A few notes on spiritual transformation and illumination (or Lucy, Charlie Brown and that damn football)

As mentioned in a previous post, the motivation behind most people’s engagement with the esoteric is some form of change or transformation. I have already outlined the hidden dangers of this approach, pointing out that all systems of change within a ‘before and after’ paradigm are potentially flawed. I have also throughout MOTO shown that personal change or transformation is a chimera or an illusion. In Buddhist terms we are co-arisen and radically interdependent. What affects one affects all. In Christian terms, the great Martin-Luther King Jr expresses it so well as quoted on the side bar to the right.

In all transformation the self is the crux of the matter. In the collective wisdom of the respective traditions I can talk about at all, the self is non-existent in Buddhist terms, a lower reflection of a higher state in magical terms and a servant of God in Christian theology. These states are somewhat different in outer descriptions but identical in inner reality. While these postulates are the core of the traditions they are never to be ascribed to as an article of faith. Esoteric practice is concerned with personal realization of the eternal verities which leads to transpersonal wisdom and states of being.

Calm abiding and penetrative insight reveal the illusory nature of the self to the Buddhist. Magical practice reveals the discrepancy between the outer mundane persona and the true self of the magician. A deep relationship with Christ brings about the awareness that the only authentic relationship to Him is one of obedience. The same realization on a lower arc can be found right where you are sitting now by engaging in classic mindfulness analysis. I’ll let that paragon of the transpersonal, Ken Wilber, explain as he has far more presence than your bumbling author. Do watch or listen to this.

Not by bread alone

Meditation, magic and relationship all bring the dawning of the same truth: our precious self does not exist in and by itself. Our regular everyday self is either empty or a dependant vehicle of the Higher Self or exists only in relationship to God. This realization is also found through depth psychology, land connection, great art and music, depth sexuality and other ‘non-religious’ practices. However, realization alone is not enough. Spiritual unfoldment is not the same as an altered state of awareness nor is it brought on or developed solely by altered states of awareness, whether achieved by spiritual or non-spiritual means.

Despite reaching the mystical heights of the Tree, realizing emptiness, becoming one with Christ or prolonged mutual orgasmic bliss, looking into the eyes of our partner as we ‘die’, we all still return to a mundane life where we commit ego-bound actions which hurt others and ourselves. This is the nature of humanity. Carl McColman over at the Website of Unknowing describes this really well. Or more succinctly, from no less an authority than the demon Crowley:

And just when you’d think they [humans] were more malignant than Hell could ever be, they could occasionally show more grace than Heaven ever dreamed of. Often the same individual was involved. Good Omens.

To accommodate our paradoxical natures, the esoteric and depth spiritual traditions have arisen. All were historically part of outer religious disciplines, the exoteric and esoteric acting as one to bring about a chance for lasting authentic change rather than a series of experiences or realizations. Thus in addition to spiritual experiences, unfoldment requires qualities and practices such as discipline, compassion, altruism, introspection and community service. These qualities are engendered slowly over much time and repeated engagement, both through frequent spiritual practice and daily life changes and decisions.

The methods by which these changes are produced, the rituals, texts, initiations and even the traditions, are worthless in and by themselves. They are tools and like the kitchen fork we use, but reflect on very little, have no intrinsic value besides the changes they produce. That said of course, without tools we are hamstrung. Tried repairing a car with your bare hands recently? Tried to change your mind without some tool of reflection, meditation, introspection, ritual, psychoanalysis, prayer or drugs? For this reason then, when considered as interdependent with the transformation required, the tools are valued, even sacred. However, as soon as we value any tool, any ritual, any tradition or any magic as valuable simply because it exists we move a little closer to idolatry.

Tools and other things that make us feel important

Our choice of tools for transformation is crucial. I once stupidly brought a set of screwdrivers from the Two Dollar store.  The metal was so weak it buckled and pared away on first use. Not a good choice. We can easily extrapolate this example into the choice of spiritual tools, reflecting on the need for careful selection. And in fact many spiritual tools do buckle and warp under the high tensile strength of an ego resisting change.

Spiritual tools can also be damaged or warped if they are used for the wrong purpose, like using a spirit level to hammer in a nail. I once knew a lady who used the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram to try and fix the plumbing in her house, which of course never worked. Equally though, until her mind was changed, her view of the LRP would have been cheapened and distorted, effecting its performance. On a less amusing note, I once assisted three people who had been taught to use the Rose Cross as a banishing and never the LBRP over several years of deep inner exploration. As a result one of them had a nervous breakdown and could never again approach the beautiful ceremony of the RC without fear and trepidation.

Another example can be found in our use of sacred words. It is often said that ‘the name itself is the thing itself’.  That is, the name of a Goddess or God is the Goddess or God. However, it is also true that the emotional and spiritual resonance that a name creates within us is determined at least in part by its usage. If we often hear a sacred name being used in an abusive or defamatory manner, we will begin to associate that name with the energy with which it is uttered.  On the other hand if a name is only ever used in a very precise and sacred context, when we come to speak the name we will find it draws strength from the way we have heard it used.

This is one reason why I mostly use the Hebrew or Aramaic names of Jesus, since there are very few jokes about Yeshua entering a bar. It also explains the Masonic and magical use of secrecy, ensuring our symbols, names and icons are never misused, regardless of the lack of intrinsic practical worth they hold for an outsider.

On the other hand our tools also change us. If I had persisted using the two dollar screwdrivers I would have ended up very unhappy, angry and sore. Our choice of spiritual exercises, cosmologies, ontology and theology has a very direct impact upon our being. For example, if our rituals are filled with the spirit of compassion, dedicating each ritual to assist all sentient beings, we will be affected differently than circles closed by the blessing solely the participants in the ritual. If we embrace a tradition that is based on a guru’s personal, non-traditional revelation we will be effected differently than a tradition that has little teacher input. And of course, whenever we join a magical group or tradition we are literally connecting on the subtle levels with its egregore or collective group consciousness over time. This directly affects us and as we progress in the group we should become more like the ideals espoused and rewarded by our tradition, consciously or unconsciously. All of these things need careful consideration.

Of course, the two buck screwdriver would have been fine if I had left it alone. So it is with many meditation techniques and rituals – potent and beautiful until we put them to the test. 🙂

Not before, not after and certainly never not now

Astute readers of MOTO will notice that my favourite quotation is the one already quoted at the start of this essay. They will also notice the piece of my own I have cut and pasted the most refers to the very first point of this essay. The concepts in both of these little pieces are so important, so hard for me to explain and so easy to misunderstand I’m going to plonk them here again. Feel free to skip over them if you know it all already.

“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.”


“All esoteric paths and systems are worthless in themselves, the GD included. They can only point us to the One, 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.”

I will try and tease these ideas out a little, to be best of my disability.

However, if I am writing and you are reading there is already a barrier to full, enlightened understanding. This barrier is a natural and normal condition of Malkuth, so don’t feel bad about it. You see I know it is ‘my’ fingers operating on ‘my’ keyboard producing ‘my’ essay which will be saved in ‘My Documents’ on ‘My Computer’ (thanks for that Microsoft). And you know it is ‘your’ eyes reading pixels from ‘your’ computer and ‘your’ mind making sense of them. Yet as Rev. King and all the traditions assert, we are actually part of a single garment.

Specifically, I cannot be fully illuminated, fully a Master, fully enlightened unless you and all other beings who are part of the great song are also enlightened. Unity, by definition, is unity of all.

There are however (almost fully) illuminated folk around, incarnated and real right here, right now. The eastern traditions, particularly – using a phrase from Robert Thurman – ‘the enlightenment engine of Tibetan Buddhism’ produces more incarnated enlightened folk than the western. Western spirituality works differently and relies less on incarnated masters-gurus, though the odd western Master still pops up now and then, if we have eyes to recognize them as they are seldom ‘out there’ like their eastern counterparts. As the wise old Sufis say:

When a Master enters the room, all a thief sees is pockets.

Also, illumination or enlightenment is not a discrete state of being which can be explained by enumerating character traits or characteristics of enlightenment. It does produce unmistaken qualities in the personality such as compassion, humour, energy and love. However, it is not these qualities, and these qualities can co-exist alongside less salubrious traits. The illuminated one constantly chooses her personality; indeed she constantly generates her personality as required by her work, those she is teaching and the culture in which she finds herself, just as the Rosicrucians dress in the garb of their country.

Illumination, if we can talk of it at all, is more akin to a freewheeling dynamic awareness of the real. Poetically it is a constant death and rebirth, moment to moment, micro-moment to micro-moment. Since, as we have seen ultimately there is no discreet independent being to be transformed, transformation does not lead to illumination. OK. That truth again:

Transformation does not lead to illumination.

Transformation involves changing something. Illumination involves no existing thing, no personality, no self, no independent being. No matter how much we change, how much we improve ourselves, how deeply mystical or free of childhood patterns we become, we are still existing. Therefore we are not illuminated. We will certainly be better, more compassionate, happier and more productive human beings, which I think is a good thing. But we will not get enlightened.

The purpose and virtue of transformation is not in the transformed human being, but the experience of transformation, the conscious choice to be more than who we are through death and rebirth. Transformation into ‘something’ or ‘someone’ better is contingent on temporal (and often cultural) notions of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’. However, the experience of death and rebirth induced by the process of transformation in and by itself conditions us to be open to illumination. It does not produce illumination, but once we are dying and being reborn and embracing lady death on a daily basis, we are potentially more able to enter the illumination where we do not exist. This is why all the great esoteric traditions insist on some form of death meditation or practice on a daily basis.

Another clue on the nature of illumination comes from my Tibetan tantric teacher, who knows English perfectly well enough to speak the correct grammar. However, he never says someone ‘becomes enlightened’ but they ‘become enlightenment’. This grammatical removal of the subject equates to the spiritual removal of the notion of self. This removal of self is crucial and is never possible when we are transforming the self.

In my pagan youth I paid a visit to the old country and upon entering the New Forest at dusk was moved to sleep out there, naked among the leaves and humus. I entered inside and to some degree ‘became’ the forest, though I did not realise this until I walked out the next morning. ‘I’ was not there to know ‘I’ was not there. In the same way ‘we’ do not experience orgasm and in a similar way we cannot be aware of our own transformation.

Authentic transformation always involves a phase change, a shift through a species of death to another state of existence.  While in the depth of transformation we simply cannot get outside of this state and view the process. Only upon completing the process can we see how far we have come; what we are now and what we once were. Of course, as soon as we do this, we enter into duality and must again consciously choose death and rebirth. And so it goes on until in the end we arrive where we started and know the place for the first time since there is no one to ask and no one to answer.



  1. Saskbound · May 15, 2010

    Thank you for the post. I quite enjoy reading your exploration of a the relationship between ‘Enlightenment’, ‘transformation’, and the GD work. I believe people take these ideas for granted and mistake the forests for the trees.

  2. David · May 17, 2010

    Oh wow, that was a good read. A really good read, cheers Peregrin, given me many many many things to think about/un-think about.

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