Border Crossings

It has been a May of sun and high sky thus far, and as my schedule opens up for a couple of months, I have had the chance to venture forth again. Despite the bugs biting—the mosquitoes seem rather darker and larger than I remember when I was younger—the wind and trees and sky and clouds have been calling. It is warmer than April—the highs have been in the low 90s/30s, but the winds have been keeping things pleasant, other than for the pollen.

But as I walked about yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t but help comparing the experience of the open expanse above me in bright daylight to the often more clouded but suggestive April skies. I have noted that on sunny days, the winds seem of a higher “altitude,” as if they are coming from higher above me down to the tree tops and I, and the sunlight drives many beings out of sight, to the shadows, the undergrowth, or to lurk until nightfall. On the cloudy days of April, even the trees seemed stronger presences, but so too those who move in their shade. Several times, I experienced a bit of double-vision, having the impression of wind giants hanging above, sometimes coming closer and resting in the branches of the trees, and my double-vision was of my normal perspective and the sense of them seeing me. In both the cloudy and sunlit circumstances, I also could feel how being outside, especially with the wind, it was like I could open the top of my head and the sky could come pouring in—or the sky was the real top of my head.

The Mansions & The Depths

I’m going to talk about borders and boundaries, which have been on my mind in many ways lately. Beyond my usual exercise of “walking around the neighborhood and then blogging about it in odd ways,” I have been reading Saint Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, which I would argue is of a constellation with Jung’s The Red Book and Crowley’s Liber AL/The Book of the Law (though Jung and Crowley are far more closely aligned in many ways). I reached a point with Teresa where I had to stop, and I had the sense that she pointed me back to Jung, for I had been reading The Red Book but had stopped months back after hitting a similar block. On returning to Jung, I found that very quickly the section I’d stumbled on opened up for me, and it linked in myriad ways with Interior Castle (and Liber AL). I went back to The Red Book while also starting to listen to Memories, Dreams, Reflections on audio book, and this pairing proved quite fruitful for me.

But the subject of borders and boundaries are quite apparent in Teresa and Jung. To some degree, this fact emerges from the architectural and spatial metaphors both writers use, especially as both are describing the conscious self’s negotiation of interior, unconscious domains: the Mansions for Teresa and Jung’s Unconscious. Both writers seem to be pursuing very similar ends, though their cultural and metaphorical filters can seem distinct. Teresa adopts a more explicitly Christian and early modern Catholic (though by no means orthodox, all things considered) version of the process of individuation Jung spent his career and life working out.

In regards to “borders,” Teresa argues repeatedly that her sisters seeking to follow her path must practice “submission” to God and Christ, but I quickly stopped seeing this call as some kind of typical Christian submission—although it could be interpreted that way, and doing so probably helped render Teresa as a saint rather than a weirdo or witch. While putting Interior Castle in dialogue with Jung, or at least putting the two texts beside each other, I think Jung would see Teresa’s call as opening oneself to working with the Unconscious and the soul: specifically, for Teresa and her sisters, their animuses, where Jung had worked instead with his anima. Submission, I suspect, becomes a means of opening the self to the soul, to the deeper layers (or “Mansions” for Teresa) of the self and soul, just as Jung had to open himself to his Unconscious and negotiate/navigate its depths, often times visualizing/imagining actually descending deep into the earth or through other locales.[1]

Boundaries & Selves

Keep Teresa and Jung in the back of your mind for a moment. Jeffrey Kripal in his Secret Body has an interesting section on problematic and amoral and often abusive gurus and the weird stories of psi and miracles often surrounding them. Kripal observes that

The simple truth is that profound spiritual transformations, healings, philosophical insights, and paranormal effects are commonly experienced around religious prodigies, who are also engaging in behaviors (often of a sexual nature) that can be profoundly destructive. There is something about spiritual charisma that is explosive, something that honors no stable personal boundaries. [emphasis mine]

Kripal goes on to argue that he strongly suspects these effects are not the product so much of the “spiritual teacher himself or herself.” Instead, Kripal argues, “These effects are more likely arising from a shared and highly ‘magnetized’ social field, which is somehow being activated or focused into a laser beam because of the presence of a charismatic prism.” Furthermore, he suggests that “the spiritual and sexual energies” involved with these groups “overflow together.[2] I read Kripal here as arguing that somehow, the erosion of concrete, stable boundaries between the persons of the cult or group somehow mingles the group together in a spiritual, psychic, or similar manner that can do wyrd things. The result isn’t so much an “egregore”—typically conceived of as a collectively intentional and exteriorized artifice—but rather the group forming a group spirit or group self that has extended their borders from their individual bodies and personhoods to the larger and more porous boundaries of the group as a whole. The charismatic leader serves as a catalyst to form and add others to the group while also guiding the collective spiritual presence to its miracle-working ends.

How do these personal borders open to allow this group soul to form or to draw others in? Kripal argues that it’s trauma, which “may well be what cracks open the door to mystical states of consciousness” even as “what is inside the house [self, interior castle] need not have anything to do with how one got in. A door is not a house. The ethical (or unethical) is not the mystical.”[3] That is, where various life traumas (NDE for Teresa and Jung’s own neuroses) may help instigate Jung’s and Teresa’s endeavors, they deploy devotion, prayer, active imagination, art, and more to open their conscious personal borders in order to get at the Unconscious, divinity, or what have you—the mythic, in general, Jung would argue. Kripal points to how trauma, intentional or otherwise, can also bust open the door. And, as he suggests, many cult leaders will use trauma, often sexual trauma, to these kinds of ends, let alone the kinds of depatterning and repatterning strategies that gained more exposure in the twentieth century for mind control purposes.

Kripal’s hypothesis has applicability to broader contexts, as well, I would say: the ability to redefine social and psychic/psychological borders for in-group/out-groupsand how they think, believe, and feel should be considered in the age of mass and social media. Such consideration should also include the ways in which trauma is weaponized in and by the media and to realign where our sympathies lie.

Jung and Teresa sought to open the doors, or to arrange border crossings, by opening the self to the Unconscious and mythic. For Jung, this process included encouraging himself and his patients to engage with their dreams as a door into that reality and the deeper side of themselves. For Teresa, prayer and devotion and piety and faith and ascetism were her means for doing so, that and her near death experience when younger. Both grew increasingly more entangled with the mythical, haunting their lives, with Teresa apparently even managing to (not willingly) levitate.

I also want to bring in another voice here. Lynn McTaggart’s Power of Eight describes her experiments and experiences leading group intentions: people get together to intend some positive result for someone within the circle, repeating that intention mentally for a short period of time. They play a bit of meditative music, and just intend. For example, “these crops grow better” was an intention that wound up working. Group prayer—especially simultaneous, rather than in one place—can work similar wonders. However, as McTaggart observed, the intenders wound up getting positive “blowback” from intending good things for others, and she observed that it seemed to be a matter of opening oneself emotionally to helping another person. Or, as I would put it, honest empathy and compassion open our personal borders—or can, if we’ll allow ourselves to do so—allowing miracles to occur, and without the trauma that Kripal points to for those religious cults.

Coming Together

So, I can’t ignore my own impressions, my own experiences, that point to how learning to work our borders is a fundamental part of praxis. The casting of circles or creating sacred space serves two purposes from this perspective. Firstly, one creates liminal locale between one’s personal space and the rest of the mythical and spiritual world. Secondly, one asserts a personal border and how it is negotiated. The two acts are concurrent, of course, but in doing so, we also necessarily open ourselves to the mythical world in the first place, letting our consciousness encompass some portion of it rather than merely perceiving normal human social reality. Indeed, arguably, all practical enchantment should do something along these lines in practice.

However, in order to more deeply or more successfully do so, those borders must become far more permeable and, perhaps, messy than our normal consciousness prefers. Walls are really good barriers, as I’ve often noted before. The difference between a windowless room and a room with an open window is obvious, just in terms of atmosphere—and remember, where do the airs dwell—but my experience outside where it feels like my mind expands to encompass the sky above, well, I can only recognize how these things very much go together, perhaps very literally.

Note, though, that I am not advocating the erasure of borders, merely learning how better to consciously manage them. We need and want borders, but they should work in our spiritual and emotional and physical favor.

I also feel that, beyond the immediate praxis concerns, the opening of one’s personal or inner borders literally opens us to our own spirits, our own mythical inter-face with the spiritual, and if one does that work, you also wind up doing something like depth psychology and, well, soul work. Indeed, distinguishing them merely reasserts the dualist borders of matter and mind/spirit—let alone mind and spirit being divided from each other. But where one could use these things for mystical ends, the practical enchanter in me also wants to see how these practices provide general uplift in my life and a more specific uplift for my magical practice.

I suspect this is actually one of the wherefores of “energy work”: it’s a way to start entangling our conscious, embodied lives with the imaginal, spiritual side. Because, I would put to you, it’s not that we’re somehow developing a brand new “subtle body” and “energizing it,” and we’re not “thinning the veil” between the worlds. No, we’re opening the borders we’ve erected within our selves to keep our souls locked away, to keep our selves locked away, from ourselves, from each other, and from the mythical reality we already exist within.

Three Parentheticals

Firstly, unlike in hierarchical systems and cosmologies, both Jung and Teresa stress that the kinds of journeys they’re engaging in are far more organic in their perambulation of the self. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung compares the journey to the center of self as like circling around the center of a mandala before reaching it. In comparison, Teresa stresses that the journey through the Mansions—with the Seventh Mansion(s) being the innermost heart where the Husband dwells—is not a linear journey, and the aspirant will move in many different directions, up and down, around and about, to get there.


Jung: obviously a very different person from Teresa

Secondly, I don’t want to get into the gendered nature of how Jung frames the soul as animus and anima, depending on the gender identity of the conscious persona. I would hazard that this hetero-gendering of self was helpful for persons operating through particular gender binary cultural frames: Jung was fond of binaries and the Unconscious presenting “negative” images, and Teresa operated within the cultural and religious frame of Christ as husband to the church and to nuns. And, honestly, both writers are persons of their respective ages, and I don’t want to get hung up on this kind of concern, but I do want to acknowledge it.

Thirdly, and relatedly, Jung stresses that the soul/anima has to be brought to heel, and the anima is framed in rather whore of Babalon ways by Philemon and Jung. She is desperate for divinity, and she will root through (psychic) garbage and will “whore” herself to any and everyone in pursuit of it. Accordingly, the anima must be constrained, curated, for, as she tells Jung’s conscious I, she is preparing for a particular journey into the heavens once he “disappears” (dies). In contrast, Teresa has no such “bringing the othered soul to heel”—she foregrounds the conscious persona’s shaping—for the union with Christ the Husband in the Seventh Mansion is of a different character. While one could read the difference between these two in gender binary and feminist terms, I think it’s important to consider that Teresa is also bringing other spiritual tech to bear on her process: asceticism and ecstatic union with divinity, and in particular, with a very particular slant of Christ that seems far more aligned with the saintly side of Christian cultus than mainline Catholicism. Jung is no ascetic and ecstatic, and indeed comes out of a rather more emotionally-constrained Swiss Protestantism and post-Enlightenment empiricist worldview. He does experience his own submissions and trials during his extensive explorations, though: like Teresa, his conscious I must transform. My point, then, is that I don’t think the distinctions between the two can be distilled down to being only their responses to patriarchy and socialized, binary gendered traits, but that is there, too. Also, Teresa is literally a saint.

Featured Image: MabelAmber | Pixabay

[1] I’m glossing over the distinctions Jung draws at points between self and soul, let alone the conscious “ego.”

[2] Jeffrey J. Kripal, Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 82-3.

[3] Kripal, 85.

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