%When through fierce confused projections
I wander in samsara (confusion)
On the luminous light path
Of abandoning all fear%
The Fourth Deadly Sin is now better known to us as Depression. As a Deadly Sin, Sloth is a lethal cocktail of self-justification, resentment, anxiety, isolation, learned helplessness, nostalgia, and self-pity. Belphegor, the Demon of Sloth, runs hand in hand with Beezlebub, the Demon of Gluttony , as so many self-medicate to treat their symptoms of depression and retrieve a lost and distorted sense of Utopia. In addition, attempting to truly live moment by moment, fully present in a civilization that seems both incomprehensible and unresponsive to any individual’s action seems so hopeless that people anesthetize themselves with whatever is close to hand, escalating their cycle of cynical despair.
The flip side of cynical depression is the fantastical illusions and grandiose delusions of mania. Biblically this sequence leading to inevitable collapse and self-destruction is shown in the story of the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. The fourth generation in Genesis, Abraham undertakes a journey to the Promised Land because he and his wife Sara long to escape their barren circumstances and have a child. Lot and his family think that Abraham has a good thing going, and so they follow his journey instead of seeking their own way. Because they seek distraction, their actions become more and more frenzied, satisfaction more and more elusive, and eventually their entire enterprise collapses.
One of the more peculiar images in that story is of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt. Alchemically, salt illustrates wisdom and self-knowledge, as it is capable of completely dissolving into the watery seas and then returning to its crystalline structure when the water evaporates. Understanding this process implies wisdom, but trying to replicate the form of the cubical salt crystal without respecting the process by which it forms is a mistake. Fractals give a mathematically rigorous foundation for one of the key alchemical principles, that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. They are most easily comprehended in their geometric forms which bridge the abstract realms of mathematics and the profligate beauty of nature. Fractals are essential to understanding how Maia increases because they are self-similar regardless of their size. I was greatly relieved to find out that mathematicians are finally admitting that the rules we learn for classical Greek geometry only apply at one particular scale in the material realms while fractals are self-similar regardless of scale.
One of the reasons that science has been so slow to adopt chaos theory is because it is easier to visualize than to verbalize. In fact Poincare, the man who irrevocably opened the scientific doors to chaos theory in 1889, did so by not by writing out his formulas for predicting the patterns movement for three orbiting bodies but by drawing their possible solutions. In attempting to answer and unsolvable mathematical question, he was horrified to see that his efforts produced a pair of curves infinitely looping back on themselves, producing a fine mesh of infinite possibilities that took the form of a butterfly’s wings.
This image has been popularized as the butterfly effect as it seems our human mind can easily grasp the implications of large impacts resulting from small changes by imagining how a butterfly flapping its wing could influence global weather patterns. Mathematically this butterfly shape is labeled a ‘strange attractor’, the image of the infinitely complex (strange) pattern of behavior that a chaotic system replicates at all levels. The strange attractor does not always appear as butterfly wings, but varies according to the system being defined. A strange attractor, like cubical salt crystal, is the result of a multitude of miniscule actions and reactions. For millennia, people have built their places of prayer in patterns of sacred geometry that reflect on a human scale the infinite patterns of change in the cosmos, both micro and micro.
Lot’s story illustrates the consequences of trying to apply the same deterministic rules that apply to geometry to salt crystallizing out of solution or to dynamic living systems. Even if there are hotels built to resemble an Egyptian pyramid in Las Vegas Nevada, they do not have the same feel as the originals. Building a replica out of different materials in an entirely different part of the globe for entirely different purposes has very different results even if there might be a superficial resemblance. Lot and his family are doomed to failure because they ignore the reason why Abraham and Sarah came to the Promised Land.
Abraham and Sarah sought a new home in order to find the circumstances where their creative life force can perpetuate itself. What they have to learn is that in order for that life force to express its true nature, they must sacrifice all their expectations of what it should look and act like. In more esoteric terms, the ‘strange attractor’ could be labeled as the Trickster, the sacred clown that disrupts all our human expectations of predictability. Attempting to force those expectations on a living system as fundamentalist religions tend to do when they label the Trickster as other and evil, at best results in adding more variables to the chaotic equation, increasing its complexity and unpredictability. Matthew Wood writes:
we see that this stage of spiritual life
begins as a journey which seems to ask little,
but ends by requiring everything that we hold dear.
The life of faith is easy to talk about,
but if we take it seriously
and stake even the lives of our loved ones on faith
we have to give up and let go
until it is way past the point of being funny…
There is a subtle word play in the original text
that highlights the final state of bitterness towards God.
Even as his devoted servants they can only laugh at him
when God says that they are going to have the child
they have so long desired and been promised.
When their son is born they name him Isaac,
which means ‘He Laughs’.
Isaac’s ability to laugh marks him as one who understands the nature of the Trickster and is at ease with the appearance of chaos in his life. Lot and his family see only the superficial façade, and like the press board and plastic pyramid in Las Vegas, their attempt to imitate the outwardly simple results of a complex process leads their entire venture to collapse. Imitating the form with no understanding of the process simply does not does not work long term. Admitting this profoundly threatens our current deterministic Newtonian world view and makes people fear a complete collapse of our perceived and/or imposed rules of order that it. There has been such a blind philosophical resistance to chaos theory that in 1986 Sir James Lighthill, then Cambridge Chair of Science, apologized for scientists persisting in misleading the general public about how systems work by spreading incorrect ideas that had been disproven decades before.
In the context of the Seven Pleiadian Sisters, Electra, whose name means amber, is our strange attractor and the Greek tragedy of Electra is even more decadent and deadly than that of Lot and his family. Lot and his family just trail along behind Abraham, merely imitating his behavior while Abraham actually follows his own inner calling, his ‘strange attractor’, to a promised land. While Lot’s is a shallow and fruitless path, Electra and her brother head down a deadly road. They commit suicide after killing their mother and her lover who began the violence by murdering the children’s father in the hope that they could step into his position of wealth and influence. Killing off the source, destroying the ‘strange attractor’ does not lead to security; it changes major factors that drive the implicit hidden order of the infinitely repeating patterns of chaos and the results will sooner or later become apparent.
If Electra is to be our ally in transmuting Sloth, we have to look closely at her true nature. The Greeks considered amber to be solidified honey, the nectar of the gods. In more mundane terms, amber is actually petrified pine resin, the solidified life force of the tree. Although it looks jewel-like, it has some unique attributes that arise from its organic chaotic structure. Amber floats, as it is less dense than water, and it produces static electricity when rubbed. Amber as Electra is then the personification of the spark of life within the Promised Land that rises out of the seas of chaos.
In alchemical terms, the problem with salt as a life-guide is that in order to manifest its cubical nature, all the water, all the wondrous randomness of life, has to evaporate. Great insights that arise in solitary meditation or visionary states are remarkably difficult to remember and live by in our ordinary lives. Amber retains its form and its unique properties even when immersed in the ocean waters. In its original form, as tree sap, it is fluid and pliable. Even when folded and stretched, whether dry or drowned, it retains its own character, even while it expresses a near infinite richness of structure.
The shamanic task when faced with a civilization on the brink of self-destruction as we are now, is to recognize the self-similar individual patterns of behavior that result in the outer form of a stable self-sustaining civilization. In practice, that usually means seeking out and sustaining options that result in the optimum benefit for the individual and for their community, rather than constantly demanding maximum results with minimum effort. This takes an intensity of effort that the slothful can barely conceive of. The I Ching says the difference between peace and stagnation is the effort put forth to insure that there is enough energy and movement (click here) for all things to take their right place and find their true form in their right time. Difficult as it may be to look inward and act with conscious care in times of strife, it is the only sure path to constructive change.