The Broken Triangle – modern magic’s approach to religion.

This post has been brewing for some time, on and off in the back of my mind. Nick Farrell’s recent post, The Hegemon’s wand and religion became a catalyst of sorts. So when I respond to Nick’s article it is really a response to much of the modern magical approach to religion. Nick introduced his post on Facebook as ‘one to argue’ about, but I doubt many magicians will find cause to dissent as he wonderfully presents the modern magical approach to religion.

There is however another way, which may be called the religious approach to magic 🙂 So Nick and I are kinda approaching the same elephant from two different ends – I will leave it to the reader to decide which end 🙂

Here I can only really talk about the two religions I know not just know of, Anglo-Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism. I expect it’s the same for the rest, but I have not lived those, so cannot say for sure. It is also quite a minefield when one starts using traditional Christian concepts and terminology. Folk can easily think I am espousing some religious dogma, or judging or wot not. Of course I am not. Even if I had the time and temperament for such things, which I do not, it is impossible for me (or any human) to judge another’s relationship with the Mystery.

Hegemon's SceptreHowever, I am concerned to point out the modern magical approach and view of religion is not the end of the story and may not present the religious view accurately. I also contend that when the authors of the Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts describe the function of the office and ensign of the Hegemon as a “Mitre Headed Sceptre = Religion to Guide and Regulate Life” they were referring to religion that included, you know, religion with pews and sacraments and such. We will see why as we go on.

Throughout Nick’s blog and most of modern magic it is quite clear that the central actant, the key area of concern is the magician. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. From the magical point of view. A magician must “believe in something much bigger than themselves” says Nick. This is the starting point of religion. The reason for this insistence however is clear: it is part of the magic. It serves a function. It stops narcissism and megalomania. It provides moral codes. These are wonderful motivations for religion for sure, but it seems it is still about the magician.

One thing I have noticed since adopting a pagan approach to religion is that I have ended up following a daily pattern of work which is JUST religious. I light candles to different gods and an [sic] invoke them. The purpose of this is not magical, as such. It is using a regular rite to connect to the Gods so that when I do need to invoke them, they are not strangers. They know I respect them because every week I have done a little ritual doing just that. It is not worship, really, but it is religion.” (Emphasis mine).

Nick’s point here is certainly more sophisticated than that of Pagans using various Gods from various cultures in spells, after looking them up in a Llewellyn book, – he knows a relationship has to be formed with these deities first. So, yes, def no worship involved in this, the relationship is positioned as subordinate to the magic. And there is nothing wrong with this, from the magical viewpoint. And of course similar magical views of religion and religious figures are expressed by others in the magical and Pagan community. This from Pat Zalewski, whom I admire very much:

Whatever one has to say about Christ, all will agree that His Name evokes a powerful current or force that fills us with the receptive principle, something akin to the Yin of Chinese metaphysics. This principle of receptivity is one that is needed, for when we invoke it, we pave the way for other forces, fused together, to enter our sphere of sensation. The Christ-like energy will then pacify and control it, so that it conforms to our will and can be directed for many different uses. (Secret Inner Order Rituals of the Golden Dawn, emphasis mine).

Others hold similar magical views of religion and Christianity. Golden Dawn adept Aaron Leitch runs a magical curio shop, Doc Solomon’s Occult Curios, where he sells consecrated items for use in traditional Grimiore magic among other things, like Holy Water. He has Holy Orders stemming from one of the Episcopi Vagantes at the turn of the 20th century. He has discussed on Facebook how one may easily perform the Eucharist at home, on one’s own, but a host consecrated by an ordained priest will hold ‘more power’. Such things make sense from a magical view of religion and Christianity, but from a traditional Christian view they make no sense at all.

From any orthodox view Sacraments are not subject to differing ‘power levels’ but are mysteries instituted and performed by Christ. End of. In the Anglican Communion (and I assume Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism?) the Eucharist cannot be performed by the priest alone: it is a corporate action, not a solo venture.

RR et AC EmblemThese views are strikingly different. I cannot, and am not, saying one is ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’ in an act of universal judgement. But I do maintain magicians do religion, particularly Christianity, and themselves a disservice when they conflate magical dynamics and worldviews with sacramental and other areas of Christian theology.

Nick’s take on this seems to be: “What each magician does is that they reform their religion until it fits better with the image of god they are working with.” Again, this makes sense from a magical approach, but is contrary to the religious.

One of the key points of religion is conscious and willed surrender of one’s personal concerns, personal images, and personal aesthetics into something greater and more sustaining. Religion is definitely not concerned with reformation from each individual but the reformation of each individual. Folk here may be thinking of religion’s bogeyman status of enforcing strange doctrines and impossible beliefs before breakfast and twice on Sundays. However it is very possible to remain an orthodox Christian and a magician (and it is, imposing western terms, certainly common in Tibetan Buddhism).

It still has not quite entered the discourse of modern magic that not too long ago many, if not most, magicians were regular religious folk. Just as most people in society were. Tony Fuller’s excellent thesis Anglo-Catholic Clergy and the Golden Dawn clearly shows this and also the extent of the crossover of Anglican priests and Bishops within the GD. Since the so called occult revival of the 1970s this has largely been forgotten or unknown. Most magicians since then do not belong to a formalised outer religion. However there remain Christian magicians, members of churches, and some publicly so, like Gareth Knight.

But we are not here to argue for orthodoxy rather to present a key concern in modern magic’s approach to religion, something seldom discussed and focused upon, and that is: religion is not primarily concerned with the individual person at all. Unlike magic. In every service, the Great Commandments:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

The Divine and the other. We as individuals are not the prime concern. This is crucial and the practice of religion in this manner is an essential part of the traditional esoteric life, as MOTO has argued for ages and which is neatly summed up by New York theologian Nicholas Laccetti on his wonderful blog, ‘The Light Invisible’. He does this so well, I will quote him again:

…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.

It is why in the anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing, a key medieval mystical text, describes an integrated and real-world mystical practice that starts with and continues to include ‘good and honest bodily works of mercy and of charity.’ This is central to Tibetan Buddhism, no matter what advanced empowerments one has undertaken or what status one has reached. This is one of the great gifts of the churches: they provide and integrated avenue for this aspect of the spiritual life, something lacking in many magical groups and magicians. And it is for this reason I believe this is the type of ‘religion’ the Hegemon’s sceptre refers to, something not concerned with the self at all.

Conceptually we can assign the concerns of magic, religion and spiritually to three broad arenas. I first conceptualised these as a Starhawk-struck teenage witch, and only later found Christianity and other religion had worked it all out millennia beforehand. We may label these, as that bodacious Franciscan Richard Rohr does, as:

  • Transpersonal (I first labelled this as ‘mystical’ back when I was 19 and not understanding mysticism involved the whole three)
  • Personal (got this one right)
  • Impersonal (as a young activist, I first labelled this as ‘political’ but that limits things)

We can of course relate this to the Trinity but ever mindful that the Trinity is three separate but mutually interdependent and dynamic Persons, not three faces of a single God, symbolised perhaps by three angles of the triangle or one person being a mother, daughter and wife. This is modalism and is generally considered bad form in Trinitarian discussions (though I have often seen priests slip into it). To express the Trinity we need other diagrams, the traditional Shield and one I prepared earlier 🙂

558px-Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-compact.svg

Shin as Shield of Trinity

Ideally one’s spiritual life and ‘path’ would have all three modes integrated within it. But that does not always happen. As Tony Fuller posits in his thesis it appears certain Anglican clergymen, following on from the Oxford Movement, entered the Golden Dawn to enhance their access to the transpersonal aspects via magic and other processes. The exoteric religion they practiced and taught had plenty of scope for the personal and the impersonal (Anglicanism was a large influence on the creation of the British welfare state). After a long period where ritual celebration was legally denuded and mysticism virtually abandoned and with a new appreciation of a wide variety of ancient approaches, it seems many of these clergymen saw the GD as an expression of the same perennial tradition of mystery embodied in the Church. And so they set to becoming magicians as well as priests 🙂

On the magical front, if we look at Nick’s blog and pretty much any modern magical book we will see the transpersonal and the personal are included and explored very well. Magicians are concerned about their lives and material expression (personal) and their connection with the transpersonal divinity. However bugger all is expressed concerning the impersonal, the non-personal, where we give out to others without thought or concern or expectation. The triangle is thus broken and incomplete.

triangle personal etc

Religion can teach us to do repair the triangle. Indeed as corporate worship, and now in the west as intentional community, this is one of the key roles of religion. This is also the symbol of the Hegemon’s sceptre, and is why it has the Calvary cross upon it. This cross is the prime symbol of how the transpersonal (‘God) and the personal (nothing more personal than getting nailed up) interact mystically to produce the impersonal.

In Christian terms this expression of the impersonal dimension is often referred to as the working through of the Holy Spirit. She guides and teaches us to love those we do not personally know (and may not actually ‘like’) but NOT from a mystical, transpersonal, ‘everyone is holy – Namaste’, place, but from a lived and grounded action. I think that’s pretty cool 🙂

The Genius of Pamela Colman Smith: the four of Cups and the Kingdom

Pamela_Colman_Smith_circa_1912It is often said that when creating (for ‘very little cash’) the rudely misnamed ‘Rider-Waite” deck, Pixie Colman Smith bought her wonderful mix of theatrical and artistic creation mostly into the Minor Arcana, particularly the Pip Cards.

“The actual processes by which the Waite-Smith collaboration took place are not certain, but it seems likely that Mr. Waite’s input was largely restricted to the twenty-two Major Arcana. Of the fifty-six pip cards – the Minor Arcana – it is likely that Miss Smith had a very free hand. They, therefore, are her creation, and it is there that we see her genius.” (http://harpermcalpineblack.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/pamela-colman-smith-savant-with-childs.html)

It seems likely that she drew on some images of the Sola Busca Tarot for this, recently acquired and exhibited by the British Museum. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂 Naturally, however Pixie changed things and added a considerable amount of ‘stuff’ herself. As Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin point out in ‘Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot’ much of this stems, at least via a surface view, from Pixie’s theatrical background and the landscapes where she lives, moves and has her being. Some ‘stuff’ however is deep and profound and so subtle it flies in the face of the current dominant view that Pixie never really groked the esoteric Christian and Qabalistic milieu of her collaborator, Arthur Waite.

For example, let’s take the Four of Cups, first Sola Busca and then Pixie’s.

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Pixie is clearly innovating here. The only other major deck in circulation back when she was creating this card was the Marseille which bears no relation at all to this image. This innovation has been seen by some to refer to Gautama under the Bodhi tree. However, it is clearly drawing on western imagery, not eastern. The use of the hand from the cloud motif draws from Hermetic emblems popular in the early modern period. There are no actual Buddhist symbols, and it is doubtful Pixie was exposed to much Buddhist iconography at all.

The card, according to the Golden Dawn system, refers to Chesed of Briah, the Creative World. This is pretty much the deepest level of consciousness a human can experience while incarnate and still plodding around the world. We can touch upon other ‘higher’ states in meditation, but regular folk can’t really live in a state deeper than what this card represents. Thus the card exists as a resting point between our current state of consciousness and a dramatic next step.

The next step is Binah of Briah – bridging the gap between phenomenal and noumenal world. Achieving such a goal, in Christian esoteric terms, cannot be done individually but is a corporate action. In shorthand, it is the coming of the Kingdom.

The key point here is there are three cups already on the ground and the fourth only being offered to or shown to the seated figure. This immediately brings to mind the Tetragrammaton, the holy four lettered name of the One. So we have YHV presented as the three cups on the ground and the final H in the cup coming from the clouds. The four lettered name, in this card, exists only in potential. It has not yet been remembered, the final Heh has not joined YHV since the figure seats inert and unmoved by what is being offered to them. Kinda like humanity, eh?

This is straight forward Hermetic Cabalism, sneakily placed here for our inner selves to be exposed to. However, Pixie goes further.

Say the phrase ‘four cups’ to any observant Jew around this time of year and they will automatically think of the Seder Passover meal. During this sacred meal, four cups of wine are drunk to honour and remember four great deliverances of the Jewish people as promised in Exodus. These are often summarised as God saying ‘I bring you out’ of captivity in Egypt, “I will deliver you from slavery’, ‘I will redeem you’ and ‘I will take you to be my people’. Again, like the final Heh, the final cup is the culmination of the other three, the creation of the People of God.

The meaning of the four cups can also be added to by exegesis and commentary. They can refer to the four Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel, and Leah or the four ages, the final one being the World to Come, and also to the four letters of the Holy Name of God, the most honoured guest at the Seder. (http://www.oztorah.com/2012/04/four-cups-of-wine/)

It all coheres wonderfully 🙂

Pixie would have known about these Seder customs. Not only would she have studied these matters but she had several Jewish friends, including her exhibitor Alfred Stieglitz. She began work on the Smith Tarot around Passover 1909.

But wait, there’s more!

There is not a complete consensus that the Last Supper as described in the Gospels was in fact a Seder Passover meal. It may have been a supper on a day in the week of Passover. But viewing it as a Seder is hardly heterodox. Now, as a Seder meal there should have been four offerings of the cup during the meal. We know of two definitely only from the Canonical Gospels. But the most significant point is Matthew 26:29. Here Christ interrupts the Seder, the sacred narrative and says:

But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

And does not drink.

In the Tarot the cup remains in the hands of the one from the cloud. The Tetragrammton is not established on the earth. The Kingdom is not established. It will not, and cannot be established until we are all, in corporate action, established within the Kingdom of the One. The figure in the card is ourselves, humanity, waiting to drink finally from the cup of remembrance, to grasp the final (and feminine) Heh and so to speak the word of Mystery upon the earth.

So much in such a simple card! Pixie is so clever 🙂

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.”

The Magical Life: quick lessons from the Cloud (no, not THAT cloud!)

Every magician worth his salt ends up a mystic. – Attributed to Dion Fortune.

Scanning around the internet and some publications we often seen a distinction made in modern magical circles between magic and mysticism.

Magic, in the modern theurgic ‘self-transformation’ sense (and really what’s the point in discussing any other sense?) is often described as a path of self-transformation via various practices with the ultimate aim of perfecting oneself or uniting oneself with the divine.

Mysticism, at least in the magical circles, is often defined simply as a path where the mystic seeks to unite themselves with the Divine by meditation and prayer.

The two seem similar in endpoint but at the pure end of the spectrum are vastly different in practice. At one end is the magical path of self-transformation: it is self-initiated and self-directed and primarily affects and transforms the self. At the other end of the spectrum, pure mysticism and its fruits await completely on the grace of the One and are directed by the One alone.

Naturally folk are seldom at the pure end of the spectrum. Magicians will ‘work with’ deities and the divine for their own self-transformation. Mystics will self-direct (or at least self-choose to act on directions) and engage themselves in various spiritual practices and prayers.

For me this distinction is not as important as another, seldom as well articulated. Mystical union (at least in the Christian tradition which underlies the esoteric traditions) is not the same as the divine union typically envisioned in magic. In magical and occult paths the concept of union involves, ultimately at the pinnacle, identification with God or immersion in God. This shows the monist conception at the root of much modern magical philosophy.

In the Christian mystical traditions even at the highest, “There is union, but not fusion or confusion. Although ‘oned’ with the divine, man (sic) still remains man; he is not swallowed up or annihilated, but between him and God there continues always to exist an ‘I-Thou relationship of person to person.” (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware). The path of Theosis is eternal.

This often unspoken and unthought difference stems from the presence or absence of the traditional religious view. When present, the divine is always something wholly other and is related to accordingly. When absent the separation of humanity and the One may be seen only as a matter of degree, not substance or essence.

Post WWII most magicians are not religious folk, at least in the “I-Thou” forms of religious practice. Most are explicitly not Christians, a complete contrast to the early 20th century. This, as well as the antithesis to Christianity means modern magicians are often not exposed to or explore the rich depth of Christian mystical traditions which may elucidate and aid them in their quest for the divine. One such source is the Cloud of Unknowing.

The Cloud is a late Middle Ages work on contemplative prayer in the form of advice from a senior monk to a young student (already practiced on the path a bit himself). It advocates the via negativa or the Apophatic path, whereby the One cannot be understood by the mind but must instead be described in a series of negations. And it suggests wonderful, practical ways of doing so. The Apophatic approach to the One is often contrasted with the Kataphatic which describes the One and its attributes. In Kataphatic practice we use our will, intellect, power, direction and imagination. We can easily see the temptation to describe western magic as Kataphatic and the more passive forms of mysticism as Apophatic, but there is a lot more to this story 🙂

I was re-reading the Cloud the other day and struck on these passages:

“… there be two manner of lives in Holy Church. The one is active life, and the other is contemplative life. Active is the lower, and contemplative is the higher. Active life hath two degrees, a higher and a lower: and also contemplative life hath two degrees, a lower and a higher. Also, these two lives be so coupled together that although they be divers in some part, yet neither of them may be had fully without some part of the other.

For why? That part that is the higher part of active life, that same part is the lower part of contemplative life. So that a man may not be fully active, but if he be in part contemplative; nor yet fully contemplative, as it may be here, but if he be in part active. The condition of active life is such, that it is both begun and ended in this life; but not so of contemplative life. For it is begun in this life, and shall last without end. For why? That part that Mary chose shall never be taken away. Active life is troubled and travailed about many things; but contemplative sitteth in peace with one thing.

The lower part of active life standeth in good and honest bodily works of mercy and of charity. The higher part of active life and the lower part of contemplative life lieth in goodly ghostly meditations, and busy beholding unto a man’s own wretchedness with sorrow and contrition, unto the Passion of Christ and of His servants with pity and compassion, and unto the wonderful gifts, kindness, and works of God in all His creatures bodily and ghostly with thanking and praising.

But the higher part of contemplation, as it may be had here, hangeth all wholly in this darkness and in this cloud of unknowing; with a loving stirring and a blind beholding unto the naked being of God Himself only.

In the lower part of active life a man is without himself and beneath himself. In the higher part of active life and the lower part of contemplative life, a man is within himself and even with himself.”

Representing this schema diagrammatically may yield much.

three lives cloud two

The key of course is the mutual identification of the Upper Active with the Lower Contemplative. When we place this on the Tree with reference to the Three Orders of the Golden Dawn it becomes clear.

cloud lives on tol

By describing the Upper Active and Lower Contemplative as co-terminal we see straightaway how the Outer Order is said to depend on the Inner Order and the Inner Order on the Third Order. Similarly though to fulfil its complete function of active life, the Inner Order requires an Outer Order, and to fulfil the contemplative life, the Third Order requires an Inner Order. It all coheres in mutual interdependence. It is for these reasons, I think, that we read in Dr Tony Fuller’s masterful PhD thesis, ‘Anglo-Catholic Clergy and the Golden Dawn’ of the decision of New Zealand adepts to close the Cromlech Temple, often seen as the Third Order, following the close of the Inner and Outer Orders: there was no ‘body’ for the Spirit to inhabit.

Practically of course this also explains why it’s terribly, terribly difficult to be a magician in the Golden Dawn tradition on one’s tod.

Looking at the diagram and the text we see the Lower Active life encompassing spheres all connected with the material universe as represented by the basal Sephrioth of Malkuth. For this reason the author of the Cloud describes the work of this arena as ‘good and honest bodily works of mercy and of charity’. This is the work of compassion expressed in the world, traditionally done through church membership, alms giving, visiting the sick and imprisoned etc. It is so very absent in the modern magical community though still present in the Masonic.

The Lower Active is an integral part of the full spiritual life. Nowhere does the author of the Cloud suggest otherwise. Rather he suggests only that to reach and stabilise the Higher aspect of each life we must ‘for a time’ suspend the lower. This is in direct contrast to many people’s understanding of the mystic life, and indeed descriptions from many mystics themselves, and is one reason why the Cloud is so groovy 🙂

“They (mystics) seek to ‘be in the world but not of it’. Their path is of non-attachment, removal of the ego, never working for personal gain etc., a gradual stripping away of everything that is not God until they find the part that is. Once this is attained there is only this unity to bask in. … The mystic has travelled so light to reach their goal that there is nothing more that can be done other than live the reminder of their life in a state of bliss and hope that others will be helped by contact with them.” (Nick Farrell).

More importantly, the identification of the lower contemplative and the higher active shows how the magical and the mystical, the Kataphatic and Apophatic approach are in fact working the same sphere of self and are both needed. This is not simply a matter of practicing magic and then practicing contemplation, but of fusing the two approaches. We see this most clearly in the Eucharist which uses our Kataphatic qualities to describe and Glorify God at the same time we Commune with the ultimate Apophatic mystery of Christ’s self-emptying in Incarnation and on the Cross.

Practically we can get a sense of how to incorporate the two in our ceremonial practice by listening to this remarkable lecture by Denys Turner on ‘Thomas Aquinas and the Pseudo-Denys on the Darkness of God’. Listen from 40 minutes on for how the outer Kataphatic action of the Sign of the Cross leads us also into Apophatic experience.

https://nds.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/AquinasLecture.mp3

“When we … invoke the trinity in our lives, we pray in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and as we do so we make the sign of the Cross. When we do this, it is as if to say, as even the philosophers knew, it is true, God not being any kind of being, we are drawn by reason into God’s impenetrable cloud of unknowing. It is true, that the same darkness of God is deepened by the very demonstration of God’s existence, which far from placing within the grasping hands of reason, shows that at the heart of our highest part of rational power, we are drawn even more deeply and surely into the divine darkness … Then it is we that we make the sign of the Cross. Then it is we enter into the true darkness of God, God’s own darkness in the person of the crucified Son.”

Hope this helps 🙂

GD Magic … Rosicrucian or not? … a review of Sam’s Review :)

RR et AC Rose Cross

A little while ago I reviewed a review of the Golden Dawn from a ‘Rosicrucian’ perspective by Sam Robinson, Sam has continued with his review, here Examining the Magic of the Golden Dawn and I thought I’d quickly respond in kind 🙂 He’s done a nice job.

I am not really au fait with the various traditions that Sam draws upon to pronounce his ‘Trinosophia Score of the Golden Dawn’. So I cannot really go into that. However, I can (I think) comment with some accuracy on some of his points.

Sam states: “Without question the Golden Dawn system of magic is unrivalled” Nice.

However he quickly follows that with a question: “is it really Rosicrucian after all?”

Personally, I think we need to take one step back and ask is magic at all compatible with the Rosicrucian ‘path’. This is a tricky one and it all depends on the definition of magic we are working with. Plenty of Rosicrucians would say not. For me, it is a question (alluded to by Sam later on) of the rationale we bring to our magic. As I said previously:

Magic should be about moving the mage from the centre of the circle, controlling all the forces she invokes (which is like, so medieval) to an awareness that at the centre we are interdependent on the entire circle of life, on the One and the universe that forms around us.

It is arguable, as  Canon Anthony Duncan asserts, that once we do we are in fact no longer practicing magic. Again, definitions 🙂

Sam writes: “For students the public vs. hidden Golden Dawn argument also points out how pop culture occultism has influenced the Order vs. the humble realities of tradition. Just keepin it real.” True, true and true. But not likely to be accepted by some folk in the ‘public Golden Dawn’.

One point I disagree with Sam on is this: “Firstly let us be clear, the G.D system is entirely ceremonial.” Well, maybe … but …

An example. There are many meditations within the tradition, and just because one may have moved to a different grade that does not mean we cease to practice those meditations ever again. The Neophyte meditation is beneficial in all grades. The meditations in the outer (and inner) Orders are linked to the expression of the soul (using that word as it often used in the GD texts) through the various ‘lower’ Sephrioth. When we move ‘beyond’ those Sephrioth in our grades, we are still functioning in the real world of work, mortgages and baby spew on our shoulders through those Sephrioth. The use of these meditations throughout the rest of our life keeps us transforming within those Sephrioth and opening more to the will and direction of the One.

Sam’s list of the ‘five main operations of magic’ of the GD draws directly from the Z document. However, there are other classifications and operations of magic within the RR et AC not linked to the Z or Formula of the Magic of the Light. Just sayin’ 🙂

Another quote from Sam, which may get him in a little trouble: “the magical practices employed by the G.D are put towards selfish ends rather than towards the ambition of regeneration of culture and humanity as the Rosicrucians intended.” Ouch.

Now, I have myself seen this many times, so prima facie I would have to agree with Sam. However, this state of affairs I believe is very much because of the infection of ‘pop occultism’ within the GD as Sam noted previously. It is not the essence of the tradition at all.

copy-of-pastoslid1As my anonymous correspondent reported, the inner plane authority that provided the spiritual (magical?) imprimatur for its existence withdrew that imprimatur when it became clear the GD was no longer serving its spiritual purpose of transformation. This is similar to scholar Tony Fuller’s reporting on the closure of Whare Ra and associated Order’s in New Zealand, except instituted by human agency. So it is clear the essence of the GD is far more than ‘selfish ends’, and the tradition itself is willing to die (and be reborn?) when that essence gets corrupted.

Again, I take a different approach to Sam when he writes: “G.D has bombastic methods, long winded rituals and elaborate performances that take several hours when done correctly, much of what is valued becomes a pursuit of ‘the more complicated it is the more special it must be.”

This may well be true if we are judging from the published and shared ceremonies. However, taking the Z formula for one example, the Adept over her time in the College internalizes the formula to such a degree (as well as the various methods of working like the pentagram and hexagram rituals) they do no need to produce a long scripted ceremony at all. They can enter the Temple and perform a full process with minimum outer work, without reference to notes and long winded speeches, relying on the simple principle that ‘by names and images are all powers awakened and reawakened’).  

I do however agree with Sam when he continues concerning: “… a pursuit of ‘the more complicated it is the more special it must be.’ Therefore students forever seek ‘higher teachings’ that are more advanced. This has led students to pursue teachings for their own sake.” I have addressed this dysfunctional approach in my post: A quick note on advanced practices.

We come now to some dog’s balls obvious stuff that seems to have made little impact upon the ‘public’ Golden Dawn. Sam again:

“Magically, the only thing the Rosicrucians said to do was to heal the sick freely and gladly.”

There is no doubt about that. It’s in the Manifestoes. However, I have corresponded with several adepts from a few different Orders who cheerfully admit that have not even READ the Manifestoes let alone studied them and integrated them into their souls. Oy Vey! What can you do? 🙂

Sam goes on to say:  “BUT Esoteric and Hidden Golden Dawn Orders still work closely with Rosicrucian intentions. The Public Golden Dawn does not. Thus there are two magical G.D systems. One that is more akin to ‘casting spells to get what you want’ and the other is very Rosicrucian, but is alas barely online.”

He further states the goals of Rosicrucian ‘magic’ and alludes to the fact that the public GD is not cutting the mustard when it comes to these:

  1. The Reformation of the Whole Wide World.
  2. The establishment of a Christian Utopia.
  3. Healing any illness.
  4. The Philosophers Stone (alchemy)
  5. Spiritual Reintegration (Cabala)
  6. Divine Communion (magic)

It is good Sam makes a distinction between public and hidden GD here, because it is clear that ‘healing’ was an essential part of at least the Stella Matutina Smaragdum Thalasses temple in New Zealand (Whare Ra). As for the whole wide world, Christ and wot not, this from Dr Tony Fuller’s thesis:

Thus, a special responsibility was believed to lie with the Religious Orders, the clergy and with members of such specialist groups as the Stella Matutina, not merely to advance the Tikkun Olam along with the Second Coming of Christ, through their own spiritual ascension, but also to promote the microcosmic ‘healing of the Universe’ through encouraging the performance of prayer and other Godly acts by humanity in general. (p. 413)

Various GD Orders have been quietly getting on with this …

Sam points out that that GD magic requires invocation of the astral light but that light is limited in accordance to the virtue of the operator:

But unless you have virtue, truly have developed a Christ consciousness, then this transmission of light is dampened. This is also where Public Golden Dawn gets it entirely wrong. Such actions cannot be ‘willed’ alone into being. The quality of the soul is a conduit of Light.

This statement would be at home in the Whare Ra temple and the same attitude and realisation has been (over and over again) prompted here on MOTO 🙂 So it’s out there alright, as is the emphasis on charity Sam avers is a hallmark of Rosicrucian magic.

So, again, thank you to Sam for this review, which places front and centre some aspects of the tradition that can get overlooked 🙂

Magic and Vulnerability

‘The extent to which a ritual works is the extent to which we are vulnerable to the forces it raises.’

I found the above statement in some old ritual training notes I wrote 20 years or so ago. It is as true now as it was then. If we are not open, if we are not in some way vulnerable to the blessings of a spiritual force it will simply not affect us. This is because we are, all of us, whole, integral and a complete being in our own right. We are made imago dei; we are the microcosm of the macrocosm. We can remain shut off to any deep spiritual force – if we wish or if we, by habit, cannot open ourselves. This is why the Sufis say:

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

We can perform deep and powerful invocations, ceremonies, evocations, prayers, initiations and wot not, and it won’t mean a thing unless we are open. This is why, which I keep coming across and keep getting asked about, magicians of many years or decades of experience and obvious ‘power’ can still be untransformed. They are not vulnerable to the forces they raise. And of course the forces may still be real, not a delusion, and their peers and students they perform the magic for can transform, but they simply cannot.

And to be fair, magic hardly teaches us to be vulnerable does it?

The need for vulnerability and openness is one of the reasons there are child deities in the world and one of the reasons Christ declared:

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

Children are the most open and the most vulnerable among us. They are also the most impressionable and the most able to learn, having less preconceptions and habits of reality. From that most wonderful song, Water, Fire and Smoke:

I’ve knelt in the ashes, in peace may I rise
Empty of knowing and full of surprise
Clothed all in silence a baby baptised

Children are also the most easily scared (and scarred) among us. There is a clue here. Spirituality and magic is not, if it is to be effective, always comfortable. It is scary, as the accounts of meeting spiritual beings and the One within many traditions attest. This is the panic we feel before the presence of the Gods reveals itself. This is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans described by Rudolf Otto in his description of the numinous where that which is wholly ‘other’ is experienced first through terror before it changes into an experience of Mercy and Grace. We poor humans cannot cope with God head on.

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Of course, unless we are vulnerable we will experience none of that. We can do ceremony after ceremony, year after year, grade after grade for our entire life and still not experience it.

To be vulnerable is not easy of course. And this is why many initiation ceremonies and processes consciously produce a state of outer vulnerability – to try and kick us into that state interiorly, whereby we can then be touched deeply by the divine.

Outside of initiations a good ceremony will also move us – if we fully engage with it – into that state of vulnerability. Why? Because we never know, we can never be sure, if the divine presence will be invoked, will respond to our call, and will enliven the temple. How can we as humans be sure, be absolutely sure, the Archangel Raphael will be there as we call her? How can we? And so in that moment, in each and every ritual, when we feel this, we are vulnerable and open. As soon as we are sure we have lost the magic.

A good group ceremony will promote and encourage vulnerability to the extent each member can be open to it. Much of this is the attitude and approach of the ceremonial leader. If they are sure, it is an uphill battle for the rest of the people. And sadly we see this in some Christian Masses also, though we need not. I remember talking with a wonderful Christian priest describing her Ordination. She explained that even though it was a result of a calling from God, years of discernment and training, and even though she had driven to the Cathedral, she was completely unsure if it would really happen. She was vulnerable. And an amazing priest.

Vulnerability is of course connected with ego. If we think, or even worse know we are right as a matter of course, if we are not open to new evidence and data, we are going to have a difficult time being vulnerable in ritual. Here I am reminded of the sainted Dion Fortune, whose notes and letters revealed years after her death, was secretly attending mediums to ensure she was not deluding herself and her students. She was vulnerable. And an amazing Priestess.

Being vulnerable means we are in some measure admitting our powerlessness, and in some measure open to death, be that interior, conceptual, emotional or ultimately physical death. This is why Christ remains the exemplar of the mystery of the supreme power of vulnerable powerlessness. As the One, through Incarnation he experienced willingly and consciously the ultimate vulnerability, even as the liturgy states, ‘even the death of the cross.’

As Christ is us and we are Him, this is power of powerlessness is ours also.

This is Christ, the One, mocked and tortured and as Leonard Cohen sings, sinking beneath our wisdom like a stone.

This is Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land being murdered by an angry mob as he declares ‘l love you’.

This is Obi Wan Kenobi facing Darth saying: “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

This is Dumbledore in the sixth book, poisoned and injured, crying in pain needing to lean on his student Harry Potter.

This is Aslan sacrificing himself for Edmund.

This is who we are called to be.

This is who we will be.

Short and Sweet: the need for ‘readers’ and the inherent divinity in all

A couple of things have caught my attention recently. One is the appalling, abysmal state of esoteric publishing at the moment. Now there are many good publications out there, though the trend for limited editions of 93½, bound in unicorn hide and trimmed with centaur fur is placing many books out of the reach of lots of students. Sure publishers have to make a quid, but this used to be by producing books that sold well because they were GOOD.

And for every good book there are several poorly produced and severely silly self-published works or produced by publishers who act more as printer go-betweens than traditional publishers. These books include factual mistakes, are simply not edited and even have basic spelling and grammatical errors that would be bounced by a primary school teacher. I have even seen books that misspell the names of other authors on the publisher’s list in the ads at the back 😦

As occult-mystery writer Phil Rickman exclaimed:

I mean, have you read some of this crap? The most embarrassing thing is that people who can’t write are usually the very last to realise they can’t write. Even if you scream in their faces, YOU CAN’T FUCKING WRITE! they just think you’re jealous because they’ve mastered in a couple of weeks something that took you years of heartache, false-starts and terrible disappointments.

When I first catalogued the Simon Goodman collection at Murdoch University library many years back I came across what is now a curiosity in the esoteric publishing field. It was included with a rejection letter from a major esoteric publisher responding to Simon’s request they publish his ‘Working Tools of a Witch’ manuscript. The letter outlined clearly why they could not publish it and included a ‘Reader’s Report’ by some anonymous person which, page by page outlined the errors and mistakes in the manuscript. The reader was obviously someone expert in the field and was having no truck with Simon’s historical largess.

god_is_dog_backwards_by_inferorumcanis-d757eroReader’s Reports still exist in many publishing areas but have gone the way of the dodo for most esoteric publishers … and of course self-publishing removes this entirely. This makes me a very sad panda indeed.

So I am pleading to esoteric publishers, for the love of Dog use a Reader as standard practice for esoteric manuscripts. Even if you self-publish, get your work edited by a third party (yes PAY them) and submit it to an expert reader before publishing.

INHERENT DIVINITY

Social media has recently been reacting to the news of the death of Gavin Frost of the Church and School of Wicca. Frost, along with his wife, for a long time affirmed their right to perform sexual initiations with children. This naturally did not sit well with many folk and he was declared evil through and through by more than one commentator and eternal damnation of some sort wished upon his soul.

I have seen similar reactions by magicians and Pagans before, where someone is considered ‘evil’ ‘perverted’ or distorted in toto, within their entire being and beyond ‘redemption’. This view is in complete contrast with the traditional views of the nature of humanity that underlie modern esotericism and magic, and so I find myself somewhat confused. The Pagans I’m not sure about, ‘cos generally they don’t have much use for theology, ontology or similar wot-nots at all.

Traditional Christian understanding, and yes this tradition did underpin and underlie most of the occult systems in the west, tells us something completely different. Human beings are creatures created by our divine creator and thus we bear within us the imago dei, the image of the One. Being created thus by the One, this imprint, this image of the One cannot be undone or damaged. It may be covered over, or hidden by our actions and circumstances, but it cannot be erased. Why? Because it was formed by our Creator and the acts of creatures cannot override those of the Creator. Thus no one ever, not Hitler, not Osama, not the Yorkshire ripper is without the Image of the One. All are therefore worthy of love and all are therefore able to be redeemed.

copy-of-tree-of-life-with-three-triadsIn the emanationist theologies of Neo-Platonism and some forms of Qabalah (certainly most of magical Qabalah) we have the same idea, though expressed differently. If we look the Tree of Life, the ‘higher’ and divine aspects of the Soul, being ‘closer’ to the One Thing, are beyond the Abyss, which forms a barrier between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds. That which is ‘above’ the Abyss, has never been born, never been manifested into this world of blood and sunsets. It is beyond stain, division or damage by actions in the ‘lower’ worlds. Thus again, each of us, has at core a divine, pristine self that is worthy of love and which may promote restoration and restitution no matter what evil we have committed.

I find the lack of acceptance, and the lack of the promotion, of this basic concept in modern magic and esotericism disturbing. People, and yes I am gonna get gendered here, mainly men, seem to revel instead in sharing anger, sarcasm, denigration and broad sweeping statements that certain individuals are forever tainted and corrupted. This was touched upon recently in Mark Stavish’s excellent public Facebook response to the death of Dr. Joseph Lisiewski. Here Mark talks about the need for the magical community to replace anger with love. Pure and simple, and the key to all spiritual work and magic.

From a Roman Catholic perspective, and placed into the words of Pope John Paul II, ‘we are required to believe in Hell, but may hope that it is empty’. Yes, people can choose to commit evil, they can choose to continually reject the divine love, but there is no necessity for any to so choose, since they have the divine imprint within them.

And so perhaps our love and prayers towards folk like Gavin Frost, stemming as they do from our own imprint of the One, may stir into action their own inner divinity. It seems quite certain that anger and hated directed to them will not awaken it. Thanks 🙂