Saturday, June 25, 2011


I am in the process of drafting my handouts for next Sunday, which include tarot exercises involving “the magic of shining,” so I am trying to articulate what this means, and will try to explain a little more about it here.

In spiritual and magical systems throughout the world, we often find a high value placed on bright and shining things, as well as shining qualities of character and spirit. So, shiny, sparkling objects or substances (such as gold, silver, crystal, glass, etc.), are used in spells, charms, and sacred medicines to attract the attention and affect the potency of the Spirit World. For example, among the Ki-Kongo, one puts oneself in alignment with the powers of the Spirit World by invoking “the flash of spirit.” (Here I reference Robert Farris Thomson’s “Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy.”) Some of this relates to the qualities of “like attracts like,” because of the shining nature of spirits and the Spirit World. In Asia, certain nature spirits and elevated types of spirits are called “dewas” or “devas,” meaning “the shining ones,” with roots related to our own word “deity.”

In a book I recently read on the Salish People of the Pacific Northwest, [“What I’ve Always Known: Living in Full Awareness of the Earth” by Tom Harmer], people who seek relationship with the elder nature spirits are referred to as the “come-alive people,” and, as a shaman explains, undertake a training which includes “cry[ing] to the powers of this world for soemthin’ to make the world shine for ‘em again” [38]. This terminology is used throughout the book, as when Harmer wonders, “… who are they, the ones who wait for a person, out in the mountains? Who show themselves, give instruction, do things for a person?” the shaman replies, “They’re the ones who make the world shine when we sing their songs!” [30].

Shining qualities are not just attributed to the spirit, but also to the mind, as when the Buddha says, “This mind is luminous,” with the idea that as you purify your thinking through meditation and mindfulness, the light of wisdom shines through.

In mythology, a quality of shining is especially associated with gods and goddesses who are friendly to humans, as in the case of golden Aphrodite, who bestows “golden gifts.” In “Goddesses in Every Woman,” Jean Shinoda Bolen relates this to “Aphrodite consciousness,” which “is present in all creative work,” and “Whenever Aphrodite consciousness is present, energy is generated: lovers glow with well-being and heightened energy; conversation sparkles, stimulating thoughts and feelings” [228, 229].

In folklore and ethnopoetics, we see that shining qualities of appearance and personality are especially characteristic of kings and queens, wonder children, virtuous maidens, fay-like women, and heroes, (e.g. the knight in shining armor). Robert Bly explores this concept in “Iron John,” describing the archetype of “The King [who] in his upper room comes toward us with a shining face—he blesses, he encourages creativity, he establishes alone an ordered universe” [113], or the archetype of “The Woman who Loves Gold,” (and her trace, “The Track of the Moon on the Water”), which recognizes, nourishes, and inspires talent and other glittering qualities in people. Describing how this latter archetype can shine through individual females, Bly says, “The Gold Woman in the other world sends her radiance down through the atmosphere, and the radiance appears on the girl’s face” [135]. For those of us older folks, Bly sees the experience or memory of the experience of these archetypes as helping us to recover our core creativity. Citing what William Stafford describes as “taking in our fingers the golden thread,” we can ask, “What were the delights we felt in childhood before we gave our life over to pleasing other people … or doing what they wanted done? Mythologically, catching hold of the end of the golden thread is described as picking up a single feather from the burning breast of the Firebird” [ Bly 112]. I relate this to the process of re-discovering the creative qualities in one’s Sun sign (among many other things). We may be intrigued when we are young and first learn of the different sun signs, but after a while we take them for granted, and some of their related personality traits get suppressed as we get older and have to conform to the world’s expectations. Going back to rediscover you sign can give you an unexpected source of new energy and vitality.

Related to the management of daily life, the concept of shining is a desirable personality trait. So, different peoples, including the Japanese, Balinese, and Thai, have social injunctions to cultivate a “bright face” or a “bright heart,” because that helps to promote social harmony and uplift everyone around you. Contrast this with certain aspects of American individualism, where you “let it all hang out” and indulge your every passing mood, without regard to the effect on other people. Note that these observations of our effect on other people may seem to contradict what I said in the previous paragraph about rediscovering our core personalities and the things that bring us pleasure, but they’re really not paradoxical when you explore their nuances. When we are able to cultivate a shining spirit, heart, face, and mind, we put ourselves in greater alignment with Deity.

Well, I could go on and on, but those are a few of the thoughts I am laying out. You can see that the concept of shining has many applications, and can be appreciated on many levels, both mundane and sublime. Next Sunday, we will explore these different meanings through the tarot, with the nature of the cards determining whether the most mundane or sublime aspects are present for us.

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