The Internet is wonderful for making contact with folk we would not ordinarily know existed. Some of them ask for my ‘advice’ and opinion and others are very keen to have me ‘teach’ them; such is the joy of a blog. In response I always ask why they wish to practice the esoteric traditions. All the answers so far tie in with the nub of all answers I have ever seen in any survey or book – some form of transformation. People want to change themselves, or perfect themselves, or grow spiritually or reach the One. Something like that 🙂
Like the valorisation of travel in the modern world, wanting to transform is seen as an essential ‘good’ in and by itself and is seldom further critically examined. However, like the desire to travel we can question the desire for and methods of transformation. Such questioning will reveal a lot about our self and our traditions. As soon as we ask questions like those below we enter into theology, ontology and cosmology, areas of concern that are not foremost in magic. We like to do more than we like to think.
A disparagement of orthodoxy, seen as a negative aspect of religion, and valorization of orthopraxy has led to a devaluation of theology and cosmology within magic and Neo-Paganism – except where it forms part of a myth, which itself is often used in magical practice. Not that’s there anything wrong with that. However, I do think some thought out and consciously held theology is helpful for the aspiring magician. Theology and practice actually go hand in hand, as these questions will hopefully reveal.
Who is being transformed? Do we have a discreet human identity and ‘self’ we wish to transform? Or are we, like the Buddhists assert, actually lacking in independent existence? If there is an independent, inherently existing self, where did we come from? Were our souls created by God ex nihilo as orthodox Christianity teaches, or are we part of the emanations from the One as Neo-Platonism teaches? The answer to these questions determine a lot about our transformation (there are of course many other ontological explanations for our existence, but this is just one post on just one blog).
If we were created from nothing by God we are in a completely different boat than if we do not really exist or if we are an emanation of the One. As a creature of God, created by an omnipotent Being, why do we need to transform? Did God create us as imperfect creatures to change ourselves into perfection? Why would she do that? And what if we don’t succeed – if the number four bus runs us over or we die as a toddler? Or what if we don’t try at all? Do we need to transform at all, or rather be redeemed by our acceptance of the presence of the One and relationship to her?
If we are an emanation of the One, are we not at root inherently divine? If so, why do we need to transform? Are we both divine and corrupt, like some Gnostics assert, and we need to purify the dross and reveal the pure? Where did this dross, corruptness come from? Does this dross part of beings exist beyond our death? If not, then why transform it, since it dies anyway? If it does exist beyond death, how does it exist? Since we cannot (ordinarily) recall lives prior to this one, can whatever the death-surviving corruptness attaches itself to (or is part of) be identified with our self? If not, then we are transforming for someone else or some future self we cannot identify with? If yes, how are we identified with that self who survives death along with our dross?
If we have no inherent existence but co-arise in interdependence, how come we feel we are real and self existing? Is our transformation then really corporate transformation, since we are radically interconnected? If our sense of self is ultimately false, who or what benefits from our transformation?
What aspects of this ‘who’ is being transformed? Obviously we are not trying to (just) change our bodies and muscles. Or even our intelligence. Everyone likes to talk about spiritual transformation. However, if we are ‘divine within’ (a common belief in the new age and modern magic), why do we need to transform? By definition divinity is perfect. In Qabalah we see the divine spark and spiritual self above the Abyss, beyond stain and corruption. If this is ultimately us why transform? And since the Yechidah is perfect we (in the lower worlds) cannot change it anyway, so why bother trying? Are all our spiritual techniques really affecting only our astral non-physical selves? Does this transformation have any affect beyond our mundane existence here, beyond death? Does the work we do have lasting effects. If so, how?
Why are we doing all this stuff? Are we sure what we do will achieve our desired results? Are we really just trying to live our lives, here and now, better? Why do we need to dress this up (if we are doing so) into concepts of spiritual betterment? Wouldn’t a good course of therapy be better? And people naturally mature and change anyway; can we be sure we wouldn’t have changed through life itself? If we have a need or compulsion to transform, where does this come from? Is there an inherent part of the self pushing us to transform? Is this born from our mundane lives or from something deeper? If yes, from what and how? Or is it from a desire to be other than we are? Can’t we just accept who we are?
How does all this work? If we are trying to change only those aspects of self that are born from our regular lives, why use magic? If we are trying to transform deeper areas of self, how can we do this? How is it possible to change something that is beyond or deeper than our regular selves? Does magic actually work to do this? If the results are to be meaningful beyond our lives, by what mechanism or grace do our efforts transcend the death of the self? Is there a part of our beings that is not eternal and perfect (as the Yehcidah is) but which is non-corporeal and which ‘transmits’ or is a medium between our efforts and any future existence? How does this work? Does this capacity or part of being naturally exist, or do we need to bring it into existence? How can we do this? Whether brought into existence or inherently existing, since this aspect of being is by definition not eternal, how long does it last? What happens after it has gone?
Finally, a cut and paste statement not a question, as this is still one of the most important concepts I have written about.
“All esoteric paths and systems are worthless in themselves, the GD included. They can only point us to the One or Mystery, and at worse they lock us, often unconsciously into a system of practice that feels good but ultimately produces no transformation. Most esoteric paths, the GD included, are predicated on a two value premise and a ‘promise’ to move between the two: ourselves now, ourselves later (enlightened, transformed, healed, more in tune etc.) and the practices/initiations that move us between the two.
The danger in such a view is that it can become a closed loop. The person I ‘am’ now can never be the person I foresee at the ‘end’ of the process, since my definitions have already separated the ‘I’ now and ‘I’ desired. The gap between the two, while impossible for ‘me’ to bridge, is the spiritual practice and while I engage in that I have the sense of moving forward. Of course ‘I’ can never actually reach the goal, but simply having this mental structure and doing some practice I will experience the sense of moving ahead.
Any tradition that has a well developed ‘path’ between the two ‘I’s will naturally draw people, as we all like to see how we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’. The Golden Dawn thus is very attractive with its clearly mapped out path of transformation and rituals/practices at each stage of the way. Ultimately of course, most GD people (like most esoteric students) don’t really transform in any deep way at all.
What makes an esoteric path effective, what makes it actually able to lead us to the One is death. The ‘I’ now cannot become the ‘I’ we desire, so we must die. Effective esoteric paths shake us all the time; they invite us to die continually and completely. It is up us to choose death or not.”