A retrospective introduction
One evening back in late 1992 I was rung up by a Witchy-Buddhist friend of mine (you know who you are :)) to inform me Starhawk was planning to visit Perth to give some workshops and teachings. Naturally this excited me and I wanted to know more – “who’s bringing her out?” I asked, surprised I had not heard of this before since I pretty much knew all the Pagan groups in Perth back then. “A bunch of Christians”, came the reply.
Well, roger me rigid and call me Toby! Christians sponsoring the visit of a Witch?! I gave up dinner and rang the contact number to get the low down. And so I came in contact with the Perth Creation Spirituality Network, based on the work of the then Dominican, now Episcopalian Priest Fr Matthew Fox. The next day I scoured Perth for a copy of Original Blessing by Fr Fox, started reading and went to heaven. Here was both the Christianity I had been looking for as a child as well as a vision and overarching framework for all traditions of western spirituality. Swiftly co-opted onto the workshop team (being a real live Witch and them mostly ‘post-Christians’), I began to learn a lot about this vision of western spirituality.
One of the main features of Fox’s work is a critique of the traditional threefold path of Christian experience: Purgation, Illumination and Union, corresponding to the body (prayer of the lips), mind (prayer of the mind) and soul (prayer of the heart). Fox’s view was that this threefold path led to a spirituality of self, focused on personal Salvation. You know, making sure we get to heaven as our neighbours burn in hell, kinda thing. The same essential theme is found in western esotericism; crossing the Abyss, making ourselves immortal via a Solar Body or exempt from future incarnation etc. Ho hum.
This individualistic approach to Christianity, western spirituality and magic is so common that we do not even notice it as just an option, as simply one way of viewing the world. We, so the story goes, are individuals with individual minds and souls that are affected by what we do to our selves. However, from other perspectives, notably Buddhist, depth esoteric and certain mystic Christian strands, this individual existence, and therefore advancement or salvation, is a chimera, a false vision and something that distracts us from the real.
Thomas Merton, one of the most influential of Christian teachers in the 20th century critiques individualism as “primarily an economic concept with a pseudo spiritual and moral facade.” Richard Rohr, a brilliant and hoopy Franciscan author denounces the idea of getting our private soul saved, “me going to heaven” as the “best disguised narcissism” we can think of, and criticises the churches for letting centuries of Catholics and Protestants get away with it.
Fox’s way forward from this individualistic approach is to re-vision the threefold Christian path into the Four Ways or Approaches, described below (later on I will apply these to the Golden Dawn). In the mid 90s we successfully incorporated these Four Paths into our EarthDreaming Witchcraft tradition, some of the material from this time being available here. From then on I have never looked back and the Four Paths are always somewhere in my mind and soul. So muchas gratias to my Witchy-Buddhist friend :)
The Four Ways to the One
It is essential to grasp a few things before we continue. All Four paths are simply that, paths to the One. Though one may build on the others, none are more advanced or better than another. Also it is well and truly expected that experience of the Paths will be cyclic, that we will re-visit them all many times as we move through our life. That said, if we wish we can, in broad terms, assign the Paths to stages of the spiritual and magical life noting that sub-cycles of Paths occur within each Path also. In EarthDreaming we did not use this method, but ritually entered a Path at each of the four solar festivals and explored its dimensions within our life for that quarter.
The first two paths, the Via Positiva and Via Negativa are ways of being, the approach and interior consciousness we carry with us. The other two Paths, the Via Creativa and the Via Transformativa are ways of doing, the methods and approach to interacting with the world around us. In addition, the Via Creativa is linked to and builds upon the experience of the Via Positiva, and the Via Transformativa is linked to and builds upon the experience of the Via Negativa.
THE VIA POSITIVA – Loving Life
“Thou shalt fall in love at least three times a day.”
In the Via Positiva we find the One in new beginnings, within awe, by awakening to beauty, delighting in the divinity and mystery of the world and those around us. The Path is reverence and acceptance, the new vision of those newly fallen in love or awakened by spiritual communion, initiation, art or erotic beauty. It is the rushing forth of energy and excitement, seeing all things in the light.
From Walt Whitman:
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with miracles. Every foot of the interior swarms with miracles.
THE VIA NEGATIVA – Embracing the Dark
The Via Negativa is where the light of Positiva begins to wane and the darkness approaches. We move interiorly and enter the awareness that existence is suffering, finding the One within the suffering and the darkness. We embrace the dark, rather than trying to deny its existence. This means we embrace but do not wallow in our pain. We reveal hidden aspects of ourselves and above all we let go: let go of the need for control, to be OK, to be fine and perfect. We empty ourselves of falsehood and are still, and silent.
From T.S. Eliot:
Embracing the dark. Letting pain be pain.
I said to my soul – be still
and let the dark come upon you
which shall be the darkness of God.
THE VIA CREATIVA – Expressing the Self
In the Via Creativa we find the One through creativity, imagination, generation, and re-creation. Here we give birth to our true selves, and images of the self. We are powerful in generation and expression. The universe pours into us, seeking to be born through us and our art, our craft, our new way of being in the world. We are called to connect with the incredible divine creative potential within us and to express ourselves as the unique expression of the One that we, in essence, really are. We enter the unlimited and are re-made.
From Marianne Williamson (who was not quoted by Nelson Mandela. Really.):
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
THE VIA TRANSFORMATIVA – Enacting Justice and Compassion
In the Via Transformativa we find the One when we act to relieve suffering, work for justice and restore balance, to work for the Tikkun Olam, the restored world in Qabalistic terms. Here the insights from the other three paths are brought to bear on ourselves in a new way. We are moved to act beyond our own sphere, motivated by the deep desire that all may live fully and without suffering. We act in the world and through that action we are changed, no longer concerned with just our self and our own, but with the whole world. We stop being consumers and observers and become partakes and sharers of a new story that includes all, particularly the Anawim – those on the margins, those dispossessed and shunned by the mainstream. Matthew Fox calls this “erotic justice”, justice making motivated by the awareness of the sacredness of all life.
From the great man himself, oft quoted on MOTO, Martin Luther-King:
We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
Witching the Paths
A review of the Four Approaches in connection with western esoteric and magical spirituality is interesting. Back in the mid 90s I analysed the Wiccan initiatory schema in relation to the paths and concluded we needed a ‘fourth degree’ or something like that. I wrote about and promoted this idea but received little response. Looking at it simply:
First Degree – Light – Magic – Positiva
Second Degree - Darkness – Death – Negativa
Third Degree – Great Rite – Union – Creativa
This indicates what generally happens. A person is initiated as a Witch, has all the classic Positiva experiences, loves life, gets into magic, finds their own inner divinity and generally lives in the Light. The second Degree has the powerful descent motif and the facing of death, where the serious side of being a Witch before the Gods becomes apparent. Again, classic Negativa experiences. Then comes the incredible power and co-creation of the Third Degree and the mystery of the Great Rite, Goddess and God enjoined in creative fusion. This Creativa force is now generally encouraged to expand itself outward into hiving off from the Coven, creating a new group. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
However, if this is all that happens (and in Australia it still largely is) we are missing a lot. In the early days of the Craft there was a need to create as many new covens as possible, to re-vitalise the tradition and share it wide. These days however, I think if people were encouraged to stay in the group and move to the Transformativa and take all the juice and power they have into social magic and actions, a more compassionate and directly useful Craft may result. Maybe?
The Golden Dawn
When it comes to the Golden Dawn with its more complex degree system, it becomes less clear. However, it seems pretty obvious to me that the new Neophyte mostly experiences the Via Positiva, just as the new Witch does, being injected with life, light and a new vision of themselves and the world. Somewhere from Zelator to Portal, or the entire journey if they are (un)lucky, they will experience the Via Negativa. They will enter the dark, have themselves stripped of delusion, pretence and false self hood to some degree. They will know death.
Then, generally, sometime following the incredible Adeptus Minor initiation they will well and truly be in the Via Creativa. They will be re-creating themselves, creating new rituals and tools, co-creating with other Adepti, expressing their true self via the direction of the Higher and Divine Genius. All excellent stuff. And then…?
Now I have not had enough direct experience of other Adept Colleges to say if people are encouraged at the higher levels to form their own groups or not. Perhaps they are, perhaps not depending on their mother Order. However, it does seem clear to me that if a bunch of Adepti hung together at 6=5 and 7=4 they could do a lot within the Transformativa. I mean, the essential work of these grades, if it is understood correctly, is transpersonal in nature anyway. This is explained in my forthcoming By Names and Images from Skylight Press (here is one link - more later… an author has to do what an author has to do :)).
So, the idea of applying the Four Paths to the Golden Dawn is not simply to add another paradigm of vision, but to hopefully show that the culmination of our spiritual tradition and journey lies in the Transformativa – the enactment of service, love and erotic justice via physical and spiritual means. I truly believe the actual makeup of our unfolding souls will, if we surrender well at the Via Negativa (letting go our falsehoods), move us towards this transpersonal vision of compassion. This is why I get confused when I see people banging on about personal magic, personal salvation, personal advancement and individual immortal solar bodies. If we look at the source Rosicrucian documents this focus on the transpersonal is readily apparent.
Once we are at the deeper levels of our tradition, there should be no self focused person at all. Now of course we are all still unfolding, still serving and none of us are Masters (except the ones over there of course). So this is all really a matter of inspiration and choice. Do we choose to fully surrender to the Negativa so we can really move beyond the self in the Transformativa? Do we quietly get on, unannounced with collegiate transpersonal work? Or do we post pictures of ourselves on the Internet listing a string of titles and grades? The choice of course is ours. From my perspective though, at true Adept level, the level of Unreserved Dedication, the choice should be no longer ours alone. Which is kinda scary and cool all at once. :) Thanks.