13 October 2006


I want to finally follow up on my earlier post about blackhearted pirates. That's going to require getting into Freudian psychology, the Talmud, humanistic spirituality, esoteric spirituality, Star Trek, and all kinds of other stuff that I know some readers love and some readers hate.

This starts with a comment from Reya Mellicker on my previous post.

I try not to comment here, you know why, but I've been thinking about your Black Heart [of Innocence] post from the other day. I'm compelled to speak, though I will try to make this brief.

I'm sure you know that Johnny Depp is an actor, that the pirate he plays in the movies is a fantasy.

But the BHoI is real. When I think of it outside of the realm of fantasy, I think about my friend as a child being sexually molested by her cousin, also a child, in his parents' 1950's bomb shelter. I think of the children I knew when I was growing up, kids who (for instance) turned box turtles on their backs and laughed while they watched the poor animals struggling to turn upright. It was the BHoI that inspired these kids to leave the turtles to die of thirst and starvation. The lascivious purity of small children is very cruel.

The BHoI is yetzer ha ra—the urge to evil. It's a part of human nature, but the practice of cultivating it, especially without any accepted ethical or moral framework, creates horrors like Abu Gharib. Quasi-sexual torture is brimming with the energy of the BHoI.

In real life, Johnny Depp is a husband and father who, at the end of the day, washes off the make up, takes off his silly costume and—I hope—talks to his children about the characters he plays. I hope he explains why the fantasy is so much fun, but why the reality of the pirate's black heart is so potentially dangerous.

Victor Andersen was a charismatic and talented sorcerer. He was very disturbed.

I think the identification of the Feri symbol of the Black Heart with the Jewish Talmudic concept of the yetzer ha'ra is spot on, but I'm not satisfied with the reading of yetzer ha'ra as simply the “urge to evil.” Considering the nature of the yetzer ha'ra opens the door to some very interesting psycho-spiritual questions.

In what we might call “Talmudic psychology,” we are driven by the twin forces of yetzer ha'ra and yetzer ha'tov, the inclinations to evil and good, respectively. The Talmud teaches that we are born with the yetzer ha'ra, but the rabbis disagree about the yetzer ha'tov; some say that we are born with that as well, while others argue that we only acquire the yetzer ha'tov with the passage into adulthood of the bar mitzvah, at age thirteen. If we consider the latter to be true, that the yetzer ha'tov is a developmental consequence of maturation, then the yetzer ha'ra does match the Black Heart's “lascivious purity of small children and wild animals.”

But I submit that “evil” is a misleading term for the yetzer ha'ra. It suggests that we should simply avoid it entirely, resist it in every way. I think that's very unwise. The yetzer ha'ra is also sometimes translated as the selfish inclination, which has its purpose. Consider this traditional midrash:

If not for the yetzer ha'ra, no one would build a house, marry, have children, nor engage in trade.

We cannot do without the yetzer ha'ra. It contains a necessary vital force — what a Freudian would call libido, with yetzer ha'ra the id and yetzer ha'tov the ego.

Googling for someone else making that comparison, I discovered that David Holzel has already made both that analogy and another analogy that I was tempted to make, to the Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within.”

Pity poor Captain Kirk — a transporter malfunction splits him in two. Kirk No. 1 is a wild, irrational brute — pure id. Kirk No. 2 is gentle and compassionate. He is presumed the real captain, until the crew notice he is unable to make a decision — fateful or otherwise — and, in fact, is sinking into paralysis.
Viewed through a Jewish lens, this episode is an allegory of a man whose yetzer hara, or evil inclination, is split from his yetzer hatov, or good inclination.

I submit that the the Black Heart of Innoncence, the evil Kirk, the yetzer ha'ra, the libidinous id, the kundalini chakra, the Thelemic Will, and so forth are parallel descriptions of a source of vital energy in the human frame. In describing it Feri, Star Trek, the Talmud, psychoanalysis, tantra, and Thelema all say similar things. They say that this centre is integral to human nature and inherent in our drive to live and act. They also say that this centre is prior to the steadying effects of social convention and is obscured by the rational mind, neither of which can eliminate the voice of that centre, but both of which will distort its voice by trying to eliminate it, cutting us off from our full human potential. All of these schools I allude to—esoteric Judaism, psychoanalysis, tantra, Thelema, Feri—are liberatory schools, concerned with how we can reconnect to that centre without losing the benefits of our rational minds or the moral awareness of the society beyond our selves.

Doug Muder, on his way to a brilliant assertion that “humanist spirituality” isn't an oxymoron, has both an excellent description of liberatory spirituality and a helpful caution about how liberation alone isn't enough.

Connection is a positive sense of identification with something bigger than yourself, usually something that contains you. Bigger can be at almost any scale. Maybe you feel connected to your family. Maybe you belong to a church community or identify with a group like this one. You could connect with a political movement, a philosophy, a nation, the progress of humanity, the biosphere of the planet, or the well-being of all living things.


Liberation is the awareness of possibilities and potentials, combined with a sense of choice efficacy. “I can make things happen.” Liberation is about energy, creativity, inspiration. Liberation is that feeling you get when you break a pattern you weren’t previously aware of.


At first glance connection and liberation seem like opposites. Connection might mean strengthening your personal relationships and getting more involved in your community, while liberation might tell you to leave a small-minded community or break free from relationships that hold you back.

But this zero-sum view is too simplistic, because connection and liberation can be allies as well as competitors. Sometimes you need to liberate yourself from bad connections before you can make good connections. And disconnected, alienated people are the ones most likely to loose their freedom to predatory groups and dysfunctional relationships.


Now we're in a position describe good spirituality, and how it differs from bad spirituality. Good spirituality serves both connection and liberation. Bad spirituality sacrifices one to the other. The sacrifice can go in either direction. A cult satisfies your connection needs by robbing you of all your independence. A self-indulgent spiritual path liberates you personally by letting the world go hang—your self-expression or pleasure or power are the only considerations, and it doesn’t matter who else gets hurt.

I think that Muder's description of the liberatory project gone wrong is the dangerousness that Reya cautions against. I'm guessing that many of my readers are familiar with examples of folks who are products of psychoanalysis, tantra, Thelema, or Feri gone awry. But that is not an indictment of the liberatory project.

Nor is it an indictment of liberation that Evil Kirk, Captain Jack Sparrow, and so forth are fictional and fanciful. There is definitely a place for these poetic evocations of the yearning for liberation.


Memory Echoes said...

The issues of the Black Heart of Innocence raised here by you and Reya, Jonathan, have been humming through my mind for a while now, particularly this morning. All I know is I am beginning to encounter and appreciate the heavy significance and meaning of the Black Heart of Innocence. My new friend is helping tremendously with this.

I have been studying Thorn's book for about two months (six weeks, give or take a week or so), and any discussion of the Black Heart of Innocence has mystified me for the past year, although I have been considering its significance and trying to gain an understanding of what it is.

It finally began to click for me a couple of days ago, and when I was holding my new chinchilla this morning, a creature with a baby animal's wild innocence(six months). I realized, holding this animal right over my heart, that I was connecting with the energy of the Black Heart as I develop a relationship with my little Gizmo (the similarities of chinchillas to the mogwais of Spielberg's movie made for an easy naming). Our trust of each other is still taking shape as we develop connectivity, but I have noticed a primal, raw, very insistent, wild sensuality and sexuality awakening within me lately, and it is especially evident when I am relating to and when I consider myself in relation to Giz.

without an ethical foundation to operate from, I would probably fall into the leg traps Reya seems to be speaking of in regard to Feri and the malificence she speaks of in connection with the BHOI.

I have also found that this awakening is fueling my passion to protect and support innocent wildlife. Consider the chinchilla for a moment, a wild inhabitant of the South American mountains, adapted perfectly to the cold climate with the 40-50 hairs per follicle that make for such high fur density for warmth. The resulting softness makes for a very sensual and erotic experience (in the sense of Audre Lorde's discussion of uses of the erotic as power, and in connecting with that power in ourselves and fellow creatures), but furriers and those who buy expensive fur coats care not about the slaughter of wild, innocent, passive creatures, as loving and gentle as my calico cat -- creatures whose spirit is deliciously wild. This is not okay with me, and this has become an issue that is sticking uncomfortably underneath my skin. So because of my intense feelings and principles here, I am being summoned to act by my own Will to participate in protesting brutal and unnecessary practices and the fur trade industry in general. For what do we slaughter these innocents? For massive retail profits. It's disgusting.

All this is somehow mysteriously connected with the Iron and Pearl Pentacles as well. Very nebulous things afoot -- very exciting.

Just thought this might relate to the discussion of the BHOI you have initiated here.

I waxed rather long-winded on this most intriguing subject. Hope you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

I think your analysis is good. And I have some comments.

I want to respond to something in your quotation from Reya: "The BHOI is yetzer ha ra—the urge to evil. It's a part of human nature, but the practice of cultivating it, especially without any accepted ethical or moral framework, creates horrors like Abu Gharib. Quasi-sexual torture is brimming with the energy of the BHOI."

I am not familiar enough with the terms of Talmudic thought to really comment on yezer ha ra. But I will say that I think to equate the Black Heart of Innocence with "the urge to evil" is to misunderstand it. The whole point of the Feri tradition's doctrine about the Black Heart is that it is a state of divine liberty and authenticity that is beyond the binding dualism of good and evil. Remember that the Black Heart is not only attributed to children, it is also understood to be innate to animals. Animals behave in ways that may often seem cruel to us - they eat one another alive, sometimes kill their own offspring, etc. But it would be mistaken to call this kind of violence evil; nor does it make sense to think of animals as "good" when they behave in ways we perceive as gentle. Because good and evil are categories constructed by human culture and do not belong to the life of other species. In either case, nurturing or violent action does not arise from a moral choice, it arises from the pure will and authentic nature of the being. It is a being doing what it does because that is what it is, and THAT is the Black Heart of Innocence. It is not an urge to evil - it is pure, authentic will arising from direct connection to one's true being.

I bring up the point about animals because the Black Heart is simpler to see and understand in them. In children this becomes more complex, because although they are born like animals, in the Black Heart, by the time they have reached a stage of growth at which they are capable of moving around the world on their own volition, two or three years of age, the Black Heart is already tempered with a very strong overlay of cultural and familial constructs. Where Reya speaks of the cruel behavior of children: "I think about my friend as a child being sexually molested by her cousin, also a child, in his parents' 1950's bomb shelter. I think of the children I knew when I was growing up, kids who (for instance) turned box turtles on their backs and laughed while they watched the poor animals struggling to turn upright. It was the BHOI that inspired these kids... The lascivious purity of small children is very cruel." I don't think it's quite right to say that the Black Heart is the source of cruelty in children. Because it is also connected to acts of profoundly disarming compassion that one often sees in children, too. And natural insight, like the child who points out the Emperor has no clothes. You see, the Black Heart does not make us cruel or kind. We are cruel or kind as it is our nature to be so, depending on what forces have acted on us to make us who we are. The child who likes to torment turtles may be cruel because suffering has caused him or her to know the world through cruelty, or for other reasons. The child who is sexually precocious and aggressive is probably that way because some adult sexualized them through coercion. The Black Heart is not the urge to do cruel things, nor is it the urge to do nice things. The Black Heart is the innocent willingness to honestly be what it is in our nature to be. That is all - it is the simplest of things. But that innocence, if you can achieve it, liberates an enormous amount of libidinal power and grace.

In children, it is present because they simply have not yet learned the skill of self-deception. The problem arises when, as adults, we want to recapture the Black Heart. Because the error I have seen Feri pracitioners make when they seek the Black Heart is to think that one can achieve it by removing ethical and moral constraints. The error here is that you can reject ethical and moral constraints and still be acting out of a false and constructed self, which distorts one's true will. It is also an error because the point of pursuing the Black Heart of Innocence isn't that one should be able to act on every urge that Younger Self has, because not all our urges are ones that serve our Deep Self. Because the purpose of practice is not to become Younger Self, it is to become the liberated union of all three souls. The point of pursuing the Black Heart is that when you are in touch with your true nature you can channel its authentic power in ways that serve your will, whereas if you have not re-forged that connection all your deepest power is locked away. The Black Heart always needs to be practiced within an ethical system. Because it is, as I said, beyond good and evil, and since we do not live in the amoral world of the animals, we must have a system by which we can choose right action. Also, I do not think that Victor advocated the Black Heart as a practice that stands alone, either. He was fond of talking about ethics in a pretty strict fashion, referring to the use of a code of honor which he said distinguished us from animals. He may have indeed been a twisted man in some respects, but I think the teachings that came through him are sound. So Reya is right, there is a danger in pursuing the Black Heart of Innocence, but it's not because it inherently leads to cruelty. It's because powerful things can be powerfully misused, and because it was never meant to stand alone.

Reya Mellicker said...

Jonathan thank you so much for the post and for the way your mind works. I love people who make me think.

I'm no White Lighter and have no interest in trying to eliminate the BHOI - I might as well try to eliminate the Moon. But to cultivate it? To identify and strengthen yetzer ha-ra (however you define it) without some way to balance that energy is actually DE-evolutionary, taking us backwards to instinctual behavior.

In Feri there is no agreed-upon ethical structure, nor is there any body of people who can act as wise judges or elders, no one who is empowered to protect those who are taken advantage of (i.e. Feri students whose teachers sleep with them).

Feri has a grand master, someone who is occasionally consulted about ethical transgressions, but it's not required or even expected. The most corrupt of Feri teachers simply turn their backs on those who call them on their shit, or lash out at those who dare to name their harmful behavior.

Within Feri, yetzer ha-ra is never contained, often misunderstood - for instance, Morpheus, whose posts I've often admired, speaks of "practicing" the BHOI. If you're practicing, that's not the Black Heart, right? Within Feri, the BHOI is used as an excuse for being an viscious ass over and over again. That's the problem I have with it.

Thank you again, mighty Miniver Cheevy! Thank you.

Jonathan Korman said...

I am delighted that my post has sparked such provocative comments.

Morpheus sums up the trickiness with liberatory practice nicely when she says, “the error I have seen Feri pracitioners make when they seek the Black Heart is to think that one can achieve it by removing ethical and moral constraints.”

Just so. I think that this is a variation on what Ken Wilber calls the “pre/trans fallacy.” Wilbur sees the esoteric project as the cultivation of trans-rational consciousness, beyond ordinary rational thinking, but observes that because the trans-rational is often non-rational, it is often mistaken for the pre-rational understanding of children. Unlike the pre-rational, the trans-rational includes rationality but is not limited by it.

I think that the liberatory spiritual project can be understood as pursuing, among other things, a trans-moral consciousness, analagous to (and linked with) trans-rational consciousness.

Thus the danger in trying to recapture the power in our primal innocence by attempting to shed our adult rational and moral consciousness. The proper project is neither rejection of the moral in a retreat to the pre-moral nor a rejection of the pre-moral in service of the cultivation of the moral, but rather the integration of the moral and pre-moral to enable us to reach for the liberatory trans-moral.

Reya Mellicker said...

How many people do you suppose there are who are capable, and inclined, to understand what you just said?

Well said!! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You know, when I read that your post will include "Freudian psychology, the Talmud, humanistic spirituality, esoteric spirituality, [and] Star Trek", my first thought was "All we need is some Ken Wilbur to fill out the pantheon"

Right on queue... ;-)


Sara Amis said...

Saying that Feri has no ethical structure is simply not true. Ethics are embedded in the Pearl Pentacle (Love, Knowledge, Wisdom, Law, Freedom) and the two are supposed to go together. The Black Heart of Innocence is what you get when all the point of the Iron Pentacle are in balance, and the Iron Pentacle and Pearl Pentacle are intertwined.

The behavior of certain individuals within Feri is not a flaw in the philosophy, but a flaw in the people. Having rules and "agreed upon" ethics never stopped individuals in other religions from abusing their power.

It's my hope always that we could do better. I do think the lack of any means or method...other than disapprobation...to deal with someone who does abuse power is a drawback of the loose anarchic structure of the trad. And yet...I've seen way too many examples of how having more structure merely gives people more scope for abuse. If we were to give up the current radical autonomy of initiates for a council of elders, etc., I'm not sure that it would be a wise trade.

I'd also like to add that I disagree with the characterization of the Black Heart of Innocence as any kind of will to evil in the first place. In my own personal experience, the more developed my Black Heart is, the more kindly I treat people and the more compassionate I am able to be with them. The Iron Pentacle has the effect of strengthening your boundaries and in every day reality, most bad behavior comes from bad boundaries. Like anything, people can take it too far or simply be wrongheaded about what the BHOI really is but again I think that's a flaw in execution, not a flaw in the idea.