OM: The Sacred Syllable

I had been in the saddle of a Harley all weekend, and it had been a long one. Miles and miles of the sound and silence that is generated on the back of a motorcycle, alone with your thoughts on a black stretch of road. 

The journey’s punctuation marks had been short stopovers with very little food, even less sleep, and a mind and heart troubled by the kind of “bad medicine” that life throws our way consistently.

As I had done so often before, I began to intone a word, over and over, as the highway stretched out ahead of me as endless as time.

As most who know me or my writing are aware, I’ve struggled my whole life with anxiety, depression, anger and despair- in other words, I’m a human being with flaws to spare, just looking to navigate them and learn the highways and backroads of my own mind and psyche. 

This journey has been one of trial and error, victory and abject failure- but the only true failure is when we surrender, so even those have been teaching experiences, albeit often costly ones.

In some cases, I have traversed dark frontiers and explored them to their edges, coming back with a deepened understanding of who I am, or have come to be, and with the self, as in life, knowledge is power. Finding ourselves on the wild borderlands of our inner selves, we do battle with devils and gods there, and return changed, more aware, more holy. 

These internal pilgrimages are ventures into the Great Unknown, as the reality within is a dark and vast cosmos unto itself, studded with stars and worlds beyond our reckoning. The work of the human being with a war-like heart is to fight there, to explore, to document and chronicle, and become acquainted with those joyous and awful pathways that exist unknown to the ones who live an unexamined life. 

On these expeditions, one is needful of tools and weapons, because he walks a dangerous and potentially deadly terrain if he is intrepid, and goes where he fears most. 

One of these weapons that has served me well is the sacred syllable, OM. 

More than likely, all who read this will have heard this syllable before, and have their own hang-ups or experiences with it. When I was young, I associated it with a sort of effeminate and passive practice, sung by yoga enthusiasts in saffron robes with soft voices. The kind of people who would talk about using crystals bought at a Renaissance Faire to align their chakras, or someone 50 pounds overweight talking about “the discipline of Yoga.”

Because of this judgmental viewpoint, it was not until my twenties that I began doing my own studies into what is often termed “Hinduism,” reading the Upanishads, and intoning the sound for myself.

I still believe direct experience to be the highest guru there is, and have learned more about things by doing them than by reading about them, but in the following paragraphs, I will do my best to distill many of the things I have read, experienced, felt or believe about the sacred syllable “OM,” with the intention that you begin using it, to discover its deeper nature for yourself.

The word first appears in the Upanishads, a body of work that is a later part of the “Vedas,” a series of ancient Sanskrit texts that discuss and describe creation, the nature of reality and the universe, and the philosophies and spiritual practices of the people who wrote them. The oldest of the Upanishads are believed to have been compiled sometime around 1,000 years before the Common Era began, placing them at the very least, a few thousand years old.

As with many of these old texts, it is likely that they were written down from a previously existing oral tradition, and  were created in that format before the written works that survived and are still available to us. Suffice it to say, the practice of reciting or singing the syllable “OM,” is very, very old.

In the Katha Upanishad, it is said that, “this syllable is Brahman (the Absolute), this syllable is the highest, he who knows that syllable, whatever he desires, is his.”

In Chandogya Upanishad, the work opens with the following: “let a man meditate on OM, the essence of all.”

The word is formed of three different phonetic parts, A, U and M, representing, respectively, Creation, Being/Becoming, and Destruction, or ending.

The Upanishads say that the world was not formed by a big bang, but, similarly to Norse mythology, within a great void that contained all potential within itself, consciousness arose and created friction as it experienced itself. This friction created a sound, and that sound was OM.

Even in the book of John, from the Christian New Testament, we see the verse,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The cosmos, and all of reality, all of time and experience, is that sound, ongoing, as it expands, ultimately sustains itself, and then contracts, and finally, ends. For this reason, the silence that comes at the end of the intonation of the syllable is seen as part of the mantra.

A+U+M+the indefinable/silence/void.

The nature of reality in these texts, again, much like the Norse myths, is cyclical, and rooted in a series of destructions and rebirths of the world, of the cosmos, of reality, much like one can hear when he sings the syllable again and again, in this way understanding the nature of time itself. Not one linear expression with a beginning and ultimate ending, but a cycle of rising and falling, creation and destruction, the endless dance of Shiva. 

By chanting the OM, we create a sympathetic, or harmonic vibration with the nature of reality itself. We bring ourself to the center of all that is, and find ourselves there, exactly where we are. 

In a way, singing OM is like a kind of spiritual sonar, using it to re-locate yourself and find your place in everything. In my runic drawing of OM, I place the MANNAZ rune, to signify self, the intellect, the mind, the psyche, all that we are, inside OTHALA, the world, the cosmos, ultimate reality, Brahman, the absolute. Man, the self, the soul, inside, and a part of the infinite, the imperishable, perfectly placed within it.

This bind rune is meant to represent the following verses from Mandukya Upanishad:

“That which is flaming, which is subtler than the subtle,

on which the worlds are set, and their inhabitants –

That is the indestructible Brahman.

It is life, it is speech, it is mind. That is the real. It is immortal.

It is a mark to be penetrated. Penetrate It, my friend.

Taking as a bow the great weapon of the Upanishad,

one should put upon it an arrow sharpened by meditation,

Stretching it with a thought directed to the essence of That,

Penetrate that Imperishable as the mark, my friend.

Om is the bow, the arrow is the Soul, Brahman the mark,

By the undistracted man is It to be penetrated,

One should come to be in It,

as the arrow becomes one with the mark.”

The highest goal of our existence should be to exist within that higher reality at all times, undistracted, without succumbing to the many illusions cast in our way by life itself.

In the Chandogya Upanishad, the gods take the word to themselves to use, saying,  “with this song, we shall overcome demons.”

This allegorical statement has been true for me, as I have used the song myself to combat the demons of despair, isolation, frustration and sorrow.

By intoning the syllable out loud, a practice called in Sanskrit pranava, or in Old Norse, galdr, but both holding the same meaning, we drive all other thoughts and vibrations out of our consciousness by sustaining this singular one.

The breath regulates and forms a smooth, strong pattern and rhythm. Our mind does not “empty,” but finds focus on the sacred syllable, and all that entails for us. We center ourselves within its strengthening field, as our note finds a harmonic with nature and the consciousness of true reality. 

This great, powerful bow fires our spirit as an arrow deep into the heart of the imperishable, and we exist there, aflame with a calm strength.

The holy sound is like a magneto, first creating a field around us as we sing the “O” or “A” portion of the mantra. As we reach the “U,” we sustain the field, and it expands to its fullest point. When we reach the “M” sound, we close the field, it collapses, and from that collapse, a spark is created that feeds the inner fire within, moving the pistons of our being. 

The energy rises all around us like flames, and then as we finish each singing of it, we pull that fire inside, straight into the heart, and we sing the mantra both from our heart, and into it.

It shows us the way to ourselves. 

We see the universe beyond the sun, that energy source which is mysterious and imperishable, and we know that the generator within us is powered by the same source, and is infinite, and this produces a knowledge that we are capable of overcoming, of enduring, of outlasting these temporal issues, these transient sorrows and problems and worries.

We are made of breath, fire and the sun, and we burn away all that chains us to the wheel of causality, regret, and care.

There is a war within us between heaven and hell, and “with this song, we shall overcome demons.”

Death to Love

The following is a new single I’ve released under the project “Totenwolf.”

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/totenwolf4

Some of you may be familiar with the last release, “Yew Holds All,” a melancholy blend of brooding neo-folk recorded during my time last year in the Pacific Northwest. You can find it here:

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/totenwolf2

I am slowly working on a longer release from this project, and have about an album’s worth of outlaw country music that will probably see release this winter also.

I hope you enjoy it.

-Paul

E-Mail List

Sign up:

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Here’s a little free advice to anyone who follows my page and runs a brand of their own, no matter what kind:

Small business owner, musician, writer, blogger, artist or otherwise- whether “on the side,” or full time entrepreneur, you should be building an email list.

It might seem like an archaic or outdated way to do things, but the fact is, it’s still one of the most effective ways to communicate with the people who want to follow or interact with your brand.

With Facebook and other social media platforms limiting unpaid posts more than ever, effectively crippling the reach of smaller, more niche brands and artists, an email list provides a direct channel with which to convey information, provide value, and update your people on whatever you’ve got going on.

You can use a service like Mailchimp (I’m not affiliated with them, it’s just the one most people use) free of charge for up to 2000 subscribers and create totally personalized emails in a few minutes, delivering them straight to the people who actually show you they are interested by signing up in the first place- much more “connected” to the content you provide there than just seeing it pop up in one of their “feeds.”

Once you have an email list service, like Mailchimp, you can either add it as a pop-up to your page (if you are tech savvy or have a web guy, like I do), or you can share the link on your Facebook and Instagram like I’m about to do.

Next, give people a reason to sign up. Why should they give a damn about signing up for your list?

For example, if you sign up for mine at that little link above- you’ll get exclusive content to your email from time to time (no spam), that isn’t available on my website- a lot of brief pieces just like this one, mostly business and brand related, as well as discount codes and other thank-you’s to show my appreciation for the people who were interested enough to read this long post to the end.

So, click the link, sign up for the email list, and then start building your own.

Thanks.

-Paul

Yakuza

It was 1993, and I was 9 years old. 

We had been studying feudal Japan in our schooling, and had embraced the topic wholeheartedly. Generally, in our childhood, my brothers and I went through things in phases, during which time we would be so immersed in whatever it was, that it was our entire world for however long that phase lasted. 

If we were in a pirate phase, every book on pirates would be rented from the library. Ships, cannons, and bloody conflicts would be drawn on any blank surface in the house. Paper shopping bags were cut into pieces, crumpled and un-crumpled until they took on the texture of old leather, and treasure maps carefully scrawled onto them. Shipping routes were charted, and white paper stained with coffee and burned at the edges for an authentic feel. 

Ditto for our current interest in the far east. Rice paper and chopsticks were turned into official looking scrolls. Old watercolor brushes were used with bottled ink to paint images of pagodas, severe looking shoguns, and of course, samurai. 

We went so far as to create our own alphabet by making symbols that looked like kanji, and attributing to them the value of an English letter on a 1 for 1 basis, using this cipher for coded notes between us, and to increase the secrecy around our newly formed gang: the Black Dragons.

The Black Dragons came about as a product of reading a piece in one of the books on “ninkyo-dantai,” or “chivalrous groups,” also known in the western world as Yakuza, the Japanese equivalent of the mafia. 

Coming about in the Edo period of Japan, Yakuza groups were originally known either as tekiya, if their business was mostly fencing goods, or bakuto if it revolved around illegal gambling. The name Yakuza is sort of a Japanese version of the term “snake eyes” and refers to a particularly bad and unlucky hand in a popular regional card game. 

Run as secret societies based around protection, extortion, gambling, prostitution and so on, the largest Yakuza family in Japan is estimated to have around 58,000 members in the present day. 

After reading about their history, their position as an outsider organization, the elaborate tattooing and strict adherence to internally determined honor systems, we were ready for the big time, and decided to form a neighborhood “family” of our own. 

Our center of operations was the large, sprawling tree fort in our side yard in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Built years earlier by our dad, who probably didn’t consider that in a short time it would become the crime base of a fearsome American Yakuza family, the tree fort and rope swing attached made our yard pretty popular with the local kids- a draw we would capitalize on as we formed our sinister network. 

Our reign of terror began with attacks on the neighborhood itself- adults we had grudges with, perhaps due to late payments on my older brothers paper routes, or other (possibly imaginary) slights on our honor. With the kind of fireworks available in Wyoming that are illegal pretty much everywhere else in the states unless you work for an industrial mining company, we wreaked havoc on the mile radius around us. Large scale mortar attacks on sides of houses. Incendiary magnesium strobes duct taped together and allowed to burn through new wooden porches. Screaming bottle rocket batteries in the middle of the night, and everywhere, our gang’s sign left as a warning. 

We soon graduated from these kinds of activities as they generated too much neighborhood “heat,” and began to build our empire in earnest. Kids from other areas encroaching on our turf were threatened or beat up, and on our BMX bikes, we began to strike out across town on what we called “missions.”

These missions would usually involve some variation on the following:

Bikes would be safely kept somewhere nearby the “objective,” that being a convenience store, book store or magazine stand. Our group of Yakuza youth would walk into the store, innocently looking around and spreading out through the floor plan. 

As the youngest, smallest, and most disarming looking of the bunch, I would find the desk clerk or main employee and ask a series of long and involved questions about where a certain item might be, such as “hi, I am doing a book report and need you to show me the section where magazines on monster trucks are, and then also need to find books on how castles are built,” or “I hurt myself on my bike, can you take me to the bandaids?” 

While the smiling, charmed worker graciously took me to wherever I needed to go, my loyal brothers in the Dragons would rob the place absolutely blind. 

At the time, our main target goods were cigarettes, cigars and smoking paraphernalia of any kind, and we had developed a bizarre and not easily explainable obsession with pocket watches, which had become a major status symbol in our gang. The more you had, and the nicer they were, the more you were envied in our small circle. 

The tobacco became a gambling currency, and we began holding card games in the tree fort. The amount of contraband in that place was pretty staggering for 9 and 10 year old kids. Cigarettes were smoked until the place looked like the Russian roulette scene in the Deer Hunter, cards hurled down in indignation and rage, and piles of smokes and pocket watches changed hands at the turn of a card. 

Like all criminal enterprises, we were bound to take a pinch if we kept carrying on in such a brazen fashion, and we finally did. 

My dad started to wonder what the hell we were getting up to out there, spending all our time in the tree fort, and I imagine we reeked of tobacco and probably slunk around like jackals, eyes filled with distrust and disdain for all authority figures we saw as the enemies of our enterprise. 

One day we were summoned outside, and my father demanded an explanation on the sizable pile of illicit profit, stored in wooden crates, ripped out car consoles, and underneath benches, in tool boxes, and anywhere else we could fit the amassed wealth of the felonious family. 

We saw no choice but to plea-bargain, and we came clean.

Our small Yakuza firm stood silent and grim as our dad piled all of it up on a concrete slab, and lit the treasure trove of bootleg goods ablaze, watching as our burgeoning empire’s nest egg went up in flames. 

I still remember the feeling I had as I stood there, unrepentant, with my honorable brothers- none of us had sold each other out. We all took responsibility, and shared in the punishment. 

Having tasted the forbidden nectar of the underworld, I knew I could never go back to civilian life again. 

Tribal Markings pt. 1: I Live in the Zone All the Time

TRIBAL MARKINGS: I
Paul Waggener

I had my knuckles tattooed by my brother Coyote, somewhere around 7 or 8 years ago. 

The right hand said “Wolf,” the left one “Kvlt,” signifying the most important aspect of my life, as a founding member of the Wolves.

At the time we created it, some 13 years ago, there was nothing like it that we were aware of in any country on earth. It was our destiny, we felt, to bring back the ancient wolf-cult, and spread it, living again, to every corner of the world.

There’s a great deal to say regarding that journey, and the many experiences that came along with it so far, but that is a story for another time. Within the tattoo, I hid a few concepts that had special meaning to me, both on the right and left hand. 

 

On the middle finger of the right hand, beneath the “L,” I first branded a bind-rune of the Elder Futhark “Algiz,” one ascending, the other descending, representative of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, its roots and branches. The symbol also stood for the Younger Futhark runes “Man” and “Yew,” which have at times been used  in Europe on grave stones to represent “Birth” and “Death,” and I wear them as a kind of memento mori, to remind myself every day that what man creates is bound by time and death, and that we always have less time than we think. 

Since then, and before, my knuckles have been marked with the natural signs of a life that was no stranger to violence, and the bones and skin on right and left have been broken and healed and re-broken again many times. I consider all of these markings in the same way I consider the tattoos I have collected- way-marks of experience, mistakes, victories, and stories I have lived. Good or bad, positive or negative, all experience is ultimately distilled, transmuted into gold.

The O in the tattoo was made as a “circumpunct,” a circle with a dot inside. 

 

This is a symbol that is very old, and has been used many times in many different cultures to signify a variety of meanings, so I will stick to the reasoning behind mine. 

First, it is representative of the the beginning of creation- the moment that all that is came into being. The first spark of the big bang, if you will, or the flame of Muspel meeting the frost of Niflheim. It is the alchemical sign for “gold,” as well, and as such for me represents the concept of the Great Work of transformation that begins as soon as we are born, and continues throughout our lives, and possibly beyond. 

The beginning of creation is the beginning of consciousness, and so indicates the mind, and reality, and our connective tissue between the two, that is, how we interact and approach the world. 

Second, it is a symbol of the solar system, with the sun central, and a dual meaning of “man in the middle.” For me, the circle is the blank canvas of reality, with the dot as the individual central to his own myth, prepared to create upon that canvas as he can, as he sees fit. 

The idea of creating, of seeing the world as your own place to experiment, to grow, to change, and to make those things manifest that you wish to bring forth into it, is an idea very important to me, and absolutely central to my personal philosophy, so you could say the symbol represents the heart of my personal ideology, too. 

The individual is an alchemist, and reality, the cosmos, his laboratory, or he is the magician, and this existence is the circle of art within which he conjures and evokes. 

Finally, it has a connection to an old Russian convict tattoo that I saw as a teenager that meant “trust only yourself,” or, “I am alone in this world,” or could mean “I am in the zone all the time,” the zone in Russia referring to the barbaric Communist Gulag system. 

 

This idea of “trust only yourself” indicates a caution when dealing with others, but also a sort of “to thine own self be true” admonishment, meaning to not forget who you are, what you are, what you are trying to accomplish in the face of all the distractions and pitfalls of this life. 

The “I am in the zone” portion for me is representative of my status as an outcast from the mainstream society, and the constant “doxxing,” media hit-pieces, and accusations that I and my brothers in the Wolves have experienced and continue to deal with on a regular basis. 

When you declare yourself an outlaw from their world, simply by choosing to believe something that is no longer resonant with the popular narrative, and not abandoning those beliefs, choices and convictions, friends and so on, you will live in this place “without” all the time. Hunted and reviled, like the wolves of old, the enemy sets snares for you, and sends its poisoned darts at you- but your armor is this same conviction, these same beliefs, and your fury is antidote to their poison.

I cannot be fired from my job because I work for myself. I cannot have my social standing destroyed because it is held with other outlaws, and zealots, whose minds are not controlled by media and madness. I cannot be threatened with various sanctions, because I already operate by broadcasting a pirate signal, and when one is threatened or attacked, I move to another and continue my work. 

This is my life.

I live in the zone all the time.