Cutting deep…

Image: Pixabay

I watched with a curious fascination as the wicked scalpel was drawn across the skin, blood following in its wake. Somehow both detached and yet deeply, intimately engaged. It was an oddly disturbing feeling. It was, after all, my own flesh that was being deliberately and slowly sliced with great precision.

It had been my own fault. And a mental note was made, along with a swiftly administered metaphorical kick to be more careful with oyster knives in future. Just a small slip, but that is all it takes to cut a tendon. So there I was, under local anaesthetic, watching two surgeons repair it, and feeling oddly like a puppet as they retrieved the severed ends of the tendon and twitched my fingers without my voluntary participation. And I could not understand at all why they hadn’t just put me to sleep.

This happened a long time ago now, but I remember that it was quite fascinating to watch, in spite of my normal aversion to seeing sharp and shiny things pierce skin. The actual piercing of flesh has always been a dodgy area for me; I’m fine with anything else, not in the least bit squeamish, which is just as well given two sons who managed to get damaged in the most creative ways as they grew up. I wouldn’t say they were accident prone as much as adventure prone. The combination of, say, a hill, a bare back and a skateboard, for instance, or a mountain bike pointed down a steep slope… And don’t get me started on screwdrivers!

Any claims that it might be hereditary are neither here nor there. However, I digress.

I have spent the past couple of weeks having various areas of my anatomy threatened with more surgery. I am not happy with the prospect and shall resist until all other options have been exhausted. I may have to give in at some point, though not yet, I hope. I have no desire to go under the knife yet again.

Blades cut both ways… They expose and remove the unwanted, damaged or dangerous. They can  reshape, and rework where there is need. And we are not just talking about surgery here. A sculptor’s knife creates, subtracting from the unformed mass to reveal and define form and beauty. A sword can take life or cut the bonds of a prisoner and a blade separates mother and child at birth.

With life too, sometimes there are moments when we feel the sword poised above us, or the sharp bite of the blade. There is no escape from the pain when these events occur. Only time heals, as with any wound. Yet there may be grace within the blade that is not at first obvious.

Qabalists speak of Geburah, and that sphere has been named the cosmic surgeon, its function to cut away all that is effete, outmoded and no longer serves evolution. For us, mere mortals, that blade may cut deep, clearing from our lives that which holds us back. It may allow us to measure ourselves against who we are and who we can become, testing our courage and endurance to the limits. Yet these moments can carry possibilities of freedom we may not see while grief has us in its grasp.

Sometimes, from surprising sources, great beauty is brought into being. I think it was Picasso who said that there is no act of creation that was not, first of all, an act of destruction. Sometimes our greatest opportunities for growth and change are born from the darkest events of our lives and the hand that wields the blade, though it does so with sure strength, may be surprisingly tender and moves only with love.

Aslan, Egypt and the surgeon’s knife

The writer, Clive Staples Lewis, is best known as the creator of the Narnia books, much loved by several generations of children. It may pass unnoticed to the eyes of a child that the story of Aslan, the great Lion, bears a striking resemblance to that of Jesus. It matters little whether the child makes that connection in their mind, to those who fall in love with the landscape of Narnia, Aslan will hold a special place in their heart and children of all faiths can learn the basic lessons of honesty, kindness, courage and, above all, love from these stories. Children see no religious separateness until they learn it from the world or their own experience.

Cover art by Pauline Baynes, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Cover art by Pauline Baynes, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Raised in the Christian faith, Lewis had become an atheist in his teens, believing, like many others, that a world created by any God he could conceive would have been less imperfect. Yet he said that even then, he was “angry with God for not existing”. He was to come back to Christianity “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape,” and many of his later works reflect a faith built upon a deeper understanding of how the world moves.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

That Lewis was no stranger to the concept of necessary evil is evident, even at the very birth of the world of Narnia, when Jadis, a witch from another world, comes into the fledgling land, brought via the streets of London from her own decaying world. It is centuries later in the life of Narnia when four children wander through the back of a wardrobe and find the perpetual winter of the White Witch… once known as Jadis. It is because of the introduction of this evil at the birth of the world that Aslan is slain and comes back to life. Without the presence of evil, that sacrifice and resurrection would not have been possible.

Yet the essence of that story is far older than Christianity. In ancient Egypt the gods Set and Osiris were brothers. Set, the darker twin, was responsible for the death of Osiris… a death which permitted the green god of fertility to be ‘reborn’ as king of the Underworld. The fratricide was also the direct cause of the mystical conception and birth of Horus and the subsequent Contending between the young Horus and Set was what allowed the Child to assume his true place as the Hawk of the Sun.

Set is seen as the embodiment of evil… yet paradoxically, he was also the Protector of the Boat of Ra, defending it against the elder and monstrous creature that swallowed the sun each night, as well as Defender of Maat… Truth. A statue showing the coronation of Rameses III has Set and Horus standing, on equal terms, to bless the pharaoh.

image source:
Horus and Set blessing the pharaoh. image source

Here too, Set is not true evil, only a perception of evil… a force that has the potential to both destroy… and enable. Without his presence in the story, the story, and thus the creation of the mythos of Egypt… a complex and sophisticated vision of the creation of the universe and all it holds… could not have come into being.

“What had my brother (Set) hoped to prove, the mastery over my golden Hawk… or revenge for his own mutilation? Or was he perhaps once again the unwitting Right Arm? These things deserve thought… for from the eyes came sun and moon and the lotus of rebirth … and from Horus’ seed Set brought forth the disc of the Sun from his crown, a Light for the crown of Wisdom. There is meaning to this for those who seek it.” The Osiriad

Dion Fortune, the Qabalist, wrote of the concepts of positive and negative evil… defining the latter as being ‘the thrust-block of Good’ as well as the catabolic principle, the ‘Scavenger of the Gods’ that ‘clears up behind the advancing tide of evolution’.

In our own lives, we see the force of necessary evil in action… usually in retrospect. Just as the surgeon’s knife may hurt when it cuts, so too it can excise the tumour that threatens our lives. At the time, as we are beset by problems, contending with all manner of challenges and feeling as if our world is falling apart, it is difficult to see any deeper than the ‘evil’ that we perceive. Yet, once we are through the dark time and out on the other side, we may begin to see many bright consequences that have grown from our choices and reactions.

The challenges we face may be dire as we traverse them, walking through a black tunnel full of fear that drags at our limbs like cold tendrils. When we look back, we may see other routes we could have taken, we may see the things we have now ‘lost’ and left behind… but we see them from a place we have reached through the courage to walk onwards and face our fears. In order to grow we must always leave behind those things that no longer serve. We have a choice… to cower and stay still or to walk forward… and eventually reach a place of light.