Toward a Lithopoetics

Joel Weishaus

"Transform yourselves from dead stones into living philosophical stones!"
                                                                                               -Gerhard Dorn


A young poet wrote: "Go inside a stone.

That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

Perhaps it is still not too late to see inside a stone "the strange writings, the star-charts,"(1) and how it moves through space with no center, no axis to turn on, "no end and no beginning."—

The fact of a rock, or any object, being a community of locomotive persons, was based, or concomitant with, the belief that a few of their people actually had the ability to see into and through a rock discerning its make-up, similarly as we look into a community or grove of trees." (2)

Although 'stone' and 'rock' can be used interchangeably, "unlike stones, rocks remain rocks when moved into a garden."(3) Thus, rock gardens. And rock art, as rocks have adequate size for stability and grit for permanency. (Certain rocks are chosen to be decorated, even when those with smoother surfaces may be at hand. Some rocks have charisma, while others don't?)

There are boulders, too, like the "erratic" ones found in northern Oregon and southern Washington State, moved there from Montana during the last Ice Age, when a dam 200 miles long and 2,000 ft deep broke, several times, carrying everything in its path further west.

The ancestral beings carried on, regardless of the fact that part of their subjective experience had been transformed into the forms of the landscape; they journeyed on, leaving their frozen experiences behind to be of significance to the lives of others. (4)

As the land erodes the Ancestors are reconfigured. Yet old myths persist, even when outdated, just as Western theophany is reinterpreted with new translations and technical innovations. Is resurrecting iconic images stagnating human imagination?

Inspired by how stones breathe with their mineral lungs, yet falling short when someone is "stoned," what is imagined
is an excavation
of the "great work"
of the Arcana Artis,
the Lapis, or
Philosophers' Stone,

"the treasure hard to obtain," that delivered itself addressing the Hebrew creation myth. “It is not instruction in the modern sense, but presentation of the tribal myths, the story of supernatural beings and of mythical ancestors–of how the world was created and what happened before the world was born.

Rosemary Joyce begins The Languages of Archaeology with a story about how she once listened to "a principle authority on the oral traditions of a South American indigenous group" describe "how the goal of publishing (their) stories required him and his collaborators to follow the single 'thread' that continued through what in actual performances was a dynamic dialogic storytelling event....All this dynamic ended up filtered out, in pursuit of the narrative line, the thread of a continuous account of the past."(5)

Wired for multimedia,
                billions of specialized neurons linked,
                how can we mechanically unaided
                draw a straight line?

In 1989, anthropologist James Clifford attended a meeting at the Portland Art Museum with "about twenty people (who) had gathered to discuss the museum’s Northwest Coast Indian collection." The objects had been amassed in the 1920s in southern Alaska and the coast of Canada. Although, "the curatorial staff seems to have expected the discussions to focus on the objects in the collection," the indigenous elders who had been invited "referred to the regalia with appreciation and respect, but they seemed only to use them as aides-memories, occasions for the telling of stories and the singing of songs."(6)

Turning into a low-hanging cloud, I am walking the countless paths, no longer tending the boundary stones by which I used to measure my progress. Then I see Tilopa, the saint who looked like the beggars he lived among, just as those that are personlike beings. These may not look or act exactly like humans but they always have human minds. Greek and Judeo-Christian deities and spirits are humanlike, of course. And even though the majority of the spirits in Native American religions are animal in form, they think and talk like the Stone may be hiding in a heap of ordinary stones. "It's nothing special," Tilopa whispers. Which I hear as: "Finding the Stone means finding the one that remains unknown."

If a stone were to speak, it would be an hallucination, as our brain is not tuned to receive such gravely sounds. But to imagine that stones have a voice, takes us closer to an ontology of mutual respect. Listening closely, we can hear the earth weeping.

When a young boy, C.G. Jung would sit on a stone that was embedded in a slope, playing a game of asking himself whether he was sitting on the stone, or whether "I am the stone on which he is sitting?"(7) Unlike in Chuang Tzu's famous butterfly dream, Jung was not dreaming, but setting the stage for the technique he would call "active imagination." Indeed, the Stone Age was when we began shaping stones into lapidary myths. Tools, weapons, decoration, the Great Goddess Gaia pregnant with untold species, are all of one matrix.

He sees through Stone
Always more sky than earth.

Perched on a summit, several different kinds of fish climb trees; in addition, there are many different species of fish that breathe air, live part of their life on land, and walk about. The boundary between water and land is quite porous and bridged by modern fish from around the world. In fact, Goethe whispered, "Here you sit on a foundation that reaches to the deepest regions of the earth." Who we think we are is not all of who we are. We go much deeper, much higher, and not at all.

"Just as the phoenix, the vulture, and the raven represent the spiritual matter in its earlier, rougher stages, so the final lapis or Philosopher’s Stone is sometimes given wings, signifying its ethereal properties."(9) Birds and fishes bring us the lapis. Realizing with the body's mind that other species live on in us, and we in them, we know that every species we drive to extinction is a piece of ourselves we have failed to uncode.

The bus is filled with passengers waiting for their trip to begin, but i don’t know how to start the engine, or where we’re supposed to be going. However, somehow we're moving through the night, approaching a bridge i know is at the end of two one-way ramps. i’m not sure which ramp is the right one, and my view is obscured.
A man waves me into a lighted area to the left of the ramps. i am out of the bus, and he's accusing me of something. i’m confused, not knowing why this negative energy is coming at me. Then i realize that i am a Black man.

I awake thinking about the book I was reading before I fell asleep, and the significance of its protagonist’s family name: Darken. [The nigredo, the Black Raven, or Crow.] (10)

Carol Yoon tells us how scientists, along with tribal cultures such as the Tzaltal Maya, "use the term 'family' as one of the levels of the Linnaean hierarchy, and they call any two species that are more closely related to each other than to anything else 'sister species.'" She then questions the wisdom of using "human kinship terms to describe similarities among other living things."(11)

Gaston Bachelard, philosopher of the imaginal, wrote: "For one who loves the substances of the material world, simply to name them is already to have begun to work them."(12) More like Yoon, I suggest that one might even argue that superimpositions show that the importance attached to the particular cave walls where they occur did not wane over long periods of time. In inhabited shelters and entrances, on the other hand, nomenclature is a comforting conceit that keeps us from seeing ourselves as one trace in the chamber of creation.

Were those animals simply imagined? If not did
the inhabitants of the desert drink sand?
And what did they eat? Stones?

Sandstone "is to rocks what the elm is to trees. There is no appearance that it does not take, no caprice which it does not have, no dream it does not realize."(14) One day, a Desert Father left his Order for the sand itself. Hot soft sand blistered his toes and heels, hard dark sand cooled his soles at a river's edge.

Shingon Buddhists have a ritual of "Empowering the Sand," with grains of sand that “differ in color, being blue, yellow, and so on."(15) Tibetan Buddhist mandalas, are "made by pouring a few grains of sand at a time with a chakpa, thin five-inch-long funnels" that sound like a crickets on a summer's eve. "Indeed, every image, even every color, was a symbol, and each symbol had a teaching associated with it."(16) Some Jungian therapists use sandplay to forge images the psyche has salted away. Australian Aboriginal sand paintings trace the "drama of Creation according to the Dreaming."(17) In Japan, "The first glimpse of the sand garden overlooking a hillock full of trees and flowering bushes was breathtaking."(18)

"Navaho Indians try, by means of mandala-structured sand paintings [and chants], to bring a sick person back into harmony with himself [or herself] and with the cosmos—and thereby to restore his [or her] health. (19) Here, too, the colors are symbolic. With both Tibetan and Navaho (there are many paths that link these cultures), after the rite is done, the painting is destroyed.

It wants to say something,
it wants more than almost anything
to speak its mind...

Yet it remains silent,
waiting for the precise moment.
It has been advised by the Oracle
that, having spoken, it might never
ever be able to speak again.

The last words heard from the oracle at Delphi were, "The water of speech even is quenched." Drowned out by the Christian god beginning to preach, what had been complete was split asunder, the snake's mouth rived from its rattling tale. Prophecy's words became silence's witness
and by the late 1990s, hundreds of psychology experiments suggested that the description of memory as a neurally encoded recapitulation of the past was so oversimplified as to completely miss the point. Instead of being a perfect movie of the past, psychologists found the oracle's rotund prescience was marginalized by history's Herculean fables.

"Carving his stone at the age of seventy, after a lifetime of inner exploration, it is almost as if Jung recognized it for the first time—hearing its language at last, and giving enduring form to its words."(21) As with the Lingbi stones at Qing Shan, "forming clouds, sun and moonlight, and Buddhist images, even scenery of the four seasons," the stones were "chiseled, ground and polished to complete their beauty,"(22) chipping them down to the prevailing culture's vision of reality.

Around 2600 B.C., eighty dolerite bluestones from Wales were transported to England and rearranged, three or more times. Several hundred years later, larger sarsen stones were added. Huge sandstone blocks were moved some nineteen miles to form an outer circle, with five pairs of upright stones. Was Stonehenge a place where the psyche's wilderness, and its ego's rationality, worked smoothly together?

The more one knows of its peculiar history, the more one realizes that wilderness is not quite what it seems. Far from being the one place on earth that stands apart from humanity, it is quite profoundly a human creation—indeed, the creation of very particular human cultures at very particular moments in human history. (23)

Before Neolithic towns were built, ever inch of earth was wild. With the entrance of the Abramic God, what was not conquered by human hands became—

A waste and howling wilderness
Where none inhabited
But hellish fiends and brutish men
That devils worshipped,"

Now wilderness is designated by human consent, always open to repeal. However, there is a plot that mitigates "the repression of our aesthetic responses,"(25) to the nonhuman world, a "borderland" state of awareness psychologist Jerome Bernstein calls "that psychic space where the overspecialized and overly rational Western ego is in the process of re-connecting with its split- off roots in Nature."(26) As quantum equations predict for particles, in imaginal time, consciousness travels in both directions.

Sometimes water takes advantage of a fissure and slowly, through seasons of heat and ice, forces it further apart. One spring morning a seed falls in, and a new symbol begins to cleave the Unnamed Stone's impenetrable heart.

Before genes that code for us expressed themselves fully, they branched out as myriad species, whose remains are surfacing again as Gaia shakes, rattles and fumes; rocking between realization and extinction, the ability to internalize an invisible god vastly enhances people’s capacity for abstraction. If they worship what is not there, they can also reflect on what is not there, or on what is presented to them in symbolic, not immediate, terms. So perhaps someday we'll emerge with a consciousness as yet unseen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all...




1- Simic, C. From, "Stone."
2- Beede, A.M. (1919) "Western Sioux Cosmology and Letting Go the Ghost." Chicago: Edward Ayer Collection, Newberry Library. Quoted in, V. Deloria, Jr., C.G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions. New Orleans: Spring Journal Books, 2009.
3- Parkes, G. (2000) Translator's Preface to F. Berthier, Reading Zen in the Rocks. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
4- Morphy, H. (1995) “Landscape and the Reproduction of the Ancestral Past.” In, E. Hirsh and M. Ohanlon. Editors,The Anthropology of Landscape. New York: Oxford University Press.
addressing the Hebrew: T. Reik, The Creation of Woman. New York: George Braziller, 1960.
5- Joyce, R. (2002) The Languages of Archaeology. Oxford: Blackwell.

6- Clifford, J. (1997) Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
those that are personlike: D.S. Whitley, Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2009.
7- Jung, C.G. (1973) Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage.
8- Giannini, D. (2007) Other’s Lives. West Hartford: Cricket Press.
several different kinds of fish: N. Shubin, “The ‘Great Transition.’” In, J. Brockman, Editor, Intelligent Thought. New York: Vintage, 2006.
9- Rowland, S. (2010) C.G. Jung in the Humanities: Taking the Soul's Path. New Orleans: Spring Publications.
10- Clarke, L. (1989) The Chymical Wedding. New York: Knopf.
11- Yoon, C.K. (2009) Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science. New York: W.W. Norton.
12- Bachelard, G. (2002) Earth and Reveries of Will. Dallas: Dallas Institute Publications.
one might even argue: J. Clottes, “Art of the Light and Art of the Depths." In, M.W. Conkey, et al., Editors, Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol. San Francisco: The California Academy of Sciences, 1997.
13- Galleano, E. From, “Mirrors.”
14- Hugo, V. (1839) En Voyage: Apets et Pyrénées. Paris: Hetzel and Quentin.
15- Unno, M. (2004) Shingon Refractions: Myoe and the Mantra of Light. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
16- Pattison, E. (2002) Bone Mountain. New York: St. Martin's Press.
17- Cowan, J. (1989) Mysteries of the Dream-Time. Bridport: Prism Press.
18- Harris, I.C. (2004) The Laughing Buddha of Tofukuiji. Bloomington: World Wisdom.
19- Von Franz, M-L.. (1964) "The Process of Individuation." In, C.G. Jung, J.L. Henderson, J. Jacobi, and A. Jaffé, Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell.
20- Kloefkorn, W. From, "Why the Stone Remains Silent."
by the late 1990s: K. McGowan, “How Much of Your Memory is True?” Discover Magazine. (July-August, 2009).
21- Baruch, F. (1998) "Jung and the Stone." In, R. Hinshaw, Editor, The Rock Rabbit and the Rainbow. Einsiedeln: Diamon Verlag.
Hay, J. (1985) Kernels of Energy, Bones of Earth. "The Stone Compendium of Cloudy Forest." (John Hay, Translator.) New York: China Institute.
23- Cronon, W. (1996) "The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature." In, W. Cronon, Editor, Uncommon Ground. New York: W.W. Norton.
24- M. Wigglesword. From, “God’s Controversy with New England.”
25- Hillman, J. (2005) "Beauty Without Nature." CD recording. Oregon Friends of C.G. Jung Library.
26- Bernstein, J. (2000) "On the Borderland." IONS Review #53 Sept. - Nov.
the ability to internalize: M. Edmundson, The Death of Sigmund Freud. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007.


The spirit of this project originated many years ago when the physician/poet/seer John W. Doss informed me that the element most native to my psyche is stone. "Stone," I thought. "Why stone?" I am still learning why. Along the way, the soul of all that I may accomplish I owe to Susan Rowland, beloved partner and muse.

Thank you to the Center for Digital Discourse and Culture, Virginia Polytechnic University, for its kind support over the years; especially to Len Hatfield and Jeremy Hunsinger.


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