Elemental Essays (Air) – Ryan Madej

In the world of the Obscure Cities, a collection of European graphic novels first published in the

1980’s, one of the stories centres around the hidden city of Armilia and the voyage of a large

Zeppelin that traverses the skies over the landscape of a series of equally fascinating and mysterious

cities, giving the reader a sense of flight through beautiful vistas. Throughout literature, and bleeding 

into the real world, an obsession with the various qualities of air has brought us to the frontiers of

enlightenment and the dark pleasures of eroticism. In Sanskrit, the power of levitation is laghiman, 

meaning lightness. Shirdi Sai Baba, a yogi in 19thcentury India is said to have mastered the art of 

levitating while sleeping. Not surprisingly, the power of levitation, as described by Patanjali in the 

Yoga Sutras, comes from an advanced state of pranayama or what we would call breath control. The 

often told stories of mystical masters going into the high elevations to experience enlightenment 

reflects this idea of lightness, as well as the intimate relationship between the elemental forces through

the air we breathe. Trailanga Swami, known as the Walking Shiva of Varanasi, would spend hours  

floating on the surface of the Ganges in a state of empty body consciousness, bypassing the law of 

gravity and revelling in the floating sphere. Western esotericism has also been privy to the secrets

of the breath, but more in its suppression than control. The cessation of breath through erotic hangings 

has been a quiet obsession of mine ever since William Burroughs frenetically described it in Naked 

Lunch…the deep tremors of the body coupled with the tightness of the noose.


Can one imagine the height of ecstasy—literally and figuratively—from being suspended in the air,

a strangled angel on the verge of orgasm? Feeling the flood of pleasure pushing up against the threat

of death? Our desire to fly and envy at the creatures who do, cause us to let go of our bodies. Can we

now assume that a portion of suicides are attempts at enlightenment that failed? Maria de Naglowska,

a Russian occultist at the turn of the 20th century whose many books on sex magic delve deep into

the mysteries, and in the process shows us the connection between the world of pleasure and the world

of death that continually caress one another on the esoteric plane. Of course, in any practice certain

cautions lay before the Initiate and Naglowska is aware of this when she says in her book Magia 

Sexualis “magic is a weapon, and like all weapons, one can make use of it for good or ill of oneself or 

another—but because it is powerful, it is obviously dangerous in unskillful hands.” One has to ask then 

the question of those great avatars of the past who seemingly could float on the breeze or walk on 

water. In these practices a great desire to be lifted into the heavens of God has direct ties to the 

suppression and harnessing of sexual energy. Countless stories of sages and saints tell of their chaste

lifestyles, blinded by the stored energy of the Kundalini as it creeps up the spine and explodes in a 

wash of intense insight. Georges Bataille took notice of these connections in Erotism: Death and 

Sensuality: “let me stress in this work flights of Christian religious experience and bursts of erotic 

impulses are seen to be part and parcel of the same movement.” Our procreative and erotic energies are 

our bane and our liberation depending on how high we want to soar, or if we want to fly at all. The 

differences between the sage in the cave or the mage standing inside the protective circle is a matter of 

internal or external work, but even the most gifted magician or devout sage may not be fated to fly.


In the Major Arcana of the Tarot, both the Fool and the Magician are associated with air, and it is no

surprise then that these two cards symbolize both our folly and a dedication to control, as well as our

journey from ignorance to knowledge. Beyond the idea of natural flight that was given to the birds of

the sky, the technique of astral projection is where we humans truly have learned the art of soaring.

I associate this with the sign of Libra, balance…the mind and body in perfect harmony, merging to lift

astral body beyond the confines of the weary material of skin and bones….




An imagined scenario from the mouth of a dead friend: “I’ve always been destined to fly…can’t

you see my wings? With each waking moment comes a heap of broken images…where do those pieces 

go to die? I’ve always relied on Marie to satisfy my wishes and wants, even at the worst of times when

the lights go out, or the silence of the streets haunt my dreams. No, I don’t always fly in my dreams,

but often I float like a soap bubble…And like the soap bubble I’m always about to suddenly burst. 

Marie is like a poor dog out in the spring rain and I often yank on her chain, or she yanks on mine.

We take turns stringing each other up over the bulkhead in our spartan apartment, lifting each other

to ecstasy…She asks for my two death fingers, wherever they will fit inside her, two angels looking for

their destinies within the inner flesh. Conversely, there are times when she threatens to cut off my

balls with a razor blade…Either way, we hang there by our necks, feeling the remaining air trapped 

in our lungs, slowly drowning us.


I remember him telling me this in multiple variations, usually under the influence of hash and whisky,

the precious air so clogged with smoke that we couldn’t see each other. He had a hearty laugh and a

big smile and was living in a house dubbed the Catacomb, a dilapidated house of drugged out martial

artists who worshipped the Viking Gods. The men always looked at me suspiciously when I came 

around as I sat and listened to them talking over each other for hours. My friend once said to me:

“I don’t believe in any of this pagan shit, Jesus is and always will be my Saviour.”


A mutual friend of ours was the one who told me that he had died. Complications from a surgery he 

was having. She spoke the words in that soft, matter-of-fact way I was used to.  His family had a 

private funeral and that was that…I’ve still never found out where he is buried, the secret buried just

like him. Several years passed and I sent a message to him over the Web…“C., I know you’re eternal 

now and the deficiencies of this kind of communication seems ridiculous but I wanted to say that I was 

hurt by your passing and I hope the hand of God has touched you and you’re at peace.”


The more I thought about him and the words he spoke to me about the pleasures of the noose, his

dedication to the Redeemer, and all the talk that swirled around us about the dissolving of the

flesh, the more I believed in the buoyancy of the soul departing the body at death and that rush of 

pleasure as it all goes black. In those moments when he crosses my mind, that come less and less as

the years disappear, I still picture him floating with no need for wings…