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 🙂

Social and Political Change, some lessons from Magic

We will start with singer Kasey Chambers: “If you’re not pissed off at the world. Then you’re just not paying attention.”

Following this, I assume you personally wish for the world to be different and take some action towards that aim. If so you may already be familiar with the three, broad ways of changing the world, which I first learnt with the bodacious Joanna Macy decades ago. I will explore these with reference to the current situation in Australia with regards to asylum seekers and refugees. Do click on the links to find out more – there are some awesome people out there!

  1. Interfering with the systems of oppression or injustice via direct action, peaceful or otherwise. Here think Love Makes a Way and Mums 4 Refugees. This approach does not produce direct change, but rather buys time for the other approaches and exposes the systems of oppression – at the very least to the arresting police officers and judiciary.

  1. Changing the system from within – being part of the system of oppression or injustice to whatever degree we can (and can stomach) to change it or dismantle it from the inside. Here, think Labor for Refugees.

  1. Changing the consciousness of the society itself so that the system of oppression is exposed and dismantled. Here think of those artists and storytellers presenting a different version of the myth of refugees to Australia, such the group performing under the tag ‘We’re Better Than This’.

All three approaches have their strengths and can be very powerful. All three however are vulnerable to the systems of oppression they seek to change. Alternate views within ‘the system’ are sidelined or undermined; direct action protests are often outside the law and thus render participants vulnerable to a range of legal problems; and novel modes of consciousness and cultural myths may receive little exposure or funding.

These three approaches can be viewed diagrammatically as a triangle.

three methods triangle

I place the third approach, the change in consciousness of a society as the basal arm because it is required for any lasting change. For example, unless a society has a consciousness which does not see race as a discriminatory factor, all the laws and advances engendered by working the system and all the continued highlighting of injustice will not be enough. Oppression will still continue. Ask a black woman in the southern USA, a country with a black president and an enshrined equality before the law. Speaking recently to friends from Dallas, they mentioned how many folk there still have not accepted that the Confederacy lost the Civil War. The consciousness abides.

The nub of this problem I feel was unwittingly highlighted recently by Ricky Muir, an unlikely Australian Senator for the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party. Honestly I am not making this political party up. This is Australia.

“Crossbench senator Ricky Muir has revealed he switched his position on same-sex marriage after a fight with his wife in which he said he would disown his son if he was gay.

The Motoring Enthusiast Party senator announced his support for same-sex marriage earlier this year, linking the issue to rural mental health. “I did have very opposing views to what I have now, but that’s because it’s ‘monkey see, monkey do’,” Senator Muir told Annabel Crabb in an episode of Kitchen Cabinet to air on the ABC on Wednesday. “You grow up a certain way, you’re told certain things, you go with it.” (source).

Obviously whoever or whatever hegemonic force controls the lead monkey, showing other monkeys how to act, controls the game. As the world moves to embrace same gender marriage it is now acceptable for Senator Muir to hold the pro view. Really though, he is still a monkey. And so, to a large degree, are the rest of us. I remember being convinced that same-gender marriage would occur in my lifetime after reading a Time article in the late 1980s on how large companies were creating advertisements targeting gay couples with disposable income. Economics demanded equality and so it came to pass.

The question then becomes not how to change personally as society changes, but how to get novel and new justice based modes of consciousness embodied within the culture to produce social change.

To explore this, we can relate these three arms, interference, change from within and change of consciousness to the now famous 60’s maxim: ‘the personal is political is spiritual’.

pps three methods

I read this maxim as magician, someone who sees spirituality both in its traditional forms, which includes converse with non-physical beings and in a broader, wider scope that includes artistic vocation among other things. This is not a valorisation of the contemporary ‘spiritual not religious’ self-focus where we pick and mix our spirituality to accommodate our ego. Spirituality, whether traditional, artistic or novel in form must be concerned with the non-personal and the transpersonal. Fr Matthew Fox sums it up: ‘the test of a spirituality is in its justice making: does it create justice?’

The spiritual then, as the basal arm of our triangle is concerned with justice making, personally and collectively (politically). It is for this reason, Australia’s greatest Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, could make this bold statement about Labor governments (and I would say ANY government):

“In any civilised community, the arts and associated amenities must occupy a central place. Their enjoyment should not be seen as remote from everyday life. Of all the objectives of my government, none had a higher priority than the encouragement of the arts – the preservation and enrichment of our cultural and intellectual heritage. Indeed I would argue that all other objectives of a Labor government – social reform, justice and equity in the provision of welfare services and educational opportunities – have as their goal the creation of a society in which the arts and the appreciation of spiritual and intellectual values can flourish. Our other objectives are all means to an end. The enjoyment of the arts is an end in itself.”

This really says it all. If we work for the artistic and the spiritual we achieve it all.

When we superimpose the two triangles upon each other we can see this. The personal links directly to the personal choice to interfere and risk legal penalties. The political is expressed through the political and economic systems that are changed from within. And the spiritual finds equation with the change of consciousness – except that this is seldom fully realised.

The reaction against religion in Australia and the modern secular west means our artistic and other modes of changing consciousness are seldom seen, promoted or empowered as real spiritual events and actions. The artists We’re Better than This, I mentioned earlier, are secular artists, not religious or spiritual. Yet, I would argue that by seeking to change the dominant myth of refugees in Australia they are seeking spiritual ends. Gough clearly equates the two and clearly places them as the raison d’être of government, as does traditional religion. And here is where liberals and secularists get nervous mistakenly seeing the promotion of spirituality and art as throwback to medieval Christendom or Caliphates. Not so of course for Gough who was modern, western and secular but with a vision lacking in virtually all modern politicians.

Fully linking the spiritual traditions and the non-human spiritual realties to the action to change societal consciousness is seldom done. There are a few traditions and churches that attempt this, but by and large the division remains. We can highlight the effects of this division by looking at magic.

One of the key symbols and tools within western magic is the Triangle of Art. This is a physical and outer representation of an inner construct, created in the consciousness of the magician.  A classic example of such a triangle is this:

triangle_of_the_art_by_arsadraoi

The purpose of the triangle of Art is to evoke, to bring to manifestation in this physical world a ‘being’, typically an angel or spirit,  that embodies or will carry out the will or desire of the magician. This will, in spiritual magic, is always concerned with the spiritual and personal unfoldment of the magician or some repair or healing of others or the world.

The ‘being’ becomes manifest in the centre of the triangle. Around the arms are written divine names of special significance to the magician. When they are empowered and spoken their interior blessings interact to create the inner construct of the triangle and keep it integral and sealed. It is the interaction of theses blessings that creates the ‘interior atmosphere’ that will allow the ‘being’ to manifest. It is like fish bowl or a space suit in function, allowing something not here already on earth to be here temporarily. This temporary quality is then delivered to the magician by one method or another, and she is changed or she becomes the agent for changing the world.

The interaction and interdependence of these three divine names and powers is shown by placement of a divine name, separated in three sections, at each of the three apexes. Here we see this with the name of the Archangel Michael. This placement leads the eyes and the consciousness around the triangle, connecting each side with each other. Another concept in magic is of the ‘Triune Flowing Light’ which inherently is dynamic and interdependent flowing throughout the triad and bringing the interior forces into manifestation.

An absolute clear principle of magic is that outer actions are always mirrored by and embody inner actions, such as visualisation and prayer. Outer actions alone will never create magic.

So with reference to our other we can produce a social change Triangle of Art thus:

ta refugees

At the centre is the justice we are seeking. At the arms we place the interference of the system, the working within the system and change of consciousness. The ‘atmosphere’ that will allow the change we are seeking, in this case humane treatment of refugees, will come about through the interaction of these three arms, these three approaches.

However, this only represents only the first level we examined, the first triangle. To create magic, to bring compassion for refugees into this world, we need to include the other levels: the personal, the political and the spiritual.

Again, I contend the missing element here is the real, authentic, actual spiritual element that includes the reality of non-physical beings, shared consciousness and interior streams of blessing of hindrance. Without this connection, the spiritual dimension our Triangle of Art will remain incomplete and what we seek to manifest will not occur, or will occur partially or in a distorted fashion.

It is interesting that out of all the possible arenas of magical action, personal wealth, love, employment, healing etc, the most seldom taken up is that of social or political magic. It is rarely taught or even mentioned as a primary reason for magic, as I talk about in this post on the Iraq War. In some form though this approach has often been there in western magical and spiritual circles. To quote from my own post:

“Active political magic is one thing, though very much part of the Western Tradition (for example see Gareth Knight’s The Magical Battle of Britain). The inability or unwillingness to look beyond the obvious is another. Esoteric after all means ‘inner’, occult means ‘hidden’. As esoteric students, pagans or magicians we should be looking beyond what our media and our governments dish up. Otherwise we are not being conscious, which is the essence of all authentic spirituality. And once we become conscious of what is actually occurring, we must be moved to act against it, in some manner. After all, another hallmark of authentic spirituality is compassion.”

So to round things off, this post is a call to do exactly what I believe will create an effective Triangle of Art for manifestation of justice: the linking of the spiritual and the political via the personal. This will fully link the non-physical realms to our work and deepen the interaction of interference, working within the system and changing the consciousness of our world. Without this linking our Triangle cannot fully manifest what we are seeking and praying for.

I have attempted and attempt a number of these actions, the most public and recent for refugees described here. This current post is the beginning of a manifestation of more, where you will be invited to be part of healing the world via your person, your politics, your art, your spirituality and your magic. THANKS 🙂

Also published on Medium at: https://medium.com/@mrperegrin/social-change-some-lessons-from-magic-2d95613e535

Short and sweet – follow the rules

Another gonzo – no edit – post: I recently posted this on my Facebook page:

Free advice for any neophytes / novices / apprentices on my feed: do follow the structure and order of your group / school / coven / lodge. Do not think it doesn’t have to apply to you, or you’re somehow ‘different’. You’re not.

Responses varied with one basically saying that working beyond your grade (my term) is fine, so long as you are doing the work of your grade also. Any magic or practices you do will either not work or produce an imbalanced state from our unconscious that needs to be dealt with anyway.

I’ve heard this argument many times before and it seems a reasonable way of looking at things from the modern liberal, individual mind-set. However, there are – to my mind – clear problems with it. To wit:

THE REALITY OF SPIRITUAL POWERS. The above attitude is only relevant if we consider all the many blessings, beings, angels, powers etc spoken of in our various traditions as ‘within us’ – and any imbalance our presumptive actions produces would be from ‘our unconscious’. Of course traditional Christianity, traditional spiritual magic, traditional (re-booted) Paganism does not think this at all. The beings are real. And to throw in a deliberate ‘don’t do this at home’ warning, this from Israel Regardie quoting an anonymous student:

“The writer of the above method adds a note, which in my opinion is worth paying close attention to; it coincides with my own view as expressed elsewhere.

“There is reason for concern that some students may misinterpret certain of Crowley’s magical writings. For example in Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter IX, p. 69, he writes: `The peculiar mental excitement required may even be aroused by the perception of the absurdity of the process, and the persistence in it, as when Frater Perdurabo…recited From Greenland’s Icy Mountains and obtained his result.”‘

“Now there is no doubt that the ego, excited to the proper pitch, is capable of placing such a strain in the Astral Light as to cause some sort of manifestation, perhaps even that of the spirit it was desired to evoke (but more likely a phantasm masquerading as such). But without the presence of the Divine Force, such a being, once evoked, cannot be controlled, and there is no effective means of banishing it.

“Depending on the nature of the spirit, and the degree of its manifestation, it is likely that the spiritual progress of the magician is at an end – at least as far as his current incarnation is concerned.”

Ouch!

THE EGO. Let’s seriously think about what is going on here. When we join a spiritual group, take a spiritual director or guide or enrol in an esoteric school we are entering a relationship. We have consciously chosen this; no one forces us. We have consciously chosen to accept their wisdom and advice, because we think they have something we do not have at this time. They can help us unfold, to uncover the true nature of ourselves, the image of the One, who we really are – letting go of sin, or that which we are not. If we then, at some point think, ‘hang on, I think they are wrong’, we have an obligation to be honest and say that. Otherwise we taint that relationship with falsehood and we might as well not go on.

And, if our director or group says, ‘well, thanks for your opinion sunshine, but you still need to do it this way …” we have to accept that. Or leave the relationship. Because we have created a situation where our personal ego knows better than our teacher. And to enshrine the ego as better or more knowledgeable than our teacher or our Order is not a good idea. At all. It encourages all sorts of daft notions. Of course we do not need to do a whole guru-yoga number and listen to all the words and ideas of our teacher as the words of a Master, but we do need to respect them and believe they have more wisdom than us. Otherwise, what’s the point? As my pal Eric sings:

If we call for the proof and we question the answers
Only the doubt will grow

SERVICE. The biggest problem however with the notion that we can do things how we like, even if it damages us, throws us off kilter and makes us learn, and that’s all good, is the question of service. The spiritual life is one of dedicated service. If we go ‘off the rails’ because of our ego choice to do something our curriculum or spiritual director says we should not we have limited our service. Dealing with our ‘unconscious’ (or really-real problematic spiritual forces) means we have to focus on ourselves rather than others – and that is the exact opposite of the spiritual life. What a waste!

At this juncture we can look, cos people often do, at Aleister Crowley. Crowley was BADLY let down by his first teachers, George Cecil Jones and Alan Bennett who encouraged him and joined him in the practice of magic during his outer order years. As I have said, and keep saying, the GD (originally) followed the threefold structure, mirrored in the three Orders, of renunciation of the false self (Outer Order), followed by re-creation of a functional self, as directed by the Divine (who God made us to be) (Inner Order) to eventually embody the revelation of the eternal verities (symbolised by the Third Order). And the fact that the Third Order could never be reached meant something too in this schema.

The dangers of premature magic or depth spiritual practices are real, as are the results which are sadly visible in any modern Neo-Pagan and magical community. Simply put, we cannot use magic or spiritual practices to re-create a self that is still in a process of renunciation. This occurred with Crowley, and whereas once when young he wrote to A.E. Waite seeking advice from someone more experienced and committed to service, Crowley quickly became his own light and own authority. This did not end well. And while is there no doubt of Crowley’s intelligence, drive and originality, these were not realised in service for the world or others. His efforts and talents were misdirected towards his own squalid life and a set of followers and sycophants in Orders which he hoped, paradoxically, would produce enlightenment within the world at large. We can explain this anyway we want, but I apportion some of the blame to magic – too much, too early and too boundless.

THANKS 🙂