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 🙂

How Rosicrucian is the Golden Dawn? A review of a review

rc-lamenj

I have to confess I get nervous, a kind of ‘contact embarrassment’ whenever someone says they are a Rosicrucian. I was brought up by kind and decent folk, unassuming and unpretentious and this seems to have influenced by spiritual life somewhat: when the Fama says to ‘profess nothing’ save to heal the sick gratis, I think it means just that. Tradition tells us one simply does not declare oneself a Rosicrucian. It’s like Maggie Thatcher’s wisdom: ‘if you have to tell someone you’re a lady, you’re not’.

I guess a good response for those who wander up to us at parties declaring they are ‘a Rosicrucian’ would be to imitate novelist Maya Angelou’s retort when confronted with folk who proudly declared they were Christians: ‘what, already?’ 🙂

So when a blog, for all the right reasons I am sure, seeks to review modern Rosicrucian Orders and give them a score for various ‘Rosicrucian’ qualities, it does make me wonder a little. However, Sam Robinson has done just this and today produced his latest review, this time on ‘the Golden Dawn’. Knowing a bit about this myself, I thought I’d give the review its own little review 🙂

Firstly, Sam needs congratulations – or perhaps pity – for attempting this task at all. The modern set of groups, practices, communities, websites and ideas that are ‘the Golden Dawn’ in 2016 is extremely diverse. I wouldn’t touch a review of ANY aspect of the GD across such an assorted (and often at odds) set of misfits with a barge pole. So here’s to Sam! And to his many caveats he requires to discuss such a diverse cluster of spiritual odds and sods.

Sam, after much placating of expected dummy spitting by some people, starts by an assertion that the GD is Rosicrucian, despite what other Rosicrucians may say. By this he means the inner order of the GD, the Rosae Rubeae et Aurae Crucis, (RR et AC). So far so good, though of course the published text of one redaction of the initiation into this inner order specifically forbids initiates from telling folk they are in fact, Rosicrucians. Hmmm.

Of this Sam writes: “The RR et AC does not belong to the Golden Dawn. It belongs to the greater Rosicrucian current.” It is hard to argue with that, since the GD was specifically created to be the Outer Order of the Inner and is dependent upon the Inner for its existence. Nothing can, by definition ‘belong’ to the GD at all, at all 🙂

I assume what Sam is getting at here is that the RR et AC is a manifestation of the Rosicrucian tradition(s). This may not be obvious now with all sorts of modern GD (outer) manifestations, but the inner retains links to that tradition that cannot be discarded (and still practice the GD effectively in the Outer). No matter how Thelemic one is or how problematic one many find exoteric Christianity.

Sam’s review succeeds or fails on his separation of the GD into the “… ‘public Golden Dawn’ vs. the esoteric and still hidden Golden Dawn Orders.” This will piss many folk off, but I think is one of the greatest aspects of his review and something I respect. Why will it annoy some folk? Sam answers beautifully:

The very idea of still hidden Golden Dawn Orders is considered blaspheme [sic] in some Public G.D circles, so certain as they are that their branches are the only ones with any lineage to claim. So much so that now a militant behavior towards other lineages has become a norm, as is shooting down any ‘challengers’ to a monopoly they imagine they have.

copy-of-pastoslid1Naturally of course, since these ‘still hidden’ GD Orders cannot be scrutinized no verifiable evidence can be forthcoming. The quotations and ideas attributed to these esoteric GD groups could have been written by Sam himself over his morning waffles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

However, a keen observer and practitioner of the GD/RR et AC will have noticed certain themes and ideas present in the original manifestations (via documented evidence) that are now missing or downplayed in many modern Orders. Extrapolating from these facts can give us an understanding of what a more traditional ‘hidden’ Order’s views may be. That these fit perfectly with the ideas Sam presents as being from two traditional Rosicrucian GD folk is interesting to say the least.

Sam summarizes the themes often missing in the modern GD nicely: “They [the modern Orders] tend to down-play the original Rosicrucian-Christian elements.”  And “At times they offer an approach which is often at odds with the actual G.D documents.” Ouch.

He continues: “The Esoteric G.D as a hidden stream remains more active in its Rosicrucian approaches”. Something I have found also. He explores this Rosicrucian approach as one of the distinguishing factors that separate the public GD and the esoteric, with the public being more focused on the magical and the esoteric on the Rosicrucian.

History

Sam does a quick review of the historical origins of the GD: “The story of the ‘discovery of the [Cipher] manuscripts’ led to their alleged contact with Anna Sprengel”. Me rusty brain tells me it was only later when Dr Felkin started his own search that the mythic Fraulein Sprengel acquired the first name ‘Anna’.

Sam now gives us a juicy carrot:

Recent information has surfaced detailing events leading up to the founding of the SRIA. Essentially English masons did a tour of German and Belgian lodges and encountered spectacular rites (amongst the rites drawn from, shock horror to English masons, was the Egyptian Rite of Misraim). The excursion left them with a sense of purpose; that the English should also have such a Rosicrucian branch.

Well, roger me rigid and call me Toby! Obviously we have to ask WHAT ‘Recent information’ and surfacing from WHERE via WHO? This is all rather occult Boys Own Adventure stuff, but I for one would like some proper sources here 🙂

The lack of understanding of, or willingness to accept, the Christocentric aspects of the inner order of the modern GD manifestations is mentioned by Sam. He says it ‘does influence their Christosophia score’. This lack is something that we have long argued here on MOTO. Such an approach does not require an Inner Order GD member to become a confessional Christian, but they do need a rich and deep engagement with the Christian method of the Rosicrucian tradition. Authorities like R.A. Gilbert maintain Rosicrucianism needs to be approached from a Christian Trinitarian framework else it ceases to be Rosicrucianism.

In this regard Sam briefly mentions the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, but while initially describing it as a ‘Christian branch’ of the GD, he quickly makes an important distinction: the FRC searches for Grace not magical power which kinda puts it outside the orbit of the GD, at least the modern GD. He also talks about the order and movement often known as Whare Ra in New Zealand:

Whare Ra in New Zealand was one of the longest going G.D currents and certainly it was Christian and had a more faith based approach. In fact most of its members saw attending the G.D as a way to enhance their Catholic beliefs. Still it was not the Christianity of the manifestos.

whareravault100001I think is pretty much on the ball, though from memory the members were largely Anglican not Catholic. Tony Fuller in his excellent doctoral thesis refers to Stella Matutina documents that clearly position the Order as a manifestation and continuation of the Christian revelation through the historical Incarnation. There is no equivocation there.

Christian or wot?

Sam refers to the function and power of Christian symbols within the Inner Order initiation ceremonies and papers. These certainly are clearly drawn from the Christian myths and texts. However, he says that “after initiation into the RR et AC all the Christ symbolism stops dead in its tracks.”

I am really not clear if this is the case at all. Certainly it is in many, if not most modern (public) GD Orders, but not within the Rosicrucianism based Orders he describes as esoteric. The difference is quite stark: I have corresponded with modern adepts who cheerfully confess they have NEVER read the Manifestos and with adepts who know the Manifestos intimately and in parts verbatim. It is the same with the supporting scripture and Christian traditions that underpin the Manifestos.

I agree fully with Sam when he writes of the modern/public GD: “… most G.D leaders mention the [Rosicrucian] current as being ‘just a layer of symbolism to the ritual’ and worse I’ve heard a major G.D authority say ‘there is nothing to the Rosicrucian symbolism.’ Instead the focus is on the magical approach rather than the Rosicrucian one … This is one of the examples of the public G.D being guilty of ignoring its own teachings and papers.”

The same applies to the modern interpretation of the Christian emphasis within the Manifestos and the Inner Order. For example, Pat Zalewski gives a good example of the modern utilitarian approach to the mystical Christianity within the Inner Order when he writes:  “[Christ’s] Name evokes a powerful current or force that fills us with the receptive principle, something akin to the Yin of Chinese metaphysics.” This is a very different approach to his antecedents in Whare Ra.

Sam proceeds to speculate that the ‘Christosophic’ score of the GD would be increased by changing the ritual (presumably the published Adeptus Minor ceremony) by including “… the 11 Apostles, a spear and crown of thorns could be added to the ritual, and the candidate would circulate the temple one time carrying a cross over their shoulders. Furthermore the forty days of the desert of Christ should actually be something the candidate has to undergo, following a period of mystical work before the Rosicrucian degree.”

Personally, I am unsure on all this, as the inner symbolism and mystery of all these elements, apart from the 11 not 12 Apostles, is already within parts of the ceremony or lead-up to the ceremony. At least they are in those Orders that work the inner workings fully within a Christocentric approach. Likewise I personally have a very different appreciation of a section of the Third Point in the Adeptus Minor ceremony quoted by Sam, where the Chief Adept speaks from inside the Pastos:

For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.  I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.  I am the purified.  I have passed through the Gates of Darkness into Light.  I have fought upon earth for Good.  I have finished my Work.  I have entered into the Invisible.  I am the Sun in his rising.  I have passed through the hour of cloud and of night.  I am Amoun, the Concealed One, the Opener of the Day.  I am Osiris Onophris, the Justified One.  I am the Lord of Life triumphant over Death.  There is no part of me which is not of the Gods.  I am the Preparer of the Pathway, the Rescuer unto the Light; Out of the Darkness, let that Light arise.

Sam describes this as “Hermetic Christianity, but it is also quite dry and distances the initiate from Christ.” I am not sure I know anyone personally who experienced this as ‘dry’. Certainly it could be said to be ‘distant’ from a mystical appreciation of Christ as a sole deity, but this is not the point of this part of the ceremony. The Chief Adept speaks as our father in Christ, AND as Amoun AND as the Justified Osiris, producing a fusion which allows connection to the Mystery behind all forms and thence a gateway to the eternal verities. He correctly explores these different approaches by writing:

A contrast arises here, in that one objectifies Christ as an ideal we may become, while the other does the same, but also worships Christ adoringly through the same process.

I am sure that Sam would agree though that more than a few historical and contemporary GD folk do worship and adore Christ, even if this is not the case for those most visible in the public square. However Sam is correct in his critique of the GD/RR et AC’s approach to both Christian theology and scripture as functional and subservient to technical processes of adept manipulation of the various aspects of the self to produce transformation. This is opposed to the traditional Christian understanding of Redemption through the action of Christ not by our own effort. This dual aspect, using traditional Christian-Rosicrucian imagery within a magical context that is counter to traditional Christian theology is the nub of the problem the GD faced and still faces. It is succinctly put by Professor Ronald Hutton:

It was far from obvious, in the performance of the Qabbalistic Cross, whether the kingdom, the power, and the glory belonged to God or were being promised to the human carrying out the ritual.

As Hutton goes on to say, the ambiguity made the GD attractive to people with a range of beliefs and approaches. However, it has also produced the state of play, ably noted by Sam, where the GD can become a tabula rasa for any modern magician to foist their own spiritual views upon.

Sam’s review of the GD approach to traditional ‘Gnosticism’ seems pretty spot on, as far as I can tell, so I won’t comment on that. Instead I will finish with a quote from the review that makes total sense to me. Thank you Sam for this review and your comments, it was informative and delightful.

I would have to say the majority of ‘traditional’ Public G.D Orders are not very Christian. They too tend to play down the role Christ has within their R.C Inner Order.

In many ways Public Golden Dawn has taken a step downhill in this regard. Not only do they ignore the Christ mysticism already outlined in the documents but Christ has become a total stranger. It is almost as if modern Golden Dawn has attracted a bunch of youths who grew up hating their parent’s religion.

Had Golden Dawn remained secret I imagine things would be very different today.

Amen to that. 🙂

 

Self Development? Bugger that for a lark!

hero-personal-growthOK – another Gonzo post, because I just want to get this off my chest. Hopefully my memory and writing skill will produce a lovely, cogent argument 🙂

A recent innovation that has crept into Paganism, esotericism and even the Anglican Church is the concept of ‘self-development’. This is nearly always meant in a personal sense, developing and improving our personal self and attributes and wot-not. This irks me. A lot.

The concept of self-development is modern – coming out of certain schools of psychology in the early-mid 20th century, like those developed by Adler, Jung and Maslow (from memory). Its proponents sometimes harken back to traditional methods of fasting, prayers, and exercise undertaken in various cultures for millennia. However, the linking is completely invalid as it ignores the key focus and purpose of the ancient exercises – religion, which is by-and-large considered as irrelevant, taboo, superstition or primitive psychology by personal development gurus.

Naturally I think they’re wrong. Regardless, the religious context and purpose means there is no link between these ancient methods and today’s modern culture of improving the self. This means it is a modern innovation and thus partakes of all the problems of modernity and contemporary western culture – it can be shallow, appealing to the negative self-image inculcated within us, commercially based and available only to the richer folk of the society, etc. Strike one.

The inclusion of self or personal development within religious and esoteric systems makes little sense to me at all, because a central truth of all religions (except the daft ones) is that we are all going to die. This means our ‘self’. And no matter how much ‘development’ that self has done, no matter how many EST courses we’ve taken, that self will still die.

Even those traditions that maintain a mysterious post-mortem resurrection of the personality focus on the ‘mysterious’. They do not attempt to discern what the resurrected ‘self’ will be. We cannot know if it will be our 3 month old ‘self’, our 18 year old ‘self’, our 45 year old ‘self’ (graduate of many PD courses) or our 75 year old ‘self’ with dementia or some other ‘self’.

We all come to naught in the end and, with or without self-development.

EVERY DAY IN EVERY WAY …

Of course the bleedin’ obvious counter to the truth above is that, “It’s about life NOW not after death”. Ho hum.

The trouble with this argument is the simple fact, from sheer common sense (and some studies I forget) that largely self-development DOES NOT WORK. Strike two.

I think I remember reading that 80% of self-development folk go back for more courses etc, even if they personally felt the first course did not work for them.

Think about it. The number of folk in the west who have participated in ‘self-development’ since the 1970s must be staggering by now. Has the overall enjoyment of life and the socio-economic improvements of life matched the growth of self-development in the west? No.

Of course, we cannot explain this to those who seem enamoured or addicted to this concept. Why? Because, well … I’m going to cut and paste from myself a few posts ago and change a few words:

imagesAll self-development systems are worthless in themselves. They lock us, often unconsciously, into a system of practice that feels good but ultimately produces no transformation. Most self-development systems are predicated on a two value premise and a ‘promise’ to move between the two: ourselves now, ourselves later (developed, healed, more in tune etc.) and the practices/adjustments or courses that move us between the two.

The danger in such a view is that it can become a closed loop. The person I ‘am’ now can never be the person I foresee at the ‘end’ of the process, since my definitions have already separated the ‘I’ now and ‘I’ desired. The gap between the two, while impossible for ‘me’ to bridge, is “self-development” and while I engage in that I have the sense of moving forward. Of course ‘I’ can never actually reach the goal, but simply having this mental structure and doing some practice I will experience the sense of moving ahead.

This is because of this eternal truth: the self cannot transform the self.

LEVELLING UP

The Tree of LifeA key esoteric principle is that the full transformation of any aspect of the psyche or being requires the intervention and inclusion of a force or presence superior to that aspect. Think about your body. Left to its own devices, the body will simply go on until it dies, subject to the changes forced upon it by environment (diet etc). It will not change itself; develop a six-pack or a terrific bum for the beach. It takes our consciousness, our intervention to direct and change it.

It is the same with ‘the self’, and here I will mention a little Qabalah. Most of us function as bodies (Malkuth), Reactions (Yesod), Thoughts (Hod) and Feelings (Netzach), all directed by a mostly underdeveloped sense of self in Tiphareth – when we even think about who we ‘are’ at all.

If we have a reaction (Yesod) to Aboriginal folk (hey we’re in a racist society), that cannot really change unless we direct the reaction by thought (Hod), stemming its hold or explore it with emotional truth (Netzach). Even then it’s still likely to ‘pop up’ at some point.

And so to the other areas of ‘the self’ – our thoughts and methods of thought and our emotional apprehension can only be transformed by the consciousness of Tiphareth, our ‘self’. The ‘self’ itself however cannot be changed by self-reflecting. We need something ‘higher’ than the self to transform it.

In Qabalah this centralising state of consciousness, Tiphareth, looks ‘down’ towards the personal and ‘up’ towards the transpersonal. This shows the interrelation of the two, while recognising that the correct ‘upward’ view – the motivation and awareness of the individual – is required to embrace what is beyond us. That is, and here is the fucking rub:

The self cannot change itself for self-based reasons.

As soon as we want to change our selves for personal reasons we, by definition are working in the personal sphere. We therefore cannot access the transpersonal sphere required to change the self. This is not just me being cranky towards the New Age wankers out there; it is a description of the way things are. Self-change for self-based reasons can at best move the Lego-blocks around but cannot actually produce transformation. Strike three.

IT’S BEEN HERE ALL ALONG

While it would be great to have functioning folk, moral folk, conscious folk within the esoteric, Pagan and magical communities, I do not feel ‘self-development’ is the way forward at all. It does not and cannot, work and can easily distract us from what we are really about and what really causes transformation – the mysteries (for want of a better word). Let’s have a look at this, since it is all there in traditional religious and esoteric methods.

Once upon a time, the esoteric or deeper aspects of a tradition were not normally bandied around for anyone to see and engage in. People had to be vetted or assessed in some way, and if their moral motivation was not of ‘the right view’ – see this post – they would not be invited in. These days things are a little different…

Of course, any decent religion or spiritual path recognises that we are all broken, that we all are motivated by ego and petty interior forces. To counter this brokenness and the ego-focus of ‘the natural man’ as St Paul would say, many spiritual systems teach us to adhere to moral codes and conduct based on how we would act if we were NOT subject to these petty interior forces. Traditionally these moral codes were often supported and enforced by the community. The classic and most wonderful example of this occurs at each Western church service:

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.

Which when we think about it, blows our minds – loving our neighbour as fully as we love ourselves is like loving God!

Anyway, we of course FAIL at this all the time, every day. Every hour. No matter how many times we look in the mirror and repeat ‘every day in every way, I am getting better and better’, we will still fail at this one. Which is why the Service continues with an act of communal ‘confession’ where we acknowledge our own failings and generate a desire to go beyond them. This is also the function of solitary Confession within the Christian traditions, and a range of similar processes in Tibetan Buddhism. I am not sure of any equivalent within the Wicca or GD.

Symeon the New Theologian

This openness to our weaknesses, our real state of being is crucial because it allows the transpersonal blessings we encounter through participation within the mysteries to enter all of our beings, even the most unlovable and ‘evil’ aspects.

“…everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light”.

So it is the presence of the transpersonal, the divine forces, which enter us, even our secret places, that will cause actual transformation, as they/Him/it chooses and wishes, not as we, our ‘self’ chooses. And this the fundamental point: we are actually changed and transformed by that which is outside and ‘above’ unto service. Not because ‘we’ want to change or ‘we’ want anything.

And of course all the authentic traditions provide ongoing opportunities for the divine to enter us. We meditate and we pray.

The stakes are high for real prayer: You must gamble your self and be willing to lose. ~ Sufi Poet Mahmud Shabistari

As Christians we partake of the mystery of the body and blood of Christ – He enters us. In Tibetan Vajrayana we realise we are non-different to the deities and the realised guru. In Wicca we receive blessings from and can touch the Goddess as flesh and blood and enter the sweep of cycles beyond human ken. It is these moments that produce the real transformation in our lives.

Of course the transformation instigated and produced by our Sacred One(s) still has to be grounded and activated in our selves. Real life will give us plenty of scope for that; moments when we will be called upon to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. Change does not occur in church or in circle but in life; even ‘self-development’ teachers will say this. What they do not say, what they cannot say, is the actual cause and power for transformation of the self is beyond the self. THANKS 🙂

Crowley and love

Another gonzo, unedited. Straight out of my head, post. Enjoy 🙂

I had an out-of-the-blue message the other day from someone who basically said, ‘I loved your book, but what have you got against Crowley?’

Well, I my initial response was obviously ‘let me count the ways’. 🙂 I have blogged about Crowley before but I am not sure I said much in the book. In any case, actually what springs to mind today is his reversal of the traditional understanding of the centrality of love.

Crowley’s famous dictum ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’ is answered by the slightly less well known, ‘Love is the law, love under will’.

callmeal

Various commentators have traced some influence from St Augustine, given here a little more fully than most magicians care to:

Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: LOVE, AND DO WHAT THOU WILT: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

The centrality of love here is clear. Augustine is not innovating: this is a core Christian message – our will is to be immersed within, obedient to and in relationship with love, of whom the prime exemplar and teacher is Christ. Of course the same verity is found in all authentic traditions. It is even found in modern a-religious philosophies and practices like Deep Ecology.

In an interview with Deep Ecologist and activist John Seed, Ram Dass asks John, given the multitude of urgent pressures and possible ecological actions, how does he decide what to do next? John explains:

Well, I feel that I wouldn’t know how to evaluate or how to make a rational decision.  What I do is I lie down in the forest and cover myself in leaves, and I say, “Mother, I surrender to you,” and I deliberately allow all of my energies to sink into the the Earth and to be aligned by the Earth.  Then when I get up, whatever I want to do, that’s what I do.

John sinks into love and does what he wills.

Crowley on the other hand installs the human will as sovereign, placing it supreme over love. Now of course I know and have read about how this is the ‘higher will’ and all that. However, it is clear where the emphasis is and the simple fact of the matter is that most Thelemites and most Crowleyans have no clue what the ‘higher will’ is. They think they do and therefore the individual, small ego will is enshrined and becomes more important than love – which is actually the force that counters, clarifies and dissolves the will. No coincidence there.

And if the ‘higher will’ as a metaphysical principle is of any value it will be love anyway. The idea of all these developed Thelemites wandering around being ‘true individuals’ with unique, individual ‘higher wills’ makes no sense. Any depth spirituality has at root the base awareness of interdependence; we are not self-created beings. We are – in traditional Christian theology – created by the One, or are emanations of the One (Neoplatonism) or come into being through dependant origination (Buddhism) etc etc.

None of these theologies posit a self without relationship and at the root of that relationship is love. It is not the individual will.

It is quite clear why Crowley has reversed the traditional emphasis of love and will – this is what he was all about, setting himself and his philosophy up to counter traditional morality, religions, and aesthetic tastes. I explore this in a lecture I gave to the Perth SRIA.

The exaltation and refinement of the will can easily be a mask for the fear of the loss of will, the loss of self, of death. And again, this is where the traditional positioning of love and will makes sense and relieves these fears. This again is a core Christian message; through love death was conquered, which is often viewed esoterically as meaning the fear of the small self is overcome and transformed by the love of the greater self within the One: “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.”

Love, as de Chardin points out is ‘Love is the only force which can make things one without destroying them’. The will cannot do that. Thanks 🙂

Short and sweet: why I can say we’re a Christian culture and not blink

I have often in MOTO made comments that seem quite obvious to me, but bold to others. Like, “Western magic, until the turn of the 20th century was largely created by Christians for Christians” (here). I have also pointed out the following:

Modern Pagan reconstructions that seek to return to pre-Christian inspirations and sources of wisdom do so only within the context of a culture, language, education and individual mind influenced and nurtured by Christian based sources. For example, my son who has never been near a church knows on an interior level the basics of Christian belief, morality and theology. He gets it from Family Guy, the Simpsons and other avenues of popular culture. (here).

Oh no, he didn't

Oh no, he didn’t

This is not to valorise Christianity or decry any other religion. After all, as I am often fond of quoting, “there is none but the One” (and that’s from an Islamic source).  It is merely to point out reality, as I see it, and explain a few things concerning the western mystery tradition. After all, any depth tradition has to start with what is real and what is around us. And of course, what is around us at the moment is Christmas. And the Pope. Oh, God, the Pope.*

It seems some fine satirist took it upon himself to create a fictional report from an equally fictional Third Vatican Council and place stunningly fictional words in the mouth of the Pope, viz:

The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.

And the bloody thing went VIRAL. It’s all over Facebook and social media. People are cutting and pasting from it, creating memes – and sending THEM all over the social media too. And so very, very few are getting that it is satire. Swift could not have done better. And, when swot nosed folk like me point out the satire, the complete non-existence of a Third Vatican Council, people argue. They fucking argue. They insist it is true – no leg to stand on, no sources, no actual reality, but they argue. Does me head in, it does.

And even when they don’t argue they say things like, “he may not have said it, but he’s doing so many good things, he could have said it”. People WANT it to be true. All hail Fox Mulder’s interior decoration tastes.

And this is the nub. Pope Francis, has said a few nice, socially open things. And people love him for it. And we are not talking about Catholics here, but avowed atheists and secularists too. Look at this article: Why even atheists should be praying for Pope Francis.

People, even secular liberals WANT the Pope to be a good, social liberal. They want compassion and sense from the church. They WANT a redemption of the church. They want to believe. Because we are still essentially a Christian (based) culture – otherwise, what difference would the views of an elderly Latin American with a funny hat make? This Pope business just confirms my views of the west still being essentially Christian based. In fact it makes them stronger, as I am amazed at the number of sensible folk falling for it, wanting it to be true.

Now, many folk will rightly point out the falling number of church attendees in the west, the increasing lack of Christian adherents in government and other such examples of being, or moving towards a secular culture. These are all very true. However consider this recent Australian article (and I daresay it’s the same in other ‘post-Christian’ countries): the sticky residues of Christian faith. I think the title says much, and within it the author (himself an Anglican priest) declares:

We haven’t the courage of our secularist convictions. Churches are still afforded protection by the law. Christian organisations are still exempted from all kinds of discrimination laws and given multi-million dollar tax breaks. Church schools receive government funding. We let Christians hold us to ransom on euthanasia laws and genetic engineering. And yet, most of us never go within cooee of the church (unless someone carks it, or gets hitched – and even then, probably not).

So here we are, and it is a fine mess indeed – on the one hand we’re supposedly secular, but in reality we have the ‘sticky residue of Christian faith’. Half in and half out, and we all know that buggers any relationship, and project, in fact anything. And of course, it’s all there, had to be, in Christian scripture too 🙂

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. (Rev. 3:15-16)

Anyway… have a nice Christmas time or holiday time or Festivus or whatever… and remember to check your memes before passing them on. It’s only good manners 🙂

* Well, the Roman one of course. Let’s not forget the main other one, Theodoros II.

festivus

Book Review – Christ & Qabalah by Gareth Knight with Anthony Duncan

I was lucky enough to read the main subject of this book, the late Rev. Anthony Duncan, way back in the day, when I first started out on this esoteric caper – in fact before I read any Gareth Knight. This was due to the local Theosophical Society Library holding a copy of his The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic. Even though I was immersed in and espousing my newly adopted Pagan ‘faith’, the book touched me deeply and I daresay held me fast during many years of theological speculation and confusion.

Far from being an ordinary village or city Anglican vicar, the Rev. Duncan was also a mystic of great depth, a lover of faeries, a part-time ghost-buster, a natural psychic and a wonderful exponent of the esoteric truths behind Christianity. The Church of England occasionally throws up such a soul, but rarely do they flourish within and outside the bounds of the Church as Rev. Duncan did.

On the outer reaches of the Church one only has to look at his classic The Elements of Celtic Christianity which had wide appeal back in the 90s, even to a Perth Pagan audience 🙂 Within the church one can look at his long career as a parish priest, the respect he garnered and one or two more ‘out there’ moments. Take for example, his authorship of the clergy-only document The Psychic Disturbance of Places describing a rationale for psychic disruptions of places, ghosts and place memories and how a priest may assist in their resolution (which somehow made it past the church’s Doctrine Commission).

Christ & Qabalah, by the respected elder of English Magic, Gareth Knight, traces the meeting and esoteric interaction of ideas and works between himself and Rev Duncan. One can imagine that two innovators within their respective spiritual fields would have much to say to one another, much to spark off each other and much to gain from each other’s depth. Without being unduly intimate, Gareth Knight’s sharing of correspondence, diary entries and poems allows the reader to enter a wonderful and intensely personal relationship. As he describes, even though the two lived in the same town for only a short time as young men, afterwards they were ‘seldom out of each other’s heads’.

Knight recounts their relationship in a largely chronological manner, allowing the development of ideas and works, the refinement of beliefs and practices of each other to be clearly shown. This book is far more than a simple sketch of the life of Rev. Duncan; Knight draws out, places in context and shows how each influenced the other and the ramifications of their work for the greater esoteric and ‘post-Church’ worlds. His writing, as always, is clear, engaging and attractive, here with the addition of personal elements and anecdotes, as the author is quite happy to present the differences between himself and Rev. Duncan when they arose.

The great strength of the book is the snapshot into the diversity and depth of the work of Rev. Duncan, and also (when he elaborates on it) the work of Gareth Knight. Duncan is revealed as a man of great depth and mystic awareness, a (literally) inspired writer and proficient poet.

Myself (of which I make so great

a fuss) is a mere, brittle spike

of consciousness on the circumference of being;

a tiny terminal of unplumbed depth. (‘ME’, p.7)

and

Our being falls towards this point

Where all the lines converge” (‘NIRVANA POINT’, p.35)

Or in a more elemental mood:

Sprits of wood and water, stone and field,

whom my sophistication disallows, yet abide

and creep beneath my carapace. I know you well; (‘DEVELOPMENT’, p152)

There are many aspects to Duncan’s work and ideas that could easily be labelled ‘Pagan’, his deep faerie and land connection for instance. And the influence of Gareth Knight, steering him towards the Qabalah, produced material which may easily be called ‘magical’ by some people. However, the book shows that throughout it all Duncan was clear and insistent on the need for a Christocentric view of the occult and the hidden dimensions. He was devout in only the way those who have gone to the very depth of their traditions, seeing the Mystery clearly, eye to eye, can be. For Duncan, nature revealed the ‘grandeur of God’ (as Knight aptly summed it up in the words of the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins) but was not God in toto. And as for magic and esoteric theories:

…magic, the art of making consciousness in accordance with the will, is a ‘lower pyramid’ exercise only. Its fulfilment is in Christ – but then it is no longer magic! (p.93)

and

Christians believe, not in avatars or incarnations, but in The Incarnation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” as a Person of that One Creature, Mankind. The integrity of the one and the many – and the One – are all bound up inextricably. Mankind is a Love Affair…We have hardly begun to think about the implications of The Incarnation for Mankind. It is easier to waffle on about theology, or “incarnations” or vague “cosmics” of one sort or another, while Godhead lies, like a time-bomb in our midst. (p.139)

Gareth Knight, still going strong

The book reveals however that Rev Duncan fully and firmly accepted the reality of the inner worlds, the faeries, reincarnation, psychic power and other mainstays of the occult. He also simply accepted the core Christian doctrine that despite our best efforts we sin (move away from the One) and only with the grace of the One (through Christ) can we hope to begin to ‘want to want God’. Our own efforts, such as his definition of magic, described in quotation above, are bound to fail. These and other aspects of the Christian tradition, which remained core to his understanding of the world, are described and explored well in the book (and in some of Gareth Knight’s other works). They remain both a challenge and an opportunity for all modern students of western magic, and as such this book is ideally suited for anyone interested in magic, the occult or the deeper sides of Christianity. It is as unique as the two men, the two soul friends, who produced it. Highly recommended.

Christ & Qabalah: Or, the Mind in the Heart. Gareth Knight with Anthony Duncan. Skylight Press, 2013.

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