©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.
I’m not a fan of horror films. Many are simply exploitative, and the genre in general has normalised extreme violence.
But once in a while I come across something that, to me, is exceptional, and only in the genre of ‘horror’ out of misunderstanding; or even better, because the ‘film’ has two layers of meaning… and if you stick with it, you get to the second, deeper one.
Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, although sci-fi and not horror, was a case in point. It was really about the ultimate evolution of the human race – in the face of its imminent extinction, though that was much easier to ‘get’ if you’d read Arthur C. Clarke’s book – which came after the film, which was jointly produced by Kubrick and Clark. Many people who watched the film had no idea what was really going on…
We’ve recently finished watching the Netflix series of ‘Midnight Mass’, and, though this is classified as a horror/mystery film, it’s really something a lot deeper.
A charismatic young priest arrives on an island some miles off the coast of Maine on the eastern seaboard of the USA. The small Crockett Island is much diminished from its former days of being a fishing haven. Spillage from an oil tanker several years prior has reduced the standard of life to general poverty.
The Catholic Church on the island used to be the centre of its life, but is now sparsely populated. Drugs have found their way into the lives of the younger people; ‘pushed’ into their meagre existence by a couple of low-life types who masquerade as fishing boat mechanics.
As if that wasn’t enough, all the cats on the island are disappearing.
The film’s opening takes place in a quite different location: New York. We later find that the man siting in handcuffs on the pavement between his wrecked sports car and the police vehicle is the emigrated son of one of the fishermen on Crockett Island. Across the glass and metal strewn street, we see the dead body of the girl he’s just killed in the crash – caused by his being drunk. The image of the newly-dead girl, her face encrusted with fragments of shimmering glass, reflecting like jewels, is to haunt him for the rest of the film.
Later, we discover that he’s a successful investment banker on Wall Street… was a successful banker, because he’s sent to jail for several years for causing the death of the girl whose image now follows him.
We fast-forward to the day of his release from prison, when he arrives on Crockett Island on the mainland ferry, to return to life with his ‘only friends’ – his parents. His arrival coincides with that of the sudden appearance of a charismatic young priest, whose mission is to revitalise Crockett Island’s small church, and restore the once-vibrant spiritual life of the remote community.
The banker is now reduced to living with his family and being a poor fisherman, again. While the priest enjoys enjoys a rise to local fame – and a full church – with the aid of a series of miracles, although his health seems strangely suspect. As the congregation grows, we see the rise of the usual suspects – the zealot (a woman Deacon) who considers the rest are not holy enough; the town mayor, getting in on the act and asserting his temporal importance; the local violent drunk, whose only soft spot is for his beloved dog.
But the priest keeps ahead of this, and, each week, challenges the congregation to increase their efforts to ‘imitate Christ’. Soon, the church is full. Even the disgraced banker attends; at the behest of his father, though he will not take the communion wine.
Gradually, the entire life of the island gets drawn into this new pattern of life and worship; until, one morning after a storm, the beach is found to contain a long line of all the dead cats that had gone missing…
I’ll not spoil the story, whose plot is clever and surprising. But, throughout the film (series) you can feel what’s happening, even if you don’t understand it. The direction is subtle and sinister – while remaining deeply understated.
Sufficient to say its conclusion is shocking in the extreme, but not for the sake of it. It becomes the meeting and clash of two worlds: the vision of the priest for his flock versus the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes.
The dreadful confrontation between what’s been killing the cats and the full congregation is difficult to watch, but has a purpose way beyond violence. In that conflagration is shown all the best and worst of human nature and the crisis results in a condition where most of the island’s people are faced with possible death.
At the centre of this is the relationship between the disgraced banker and his former girlfriend, from when he lived on Crockett Island, There is a beautiful late-night scene where the two of them talk about their respective views on death and the afterlife – a motif repeated at the very end of the film, as the sun rises on the beach, where the remaining islanders are lined up to greet it…
The purpose of this blog is not, generally, to promote films, but the underlying wisdom of ‘Midnight Mass’ is beautifully and bravely crafted, and results in an ending filled with hope and wisdom, rather than the usual ‘vengeance’ aftermath of such scripts.
The film is also about ignorance, and those who follow what they want to hear, rather than seeking the reality – the truth.
You can’t describe it as a ‘feel good’ film, because it’s too shocking. But you can describe it as a brilliantly crafted story – filled with redemption, in the deepest sense.
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.
We were spending a few days in Alnmouth, a tiny Northumberland village with one of the best beaches in the country. I rarely get to swim in the sea these days, but such things are of vital importance to our Collie dog, Tess, who loves to chase a ball down a beach and into the waves.
It was early morning. I was enjoying our walk. Tess was already wet through and dripping with morning-sun happiness. There were only four of us on the entire beach: a middle-aged couple were walking towards us, along the line of the sea.
I looked at them, then looked again. The woman was carrying two large-lensed cameras, and slightly stooped with the weight. Such heroism demands recognition, so I laughed across at them as they drew level.
“Those are mighty-looking lenses!”
At first, they looked troubled, as though I were some English football hooligan, about to rob them. Then the man said something in broken English and I realised they were Dutch… and I had spoken rather quickly and in a quick-fire humorous way, typical of the English in that situation. The cameras straps were wrapped across and beneath the lady’s breasts, and I realised with horror that my gesticulations might have been horribly misinterpreted.
I back-tracked quickly and explained my admiration for the camera gear, and they began to smile, sharing the humour instead of being anxious about it. I took my rather smaller (iPhone) camera from my jacket pocket and laughed about the comparative size of the photo equipment.
They warmed to the stranger, and for the next five minutes we talked and laughed, as I helped them to say what they wanted to. I speak a little German and French which helps with translation, even if I can’t find all the right vocabulary. People from the Netherlands are often able to converse in three or four languages, but these two had little English. Between us, we persevered and had a pleasant and informative exchange. They went on their way smiling at the early morning encounter with the dog and the man who turned out not to be a football yob…
But the initial look on the face of the lady carrying the massive cameras across her shoulders and chest stayed with me for the rest of the day, and caused me to formulate this post.
Had there been no way of breaching the language gap, they would have left with a very negative view of the encounter. And yet they would have been wrong… Like all of us, their lightning-fast perception and conclusions would have determined how those few minutes of conversation were entered into.
In my head, I could play back the encounter and run it in different ways. Reality, in real-time, doesn’t do that. We might say, traditionally, that the ‘now’ comes at us from the future with a content we can’t fully predict, but which is subject to probabilities. If my last footstep was on a beach in Northumberland, my next footfall is unlikely to be in Utrecht. The world around me is stable – to a degree. But nothing is entirely determined.
This is particularly true of our interactions with others…
We can’t go around greeting each new person as though we were a child, bright with life and openness. In an ideal world we might, but maturity and discretion teach us that human manners have a purpose – not least of which is to prevent us getting thumped.
Over the years of our life, we have built a kind of ‘perception wall’ around us. This wall of sensibilities – an extension of our mind, recognises ‘types’ of events – and people – coming at us from the immediate future. Our enemies or likely potential enemies are well identified, and invoke a whole set of protective behaviours. The violent drunk staggering out of the pub and lurching towards us, swearing, is an example of the invoking of avoidance.
Others are not so well defined. We all use different classifications to mark the approach of that near-future. This creates a gradient of relaxation-warmth at one end, and potential violence at the other. One of the most important human conditions is to be able to exchange positive humour with a stranger; based on a shared set of current circumstances; a shared misfortune of a mild nature (like just missing that bus) is an example.
These occasions leave positive feedback and good memories of those well-spent moments, when vocal and non-vocal cues act as a binding framework for a good-natured encounter. They are like good food. We need them, if only to re-assert our level of humanity and our belief in the goodness of others… something that we be starved of.
Could we take it further and suggest that we actually create our future? My footfall is never going to land in Utrecht, but my pre-judgement of the person approaching me along that pavement has enormous control over the approaching ‘now’.
If you can, try this for a few days. Study the facial expressions of people coming at you, with the willed intention of making a new friend – if only for a moment. Don’t pick someone you like the look of; select a person you wouldn’t normally speak to, but, obviously not one who gives you the chills.
As the very last moment before your ‘meeting’, hold the thought that you have something warm in common. Look onto their eyes, smiling and see what fills that brave space you’ve just created to hold ‘the link’.
You might be surprised what happens, and how you can look back on something that could not have come into existence unless you had altered your expectations…thereby changing the probabilities within the approaching ‘now’. In reality, of course, there is no approaching now, there is only now, filled with constant changes. We do not move into the future. What is around us ‘morphs’ into its new form and we call it time. We measure time by the those changes. Clocks are a form of special agreement as to what the changes represent…
The world is really our world, ‘projected on’ by our expectations, fears and joys.
The Dutch lady with the big lenses didn’t allow for this. The ill-spoken potential ‘English yob’ with the ‘big dog’ had, smilingly and sinisterly, said something abusive in a way she didn’t understand. They were set on leaving the scene, as fast as possible.
I had to use intelligence, charm and sincerity to dig back to the words of that moment and show that only warmth and shared humour were intended. Our wonderful minds allow for that – and our astonishing language that can hold and describe concepts as vast as present and future.
That next second in all our lives is coming around that corner, now, and its nature is significantly undetermined… until we act with familiarity or with self-defence. And mind precedes action. In that sense, creating our own future is a very real thing.
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.
Some experiences are tiny and subtle; you don’t expect to remember them. But, days after, I was still thinking about that line of writing on the wall, in the last of the summer sunshine…
I’m a north-west lad; deeply Lancashire in my roots, though well-travelled from a business perspective. But one of my favourite parts of the UK is the North-East coast, from Whitby all the way up to Scotland, most of it in Northumberland.
This land of history and mystery used to be its own kingdom. To my mind, there is still a sense of the otherness in its hills and perfect beaches – and the people are friendly and usually welcoming.
We were spending a few days in Almmouth, that harmonic delight of estuary village meeting sea; en-route to a reunion in Edinburgh.
The oldest of the Alnmouth bridges crosses the River Aln to give the village its main access to the mainline East Coast railway station (Edinburgh in 60 mins), and the beautiful ancient town of Alnwick, ancestral home of the Percy family, who kept out the marauding Scots… Say it quietly, a good number of my cousins are Scottish.
As we often do on these trips, we were catching up with a diverse group of people, dotted along our route, including Cathy, a long-standing friend of my wife, Bernie, from the time they both worked in Bournemouth.
A few years ago, Cathy, now approaching retirement from the NHS, relocated to Whitley Bay, north of Newcastle. She had always wanted to live by the sea, and settled in Weymouth for a while, but found it too far from other places she needed to be.
Then she found her eldest son was planning to move in Teignmouth, just north of Newcastle, where he had been at university. Like his mum, he was attracted to that stretched of what was the Northumberland coast.
Cathy had a limited budget, but was delighted to discover that nearby Whitley Bay was not only affordable, but undergoing a resurgence and considerable ‘gentrification’. Formerly the haunt of the worst kind of drug dealers, facsimiles of whom seemed to feature in the ever-popular Vera detective series, it now teems with individual boutiques, quality cafes and restaurants, and coffee shops.
Locals say Whitley Bay is now safe and prosperous, yet hasn’t lost it’s common touch…
After refreshments in her sea-facing garden, Cathy took us on a guided tour of the promenade and resurgent town – the last stop on the northern leg of the Newcastle Metro line.
For a while we alternated descending and climbing back up the various sections of the expansive promenade. The sea is a long way below this section of coast road, and I wondered whether my iPhone camera would do anything useful at that distance?
After about 30 mins of walking, it was obvious that we were approaching the centre of town. Two things were of immediate interest to my photographer’s eye: a giant white building looking like a Moorish palace; and a wonderful view down to the beach, framed by curving stone walls.
Spanish City – the large white ‘palace’ – used to be the main tourist attraction of Whitley Bay. It was built 108 years ago as a ‘resort within a resort’, and offered cafes, restaurants, entertainment and a set of rides for the young and the young in heart. For the sixteen years prior to 2018, it stood derelict, until being restored and refurbished.
In July, 2021, the listed ‘Dome’ was reborn and re-opened by the local council after a £10million restoration, which included contributions of £3.47m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a £2.5m Coastal Communities grant. It’s never looked back.
Cathy announced it was time for an ice-cream. There was a chorus of approval, especially when she crossed the coast road at speed and installed herself at the back of a short queue outside the famous Di Meo ice cream parlour. When we caught up with her, she explained that the queue was normally fifteen people deep, and she’d rushed to take advantage of this astonishingly smaller one – give it was one of the finest days of the year.
While she was queueing, I strolled quickly back to try the possible photo I’d seen. Two women were talking across a gap on the edge of a set of steep downward steps. Beyond was a panoramic view across the beaches and sea towards the distant St Mary’s lighthouse. Even in the bright sunlight of a pristine September day, it didn’t look as emotionally warm as it felt; so I took the shot with a view to editing it in a new (free) App I’d been recommended called Snapseed, made by Google.
That done (which was the work of a minute only) I crossed back over the road, just in time to collect my ice cream. We meandered slowly back, with Cathy telling the story of how the original Spanish City was etched into the memories of generations of both locals and visitors. She said there had been a famous quote, but couldn’t remember it.
Later, I remembered that I had taken a few random shots of the promenade’s slope near the ‘Dome’. One of them had Cathy’s quote. It reads:
“Whitley Bay… The Dome! the white Dome. It was the Taj Mahal to us…”
Some would laugh at it, but I thought it was a beautiful sentiment. Bolton didn’t have much in the way of glamour. But I remember the sheer sense of sophistication going into Bolton’s Navada roller skating rink as a child. I was entering a new world; and what the people of the old Whitley Bay felt about their dome must have been the same.
Now the people of Whitley Bay had their dome back, renewed and whole. It was a lesson in what we all experience – the familiarity of what we’ve grown used to versus the fading through time of what was once great. The ‘Spanish City’ had been wonderfully conceived, over a century ago, and its original vision had miraculously survived the inevitable physical decline.
The right energy and determination brought it back, justifying the sincere words on the curving wall.
My story ends there… apart from the editing I did that evening on the iPhone, using Snapseed to transform that view.
Above is the result: a picture more in tune with what I felt about the two women, the ornate steps, the sunny beach far below, filled with happy people in what was probably the last really hot day of 2021.
And in the distance the white St Mary’s lighthouse, surely one of the most beautiful symbols we have.
©Stephen Tanham 2021
I realise that spiders might be a difficult subject, so instead of the actual photo of the tiny spider, I’ve used this beautiful image of a web caught in morning sunlight from Pixabay.
I was spraying wood preserver on our fence. Its a big fence, and every three years it needs a wood preserver spraying on its entire wooden surface. The other side is, of course, in the neighbour’s garden, so I’d asked them to move their car to remove any danger of the projected preservative droplets settling on the paintwork.
I had only ever used a large paintbrush in the past. But this time had invested in a hand-pumped power sprayer… and it worked – beautifully. I’d started with the neighbours’ side and worked my way around. By the time I got to what used to be the canal bed – the lower half of our reclaimed garden – I was a bit tired…
I topped up the sprayer with the last five litres of the wood treatment and pumped the device the requisite 25 times. The pressure release made a quick hiss, then stopped. I was good to go. I picked up the spray head and began a careful, horizontal pattern. Nearing the end of the first panel, I pulled my hand back, quickly and let the spray valve go. Then I looked at what had made me stop. Nestled in the 90 degree corner was a spider. The line of the spray had stopped less than a centimetre from it. As we gazed at each other, the spider made a wise decision and ran off – very much alive.
It was only later that I realised the little story had much to teach about intelligence – the planned subject of this blog.
There are many measures of intelligence. Over the years, I’ve used different models to illustrate it with a spiritual twist. My favourite is that intelligence in humans is best understood with what I’ve come to call the ‘preplay’. What’s a preplay? It’s the ability to look at a developing situation and visualise what different things might happen next. That might be hundred of things, so our minds have developed the ability to use probability to tell us what is the most likely outcome from all the things that might happen.
Once decided on, we can then make a plan to encourage or defend against it. Either way, we are preplaying the outcome. How we adjust it depends on the context. If I were a hunter in a tribal family, I might want to kill the beast in front of me so that my family could eat.
If I were a man spraying a fence, I might want to be careful not to kill spiders, knowing them to be smart creatures who do a good job of eating what I like even less. Apart from that, I might not like killing things at all. Some hunt and kill for fun, but I’m not one of them, and I view those that do as lacking in something essential to us as an evolved species.
The concept of time is a big part of intelligence looked at in this way. I have to understand how the object in question will ‘change its state’ in my immediate future. An arrow coming at me is changing its state very quickly. Its terminal state might be within my body if I don’t do something about it. Even better is to foresee the state of the hunter who doesn’t like my attitude on killing… and wants to kill me.
Not being there when he fires the arrow might be the smartest goal I can achieve. This multi-state prediction requires an extraordinary amount of brain power – and yet we do this kind of thing all the time when we, for example, drive a car. Cars plus drivers have an amazing statistical ability not to collide with each other.
The spider has a simple life compared to us driving a car. It spins a web and extends its hunting sensors into the strong fibres. The smallest disturbance will alert it. Its genetic history is full of instinctive intelligence that allows it to differentiate a breeze from the landing of a fly. But when the edge of a high speed spray comes towards it, spewing chemical death, it doesn’t stand much of a chance.
The simple spider caught in the chemical headlights represents instinctive intelligence, with no ability to do anything but run; and not fast enough in this case.
Then we have the human being who was tired and ready for that cup of tea. On full alert he might have used his predictive intelligence to visually comb the panels ahead, but he didn’t… This story is not about his intelligence.
There is another level of response available to the developing human – one in touch with their own true nature at a deeper level of consciousness. The ancients called it Gnosis. We retain the name to contrast it with ordinary knowing. Gnosis is the act of knowing something as though it were already a part of you and being ‘rediscovered’ in ‘real-time’ – or even faster. It is not adding something new to the mind. It bypasses reason. It is the solution to what is happening outside of time, and it is always optimal.
You don’t have to think about it, because, without this small example of it, I would have sprayed the little spider to its death in the next quarter second. But…my arm moved, safely and away; taking the spray head a short distance from the creature below. When I looked at where the spray should have been, I could see the spider. But only then.
I moved to the next fence panel, returning to the place of the spider’s survival a few minutes later. Happily, it had gone. I did not resist the smile. This happens rarely, but when it does, I know what it is…
©Stephen Tanham 2021
It had all the hallmarks of a bad horror film. A mad scientist transplanting a section of human DNA onto the leg of a fruit-fly… It was doomed to end in comic failure, of course…
But it didn’t. The scientist wasn’t mad… and what happened was the most remarkable thing: a new perspective on genetics that adds another dimension to the way life and consciousness evolve in the universe…
The story begins more than a hundred years ago in the USA. Scientist Mildred Hoag was what we would now call a geneticist; but back then the word hadn’t been invented, though the concept of ‘units of inheritance’ was widely discussed amongst biologists.
Crick, Watson and Rosalind Franklin’s spiral of DNA was more than fifty years into the future.
The re-discovery of Mendel’s pioneering study of the mid 19th century on the inheritance of the humble pea plant had cast new light on how such units of inheritance worked. Mildred Hoag was on the trail of something important. She was studying why some fruit flies had underdeveloped eyes, rendering them practically blind. She knew, from statistical evidence, that the degraded eyes of her fruit flies had been passed down as part of what we would now call their genetic inheritance. For each inherited characteristic, there were two units of inheritance, one from each parent. Today, we know these as genes.
Humans and the humble fruit fly might appear to have little in common. Yet, in the type of fly known as Drosophila, approximately 60 percent of the fly’s genes can also be found in humans in a similar form. Fruit flies are tiny and easily housed. Research with Drosophila therefore provides important models of how a genetic development process is likely to unfold in humans – particular with respect to the treatment of such conditions as cancer.
Mildred Hoag was the first to discover this inherited link in the fruit fly. She named the damaged unit of inheritance ‘Eyeless’. Later, in the rapidly developing world of genetics, it was known as the Eyeless gene… which, in the light of what was to come, was ironic in the extreme…
Hoag published her findings in the 1915 American Naturalist Magazine, but it gathered little attention.
80 years later, student Rebecca Quiring was finishing her PhD with a study of a potentially defective gene in mice known as Small Eye. A vital part of her study was to determine the gene sequence, which she announced in triumph was ‘GTACG’… and then she stopped in amazement. She knew from the history of her science that Mildred Hoag’s Eyeless gene for fruit flies had been shown to have the same sequence. But that wasn’t all…
The human master gene for the eyeball is known as Pax-6. It is responsible for the entire embryonic development of the eye, switching other ‘transcription factors’ on and off as it literally orchestrates each layer of the eye: retina, skin of the cornea, then the lens and finally the iris.
Just writing this makes me think we know very little of the real power of genes…
And now the shocker: Pax-6 has the same sequence – GTACG – as Eyeless and SmallEye. They, and the human Pax-6 master gene were the same entity…
Which brings us to our ‘mad scientist’. In a report published in the UK journal Science, researchers Georg Halder, Patrick Callaerts and Walter J. Gehring detailed how they had successfully triggered the Eyeless gene to begin development of a fruit fly eye in the legs of one of their flies. They said the out-of-place eyes contained the entire eye structures, including cornea, pigment and photoreceptors, the cells that respond to light. That was dramatic enough, but they went on to trigger the human eye gene (Pax-6) on fruit flies’ legs in the same way. Again the process was successful.
You’re probably reeling in horror at the thought of a human eye staring at you from the tiny legs of a fruit fly! Indeed, the New York times ran with the headline:
‘With new flies, science outdoes Hollywood’
But the result was far more dramatic and far less horror-filled than that. The human Pax-6 gene, transplanted into the fruit fly, begun a development of a… fruit fly eye…
Patrick Callaerts describes it this way: ‘The Pax-6 master gene switches on a developmental pathway that makes the eyes for that species.’ It ‘talks to the host and says,”I understand the information coming from the human Pax-6 and I will interpret it according to the needs of my fruit-fly!”‘
Pax-6 is one of a growing number of identified Master Genes. Like the director of a complex Scottish dance, it orchestrates group of dancers, bringing them into the core of the dance when needed, then resting them when they are not. Pax-6 develops at a very early time in the embryo, when the brain is simply a tube waiting to grow a nervous system. Pax-6 is that fundamental in human development, as though the ability to see is a separate and whole ‘gift’ to mankind.
Philosophers have long considered the literal and metaphorical use of ‘light’ as analogous to both understand and wisdom. The universe began its life in the explosive light of the Big Bang.
Wherever you find eyes, you find Pax-6. But is it just sight that is orchestrated by this master gene?
The latest research on marine life show that Pax-6 is present on the underside of the ‘feet’ of starfish. The implications are that is also associated with touch and – by virtue of its ability to detect ‘scents’ in the water – with what we would view as taste and smell. Could it be that Pax-6 actually expresses and controls our entire sensory mechanism – the very basis of our experienced consciousness?
We will probably have the answers to these questions in the next few years. If this possibility is revealed to be true, then Pax-6 as the entire sensory mechanism feeding the brain with experience may well turn out to be a ‘gift from the Gods’ after all…
(Author’s note: my interest in this was sparked by a BBC series of podcasts names ‘Ingeneously’.)
©Stephen Tanham 2021
The idea of life after death is a familiar notion. Nothing illustrates the inner and outer principles of this as well as the birth of a butterfly…
We’ve all seen it and marvelled. In the rays of the sun, the most exquisite creature emerges from the shrivelled husk of its cocoon, flexes and dries its wings in the warming rays, then changes the place where it lives… flying away, free, into the air.
It’s a familiar miracle, mainly discussed by children in the process of learning about the world of nature. Seldom by adults… which is strange, since it contains one of the best living examples of the transformation of the inner life.
The life cycle of a butterfly comprises four stages: egg; larva (caterpillar); pupa (chrsalis), and the adult butterfly, itself. The egg stage typically lasts between three and seven days. The tiny caterpillar emerges from the egg, formed as a voracious eating-machine which increases its body mass thousands of times before the next stage begins.
This vast accumulation of material and energy is simply fuel for the miraculous transformation that follows, but even at this stage, the caterpillar may shed its exoskeleton in response to growth. This may happen several times. Each time, the physical form changes, dramatically. But nothing is as dramatic as the change when pupation begins… Out of hundreds of eggs, only a few may survive to this stage. Nature finds safety and continuity in numbers.
Pupation is the formation of a chrysalis; a process of total enclosure in which a ‘tomb’ of silk is made. For typically the next two weeks, the organic form of the butterfly will literally dissolve itself, leaving a chemical soup which, guided by an unseen intelligence, begins to re-combine to create a butterfly, perfectly fitted to the silk cocoon in which it develops.
In the light of a summer sun, the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis with folded and crumpled wings. For the next two hours it will be massively vulnerable as its hangs upside down, pushing fluids into its wings so that they will expand and straighten.
Typically, for the next two to three weeks, the butterfly enjoys a beautiful life in the sun, during which time it will find a mate and the correct plants on which to begin the cycle of species life, again.
Some species, such as Monarchs, may live up to three months. Either way, the full glory of the flying creature is brief…
Beautiful in itself, this lifecycle has much to teach those interested in spirituality. The key elements of the butterfly’s life-cycle are analogous to a new way of looking at our own mystical progress from instinctive human to ‘winged creature’.
We, too, begin as an egg. After birth into the world where we must interact with that environment in the sense of food and impressions, we enter an early stage (the baby) where our lives are entirely eating, digestion and waste – and sleeping so that the food may be maximally transformed into bodily growth.
The caterpillar roams around its world, seeking the best food for its growth. As children, we range across a landscape in play, deepening our existence with friends and adventure, all of this building on the continuing hunger of our bodies and minds for further growth.
With sexual maturity, we reach physical adulthood, though our minds may be very immature in a fuller understanding of our world.
To what, then, does the state of the chrysalis correspond?
We can live the rest of our lives as a grown ‘child’, mating and feeding from the world. If so, then our lives will be driven from the instinctive levels of the self, leaving little room for us to question whether there exists a higher relationship with the essence of the Life that gave us physical life.
Some choose a different path. They search for what is ‘higher’ in their ‘selves’, and seek the company of those whose own investigations have produced some fruit. This is not ‘success’ in worldly things, though the latter is indicative of a focussed and disciplined life, and need not stand against the spiritual life. This is the grasping of a spiritual path. For those embarked on this way, the chrysalis becomes an important symbol.
A growing confidence in our real identity with the inner processes of life, light and love, brings us to a stage where our present self needs to be symbolically wrapped in its shroud and offered to the higher energies of life in the form of transformation. We literally invite and invoke this change, accepting that its purpose and method is beyond the powers of the brain. By crossing this abyss, we offer all we have to the symbolic butterfly within us, committing what we are and have made of ourselves to a process of regeneration.
To emerge under a different sun, winged and transformed. This is the highest act of a mystic. It may be read literally and metaphorically.
©Stephen Tanham 2021