance for me. That said, thinking about my unconscious, parallel conversations and activities on this trip—I wonder again how much of our lives we aren’t paying any attention to. I suspect those conversations weren’t meant to be consciously known yet, but they needed to happen. The proof will be in whatever happens in the lives of the people I met and in what happens to the lives of those they go on to meet.

Finally, I will note that where Teresa opts for an architectural metaphor—which goes back to her vision of the castle in the first place—I recognize that for me it’s the Wood, the Forest—that Forest Mind, perhaps—that is where I wander on my journeys.

Featured Image: 12019 | Pixabay

[1] I’ve heard good things about Kahn’s work, and I have a friend who recommended him—comparing the experience to having a professional do something you’d been DIYing yourself.

[2] Indeed, and with the acknowledgement that I don’t know enough about Teresa in terms of who she was as a once-living person, I find myself wondering how much she was expressing internalized misogyny and how much she used such discourse in attempts to negotiate the patriarchal constraints of early modern Catholic Europe as the Reformation was occurring, especially as she was writing to share the tech of The Interior Castle explicitly for other women and with official Church scrutiny. And, even if she had internalized the period and culture’s misogyny, I would argue that was probably not something that the soul would carry forth through canonization (either official or mythical).

[3] I’m also smirking at the synch of Gordon White not only talking The Interior Castle in relation to the emergence of “revealed books” but also name-checking me and my “Forest Mind” post.

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