More on Moore: the Planets Within and Madre Ayahauasca
About one month ago, I returned from a 14 day ayahuma dieta with my Shipibo Maestro. A strict contract of confidentiality with Don Ayahuma prevents me saying much about this dieta. Suffice it to say, that my impressions were re-confirmed that this is a powerful shamanic tree and should not be treated lightly or disrespectfully (as indeed nor should any plant/tree dieta) – which means focussing on and observing the conditions of the dieta.
Whilst on this dieta, I read Thomas Moore’s book ‘The Planets Within’. As I have commented before, you have to be careful what you read when doing dietas, as you diet the book as well, especially given that there is little other external stimulation coming into your mind – bland food, no TV, no computer, no phone, ideally, very limited social contact. So, reading any book in these conditions of heightened sensitivity and openness, makes a big impression.
I had chosen this book as I wanted to follow up my interest in Moore’s work, after seeing him talk about the ‘animus mundi’, which I wrote about on my blog before last.
This is a complex and delightful book. Moore is a very good writer and draws you into the world of Marsilio Ficino, neo-Platonist thought and the febrile milieu of Renaissance Florence, of which Ficino was such a key figure.
It’s also clear reading this, that the book, written in 1982, provides the underlying philosophical basis for Moore’s later work, ‘The Care of the Soul’, which became a best seller in the nineteen nineties.
“We have an entire sky within us, our fiery strength and heavenly origin: Luna which symbolizes the continuous motion of soul and body, Mars speed and Saturn slowness, the Sun God, Jupiter law, Mercury reason and Venus humanity.”
– Marsilio Ficino, letter to Lorenzo the Magnificent
The central idea in this book, as suggested by the title, is that we can imaginatively use the planets and their associated qualities as ways of understanding the depth, multiplicy and complexity of our psyches and its constantly changing movements.
“As above, so below”, as the alchemists liked to say.
Each planet, which is ruled by a god, corresponds to a form or style of consciousness. Moore, following Ficino, urges us to draw on the full range of planets, or different ways of being and relating to the world and others, to inform our lives, and not just the one or two which may be dominant in our psyche or astrological horoscope.
I won’t go more into these ideas here, as I wrote about some of this in my previous blog and also have touched on this theme on a number of previous blogs exploring the work of James Hillman, who was Moore’s teacher/mentor.
The reason I constantly reference James Hillman, who stands in the middle of an intellectual ancestral lineage comprising Jung as his father and Moore as his son, (if we can look at it like this), is that I find his ideas not only hugely intellectually satisfying, enlivening to my spirit and nourishing to my soul, but also useful and insightful in understanding my experiences with La Madre Ayahuasca. This is primarily because Hillman, Jung and Moore, all stand in a tradition of depth psychology, in contrast to the superficialities of ego-psychology or New Age spiritual psychology.
In his book, Moore following Hillman, offers a subtle, suggestive and elegantly thought-through distinction between mind, body, soul and spirit. I will not elaborate on these distinctions more here. I suggest that anyone with an interest in depth psychology and/or astrology read ‘The Planets Within’.
Instead, I want to touch on three points I found in the book, which resonated strongly with my experiences in the Peruvian Amazon – a long way in both time and distance from Renaissance Florence – with Madre Ayahuasca and the Shipibo culture and cosmovision.
I have often been told that the plant spirits are jealous and possessive. Previously, this has never made much sense to me – I thought it was a way of imputing human characteristics onto plants, or better said, their spirits.
It has been an intellectual stretch for me to accept the idea of plant spirits, but, through repeated dietas, I have experienced contact and strong connection with a number of different plant spirits, which has convinced me of their reality – but seeing them as jealous has seemed a step too far.
However, I should also add that on one occasion, whilst dieting a specific tree, the spirit of another tree came to me and told me that I should be dieting with him – this spirit always appears to me in a distinctly masculine guise – and told me to stop this dieta and start dieting with him. When I asked him if there was any room to negotiate this, his answer was: “Never, ever, use that word negotiate with me.”
When I read the following passage from ‘The Planets Within’, I understood this jealousy in a new way. Moore says:
“For a generally recognized characteristic of a god or daimon is jealousy. Although a god may represent the vital sphere of a definite sphere of life, like Venus and her sensuality, the god may also wrap its arms around the devotee and keep him from other possibilities, other deities. This is what Ficino knew to be sickness, true sickness of the soul: to be under the domination of one planetary daimon, caught in the embrace of a single jealous deity……….The gods are jealous, each ready to assume a monotheistic hold on the individual.”
Similarly, if the Greek/Roman gods can be jealous, as each style of consciousness, represented by each god, wants to have exclusive dominion, then the plant spirits, each of which has particular knowledge to teach us, also want our full and undivided attention.
So we could look at the plant spirits, like the gods, as a polytheistic pantheon, but with one obvious difference. There are, especially in the Amazon with its extraordinary diversity of life forms, countless plants, each of which has its spirit, whilst the number of Greek and Roman gods appears to be more limited.
Moore, following Ficino, lays stress on the healing quality of music.
He quotes Ficino as saying:
“Since song and music come from the mind’s thought, from the impulse of the imagination, and from the passion of the heart, and together with the broken and shaped air, move the air-like spirit of the listener, the bond of soul and body, music easily moves imagination, affects the heart, and penetrates the innermost sanctuary of the mind.”
From a very different cosmovision, the Shipibo médicos (healers) would be completely in agreement. Their way of healing is through singing icaros – the songs taught to them by the plant spirits.
Anyone who has drunk ayahuasca with an authentic indigenous or mestizo healer will know the power of the icaros. When, on my last dieta, I said to my Maestro that I was having a lot of trashy, inconsequential visions, he said that he would clean these visions in the next ceremony, which he then proceeded to do – a powerful demonstration of how music can affect the “innermost sanctuary of the mind.”
In addition to recommending the use of specific music, colors, rituals, medicines, talismans, images, stones and gems, and walking in particular landscapes, Ficino, in his healing practice, also prescribed perfumes. Moore points out the well-known power of smell in evoking memories, which he sees as a key faculty of the soul. Moreover, fragrance, through its non-materiality and subtlety, as he says of the aroma of wine, “is more suited to the nature of soul itself- invisible but perceptible and efficacious.”
I have only recently come to appreciate the importance of fragrance in Shipibo healing ceremonies. My Shipibo teacher pointed out to me that the icaro which my Maestro sings to open the ceremony, has a basic three-fold structure, though each time it is sung differently according to the particular needs of the people attending the ceremony. In the first part, he is combating the presence of bad spirits which, for the Shipibo, are synonomous with illness. In the second part, he is cleaning the body, soul and spirit of these malevolent influences, and, in the third part, he is singing of the perfumes of plants, trees, and liquids such as Agua Florida, which finish and consolidate the healing process.
As Moore commented in his book, reading Ficino and Hillman together was like entering into a dialogue across the centuries with a tradition, which has largely remained hidden in the West. For me, reading ‘The Planets Within’, especially in the circumstances in which I read it, where I had more time to reflect on and was more receptive to its content, broadened this dialogue to include the rich and wonderful cosmovision of the Shipibo people.