Friday, April 14, 2017


Coreopsis (Tickweed), Phacelia (Blue Tansy)

(All photographs: Carrizo Plain National Monument, April 10, 2017, except where noted)

     I know that everybody’s idea of paradise is different, but if I asked you to picture paradise in your mind, you might imagine a place with countless, brilliant flowers of every hue. Why? Some might say that in our fallen world flowers remind us of our connection to God, which for the majority of us remains buried deep in the subconscious mind—most of the time. Others might say that flowers remind us of a dimension that we once knew before we were born—a realm to which we might someday return. Still others might say that heaven doesn’t exist but flowers create a yearning for a place of perfect beauty that we can never really know, at least not for long. Fortunately for us, a few earthly paradises, protected as public parks, still remain in California. They create such a contrast to human society that a person can clearly see the truth about what humans have done—and are still doing—to the Earth, something that can be easily forgotten or ignored if a person spends all of his time in a city or on a farm. One of these paradises is currently in danger of being buried under hundreds of feet of water, which only shows that all of them are in jeopardy: Politicians, influenced by power and money, can decide to change land use designations that protect these places in order to allow various forms of development, which could easily become a reality with Republicans in control of all three branches of government.


     During spring break, I visited paradises that reveal the truth about what has happened to the area where I live, the San Joaquin Valley. Carrizo Plain National Monument, the largest protected grassland area in California, is one such paradise. This spring, neon yellow flowers carpet the plain, mixed with the blue and purple and raspberry hues of blue tansy and larkspur and owl’s clover. On Carrizo Plain, I discovered that if I strayed from the road my feet would press about a hundred flowers at every step, which is how John Muir in the mid-nineteenth century described California’s Central Valley in springtime. Carrizo Plain reveals the splendor that can flourish if nature is left to its own devices. In this paradise, one cannot ignore how much of nature has been destroyed in other parts of California. Across the entire San Joaquin Valley, for instance, a few shreds of color peak out from the grass along the roadside or in fallow fields during springtime, but ravishing, paradisaical nature has vanished, replaced by farms and cities. Cultivation and urbanization have wiped out natural splendor to the point that few people in the Central Valley would even suspect that the Valley at one time resembled Carrizo Plain: People have adjusted to a sub-natural quality of life, which is essentially a lie that dominates our collective consciousness as well as our land.

Baby Blue Eyes and Fiddleneck: San Joaquin River Gorge

     Knowing this truth is important both spiritually and ethically. Witnessing the splendor of the life-force within an intact ecosystem opens the soul to the possibility of understanding the magnificence, harmony, and abundance of the Great Mystery. A person begins to sense the splendor of the Mystery within himself and becomes more aware of the need to maintain sustainable human communities that coexist with large, unviolated ecosystems. Moreover, anyone who comprehends that the physical is the dense aspect of the spiritual is more likely to want to leave the natural world undisturbed as much as possible, if only to experience the many magnificent expressions of the Source. In other words, a person who recognizes the spiritual side of nature is more likely to challenge vested interests who benefit from the destruction of the natural world.
     I have nothing against cultivation or urban development if it is done in a sustainable manner, while at the same time preserving natural areas for our children and grandchildren. The great tragedy, however, is that nobody within the past century and a half managed to preserve the glory of nature in the San Joaquin Valley. It’s all gone, except for a few puny wildlife refuges. The same anthropocentric attitude prevails in the Valley today, except now the hydraulic brotherhood wants to take public land and turn it into a reservoir for those with water rights on the San Joaquin River. 5,000 acres of paradise could be obliterated by a dam at Temperance Flat.

Goldfields, Recurved Larkspur, Tickweed (near Soda Lake)

     Like Carrizo Plains National Monument, the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area is maintained by the federal Bureau of Land Management, and the ravishing splendor of nature can be experienced there, especially in springtime. Unlike Carrizo Plain National Monument, however, the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area could very well be wiped out by a dam for the benefit of the dominant industry in the area, agriculture. While the great ecosystem within the San Joaquin Valley during the last century and a half was being destroyed piecemeal by local interests, the federal government, to its credit, preserved a stretch of the river in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the public. Even though the river is fully appropriated, which means that no more water rights are available, and the state has over-allocated water rights by over 800 percent, The Fresno Bee and the politicians who carry the buckets for agribusiness are promoting a proposal to build a dam at Temperance Flat. This 5,000 acres belongs to our children and grandchildren, but the farmers with the water rights, for their own benefit, are trying to get taxpayers to fork over billions of dollars to build a dam that destroys this priceless public land. In the process, the public will lose an ecosystem that is one of the stunning expressions of the Great Mystery.
    I’ve discovered in the past fifty years that truth is often complicated and distressing to some degree. And it’s especially difficult to promote truth in a society where the populace has become conditioned by the media to ignore facts and complexity. From the moment a person first turns on a television, he or she repeatedly hears and sees lies and oversimplifications that are often comforting and highly entertaining. Living my entire life in the age of television, I know that people can start to prefer lies to the truth. What is even more terrifying, however, is that many men marry their mother and many women marry their father in the television age, just like in any other, and TV has been a third parent for most of us. In other words, many people subconsciously want to perpetuate the patterns established in their childhood, and most of us spent so many hours in front of a television that it became a quasi-parent that for hours on end told us comforting, entertaining lies and never challenged us to seek the truth. I would even venture to say that most of us spent more time with TV than with both parents combined. Because many of us have a subconscious need to repeat childhood patterns, we identify with a person like Donald Trump immediately: Some of us subconsciously like when he lies and oversimplifies and distorts because that is a behavioral pattern that we have known throughout our childhood. Even now, I suspect that the President, who lies over seventy percent of the time, ironically provides comfort and entertainment to many even as he begins the process of bringing the nation to the brink of WWIII and turning the US into a third-world country for the super-rich to pillage (twenty of whom already own half of all the wealth in this country).

Tidy Tips, Tickweed, Blue Tansy

     Incessant lies unfortunately also have the effect of disorienting people until they give up trying to discern the truth. A mental passivity develops due to constant lies and oversimplifications and misdirection in the media—to the point that many people would rather accept the outright lies of a dangerous egomaniac—as long as the lies simplify the world and comfort us and entertain us and don’t force us to think. If people are told reassuring, simplistic lies often enough, they either start to believe them or simply tune out the messy truth. One of the favorite propaganda techniques of The Fresno Bee, for instance, is the constant repetition of the statement that we need more water storage, which seems like an easy, even obvious fix that any sane person would support—The Bee, however, always neglects to present the complicated facts that undermine arguments for a dam at Temperance Flat.
     The public must recognize the truth or we will lose another paradise, and another, until none are left. The truth is that wells in the San Joaquin Valley will continue to run dry even if a new dam is built because farmers have already severely over-drafted the groundwater at deep levels, causing the land to subside.  Agribusiness, in other words, has exhausted the Valley's underground lakes to such a degree that the land in many places is subsiding at a dramatic rate. Eighty percent of the water in California goes to agriculture, and most of the rivers are dead due to water diversions. The industry has already taken the lion’s share of the state's most precious resource and has left almost nothing for the public in the San Joaquin Valley in terms of natural values—yet the industry continues to demand what little is left. The sad fact is that over the years dams have never satiated the thirst of unsustainable crops, and more of them continue to be planted every year. Who is going to stop this? Certainly not Donald Trump, who wouldn’t dream of interfering with a land and water grab by the top few percent in the Valley.

Coreopsis (Tickweed)

     Years ago, as I was exploring a high ridge above Big Creek in search of Native American pounding stones, I suddenly heard what sounded like wind rushing through dry leaves, but I didn’t feel any change in the atmosphere; the leaves in the vicinity were unruffled and green. Strangely, the sound also resembled numerous pebbles raining down on a large stone. Puzzled, I turned around and discovered an enormous rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. As I stepped back, the rattlesnake, which was about nine feet long, suddenly turned and whipped through the brush. That day, I got lucky. That was the first time I had ever heard a rattlesnake in the wild. I had assumed that its warning sounded like the rattlers I’d heard on TV, but the noise was much louder, less like a rattle, and more difficult to pinpoint than television had led me to believe. Perhaps because of the acoustics created by the rocky cliff, I had difficulty at first identifying where the sound was coming from. I later surmised that confusion about the source of the sound might benefit the snake by disorienting potential victims.
     In nature, a person wouldn’t last long if he lied to himself about his circumstances.  In our society, we are quickly reaching a day of reckoning where we must truthfully ascertain whether or not our industries are using sustainable practices. There is a lot of sound and fury, a lot of lies and intentional distortions that are meant to keep us disoriented, uncertain of the truth, until mental passivity takes over. The Trump administration has mastered this strategy, and certainly The Fresno Bee has employed it to promote the interests of the Valley’s major industry. The public could lose a great deal in the next few years if it does not break out of its apathy and mental passivity caused to a great extent by the media, which has conditioned the public day in and day out for decades to accept or ignore lies and distortions.
     Mental passivity is in itself a veil to the Mysteries. Truth is the key element in spiritual development: Without it, we cannot clear a path to the Source. Moreover, an explorer of the inner realms faces the unknown and must accurately determine the reality of any dangerous or unusual situation. You simply can’t progress on a spiritual path if you are unable to make an accurate assessment of reality on any plane: In some cases, you might unknowingly become unbalanced or trapped in an illusion; in other cases, your life, during a spiritual attack, might depend on the accuracy of your perceptions. Occasionally bizarre events occur in the physical and spiritual dimensions, and you must determine the best way of dealing with them—but for the spiritual dimension not many people can provide cogent advice. Above all, you must be truthful with yourself and others in order to pass beyond the veil.

Path 12

     On the Tree of Life, the eighth Sephira, known as Hod (Splendor), is ruled by Mercury, God of the intellect. The virtue of Hod is truth. Its vice is deceit. Mercury is below Mars on the Pillar of Severity and like Mars limits force so that it can be used productively, the way a combustion engine uses fuel, for instance. In Hod, which on the Tree of Life is the realm of evolving human consciousness, the force of emotion is limited and controlled by thought-forms. In other words, the imagination creates and uses symbolic forms to understand and channel subtle forces and emotions. Rarely does a person in modern civilization experience pure emotion; people instead learn to channel emotion through symbolic ideation. This ability is especially important in the Mysteries: Over the centuries the human mind has created potent forms that personify the subtle forces of nature as Gods and Goddesses. Through worship of the living images of the Gods, combined with devotion and intense feeling, the mind contacts the subtle forces that strengthen the soul.
     For me, Thoth, the Egyptian version of Mercury, is one of the most significant Gods guiding humanity through this difficult stage of our evolution. Thoth is a God with a unique understanding of the human mind who is tolerant of our physical and mental frailties. He supports people who have a genuine desire to progress through the Mysteries. I cannot emphasize enough how important sacrifice for truth is nowadays; Thoth understands and supports it in many subtle ways, especially when everything seems hopeless. The chart below suggests how to arrange Tarot cards associated with Hod to invoke the force of Mercury and break through the veil of mental passivity.

Eight of Pentacles: Lord of Prudence
Decan: Sun in 1 - 10 degrees of Virgo
Tree of Life Association: Mercury in Hod (Eighth Sphere)

Eight of Swords: Lord of Shortened Force
Decan: Jupiter in 1 - 10 degrees of Gemini
Tree of Life Association: Mercury in Hod (Eighth Sphere)

Eight of Cups: Lord of Abandoned Success
Decan: Saturn in 1 - 10 degrees of Pisces
Tree of Life Association: Mercury in Hod (Eighth Sphere)

Eight of Wands: Lord of Swiftness
Decan: Mercury in 1 - 10 degrees of Sagittarius
Tree of Life Association: Mercury in Hod (Eighth Sphere)

Mercury: Thoth
The Sun: Ra
Virgo: Atum
Jupiter: Amoun
Gemini: Isis and Osiris, the Merti
Saturn: Ptah
Pisces: Anubis, Khonsu
Sagittarius: Neith