The Annunciation – lessons for magicians

annunication James Tissot

The Annunciation, James Tissot, c1886.

We have just celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation. For those who came in late or like their Christianity served cold and Protestant, this is the traditional liturgical commemoration of the visitation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary when she was given the bodacious and awesome news that she would become the mother of Christ. This is recounted in Luke 1: 26-38. Our focus here is the kicker at the end when Mary, being informed of her forthcoming status as the Theotokos, ‘God-bearer’ submits completely and fully, without reservation or qualification to the One: “be it unto me according to thy word”.

Mary then becomes the icon for perfect, human submission to the will of the One: “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

Modern transformative magic also has a pretty common discourse about surrendering the ‘lower will’. Whether we see this in terms of acting from the ‘higher self’ or the descent of the higher soul of the Neschamah into the Ruach or wot not, the same theme is basically there. Of course there is a parallel discourse that magic is about becoming more who you actually are, not about surrendering or letting go at all.

New York theologian Nicholas Laccetti on his wonderful blog, ‘The Light Invisible’ discusses the connection between monasticism and esotericism and clearly states (a once ho-hum, ‘pass the salt’) truth we at MOTO have been banging on about for ages:

…something is certainly lost by the disconnect between esoteric movements and the mainstream churches — for esotericists, the accumulated wisdom and logistical capacities of the churches; for mainstream religionists, the esoteric side of their own religious traditions.

Some of this lost wisdom is that of Mary and her submission and the general understanding of self-emptying that is played out daily in the full religious life. No matter how we cut it, even in the most magical of paths, there has to be some form of surrender to what we may call ‘the higher’ or even the Crowleyan sense of the ‘true will’. Even if we view the magical path of transformation as becoming more who we are, we have to stop, or surrender, being less than who we can be. We have to stop being focused only in and on the lower will or regular every-day self which is created by temporal conditions and which is in fact, as Howard Jones sings, nothing but ‘a jumbled mess of preconceived ideas’.

No matter how great or powerful our higher self / will / soul / consciousness is, no matter how many putative resplendent and powerful past lives we have, here’s the thing: it is our lower will, this mess of ideas, this false self that has to choose to surrender, to choose the spiritual life. Our higher will cannot. We are in control. We in our brokenness, in the darkness where we cannot see or comprehend the everlasting Light have to choose the different path. How, given our benighted state, can we do this?

The Golden Dawn Equinox ceremony has the answer: “by intervention of symbol, ceremonial and sacrament” which leads us away from our focus on the material world existing for the material world alone, without telos or meaning. Let’s briefly discuss this with reference to the Annunciation, though we can easily translate the specific to the general if we wish.

INTERVENTION. This is the most important point. Some power or someone intervenes on our behalf. We cannot do it ourselves – which flies in the face of some modern magical theories. There has to be a disruption of our regular selves from the outside. In the Annunciation this is the One intervening in Mary’s life, from outside, without being called, in fact calling her to a most singular destiny. Within both orthodox, common or garden Christianity and esoteric spirituality it is asserted the divine is constantly and with full grace seeking to affect this intervention for everyone. As the Neophyte meditation puts it: ‘God is the circle whose centre is everywhere and circumference is nowhere’. We are all, each of us the very centre of the love and attention of the One. However, for this intervention to be achieved we have to respond correctly. And this is where the Annunciation and the Theotokos comes in: ‘be it unto me according to thy word’. And since we are broken and imperfect this fiat has to be constantly repeated. Hence we utilize:

SYMBOL. However we view the Annunciation, as Myth or recounting of actual events, it is the meaning here that is important, the symbolism that sacralises this narrative and sets it apart. As symbol making and consuming creatures, we humans appreciate this. Mary is a maiden of ‘low estate’. In terms of the society of the time, she is not the bottom of the totem pole, but not far off it: a young (around 14) unmarried girl from a regular, poor family. Yet she becomes the Theotokos. The symbolism is clear: we do not need to be special. We just need to let it be according to the One, not ourselves. Working with the symbol of the Annunciation and the symbol of Mary’s self-emptying fiat enables this to occur. The lack of powerful, deep and communally supported, symbolic self-emptying narratives in modern magic is one of the lacks we face if we are not connected with mainstream churches or their equivalent. And yes, I think this is a bad thing 😦

c-s-lewis3CEREMONIAL of course enacts bodily and on all levels the meaning behind symbolism, thus exposing all of us to the eternal verities; in this case that of surrender. This is one of the reasons why the western traditions and the traditional western churches are heavy on ceremonial action. As C.S. Lewis said when discussing venerating the cross via the kiss on Good Friday, “the body has to worship also”. There are so few Marian liturgies in the modern west I cannot report on this directly with any great knowledge, so I won’t. 🙂

The inclusion of ‘sacrament’ here is interesting. From a traditional perspective sacraments are not only ‘powerful’ ceremonies. They simply cannot be understood from a magical worldview, though some magicians and some Christians continue to try and do so. Traditionally sacraments are instituted by Christ and administered by him (with the priest acting in persona Christi). Robert Felkin of the Stella Matutina (or Mathers or Westcott) who wrote these words knew clearly enough what a sacrament was and it is an open question why the word was included. I can only assume the author meant the Christian sacraments, but I am open to correction.

Implicit in the discussion above on surrender is surrender to tradition, to the church, to our Order. Not to leaders of these temporal organisations but to the texts, liturgy, practices, calendar, symbolism and mysteries. By choosing consciously, without grudging or muttering under my breath, to enter into and surrender within a traditional liturgy or church service that I personally find aesthetically unpleasing in parts, I learn to surrender more myself. Modern magic valorises individual creativity and the individual creation of rituals for personal and small group consumption. If we don’t like something we write a new version! Not that there is anything wrong with that 🙂 I sometimes think however we have a wonderful opportunity to attend Sunday services and engage deeply in a way that requires self-surrender and this opportunity is missed by many magicians. And of course personal creativity can have its own spiritual downside as I discuss in this post: So long as it works – praxis, synthesis and eclecticism in magic.

The whole of the traditional spiritual life is self-emptying. Mary at the Annunciation is the prime human example of this as Christ is the prime example. We learn this self-emptying through her and through grounded spiritual life, such as loving the person in the pew next to us we personally find difficult and would never ordinarily socialise with. We learn it through driving parishioners home or doing shopping for them or attending interminable parish council meetings, where the Trinity is invoked at the beginning, seeking for It to do its will through us, not our own. If we do not have these opportunities in our magical lives we need to create them somehow. For me personally I am clear in my interdependence and honouring tradition. Just as I will not seek to recreate the thousands of years of tradition that inform modern plumbing when the pipes block, but call a plumber, so too will I go to the church to assist me in my self-emptying. Whatever we do, we need to do something, seek aid and assistance from outside so we can like Mary can say: “be it unto me according to thy word.”

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2 comments

  1. Nicholas Laccetti · March 27

    This is great. Thank you for writing this, Peregrin. Love the use of the Equinox ceremony to elucidate these points. It also, of course, reminds me of the symbolism of the Neophyte Ceremony and the eventual moment when the Hierophant declares to the new initiate, “Child of Earth, long hast thou dwelt in darkness. Quit the night and seek the day.”

    In terms of “becoming more who you are,” I think the Christian tradition also includes that in its ideas about self-emptying. The idea being that the action of sin is not actually an example of individual self-expression, but a kind of “un-creation” as opposed to the fullness and freedom of humanity we have the potential to realize in ourselves if we imitate Mary in her fiat. Ultimately the occult True Will idea isn’t all that far off from the traditional orthodox Christian debate about the “gnomic will,” especially in St. Maximus the Confessor: the perfected human being has successfully liberated her natural will, which smoothly moves the creature in accordance with its nature towards the fulfillment of its being (its telos). This person, the saint or the adept, has bypassed the gnomic will, the will that engages a person in a process of deliberation and hedging every time she takes an action (the internal debate being a sign of confusion of identity and ignorance of natural telos). Not all that different from Crowley’s concept of “pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result.”

    Maximus being one of the primary Christian Neoplatonic theologians, he recognized the theurgic capacity of the liturgy to move the creature (and ultimately all of creation) toward divinization, which is why he insisted on the “two wills” of Christ to the point of his exile and mutilation — if Christ didn’t possess a full human will and a full divine will, there would be no way for human beings to join their wills fully with the divine.

  2. Peregrin · March 27

    THANKS heaps for this Nicholas … The reference to Maximus is very interesting. I have skimmed over a lot! I will delve back in and have a look. Very much appreciated. And of course, there is no surprise the eternal verities manifest in and are pointed to by numerous paths and traditions. With reference to Crowley, there is so much Christian influence in his works and philosophy it becomes a joke that much of his following these days are so anti-Christian. Thanks for pointing out another point of potential influence 🙂

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