Selections from the Journal of Experimental Spirituality
Editor: : Sven Davisson, published by Mandrake, 2003, 114pp, p/bk ISBN: 1-869928-80-6
Ashé is, according to the introduction to this collection, an Afro-Caribbean word for spirit or life force;' good things happen to one because one has Ashé, bad things because one lacks it.'
This illustrated collection is taken from some of the articles available from Ashé's first year as an online ejournal specializing in exploring the 'diverse avenues of modern spirituality.' As such the content is varied and eclectic ranging from articles on; Rajneesh; the orisha Babalu ; the writing of William Burroughs; magical techniques; to short stories, reviews, illustrations and poetry. However, what does appear as a common thread throughout the collection is that the subject matter is largely concerned with spirituality in connection with or as an integral part of issues which have sometimes been seen as 'taboo'.
Indeed, in the introduction, the editor, Sven Davisson, states that:
"Above all else, Ashé has always been intended to form a nexus for spiritual possibility. An interchange of voices often silenced or ignored."
In addition, the14 written pieces that make up the collection are written from a practitioners or experiential point of view and this also is a positive choice;
"Ashé provides a space for seekers to speak for themselves without the academic filter of the 'objective observer'."
There is variety in the style and delivery of content. Some of the works are excerpts from larger fictional pieces, some are small essays, some reflections taken from bigger works and one of the ways in which this journal is successful is leaving the reader wanting to know more whilst providing further references for exploration.
The collection opens with an excerpt from Cuban Santeria; walking with the night by Baba Raul Canzares where he discusses the nature of Ashé from the point of view of Santeria. It becomes clear that to have Ashé is to be in a state of harmony and balance with other beings, including spirits, and that lack of it creates dysfunctions and imbalances. In this context he briefly explains the nature of this interaction according to the tenets of Santeria and how this differs from, for example, a Roman Catholic world view in which some things are inherently evil in themselves. This is followed by a piece by the same author on the nature of Prem (the Sanskrit word for divine love) which has been adopted as a guiding spiritual concept by the Orisha Consciousness Movement. These two articles together illustrate the creative power of the fusion of concepts and practices and are, as such, in themselves, illustrative of the nature of the journal as a whole.
Some of the other content may present some difficulty for readers. For example Shangri-La, the excerpt from Trebor Heeley's novel: Through It Came Bright Colours (Harrington Park Press 2003) develops the theme of a masochistic love between the narrator and Vince, who has AIDS. Their relationship seems to consist of Vince verbally and physically attacking Neil, who is the narrator. However, there is a contradiction between the way in which Neil presents his relationship to Vince and his judgements of Vince which we, as readers, are party to. The pertinent (to this journal) feature of the excerpt lies in the interaction between Vince and a Tibetan lama. However, Shangri-La skates on the thin ice of losing the reader's sympathy with either character: It is difficult to relate to the abusive nature of the interactions between the main characters; one of whom appears sadistic and aggressive whilst the other appears devious and manipulative.
More interesting to me, is Erik K. Lerners (self-illustrated) article on Babalu. This is written in the form of both a re-telling of the Odu Ika or an account of the mythic beginnings of the orisha and a discourse on the relevance of that orisha to the author and to those with a viral disease and AIDS in particular: Babalu is, after all, the Orisha of Plague. Eric K. Lerner writes of Babalu:
"I worship an entity scaled with sores, with cowries twisted in his matted hair. I honour the virility of one who walks with dogs, whose penis can ejaculate death".
The article presents the reader with the notion of actively working with the forces that afflict us. Whilst this is common in some parts of the world, it can sometimes seem antithetical in Western culture where we are constantly taught to resist the forces which may cause us pain, disease or even inconvenience. For example, the notion of praying to a god of healing seems far more acceptable in a Western context than of working with the deity who carries that particular disease.
Phil Hine, in Zimbu Xototl Time, presents a literary review of some of the works of William Burroughs (and to some of extent of Storm Constantine) which relate to the homo-erotic (and some have said misogynistic) universe of the 'wild boys'. He writes of the links between the' wild boys' and the absence of social control, gender stereotyping, 'normal sexuality' and places them firmly in the context of magical beings:
"Here, the wild boys can be viewed as a collection of spirits, and contact with them may (temporarily) manifest as the appearance or development of particular powers or siddhis…."
Within the context of Burrough's Wild Boys , Cities of the Red Night, The Place of the Dead Roads and Port of Saints, he likens them to the tantric Ganas, to zoomorphic spirits and discusses methods of magical contact with them. Additionally, he draws parallels between the wild boys and Storm Constantine's Wreaththu trilogy.
Sven Davissons article is concerned with the attempted founding of a 'City on the Hill' by Rajneesh (Osho) and followers in Oregon during the 1970s and the 'eye-opening' attempts by the American establishment to criminalise members of the group and to destroy the community. It is followed by first hand accounts of the time by two of its ex-members; Ma Dharmacharya concerned with the nature of the Oregon community and the other, by Autumn Sun Pardee who was a young man growing up within the community.
Cabell MacLean writes of his time as friend, companion and flatmate of William Burroughs and in particular of the use of a magical technique (given to him by Burroughs) called Playback; a chaotic and seemingly effective method of causing disruption and chaos.
There is an account of an interview with the Tibetan Lama, Lama Karmapa in World Teacher by Ma Prem Jeevan which relates the audience held with the Lama by Swami Govind Siddarthe (and the Lama's recognition of Osho as a living Buddha) and one by Gail Gutradt: Maha Kumbha Mela and her experience of this great festival together with some interesting insights about the nature of a guru.
The poetry too ranges from Baboons by Mogg Morgan ; an overtly sexual and beautifully sensuous poem; to Odds and Ends by Farrell R.Davisson; a perfect portrait of an oak leaf in autumn; to Rocks by Ruth Moore:
"The rocks of the earth hold secrets
Weathered, battered, brown."
All in all, Ashé is an interesting and wide ranging journal. Written from an experiential point of view the majority of works are reflective, insightful or inductive of further interest. The decision to give a voice to those not usually heard and to incorporate issues which are normally seen as 'taboo' within mainstream spiritual circles, or which incorporate unusual analysis makes it both an exciting, brave and challenging work. Additionally, there are concise biographies of the authors and the incorporation of bibliographies, 'further reading' and 'more information' lists following the articles ensure the reader has a variety of follow-up resources available. - Lou HartFor the current online edition of Ashé, visit www.ashe-prem.org