Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shape Shifting

I shared the Selkie image with a colleague who lives in a hut in a remote part of Tasmania who told me that she was very taken with the legend. In general what lies behind stories of a secret identity can be seen as a kind of spiritual longing, a feeling of not being at home where we are in this world amid the everyday, weighed down with responsibilities and feeling caught in the identity trap of simply being a consumer, a statistic and a sense we are lost and searching for something more.

The husband/wife, male or female who hid the skin was motivated by love or fear, the inter mixture of possession and control. The true home of the Selkie was where the 'human' partner could not venture. So maybe the Selkie hints at a duality within the individual, lying to onself, denying part of ourselves or putting off what Bede Griffiths called the 'return to the centre' the journey that demands not less than everything. Maybe the whole concept of shape shifting, the interplay between dream world and waking world is also an interplay on the shifting grounds of our loving. The Selkie legends seem to have a strong erotic, fantasy element to them. No wonder the seal skin was locked away or hidden in the roof space.

Plotinus, the Sage might well have identified the Selkie legend with the cry of the soul to return home to the fullness since for him we have fallen from the One into the material world of time and space, of change and of memory but there is a desire with us for the Light of Wisdom. For the neo Platonists material was not evil but part of the emanation of the One but to believe that the material world is all that there is and to be immersed solely in this one dimension is to turn to darkness.

Tending the soul, sculpting our character through cultivating virtue and practicing spiritual and philosophical exercises means that we begin to see our bodies as being like homes we inhabit gratefully from our maker.  Just as we shape our dwellings to suit our taste and interests so the body is shaped by the soul. It might also be added that how we feel is often shaped by the built environment.

It follows then that we are spiritual amphibians (a term that comes from Don Cupitt criticising an overly literal Platonism). When we search for the skin we have lost or others have hidden we are being called by depth and by mystery. This is congruent to swimming in silence and experiencing sometimes that sense of losing any sense of skin as we seem to be simply one with the flow of moments within time and space and yet still deeper in stillness.  Since for Plotinus and for other mystics, silence is God's primordial language being a selkie is an entirely appropriate metaphor.

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