The Marsh King sinks back beneath the waters with the unnamed Egyptian Princess in his thrall.
Some time later a green shoot with a water-lily bud appears above the slime.
The bud unfurls to reveal a small girl-child.
The child is spotted by a watching Stork and is taken to a barren Viking couple who, quite naturally, are enthralled with the gift and immediately besotted with the child.
Children normally display both the physical and temperamental characteristics of their ancestors, predominantly their parents, and usually in more or less equal measure.
Here, these tendencies are pronounced.
Helga, for this is the name the Viking couple choose for her, is a beautiful girl-child during the day, albeit displaying a strong blood-thirsty streak, whilst as the sun sets she turns into a compassionate, toad-like monster!
Is the name significant?
How important is it that Helga is the only named character in the story?
Could any device be better chosen to make us consider the diurnal polarity of Day and Night and their profound affects upon our consciousness and its natural tendencies?
If we are in any doubt as to what we are to make of these devices we are introduced to the somnambulistic nature of both Denmark and the nether regions of Marsh-Land later in the tale.
To make matters worse, Helga’s apparent beauty beguiles all those who gaze upon her and blinds them to the reality of her brutish day-time nature.
It is only her adoptive Viking mother who witnesses and begins to see and realise the true nature of the problem presented to both her, and by extension us, in the form and expressions displayed via the mysterious Marsh King’s Daughter.
Although the second longest of Anderson’s Fairy Tales, The Marsh King’s Daughter is relatively little known and perhaps, even, considered to be one of his ‘lesser’ tales.
It is a huge, sprawling epic of a yarn, which like most of his stories draws liberally from the ancient sagas, legends and folk tales which Hans imbibed in his youth.
Unlike some story tellers, although Anderson approaches the traditional devices with free reign, he never loses sight of their psychological and spiritual import and consequently, whilst sometimes apparently piling device upon device in wild profusion, there is always a satisfying, not to say, profound pay off to his seemingly more fantastical meanderings.
In these posts then, rather than retell the story, we intend to focus on aspects of the tale in order to investigate and elucidate the psychological and spiritual components of the story as a whole.
The Marsh King himself, though central to the plot, plays a comparatively minor role in the story, appearing just once, initially disguised as a tree stump.
It is a cunning disguise which gives the foul fellow the opportunity to drag an unsuspecting princess to her apparent doom beneath the marshes.
But wait, how did such a delicate, pretty one find herself on the edge of a marsh in Denmark?
She was sent from Egypt by her dying father to look for the antidote to his wasting disease.
And how did she get there?
She donned a feathered cloak and flew there as a swan.
Then, why didn’t she simply re-don the cloak and fly away when the Swamp Man revealed himself to her?
Because her jealous sisters, who had flown with her, stole her cloak and destroyed it…
Spatially, the construct is no less dazzling.
Here, as in most traditional stories the horizontal polarity of Egypt and Denmark constitutes a world and its other-realm.
The Outer, wasteland, can only be re-invigorated from the Inner depths which appear to be somewhat murky.
The healing herb reputedly grows in a bog, the domain of the Marsh King.
Already, the mix of natural metaphor and deep psychological insight begins to weave its ancient magic.
When we encounter the word ‘Gods’, we think of entities related to ancient views of the world; of ages before science threw the ‘definitive light’ of repeatable and numeric method onto our subjective experience of the world. In other words, we think of an outdated symbol system; one that describes natural events, and which seemingly lost its relevance to modern man a long time ago. Mankind came to define itself by reflections of the ‘without’ – such as wealth, and stability, rather than what was ‘within’.
Until the advent of modern psychology, we lived in a world that was fixated on the fruit of the senses, with no thought to how we as ‘selves’ experienced and related to it.
After the pioneering psychologists, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, we began to have a picture of the inner landscape that had some significance, instead of the random and meaningless flow of sensory impressions – plus the mysterious things called dreams. The psychologists recognised that this sense of ‘me’ had some validity; moreover, it had a structure, one shared by us all. Our inner architecture had rooms… Together, these rooms made up a mental and emotional construct we called ‘self’. When we act, we act from within this self. It has likes and dislikes, fears and triumphs,
In Freud’s model, which is often used as a foundation by those studying the interior paths to a ‘deeper self’, the regular ‘daytime’ self is divided into the (1) the lower passions – unruly and energy filled; (2) the image of perfection, such as a child might inherit from a stern church; and (3) the daily self (ego), whose impossible job was to mediate between the two, managing excitement and guilt while maturing a strong sense of being the ‘captain of the ship’.
Superimposed upon this were the elements of character, variously indicated and interpreted by systems such as astrology and, latterly, the findings of developmental psychology expressed in the mysterious figure of the enneagram; and historically related to the esoteric Christian work of the Desert Fathers, who mapped mankind’s highest ‘Christ’ potential to the lowly state of the average personality, and showed the latter’s weaknesses, yet linkage with the original nine deadly sins. These included acidia: the turning away from spiritual purpose, perhaps the most deadly in the face of much-need alignment.
All of these encouraged us to examine our inner lives, where we find not only psychology’s broader ‘containers’ but also encounters with certain archetypal figures – first pointed out by Jung – that appeared to correspond closely with the cast of ancient mythology – the Gods, heroes and heroines.
Those interested in the esoteric ‘mystery traditions’ were the first to point out that this was no coincidence; that the visualisation of such Gods were, in fact, examples of early teachings designed to take us on active imaginative journeys of ‘inner workings’ – landscapes loosened from the grip of the material in such a way that our consciousness is free to explore other realms of our interior, and literally ‘meet up’ with that which was trying to reach us from ‘within’.
We can envisage two worlds, set in an upper/lower relationship like an hour-glass, in which the sand grains glide through, vertically. To change the relationship of the worlds, we turn the glass over… a similar state to that of the Hanged Man in Tarot, who, though apparently sacrificed, is smiling…
These symbolic systems are reference maps to states of consciousness. For example, the Tarot card of the Hanged Man corresponds to one of the paths connecting the spheres on the Tree of Life (see below). On one level, it’s just a cleverly painted and striking image. On another it’s a place we live in when we are on a particular journey.
To be on that journey, we need to have a longing for reality…
This may seem a strange notion. Surely, we already live, firmly, in a reality? Well, yes and no. We do appear to live in a physical reality, but what of our interior one? Does that offer us the same stability of existence and purpose? And what about those ‘rooms’ that divide the ‘self’ into id, superego and ego? We may find we need to understand ourselves at the level of the everyday self, or psyche, before we can use that as a start-point for a journey into the beautiful interior world that appears to be much bigger and real than we had thought. This doesn’t mean we need to be psychologists; just that we need to borrow a few of their well-worked notions to help us on our way.
The mystical enneagram will give us the rigour to work with our psyche, showing us how our outer characteristics are closely related to deeper and more spiritual layers of ‘us’, and requiring us to strip away ideas and attitudes that are detrimental to that journey.
Once we have a clean foundation, the Tree of Life is there to show us a journey to a different Self, one that lives with the Gods and has always done so.
The Sufis would simply say that our one task is to look for love and the bestower of that love – the Beloved. In this task, no map is necessary, since we can always determine if we are closer this day than we were the day before, by how we feel. The work of that path, as with the enneagram, is to remove the obstacles to love.
Each of these systems, and many more, are the ways to align ourselves with something higher within us, and to make that a way of life rather than an idea which will soon fade. The intellect of the modern age is a wonderful thing… but it won’t take us to the Gods.
Angel fish was in his accustomed place where he waits every morning, knowing that as soon as I have opened the doors for the dog, he will be fed. Ani bounds up onto the sofa and sticks her head over tank as soon as I open it to feed them. She has developed an acquisitive interest in the various fish foods. Angel fish doesn’t care, he comes up to the surface and will take his breakfast from your fingers, even with the small dog so close.
Except, he wouldn’t be having breakfast. You could see that straight away. It is an odd thing, even before you have a chance to really look, you just know when a fellow creature has died….. the lights have gone out.
I switched on the aquarium lamps, hoping I was wrong… he had seemed fine the night before, no signs at all of any problems and he was only a few years old, but sadly he was gone. Ani watched quietly as I netted the lifeless body and placed him in a suitable coffin, laying her head on her paws as if she knew. In the few short hours since bedtime, his scales had dulled, his colours dimmed and the graceful expression of life had left him.
These things happen, especially with creatures we have bred and interbred solely for their appearance. As their keepers, we have a responsibility to learn their needs and provide for them, but sometimes even that is not enough.
My eyes flicked back to the aquarium. The big pleco was stuck to the glass round the corner of the tank, hiding amongst the plants he has chosen to call home. Not that he can hide very well when he deploys that huge sail-fin… but he thinks he can and that makes him feel safe. His plants are getting a little sparse… Mad Fish and co are experts at deforestation, even though I amuse my son, their previous keeper, by supplementing their fish food with blanched vegetables every day. They just eat those, anything else they can find… then have the plants for dessert anyway.
I’m getting a little concerned about Mad Fish. He’s slowing down…he is a very old fish for his species but I am glad he has a shoal around him at last. They are always active, always darting around at speed… I can understand why he rests a lot these days. I still feel a little sadness for the long lonely time when he must have felt like a fish out of water on his own. Knowing little of tropical fish when I adopted the aquarium, I wouldn’t have questioned his odd behaviour had my son not mentioned that he thought he was missing his departed mate. We didn’t even know what he was, but a bit of research was an eye opener. So now he has a shoal and is no longer Mad Fish, but Grandfather Fish.
The little pleco was out and about too. He hides most of the time, which is a pity as he is beautiful. I didn’t know what he was either, apart from being a plectostomus. Now I do… after hours trawling fish sites, I found him… he’s a dwarf clown plec and that means I need to buy some bog-wood. I had no idea that some fish need the stuff to help them digest their food, but they do.
I’ve even learned how the fish can tell me when something is wrong. Just by watching their behaviour you can tell if something has disturbed them. The signals and body language are complex but not incomprehensible. Some are easy to understand… when they all swim up to the surface more than usual, or like the ‘tank canaries’, the little rummy-nosed tetras, whose brilliant red markings fade the moment the water quality changes. Even a water change is enough and I wait for their colours to glow to let me know the tank is safe.
The things I have learned since having the fish! Water parameters and temperatures, bacteria and how important it is to have plenty rather than keeping the tank too clean. Breeding habits, snail management, the growing of aquatic plants and a whole host of things about fish health.
I knew a bit about that from looking after Nick’s pond… you learn the specific needs of the creatures you care for, but a pond is an alien realm… no matter how clear the water, we really see only the surface and the shadowy world beneath is a different dimension. With a tank, you see the fish clearly, face to face, in a way that allows a completely different level of observation and a more intimate relationship.
As I watched Ani’s joy as she bounced through the long grass, getting drenched with the early morning dew, I was thinking about how much we can learn by just looking and paying attention. The difference between the pond and the tank is quite amazing. With the pond, I know the fish and their behaviour, but only seen from afar… apart from when they choose to come to the surface and interact with me. With the tank, there is an intimacy that allows me to see into their world. I could just look at the pretty fishes, or I can choose to see individuals, each with their own habits and character and learn to know them. Either way, as you learn to care for them, you start to care about them as individuals.
It is pretty much the same with people too. There are some, like the fish in the pond, whose lives keep them from intimacy and the only people who ever really know them are those for whom they will surface for a while, meeting them halfway. With most people, though, it is more like living with an aquarium except guard against too much intimacy. Even though we share a world, we only look, rather than take the time to see them. We may pass a hundred faces or more in a single day and never see more than that… yet every person is unique and has a character all their own, a story, a gift… something that makes them stand out from the rest of humanity as themselves.
Seeing instead of looking, learning each other’s needs and learning to look after each other so that we learn to care about each other. Maybe it is as simple as keeping fish.
Devoid of real feeling, the Dictator treads a lonely way along his chosen, barren path.
All around him is life – in its shared love and simplicity, but he stays true to the vastness of his egoic channel, long baked by hate into clay-like fixed responses that will not sustain growing things.
Behind him, the memory of the mountains of ambition keep him focussed on the goal, which he thinks is glory. But really, the Spring meltwaters will wash him into the ocean, where the parts of his body will be rolled, crushed and broken, before Nature recycles him into dusty history to which we may point, but from which few learn… and even fewer remember.
Dictators are everywhere. They are part of the human condition. Our task is to face them with collective courage, cry, “Enough!” And watch their petty coin turn to reveal the inner coward. It does not begin with someone else… It begins here. Here and now are two pristine states we all share, and they are connected to everything and everywhere else.
I had to post the picture of the dragon… you’d all run away if you thought I was going to write about fish again… and I’m not. Not exactly. Well, maybe a bit…
“Do fish even have ears?” asked my son, watching as I lay full length on the deck, dangling over the pond and conversing with the big koi. My hair was tangled in the loose-strife and the bees seemed to accept me as part of the plant. By this time, we had been conversing for quite some time too.
It’s Simon, you see. The big ghost koi that blows bubbles at me. We’re developing quite a rapport. He not only blows bubbles to be fed, but comes to the surface and follows me round the garden, watching… swimming to keep me in sight. And I know… I can feel him watching. One of the mirror carp has started following his lead… and a little shubunkin has become an acolyte… and Hoover, the grass carp who seems to vacuum food from the water’s surface… So now I have eight eyes watching every move. Six of them are only interested in food. Simon, however, is different.
It matters not if fish have ears. What was going on was communication. I have no idea what Simon was trying to communicate… nor he I for that matter. Our languages do not coincide and I am not about to start blowing bubbles in Morse. But even so, there was something wordless passing between us… and no food involved.
After a while I got up. Well, tried to… while the other fish made a run for cover at the movement, cursing and groans, Simon stayed put. Watching. I went for the fish food and reached down… he took it from my fingers. Trust had perhaps been established in that incomprehensible conversation.
I could do with one of the Babel-fish made famous by Douglas Adams… which, inserted into the ear of intergalactic hitchhikers “feeds on brain wave energy, absorbing all unconscious frequencies and then excreting telepathically a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain, the practical upshot of which is that if you stick one in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language: the speech you hear decodes the brain wave matrix.” Though, to be fair… ear-borne fish don’t seem right with Simon watching.
He is, though, ‘just’ a fish. One of many in the pond. Why this rapport? Attention, perhaps. His antics drew my eyes… his behaviour caught my attention. Perhaps mine caught his too. It is a reciprocal thing and easy to understand and explain. Once that attention is mutual, a connection is formed. A bond. He’s not even ‘my’ fish!
It doesn’t just work with fish though. Or people… or even cows.
Give your full attention to anything and it seems to respond. A task becomes easier… well yes, that makes sense. A journey becomes more interesting. That too. Plants respond to sound with increased growth… But ‘inanimate’ objects also seem to respond to our attention. Ask anyone who has ever threatened a recalcitrant computer with a sledgehammer if it doesn’t behave…
Is anything completely inanimate though? Isn’t everything within our concrete reality made up of vibrating molecules… miniature universes so small that each whirling particle might be inhabited by civilisations that wax and wane like our own? It isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility, is it? Perhaps the connection many have with the land… the affinity with crystals, paint or stone… maybe that too is a reciprocal attention at a level too deep and too obscure for us to comprehend.
Of course, coming from a woman who lays on the floor to converse with a fish, you might just see it as a rather random idea. Or that might be a polite interpretation… Or maybe it is worth considering?
I usually write it with a capital: Being. But strictly it is just another noun, so it’s fine as simply being.
Except it’s not…because that devalues its importance.
Being is the word. Being is the gold ‘hidden in plain sight’ of the alchemists.. They were searchers for the inner nature of Nature. Some of them found it but had to create a language of obfuscation or be burned at the stake.
Let’s set it in context: Being is the highest state of existing we can envisage. It is a state of such utter fullness-in-itself, that all else in creation aspires to it, the aspirer believing itself to be separate, then finding that the separation was an illusion, all along. Nothing actually changes except the consciousness of the experiencer. And then that changes everything. It’s a paradox. The highest concepts in mysticism often are. It’s a deliberate way to turn the mind.
The world ‘plane’ is often used here; in the sense that Being is ‘on a different plane”. Frequent use and repetition of ‘plane’ takes away the true sharpness of meaning; and the modern association with an aircraft doesn’t help. Rosicrucian mystics of a previous generation, like my father, used ‘plane’ extensively to paint an inner picture of a world tightly linked with ours, but above it.
‘Above’ it creates its own problems, as we immediately look up! This involuntary vertical association undoubtedly derives from religious pictures of holy figures in the air, or on a kingdom of clouds. Saints, Saviours and God were to be seen in this different land – represented as elevated humans of course… which has an amusing irony of its own.
Being is more correctly placed as ‘within’ the other, rather than above it. That sense of inner separation at least implies that Being is at the heart of everything – although its very nature may later suggest that there never was an outer… Paradox is everywhere at this level of language, and used to tease at something that can only truly be experienced, not written about. But we must try; to recombine old words so that a hint of what lies beyond the tired letters may trickle through.
There are, then two worlds: Being and Becoming. Being does not become. It is already what the next state is. It unfolds. Human consciousness sees a past and a future and ascribes becoming to the prior state of what has just arrived in front of us.
In last week’s blog I wrote about how our use of language literally locks us into the ‘level of being’ that we currently occupy. I catch the ball is an example. ‘I’ is the subject. ‘ball’ is the object. There is a verb – a doing word in the middle. One of the keys to understanding the role of language in spirituality is that there must always be a subject and a doing-word for ordinary consciousness to make sense of it.
Language does permit ‘the ball is caught’. But it’s an abstraction. We envisage that here is someone, as yet unstated, who, as subject, has caught the ball. So, all is right with the world. No-one has broken the laws of doing by getting rid of the doer.
If we postulate that there could be a ‘state’ of caught…. Without there necessarily being a catcher, then our brain consciousness begins to get a bit queasy. Our mind quickly constructs something like: ‘He has been caught’ to correct the potential void that looks troublesome.
This can rapidly get academic, whereas Being is not at all academic. It’s a state of experience. More accurately, it’s a state of consciousness beyond the brain’s normal world of perception; a state in which the observer is changed into something else – without loss of continued consciousness.
It’s a state in which the experiencer and what is being experienced are the same. There is no subject-object relationship, no ‘me and it’. There is a continuous stream of knowing – the origin of the world ‘gnosis’. Some of our Silent Eye students humorously remark that this crystal-clear consciousness is an act of gnowing… And that’s accurate.
The mind is a better word. The mind has a magical ability to look out on the world… or back on Being – the place it came from. When the mind looks at the world it sees duality: subject and object, me and it, the world of doing. When it looks back at its source, it sees an all-and-everywhere centre of the universe, its home, and its substance. Being birthed the mind, which bore the egoic self; each is a reflection of the source at the next outer level only a return to that source – fully conscious, restores mankind’s rightful place in the universe.
All spiritual journeys are along this path. Various techniques are used, but the inner goal is the same. Eventually, we loosen the ties between subject and object, me and that, so that we cast off our ‘subject anchor’ and learn to sail on a different sea. Nothing of real value is lost. The ship is better navigated from the top of the mast rather than at the wheel on the deck…and the air is beautiful up there.
Having considered the physical, psychological and spiritual structures of the human being,
we now examine how these interact with our ability to ACT…
Not something that should be taken for granted!
Get out of the way…
Follow the magic…
The meeting was divided into two parts:
Part 1: Action of the level of the Personality
Part 2: Action at the level of Self
Steve began by introducing Part 1 and comparing the life of a tree with that of a human. We discussed the lifecycle of a tree from seed to full-grown, mature tree, reflecting the cycle of life for all beings on Earth, touching on the idea of the necessity for immense quantities of seeds to overcome the degree of chance that affects a tree’s ability to mature. Elements that affect this growth include environment and individual differences. All trees need light, soil, and water and their growth is in two directions – roots into the ground and trunk/canopy into the sky towards the Sun. Once the ‘baby stage’ has passed, saplings need to be flexible and adaptable to the environment and other trees in order to survive. The collective consciousness of trees uses environmental factors to ‘travel’ farther afield. Once matured, the ‘adult’ tree is still connected to the ground and its origins which began in the seed. These are natural laws that flow through the beingness of the tree – does this include consciousness of any kind?
Trees have a different timetable than humans – they are pre-programmed into action but do not seem to have free will or self-awareness, but appear more reactive than proactive. Is this true? In comparison, humans can conceived of a higher awareness and sense of self.
Stuart continued with Part 2 asking what we can do with the Self. He suggested that the process included ‘opening up and then getting out of the way’ which dissolves the ego to the Higher and creates a channel for energies to express themselves through the individual. When we respond in kind to the ‘magic presented, we are acting from the Higher Will of the Planetary Being; High Magic, therefore, is the Will of the Planetary Being or Magician.
This evolved into a discussion about Magic as a conscious transformation of Will, an inner oblation to connect with the Divine, and a ‘connection’ with something ‘else’. Each of these involve a change in consciousness and/or a change in reality – are these the same?
From here, ensued a discussion of Higher states, how to reach them and how to describe, including being fully immersed in the moment of Now and remaining, at the same time, 100% oneself.
Describing this state can be challenging and demands that all the senses being tuned in, adapting itself well to be described through poetry and, perhaps, song. This is the state from which we would like to act.
Robert’s words closed the meeting: ‘The Divine is just waiting for us to open and then the Divine acts through us. It starts small and grows with experience. This shift begins with opening up’.
It sounds odd, doesn’t it? See what you’re seeing…
But we don’t. We do see, but we don’t see what we’re seeing.
I’d better explain my terms, here, before it becomes an exercise in Zen paradox – which I want to avoid. There are not only two, but three phases in our act of seeing. The first is the actual biological receiving of the light waves/particles by our eye’s receptors. The second is the rapid conversion into ‘object of interest’ by our brains – based entirely on what we have seen before.
The third is the intervention of our own consciousness to examine what we are looking at; and it’s that last one that make the difference when we are trying live more ‘mindful’ lives.
Habit makes us see superficially. The brain is programmed to cut down the volume, so, essentially, we see what we’ve always seen, and in particular what we saw the last time we were in ‘this situation’. This situation may be an event, such as a confrontation or it may simply be a something seen along a footpath or road,
Nothing illustrates this better than the process of writing a blog post. You start with an idea, then maybe create an outline of what you want to say – particularly how you want to end. You then have to shift mindset from that high-level exercise to one of beginning the detail, usually with a line that will generate enough interest to carry the reader through the post. The length of the blog is critical; people lead busy lives and you can help those who support you by being succinct.
You use this stage to flesh out the post, ensuring that you include all the notes you made before beginning to write the draft.
Then a different phase begins: you begin to turn the piece into a ‘whole’ by reading it back as a single entity, noticing that the flow between certain paragraphs feels good or not so good – usually because the latter feels ‘forced’. You may be able to modify this, or may have to delete the whole paragraph… sometimes because you’ve spotted that a neighbouring one can be expanded in an economic way to include that key idea.
And so on… Until you reach the finished post and can press ‘Schedule’.
But many wise bloggers have noticed that another review, some time later – or possibly the following morning, just before publication time – can throw up a whole field of errors you must have read twenty or more times… but not seen.
That last act of checking with a different head on removes us from the initial process of ‘constructing and seeing’ together. It forces us to focus on an entirely different aspect of our written piece: its structure rather than its content…or, to use a metaphysical concept, its form rather than its force.
If you have a trade or hobby in which ‘critical seeing’ is essential, then you are likely to have developed the skill of deconstructing the image of what’s in front of you. Photographers have to do this all the time. To use our terms above, their minds have been trained, usually over many years, to see good force; knowing that it will take accumulated skill to employ the techniques of composition and image finishing to deliver that forceful form to the viewer of the image. The force gives it life; the form lets it endure.
Our minds work in similar ways, and vision is the dominant component of the input to consciousness. We can approach the mindful – the spiritual – by a simple act of deconstructing the act of seeing.
When we encounter a natural scene that affects us, emotionally, we should stop the normal process of intellectual perception by refusing to let the mind think. Thinking contains all the value judgements: the likes and dislikes that distort what we see and shroud it (an appropriate word!) in our history. We don’t want the accumulated history of seeing similar objects, we want to see the now, expressed in the beauty of nature.
Having stopped the constant voice of habitual thought )and this is not trivial, but the struggle, itself, is so instructive) we then sense a different kind of seeing, one that usually contains a degree of calm emotion. If the emotion begins to contain value judgements, such as like or dislike, then we should gently nudge it back to simply seeing and not reacting. We are aiming to get a sense of presence, with a calm and sweet quality to it. You will know it when it happens… and never want to lose it, again.