These are notes from a course we ran several years ago now, touching on a topic I feel is far too under-explored in contemporary magical and Neo-Pagan circles. Hope they are of some use. :)
Most esoteric and magical traditions do not refer explicitly to the concept of boundaries. Recent focus and development of the understanding of boundaries has largely been undertaken by the psychological community, particularly those people concerned with abuse, trauma and co-dependence. The concept of boundaries existing beyond the physical and psychological has really only been explored to any degree by modern Christian ministries, though from a non-esoteric perspective. In esoteric work understanding, creating and being able to maintain functional boundaries is crucial.
Examples of Good Psychological Boundaries
Good boundaries on the various psychological levels may be characterized with these statements (adapted from the work of Pia Mellody):
- Physical Boundaries: I determine when, where, how, and who is going to touch me. I determine how close someone is going to stand next to me.
- Sexual boundaries: I consciously determine with whom, where, when and how I am going to be sexual with someone.
- Emotional boundaries: What I think or feel or do or don’t do is more about me than it is about you. Conversely, what you think and feel or do or don’t do is more about you than it is about me.
- Mental boundaries: I have the right to think and believe as I choose to do. I accept the consequences of my thinking.
Boundaries show where something begins and where it ends. It is a marker towards what makes one thing itself and not another. For ourselves it is our boundaries that determine who we are. This applies to all levels, outer and inner. Emotional boundaries determine who we are on the emotional-astral level as much as the outer skin boundary determines who we are on the physical level.
If we have poor boundaries on the emotional level we will have other people’s emotions within the definition of ourselves. So when they feel a certain way, we do too. When they are depressed or happy we are also and so on. Emotionally then we are not ourselves – from an esoteric perspective we are technically obsessed. The same situation applies on the etheric and mental levels if we have poor boundaries on those levels.
The boundary structures we have and hold on each of the levels define our entire being; who we are physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. One of the key functions of the early and thereafter constantly repeated esoteric practices, such as grounding and the Lesser Pentagram (invoking more so than banishing) is to develop functional boundaries.
Without functional boundaries we cannot safely explore our inner beings at all:
Boundaries are also important for guarding and nurturing the soul that God entrusted us. They are like fences with a gate. You can control what comes in and what goes out. This is very important, because within us are many things that are very damaging to us. ~ Christoph Kreitz; Boundaries in Marriage.
Boundaries and the One
The esoteric traditions all assert that at the deepest core of our being we are united with or are the One Thing. That is to say, at the deepest core we are both unity and the no-thing from which unity arises. At this level then our boundaries are non-existent:
Where all is one there can be no separate names.
However, the esoteric traditions are also clear that this level of our being is not the regular human interaction level where we live and move and buy our vegies from the supermarket. You me and the Catholic Pope may all be One and united in essence but that reality is useless in the physical world when faced with regular daily tasks of interacting with human beings. The first function of boundaries then is to make clear the distinction between the planes, between the levels of existence.
Each of the planes is separate from each other in terms of ‘laws’ and ‘actions’ within the plane. They do not segue into one another. To confuse the planes is a breakdown in boundaries and a constant problem within the esoteric community. At its simplest it creates a mistaken apprehension of reality and an inability to accurately apprehend what is occurring with one’s self and the universe. At its worst it produces the kind of magician who invokes or works magic for every little thing, like fixing the plumbing or finding a new lover. Or an esoteric blogger who assumes their chosen field of practice is their own ground of being, and all comments therein are about their own person or organisation.
From a Christian esoteric perspective the phrase “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21) refers to the need to avoid confusing the planes. Repeated practical magic, trying to utilise the etheric and astral to influence the physical is confusion of boundaries and of the planes. Conversely, structurally correct outer temples, props and rituals without inner workings and assuming they affect our inner lives, is also a confusion of the planes.
We are here in a physical condition in a physical world and while in that state we have to abide by the laws appropriate to it.’ (Fortune, Dion and Knight, Gareth, (1998) The Circuit of Force : occult dynamics of the etheric vehicle, p188-9. Thoth Publications, Loughborough.)
The One and the Many
The esoteric understanding of creation is that the One, while maintaining itself as Unity also separates itself, unfolds itself unto the Many that exist here in the physical world. Depending on the esoteric tradition in question, there are varying stages within this process. At each stage appropriate boundaries, which are different from all the other stages, are required. The first boundaries however, and this is an important point, are created by the One itself. The very act of separation, even at the most rarefied level is the creation of a boundary. From a Christian perspective:
The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God. God defines himself as a distinct being separate from his creation and from us. He has boundaries within the Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one, but at the same time they are distinct persons with their own boundaries. Prestcott, Shirley – Boundaries: where do you draw the line?
Creation of and maintaining boundaries then imitates and partakes of the divine action of the One; it is a sacred act and one that is immensely powerful when conducted consciously.
Briefly then, functional boundaries on all planes – they:
- Define who we are on the plane in question;
- Are consciously created;
- Are maintained throughout daily life;
- Can be modified as we choose to do so;
- Allow what we want to enter us, to enter us;
- Repel automatically what we do not wish to enter us; and
- Allow us to take responsibility by defining what we are responsible for (ourselves) and what we are not responsible for (others).
The two examples below, one very mundane, the other more esoteric will give a clue as to what functional boundaries are and how the inner reflects the outer.
Example One. Recently I was at a work meeting with an outside graphic designer who was doing some work for us. The terms had already been agreed upon but my supervisor tried to get the graphic artist to speed up the work. He simply and naturally replied, “No”, very politely. It was a natural response, did not take effort or require ‘walling off’. This was because of his good, emotional and work boundaries. I spoke to the person afterwards (who I knew a little socially also) and he confirmed that it had taken many years of conscious work to allow his boundaries to be so effortlessly effective.
Example Two. Year back when I entered the (semi-public) toilet at work I came across two young men leaving. Automatically the protective pentagrams created within my Sphere of Sensation came into operation – I saw them clearly flash ‘on’. I did not have time to wonder why before the men had left. However, upon entering the cubicle I saw freshly used syringes and blood. My astral and etheric boundaries had effortlessly activated upon the presence of something ‘not nice’ – the negative energies and entities that swarm around drug addicts – that I did not wish to enter me. This was a result of years of daily work with the pentagram rituals.
Inner Plane Boundaries
Without effective boundaries within a plane, we cannot function esoterically on that plane and it is very dangerous to do. In esoteric work we invoke large amounts of inner energies and interact with real inner plane beings. To do so safely and still receive the maximum benefit from our practice we need to be able to maintain our boundaries, let them go and reform them as we will. This takes much practice as it is not simply the case that we wish to avoid opening to all inner plane energies. Blocking of from all inner plane energies is the esoteric equivalent of the psychological concept of walls replacing boundaries. Walls protect the person who has constructed them but do not let anything in or out. This person lives in a state of loneliness, possibly protected from the assaults of others, but also prevented from establishing trusting and intimate relationships. In the esoteric traditions some people never experience the presence of the sacred or the invoked blessings because walls have been created on the inner levels. It is the function of good ceremonial initiations, over a number of years, to assist in the creation of inner boundaries and the transformation of any pre-existing inner walls.
Also in advanced esoteric work we always want to maintain the boundary of the self without closing off via an inner wall to the deeper ‘mystical’ states of being. The essence of the mystical is communion or union with spiritual powers, the letting go of the small self identity. What we do need to do is to establish such good, automatically self-reforming boundaries, that even after communion with the powers, even after ‘becoming’ the One during a full mystical communion, we return to ourselves as a clear, distinct human being with appropriate boundaries.
Returning, as always, he had the problem of becoming again a human being, in a human body, in one specific place, and adjusting to the limits that a body and a place implied – ‘I am here, on this soil, beneath this maple tree. I hear the sound of the water rushing in the creek. I smell the rich grassy earth smell. I am not an infinite star in infinite space. I am a limited human being with a limited human personality.’ – Robert Anton Wilson, Natures God.
Few of us, apart from gifted natural mystics, are born with the ability to do this. It has to be carefully cultivated. To this end the esoteric traditions have created structured training programs whereby inner boundaries are assessed, cultivated and strengthened before engaging in deep mystical surrender.
The structured training within any effective magical curriculum is in part a way of creating the boundaries required for esoteric work. This becomes apparent when we examine the inner work and effects of such tradition skills as meditation, will development, the Pentagram and Hexagram rituals and methods for creating sacred space and time. (Naturally see the wonderful, By Names and Images for concrete examples :) )