On Thursday, I switched inks in my main TWSBI for the first time in years. While I flushed the barrel, watching the J. Herbin Poussière de Lune dissipate into the purified water, deceptively dark but absolutely transparent the first few times I pumped the pen, I thought through my superstitions about the switch to the plain black Parker Quink and my craving for that flat absence of color on the sheets of paper. The first few inches of notes I’ve taken on Book I of the Laws (which I am rereading) are in dark purple. As I progressed, the notes switched to black abruptly, and then the two intermingled with one another as I went back to the beginning and filled in additional bits about the characters on my sheet of paper. Above it were notes on how to construct prayers to all of the Gods, also in purple.
Purple is the color that the Erinyes’ priestesses once wore. It is the color of rulers and the color of the band given in the Eleusinian mysteries to those who had passed through. Poussière de Lune evokes the realm of Selene and Hekate — the latter Goddess governing the material daimones who swirl through our lives in focused intensity. Black is a complicated color. It is plain and unadorned on the surface, even if black ink like the Quink I chose is a sophisticated blend designed for easy drying. It is what the Christians wore when they were pouring into temples to smash statues fifteen hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, five hundred years ago, and yesterday. It is associated with Earth — rich, deep brown soil and stately volcanic rock, metallic hematite and life-giving carbon. In English, we use the same word for pigment and for lightlessness; many other languages do, too, but the words are not always the same. Lightlessness is associated with the Goddess Nyx at one end, with primordial water at the other. The stain on my thumb from where I touched the glass inkwell while the pen sucked up the new ink was a black that faded to a grayish purple-blue before disappearing entirely as I scrubbed it out with soap.
And then I considered the meditation from earlier that day. It had been the first time I had sat down to do meditation proper in a while. A slip into nonpractice always happens at some point during the fall semester for me, and in February or March, the practice resumes again. I breathed in and breathed out, my eyes upon the tree outside the window that I followed through its cycle of seasons during the pandemic last year as I followed my breath. I closed my eyes.
My Awake mindfulness clock is programmed for a five-minute meditation warmup, followed by fifteen minutes of meditation, a chime ringing every five minutes to help me stay attentive. It suits me better than Headspace, as the guidance became annoying after a while, especially when the speaker jarred me out of a zone; the unguided sessions are a void of silence until the end, when one rushes to finish the meditation. An interval chime provides just enough of a nod to Khronos’ rhythm.
Yesterday, I fell into that space where everything is brightness and the mind feels like it is humming with light, my thoughts divided between Apollôn and the passage I had decided to contemplate from A Casting of Light By the Platonic Tradition, which comes from a Thomas Taylor essay that I have not read.
The lyre of true philosophy
is no less tuneful in the desert
than in the city;
and [le] who knows how to call forth
its latent harmony in solitude,
will not want the testimony of the multitude
to convince [lim] that its melody
is ecstatic and divine.
It would be overly complicated to go over everything this called up. First, the lyre belongs to Apollôn; second, I wasn’t just thinking about true philosophy, but about general religious pursuits undertaken out of a sincere desire for the Gods, the strict semi-definition of both mysticism and religiosity. From there, my thoughts strayed to Plotinus’s “alone to the alone” and how the external world is irrelevant to the particular person and the specific God — supersymmetric, to use a term from Physics, because the contact itself is the same regardless of time or place or anything else about the embodied soul herself. The testimony of the multitude made me think about the desire I know I have for others’ approval, the desire that all of us have on an appetitive level because we’re human, and humans are social animals with social instincts. There was a lot of dissatisfaction there because many of my worst willpower struggles are with desires related to validation and feeling socially safe. I thought about will not want and how it positions rational desire against innate desire, the former constraining the latter; I thought about how ultimately, what is known of the latent harmony is impossible to explain, truly. Along with all of this came thoughts about Protagoras in Plato’s Protagoras and his desire to modify his arguments based on what he knew of his hosting city, the similar things in the Gorgias, and the modern-day Influencers and advertisers who neg people (negging is a pickup artist term, a backhanded way to destroy a target’s confidence and make lim desire the manipulator’s approval) and sophistically claim that they have the solution to whatever their quarry lacks. And, ultimately, if the soul is like a city, we take the city within ourselves wherever we go, regardless of how solitary we believe we are. All the while, the light danced, and I left those thoughts in favor of that mellow radiance.
Today, I woke up, prayed, vacuumed, and started working. While vacuuming, I sang we all come from the Goddess / and to her we shall return / like a drop of rain / flowing to the ocean / Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hekate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna, a chant I learned as a child. While I sang, I remembered the companionship of singing alongside others in ritual and afterward at the potlucks, and my voice fell into the higher harmony part. (My normal range is very narrow, between C4 and G5, and I have trouble singing low enough because chants cater to altos range-wise, so I do harmonies a lot in chants.) I hadn’t sung it in a long time, and I don’t know why it was suddenly on the tip of my tongue.
Meditation isn’t always a mental light show and mellow bliss factory. It was difficult today. While doing the body scan, I uncovered a thick ball of anxiety that hadn’t been there yesterday, with no apparent cause. Focus came a bit harder, as if all of the various things in me were in a shaker bottle being heaved hither, thither, and yon. I thought about the passage in Proclus’ commentary about the soul and her presiding God at the close of Book 4 (commenting on Timaeus 40d7-e2), known or unknown, while sending the anxiety a quick not-now only to have it bobble up again periodically.
Still, there was focused, breath-driven awareness, its edges tipped with light. I started thinking about Ourania, the celestial expanses, and Apollôn as leader of the Muses. The thoughts about Ourania were surprising because I don’t often think about her. Contemplating her felt like verses, the balance of orbits, and the deep-stomach feeling like when one contemplates things that happened in the Milky Way billions of years ago before Earth even existed. It was only after I relaxed that the meditation grew easier, and then the chime rang three times to tell me that my allotment was up.
The meditations and the change of ink both sparked more thoughts about the divination I had done in January and my initial wince at the cards. Since then, I have learned that some of the cards can either mean dire stagnation and entropy or just quiet, below-the-radar change. It’s interesting to see that juxtaposition. The inverted Hermit card that I received, for example, could mean that a lot of spiritual changes are taking place in my life unseen by others and unreported to them, or it could mean that I am withdrawing from the world in an unhealthy way. I can guard against the latter while hoping for the former, and based on things I’m not writing publicly about, my hope may be well-placed. A card related to writing indicated giving things up — releasing them — and I still don’t know what that means other than that lately, poetry has come easier than fiction, especially praise poetry for the Gods. My stress levels have lessened over the past month, and an intermittently stagnant spiritual period that was stressing me out in November, December, and January has also improved with more knowledge, discipline, and awareness of my commitments. The switch to a different ink was an unlikely token of this change, significant insofar as it brought to mind the already-swirling thoughts as thick as the Stymphalian birds.
Religious practice is called practice not because it’s a rehearsal, but because it is a dynamic thing, an unfolding of the relationships between a person and the Gods le worships. I hope this was an enticing (admittedly highly selective) glimpse.