The insistence on “Law” in The Kybalion, the book’s privileging of “Ego” and “Mastery,” its claim that “Chance is but a name for Law not recognized” (171): all of this suggests that the book is both more and less than it seems. The Three Initiates dedicated the book to Hermes Trismegistus, after all; and Hermes, of course, was known to be something of a trickster. I appreciate the book’s evocation of an ancient, secret doctrine. I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the answers I seek lie hidden from plain sight, awaiting my readiness to receive them. But most of what the book offers — from its defense of “the strong” to its claims regarding the origins of its teachings — seems flawed and suspect: expressions of the prejudices of the man thought to be its author, a Chicago-based occultist from the turn of the last century named William Walker Atkinson. Yet this is precisely how the Hermes archetype tends to operate, using thievery and deception to transmit messages between worlds.
Laid out on a futon on a screened-in porch at my sister-in-law’s house in upstate New York, I sip a Belgian-style wit brewed locally with hints of lavender, children’s voices rising up from the park across the street. Origami birds hung with wire circle and converse beside a Japanese maple. My favorite moments are ones like these when, through modest experiments with sense and awareness, I’m able to reach out and investigate my surroundings. The books I’ve been reading these past few days all seem connected in accordance with what the Three Initiates refer to as “the Principle of Correspondence.” Brian C. Short’s New People of the Flat Earth, The Kybalion, even the movie Back to the Future, which my nephews watched for the first time last night: all of these works seem to resonate when properly aligned. The same can be said of these origami birds hanging by the window, their forked tails and black-and-white plumage resembling those of the frigatebirds I noticed last night flying in the sky above my sister’s back yard. The question now is: how might I utilize this principle in service of the good?
I arrive to the beach before the others, grateful for these rare moments of silence. Before long, the beach itself disappears from sight. A fog rolls in off the water, leaving only the sound of waves cresting and receding. Next thing I know, it’s evening and I’m back at my sister’s place, staring up at seabirds. I imagine there’s more to report: a piece of green ribbon, one end tied to a lamppost, the other end dangling in the wind; small explosions — someone setting off fireworks in another part of town; nephews of mine chasing after an ice cream truck; anger, envy, disappointment, contempt — the bleeding, in other words, of my proletarian heart amid extravagant displays of wealth; plus continued study of hermetic philosophy so as to remain awake through all of this without being ruled and debased by it.
Bodies in motion roll to a stop, set down chairs, lather themselves in lotions and oils, and stare out at an unbroken expanse of ocean. Try as these people might, however, they still can’t leave the city, it being the thing they carry with them everywhere they go. I sit among them, eavesdropping on their conversations, feeling lazy and detached, wishing there was more to life than just getting and begetting.
I wake in the cabin of my brother-in-law’s boat, docked for the weekend at Watch Hill on Fire Island. It’s still early — not yet dawn, in fact — but I can hear birds chirping outdoors, so I climb aboveboard as silently as I can manage, so as not to disturb my companions, all of whom remain asleep below. A wonderful fog has settled over the bay, a saving grace obscuring from sight the many ugly neighboring yachts, flags already hoisted in preparation for the day’s festivities. I perform morning meditation sitting cross-legged on a cushioned bench. Afterwards I walk the short width of the island from bay to ocean and stare out at the Atlantic. Time dilates, water line waxing and waning with the tides. As the day progresses, I lie on my back, eyes closed, and become one with radiant energy.
This is the period of trial, the forty days and forty nights (or there about) when the hero with many faces wanders empty-handed, deprived of power, cast down from former heights. The animals of the night-time forest sing their lullaby. Let us imagine the hero figure in one or more of his or her guises, carousing in Fairy Land, when up from the forest floor come a pair of trees, branches raised lovingly toward the sun. If tales were to be told of these trees, would it be the hero’s duty to abide by these tales? Or is the hero rather the one who roots around, unwilling to rest within the boundaries set by the tales as they’ve been told? By now, of course, we’re familiar with both of these kinds of heroes. Do our preferences shift when our interlocutor shares with us the names of these trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge?
After a month abroad, reentry into American society is inevitably going to be experienced as a bad trip. Screaming children, lousy music, conspicuous patriotism and religiosity among one’s countrymen, time bled away in cars. The south shore of Long Island is no country for old Dharma Bums. I love the food, and the beaches, and the proximity to Manhattan — but this place that my extended family calls home is in most respects the cultural equivalent of a Superfund site. As I noted a few days ago, however, Eden remains in potentia all around us. That sense of possibility is the one worth keeping at the forefront of our collective imagination going forward. (Plus the sunsets here on the water these last few nights have been fabulous.)