Bittersweet

The misty dawn blushed a soft, rosy pink, probably  embarrassed by the number of clichés it was inviting. It had begun with a delicate glow, suffusing the rising mist with gold as I shivered on the doorstep, then painted the world in pastel colours, as gentle as an apology. As the sun rose, the temperature plummeted, the swirling mists turned to fog and you could almost see the ice crystals forming. Another morning was born…

The sudden frost highlighted every detail of plants still resolutely green, each strand of spider silk and the edge of every fallen leaf. The ordinary became beautiful. Details that are overlooked a hundred times a day were limned in crystal and became unmissable… yet, but for necessity, I would have taken the option of comfort, stayed warm indoors and seen nothing. As I scraped the ice from the windscreen of the car, I was once again struck by how simple it is to learn the lessons of life by observing Nature at work. My own experience of the morning was one of frozen fingers and yet, the bitter frost served only to highlight a beauty that might otherwise have been missed.

Necessity and inevitability so often lead us into bitter and painful situations, but without them as a contrast, would we…could we…truly appreciate all that is right in our world? Would we notice a dawn if the sky always wore the colours of sunrise or do we need to experience darkness in order to understand the essence of light? Looking around too, I noted that while some plants were still green and would remain so in spite of the coming cold of winter, others were sere and brittle, giving every appearance of being mere skeletons of the vibrant life they once wore. Yet here too, Nature teaches, for beneath the soil, those brittle bones wait only for spring to grow once more… different in appearance, perhaps, but still essentially the same.

There was nothing new in those thoughts… no fanfare, no great revelation. It was no more than a gentle reminder, a reassurance that we are never called upon to make sense of this world and its upheavals on our own. There is always a teacher on our doorstep, always a deeper wisdom than our own, older and with experience of all that has ever been. It knows the tides of night and day, of winter and summer, freedom and necessity…and it is poised to teach us, every day. We do not always listen, we are wayward students and easily distracted, but the earth knows her children well and repeats her cycles, waiting for our chattering minds to quiet and allow us to understand. And when we do…when we listen… sometimes, it seems as if she smiles.

Magical mornings

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It was a luminous dawn, the world blanketed in a thick cocoon of frost against the darkness and silence of a newborn morning. The sun rose, pale and gold, strewing a million diamonds on the tarmac path; setting a fire in the heart of ice. There is a magic in the morning light that seems to bathe even the hard edges of winter in a soft glow. Where the light streams, its gentle warmth sends showers of tiny droplets glinting to earth, yet where the shadows hang heavy, the frost lingers, clinging to the day with hoary fingers.

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Looking down, splashes of unexpected colour stand out against the whitened world… the scarlet stalks of ivy and bramble, the earth tones of autumnal remains and the vibrant shades of the evergreens. Details, hitherto unnoticed, leap to the attention, thrown into relief by the blank canvas of the frost. Shapes unseen are highlighted; fractal patterns that seem to hold the story of creation in their humble familiarity.

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Looking up, the birds are waking, stretching chilled wings against the morning. I wonder at them… their delicate frames and fragile bones kept safe through the frozen night by no more than a feather. So tiny, so light, yet they can fly against the storm winds and through the battering of the rains. This morning I watched the sparrows as they woke, fluffing their plumage as we might shake an eiderdown. Such busy little birds, clinging to the smallest perch to watch the day begin.

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Light strikes the trees, turning them golden as the sun rises higher, painting the doves pink and waking the jackdaws in a flurry of wings. On the low roof the frost crystals turn the little clumps of moss into the hollow hills and forests of a faery landscape where imagination walks, painting tales of otherworlds to be explored. Even the cars are clad in jewelled fur that makes them look like the surface of some fantastic planet.

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I love mornings like this. They truly are magical, both to see and to ponder, when the delicate overlay of a winter frost changes everything and yet the beauties revealed by the frost are always there, just waiting for us to see them. We are blind to the familiar world, habituated to its presence. It takes change to open our eyes and hearts to what is already there waiting for us. In this way such a morning reflects the journey of the seeker; turning to face the light of being and seeing that no matter how far the journey may lead him, no matter how many changes may come, his destination has always been a place he never left.

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A Wooded-Isle…

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Brother-Wizard and Brother-Warrior immediately set out for the sea-shore.

There, moored at the mouth of a natural cave in the cliffs, bobbed a coracle.

They both clambered aboard…

*

…The King of Castle-Hill took the magic halter to the cell of the tower on his wooded isle and presented it as a gift to appease his imprisoned daughter.

“Of what use to me is a magic halter,” sobbed the princess, “if all my days are to be spent cooped up here seeing none but my hand-maids.”

“With the halter comes a wondrous cow, my child, its inexhaustible supply of milk will sustain you,” soothed the king, “and I shall bring your food everyday and relate the comings and goings of the kingdom. Far better a sequestered life than one without a father.”

As the King of Castle-Hill left the tower to attend to his duties, the magic halter cascaded against the back of the cell door…

*

Brother-Warrior and Brother-Wizard landed at the wooded isle in their coracle.

“The magic halter is with the king’s daughter,” said Brother-Wizard.”

“And where is the king’s daughter?” said Brother-Warrior.

“The king’s daughter, is in a tower in the centre of the wood which is surrounded by nine home-steads,” said Brother-Wizard, “you must enter the tower and sleep with her.”

“And what’s in the nine home-steads?”said Brother-Warrior.

“You’ll see,” said Brother-Wizard. He gave his brother a Cloak-of-Darkness and put a spell on his hands so that whatever door he came to would open for him.

“Wish me luck, brother,” said the warrior, turning to leave.

“One more thing,” said the wizard, “be sure to leave the magic halter with the princess, we will return for it another day.”

“I thought…” began Brother-Warrior but a withering look from the wizard stayed that thought and sent him swiftly on his way into the wood.

*

Seeking Spirit

“You could find something spiritual in doing the dishes,” said my friend, as if this was unusual.

“He’s right. And although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it,” said Stuart, “ you could probably find spirituality in going to the toilet.” Half a dozen themes suggested themselves as he spoke.

“Disposing of the old and outworn…”

“…and how unhealthy hanging onto it too long can be…

“An illustration of how difficult it is to find personal time and peace in modern life… ”

“A meditative interlude…”

“One could talk about chemo constipation and how a breakdown in the system affects every other part of the body and mind…”

“…which shows how health is not static but a process. Nature has worked for thousands of years to create a process that works beautifully…”

“A perfect system. Recycling waste to feed plants and through them the animals that in turn feed us…”

“A completely self-contained system. And we think we can do better… and treat it with little or no respect.”

“We’ve only just got away, in evolutionary and social terms, from living with muck. Manure and its human equivalent were very much part of our everyday lives till recently… now we’ve moved away enough to become squeamish. “

“So we try to feel in control…”

“And fail miserably.” Because, when all is said and done, Nature is a bit bigger, a lot older…and a great deal wiser than we are.

So they were both right… you can find something spiritual in anything. Especially in Nature. It depends, really, on how you define ‘spiritual’.

For some, it is a side of life that is finer than mere flesh and earth. These are elements to be escaped, transcended, left behind as we strive for a higher state of being. For others ‘spiritual’ is something to do… attending a place of worship, perhaps… praying or adhering to the rules of a religion… following a moral code, meditating, or seeking the answers to the age-old questions that have beset the heart of humankind. And it is not by accident that the words ‘question’ and ‘quest’ share the same root.

There are as many ways of approaching spirituality as there are souls. None of them is right or wrong… each must fit the feet that walk their path.

For me, my approach to ‘spirituality’ changed decades ago when I first began to actively study the Tree of Life. I was reading The Mystical Qabalah, the best approach to this glyph and system that has, in my opinion, ever been written. Dion Fortune, undoubtedly one of the most important writers of the past century or so in the magical field, writes with a down-to-earth clarity that illuminates the stuffy corners of the academic approach to mysticism…. two concepts that do not really go well together, but knowledge is a necessary fuel for understanding.

When I read the words ‘God made manifest in Nature’, I knew what I had been missing in my own approach.

When you see divinity, by whatever name you wish to call It or in whatever form you choose to picture It, made manifest in Nature… pervading everything, from the sand on the beach to the plants, animals… and even into the works of humankind, because they are, in many ways, as much part of nature as the nest or mating display of a bird… then you see the world and indeed all creation, through a different lens. There is a rightness about it that even finds space for what we see as ‘wrong’ because, in the wider scheme, everything has a place. Even darkness, pain and evil have something to teach, for how could we choose between two paths were we only to ever encounter one?

And, when you see the world through that lens, then how can you see your own life through any other? The spiritual life is life, warts and all. It is not something to aspire to, nor something to seek… it is neither distant from nor alien to our base human nature… it is everything we see, feel or experience… from going to the loo to washing dishes, from watching the rising of the sun to holding a dead sparrow in our hand. You do not have to find the spiritual in your everyday life, It is already there. It is life… and It is you.

Changing tides

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He tripped, catching the pointed toe of the winklepickers on the kerb. Righting himself he looked around, his eyes darting self-consciously to seek out any possible observer, even while he reassumed his pose of studied nonchalance. Do they even call them winklepickers these days? From the anonymity of the car, I watched… the shutter of memory capturing the scene in vivid detail.

I took in, with some appreciation, the shiny black shoes, drainpipe jeans and striped shirt. Honey gold hair, worn a little too long to be called short, carefully coaxed across his brow. From one hand dangled a blue jacket… but what had caught my attention was the brown waistcoat and large, black satin bow tie.

This was a late summer Saturday. His attire both too warm and too contrived to be casual. An incongruous look, even if he was going to a wedding or other social gathering. Heading in the direction of the town centre and around fifteen, at a guess, I couldn’t see him making his way to such a function alone. The town and the plate glass reflections of shop windows were, I guessed, his goal. And possibly a girl. He looked nervous enough.

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You could read his emotions in the way he walked… every step seeming to shout ‘look at me!’, even while something in his stance suggested he still wondered if he looked as cool as he felt or as idiotic as his father may have told him.

I smiled to myself; a mother of sons. There is something very fragile about those first, tentative steps into a grown-up world of independence and learning to express the person you know yourself to be on the inside. It is a time of great vulnerability when the desire for acceptance and approval can lead to you conforming to the patterns laid by others, responding to their image of who you ‘should’ be.. and a time when the fledgling wings are easily clipped, damaged or irreparably broken by an unkind word or a lack of trust in your ability to become an individual in your own right.

The indulgent smile froze for a moment as I realised that some aspects of teenagerhood are not reserved for teenagers… but can happen to us all at any point in our lives. I thought about my hair.

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It is now non-existent, lost to chemotherapy…a temporary state, I can hope. It had once been dyed red , but although it had felt outrageous, in retrospect it was fairly tame, almost natural. A small, domesticated and timid attempt at self-expression. It had been building for a while and though the mahogany was quickly allowed to fade back to propriety, the lava was rising.

I was in my fifties when I dyed my hair rebellious; a colour somewhere between disaster and flame. It was short too; I had hacked it off with the meat shears in an act of sheer defiance… carving an image that owed no thought to anything but my own freedom to choose. I loved it. It carried danger signals and waved a flag of independence, screaming in no uncertain terms that enough was enough and I would no longer take either the garbage or the begrudged crumbs of affection upon which I had subsisted for far too long. I had no idea where this was going, but that it was going to go somewhere… anywhere….I was very certain….

Basically, I was little more than a come-again teenager, facing the world all guns blazing to assert a self-image I had yet to form and a confidence I had yet to feel. It was a time of change and reaction where I tore off the masks I had allowed to take up residence and began to wear instead the passion for life that I had always felt and kept locked primly away in the staid closet of domesticity.

Such a conflagration can go either way… but having once embraced the searing of the flames, I grew to love the contentment of the warmth of glowing embers. I did not need to display the blazon of a passion that will always burn. The challenge became a more carefree confidence, the red once more its gentler, natural shade, though now comfortably streaked with silver and growing wild. Outwardly, I have come full circle, back to the place I began, yet I see now through different eyes from another arc of the spiral of understanding.

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Major changes always bring on a moment of panic, while the wave rises high and gathers momentum. A new job, new parenthood, the end of a relationship or the beginning of a shared life… all call for us to readjust our perception of who we are as values and the demands we make upon ourselves are shaken out of their accustomed patterns and rearranged. We can change our style, choose a different expression of who we are, or who we want the world to perceive, but these are no more than outer manifestations of an inner state of mind and heart. At some level of consciousness we are always wondering who we will be when the wave of change finally crashes to the shore, spreading its fanning arches of foam across our lives.

As I watched the youngster walk up the hill, I realised I could not have told him the answer to that question…it is always one we have to learn for ourselves through lived experience. We will be who we have always been… our essential self does not change; we may learn and grow, we may alter our perspectives, swap one mask for another or discard them altogether… We may seem to recede into our own shadow or blossom in the sunlit fields of joy… but the essence of our true Self remains as clear and pure as the day we were born…and at any moment we may turn and drink from the well of being that resides within.

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The long night

The seasons turn as we approach the turning point, the Solstice… the longest night… just three short weeks away. And yet, the sky is beautiful this morning, a clear, deep blue graced with the lights of heaven. The world is still and silent, even the birds are hushed as dawn creeps over the horizon of a rain-washed world. The moon lights the village and touches the rooftops with silver. Branches are down in the lane and few are the leaves that still cling tenaciously to the trees, most stripped away by the vicious fingers of winter winds.

There is such strength in the grasp of leaf to twig, both so fragile they can be plucked and broken by a child, yet the bond of life so strong it can withstand the most inclement weather. Until it is time for them to fall.

Even when the leaves fall it is part of a greater renewal, the confetti of the marriage of the seasons, nourishing the earth and the tree from whence they fell. The tree sleeps through the winter, seemingly lifeless, husbanding its resources against the coming of spring. Beneath the skeletal surface of this dying time the life within shapes new leaves and blossoms, waiting in pregnant patience for the warm kiss of the sun.

northagain 064Leaves fall, branches break… the old and sere stripped away by the turning wheel of the year, clearing the way for a green birth.

There is so much laid out before us, even in the avenues of our city streets. The life of nature is so strong and so beautifully balanced. So easy to damage when, with careless hands her children grasp at her skirts, taking anything that claims their attention and desire… yet strong enough to recover when we are no more.

In the little wood where we sometimes walk, the small dog and I, man has left his traces. From the earliest times, track and road have passed this way. From the air, the circled marks of ancient homes can be seen in the fields, the line of a Roman road, lost now to plough and furrow. And still we carve this little patch of green to serve our needs. Yet as soon as we turn our back the wild things cover our tracks, reclaiming the earth for themselves, our little lives more fragile than their delicate blooms.

In towns and cities, sites and factories that were once hives of industry fall silent as technology moves on and we are proud of our advances, not noticing the quiet crown of plant and sapling our forgotten edifices wear, the gentle but inexorable hand of nature taking back her own as soon as we depart.

The seasons of the earth are echoed too within our own lives… we are part of the cycle, our bodies dance to the same natal song of the seasons. Life springs from death, death from life in an endless round.

northagain 108The cadence is echoed within us as we laugh for joy beneath the sun of summer and weep in grief when winter touches our hearts. In the dark days, we too may feel as if leaf and branch are being stripped from us, battered by the winds of change and the storms of emotion. Yet like the trees only the damaged and broken falls from us… the green heart is strong and holds the pattern of renewal within itself.

As the wheel turns it is easy to become lost in the dark days, feeling a verdant spring to be too far to reach, fearing in the shadows that it will not come. Perhaps, like the trees, we too are then husbanding our strength, withdrawing within where growth and renewal can work their magic unseen, ready to blossom at the first touch of the sun.

When the Solstice comes, the world, still facing the worst of winter, turns almost unnoticed towards summer. We know this, yet the winter is still to be endured. The days will lengthen, the light will be bright on days covered in snow, ice is yet to break open the cracked stones, and we will huddle by our hearths as if there is no warmth in the world, forgetting that we have passed the nadir and the eternal dance of the seasons carries us onwards towards a brighter dawn.

When we are lost in grief, gripped by the cold of fear, it is hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel, hard to believe that we have passed the worst point when we see a dark road still looming ahead. Yet this is the rhythm of life itself, as the earth holds us in the reassuring and loving embrace of a Mother and shows us that not all is lost in winter, it merely endures the frost while within, nourished by the fallen leaves that were stripped away by the storms and the turning year, the green life springs anew.

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A Harmony of Eight…

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The point sits at the centre of the square,

where its two diagonals intersect.

*

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From the same intersection, another square

can be drawn at right angles to the first.

Like this, we create eight equidistant points.

*

 

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By taking the original squares and extending all

eight sides, a new set of intersections is generated.

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The new Octagon, bigger than the first,

 is perfectly derived from its archetype.

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Extending the sides of the Octagon generates another pair of larger squares.

The pattern is infinitely extendable around the point of origin with

perfect symmetry in every direction…

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A point indicates a location in space which is present but has no dimension…

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A foggy morning

fog 014I scrape the ice from the windscreen, looking with little enthusiasm at the heavy pall of fog that blankets the world. November… we’ve done well to make it this far without ice on the windows. Even so, my fingers are already that peculiar shade of blue that I forget about through the summer, only to be painfully reminded by the first frost. I must dig the gloves out, I suppose.

The oversized fleece is warm, the sweater beneath making me feel heavier than I should. I slide into a car that feels damp and chill. I have things to do outside today at my son’s home, but first I have to get there, and, of course, it is rush hour, such as it is in lockdown. The roads are choked with slow-moving traffic, the morning rat-run exacerbated by roadworks. I wait, feigning patience, for a gap through which I can dart into the flow of traffic.

Cars, mostly silver on this grey day, glide like silent ghosts, too slowly for their engine noise to pierce the shrouding fog. Their outlines are blurred, visibility is poor and the inside of the windscreen is fogged by my breath as I join the snaking line of cars that move in macabre procession towards a town where few wish to be. You can almost feel the reluctance of the drivers who head to work, called to spend our days earning the living which leaves us so little time or energy for life. We move so slowly it feels like a funeral.

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I can see the silhouettes of birds perched in spectral trees, the looming monsters that seem to appear without warning as the trucks come towards you on the narrow road, their lights predatory eyes that open to pounce upon the unwary. The camera is in my bag and I would love to be able to stop and explore, capturing the misty magic of the fields and woods, seeking the beauty I know awaits just off the beaten track. There are so many ways I could have chosen… over the hills, through little lost villages… beneath skeletal trees denuded of leaves…

I can’t, though, as I am already running later than expected.

Leaving the village behind, the road cuts through the low lying fields and here the fog thickens. The road itself becomes almost invisible; the only guide is the dull red glow of the tail-lights in front. Car follows car into nothingness, trusting that those ahead know the way. Each car is an island in a grey sea. Behind are the points of white light of those who follow, trusting me as blindly as I trust those ahead. Unable to see, you are acutely aware that the only ones who actually know where they are have already arrived at the destination we all share; the town with its lights and the warmth that dissipates the mist.

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I wonder about that. The weather echoes part of our own journey. We follow the stream, often through necessity rather than choice. Yet the stream draws us… there is safety on a beaten track, security in following a trail lit by the journey of others, even if we only trust… rather than know… that those who have passed this way before know where they are going. Some, we assume, must have made it to our common goal and it is from them that the stream leads back to where we are. Yet I have to wonder how much we miss by sticking to the known route; failing to explore the hidden wonders that are veiled by the mists along the way.

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First Things First…

 

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 One is All…

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In Alchemy there are no short cuts.
Many are those who have spent a life-time seeking its treasure in vain.
On the other hand, everything it promises to reveal is freely given at the outset.
One need only attend properly to its stories and dictates to succeed in the quest…
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THE TREASURE OF ALEXANDER
In my native land where I was an orphan there stood a stone statue upon a golden column on which was written:
‘Behold! I am Hermes, he who is three-fold in Wisdom. I once placed marvelous signs openly before all eyes; but now I have veiled them by my wisdom so that none should attain them unless he be a sage like my good self…’
On the breast of the statue one could read:
‘Let him who would learn and know the secrets of creation and of nature look beneath my foot.’
I reflected on what this might mean and started to dig beneath the plinth…
Before long I came to a dark underground chamber in which winds arose and blew without ceasing.
I could go no further.
Exhausted by my toil and full of chagrin at my failure I sat down to rest and immediately fell asleep.
It was then that an old man appeared, resembling myself in build and appearance.
‘Arise and enter into this chamber so as to obtain a representation of nature!’ He said.
‘I cannot,’ I replied, ‘for I can see nothing in the darkness, and the winds that blow there will put out every torch flame.’
‘Then why don’t you put your light into a glass vessel…’ He said.
I immediately awoke, set a light inside a glass, as instructed, and entered the chamber.
There before me sat an Ancient Man on a Golden Throne, holding in his hand an Emerald Tablet on which was written:
‘This is the secret of the world and nature… the knowledge of creation and the cause of all things’…
*
All…Ex…Andros…
Could anything be clearer or simultaneously more obscure?
How many Fairy Tales commence with a ‘Native Orphan’ who ends by first recognising and finally realising their ‘High Estate’?
And what should be made of our immobile Stone Figure which stands upon Gold?
He is a God, no less, yet he points not at heaven above but below to the earth.
Or of the Old One who appears in dream as our ‘bodily’ twin?
A simulacrum…
Nature’s representative advises we still the flickering, buffeted flame of our minds eye in order to see…
Deep in the Dark of Earth our enthroned kin who holds…
A Jewel in the Crown…
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‘Stone of the Wise’

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PROJECTION OF GOLD
In truth, it is certain and without doubt that whatever is above tends toward that which is below and whatever is below tends toward that which is above for the accomplishment of the One Perfected Thing.
As all things are discovered by one, alone through contemplation so all things are born from this one, alone by permutation: its Father is the Sun, its Mother is the Moon, the Wind bears it in its Belly, the Earth nurtures it in its Heart; Power of all powers it contains the subtle and penetrates the solid and is the progenitor of all wonder in the world yet its efficacy is only perfected through embodiment.
In order that the little world may be re-created in the image of the great world the Spirit must be separated from the Body gradually by the regulated heat of a gentle flame: it rises to heaven from earth and falls back to earth from heaven and thus it acquires the inferior and superior powers for the glory of the whole world and the dissipation of all darkness…
This is the Way of Perfection…
I alone transmit this threefold wisdom which is why I am called The Thrice Raised Hermes.

– The Emerald Tablet