Hall of Mirrors
Reflections on working with symbols
After breaking and burning the nine body-length mirrors in Use a Hammer, I returned to the scene the next morning, just before dawn. The wind had picked up, and the sky was pink in the east. Thousands of shards of broken melted glass were strewn across the ground, and the ashy pile of detritus was smoldering. As I circled the dying fire, a piece of glass cut through the sole of my shoe and punctured the arch of my foot. It was a mess; integration was needed.
One of the primary traits of ritual is that it is symbolic. A symbol is something that points to something else beyond itself. A ritual is akin to a magic spell — a symbolic gesture that points to a specific intention, in order to give it power and a better chance of coming true. The more elaborate the ritual, the more power it generally carries (power you can supercharge through the careful use of taboo).
The word “symbol” originated in ancient Greece, where pottery vessels were decorated with poetry and then carefully broken, as a way of validating contracts. A broken piece was given to each of the various parties, who could later reassemble or “throw together” (Greek: symballein) their respective shards to prove their membership in the original contract. The reunited object was called a symbolum, so the broken shards were literally “symbolic” of the original wholeness.
In ancient Japan, a tradition arose of mending broken pots with lacquer laced with gold. This tradition of Kintsugi brings beauty to the broken places through the process of healing and repair, so the brokenness of the past is not something to be hidden, but something that adds to the beauty of what is present today.
In chaos magic, a Sigil is a symbol that encodes the practitioner’s intentions as a way of casting them into the subconscious. Sigils are often created by stating the intention as a sentence, then taking the first letter of each word in the sentence, and overlaying those letters together to form a cryptic insignia to focus on through meditation.
In World War II, the Nazis famously co-opted the traditional Dharmic symbol of the Swastika as a kind of sigil. The Swastika had always been associated with good luck and auspiciousness, but by adopting this ancient symbol for their own nefarious ends and promoting it widely, the Nazis were able to redirect its power. In response, British occultist Aleister Crowley proposed the use of the “V sign” symbol as a magical foil to the Nazi’s use of the Swastika. The simple hand gesture of “V is for Victory” gave the Allied powers a powerful symbol (or sigil) to supercharge their own intentions.
In this fourteenth ritual of In Fragments, I also work with the power of symbols. But unlike the construction of magical sigils or the pottery of ancient Greece and Japan (which always began with a wholeness subsequently broken up into fragments), in this ritual I used the broken mirrors from Use a Hammer to create a new kind of wholeness that never existed before.
In the morning, I gathered up the broken mirrors from the grass outside the barn. In the afternoon, I carried the buckets of glass into the old barn hayloft. That evening, I set to work, illuminated by candles and a pair of halogen lights. Working late into the night, I carefully arranged the thousands of individual mirror shards within the bounds of a “golden rectangle” marked out with a piece of red yarn that ran around four steel nails driven into the floor. The golden rectangle was exactly twenty-seven feet long, a “sacred geometry” that gestured to the penname I’d used since 2003 as a container for my digital art work, an identity that no longer seemed to apply. The resulting mirrored mosaic was a kind of symbolum for me — transcending and including each of my former identities, without being trapped or defined by any single one of them.
As I lay on the dusty wooden floor of the hayloft with the mosaic of mirrors emanating from the top of my head, I wondered: what contract with myself did this ritual validate, what long-forgotten agreement was finally being remembered?
The next day, I developed a strange inflammation of my tongue and mouth, where my taste buds became painfully swollen. This weird ailment persisted for a couple of weeks — perhaps a kind of psycho-somatic companion to this ritual, as the old outdated personas were finally purged from my body.
There is a view of reality that perceives everything in this physical world as a symbol — pointing to deeper and truer dimensions that we never quite see. In this view, consciousness is primary, and the manifest physical world is something that snaps into existence from moment to moment through the power of observation, as the quantum waves of possibility collapse into measurement. In this view, every situation is latent with meaning, symbolic of something invisible that’s in constant conversation with each of us — a kind of cosmic hall of mirrors.
In this view, the physical world itself is a symbol, pointing to something beyond it. This is the view of reality as broken vessel (Leonard Cohen’s “a crack in everything”), whose moments of deja vu and synchronicity are its phrases of poetry etched into the walls of its pottery, written across the bodies and worlds that each of us inhabit, as we reflect one another like myriad mirrors.
I leave you with this brief poem by Leonard Cohen himself, from his beautiful Book of Longing:
It is so much fun
to believe in G-d
You must try it sometime
Try it now
and find out whether
G-d wants you
to believe in Him
Hope you’re enjoying the reflections,