Some musings on polarity
by Phil Hine (1989)
A July Monday afternoon and my attic room is a fair imitation of an oven, but I've just finished a ritual and I feel good. I won't go into the details but it was to help a friend, and that feels good too. She's getting into the occult and today was one of her first tastes of how it feels to do magick, rather than just reading or talking. It went well and, like having a chinese takeaway, we both felt like another one half an hour later. I really like working with other people, and that thought set off this weave of words.
I've been in the magick biz' a fair number of years now, and it has struck me more than once that nearly all the people I've worked with on an initiatory basis have been women. That is, we've talked, done whatever felt necessary at the time, and then gone our separate magical ways (remaining friends). Over the years I've made a rule about 'guiding' others, that I'll only enter into such an intense relationship if a) we both want to work with each other, and b) that they'll teach me a skill in return, or better yet, surpass me in their magicks, and come back and 'guide' me into that art. This has worked surprisingly well, and such friendships, formed from the fire and fusion of the mutual wonderment of where magick can lead us, well, that feels good too. But I've only worked on an initiatory level with one other man - but things didn't seem to gell. Musing over this brings me to look at the whole subject of 'Polarity'. I worked for a few years with an Alexandrian Coven, where polarity was an important issue. You know, all the stuff about male-female, positive-negative, bright-dark, low-high active-passive. The male-female bit was especially strong, and every Priestess had to have her Priest, and vice versa. Men reflect the Horned One, and Women reflect the Triune Goddess and any suggestion that things could be otherwise, well it just wasn't done.
So I learned to work with the Goddesses; being in a Wiccan coven meant having a 'magical partner' to work with - a Priestess. Slowly the subversive little thought crept in - "Why can't men work with the Goddesses directly, and women invoke the Horned (or any other God) upon themselves? Okay, so I was naive at the time, but we tried it - no problems. By that time I'd read all the Jung I ever wanted to and was well into his concept of male & female natures within. The High Priestesses said that men needed to get in touch with their 'feminine' natures, so this was okay.
In the midst of working through a cycle of Devotional Magicks to different Goddesses (Kali, Isis, Eris, Babalon, Ma'at) I started to have trouble with the whole concept of polarity. Okay, so we have 'masculine' and 'feminine' qualities. Men are logical, women are intuitive, men are intellectual, women are emotional. Says who? Patriarchy, that's who (yes, I'd learnt a new word and begun to grasp a new politics). Our social conditioning sets up these distinctions. Try and grow away from our conditioning, and we might learn that logic, intuition, intellect, and emotions are qualities that we can all share, no matter what our gender orientation is. And so another occult 'law' comes tumbling down. So too I began to question the Jungian concept of Anima & Animus. If we don't need to polarise qualities and traits into 'masculine' and 'feminine', then do we need to have Anima & Animus within? Jung's theories have been ably trashed by others, over the years, and I don't feel the need to do it here.
The Quantum revolution dealt a death-blow to the dualistic perception of the universe, and Chaos Physics will more or less finish it off (eventually). We know that the Universe is much too complex (and wonderful) to be neatly labeled into opposites, and how we too easily chain ourselves into limitation by taking on board restrictive concepts. Anything might be possible, if we allow ourselves new possibilities. Take sexuality for instance. For safety's sake we define our sexuality according to labels, images, roles, politics, etc. But increasingly, we are discovering that sexuality chafes at being trapped in one mould. Which isn't to say that we are all androgynous or bisexual. Just that those who feel able can explore aspects of their sexuality that goes beyond their immediate perception of their orientation. I recently read a book called 'Macho Sluts' - a collection of Lesbian S & M erotica. It didn't do anything for me, as it were, but I was extremely impressed by the writer's ability to be honest and truthful about her fantasies - refusing to censor herself just because it wasn't 'politically correct' to have such images in her head. The best kind of magick, I find, is the magick that liberates us from the chains of oppression, be they ideas, feelings, conditioning, or the very real oppression of being made to feel powerless and unimportant.
So I ceased to cut my psyche up into bits (higher self-lower self, Id-Ego, etc). Instead, I began to use a (for me) more useful distinction, the shift between Ego and Exo. Briefly, the Ego is a collective fiction of 'who I am' - what I am, what I am not, what I can do, how I would like to see myself, etc. - The 'Self' as a stable entity. Given enough experience & growth, we can shift into 'Exo' mode. The Exo is the self engaged towards the world - to new possibilities of being, towards other people, of 'going' rather than 'being', and of engagement, rather than stability. It's a shift of attention if you like, from yourself, towards the world. In Tantra, we find an image of the human self as a spark of consciousness (Shiva) interacting with a cluster of desires, habits, patterns, etc (Shaktis) ideally, in constant flux and change. Increasingly, I see the self as a cluster of spirits which form a gestalt, out of which arises the sense of identity. Try and wear down bits of the conditioning in our heads, and we might discover new ways of living and interacting with each other.
So the whole concept of Polarity has ceased to have value for me. What I'm more interested in is the idea of sympathy, or perhaps empathy with others. Nowadays, I won't do any intense magical activity with someone that I don't feel 100% okay about. There has to be empathy between us. Empathy and mutual respect. For as Robert Anton Wilson says, "Communication is only possible between equals." And that is the crunchy-frog point that is probably the root of the difficulty I have with working magically with other men. Women know that they are (at the very least) equal to men, whilst men remain each an island unto themselves (and each other). This is as much a problem for me to come to terms with as any other male (putting myself on a pedestal as an 'initiate' or whatever would be 'typically male' and just bloody silly). We males have to learn to see our peers as equals, and this is true for magick as any other sphere of activity. We're still too much hooked into the roles of leaders, followers, pupils, students, teachers, and the "I'm more spiritually advanced/politically correct/successful than the rest of them" trip.
Answers then? I don't know for now, but I'm open to suggestions.
Postscript: The ritual, by the way, was an invocation of the force of Geburah, through the Archangel KHAMAEL ("Wrath of God"). It just goes to show that you never can tell how magick is going to affect you.