In Part 3 of Igniting the Serpent, Robert Place continues his discussion of the sources that inspire him to create the striking images found in all his various
In Part 3 of Igniting the Serpent, Robert Place continues his discussion of the sources that inspire him to create the striking images found in all his various
In Part 2 of this series, Robert Place, the internationally known Tarot artist, who is most known for his work on The Alchemical Tarot and The Tarot of the Seve
Rachel Pollack and Robert Place, both internationally respected experts on Tarot and cartomancy, have created a new deck inspired, but not in any way limited by
I’ve spent most of my life [grieving for the past]
before it even got to me,
grinding on existence like moldy [millet seed]
bread given grudgingly as a poor offering [of the citizens]
to a god [once again, no] longer believing in his care.
[But you Kypris] still believe and [setting aside evil] still
come with mercy, staunching my wounds with light.
Although this book has been out for several years, Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar (2010) by Robert Lebling has much to rec
You didn’t love me then either, but I had the power.
Enduring shame, I let you go and do not
know what came after. We have met again and you
seem to think you must make something up to me.
[Now be gentle and help me too as of old] and be on
[Holy and beautiful maiden around] you there is light
and promise—there always was, even long
ago when tradition compelled our union.
He held her close and saw her spirit and knew you
were not for me.
You owe me nothing. It is an old
artifice [to be] told at some future story-telling
when you remember the price one pays for
trying to assuage past guilt while waiting on
forgiveness [to arrive].
Please. Forgive yourself for never having really loved me
A great value of education and hindsight is the possibility that one might recognize patterns. John A Keel, the tireless, maverick investigator of all things p
Above all else she sought exchange-tag! you’re it!
between transparencies of consciousness.
Some way to bridge
heal a cavern,
wake up from the wounds of living.
And something sought her as well.
It could only come from within, as all things do,
but it seemed to spread fingers outward
capturing her focus in circuitry,
a conspiracy of voices
seeking her notice
because she paid attention.
If we are one, there must be a road,
if we are whole there must be a season,
if we have touched there must be a reason-
even for that which unsettles us.
Paint floating as feathers, capturing one moment
of electric flight;
conversations caught for re-enactment on the stage;
utterances, seemingly prosaic,
but tinged with hidden light,
her mechanisms of grace & play.
If it hurts, well, we shall sing;
if the dragon terrifies-we shall plunge deeper;
if failure grips us- we shall persevere.
When demons came, she built her safety;
when harsh lights invaded, she got online;
when worlds finally collided, she sought new language.
Exchange was the thing and no shaman’s trap would
net her or stop her progress forward.
I only knew her toward the end-
exchanging quips about possession, talismans and psychic dance.
When her keyboard trembled I reassured her,
when goblins threatened, I sang a charm.
A lifetime of stretching boundaries had frayed the curtain and
it was no longer possible to stop the procession that traipsed through
all her inward and outward doors.
It’s a brave thing to keep the threshold open, to be the exchange one seeks, the axis around which all worlds turn.
Where the Search Begins I:
Everybody’s spiritual search begins in a different place because everyone has their own circumstances with which to contend, or as I learned from my Sufi interior guide, Hazrat Inayat Khan, “Truth reveals itself in the form best suited for each student.” For many spiritually minded folks the quest begins with something very specific: a person, an encounter, an event. Something changes the nature of reality for that person and by virtue of that transformation one begins to ask questions about what is true and false about one’s individual life. Most of us seem to do this at least once in their lives because, if we live into adulthood, have some kind of experience that shakes a sense of safety in the world.
For many, many people that pivotal experience doesn’t wait for adulthood. Sherman’s spiritual quest began when, as a pre-teen, he watched his younger brother Edward die painfully as a result of tetanus. Edward had skipped school, climbed into a tree, fallen out onto pavement and broken both arms with resultant compound fractures. There was no treatment for tetanus in 1914, and deep bone/body injuries frequently had this outcome. It took almost a week for Edward to die and tetanus is not an easy death to endure or watch. The experience permanently changed Sherman’s family and his father never really recovered from the experience.
What deeply bothered Sherman about it at the time, and forced him to take seriously the reality of an extra dimension of consciousness in life, was that he had had a premonition of Edward’s accident. Prior to returning to school after lunch, Sherman noticed that Edward had climbed into the tree and suddenly “saw” Edward fall to serious injury. He had a nickel in his pocket and seriously considered turning his bike around and offering the nickel to Edward if he would get down and stay out of the tree. But, the nickel meant more him than warning Edward because they could actually purchase things in 1914. So, he went on to school. Obviously, when Sherman’s premonition turned out to have been truly prophetic he felt guilt and also wonder. What was this “thing” that had just happened?
Edward’s death changed the dynamic of Sherman’s family. Even though his parents remained loving both to each other and to their remaining children, there was a sadness, a heaviness that never really left. Sherman describes his father as a relatively successful salesman, well regarded, and able to provide a living for his family. His father had another side, however: he loved Shakespeare and read copiously, and was the very essence of a self-educated, reflective middle-class gentleman. Although Sherman’s mother was contented with attending the Methodist church, his father declined to be part of any organized faith. Some months after Edward’s death, Sherman’s father converted a spare bedroom into an office to which he would retire every night after dinner. Keep in mind, there’s no TV, so people actually could fill their time with thoughtful activities.
One night, after following this pattern for some months, Sherman’s father revealed to his son that he’d been working on a book of philosophical reflections entitled Immortal Optimism. It expressed his deepest personal thoughts about the nature of reality, human consciousness and the meaning of life. The book was privately published and never intended for general circulation, but of course, had great meaning to Sherman who kept a copy of it for the rest of his life.
Sherman found that his father had thought deeply and independently about many things, like telepathy and reincarnation. He gained a new appreciation for his father, seeing him as a full human being who struggled with meaning and had come to see the better side of life despite the losses and disappointments. Most of all, he witnessed the love that helped to heal his parents sufficiently that keeping the family together was possible. This enabled Sherman to get past his own guilt. He hadn’t caused Edward’s death, and though he did have to confront the selfishness of wanting a nickel for himself, of not wanting to take the trouble to go back and try to convince Edward to get out of the tree, he also was able to acknowledge that this kind of self-absorption is really normal for humans. The trick is to pay attention so that we can eventually grow out of at least some of it. It was this sequence of events, his brother’s death, that intruded into a happy childhood and his father’s creative response to tragedy, that marked the beginning of his spiritual quest.
It does seem to be true that for many people it takes a seeming tragedy or at least a perceived traumatic loss to engender the search. There are, indeed, some folks that just seem to be born with the ability to move into a place of wonder and acceptance out of difficulty, and certainly what is stressful or traumatic to one person is not necessarily so hard for another. I have met some individuals, although very few, that have not experienced much in the way of personal difficulty or stress and, from my perspective, they often don’t seem to really understand what it means to struggle for meaning. I’ve never been sure whether they’re lucky or not. On on the other hand, folks that have seen too much stress, tragedy or trauma in their lives might just give up on the possibility of a search at all. They are concerned with simple survival and often reject the whole notion that there is anything to other to life than what one can get out of it right at the moment. And really, who can blame them?
My own spiritual search unfolded in several phases. There were difficult and odd events in my childhood, although not as difficult and odd as others I’ve known. Unlike Harold Sherman, my family was not a haven of love and security. Religious conflicts boiled close to the surface at all times because my father was an insecure conservative Lutheran evangelical with both personal and theological axes to grind. Dad came from a home broken by his father’s post WWII PTSD, alcoholism, physical abuse and sexual improprieties. He was angry most of the time, but couldn’t see it. He was uncomfortable with himself in many different ways and insecure about his place in life, so he turned to a rigid religion to provide safety and structure. He also took all that out on his family, and mostly me.
It didn’t help that I took things really personally. For most of my life I tended to simply blame my father for all that was “wrong” with me. Dad did physically, mentally and spiritually abuse me, my Mum and brother, a fact that he never faced, and now cannot because of dementia. At the same time, I brought certain things to the table. I tend to take things too seriously, have a real problem with holding grudges and behaving in a vengeful way towards others and err on the side of thinking of myself as being right most of the time. Not coincidentally, I share those characteristics with my Dad. So, we were at loggerheads constantly. Our conflicts had the tendency to spiral out of control very quickly. So yes, even though he was the adult and was responsible for every time he flew off the handle and beat me until I bled, sometimes for reasons that were not entirely clear at the time, it was also true that I figured out ways of defying him, hating him and blaming him for all my problems whether they had anything to do with him or not.
It wasn’t until much later, after a great deal of personal and spiritual work, that I remembered other facets of my Dad. He used to compose small story books complete with illustrations for my brother and me to color. He would sing to us with his pleasant baritone voice, before putting us to bed. He loved to garden and from him I learned how to enjoy watching the honey bees he kept. He taught me how to fish and it was the one thing we could agree on when everything else failed. He wasn’t an intellectual powerhouse like his older brother, nor did he have a clearly defined family/social place like his younger sister. Dad didn’t know his place, and he wasn’t comfortable with his gentler artistic side.
Dad had served in the Korean War as a medic’s assistant because he didn’t want to be a regular soldier. Before my parents divorced, as their stuff was being sorted, I stole my way through some of it and found a diary he had kept during his time in service. He’d found working with wounded prisoners mentally difficult and spiritually challenging, so he’d occupied himself by writing short poems and searching through spiritual texts, generally the Bible and Lutheran teachings, copying things of meaning down. I’d never seen that side of my father, and though I didn’t appreciate it much then, when I think back on what I’ve become, I can see much of his early stubbornness in me. My creative, poetic side, at least in part, comes from the same restless place.
Because of my experiences with Dad, I’ve come to believe that most fundamentalists, of whatever stripe, are actually frustrated and scared mystics who are attempting to duplicate an imagined spiritual experience by enforcing what they think it must consist of on the material plane. If the world doesn’t cooperate then that’s just proof of its inherently deficient nature. In the most extreme instances, as one researcher has put it, it’s better to destroy it all in order to save it. Dad never really got that bad, but he did take out the violent bit in that on me and the family. If one is secure in faith one need not castigate others for anything.
Dad reported to me several experiences involving spirits/ghosts, missing time and at least one apparent daytime UFO sighting, long before those became common This would have been in the early 1940’s. Dad is a firm believer in demonic possession and despite his own evangelical leanings learned how to witch water from someone in his family. So it seems I might come by some of my own paranormal leanings honestly.
Dad often seemed to be at odds with friends, colleagues and superiors. He changed careers several times, unusual for a man of his generation, and finally seemed to settle down when he was ordained as a preacher. He’d gone to college and majored in school administration in order to become a principal but had trouble getting along with his colleagues. For a while, during the late sixties-early seventies, he worked for the Feds in an early jobs training program called Vocational Rehabilitation, assisting lower income people to get education needed for better jobs.
A few years ago, my Mum shared with me that she thinks Dad may have just simply missed his calling somehow, or that at least he seemed to think that he had. In his later life he gave up everything and decided to become a Lutheran minister. Given his experience with manual communication, he specialized in ministry to the hearing impaired. While my brother and I have agreed that sermon writing and public speaking is not one of Dad’s strong points, it does seem that he might be pretty good with people on a one to one basis as long as they aren’t family members that trigger him. From my perspective, he seemed to finally find something to which he could fully give himself, creatively and personally.
I’ve had many of the same problems in employment and with my vocation. No place has ever seemed to satisfy and I’ve tended to have more than my share of conflicts with bosses or co-workers, sometimes for no real discernible reason at all. It’s almost as if something about me makes them uncomfortable. I do find it interesting that after a lifetime of struggle I’m contemplating spiritual service as well, although the form is quite different. It’s always humbling when we realize there’s no way to completely escape one’s upbringing.
Sherman doesn’t really talk that much about his Mum although it’s clear he idolized her. In some ways she speaks through the relationship that Sherman had with his wife, Martha. Martha and Harold shared everything even though the roles in their relationship were very clearly drawn by traditional mainstream American standards. My Mum was far more independent. When she married she already had plans for a career and only took a couple years off once my brother and I were born. She’s shared with me that she was really, really glad when she went back to work. This was in the sixties, before it became common for educated middle class white women to work in their own careers. Dad’s mum had worked so he doesn’t seem to have had any real problems with it, despite the conservative tenor of his theology.
Mum read to me almost immediately and encouraged my curiosity in science and literature. She had come from a typical farm family in Kansas and has a kind of natural thrift and resourcefulness that my Dad often lacked. She is also interested in music, art and literature in ways my Dad isn’t even though he does have some natural talents in those areas. In essence, Mum is smarter than Dad, and probably so am I. Dad reacts, he doesn’t “think.” Mum has always liked to think, to ponder and consider. She would always make sure that dinner was on the table when she was home, but it might be Mexican food or Chinese food that she had made herself, or at least tried to.
At the same time, Mum had struggled with depression, although I didn’t know this as a child. I remember being very young when she withdrew from me leaving me in my father’s clumsy care. It was during this period that my conflicts with Dad first began to manifest themselves as he was very inexperienced in dealing with a child on his own. After my brother was born, Mum withdrew even more, spending days, sometimes weeks in their bedroom. Dad would bring Mark in for her to care for. I remember feeling abandoned and very left out.
What I didn’t know was that, in my second year, Mum had suffered a miscarriage and then gotten pregnant again with my brother. She worried constantly about losing that pregnancy. Mark was born the day after JFK was shot, and Mum has said more than once that she’s thought the stress of that may have tipped her into labor, although his due date was coming up. After he was born, she suffered from postpartum depression for a long time. She finally went back to work to pull herself out of it.
Mum struggled with her faith and with Dad’s, particularly when he started to become more and more fanatically conservative. She was impacted by the women’s movement in the seventies and she wondered if God really loved her at all. More than likely, her recurrent depression probably played a factor in this, because Dad didn’t understand her depression at all. My Mum is more practical in faith and religion, but a little mystical too. In the end, she decided to move away from many of the restrictive elements of Lutheranism with which she was raised. I’m not sure this was the final reason why they divorced, but eventually, it became one of the more intractable divisions between them. As she’s described it, she’s chosen to “err on the side of love.”
She doesn’t really remember having any specifically psychic experiences, however, and I don’t really know what she thinks of them. She does believe in a spiritual world, angels and the power of prayer for healing. Mum has a daily prayer and meditation practice and as I got older, it startled me to see how she and I had seemingly evolved in similar ways around our spiritual habits. Her life is much smoother now since she’s been on medication for her depression and spent many years in therapy.
One thing that both my parents gave to me growing up was the experience of helping people who were physically or mentally impaired in some way. As I mentioned, Dad worked with the hearing and sight impaired. Mum initially worked with children who had cerebral palsy, autism and Down’s Syndrome. Before there were government programs, independent charitable organizations, such as the United Way, funded special schools or training centers.
When I didn’t have to go to school I would help Mum at the United Way center where she worked to help kids with autism, cerebral palsy or Down’s Syndrome. During this period such individuals would be all lumped together, despite their obvious differences in abilities. I’d play with them, watch them so they didn’t hurt themselves or try to assist with learning tasks. Eventually, she became the director. Later she went on to get her Master’s and specialized in working first with kids with learning disabilities and later on with gifted children. Dad often brought folks with sight or hearing impairments home for dinner. I learned a little sign language as well. These experiences taught me a great deal about caring for folks who might be considered outliers and to consider all humans as deserving of the same dignity that we might ask for ourselves. Those experiences fundamentally shaped my sense of seeing the basic internal equality of all people.
My brother and I were also shaped by the experience of spending our early years in the deep South right at the time when the struggle over desegregation was reaching its peak. Both my parents were raised with one might consider the normal prejudices of white folks, i.e. neither had really grown up with people of color. In fact, since my mother worked, for a time my parents hired a series of black nannies. But both my parents were pretty solidly on the side of the Civil Rights marchers, and even though they worried about the possibility of violence during the riots that broke out in the city after Martin Luther King was assassinated, they were also in profound sympathy with rioters. The Vietnam War was another matter, however. Dad, being anti-Communist, was very hawkish. Mum was more nuanced. She didn’t like the violence and tried to avoid talking about it whenever she could.
I do remember the tenor of those times very well. The world seemed to constantly be in a state of turmoil with riots, wars, assassinations, the Civil Rights movement and reactions against it. There was no seeming safety, although most of the worst events also often seemed rather far away. I grew up with a nation constantly at war and believed for a long time that war was simply another thing that nations did. I was acutely attuned to the emotional content and patterns of world events and was absolutely obsessed with watching the news which I did whenever it could be managed, since we often had supper at the same time. Many were the times I got in trouble because I didn’t come to the table right away due to Walter Cronkite, who I referred to as “Uncle Walter.” Gradually, I began to see that there were trends in both the events themselves and in the media coverage of them, although, on balance, I do believe that news coverage then was far more even-handed and thoughtful than almost anything done today. I can still vividly remember seeing the broadcasts of children being napalmed, anti-war riots in Chicago during the Republican convention (1967) and crying when it was solemnly reported that a certain variety of Bengal Tiger had become extinct.
My point in providing all this personal information is to encourage you, the reader, to reflect upon your own influences and background. It is not necessary that one come from any kind of special circumstances in order to grow spiritually. Look at your father, your mother, your siblings, or, your guardians, whoever your caretakers or parents might have been. Who are you most like? Who most influenced you? Who do you most remember? What about them stands out? No one escapes their earliest upbringing, and the first important component of becoming a spiritual seeker is to understand this and to be able to face it. But, you don’t have to face it all at once, just a little at a time.
You are proof that love is not lost-
it only becomes [work] toward
different ends than simply longing.
Your [face] is turned to me and
you make what pledges you can-
this spring, this fall,
[if not, winter].
There is [no pain] in waiting,
for I know eventually
you will settle briefly among my
branches as [I bid you sing].
It’s clear you are still not
aware of your own radiant beauty,
your shimmering joy,
the sweetness that murmurs gently
through each gesture
speaking [of desire] and restlessness,
[and I rejoice].
I still can see you through his eyes,
[for when I look at you] the ages
ache [for such a Hermione] and for his
sake [to yellow haired Helen I liken you]; it
is just to give him peace.
This is not my song to you;
it is a deeper whisper from
another lover’s shore. There is
someone, your Psyche, who says:
“[Among mortal women, know this],
from desolate yearning and
[from every care], Habibti,
[you could release me] into
the dream of final resting,
conversations on golden
[dewy riverbanks] are guaranteed
[to last all night long.]”