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

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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.

Amazon | Amazon UK | Book Depository | Skylight Press

Why Christians Make Better Magicians

Now, this is an obviously… sensitive title. But hey, if it gets folk thinking and talking about these things, then woot woot! The post reflects a few things I have been pondering for quite some time – as you would know if you have read my other posts on magic and Christian traditions. Here I am just being a bit blatant about it all 🙂

Of course, given the right motivation, I imagine I could easily pen another post, “Why Pagans Make Better Magicians”. So let me be clear on a few points before we start:

  • I am talking about the Christian traditions here, not defending or ignoring the actions of any churches or individuals.
  • I am not saying ANY Christian makes a better magician than ANY non-Christian.
  • I am saying that certain elements of the Christian traditions, when worked esoterically, can help a magician in her practice of magic. A lot.
  • These elements are generally those hidden from view and rarely understood, even by most Christians themselves.
  • I do not mean Christians make better magicians in all traditions – obviously Christians would make lousy Muslim magicians, Buddhist Magicians and even Thelemic magicians. (Though apparently there ARE some Christian Thelemites around – talk about collapsing the binary!)
  • I am saying that for the rest of the bunch – you know generic, western magical folk… well… here’s a light-hearted look at why Christians MAY do it better 🙂
  • Please feel free to respond but without too much rancour. And I may or may not reply, depending on time and tone of the response. Ta 🙂

THROUGH DOUBLE-THINK AND OUT THE OTHER SIDE

jesus-smallWhen you’re a Christian and a magician you really need to think. Well, actually think, feel, know and realise a lot about where you stand on things. The general exoteric Christian doctrines are so limiting and many of its spokespersons so stupid, to be able to accept Christianity AND be a magician is no small feat. You are flying against the wind in both contemporary egregores and you have to be pretty clear and be able to examine, refine and explain your point of view, beliefs and practices really, really well (A humble example of this is my post on the Nicene Creed). This means the magician develops a great skill in and a conscious awareness compared to a universalist tradition where ‘all is divine’ without much thought or theology.

There can be no simple acceptance of Church doctrine as a Christian magician. You have to be conscious about where you place your will, and why. At the same time, as a Christian you have to be pretty clear about why you are doing all this magic stuff in the first place. What’s the point? There’s no easy way out and you can’t just go with the flow and feel all the nice astral energy and stuff.

MY TEAM IS BIGGER THAN YOUR TEAM

Christian magicians work with the BIG THREE. Now, of course it is only in the Christian world view that these three are supposed to be worth anything at all. However, consider a couple of examples. Firstly, the number of people I (and many others) have helped with ‘psychic’ disturbances who ‘got through’ by praying to Christ, or simply calling His name – even though they had no faith at all! This is very common. Secondly, the number of Wiccans and others who successfully use the Rose Cross ritual, a ritual which is empowered by Christ’s name.

Now Christ’s name is the name before all other names. It is supposed to make gremlins and gribblies sit up, pack up and shove off – and to consecrate ‘space’. And it does exactly that – even for folk who actively despise the outer Christian religions. I’ve seen it dozens of times. I am not saying here that Christianity is BETTER than other religions – that would be silly. But I am saying that in the West, when the chips are down, the Big Three are a cool crew to have in town 🙂

This may of course be solely because of the cultural egregore most of us grew up in – a Christian (based) one. This means we can all access the Christian based concepts of spiritual love, power and wisdom more easily than, say that of the ancient Norse cultures. For the general person, there is more ‘out there’ connected to Christ than Odin. It takes years of dedicated Odinist work to change this at the deepest level of our psyche – and even then I’d wager telling the average Jo to pray to Odin (who probably just knows him from the ‘Thor’ movies) when she’s in trouble will not help much. Sad, but true.

REBELLION IS AS THE SIN OF WITCHCRAFT

Now activist, Reclaiming, feminist witchy-poos and Pagans just love this quote from I Samuel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, even Thomas Jefferson knew that only a LITTLE rebellion is needed now and then. Not a lot. And sometimes modern Paganism, and modern esoteric universalism gets all caught up in the personal need to be contra something. I explore this in my essay on Crowley, here.

This point is well summed up by Lama Ngakpa Chogyam in ‘Psychology and the Spiritual Traditions’ (p.33) where he describes the fact that in Tibet being a lama is held in deep respect, like a doctor. It is one of the most respected and revered positions in society. There is nothing rebellious or anti-society or anti-establishment about the choice to be a lama or a monk or a nun. Compare this to the motivation of many modern magicians, a fair few of who quickly reveal ‘contra’ tendencies or conspiracy-theory minds fairly easily at the end of the lodge night. And of course, there are always those witch and Pagan magicians who are really all about shocking mummy.

As a Christian there is less of that, as Christianity is the established religion and spiritual path in the west. Announcing my adult Confirmation in the Anglican church produced more boredom than shock. And from certain esoteric points of view if one is born within a Christian country one should be practicing that spiritual path – as all exoteric forms are simply paths to the same inner esoteric truth. It does not matter if we are Christian or Pagan – as really, THERE IS NONE BUT THE ONE.

Every time I attend a teaching with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he essentially says the same thing. In fact he LAUGHS that there are people in the west who want to practice Buddhism. His first advice is to be a Christian, as being raised in a Christian (based) culture means one is more suited to Christian traditions than Buddhist. He only teaches westerners out of compassion, hoping to make some difference to people who want to learn from him.

AIN’T GOT NOTHING TO PROVE

A major thing about Christianity that some non-Christian magicians and esoteric folk don’t get is this: Christians in relationship with Christ have in some ways completed their spiritual journey. In Christian terms, we are already saved. The One, through Christ (who was fully human like us) is CONSTANTLY, no matter what we do, drawing us, wooing us, calling us into relationship and communion. Once we have opened ourselves to this truth, this awesome, powerful realization of the nature of the universe, we do not have to DO anything anymore. This is what Christians mean by the term sola fide – by faith alone.

Of course, the opening to Christ is like peeling back layers of onion – we are constantly needing, wanting, yearning to open more of ourselves. And this is not always easy, as we are born with both Original Blessing (as imago dei, an image of God) and with Original Sin (our human tendency to enthrone the personal ego). But once we have opened at all and realised that we (like everyone) are at the very centre of the infinite circle of God’s attention and love, things are forever different.

So Christian magicians are not practicing magic due to ANY sense of incompleteness, or from a need to heal, or any need to transform, to become God, to get the next grade – or whatever. We practice magic to be closer to the One, to imitate Christ, to become a more effective servant and healing agent in the worlds (inner and outer). To do the will of the One, not our own.

Now this – just look around you – is often in stark contrast to the NEEDS, so often dog-balls obvious, in the practice of non-Christian magicians. Some of these needs are healthy, many not so much. And this can become quite a problem 🙂

COMPASSION

Christians are taught to be compassionate. Now, I know many are not. And I’ve read the various surveys with hidden cameras that show the hypocrisy of some – perhaps most – Christians. But I am interested here only in how by placing compassion and love at the core of the tradition, Christian traditions can help magicians unfold and serve the worlds easier.

The centrality of love within the Christian esoteric tradition is staggering. And as a Christian magician moves through her tradition she hopefully embodies this more and more. The central core motif of non-Christian magical traditions may be anything, sometimes compassion, sometimes not. The magician in these circumstances is not re-made as the love which turns the stars, which is the aim of the Christian magician. Obviously Christians do not have a monopoly on compassion – but having it stated out there as the aim from day one helps. That’s why many Buddhist traditions do the same thing 🙂

ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHERS

Christian magicians often, not always, attend church. Sometimes for their sins they may get quite involved, sitting on Parish Councils and wot not. Now in all of these situations they are likely to be mixing with a really heterogeneous bunch – people VERY different to themselves. A young socially liberal Christian magician can easily find themselves on a Sunday morning between a middle aged woman who was brought up to believe gay folk are diseased and an elderly veteran of wars he never questioned. Ouch!

This heterogeneity is one of the most wonderful gifts I gain from attending church. My coven and lodge folk were more similar to one another than the folk in the church. So Christian magicians can learn a lot from other people – in fact, since we are taught to see the One in all, we HAVE to learn a lot from these folk. It is a most broadening experience and really helps with the magic too 🙂

CALL THAT A TRADITION? – THIS IS A TRADITION

imageNot to put too fine a point on it, but Christianity has oodles and oodles of tradition and rituals and prayers and metaphysics. Enough to make your mind pop! Really. And its esoteric aspects are far older, far more extensive, far deeper than any other western magical tradition (bar authentic Kabbalah). There is SO MUCH in the broader esoteric Christian traditions it is impossible to start on it all. Other traditions are newcomers. What else can they be since Christianity, through various means, some fair and many foul, overcame and absorbed or wiped out all other religions along the way?

This of course meant, as I have said before, that by and large, the western esoteric traditions grew up within a Christian religious milieu and only make sense within one. Western magic, until the turn of the 20th century was largely created by Christians for Christians. So really – and no offence here – unless we delve into the Christian mindset and way of viewing the universe, we are very, very likely to miss out on the more subtle meaning, mysteries and blessings of the texts and practices of any western tradition before, well, Crowley.

This view is more than justified by a little comment in the original pledge form (application for initiation) of the historical Golden Dawn:

Belief in a Supreme Being, or Beings, is indispensable.  In addition, the Candidate, if not a Christian, should at least be prepared to take an interest in Christian Symbolism.

Modern Orders may have omitted this but I am talking of the traditional approach and the form I signed as a young lad. The reason why Christianity is singled out is because the Orders (GD and RR et AC) contain more symbols with a Christian basis or interpretation than any other religion. Mathers and Westcott (and perhaps Woodman) were clear that one needs to be ‘interested’ in these symbols to gain the most from the Golden Dawn experience. It’s the same with any tradition of the same vintage or earlier. And even many modern traditions, often implicitly anti-Christian, draw on texts created within a Christian esoteric milieu.

THE INCARNATION

This is more a personal one – I have yet to come across any Pagan or magical tradition with a theology of the divinity of humanity that comes close to the Incarnation. Pagan and universalist theology is often very scant or cursory on this theme, whereas the mystery of the Incarnation is about as deep as you can get. Even approaching its import makes me tremble.

Here I’m simply going link to this post – which you should read to understand my point of view – and quote the poem at the end from the sainted Symeon the New Theologian.

Thanks a bunch 🙂

space

We awaken in Christ’s body

as Christ awakens our bodies,

and my poor hand is Christ, He enters

my foot, and is infinitely me.

 

I move my hand, and wonderfully

my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

 (for God is indivisibly

whole, seamless in His Godhood).

 

I move my foot, and at once

He appears like a flash of lightning.

Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then

open your heart to Him

 

and let yourself receive the one

who is opening to you so deeply.

For if we genuinely love Him,

we wake up inside Christ’s body

 

where all our body, all over,

every most hidden part of it,

is realized in joy as Him,

and He makes us, utterly, real,

 

and 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

he awakens as the Beloved

in every last part of our body.

The Incarnation

jesus-smallI’ve been wanting to do this post for a while. But one hesitates when writing about overtly ‘Christian’ topics for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is the ever present concern that some folk may see this as proselytizing or positioning ‘Christianity’ as a better path than others. Such is the legacy – even within modern esoterica – of intrusive evangelism and the refusal of some anti-Christian folk to let go of their prejudice. More importantly is the awareness I have limited understanding and qualifications in these areas.

However, I do want to try and be clear here for the simple reason I find it hard discussing the Incarnation with many Pagans, magicians and other folk. They simply do not get it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I personally think most Christians don’t get the Incarnation either. And to be fair it is a mystery, which means we cannot fully get it. At all, at all.

First off and most importantly – and it’s bloody hard to remember this with all these well-meaning literalist Christians spouting off all the time – the Incarnation is a myth. It is irrelevant if it ‘did’ or ‘did not’ occur in space-time 2013 years ago. It is beyond temporal conditions (yet impacts upon and redeems temporality). It is ‘always’ happening; it occurs ‘once upon a time’ – as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Right? 🙂

A major problem comes along when polytheistic Pagans* approach the Incarnation of Christ and see it as equivalent to the ‘incarnation’ or physical manifestation of various Pagan gods. The most common example is one or more of the various ‘dying and rising gods’ of the Mediterranean basin and Europe, the common underlying mystery of which undoubtedly influenced the Christian myth. Even if we consider this concept a valid categorization, which the consensus of modern scholars do not, Christ has never been seen as an incarnation of a single god out of many within a polytheistic pantheon. He was and is the incarnation of a monotheistic God, the One, the All (to rather haphazardly borrow some Neo-Platonic terms, though the identification is not fully accurate).

Pictorially, let’s have a look at this with one of the gods most equated with Christ, Horus – through the atrocious spectacle of the Zeitgeist internet video and meme. (BTW if you’re gonna take issue with me on this, please do better than Zeitgeist as it has been comprehensively trounced, see this post).

Horus, one of many.

Horus, one of many.

So here’s Horus, and let’s just say he is also a man, like Christ… though the hawk head sorta gives him away…but let’s say. Even if Horus was at some point incarnate on the earth, as a man of flesh and blood like Christ, like Vishnu and other ‘Hindu’ deities… even then, he is but one of many Gods. Who presumably did not feel like slumming it ‘down’ on earth for a lifetime or so. Christ however is God, the big cheese, the whole burrito, the full whizz bang.

Now please be clear, in stating this I am not saying Christ is in anyway more ‘full’, ‘complete’ or ‘powerful’ than Horus (or any god). What I am saying is that Horus exists within, and only makes sense, as part of a polytheistic mystery (unless we see him as a godform). Christ only makes sense as part of a monotheistic mystery, (unless we go all syncretic with saints and candles and skulls and local deities). Comparing the two, Christ and Horus (or any other god) will always produce limited understanding of both, for there are different mysteries at the back of them.

Now of course, we are free to look at the monotheistic paradigm and say, ‘hang on a minute…this is a load of bollocks’. But we are not free to try and understand, let alone engage in dialogue with, good Christian folk without accepting they believe it. There is no point, as a few obnoxious Pagan folk do, coming along armed with ‘correspondences’ between the myth of Christ and other gods. They simply do not fit – unless we insist on seeing Christ as a polytheistic deity, which is NOT how most Christians relate to him at all. At all.

On the other hand, Christians cannot approach Pagans without in some way trying to understand that their Gods are real. Not spirits or angels in disguise. Not imagination. Not precursors or substitutes for Christ, but ‘really real’ Gods.

Now I hope I have not lost too many readers, for this where it gets exciting. In addition to the theological discrepancy between Christ and pagan Gods mentioned above, the main reason we cannot compare the two is the human end of the equation. Christ was, and is, fully and completely human. Like you. Like me.

In Christ the human and the divine meet. He is fully the One, and fully human. He suffered from anger, fear, and other human attributes and was also fully divine at once. Had he not been crucified, he would have lived on, and died a natural death – like we all will, as all humans do. The two, the divine and the human, do not mix or co-mingle but exist in what is technically called Hypostatic Union, two natures in one ‘person’. This is why Christ fully suffered and fully died as he was crucified. There was no use of a ‘get of jail free’ card ‘cos he was also God. Nor did he use his Baby Jesus Power to quell the pain or fear. It was a fully human experience. Yet at the same time he was divine.

Now this, when we think about it fully, kinda does our heads in. For this reason Hypostatic Union is also called ‘mystical union’, where the word ‘mystic’ is shorthand for, ‘Hey, we know this defies human comprehension. Relax. Do your best.’ 🙂

In orthodox, not – and I stress this – ‘esoteric’ or new age Christology, the import and function of the Incarnation is the transformation of personhood into God – the birth of the divine and undying Self within each of us as our true self ^.The Incarnation, in Christian theology, is what makes us divine and human at once.

In process terms: Perfection and Unity (the One) became imperfection and suffering (Jesus as human) to deliver each of us a path to return to Perfection, for the fulfilment of Love. Or to put it in different language:

For I am (Ehyeh – the One)

Divided (experience as a human)

For love’s sake (the main theme of Christ’s mission)

For the chance of union (the potential of humanity’s entry into ‘Heaven’ – unity with the One).

This little comparison with the words of Aiwass shows both the influence of Christianity on Crowley’s interior world (which I explore a little in this lecture) and also that, at root, all traditions draw from the same truth. Now, of course the Christian understanding of the Incarnation described here is a bit different to what we may find in our local Sunday church. Alan Watts (who was a classically trained Episcopalian priest as well as promoter of Eastern philosophy) writes:

This, however reluctantly and grudgingly admitted by theology, is the actual dogma of the Incarnation, and the dogma is always that which constitutes the authentic form of the myth the rest being individual opinion. (Myth and Ritual in Christianity, p.128).

That is to say, this is authentic Christianity at its core. Moreover, another aspect of the Incarnation is as vehemently rejected by regular Churchianity – the sanctity of the body, of all matter and all flesh. By the Incarnation, our bodies are sanctified and redeemed, become pure and holy. In fact, the Incarnation means we cannot separate humanity from divinity, the body from the sacred.  Our body and our divinity are one. To quote words I believe put into the mouth of church father Athanasius, but still summarising his understanding:

When we worship, we do not separate God from the flesh for we know God was made flesh.

‘We do not separate God from the flesh’. Sounds kinda Pagan, eh?

The Incarnation, when properly understood, was unlike any other conception within the various religions Christianity developed alongside. It has certain parallels within a few streams of Vaishnavism, but nothing there is so clearly developed. The Messiah within Judaism is not considered divine in the same way Christ is. The various classical ‘Pagan’ religions and philosophies offered numerous conceptions of divinity and humanity. A few like Stoicism held an essentially Pantheistic view of the universe which is a whole different ball game in and by itself, where all is either divine or not.

A few mystery religions had similar conceptions of the mixed nature of humanity – divine and earthy – but by and large most ‘Pagan’ religions drew clear distinctions and firm barriers between Gods and men. One would approach the Gods through sacrifice and other means which enabled a co-mingling of the two worlds, mundane and sacred, but the two did not exist as one within each and every person by virtue of their own nature. Even Hellenistic and Roman apotheosis rarely raised the status of individuals to the exact equivalent of the Gods, and it certainly was not available to the general populace, let alone the plebeians and the slaves. So the Incarnation concept was, and is, a radical spiritual concept.

However, the most important thing of all is this: a mystery needs to be experienced.

Theology may describe a mystery within intellectual and temporal concepts. Myth points to a mystery. But ritual, prayer, communion, ceremony, enactments – these are required to actually ‘get’ a mystery. And this is where most of us in the modern west fall down. The mystery of the Incarnation, like the related mysteries of the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception and the Crucifixion cannot be understood by simple belief or ascribing to theological doctrine.

No one can understand the Incarnation (or any mystery) without experiencing it interiorly. So when I write, things like “By the Incarnation, our bodies are sanctified and redeemed” I am not referring to any sort vicarious gift bestowed upon us, but rather an invitation to work the mystery and to know its effects in your life.  This is the same with all mysteries. So when next a Christian evangelist is annoying you, remember the chances are they have never actually experienced the core of their faith. Harsh, I know, but true. So really, we cannot make judgements about the Christian religions when our understanding of it stems from folk who have never experienced it as mystery. It’d be like crapping on Wicca because of the stupidity of a ‘Wiccan’, who had never been to a Drawing Down, spouting on about the Goddess.

Finally, of course there exists within the world a few blessed souls who can, via art and poetry, love and life express some taste of the mysteries to us. I cannot think of a better way of pointing to the mystery of the Incarnation than this poem from the sainted Symeon the New Theologian. 🙂

space

We awaken in Christ’s body

as Christ awakens our bodies,

and my poor hand is Christ, He enters

my foot, and is infinitely me.

 

I move my hand, and wonderfully

my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

 (for God is indivisibly

whole, seamless in His Godhood).

 

I move my foot, and at once

He appears like a flash of lightning.

Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then

open your heart to Him

 

and let yourself receive the one

who is opening to you so deeply.

For if we genuinely love Him,

we wake up inside Christ’s body

 

where all our body, all over,

every most hidden part of it,

is realized in joy as Him,

and He makes us, utterly, real,

 

and 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

he awakens as the Beloved

in every last part of our body.

space

* I know there’s a whole variety of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ polytheistic Pagans, and even those who don’t consider the Gods as real, and it’s all been a bit of debate recently – but that’s another topic, and way too much for me to go into here. Look it up. Google is your friend.

^ If you’re thinking of the RR et AC Adeptus Minor initiation, there’s a reason.