Monday, March 29, 2010


American mythology praises the "self-made man" and loathes any hint that we might not be able to rise above our station and create our own destiny. But as they often say in African Diaspora circles, "the knife cannot carve its own handle." For better or worse, we carry our heritage in blood and sinew. We may add to our birthright or we may despoil it but we must engage with it. 

Othila is commonly associated with inherited wealth and ancestral land. And while it certainly represents those things, it also stands for something deeper. Othila's mysteries touch upon not only what we have but who we are and why we are here.

There is a great weight and solidity to Othila: it is as immovable and unchangeable as the past. It may be seen as a massive block keeping us from where we wish to be: think Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, kept in Bedford Falls by family obligations despite his desire to see the world. Birthrights carry birth responsibilities and birth limitations: our genes carry our strengths and our weaknesses.  My nearsightedness precludes me from a career as an Air Force pilot: my height shuts me out of a career as a basketball player or a jockey and my manual dexterity means being a ballet dancer or pickpocket is right out.  If Othila is the boundary that marks what you have, it is also the wall that separates you from that which you do not possess.

But there is another lesson here as well.  In her Mystical Qabalah Dion Fortune said of Binah, the Sephirah of Form
Chokmah is pure force, even as the expansion of petrol as it explodes in the combustion-chamber of an engine is pure force. But just as this expansive force would expand and be lost if there were no engine to transmit its power) so the undirected energy of Chokmah would radiate into space and be lost if there were nothing to receive its impulse and utilise it. Chokmah explodes like petrol; Binah is the combustion-chamber
Othila is that form which directs your power. Its constraints allow you to reach your goal: what you see as weaknesses may be as important as your strengths. That does not mean that you should wallow in your flaws, or assume that because there are three generations of alcoholics in your family you might as well go for four.  Othila is not only about ancestors but also descendants. It reminds you that you are part of an ongoing process. Your birthright is your position and your inheritance: it is your task to build upon it and pass it down to the next generation.

I should note here that Othila is not only about blood ancestry, but also community. Like Mannaz, it reminds us that we are defined not only by our accomplishments but also by our peers. It teaches us to choose carefully the people with whom we share our hearth and friendship.  It reminds us that we will be judged by our associations and should choose them wisely and carefully. Othila knows, as Robert Frost knew, that good fences make good neighbors.