Any journey has to start somewhere…and the only place you can start is at the beginning. For each of us, the spiritual journey will look very different… but at some point along the way, we all encounter what is known in esoteric circles as fluff.
I was always going to end up what my sons call ‘weird’. I was lucky, being born into a family where the term ‘spiritually eclectic’ was the understatement of the century. I was encouraged to question and learn from a wide extended family and, when the time was right, venture out into the unknown and find my own direction.
Between them, my family seemed to cover most spiritual and religious bases. One set of grandparents were a minister and psychic in the Spiritualist Church who, recognising nascent weirdness, wanted me trained as a medium. My other grandfather was a magician. Not the kind who pulls rabbits out of hats, but one who follows the magical path and learns to live by its tenets. His study, forbidden to most, but a place of delight for his small, curious granddaughter, was, had I but known it, a fully equipped ritual space. To me, it was just a magical place where wonderful things lined the walls. Strange diagrams, Egyptian gods, intriguing symbols… and a black mirror , the surface of which was a portal to a land where the rules of reality were other than those I knew.
It was this magical path that spoke to me. As a teenager, taking my first uninformed and tentative solo steps, I read everything on the subject that I could find. My grandfather’s books, the few rare volumes the local library could provide, odd tomes picked up in dusty shops and anything I could persuade the reference library to disgorge from the deepest, darkest vaults.
You soon learn which writers had something to say and which were simply riding the waves of curiosity. There has always been a market for books on magic; the majority are simply fictional or sensational. Some fictional works, written by those who have lived and worked with the magical systems, use storytelling as a way to explain and illustrate spiritual and magical concepts in action. Most of it, however, is written with little practical knowledge, often with one eye on entertainment and the other on the royalty cheque. Beyond fiction and sensationalism, though, there is a core of writers who genuinely walk the path and whose work may point you in the right direction. Sometimes, that direction is not what you first think it to be.
In any area of study, garnering knowledge via the intellect is an empty pursuit unless it is put to work. Until it is used, there can be no real understanding of its wider implications and true value. You may read as many books on plants and soil types as you wish, but you will not become a gardener or understand the beauty of encouraging a plant to grow, until you put your hands in the soil. For many who begin on the esoteric path, knowledge itself can be a trap. Magical systems and correspondences make a fascinating study and can occupy the whole attention until you forget why you began in the first place.
Looking for practical applications of what I was learning, I realised that, without joining a school… for which I was still too young… there was little I could do. So, faute de mieux, like many who are drawn to this path, especially as youngsters, it was the readily accessible things… like tarot, palmistry and numerology… with which I started.
And… at least as I first began to use these applications… they were spiritual fluff.
‘Fluff’ is a derogatory term for those things which, although often rooted in something much deeper, are either being glossed over and played with like bright, shiny toys or are being used with neither desire nor intent to delve into their deeper meaning. Many such things are widely known only in their degenerate and superficial forms and, as such, are dismissed as having no value. Even fluff, though, may serve a purpose.
By my mid-teens I was reading palms, working with numbers and reading the cards. It was never about fortune-telling, even then. I had at least grasped that much. For me, they offered windows into human nature, including my own. It did not take long, however, for the gaps in knowledge and understanding to start letting in the light.
Hands have always fascinated me and this extra dimension of observation offered a real insight… but it was also the first area where I learned that the insights you gain may not be what you expect. Mention palmistry, and many will hold out their hands, expecting an instant reading of their future. Offer a character reading and you soon realise that, no matter what you say, people will only hear what they choose. Palmistry was the first to be discarded.
Numerology was another excellent way of beginning to understand character and also the relationships between numbers. It was a good introduction to working with their symbolism and correspondences too. But it did not take long before frustration set in… I wanted to understand why the numbers had their meanings, where they came from and what they had to teach about a life greater than that of one human being. That too was discarded.
When you buy your first Tarot, it usually comes with a little booklet giving basic meanings. Your first ‘spread’ will doubtless ask a fairly predictable question, relating to some current issue. The answers can be surprisingly revealing and helpful, but even here, there was a sense of frustration. I did not believe that I could ‘magically’ choose the cards to give me the ‘right’ answer… nor did they choose themselves. I soon arrived at the conclusion that I was missing something.
And this was where the fluff became useful. Frustrated by the limitations of what I had learned, I sought to understand what value these practices might truly hold…and where they could lead.
Palmistry rehabilitated itself for me, though I never took it up again, when I learned that physicians use hands in diagnosis. In the West, this is limited to things like colour, temperature and anomalies of the nails, but in both China and India, the lines themselves are used. It had also taught me how blinkered we can be regarding our own self-image and how impossible it is to change what we refuse to see.
For me, the Qabalah held the keys to unlocking a deeper use for the Tarot and the beginning of a more profound understanding of numbers. The cards have never been discarded, but I use them for a very different purpose these days, as gateways to the subconscious and their images form part of a map of existence. Numerology I think must be a degenerate form of gematria; both are based upon the fact that in many ancient languages, letters also have a numerical value. But, where numerology skims the surface and holds a mirror up to life, gematria seeks to elucidate those hidden and inner meanings pertaining to Life.
The frustration of fluff and the desire for understanding that it engendered set my feet firmly on a path that continues to evolve. Looking back at my inexperienced self, I would shake my head in despair, except for one thing… fluff served me well. Without its limitations, my journey would have been much poorer and my spiritual landscape would look very different.
Some of the things we encounter are, undoubtedly, no more than fluff… far too light and insubstantial to hold meaning in and of themselves. Even so, we should not dismiss them as being of no value. For some, they may represent the first step to climb a personal Everest and a journey that will last a whole life long.