NOTES ON THE OCCULT ELEMENTS IN ARIANA REINES’ A SANDBOOK
it is such a silence that its gloss
would take forever
we are gods who create gods who create us – Richard Gernon
In the final section of A Sand Book, MOSAIC, Ariana Reines writes that “THERE IS NOTHING A PERSON CANNOT LOVE,” and furthermore, that “DIFFERENCE IS TO BE A COMEDY // DIFFERENCE IS A TOY.” This is the Tantric view of life: accepting the pain and suffering as well as the ecstasy. To perceive all things as different from each other, as well as the same, is what certain spiritual teachers maintain is a fundamental truth, although one difficult to fully understand, despite its apparent simplicity. Holy men are thought to have bright and glistening auras. But members of certain occult traditions set out to absorb all experiences, which they regard as equal. This produces an interesting metaphysical reaction: their auras appear darker, less “pure,” which is desirable in certain occult orders [thanks to the late Richard Gernon for this description of the aura]. And for Reines, love gives her a sense of cosmic law (the sphere of Jupiter, Geburah): “I remember being in love with you & I remember / Learning to like you & and I remember the vigilance of justice / Like an idea in my furnace / Is never so clear as the times in my life I’ve truly truly lived as one enthralled // It seems to me every person / wants a heart beating / At the root of the rightness of things.” Also, furnace = belly = alchemical breathing and emotion = sacred embodiment of a woman’s creative power.
A Sand Book is essentially about Reines’ spiritual path in the world; it involves pain and difficulties (her depression, self-loathing, the problems with taking care of her mother, the abuse she suffered in relationships, the sexual harassment she suffered at a “prestigious” university she taught at, and the feeling sometimes that she’s just “another pipe fitting / on the imperial plumbing / Thru which the culture flushes its waste”) which culminate in an ecstatic experience that cannot be totally reduced to language, perhaps because it is an all-inclusive feeling; this is her experience of the totality of existence. And a voice dictates to her the series of messages that she calls MOSAIC. This is her description of the source: “Yes, the speaker was somehow a maleness but not in the sense of a human maleness: it had a personality and character to which it was bending and shaping what existed in my own brain and psyche and body, using my substance to communicate with and to me.” Furthermore, she writes: “The words that I wrote down are like one edge, one bevel, a single facet of a multidimensional communique, around which all details and nuances, all consequent thoughts and realities, spread in every direction of space.” Her description of this experience is one of the most interesting and powerful statements that I have ever encountered in contemporary poetry. Furthermore, Reines writes: “You are the fool on the road / You are the fool on a spool of God / Your existence flames in a scroll of sun / And here you are born / And here you are born again / And here you will ascend into the black mouth of God.” The Fool Tarot has the number 0, which refers to a person ready to travel in any direction, open to every possibility. It suggests the beginning of the spiritual path. The nothing (0) also suggests Kether. And the path of the Fool is from Kether to Chokmah.
Using the Empress Tarot and Kaballah to reveal an essential theme of A Sand Book: the asserting of the original unity of man as God in the dissolution of duality (microcosm/macrocosm). Also, the importance of the Lamed as the letter that signifies the spiritual path.
a. The Empress tarot (direct connection to the divine, ruled by Venus, “Let’s just say I want to be drenched in love”) in the Kaballah, is on the path between the two Sephiroth, Binah (Intuitive Understanding, [the palace, the womb]) and Chokmah (Wisdom, [primordial point, origin]). The path that connects Binah and Chokmah forms the base or foundation of the uppermost triad, whose pinnacle is Kether (Will, [ayin, nothingness, “the black mouth of God”]). It is a bridge that connects both fire and water above the abyss that is represented by the “false” Sephira, Daath. The Hebrew word associated with this path means “door.” This is the door that connects the microcosm to the macrocosm and asserts the original unity of man as God in the dissolution of duality. Reines achieves this state during her numinous experience at the conclusion of A Sand Book.
b. On page 128 of A Sand Book there is an image of the Hebrew letter Lamed ( ל ). That part of the letter that projects above the top line is called the “Tower in the Air.” The tower of the air signifies hope. This symbol also represents the power to ascend, the possibility of binding energies or Yoga, which implies “union.” It is the possibility of returning to God: to unite, once again, with God, to be “born again.” The Lamed ( ל ) is an important letter for those who are aspiring to know God, to know their divine source. This aspiration is one of the central themes of the book.
On page 199 of A Sand Book, there is the image of a veve. This is a geometrical figure used in Haitian voodoo to call upon spirits in the astral world. Reines writes: “They told me I have to marry Mercury / You know they do that in Haiti / I am writing a book called Mercury I told them / Well you see, they said, that’s excellent / But you have to marry Jupiter too.” Jupiter or “Ho-Gou pherail” (Ogou Ferray), is a cosmic law or force. The sphere of Jupiter is ruled by 12 spirits that have contact with the signs of the zodiac. These spirits lead evolution on the path to perfection and strengthen man’s sense of justice. The corresponding day is Thursday, which is the title of the seventh section of A Sandbook. Mercury is under the influence of 72 spirits whose attributes correspond to the 72 tarot cards. All work on the spirit and the body is subject to it. A marriage between Jupiter and Mercury would join her knowledge of the signs of the zodiac with their relation to the Tarot; tools to understand nature; the marriage would also combine knowledge of a cosmic law with the required work on the spirit and the body. Also, the path from Hod (Mercury) to Chesed (Jupiter), on the Kaballah, passes through Tiferet (the Sun) which reminds us that the awareness of splendor combined with beauty enhances expressions of love and kindness. Furthermore, the path from Hod to Tiferet contains the ayin, the renovating intelligence, Lucifer. Hod and Netzach are extremes of thought and emotion balanced by the presence of Yesed; this indicates the integration of the higher self because of the presence of Tiferet in the triad. The other path from Chesed to Tiferet goes along the path of the Hermit or willful intelligence. Here the emotions of the higher self are reconciled with the thoughts of the higher self. Reines, saying there she yet doesn’t know about Jupiter, receives the response “Don’t worry they said / He knows all about you.” Throughout A Sandbook the relation of the poet to the god is almost as the lover to the beloved; it is a passionate connection.
Reines: “moon of primeval emergence / virgin navel pressing out into the world”
For Aleister Crowley, witchcraft is “restricted to the use of such women as are no longer women in the magical sense of the word, because they are no longer capable of corresponding to the formula of the male, and are therefore neuter rather than feminine.” The female gives birth to life through the intervention of the male, while the neuter does so only when being impregnated by the Spirit. The word for the neuter, ALIM, adds up to 81, which is a number of the moon, and so it is the formula of witchcraft. Crowley concludes: “the great merits of this formula are that it avoids contact with the inferior planes, that it is self-sufficient, that it involves no responsibilities, and that it leaves its masters not only stronger in themselves, but wholly free to fulfill their essential Natures.” In the ecstatic moment at the conclusion of the book, Reines herself is as if “impregnated” by the spirit. It is an experience outside the human. In MOSAIC, she also writes: THE MOON IS SUPERIOR TO THE SUN INSOFAR AS SHE / HAS HAD THE NIGHT TO KNOW HE IS NOT / THE ONLY GOD IN THE UNIVERSE.”
Through Shekinah, God is I. “I” joined with Tifereph (YHVH). Shekinah manifests in sacred time (Sabbath) and sacred space (sanctuary). Reines:
Things to ready
Myself for something
Like the reconciliation
Of empirical and spiritual
Truths at last in
Like real time
In a dream recounted in the poem, “The Shot Heard Round The World,” Leonard Cohen says, “I took a course on doing / Things with time.” In “perfect iambic pentameter.”! Playing with time means travelling in many dimensions. Reines is a time traveler: “If you want to be a time traveler, you have to learn to do things with time and poetry is the way to do that. Poets return the truth of the earth to the earth.”
In A Sand Book, Reines actualizes the spiritual in the real world. The human manifests the divine through human connectivity: “human touch / human care / human beauty/ divine mystery”
In “Prometheus or Something,” Reines writes,
Something strange, something physical, gravel rattling over a burning plate in the belly, corrosive dread like frothing and seething, a fecal feeling, a dead feeling….
Like the word frigid, the word rigid, becoming a canopic jar for the organs of a dead thing, aura wizening….breath being sucked back into the body, the body becoming the stiffening mummy of a very bad secret, painfully preserved, chained to the rape rock, skin hanging off her like a ghost, you’re inside the jar and you are a jar, worry doll stuffed with stones.
Here, Reines describes a feeling of utter dejection and shame. This is part of a process which involves the internal alchemy (“Black god shines out of the red vase mouth light”) of transforming a “fecal feeling” into an ecstatic experience. Birth, birthing, is crisis. You have to make a choice: “I am a holy man / I have no idea how to do it / Holy holy holy / Nevertheless I have no choice but to do it / Holy holy holy.” In MOSAIC, Reines writes: THE SUFFERING OF WOMAN IS / THE STORY OF THE UNIVERSE. In her discussion with Emmalea Russo on the latter’s podcast, Avant-Galaxy, Reines says: “In order to understand the structure of the universe, we have to understand what the suffering of woman really is. To know its structure. To really study it. Everything from the menstrual cycle to the accumulated history of our experience, right up until right now with our sovereignty always in question and yet we are also the mystical ground where the miracle of life occurs.” Chokmah, primordial point of emanation, is situated in the palace (womb) of Binah.
In a dream, Reines writes that “a voice came / and a voice said // MAGNIFY MY EYE /MAGNIFY MY EYE / MAGNIFY MY SURFACES’ / CAPACITY / FOR BEAUTY.” This voice is not necessarily external to the poet, i.e. the voice of a god external to the poet, since she contains the divine source within herself. Perhaps it makes no sense to speak of a god here since we, as gods (containing the divine source), create the gods just as they create us: THE OTHER WORLD HAS ALWAYS NEEDED TO BE CREATED, because, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE THE MAXIMUM POSSIBLE DESTRUCTION IN A GIVEN TIME.
This EYE, in the passage above, refers to the anja chakra, commonly known as the “third eye” or “inner eye.” Interestingly, the Hebrew letter for “eye” is Ayin ( ע ) and in Crowley’s Kabbalah it refers to Lucifer as the light-bringer who opens the eyes of the blind and those chained by dogma and law. In Dharmic traditions, opening the third eye allows a person to see beyond what they would normally see, thus increasing clarity and intuition of all qualities including beauty.
“Blessing is not found in anything weighed, measured, or counted, but only in that which is hidden from the eye.” from the Zohar.
For Reines, revolutionary desire is key to imagining a different world:
Where would we be without nightclubs, the liberation
of sex from “love” as defined by hetrosexist patriarchy, the lesbians
Who teach poetry in prisons, the women who radiate zero
sexuality in order, like running fleeing nymphs to flee the frankly
Real male gaze, where would we be? Where would we be without
Chelsea Manning’s agony / The Danse Macabre of plaguetime Paris
The New York I never knew?”
She writes: “Can everything / Be made to resolve into my originary pain?” According to the gnostic view, this is the suffering born with the creation of the world, the rupturing of the cosmic egg, the rupturing of the Womb and the bringing forth of new life (the universe): THE SUFFERING OF WOMAN IS / THE STORY OF THE UNIVERSE.
The epigraph of A Sand Book is an excerpt from a poem by Paul Celan. The following is the entire poem:
NO MORE SAND ART…no sand book, no masters.
Your question – your answer.
Your song, what does it know?
It is a poem concerned with loss: each of the letters are removed one by one: nothing can be gained through language, through the mot juste, or through creating categories, or through defining things. This produces a despair which leads to silence. In A Sand Book, Reines often points to language’s inability to accurately express an experience that borders on the mystical: “She stretched across the gulf / Of the more and more and ever / More she could not say.” Language is finally insufficient at the moment she gives herself over to a numinous experience, as she would a lover. Her body receives the warmth of the sun; it is a sensual and erotic experience beyond human experience. She writes that “all thoughts and realities, spread in every direction of space and time.”
9. In the Desert
I had begun to go silent. I could feel it happening to me, as though concrete were filling my cells. The more silent I got, the more silence I wanted. Silence had become almost voluptuous – it was becoming my place of refuge. It became indistinguishable from rage. I tended this silence / rage in the darkness of my organs. I called it my privacy.
In MOSAIC, Reines writes about how she sheds her personality in order to receive the Other, which she experiences as the sun’s warmth (“drenched with love”). She writes: “I notice the weird artifice of my personality, how clumsy it is, how it gets in the way of things, right before I drop it.” The duality between self and other is beginning to vanish. Furthermore, the intelligence that speaks to her uses “her own brain and psyche and body, using my substance to communicate with and to me.” At this point she is in direct contact with a god i.e. with the deepest part of herself. She also speaks of blemishes on her face, which she calls her “beard,” and which cause her shame. She continues: “And while being forced to live my life out in the open with a face so afflicted was obviously a torture, (it also physically hurt) this particular colloquy – which I privately came to call “MOSAIC” – and this too was a joke, since like Moses I was afflicted with a speech impediment – this event was probably the only encounter for which such a beard could be ideal and really the only possible garment for my naked woman’s face.” Pain and suffering as well as rapture are part the experience. This is the essence of Tantra.
Certain occult traditions speak of the aspirant’s defining moment in the desert, where everything is lost, after one has cast off all the unnecessary parts of oneself, and when there is no hope left and language fails; but when everything is lost, something does remain: the higher realms, spirituality, god; Reines has a kind of visionary experience where she realizes that the gods are real. According to occult doctrines, this can be seen as communication with the guardian angel.
Reines’ numinous experience occurred on a park bench in New York on October 7, 2014. She says, in her discussion with Russo, that A Sand Book is about “the expansion and contraction of consciousness into numinous experience and back into the shit and out again.” So while, formally, the ecstatic experience that ends book is satisfying for a reader, it also highlights the fact that these “numinous experiences” don’t last. But that is not the point. Rather, it is the wisdom gained from the experience that counts, which infuses her work in A Sand Book, and this has nothing to do with “knowing” in the Western sense.
In the poem, “Tikkun Olam,” Reines imagines herself as an “old god” and speaks of the “transubstantiation of his pain.” Tikkun Olam is a concept in Judaism which literally means “to make straight” as in to “straighten what is crooked”; in our contemporary world it is also used to mean “social activism.” In the Zohar, it takes on more of the character of a cosmological concept; there, it means to repair the cosmos by making repairs in the invisible world. In the character of a god, Reines writes: “all those years i hid behind my veil / like an old god at last mature enough to know his own / yet so impressed with the transubstantiation of his pain.” She continues: “he longs to reveal himself to you / whom he made.” She speaks of sensing “grimly, darkly, that something beyond him streaming / through you
something from higher
something from further away
a light from beyond
him, before he knew himself to be
now rending him everywhere with a longing
to find out his own origins
Reines begins the poem in the first person, then shifts to the third, addressing the god as “you.” But I, you, he, are a kind of “trinity” within herself: she has created god just as god has created her. So Tikkum olam involves doing the internal work, the spiritual work. It is about discovering our divine origin, recognizing the “light” in ourselves and in others, and learning how to manifest that light in the world. It grows out of our experience.
In our contemporary world, it also means to be alert and suspicious of anything resembling slavery, torture, or expulsion; it means paying attention to issues involving immigrants, outsiders, the poor and the powerless; it means standing up for the values of tolerance, equality before the law, and cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious or cultural traditions at both the individual and institutional levels. Such an approach derives from a Jewish identity. In our present time, it is clear that such an approach is urgently needed: we have seen constant attacks on the LGBT community, numerous shootings and violence in our streets, children ripped from their parents at the border, immigrants demonized, the rise of white Nationalism, the increasing bigotry and racism in the world, and the hate and division generated by the Trump administration. We have strayed too far from recognizing our divine origin and of realizing that with this knowledge we can hope to repair the world. Reines shows us that doing the spiritual work is not incompatible with social activism, being in the world. Rather, such work heightens the sense of urgency in solving the problems in our world. So A Sand Book concludes with this message: EVERYTHING HAS A NATURE / FIND OUT YOURS.
I would like to conclude with Reines’ words from her discussion with Emmalea Russo, which provides an important gloss on A Sand Book: “People really like to act like everything can be known….But, as your field of consciousness expands, likewise, so does the field of mystery expand. That’s just the way things are. So, that divinatory throwing the dice or throwing the sand is what poetry is made of. Otherwise it’s a dull treatise on the nature of reality.”