The One and the Many – every Sunday

My first serious girlfriend came from good Roman Catholic stock. Having tried (and failed) to be raised as a Christian child and finding nothing but lifeless platitudes in high school ‘prayer groups’ this was terribly exciting for me. At the first opportunity I went along to Holy Communion with her and watched with interest as she responded and genuflected and crossed and engaged with the liturgy. Afterwards I eagerly questioned her about the meaning of her responses and words. She looked at me blankly. Now when I say ‘blankly’, I do not mean that she did not know the meaning but she could not even reproduce the words she had spoken with such fluency half hour earlier.

Such is the way with some Sunday Christians.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂 We are after all both animal and communal. Rote reproduction and synching in with the group mind is natural for us. It is part of who we are. It is the ‘animal soul’ aspect of our beings. It is what keeps us alive every day and allows us to drive through peak hour traffic or shop in in a busy supermarket.

It can however be taken too far, as the Gospel According to Python shows.

As Buddhism and 80s pop music philosopher Howard Jones assert our regular self, the self that feels it is ‘an individual’ is really nothing more than a “jumbled mess of preconceived ideas”. This explains why we, as individuals can go to church and act like my girlfriend. It explains the definitely rote, unthinking responses in church, ‘Praise be to God’ and wot not. We easily fall into this. We easily fall into unconsciousness and it is the aim of depth spirituality to wake us up.

There is a wonderful story about Gautama Buddha teaching a group of students on a hot, sultry day when the flies were out. A fly kept trying to land on Gautama’s head and he would shoo it away and continue his preaching. After a little while he lifted his hand and shooed again. “Why Master”, asked a student “are you shooing the fly away? It has already left”. Gautama replied, “yes, but the first time I did it without thinking and so now I do it again with consciousness.”

Christianity aims to wake us up, to be conscious, to allow us access to the eternal verities and to serve the One through a radical and completely personal change of heart and life. It also insists on communal worship where we can easily fall into group and animal soul behaviour. And this is one of the greatest gifts of Sunday mornings.

When we enter group worship we literally exist between that tension of group-animal, automatic self and our individual, conscious engagement with the liturgy. We have to choose to be conscious; we have to choose to actively engage on the ‘inner’ levels with the prayers and the liturgy. And we have to continue to engage in communal responses and actions. We cannot be purely individual in church: we have to be both self and group. This is one of the main points of church. Of course we are helped in this movement between the automatically reacting group-mind and conscious choice by the presence of Christ who chose to move beyond his instincts of fear self-preservation towards a cruel and tortuous death.

This tension between group-reaction and individual-choice is a microcosm of the spiritual life. It is a condensed experience of the struggles to move from being the ‘natural man’ as St Paul (and the GD) puts it to being ‘spiritual’ (or ‘more than human’ as the GD puts it).

So every Sunday morning we are given a gift of tension that surmises and reproduces our life-long task. As we engage with that tension we are empowered and learn to participate in the greater tension of our spiritual life. It is a gift of the path of theosis, participation in God through changing ourselves towards perfection, as Christ was perfect, yet remaining always broken and imperfect.

And yet there is more, as there always is 🙂

christian art, angels worshipping chaliceIn Christian theology the worship of the One is eternal and continuing, beyond temporality, beyond our experience of time. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. The angels continually sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ before the One. This occurs in Kairos, a time beyond temporality (Kronos) a time where we can assert every day, at every moment, that THIS is day Christ was born, died and was resurrected. (We see this understanding also in Buddhist myths of Gautama’s birth, enlightenment and death occurring on the same day of the year).

Our physical church services move us from Kronos to Kairos and we enter the continual worship, as the liturgy says; “with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven”. Now this is mind bogglingly awesome if we stop to think about it. We participate in the transcendent and the physical liturgy as one. In the Orthodox traditions the worshippers represent the Cherubim. We worship side by side with the angels. Thus our communal worship in church is more than we can see, and more, much more significant than we can imagine.

In most Orthodox and esoteric Christian theology human beings are gifted with qualities the angels do not have, most often described as reason. Therefore when we enter church and worship as and side by side with the angels, not just the people next to us who rote-read the lines, we are bringing to the worship of the One something unique and wonderful. We – every one of us, imperfect and broken – are adding to the eternal, uncreated unfolding of the fullness of the One. We are engaging in acts that hasten the Kingdom when all shall be consumed and become infinite and holy, when each individual being is perfectly united with the One, yet still existing to worship the One, expressed by the holy name that is One and Many – ELOHIM.

🙂 Every. Sunday. Morning. 🙂

The Mystic Repast and the Christian Eucharist

The other day I was asked about the possible link between the Golden Dawn Mystic Repast and the Christian Eucharist and thought I’d blog it up 🙂

First off, to dispel a notion that sometimes pops up, the Christian Eucharist is not deficient because ‘it only has two of the elements, bread and wine, not the whole four’ like the GD ‘version’. Such an idea requires, nay, demands this response.

iWKad22

Now, it is easy to see the two ceremonies are not the same and do not work with the same mysteries. The Golden Dawn repast serves many functions, as we will see, but it is not meant to be a sacred remembrance, a piercing of the veil of temporality whereby bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. Not being a Christian priest I am not going to even attempt a discussion on this mystery but focus on the Repast.

And yet … despite this, the two are seen as ‘very similar’, to quote the Ciceros (The Essential Golden Dawn p.161). This sense of similarity is because the Repast is described as “a communion in the body of Osiris” and there is a modern and historical identification of Osiris with Christ (naturally I consider that this identification is not complete when we consider the Incarnation). The use of Christian based imagery within the invocation that blesses the repast also adds to this:

For Osiris On-Nophris who is found perfect before the Gods, hath said:

These are the Elements of my Body,
Perfected through Suffering, Glorified through Trial.
For the scent of the Dying Rose is as the repressed Sigh of my suffering:
And the flame-red Fire as the Energy of mine Undaunted Will:
And the Cup of Wine is the pouring out of the Blood of my Heart:
Sacrificed unto Regeneration, unto the Newer Life:
And the Bread and Salt are as the Foundations of my Body,
Which I destroy in order that they may be renewed.

For I am Osiris Triumphant, even Osiris on-Nophris, the Justified:
I am He, who is clothed with the Body of Flesh,
Yet in whom is the Spirit of the Great Gods:
I am the Lord of Life, triumphant over Death.
He who partaketh with me shall arise with me:
I am the Manifestor in Matter of Those Whose Abode is the Invisible:

I am purified: I stand upon the Universe:
I am its Reconciler with the Eternal Gods:
I am the Perfector of Matter
And without me, the Universe is not.

repast

This sense of similarity with the Christian Eucharist can produce the odd bit of conflation. The Societas Rosicruciana in America which, so I am told by a scholar in these matters, used the Golden Dawn grade ceremonies, describes this invocation as coming from the ‘Gospel of Osiris’, whatever that may be. And in a Pagan example, drawing clearly from the Golden Dawn, the instruction is given that ‘all of the bread and wine must be consumed’. This stems from Christian practice, where the bread and wine as the body and blood need to be handled with reverence and consumed not disposed of, not from Golden Dawn conventions, where it would make no sense unless applied to the rose and candle also. (http://timysteries.org/2014/09/03/outline-of-elemental-eucharist/) .

THE ELEMENTS

The Mystic Repast is often called the ‘Elemental Eucharist’ when its primary function is to commune with the spiritual blessings represented by the four elemental principles embodied in rose, flame, wine and bread and salt. When it is consumed as part of the Neophyte Initiation Ceremony it functions moreover as a formula of regeneration and this is where it is similar to the aims of the Christian Eucharist, seeking to enact similar changes in the communicant. That is, it is designed to instil within those who commune not only one-off blessings of the elements but also an interior reorganisation of one’s life towards perfection or theosis. Here it is called the Formula of the Justified One, referring to Osiris who through suffering, trial and conscious sacrifice becomes the Perfector of Matter. This of course also resonates with the Christian mystery. The use of the word Tetlestai to mark the conclusion of the repast is also a clear and consciously constructed link with the Christian mystery and the death of Christ.

The Mystic Repast, with its communion of the four elemental substances also prefigures the four so called ‘elemental’ grades Zelator through Philosophus. As the elemental blessings are consumed in balance, at the centre of the temple, a template of balance, directed by the spirit is placed within the communicant. This sets up the correct approach and experience of the elemental grades for the initiate in the future. We should note ‘The Elements are placed upon the Altar according to the Winds’, meaning they are placed to represent and link to the material, earthy universe and thus the daily, messy life of the communicant.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE

osirisAs a teenager I once read a review of the latest ABC song produced by my fave producer Trevor Horn which described his production as ‘rich enough to grow your tomatoes in’. And so it is, so it always is, with the Golden Dawn. There is more, hidden and richly powerful in the Mystic Repast. Since the repast forms part, indeed the culmination in some ways, of the Neophyte ceremony itself, we cannot separate its discussion from that ceremony.

During the initiation ceremony, the four elemental objects represent and are magically linked to the elemental principles of the candidate. Some Orders work this further and ask the candidate to provide the rose, and sometimes the wine, used in the ceremony. Thus they are providing the first of the elemental symbols communed with, connected to air, the breath, the Ruach, the will and therefore the surrendering of their small will to the Higher will.

Since the candidate is linked to these elemental forms, when they are removed from the altar at the start of the initiation ceremony proper, the candidate is energetically dismembered in their various subtle bodies. They become the dismembered slain Osiris from the myth. This allows for the initiation to actually work, as this dismembering separates the component aspects of the candidate allowing for tinkering and injection of currents, the higher soul and wot not. This is written about in various books by Pat Zalewski and others so I won’t go into it here.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT

Of importance for our discussion is that once the elements are placed back on the altar, at the conclusion of the ceremony, the candidate is remembered but still linked to the substances. So during the Mystic Repast the members literally consume, take into the Order’s egregore, the new member. This is helps makes them a member and so has further have poetic resonance with Christian liturgy: ‘for we who are many are One body, for we all share the one bread’. 🙂

The candidate has functioned during the ceremony as Osiris Slain, and has been reconstituted, re-membered. The Hierophant, when she is on the Dais as chief officer is Osiris Risen. Thus there is a polarity between the two, between candidate and Hierophant. And it is the Hierophant who performs the ritual blessing of the elemental substances with the lovely invocation based on the Formula of the Justified One given before. Thus the polarity between the two, between the imperfect candidate, and the risen, perfected Osiris – and the pathway of transformation that leads from one to another – is placed within the elemental substances themselves. These blessings, essentially the path of theosis, are mediated directly into the members via the corporeal elements – they literally inhale molecules of scent, feel the heat, eat and drink. They can’t ‘escape’ the blessings, even if they are thinking of the shopping as they commune or as the naughty Paul Foster Case did once, sharing ‘a significant glance’ with another member. Now that’s pretty neat 🙂

LOOK TO THE CENTRE

ctSo far in this discussion, as in most discussions on the Mystic Repast we have focused on the elemental substances themselves, rose, flame, wine, bread and their interior dimensions. However, often overlooked is the fact these four sit around a central symbol, just as the four elemental principles exist around and are cohered by the centralising force of the spirit.

In this sense the Cross and Triangle represents the spirit, the hidden fifth, the quintessence. However, there is far more than this operating through the symbol and it is in analysing its presence and function that we really see the similarity in function between the Mystic Repast and the Eucharist.

The red cross superior to the apex upwards white triangle is often seen as the symbol of the Golden Dawn itself. It thus is the grounding point of the current of the tradition. This current then becomes the central principle of the new initiate as their elemental selves are remembered around it on the altar. It is the interaction of the current, (embodied in cross and triangle) with the elemental substances – which are vehicles for both the macrocosmic elemental blessings and the elemental self of the candidate – that produces the prefiguring of the four elemental grades mentioned above. And the candidate literally consumes this 🙂

When we analyse the Golden Dawn symbol itself in the context of the Mystic Repast as part of the Neophyte Ceremony much becomes apparent. From the Z Document:

The Symbols upon the Altar represent the Forces and Manifestation of the Divine Light, concentrated in the White Triangle of the Three Supernals as the synthesis; wherefore, upon this sacred and sublime Symbol, is the obligation of the Neophyte taken as calling therein to witness the Forces of the Divine Light. The Red Cross of Tiphareth (to which the Grade of 5-6 is referred) is here placed above the White Triangle, not as dominating it, but as bringing it down and manifesting it unto the Outer Order; as though the Crucified One, having raised the symbol of self-sacrifice, had thus touched and brought into action in matter, the Divine Triad of Light. Around the Cross are the Symbols of the Four Letters of the Name YHVH –the Shin of Yeheshuah being only implied and not expressed in the Outer Order.

Taking the last first, Yeheshuah (can you blame me for this quip? 🙂 ) – Indeed Christ himself is only implied throughout the whole Outer Order, which can be related to God the Father. It is in the Inner Order where things get wonderfully Christian:) In the Neophyte ceremony Christ is only hinted at once outwardly, when the red cross is described, as ‘an image of He who unfolded in the Light’. This is of course central on the altar.

During the Opening of the Neophyte Temple the divine forces are invoked upon the altar and into the temple by the Mystic Words (Khabs Am Pehkt | Knox Om Pax | Light in Extension). The blessings are naturally attracted to the white triangle upon the altar. As a symbol of the three Supernals this is a classically powerful symbol.

The red cross, as the symbol of bringing the Divine Triad of Life ‘into action in matter’ can thus represent the work, the initiation to be conducted – any magic which manifests the Light unto the material world,. This is the initiate herself, with her material life symbolised by the four elements and four directions.

CROSS AND TRIANGLE FOR YOU

As described in the Z document, as part of her initiation the new initiate has the symbol of the Order, a duplication of that at the centre of the Repast, formed within their ‘sphere’. Classically this is seen emblazoned ‘astrally’ on the forehead. To understand the significance of this and its relation to the Repast connection’s with the Eucharist we need to jump forward a little to when the Hierophant describes these symbols to the new initiate.

Hierophant (describing): “…On the altar is a White Triangle to be in the image of that immortal Light, that Triune Light which moved in darkness and formed the world of Darkness and the world out of darkness. There are two contending forces and one always uniting them. And these three have their image in the threefold flame of our being and in the threefold wave of the sensual world.”

When the Hierophant states ‘there are always two contending forces and a third eternally uniting them’ she is referring both to the mystic triad and to the initiate themselves as the third force. We can see the triad here as referring to what of often called ‘the law of three, something often found in other esoteric traditions, both eastern and western. For example the Gurdjieff Work has the Law of Three, called in a fancy way, ‘Triamazikamno’.

To understand this, the first thing to realise here is there is a THIRD force. The GD here is NOT promoting a spiritual form of the triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis (described by the philosopher Hegel). Typically in this view there is (1) a beginning thesis (idea, proposition) and (2) a negation or contradiction of the thesis, antithesis, and both are resolved in (3) a synthesis which in itself becomes a new proposition.

The difference is that in this view the synthesis is comprised of the union or reconciliation of the thesis and antithesis. In the GD the third force is already in existence, if only in a nascent state. It is not the reconciliation of the two forces, but something different and ‘higher’ that is brought into action by the application of consciousness to the union. This is why in the Neophyte ceremony it is the initiate herself who is referred to as the third force – though this is not stated explicitly.

We can understand this by reference to the holy Qabalah. If we assign thesis to Hod and antithesis to Netzach, the synthesis will be Yesod, the union of the two. The application of the principle of the eternally existing third and higher force brings in the Tiphareth, the deeper self and higher consciousness. The introduction of Tiphareth naturally ‘lifts’ the reconciliation/synthesis in Yesod to higher level.

We can use another concrete example: the union and reconciliation or synthesis of paint and paint brush is a dirty paint brush. The third higher force is the artist with consciousness wielding the paint brush and producing art.

We can of course, if we like (and I do), relate these symbols and the Law of Three to the Christian Trinity (see Cynthia Bourgeault’s work). And it is pretty dogs balls obvious really, once we understand the Trinity even a little more than that taught in most sermons. Let’s look again at the description from the Hierophant:

On the altar is a White Triangle to be in the image of that immortal Light, that Triune Light which moved in darkness and formed the world of Darkness and the world out of darkness.

Traditional teaching is that the Trinity existed before time, before any material expression. In this speech this is the ‘the darkness’ where the triune light moved. And as all three persons of the Trinity are present in each, the Trinity did indeed form the world (the created universe, both seen and unseen) from that darkness, and our material, problematic, ‘world of darkness’.

Continuing on, in the fullness of time the Trinity became Incarnate through Christ, extending the triangle through the cross into the material word, as the Z document states:

…the Crucified One, having raised the symbol of self-sacrifice, had thus touched and brought into action in matter, the Divine Triad of Light.

Now this is exactly what occurs when the Hierophant, straight after the speech above on the triad, stands in the form of a Cross stands and declaims:

Hierophant: “Glory be to thee, Father of the Undying, for thy glory flows out rejoicing to the ends of the earth … The Red Cross above the White Triangle is an image of Him [Christ] who was unfolded in the Light.”

The Hierophant here re-enacts the extension of the light, to the ends of the earth by forming with her body the cross of Christ, showing the way forward for the initiate she is speaking to. This is a prefiguring and movement towards the Adeptus Minor initiation where it will be the initiate, not the Hierophant in the form of the Cross. Of course, in all of this the Hierophant is also mirroring the symbol of cross and triangle on the altar, at the centre of the Repast, empowering it further.

Returning to the forming of the cross and triangle upon the candidate’s forehead we also see something significant and resonant with this symbolism. The initiate begins her path in darkness, blindfolded, taking the obligation with her hand on the White Triangle, the image of the Triune Light. As she traverses the path of darkness three times around the temple, she has this triangle astrally formed within her sphere. This is the potential of the Trinity, before its extension into the world as Christ.

Once fully purified and linked to the Triune Flowing light via the recitation of the Mystic Words into her crown centre, as they were recited into the triangle on the altar during the opening, the candidate traverses the same path but in Light. That is without the blindfold. And it is on this path, three times around the temple, that the image of the red cross, as an emblem of Christ or Tiphareth extended into the material world, is formed above the White Triangle in her sphere.

In the first path, she is blind. In the second path, as the Cross is formed she is no longer blind, but can see. I do not think we can get a more powerful, though subtle reference to the Christian current – John 9:25.

Thus we have, hidden in the middle of the Mystic Repast, in the middle of the Osirian Formula of the Justified One a Trinitarian and Incarnational mystery of Christ. The two are in the actual communing fused as one and thus point to the unitive mystery behind each. This is Golden Dawn ‘best practice’, offering mysteries, rituals and symbols that not only speak to multiple religious paths at once but which lead us also into the unnameable perennial verity beyond all religious forms. Thanks 🙂

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 🙂

Everywhere and Nowhere, the Neophyte Meditation

In the next month or so I will be teaching on the Neophyte Meditation of the Golden Dawn. Being an occasionally organised creature, I looked up my notes on the meditation and thought, ‘hey why not MOTO these’? And so here they are 🙂

The meditation forms part of the ‘Neophyte Knowledge Lecture’ made available to initiates after their initiation into the Order. It is often given as:

Let the Neophyte consider a point as defined in mathematics as having position but no magnitude and let her note the ideas to which this gives rise. Concentrating her faculties on this, as a focus, let her endeavour to realise the Immanence of the Divine throughout Nature, in all her aspects.

When I was first initiated our Order had this version and another also, which I have always found more profound and deep. I was told by the Imperator that ‘the Christian Orders’ used the second one, with the undertone that this was the right way to do it, ol’ chap! I was a callow-youth pagan back then, but tried it anyway and found it wonderful to say the least! This version has many putative authors from Empedocles to Voltaire. I haven’t bothered to find the ‘truth’ of the matter. I understand the version we use stems from St Bonaventure:

God is the circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

Either form is rather neat, and I have found them to be among the most beautiful and transformational meditations within the Golden Dawn tradition. I write a little of this in my book ‘By Names and Images’ where I quote a fictional experience of the meditation by a modern pagan Witch in Stewart Farrar’s Witchcraft novel, The Sword of Orley:

…and then for a mere diamond-point of time only the Centre was real. But the point was infinity! The Centre was the Circumference … Frontier-less, the Goddess touched her…

Thus the meditation does not limit the experience of immanence to an abstract Oneness, but rather allows it to be perceived as part of meditators own religious framework. This is very important. So when I write here from a Christian perspective, it does not mean the mediation is Christian. The meditation engages us without a frontier, without barriers or self-definition so we may be touched by the divine. And in that touch we come to know the One and the world as the One.

This meditation may be practiced by anyone, initiate or not, and is certainly not to be confined solely to the period after the Neophyte initiation or equivalent. It can bring us spiritual blessing and insights for as long as we live. And I recommend all folk within the GD continually practice this meditation, even if they have ‘moved along’ into another grade besides Neophyte. Just as all numbers are contained in the zero, all grades within the Neophyte, all meditative experiences are contained within and have their root in this simple but wonderful meditation. More on that later.

The difference between the two versions is the inclusion in the second version of transcendence, the unknowable, un-plottable, nowhere circumference surrounding the immanent point. Experiencing and realising immanence is the articulated goal of the first version, with no mention of transcendence – which does not mean it is not there. This makes total sense, as the transcendence of the One / Divine / Mystery / God is not given much of an outing in modern magic. Indeed, there are some folk who quite deny the transcendence of the One, extolling a mystical pantheism or monism or other isms they are not really quite sure of. This stems from the valorisation of praxis over theoria and the magical view of divine union I mentioned in this post, which ultimately at the pinnacle, involves identification with God or immersion in God.

When we consider the inclusion of transcendence we can see why my first Imperator was clear the ‘Christian Orders’ (whatever they were) preferred the second version. In traditional Christian thought the process of theosis or union with God is eternally unfolding – we never reach the end and there is always the distinction between the created and the creator. Of course the originators of the GD curriculum had their reasons for emphasising the point and the immanent. The common or garden religious life of the time (Victorian England) was heavily focused on the transcendent God, with nary a mention of divine immanence or indeed theosis itself. This focus was insidious, distorted and so universal it remains easily identifiable so that Monty Python still hits home in this clip from The Meaning of Life:

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Today in 2017 it is a different matter, and as I keep banging on about, I think magic (and indeed Pagans) can benefit with a good dose of transcendence to match our focus on the divine indwelling immanence. So I wish to focus here on the second version, since it can help elucidate a whole connection of spiritual ideas within one practice.

This unimaginable circle only comes into existence via the interdependent interaction of three ‘components’: the centre, the (invisible) radii and circumference. Each is their own entity, but each could not exist without the other two. A centre cannot be a centre without there being an enclosing circumference. A radius cannot exist without centre and circumference, and a circumference cannot exist without an enclosed and equidistant centre.

In this conception then we have the Christian Trinity: the Incarnate One, Christ at the centre, the transcendent Father in the circumference and the Spirit between the two, filling the unimaginable void. The whole is God, but none of the three, point, radii or circumference is the complete circle just as the persons of the trinity are not God by themselves – their very existence or ‘being’ depends on the other two. There is a mutual co-inherence.

Having this knowledge and conception will deepen our experience when we engage with the meditation. We can track this further however and conceptualise that humanity is also the centre with Christ, indeed this is what the meditation states – everywhere, which means you too. The invisible radii then become the approach, the paths of the Many (humanity at the centre) towards the One (unknowable, nowhere existing circumference). This is the path of theosis towards the unreachable transcendent glory, the circumference that is nowhere and thus cannot be reached.

God being everywhere, with everyone, is of course the basis for the overly trivialised evangelical draw card that ‘Jesus loves you’, the personal, messy earthy, person you are. This is true, but there is the rest of the circle, and what we experience as personal love, as separate persons, is, within the full breadth of our radii towards the One, experienced in many other ways. The English word love simply doesn’t cut the mustard here.

The circle envisioned by the meditation is impossible within temporality, and trying to conceive it boggles the mind. This the point (pardon the pun!). However, as a concept this imagined circle has much to teach us. A circle in normal mathematics only exists because the circumference and the centre are somewhere. Our circle however is not somewhere at all. It is everywhere and nowhere. As temporal creatures we have never experienced, and cannot experience nowhere or everywhere. Every experience we have of the created worlds relates one thing or one creature to another. Phenomena ABC only exists as position, magnitude, condition or what have you because we relate it to XYZ, another position, strength, condition or thing. Nowhere and everywhere are uncreated, not of the created, temporal order at all.

These conditions of nowhere or everywhere are beyond temporal senses and trying to conceptualise them in spiritual context will help awaken the deeper aspects of the mind-soul, what platonic philosophy and Eastern Orthodoxy calls the nous. Purification or healing of the nous will allow one to see the Uncreated Light of God; to experience the nowhere and the everywhere. This is why this simple meditation is so powerful; it allows us access to the uncreated, referred to in the Neophyte Ceremony itself when we adore ‘Holy art thou whom nature hath not formed’. And since we are touching upon the uncreated in this meditation we can see how, as mentioned earlier, it contains within it the root of all other Golden Dawn grade meditations. The uncreated contains what will be created in potentia. Indeed all the following grade meditations are on created things – objects, natural phenomena, symbols – which stem from the uncreated. It all ties together.

Our circle then is impossible within the created order. Such a circle with the inclusion of uncreated elements is in fact the reversal of the created order. If God were known ‘everywhere’ we would be experiencing, in Christian terms, the Kingdom. And how is the Kingdom described and shown practically by Christ? By reversing the human created order of things. ‘The last shall be first, and the first last’. God, the infinite becomes a vulnerable baby who leaves this world a tortured, desolate human being. A maiden of ‘low estate’ becomes the Theotokos, the God bearer, the other cheek is turned and we all, every one of us may ‘Awaken in Christ’s body’. All this is within the circle that is everywhere and nowhere. 🙂

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 🙂