The Elemental world
“It is like standing by a lake… On the surface we see the reflection of the world, but in the depths there are those mysterious things that alchemists show in their books – dragons, ravens, eagles, wolves, suns, moons, and the like.”Sphaera Elementum, from Liber Sphaerae by Colin A. Low
The Diamond Mirror is centred on our sense of ‘I’, with the familiar world around it, shown in white on the diagram below. As discussed in Part 1, we can become more aware of the workings of this world, but the diagram also shows other, less familiar parts of our being, which operate outside the familiar world, often without our awareness.
Instinct and the Elemental world
At the base of the Diamond Mirror is instinct. When we were born, instinct was all that we had. Our bodies worked, we breathed, cried, shat and suckled. Instinct still lives in us. We can be more or less aware of it, and we only have a little control. For example we can adjust our breathing, and breath is an important gate into instinct.
We call the world of instinct the Elemental World. This emphasises the physicality of the world – made from the four elements of fire, air, water and earth.
We may think that we live in the physical world, but we’re not really aware of it. It’s a bit like the two pictures below – zooming in on a carrot in a magazine picture, we see the reality behind the illusion: just coloured dots. We see an alien world under our familiar one.
Extending your awareness
You can extend your awareness and move beyond concepts and constructs towards the raw physical reality you are part of. You could spend a little time out in nature. Settle down and try to be aware of your body, and of the reality and individuality of living beings around you. Set aside your own thoughts and preoccupations for a while. Be aware of the clouds moving in the sky, the air moving on your skin.
“The gods of ancient Ireland, the Tuatha De Danaan, or the Tribes of the goddess Danu, or the Sidhe … the people of the Faery Hills … still ride the country as of old. Sidhe is also Gaelic for wind, and certainly the Sidhe have much to do with the wind. … When the country people see the leaves whirling on the road they bless themselves, because they believe the Sidhe to be passing by.”W.B. Yeats’ Notes on his poem The Hosting of the Sidhe
Can we? Should we?
Before we begin exploring unfamiliar worlds, we should be aware of the potential dangers. There are borders to the unfamiliar worlds for good reasons. For example, interfering with the automatic processes of the body such as breathing can sometimes lead to problems. Maybe it’s dangerous or unnatural to extend our range – after all, we can get by in the familiar world, and in a sense it’s designed for our comfort: in fact we ourselves have designed it for our own comfort. Many people live all their lives in the familiar world with maybe just a glimpse outside it now and then. But for some people it’s not enough. It’s true that there is danger in going beyond the familiar world, and it is important that we have a strong foundation in the familiar world before attempting to explore beyond it. There are stories of problems that meet the incautious visitor to the otherworld.
Merlin’s warning in the Ballad of Childe Rolande:
“After you have entered the land of Fairy… bite no bit, and drink no drop, however hungry or thirsty you be; drink a drop, or bite a bit while in Elfland you be and never will you see Middle Earth again.”
Our body is our passport
The elemental world has many different scales, from the smallest particles up to the largest clusters of galaxies. It also includes the messy internals of our own bodies: the sinews and flesh, the guts and pulsing heart. It can be an uncomfortable places for us to visit because of its rawness and sometimes scary power and scale.
One way into the elemental world is through the body, where instinct rules. Think about your body. It has amazing intelligence and endurance. It preserves itself, fighting off disease and repairing damage. It can deal with a wide variety of food, transforming whatever you eat to sustain and fuel itself. It can adapt to different environments, and activities, employing long-term and short-term strategies for survival. But you are probably not aware of all this intelligence and activity unless something goes wrong.
At the borderline of the familiar world is breath. Breathing can be automatic, but it can also be under conscious control. The nature of your breathing tells you something about the state of our body, and being aware of the breath can help you to be fully present.
There are many practices which can help us to become more aware of the body and the breath. One that I personally find helpful is the first part of this morning exercise.
I’m in a stone circle in the middle of the night. I’ve been here a while, keeping a vigil, and my hold on the familiar world is beginning to loosen. Standing in front of one of the large stones, I see it begin to come to life, breathing in and out.
Is it real?
One of the key issues that we deal with in going beyond the familiar world is the question ‘So is it real?’ Experiences we have outside the familiar world by definition don’t make sense and can’t be explained, so we are inclined to either reject them or attempt to rationalise them. A more profitable approach is to leave the experiences as they are without trying to explain them, or to fit them into our familiar world-view.
How about you? Have you had any strange experiences? You could ask your friends if they have – you might get some interesting stories!
More to come on the Dragon World and the Shining World!