Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
The day before yesterday morning I woke repeating a word in my head: Vestal. I have a wide vocabulary that I can’t account for, so often I get these ‘word worms’ (similar to ‘ear worms’) slithering through my consciousness. If I’m feeling up for it, I will ponder these words; why they strike me when they do, and what meaning I can gather from them. I am profound like that at times. But most of the time I do everything I can to forget the word, bury the meaning, excise the demon worm.
Vestal is from the Greek for ‘fire’, and in its most significant derivative, represents the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, Vesta (and the corresponding order of priestesses, the Vestal Virgins). In Rome, there were temples that burned sacred fires to Vesta. Ever faithful to the gods, the Romans believed a central temple to Vesta, which burned a never-ending hearth, was an ongoing offering to the goddess for success. When the fire went out, so would the Roman empire. So when Emperor Theodosius I carried the Christian tradition from Constantine and forbade public pagan worship in 391 CE, the Roman Empire was already on its way out.
Ovid had an interesting rumination on Vesta: “Vesta is the Earth itself, both have the perennial fire, the Earth and the sacred fire show their see”—which is a dense, cumbersome sentence only open to my weak interpretation—but speaks to many ancient cultures’ fire worship. Fire is ephemeral, temperamental, coming and going, requiring work, effort, care, and symbiosis between living and elemental, all culminating in a transformation from one chemical to another.
Which echoes to the Indus Valley’s Hinduism, a removed culture from the Romans that shared some of the ‘coincidental’ subconscious symbology (Jung, anyone?). Fire in Hinduism, and Buddhism which evolved from it, carries similar properties—magical but real, temporary but ubiquitous, essential but destroying. The god Shiva is encircled by flames, representing destruction and enlightening rebirth. Shiva dances, within the flames, simultaneously destroying and laying the groundwork for the illusion of the world. In Sanskrit: Lila, or the theatrical, illusory state of the material world.
There are a handful of Sanskrit words that also seem to strike me at different times as ‘worms’. It is of some wonder then that the night after my Vestal dream, in the midst of a psilocybin excursion, the word ‘artifice’ and Lila became the only way to describe my environment. Walls shifted, grew and shrunk. Kaleidoscope phosphenes danced over my eyes, and music filled the room spatially. Artifice—that is how reality appears on hallucinogens, or really any altered state where your senses are affected, be it fever, exhaustion, or emotional distress.
The world is illusion, Hindus and Buddhists say. “Look at the world, glittering like a golden chariot,” the Dhammapada reads in my favorite passage, “The wise do not touch it, but the foolish are immersed in it.” Judeo-Christians see the material world as a temporary state between the everlasting soul’s existence in heaven. Even scientists—mostly physicists and chemists—have come to see reality as a sort of quantum illusion, a multi-dimensional expression of energy, to which humans are only evolved to perceive a certain spectrum. In the minutest sense, modern physics tell us there are atoms, which are mostly negative space occupied by energetic forces that can only be determined, spatially and temporally, by perception. In religion first (probably from shamanic explorations of our reality), and now in science, we get the sense that reality is in the eye of the perceiver.
But the psychedelic truffles told me more. Like most good psychedelic trysts, there is an interesting thought to explore that you find tucked away in a nook—to open, peruse, and read like a weird book stashed away in your house from a previous owner.
And that weird thought was not so elaborate or elegant, but simple and profound—that the artifice—that Lila—that the illusory reality around us—is not illusion at all. Reality exists as it is, in its myriad forms that we may or may not perceive. The only illusion is in the way we perceive reality. It is our perception that is like our fire symbology, and not the world itself—it is our perception that is ephemeral, temperamental, coming and going, requiring work, effort, care. Our perception is a symbiosis between living and elemental—between chemical expressions of energy.
This is some heavy, sticky stuff to wade through. Sorry to put you through it. But the day after turning all your senses up to eleven, you often drift into the metaphysical.
And that’s where I leave you now.