Bobby gets spirituality under his skin at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.
My explorations toward self-actualization have led me through countless “isms” over the years: Catholicism, Satanism, Druidism, Discordianism, Buddhism, Taoism, shamanism, existentialism, atheism … bringing me eventually to my current belief system, paganism. My greatest mentor along this journey has always been my best friend, and now high priest, Lord Julian. But occasionally there have been other figures whose work or example has inspired me and lured my center of gravity. Alex Grey is such a figure.
I first met Alex and his wife Allyson at the Cannabis Cup in 1998. I was so impressed by their energies that, shortly afterwards, I attended a Full Moon gathering at their home in Brooklyn. Among the many topics discussed at the ceremony, they spoke of a great temple they wished to create, and began taking donations to help manifest their dream. Five years later, that dream was realized when they opened the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (COSM) in Manhattan.
In the past year or so, I’ve found myself gravitating more and more toward the Greys. At Burning Man last year, I spent some time with them at their camp, Entheon Village, where I met their apprentice, Zachariah. Last October, I moderated the drug portion of a “Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll” symposium held by Paper magazine at Exit Art Gallery in New York, on a panel that featured the Greys (as well as ’60s psychedelic photographer Ira Cohen). Then, in February, I was greatly honored when the Greys invited me to read some of my poetry at a Full Moon gathering. At my suggestion, Lord Julian also spoke—about our Sabbath, Imbolc (on which the ceremony happened to fall that month), and the role of the moon in the Wiccan tradition.
Afterwards, I stuck around and got to know Zachariah better. He told me about how he’d started out as a graffiti artist in San Francisco, and how, after a particularly powerful acid trip, he’d embarked on a personal mission to “re-sacralize” art. He first met the Greys while attending a weeklong visionary-art intensive they taught at the Omega Institute, and like myself was immediately drawn to them. Soon after, he booked a one-way ticket to New York and began volunteering at COSM, where he has been their right-hand man ever since.
One of the things that Zach and I discussed was Alex’s collaboration with one of my favorite bands, Tool, who have used his art for their last two albums (2001’s Lateralus and 2006’s 10,000 Days) and in one of their videos as well. At the end of their “Parabola” video, two animated flaming eyes enter the character through his feet and snake their way up through his body, illuminating his chakras and finally merging on his forehead to form his third eye—transforming him into one of the transparent beings of enlightenment depicted in Alex’s paintings. Ever since seeing that, I’d wanted to get those flaming eyes tattooed on my arms.
You see, since my elevation as a second-degree Wiccan priest last summer, I’d felt an incredible surge of magickal power, positively affecting everything I’ve done and all of my surroundings. To me, the flaming eyes were a perfect symbolic representation of those energies at work within me, leading me toward my eventual enlightenment. Getting them tattooed was my way of acknowledging this, of wearing my soul on my sleeve—literally.
To my surprise, Zach informed me that his sacred artistic quest had also included teaching himself the art of tattooing, and he suggested that he do the work for me right there at COSM.
I was blown away. The significance of being adorned with artwork that had musical, artistic and spiritual meaning for me, by a protégé of the artist in his own chapel, was far too powerful to ignore. So on the eve of the spring equinox, I returned to COSM for my rite of passage. We smoked a joint outside, cranked the Tool, and sat in front of the Cosmic Christ for four hours as Zach diligently etched my first colorwork onto my forearms. When he was finished, I had a pair of permanent new sigils to symbolize my spiritual evolution, and he had a fat bag of Cali Kush for his trouble.
Was it painful? Sure. But in the words of Tool, “Embrace this moment, remember / We are eternal—all this pain is an illusion.”