[Prologue: WARNING: If one is appalled by bull-fighting then DO NOT view this video as it shows the ancient and still living graphic "face off" of life against death, in this specific case a famous old Mexican Matador, "El Pana" (The Buddy) battles Death in the form of a bull whose name I did not record at the time I went to this bullfight in Apizaco, Tlaxcala, Mexico in January 2008. The graphic bloodletting in the video, of the old religion's clear awareness of the struggle between chthonic nature (the bull/unconscious) and uber-nature (human conscious/egoic/rational), is deadly honest depicting the sacred life and death struggle that is existence and thus the attendant and authentic religious rituals of the "fight", the uniform, tight fitting, revealing the genital/animal/chthonic biological man, bright symbolic colors, the choreographed moves of the matador and his attendants in response to the bull (having the "mind of the Bull"), the various espadas (swords, short and long), the stylized killing of the bull, the removal of the ears which are offered to some beautiful maiden in the crowd who tosses her hat or scarf or shawl to the victorious one who then kisses it and tosses it back to Her, and then the feeding of the poor, the bull as an offering.
The fight, of course, is within the body and soul of the bull fighter, the primal man at war vitally in between his chthonic, instinctual masculine (represented by the bull) and his conscious, rational/moral/intuitive self. Whether one approves of bull fighting or not both the bull and the matador are priests enacting in powerfully enfleshed religious drama what occurs within the psyches and bodies of every human, woman and man. The bull prefigures Christ whose body and blood are eaten ritually in the eucharistic "communion" rite, a rite where death brings the god palpably/powerfully to one's self, of the Church which wisely incorporated this pre-Christian rite into itself in order to compete and win (it did) against its rival religion 2000 years ago, Mithraicism, a religion in which the god in the form of a bull is killed, its flesh and blood ritually imbibed in essence to incorporate the raw instinctual self into a more conscious vessel, human awareness.
In America we have this rite available to view in professional bull riding and many rodeo events. Rather than killing the bull, the bull is "killed/defeated" by the human who "conquers/subdues/kills" the bull by riding it, gripping the rope behind the bull head with one strong hand, the other in the air, for 8 very long seconds, the rope/hand link attaching and revealing one's intrinsic animal connection to and as the bull. As we know symbolically, the hand in part represents the conscious will of the ego thus the gripping hand consciously attached to the biological/un-thought/drive-ridden animal unconscious, the human consciously submitting to the struggle and torture of enduring the conflict within and outside of oneself, bull and rider one and yet differentiated by the hand, the will, conscious intention.
To attend a bull riding event is an amazing opportunity to see the "old religion" of pre-Christian Europe (and its equivalent in other primal cultures) viscerally enacted before one's very own eyes (and guts or "bowels" in the Biblical Old Testament sense, the bowels being the deep seat of all human emotion and felt knowing perhaps clearly understood in the often heard and stated "I know in my guts this is true" or "gut knowing"). The opening rituals are essentially religious, both man and bull equally sacred - a brightly lit auditorium arena is suddenly plunged into darkness thus silencing the collective distracted crowd, then sudden deafening explosions of pyrotechnics, flames and sparks shooting up from hidden barrels in the arena below, blinding, Damascus-like spotlights strike a circle in the aromatic sawdust pitch, then flaming letters ignite "announcing" the beginning of the ancient "Mass". One can smell the bulls, the piss and manure already the incense prior to the opening rite. Enter the sacred dramatists, men, bulls, acolyte attendants and, most importantly, a clown/acrobat - the Trickster - chittering and skittering alone on the arena edges or magically appearing and disappearing out of barrels imitating and mocking the bulls, the riders, the audience, the God(s), which is worth the entire price of admission.
I am certain that most people attending the bull riding spectacle are not at all aware that this is the ancient Mithraic religion enacted (somewhat altered via cultural flavoring). I was amazed during my first attendance when, after all the dramatic religious ritual and "introit", a Christian minister prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ! and this in a secular and surprisingly tolerant New York City Madison Square Garden filled with multi-ethnic people of all faiths or no conscious faith at all! I instantly "got it", that the Lord Jesus Christ in this context was/is the sacrificial bull-god, Mithras, the sacrifiical Lamb in Christianity retroactively the Mithraic bull whose sacrifice may not only appease the bloodthirsty, justice obsessed though unjust Himself, primitive, chthonic, evil side of God depicted clearly in the book of Job in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. These blood religions remain NOT for the secular or theologically "liberal" (read "Lite") faint of heart. I highly encourage one and all to attend and "get a grip" once again on blood mysteries, Nature, life as it is and the sacredness revealed in the battle in and before one depicted in the video above and in what I am describing of professional bull riding's secretly (ancient) religious event (click or copy and paste here for my recent poem depicting a similar event, albeit highly personal, depicting a growing awareness of the requirement of life to continue life by killing, or read it below at the end of this essay: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/cleaning-fish-on-good-friday-1963/
In the Western secular world these events are called "sports" - even the bulls are called "athletes" - but all sports are religious events whether participants and observers are cognizant of this fact or not. Sports are archetypal enactments of the conflict between the opposites, thus the fans (fanatics) are religiously (psychologically) gripped in the games between ultimate good and evil - our chosen side is always always "the good guys" and our opponents are always always always "the bad guys" - but if one is thoughtful, informed and aware that the other is indeed "also I" (one's own evil, shadow) one can see the archetypal religious drama unfolding and authentically, humanly participate in authentic worship withdrawing projected shadow and integrating/assimilating - trying to - the regathered shadow content, consciously allowing and embracing one's own instinctual, animal and human nature. The operative word here is "consciously".
After the bull fight in Mexico as after the bull riding events in the US I and my fellow "worshipers" find a Spanish or Argentinian restaurant and truly toast to the bulls, the matadors, the holy rites, and enjoy red meat and red wine, a celebratory Passover/Eucharistic event, knowing that all too soon we, too, shall be what is in the cup and on the plate, unworthy meals, ah, but what majesty to be conscious of all this! And Nature's palette is not as discriminating our human own. She wins in the end. The squirming worms, alimentary canals as are we all, eat their fill or the winds/waters scatter/muddy our cremated dust, with or without kirtan, mantras, prayers and chants, while Great Nature's cycles continue until our sun goes nova and then...and then...the ongoing dance of colliding galaxies, "former Indras all..."
Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer and poet, tiller of the earth and of human consciousness richly writes of participating in planetary yet personal Life and Death cycles conveying the sacred found in the above and other rites of living close to "what is", to Life, to Nature, to Death. The conscious consenting to, arrival of and struggling to hold within himself the awareness of Life's demand for blood, for Death, is actually more truly "transcendent" - meaning, transformative and not bypassing at all - than all the ostensible "non-violence" of the sincere yet curtsying "peaceful ones" with all their well-intentioned though merely imitative "spiritual-tourettes-like" expostulations of "love, light, peace and blessings". Give me a bull, a Berry, a "god-blade" any day and any pray within and up from the steep and the depths:
The Fearfulness of Hands
That Have Learned Killing
The fearfulness of hands that have learned killing
I inherit from my own life. With my hands from boyhood
I formed the small perfect movements of death,
killing for pleasure or wantonness, casually.
Manhood taught me the formal deadliness
of hunter and farmer, the shedding
of predestined blood that lives for death.
Only marrying and fathering lives
has taught me the depth of ruin,
and made me feel the quick in my hands the subtlety
and warmth of what they have destroyed.
And still I have killed for pity, and felt open
in my mind the beautiful silence, the sudden
ridding of a hurt thing's pain. I
am dumbfounded at the works I have accomplished
at the bounds of mystery, seeing it flow out
red and mute, matting the hair of my hands.
The skill that is prepared in me is careful
and terrible. There is no life I can think of
without sensing in my hands the answering power.
I shall not go free of the art of death.
- Wendell Berry, Openings, pg. ll.
In conclusion to this prologue to what follows below, I quote Jungian analyst and writer, Peter O'Conner (thanks to Tom Dybek for introducing me to O'Conner and this passage) who speaks clearly and accurately, in my experienced opinion as a guilty participant, of the current tendency to bypass necessary recuperative, integrative work via "spiritualities" (escapes/bypasses) of all kinds:
"In the present times my personal view is that there is an ever increasing tendency to pursue 'self-realization' without struggling with the more painful task of self-knowledge. The proliferation of instant gurus has facilitated the defensive fantasy that self-realization is possible without the more painful struggle of self-knowledge. All that is in fact achieved by such instant and painless 'self-realization' is a persona of self-realization., a mask or ego-image of it, but not a psychic reality. Hence the first real stress or upset that occurs to such people with a persona of self-realization sees that so-called realization crumble into depression or explode into anger. The Jungian viewpoint is unequivocally that self-knowledge is the path to self-realization..." - Peter O'Conner, Understanding Jung, Understanding Yourself, Paulist Press, 1985, pgs. 71-72.]
I begin with the antidote to spiritual bypassing...NOTE: the experience of God or the Self can be a trauma. In New Age "all-too-sweet-and-Lite" lenses this experience is misperceived as suffering brought upon oneself by "bad core beliefs", negative thinking. There is an unwillingness and/or incapacity to see this dark aspect and experience of the Sacred in spite of past and current evidence of many people who report this alchemical crushing, dissolution and refinement. This denial is childish ego inflation and hubris insisting only upon one side of the Sacred's being and experience, gentleness, sweetness, light, and denies the experience of God/Self/Beloved as a ruthless the "black light", as the "Refiner's Fire" purposely disorienting and afflicting an individual in order to re-orient the individual into a right relationship of ego to the Self. Thus Sufi mystic and poet Hafiz's poem as a clear antidote and compensation to "spiritual bypassing":
Tired of Speaking Sweetly
Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.
If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.
Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth
That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,
Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.
God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.
The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.
But when we hear He is in such a "playful drunken mood"
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.
- The Gift – versions of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky
easier to be an animal
than not - Jerome Rothenberg
All the time I pray to Buddha I keep on killing mosquitoes. - Issa Kobayashi
Outside of this Heart there is no Buddha
This Heart is the Buddha.
Outside of this heart there is no Demon
This heart is the Demon. - Huey Nin, the 6th Patriarch in the present era of
Dao lineage is credited with this quote.This quote was later expanded upon by
other Buddhas in the lineage of Dao to include the bottom two lines.
"Man is an animal who feeds upon transcendentals." - Raissa Maritain
Spiritual bypassing is a manic defense against depression and death, a denial of the realm of "pathos" - suffering in existence - from which the word "pathology" is derived, the path or pattern of suffering in being. Great Nature runs riot upon and within that which we project to be "transcendence" but, without a doubt, crushing dissolution, decay and ending is Nature's insistent way despite all our reification of wishful "happier" metaphysics - read "escapes" - bypassing inexorable existential givens. We choose to believe that these spiritually flavored subtleties of Imagination must concretely be true given understandable human desperation in the teeth of facticity, of throwness feet first or head long into the maws of life. Searching for transcendence long sought and hard fought for in the all too human act of artifice, art, alchemy and religion, in the depth cry toward surcease and significant if but momentary peace of mind and body, I no longer wonder that some are wont to take holy vows who, tipping Cosmic Cows (or piercing murderous bulls), cloak themselves in Blessed Silence, a long breath out-sleeved.
There may be more to me and thee, O Mercurial Verities between How-and-Now Cows, than the undertaker's shovel and the deep blue sky and sea but I am a soul man, partial to soul, to space, to time, to locale, at more than a lover's quarrel with the world and very much at quarrel with spirit and entire "congregations of vapor" (Shakespeare). This argument is ongoing as it should be, at least for me. What follows here below are extensive quotes from thoughtful, clear-headed and compassionate writers who rediscover and sing/argue in the face of the bypassers (as are we all, truthfully, us "hopefully transcending ones") of and for the nobility inherent in suffering Creation and Her creatures, including humanity, as part of living and dying into and out of conscious existence.
I begin with Alan Watt's: "Man has to discover that everything which he beholds in nature - the clammy foreign-feeling world of the ocean's depths, the wastes of ice, the reptiles of the swamp, the spiders and scorpions, the deserts of lifeless planets - has its counterpart within himself. He is not, then, at one with himself until he realizes that this "under side" of nature and the feelings of horror which it gives him are also "I". - The Wisdom of Insecurity, Chapter 7: "The Transformation of Life", p.111.
Charles Ponce, Jungian/archetypal astrologer and psychoanalyst, brilliantly writes, arights and reorients us very necessarily toward the urgencies and immediacy of Existence, of Nature in Her appeal, in Her drive for attestation as She is. I quote extensively here for it is a much needed compensation to the overly-inflated and hysterical spiritual bypass which is most certainly the manic "happy" newish religions and and bipolar (manic-depressive) culture of contemporary America):
"...we rebel essentially against the autonomy of Nature, the natural breakdown of Nature, the need of Nature to relax into itself, even to collapse into itself in the way that trees retreat into themselves with the advent of Winter...We turn away from our bodies in illness and death not because we have resolved the issue of the wound, but because it is far easier to think of an afterlife, far less fearful and painful to surround ourselves with the good feeling that we may not only escape this life in one psychic piece, but that we will no longer have to concern ourselves with our physical humanity...This approach to death robs us of our tie to Nature, strips us of our humanity in favor of an exquisite angelology of the ego. It allows us to slip past the experience of the mystery: that the body is indeed a great temple which moves slowly towards a breakdown and dissolution. The alchemists knew this: that the soul cannot fly, cannot be released from the vessel until the body is broken down, dissolved, and even putrified. When you read the alchemists you will discover that this breakdown and dissolution is the beginning of the Great Work, and that without experiencing and seeing, watching and attending to this momentous operation--keeping the fire of heart and attention at the proper degree--nothing happens. The soul does not fly, the subtle body is not created, nor is the imagination which is the soul's experience of itself open to eternity. It is this focus on the body and the wound in both life and death that leads to the sacred marriage of the alchemists. Paracelsus stressed, "The eternal is a sign of the dissolution of Nature, and not the beginning of created things, and the end in all things which no nature is without...A true medicine and counseling should therefore be one that addresses the immediate, the body of things and the body, for if we really wish to enter into the eternal, see the universe in a grain of sand, we must in our imagination understand..the soul's expression of itself through body, and that woundedness, disease, and the putrefactio of our humanity are for us in the West ordained as the focus of a yoga that sees in these sufferings the gods we have rejected." -- Charles Ponce, from "Paracelsus and the Wound", Working the Soul, Reflections on Jungian Psychology, pgs. 25-26.
Ernest Becker: Sensitive souls have reacted with shock to the elemental drama of life on this planet...this bone-crushing, bone-drinking drama in all its elementality and necessity. Life cannot go on without the mutual devouring of organisms. If at the end of each person's life he were to be presented with the living spectacle of all that he had organismically incorporated in order to stay alive, he might well feel horrified by the living energy he had ingested. The horizon of a gourmet, or even the average person, would be taken up with hundreds of chickens, flocks of lambs and sheep, a small herd of steers, sties full of pigs, and rivers of fish. The din alone would be deafening. To paraphrase Elias Canetti, each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good. -- Ernest Becker, Escape From Evil, pg.2
Guillermo Arriaga (transcribed from in interview): "...So I said, "I am going to be a boxer...so I began training hard and hard and suddenly I have a pain in my chest so I say, "It's nothing, a torn muscle," and so I began again and again, training, training, training, and I went to a doctor and say, "Yeah, you have a torn muscle." Wrong. I have an infection in my heart so I went to a cardiologist and he said, "I have good news and bad news...the good news is that you are not a hypochondriac. The bad news is that your heart is completely swollen and that you can have a heart attack maybe today, maybe tomorrow, I don't know. So you have to go to bed NOW." And so I say, "Fuck!" And so I watch my hands. I say, "My hands may be the hands of a corpse tomorrow.They will not move anymore tomorrow." So I make a commitment to caress the skins I have to caress, to beat with my hands those I have to beat, and to build something that will survive my hands," and that's when I began to write furiously without stopping and I have my studio full of skulls, not real ones but of wood, stone...and every time I get tired I say, "Arriaga, you are gonna die. You have to do something with your hands."
So until now I have caressed the skins that I have to caress, I haven't beaten people that I like but I don't want to be violent anymore, and I have been writing since then. Thus, a personal fight against death...so I have two thoughts about pain--the first, the worst thing you can do with pain is not using it. You cannot waste pain. Another one is that pain is inevitable but suffering is a decision so I use pain for writing and every time I have pain I try to keep it and use it in a certain way...
I personally believe that Death doesn't present once, it presents daily and I always think that Death has a giant tongue that licks you. For example, this [rubs his thinning hair] is death licking my hair and says, "You thought you were okay? Well, there goes your new look." And, uh, cellulite in women and tits going down, it's like Death licking and, you know, we men (makes a gesture of an erect penis deflating), is like wop! wop! wop!...and when you lose someone you love, a woman, you are carrying the corpse of someone you love inside you...
They say that dust is skin flakes and I believe that every time
we wipe the dust we wipe the corpse of who we were at that time..."
-- Guillermo Arriaga, acclaimed Mexican writer, in conversation with Paul Auster at 2007 PEN Writer's Conference, has written screenplays, Babel, Amores Perros, The Three Burials of Melchiades Estrada, 21 Grams, and more. Here is the weblink to hear the entire conversation:
Alexis Zorba: Why do the young die? Why does anybody die?
Basil: I don't know.
Alexis Zorba: What's the use of all your damn books if they can't answer that?
Basil: They tell me about the agony of men who can't answer questions like yours.
Alexis Zorba: I spit on this agony!
-- from the film, Zorba the Greek, based upon the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis of the same title
My poem, Cleaning Fish On Good Friday,1963, mentioned in the prologue to the essay:
Fate, then, heavy in a boy's hand
hoists dead weight to a nail on a tree.
His knife scores firm flesh yielding
beneath freshly limp gills - there is an
instrument made just for this, pincher-pliers
for catfish skin - he grips and tears,
uses his weight down-stripping smoothly
bare to such luscence little ribs of roseate
Only the overly large head, the ugly face
whiskered within gilded monstrance,
remain pure to form, thin-lipped and
mocking, restrained by depth pressures,
sustained on surface trash, dead things
that sink down it's treasures.
Tenderly sing, then, to a nail,
to a boy's blood catechism -
hands, minds, are meant
to be stained, mercy's quality
unstrained neither by will nor gill.
Scavenging flocks gladly fill their
gullets inhaling entrails tossed
in supplicant bins.
In unison Gregorian they scream:
There is a nail for me
plain, a chorus of barks** -
glossolalia of rivers
now given weight.
One can only will
praise to 'The End',
and spill, post-pliers,
one's silken guts in offering.
**A catfish when brought to shore barks, a rasping, barking discharge of air.