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Directionality, Enclosure, Space

Directionality has been a topic that bothered me for ages. Western occultism tends to assign different significances to the four cardinal directions, and I found myself wondering Why. Why is East associated with Air in many traditions while South is Fire? Why does Black Mother appear in the North? The Directions have elemental and temperamental associations as well as different assignations of spirits, gods, etc. And my question was always Why?

You see, although I’ve come to see that some directions do have particular associations for me—I can call to the Black Mother and Star Seeker from North and East respectively, and trying to do otherwise just feels strained at best—I’m wanted to know why they had those associations. Cannier writers on the subject acknowledge that the associations are ultimately a matter for each practitioner, and lococentrism, your experience of your environment, can certainly influence your directionality.

For example, if I lived near the East Coast of the United States, Water could certainly have associations with the East. If you live on the coast of an ocean, then that ocean is going to dominate your directional thinking. If you have a volcano north of you, well, fire might be North for you.

After a point, I also began asking myself why directions matter in the first place. And as I pondered these questions, a constellation of ideas began to coalesce.

Borders & Walls, Doors & Veils

Like most folks, I’ve walked into another room to do something, only to forget why I went into that room in the first place. Researchers have investigated this effect, and they suggest that memory may be organized through spatial metaphors. We associate different thoughts, ideas, and memories with different spaces, organized by how those spaces are compartmentalized and enclosed. If you pay attention to how we often talk about ideas, you may notice these metaphors in use—we just don’t notice them.[1] “Oh, he went there,” someone might say when a guy brings up a particular topic. We’ll say “I’m not sure where to go from here” when we feel unsure which action to take or what to think or plan. For English speakers, for example, who read from left to right, we typically represent the past as to the left and the future as to the right. We often think in terms of spaces, directions, closed and open doors, and paths.

Mind you, this notion is by no means new. In his De Umbris Idearum, Renaissance mystic Giordano Bruno essentially offers a guide to using this spatiotemporal quality of the mind through active, vivid, and internalized visualization, where you fashion a “memory palace”[2] within your mind. Appropriated by some as a Renaissance “scientist” (when the lines separating what we call science and what we call magic were simply not really there), historians have linked Bruno to Renaissance and later hermetic occult philosophies, and I don’t think the path from Bruno and memory palaces to the Golden Dawn and the Sphere of Sensation isn’t particularly difficult to navigate.

This connection to the Sphere of Sensation and, I would argue, Talker points to how we can weave our “microcosm” to connect, to link to the “Macrocosm.” Or, to put it another way, we can weave how we mentally and spiritually connect to the broader world (and Otherworlds), and the spatiotemporal quality of our experiences factors into that. We internalize magical systems, metaphysical models of the cosm, and ultimately symbol systems for framing ourselves as part of those larger realities. Thus, hermetics incorporate Greek and Hebrew and Enochian into their selves and project that internalized reality out onto the worlds. Witches, Thelemites, polytheists, and everyone else arguably all do the same thing, some more fluidly or organically than others. Canny mystics or magicians should be critical of what they internalize and incorporate into their realities, but that’s true for everyone. There’s a reason schools like to talk about teaching “critical thinking skills.”

Where do directions come in, though? In pondering these ideas, I remember my experience of the small cemetery I found months ago:

[The urban Otherworld] recedes away from the big streets—or the [otherworldly urban city]Scape does. The roads are the big ley-like lines, with traffic the currents of energy—people and their intentions—.

—roads and lines of traffic have always mattered, of course. Relative quiet, isolation also help.

There’s a cemetery in the park—I knew it was there—and it’s surrounded by a chain link fence. Outside, it doesn’t read as much. Hardly register it. Inside, you quickly feel it. The presence of the dead. Over 40+, if not 80+ dead women, children, and infants—numbered and named—and you feel something there. I paid my respects, but I did not linger or try to peer. And the fence does a surprisingly good job of hedging it all in. A boundary of metal, posts in the earth, marking the domain for the dead. Simple magicks of demarcation and definition. There’s a gate that’s open, but the fence seemed sufficient. And beyond is the Green space, the haven it is—then the Scape. And the crick forms yet another boundary.

The Dead and the Green.

That is, this domain of the Dead had been enclosed, and the spatial quality of that action and its effects on perceiving the presence of the Dead stuck with me. I also remember a recent post by Rhyd Wildermuth on his blog, wherein he points to the enclosure of mind even as he and others at Gods & Radicals have talked about enclosure as political and economic violence:

Enclosure can happen for meaning, too.  In fact, that’s always been the trick of Authority; convince people they have no other access to meaning except through their prescribed doctrines…

I’m not sure if Rhyd meant it in this way, but his use of enclosure points to how space and borders and doors can constrain us, hedge us into narrow mental and spiritual spaces. We will talk about hiding or locking away thoughts or ideas or memories. And we can talk about how authority seeks to hide or hedge out undesirable ideas, as well.

Trajection & Mediance

I get cooped up indoors quite a lot, and this condition can lead to lack of sunlight and what I guess you can call an enclosed mind. I note my own sense of claustrophobia and being constrained, smothered, locked away, isolated. And I do the vast majority of my practice indoors, for I just don’t have the opportunities to engage in outdoor practice in a way I’d feel safe in. But I always notice how much freer, open, inspired, and empowered I feel outside, even in lightly urbanized areas. I learned a while back to look up and to look to the trees and the animals, showing the cracks of the concrete city around me.[3]

Environment matters to our identity. Augustin Berque has worked in environmental and ecological philosophy, drawing on Heidegger and other philosophers, and he’s done so in ways that read in remarkably parallel ways to how most nature-oriented magical practitioners do (polytheists, pagans, heathens, and so forth).

Berque is where I learned the term lococentrism, and I’ve also learned of psycholococentrism for a more psychological approach to the concept. Berque argues that our experiences of our lives and identities are necessarily mediated by our environments, which serve as spaces for us to project our own emotional and intellectual lives upon but which we also then use as mirrors for apprehending ourselves. Drawing on philosopher Watsuji Tetsurô, Berque situates human life as defining itself in relation to the environment that humans perceive their lives as occurring within. That is, we mediate our experiences and our understanding of those experiences through our environment in a process termed mediance. To do so, we traject (as Berque terms) it ourselves with the environment: we both project ourselves onto the world but we also allow the world to penetrate us in return.[4] From a mystical and magical perspective, we are always interconnected with the broader world whether we know it or not, and our connections to the world influence and shape our experiences of the Otherworlds, of this world, and of ourselves.

Given all of this, why directionality matters became apparent to me. Directions matter, our experience of the spatial quality of the world matters to how we think of ourselves and our reality. From there, for me at least, it’s been a matter of paying attention to the cues I’ve given myself for making sense of my own directionality, but perhaps more importantly to notice how my own “Talker” and “Sphere of Sensation” (Dariar) has been enclosed, leaving me often feeling cut-off and isolated from the worlds around me—and also how I’ve compartmentalized myself. These realizations have also led me to consider other, related magical metaphors: paths (including the hermetic Tree of Life associations), tunnels (with the Qlippothic, Nightside of the Tree associations), doors & veils, and even the Abyss as that outer experiential horizon that hedges us from everything else.

From a more quotidian perspective, though, this process helps demonstrate one purpose behind casting sacred space: asserting your own magical and spiritual presence within the world and Otherworlds by bridging yourself and your mind to the sacred and magical. Casting sacred space also becomes a means to assert your own emotional and intellectual and memory-based identity on your own terms rather than within the terms of everyday life.

And finally, as someone who spends almost everyday enclosed inside rooms and behind doors and dreams of institutional spaces and seeking ways out of them, I have to wonder about how our inner worlds would manifest if more of us tore down such walls and made the Worlds their space and spirit. At the same time, in this age in the West, the need for private and safe spaces emphasizes the necessity for people to have as much of their own say as possible in where those spaces are and how they are conceived. Virginia Woolf’s call for women to have A Room of One’s Own recognizes this need and also the empowering quality of having one’s own space. Of course, you have to guard against your space being converted into your (emotional, mental, literal) prison space.

Image: Flur2.UG by Enno Lenze

[1] In a similar manner, in English, we retain the old caloric economy of discourse for talking about our emotions in terms of heat and moisture: “She’s so hot,” “Oh, that’s so cold,” and so forth. The Galenic medical model of earlier eras predicated human psychology in literally those terms, and we retain the legacy of those concepts at a metaphorical level that often slides into the actual.

[2] Of course, the “memory palace” concept is not limited to Bruno, and arguably stretches back into, at least, the classical period.

[3] Of course, corporate psychology has noticed all of this, too, but most often in terms of how to wring more efficiency from some workers and often while retaining a very classist perspective on these questions. That said, historical research points to how privacy as a modern notion has architectural associations most folks probably don’t realize.

[4] Berque developed a veritable philosophical vocabulary of jargon in discussing these concepts. A good starting point for interested readers would be Augustin Berque, “Offspring of Watsuji’s Theory of Milleu (Fûdo),” GeoJournal 60 (2004): 389-96.

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