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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Book Review – Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and of Pan

I first read Dion Fortune during a strange weekend as a teenager after getting my hands on a Witch’s old book collection (as described in this post). One of the first things I noticed was that her novels Sea Priestess and Moon Magic described certain invocations and prose pieces as coming from ‘The Rite of Isis’. Similarly, a note in her The Goat Foot God made reference to ‘The Rite of Pan’.

I soon discovered that even though they were penned in the 1930s these Rites were not available to the general hoi polloi. Not even a polite, but overly-effusive (in the way young occult students are), letter to the Society of the Inner Light in London bought me any joy. So when I heard about the imminent publication of this work, via the good agency of Skylight Press and editorial stewardship of Gareth Knight, I described it as ‘the occult publishing event of the century’. Perhaps still a little too effusive? 🙂

However, despite a fair chunk of the Rites being able to extracted and worked out from Dion’s novels, the book really is unique. It portrays the principles of real magic and real occultism more deeply, more accurately and with more direct effect on the reader within its brief 140 pages than in tomes ten times the size. Much of this is to do with the editorial inputs and commentaries by Gareth Knight together with his choice of a selection of Dion’s articles to round the book out.  Altogether the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts – not that any of its parts are without weight and worth alone!

The book is well put together, beautifully designed and covers a surprisingly broad range of topics. There are the Rites themselves, the full rubric and setting of which have never before been published. These alone would make the book. However, there are also appendices on Dion’s novels, the Circuit of Force and other germane matters. Much of the contribution of Gareth Knights comes in his analysis of Dion’s novels, which are well written and very illuminating.

Dion herself was crystal clear about the motives behind writing the novels which contain the Rites and their relationship to the Work:

…because I have a purpose in my life, which is the work of initiation organised as The Fraternity of the Inner Light, my novels have a purpose, which is the purpose of initiation.

For this reason Gareth Knight spends some time revealing the mysteries of Dion’s novels, as she herself does also in an appendix, ‘The Novels of Dion Fortune’, which was originally published in the Inner Light Magazine, 1936. Despite the sense of reality of Dion’s characters and the genuine nature of her stories and the way they obviously had (have) a life independent of their creator, Dion as novelist was clearly following a plan. In each novel she took

…a basic idea, attributed it to its appropriate Sephirah in the proper Qabalistic manner, and then proceeded to work it out on the basis, not of Qabalistic symbolism as I should have done if I were writing an occult treatise on the subject, but of the dream-symbolism of psychoanalysis. Consequently, anyone who knows psychoanalysis can take these novels to pieces as if they were dreams, and anyone who knows the Qabalah can ‘place them on the Tree’.

And really even today, no one has done this any better than Dion, who brought to her literary art all her skills of magic: “In writing my novels I used exactly the same method that is used in the composition of a ritual.”

The full Rites themselves are included in chapters three and four. A small section of previously unpublished material will show the breadth and depth of forces worked within these Rites:

By the power of Old Night, whence all sprang, we invoke Thee.
By the first mystic swirl in the stillness that told of Thy power, we invoke Thee.
By the net which Thou wovest to draw Ptah from his heaven, we invoke Thee.
By the kisses that smote him with death that the world might be born, we invoke Thee.
By thy merciful veil, by thy scourgings and pangs,
By thy sweet secret places, by midnight and moon,
By earth and by water – Isis, Light of the Heavens and Desire of the World –

I invoke, I invoke, I invoke!

Fully reading the Rites with sympathy and imagination it becomes clear why these were a semi-public affair, the audience becoming part of the drama of the cosmic initiatory forces being worked and invoked. This is an effect Dion strived for in her novels, and is why key passages of the Rites found themselves in the novels, destined for the public circulating libraries and people “who would not sit down to read a prose work on occultism”. There is a spiritual and magical link forged between the Rite, the ‘audience’ who first witnessed the rite and the novel wherein segments of it are included. All towards the enactment of initiation by and into the cosmic force the Rite works and worships.

Gareth Knight, relaxing between books 🙂

Reading this book I realised this is one reason Dion’s novels are so potent; they are empowered on the inner levels not only by the magic of Dion, not only by her inner contacts and the cosmic forces they bring through, but also by the physical enactment of the rites by flesh and blood Londoners in the 1930s. If you are familiar with her novels and read these Rites slowly and imaginatively, you will see what I mean. In fact, I would be so bold as to say the full publication of these Rites will empower the novels and the work of Dion even further. Today as I type this review, I heard news that a Golden Dawn based group in South Australia will be working the Rites early next year. Dion lives!

Overall, as a publication, this book cannot be recommended enough. As a concrete work of magic, furthering the work of the greatest Priestess of the 20th century and the Gods she served, it is simply divine. Thank you to Dion, Gareth Knight and all at Skylight Press.

Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and of Pan Paperback by Gareth Knight and Dion Fortune. Skylight Press, 2013.

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Interview with Gareth Knight via Skylight Press

Gareth Knight - Master of many Arts.

Gareth Knight – Master of many Arts.

I do not normally use MOTO to simply link to other sites. But this interview with THE living public elder of the western traditions is an exception. Gareth’s influence extends into many areas and many current teachers and magicians were given inspiration, mentoring, publishing opportunities and teaching via him and his work. Enjoy the interview, I know I did 🙂

http://skylightpress.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/conversation-with-gareth-knight/

So long as it works – praxis, synthesis and eclecticism in magic

One of the most common invisible beliefs within the contemporary magical and Pagan communities is that practices and methods are good and effective “so long as they work”. This often sits side by side with an eclectic approach to magic and practice that posits the validity of mixing and matching parts of various systems, “so long as they work”. A dramatic example of this was given by Druid Priestess Emma Restall Orr when running a workshop in Perth several years ago.

Emma recounted how she was present at a large Pagan gathering where four different groups and traditions were chosen to open the four quarters. She recognised and appreciated the first three, but did not know the fourth group, opening the North quarter. They did so however wonderfully, producing an effective invocation of power but in a language she did not recognise. Afterwards, speaking to one of the invocators, she asked what the language was. “Klingon“, came the reply.

Now the moral being presented to us was that Star Trek Paganism is fine – anything is fine – “so long as it works”. However, I feel this simple statement needs a little unpacking.

As I keep pushing on MOTO, I think magic works by a concept I call orthometapraxy, that is a correct way of meta-action; ‘adjacent’, ‘beyond’, or ‘inner’ action. So while we recognise variants in Pagan circle casting procedures for example, we understand that a ‘correct’ circle process will have some interior action, intention and focus of clearing space and/or our minds, sacralising the circle area, linking the participants to their sacred ones etc. The focus here is on the principles of the inner activity, the ‘meta’ aspect of this rather long word.

Once we focus upon orthometapraxy rather than orthopraxy we are able to be more open to variants and changes within our broader traditions. And possibly even Klingon rituals 🙂

Gareth Knight

On a side note, his excellent focus on magical and inner principles is what prompts Gareth Knight to write of his recently republished classic, Magical Images and the Magical Imagination, that “armed with determination to follow through there is arguably little need for any other book if you want to know what magic is all about.” I certainly agree with this, but also highly recommend an upcoming work along the same lines by Nick Farrell, Magical Imagination: the Keys to Magic. Both books show a deep understanding of the principles we are talking about and both show how they are applied in practical magic.

space

Levels

When we say, “so long as it works” we need to be clear what we mean. Often people nod and agree to this statement without thinking what the word “works” entail. Magic functions, or should do, on several levels. Here I will use the generic schema of physical, etheric, astral, mental and spiritual planes or worlds, simply because this is what I use in my book, and readers are referred there for more information. Readers of experience can easily translate into the Qabalistic Souls schema or Theosophy or your favourite interior world paradigm.

When we say “so long as it works” we need to be clear then what effects, what changes and transformation are we requiring for the magic on each of these five levels. We need specific criteria for each level. Only then can we discern if our magical practice “works” or not. These criteria are seldom discussed within the public literature on magic, which leads to all sorts of problems.

Physical

Ye Olde Black Rod

I have a friend who has the coolest job title ever – ‘Usher of the Black Rod’. As such she is involved in ceremonial rituals within Parliament. These rituals require one thing, and one thing only to be effective – they have to be done. That is all. So long as the physical actions are carried out and the words spoken, the rituals are a success. Another friend is a civil marriage celebrant who specialises in Pagan and ‘alternate’ ceremonies, and again there are certain words that need to be said for the ritual to be a success. Anything else can be done around those words – even Klingon invocations – but the physical recitation of those words, even if done in a bored BBC newsreader voice, is what constitutes success.

In magic, we too need physical actions and physical words, otherwise it is not magic. Even interior journeys are grounded by some physical action. Obviously, however a magical circle is not a House of Parliament, and magic requires far more than just the physical to be fully effective.

Etheric

This is the ‘densest’ level of subtle existence, and our etheric embodiment is aware of the magnetic and almost electrical interchange of etheric substance between ourselves, our environment and other people. This is the level we ‘feel’ when we stand opposite someone we are sexually attracted to. Magic is very, very good at generating vast quantities of etheric substance – from our own bodies, the earth, the solar and  lunar forces etc.

On this level we need to have pre-established criteria of what type of etheric substance  (its source, stability etc) is going to be generated, by what actions and for what purposes. It is all too easy to feel the buzz of excess etheric substance in a ritual and conclude it was ‘energetic’ and ‘powerful’. But if the substance is not going to consciously used and/or absorbed to affect pre-established change, we are but a little better off than attending a football game or a dance party with horny singles on a Friday night. There is plenty of excess etheric substance in both these examples, and though not as clear and as healthy as that generated by a good Pagan ritual, they will give the same etheric buzz people often take as a hallmark of successful magic.

Astral-Emotional

The astral level is where most of the effects of much magic takes place. We feel better for it, or we may have astral experiences and visions. Our astral bodies can be altered by magic very easily, even inscribed or infused with certain symbols or energies. Again, we need to clear exactly what we are after. Invocations, visualisation  and the presence of interior beings affect the astral body which again leads to a feeling  of ‘power’. A classic example of this is the Middle Pillar exercise Regardie developed from RR et AC principles. This experience of astral ‘power’ can easily become intoxicating and the benchmark for a ‘good’ ritual. However, excess astral light is, in and by itself, worthless.

The astral level is that of our regular personality, and this is why some magic really shakes us up – the idea of our self is literally injected with another force, or it is expanded, or pared away or becomes insignificant in the presence of a greater force or being. These effects however will not result in permanent changes in the astral body and our selves unless the ‘higher’ levels are involved.

It is a major principle of magic that any level of our embodiment can only be fully transformed by the action of the ‘superior’ level to it. We can see this clearly when we examine our lives: our conscious physical actions requiring energy from the etheric, which in turns requires a personality level decision. Changes to this personality level requires a mental awareness and will.

However, if we are happy for a ritual to simply affect us emotionally, like many exoteric church services, then we need not worry about higher level principles, or even controlled astral experiences. Otherwise, like the etheric we need to have pre-established principles concerning the exact effects we are seeking on the astral level, which is not to say we need to control or limit the inner experience, but only choose the principles behind it. An interior being can be seen in several different astral forms by different people, but the principle of its effects on our astral bodies will be the same for each person.

Mental

Not all magic effects the mental level, and this is why a lot of western magic and Paganism is just the same old circle going round and round – like most spiritual systems really. Full and effective work on the mental level requires going beyond our ego, our sense of self. This takes correct motivation – that not focused on the self.  Often though so called altruism is really about making the self feel good. A non-self focused is not all light and compassionate either.  It does however, normally require experience and maturity and often, some decent magical training. To quote, yet again, my favourite Anglican contemplative:

As Buddhism observed long ago, pain and pleasure are simply two ends of the old “egoic stick.” As long as one is drawing one’s vital energy from self-esteem, self-affirmation, and self-expression, even in service of the purest and noblest of causes, one is still orbiting within the egoic feedback loop. As long as happiness and a personal sense of self-worth are still the measures by which one relates to life and adjusts one’s heading; as long as vitality is the measure of spiritual wellbeing, one is trapped within the egoic feedback system. These are not moral judgments; they are descriptive criteria. And by these criteria, it is depressingly clear that ninety-nine percent of what is being promulgated as contemporary Western spirituality is merely fine-tuning the ego.

(http://www.sacredweb.com/online_articles/sw4_bourgeault.html)

The mental level is concerned with meaning and it here we connect with transpersonal forces and beings of meaning, that are beyond ourselves. For example, whereas a symbol will have a personal meaning at the astral-emotional level, and affect us personally, when we interconnect with the same symbol on the mental level we encounter a deeper, non-personal meaning. Our relationship with that meaning is what changes us and helps us grow.

Developing pre-established criteria for successful magical action on the mental level is a lot harder than the previous three levels. This is because at this level we, our personality selves, cannot accurately create such criteria – they are conceptually and by definition beyond us. We can only use established traditional criteria or an interior sense that cannot be conveyed in words, except perhaps through great poetry. The traditional criteria points to a change in function within our lives, that is mental level magic should be slowly changing us towards a non-personal modality, that nevertheless functions through the personal.

Spiritual

To be fully effective, all magic needs to work on the spiritual level also, the level of deep divinity. It is this connection that empowers all other levels and which keeps all other levels balanced. The spiritual level however is not able to be manipulated by human will. It is beyond the affairs of humanity and it is only our honest openness and interior relationship with beings and presences at this level which can ‘invoke’ it at all.

Successful magic on a spiritual level cannot be described, only experienced. One of the few words we may use to sum it up, pointing to a glimpse of understanding, is Communion.

Eclecticism

Allied to the concept of “whatever works” is eclecticism. For the sake of clarity, in this post we will contrast this with the concept of synthesis. An eclectic approach is where we consciously take and use particular parts of various traditions, religions, rituals and magic and create our own version. This is done from a limited, personality base, that is to say the consciousness level of you and I and the regular lady on the street. Unless we are someone special of course. I have spoken a little about this in a previous post.

Synthesis on the other hand brings in a third and higher force. There is the human creator(s), the various diverse elements she is working with and a third higher, divine force – something beyond the personal, beyond the self. The third higher force is the controlling agency and is typically the initiator of the synthetic project, not the human creator(s). Its ways and motivations are its own, and sometimes the choice of human collaborators is a bit mystifying to our perception. In this synthesis something new is created which nonetheless bears the hallmark of its sources, human creator(s) and the third higher force.

I consider the Golden Dawn to be the classic example of magical synthesis in the modern era. This explains why it works so well (when practiced properly). As a synthesis, one can, if reductive, analyse it to show the various component sources – Hermetic, Masonic etc –  that went into its making, as well as the personality marks of its founders, Westcott and Mathers. We can also detect, if we are careful, the divine hallmark of the third power, often associated with the motto Lux ex Tenebris or the angel Raphael. It is this third, higher and divine power that ensures the GD is a real, living creation and can be worked by those without physical lineage to the mother temple(s). It is why its practitioners recognise each other and each other’s work.

Eclecticism, which creates without the third higher non-personal force, even if influenced by the higher conscious of its creator, is not synthesis. It cannot be universally useful, by definition, for anyone beyond its creators. And this is why so many magical groups and Orders that seemingly took a similar approach to the GD have long since withered and died. Even on a individual level, eclecticism may be less than useful, since we so often choose from a distinctly ego basis not our own inner higher power. If we do this we feed the ego and are therefore barred from the higher forces.

The beautiful thing about practicing a synthetic tradition, such as the Golden Dawn, is that it is constantly expanding us beyond ourselves, the limited notions we have about our place in the universe and of the universe itself. An eclectic tradition may allow some measure of this, if we consciously subsume our choices to conform with someone else’s higher, creative force, but there is not a touch of the third higher force. This is not sustainable over the long haul for true seekers of divinity. This is why those groups that are created in this manner seldom continue beyond the death of their founders and why true synthetic traditions, such as the Golden Dawn and the Inner Light, continue today.

The concept of magical synthesis also clearly shows the interior blessings these groups had, regardless of forged charters and bogus continental adepts in the case of the Golden Dawn (Dion of course was always honest about her interior commission). It also shows where to place our focus – towards the interior beings and blessings behind our traditions, not any outer organisation at all. Now that does work! 🙂 Thanks.

Discrimination and teachers in magic

Modern magical training at the apprentice level often includes the need for discrimination and discernment – the virtue of the basal Sephira, Malkuth, on the Tree of Life. I’ve discussed this previously a little in this post.

We are told Neophytes must develop the ability to be able to discern all sorts of things: authentic teachers vs nutters, healthy or unhealthy groups, good material or bad etc. This seems all well and good. But consider the following online response to a video I had linked to. The respondent wrote:

…it made good sense to me – but I still need to work out if that’s because it conforms to my beliefs or because it is true.

And here we hit a snag. Since our perception of truth is just that, perception, how can we be sure are not simply viewing something as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because it confirms our own preconceptions? Even if there is an outside, immutable truth, as the esoteric traditions assert, it is always (at the apprentice level) filtered through our own personality consciousness. A conundrum indeed 🙂

What I like about the response above is the surrender of the ego, the acceptance by the respondent that she could be wrong – even though it feels right. I am probably losing what few New Age readers I have right now – but let’s press on!

This willingness to dethrone the ego is a mirror, a microcosm of the entire process of spiritual unfoldment. To have such an awareness at the apprentice level then sets up the whole process of spiritual unfolding. Just as the first layer of oranges in a box determines the rest of the layers, how we are as magical apprentices determines the rest of our unfoldment and magic.

This ties in with one of the functions of the traditional magical apprentice vow concerning the hidden knowledge: I desire to know in order to serve. Now the idea of selfless motivation for magic is quite rightly criticised by some wise folk in the magical community – I’ve just read an excellent commentary on this theme and power by one of the senior GD folk around.

If we are serving others, we are consciously moving outside our ego boundary. This changes and effects us, helping us drop and destroy the facade of false identities we run around with – unless we use service as another false identity! And, like so many Neophyte processes, this can be referred back to the symbol of the point in the circle – our locus of interest moving from the centre to the periphery. So the actual function of the oath to serve is a potent magical tool, and in effect mirrors the apprentice stage, in GD terms Neophyte to Philosophus.

This apprentice stage task, to let go of who we think we are and to balance ourselves ready for the adept awareness of who we may be, is a precious and fragile thing. Since we do not, cannot know who we are, we cannot in actuality rely on our own inner discernment. This is bloody obvious if we think about it. Yet, so many groups, circles, teacher and even magical Orders promote the idea that we can, through our feelings or intuition know what is right, and true for us at any stage of our unfoldment. This is not quite the case. Let’s look at it Qabalistically.

By definition the magical apprentice stage is focused on the personality Sephrioth – Malkuth through Netzach. The Sephira of the self, Tiphareth, is not yet fully functioning or able to be brought into conscious and consistent action. If it could, we would not be apprentices 🙂

The personality triangle is centred on Yesod, which in this case is the sphere of reaction, as opposed to consciousness in Tiphareth. Our modes of knowing the world, via intellectual evaluation (Hod), emotional apprehension (Netzach) and sensation (Malkuth) are all filtered through our Yesod. This is the hallmark of the ‘natural man’ in GD terms (borrowing from St Paul). The task of the apprentice is to realise this, become aware of the false ‘I’ in Yesod and balance the personality ready for some rude awakenings as an adept.

So if we were to use only inner discernment as an apprentice we’d be well and truly snookered. We’d be judging from a false self, without all the awareness and knowledge of Tiphareth. This is where another outer form of discernment is required. This involves, like the oath to serve, looking outside and beyond ourselves. Specifically in the case of magic, it involves being held by a teacher and/or a tradition.

Now, the word ‘hold’ here does not just mean a cosy, warm, snuggy cuddle. The teacher also draws us back from danger and pins us down in a sometimes violent struggle. By being guided, admitting we do not know it all, we look elsewhere – to the wisdom of our teacher and our tradition. The teacher functions at the adept level and together with the tradition they give us a ‘bridge’ to these levels, which allows our Hod and Netzach to be influenced  by Geburah and Chesed respectively (through Mem and Kaph).

With the guidance of our teacher our intellectual evaluation is informed by the power and limiting blessings of Geburah – allowing us to cut through the sludge and create boundaries, to be able to see what is true or not. Our emotional apprehension is informed by the brightness of compassion in Chesed (compassion does NOT mean soft or weak, but can be tough as nails), so we may recognise where there is love, harmony and beauty. Again, this method of discerning – by the grace of our teacher  – moves us beyond ourselves and slowly breaks down the notions of who we are.

So in a nutshell, we cannot do it on our own.

These days however the cult and valorisation of the individual and the ready availability of magical material means lots of folk have different ideas. Not that’s there anything wrong with that. I guess. Thinking you can do things on your own is fine; but it is NOT how the magical tradition is structured. The need for tradition and/or teacher is really clear. As shown, the acceptance of this is a crucial part of dethroning the ego.

Back when I was lad, we had bugger all books and internet thingies. So whatever we could find we valued. Including our teachers. And really it did not, should not, matter if we like them or not. Personal tastes are just that – personal, filtered through our Yesod, the very sphere we are trying to break free from (but never transcend). To walk away from a teacher because of personal taste simply increases the ego’s power. To find, accept and learn from a teacher by means that upsets the ego, such as travelling distances, being uncomfortable, having to argue with them over politics etc, means we are moving our consciousness away from our comfort zones and thus our false self. This is why some of the worst teachers are sometimes the best.

We are however lovely beasts and will often come up with ALL sorts of reasons to chuck in a tradition or give a teacher the boot. My advice, for what it’s worth, is to stick with a tradition or teacher  until the adept level at least. Unless of course they reveal themselves as loonies – and sadly, there’s plenty around. But in general, one should stay the apprentice course the whole way through. Consume the complete enchilada, despite misgivings and inner urges – our inner here, by definition, is Yesod.

There are many positive ‘social’ reasons for staying the course as well as magical ones – adept teachers are real people who have invested time, money and energy in their students. To throw that all away because of ‘inner’ promptings is often simply silly and downright rude. Some words of wisdom from Gareth Knight on this matter, lest we judge our teachers too harshly:

I recall a heartfelt remark by Arthur Chichester when Warden of the Society of the Inner Light  saying – “if you see an adept who seems to be in a mess – it could well be somebody else’s mess.” … One thing is for sure, being in charge of an esoteric group with any clout, let alone starting one up, is fraught with problems such as you would not believe. I speak from personal experience over many years. Never mind how many angels could balance on the point of a needle, try doing it yourself, being the fulcrum of a swinging balance between inner and outer planes, and you will never readily criticise a leader of any group again.

Finally, another crucial point is that magical training is not supposed to be fun, happy or even comfortable. I am reminded of that great green guru, Master Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back teaching Luke the way of the Force. Luke is determined to do his best, confidently declaring, “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” To which Master Yoda replies:

You will be. You will be.

Thanks 🙂

Book Review: the Magical Battle of Britain

There is so much practical magical and esoteric wisdom in this book, I am unclear where to start. So I will start with Dion Fortune herself, who remains a living force and presence within modern western magic. Today there are conferences, books, workshops, websites and discussion pages that explore her work more than ever before. The volume under review shows us exactly why she remains such a force. Consisting largely of her weekly and monthly letters to members of the Fraternity of the Inner Light during the early and middle stages of World War II, the book is exceptional in many ways.

Firstly, the context. What we have in these letters is a evidence, real and concrete, of how a magical fraternity functioned and even thrived under the most onerous and trying circumstances – that of a nation at War. And we must remember this was not a nation going to war on a distant front but rather a war where the distinction between civilian and military effort collapsed and the whole of Britain’s resources were part of the war effort. It is hard to imagine today, just as it is hard to imagine our magical rituals being interrupted by aerial bombardment, as what happened with Dion Fortune.

The context then is everything, and Dion Fortune’s incredible faith and strength shines through these letters regardless of this terrible context, no doubt inspiring and comforting many of the distant members of her Fraternity, unable to meet due to war-time travel restrictions. She is unwavering in her relationship with her Masters, the belief that spiritual principles will invariably overcome material based evil, that Britain will survive and the Axis powers will be defeated. She is completely sure of the efficacy of her magic, guided by the higher powers.

If we as a nation make ourselves a channel of cosmic law through realisation of the spiritual nature of the struggle we are waging, we become the channel for the manifestation of the power of God, and the stars in their courses will literally fight for us, as they did in the weather conditions attending the evacuation of the B.E.F. from Dunkirk, when the storm and the calm fell exactly as needed and even the military authorities talked of a miracle. (p. 34).

This book also unveils and reveals how Dion, acting on guidance from her Masters, chose a revolutionary course of action early in the war. In this time of national and world peril, with the group mind of the nation sensitive and open, non-initiates and initiate alike were taught the secret methods of magic and mind working. The book reveals exactly the instructions given, how the magic worked and the results that ensued. Even today with the nuts and bolts of magic plastered over the Internet, theses workings and meditations have a potency and presence on the written page. And it is of course, arguable that these actions that revealed the secret wisdom to non-initiates were the seeds for the spreading of the Tradition that grew with the likes of Gareth Knight and others during the 80s and 90s.

The letters here show collective and transpersonal magic in action; the bringing through of spiritual and evolutionary principles into the collective group mind, to produce actual changes in consciousness, religion and even politics. The results of the Fraternity’s efforts are evidentiary as time and time again the principle they worked for found itself manifest very quickly in the actual life of the nation. In addition the book reveals the workings for the Angelic Presences that patrolled the boundaries of Britain on the inner levels, keeping it safe from invasion.

A welcome feature of the book is the practical instruction on magic embedded within the letters. These include:

  • Methods of meditation
  • The function and use of astral imagery
  • Seeding the group mind
  • Contacting the Masters
  • Psychic Protection

For these and many other reasons, this re-issue of these war-time letters of Dion Fortune by Skylight Press is highly recommended and ‘required reading’ for anyone interested or involved in western magic, paganism or wanting an overview of an esoteric fraternity at work.

Of importance also is the glimpses the book shows of Dion Fortune the woman as well as the magician. Revealing a reflective and philosophical side of the author, the letters show a person committed to service and truth, and more than once a countering the oft-repeated views of classism and racism we still hear today. Of the former, Gareth Knight as a wonderful and illuminative editor writes, “I have heard it said that Dion Fortune, in her social attitudes, was something of a snob. This would hardly seem to be supported by her trenchant remarks about social privilege in her hundredth letter”. Indeed, this and other letters show a classless, almost socialist viewpoint. Discussing the ‘new age’ Dion saw as being born out of the ashes of the war, Dion wrote:

Life values, not money values, will set the new standards, and there will be a drastic revision of the rights of ownership.” (p.98) and later, “The whole of the New Age turns on the concept of the ownership of the land by the people versus the ownership of the people by the land.” (p.121).

It is interesting to see Dion’s comments on race within these letters. While there seems little doubt her previous exoteric novels and occasional esoteric comments displayed the ingrained racism of her time, Dion surprises us here, supporting on the inner and outer levels …

…the abolition of the colour bar, which has been definitely laid down as one of the bases of the reorganisation of our colonial empire by the Colonial secretary. We must see it as individuals and as a group that this notable advance in Christian principle does not get sidetracked by the dead weight of prejudice, and the more dynamic activities of the tendency to over-compensate  our personal inferiorities by taking advantage of anyone whom circumstances have placed at a disadvantage. ” (p.109).

In a later letter she advocates that the occult still be practiced along traditional racial lines, seeing no good or point in the western traditions being practiced by other cultures. Within 25 years of her death though, as W.G. Gray would experience, her Fraternity would be initiating and training members of several races and countries. We can only speculate how Dion would have responded to this, and other post-war changes in Britain. Our speculation though should be guided by her own favourite saying, that “an ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory”. Though her mental speculations on these matters may have swung to one side of an arc, there is little doubt her practical experience in them would have outweighed her mental theories. Dion was never one afraid of change or unable to admit she was wrong, something that is also woven throughout these letters.

Another thing still occasionally heard about Dion Fortune, is that by the start of the war she had peaked magically and had retreated into a low powered Christian mysticism, that the glories of her Pagan magical days were over. This then would make the material under consideration a minor curiosity at best. Nothing could be further from truth, and really in one sense to even draw distinctions between Dion’s ‘Pagan’ and ‘Christian’ days makes no sense: she was ever committed to a threefold path that was both the source and the drawing together of all strands on the western tradition, as described in this post.

The letters in this book reveal an adept of great purpose, power and skill. Each sentence enriches us, as it enriched her pupils, transmitting more than the words and intellectual meaning alone. There is dexterity and fortitude here, and wisdom unlike most of today’s modern works on the same subject. Moreover during this period she also wrote the material collected into ‘the Circuit of Force‘, the most profound book on the dynamics of the etheric vehicle yet produced. Despite being bombed, despite all the travails of war and the dispersal of her adepts, Dion was clearly still on her contacts, still writing, still training and still serving the tradition that was her life. This was her finest hour.

The Magical Battle of Britain by Dion Fortune, Edited by Gareth Knight

Boundaries, Outer and Inner

These are notes from a course we ran several years ago now, touching on a topic I feel is far too under-explored in contemporary magical and Neo-Pagan circles. Hope they are of some use. 🙂

Most esoteric and magical traditions do not refer explicitly to the concept of boundaries. Recent focus and development of the understanding of boundaries has largely been undertaken by the psychological community, particularly those people concerned with abuse, trauma and co-dependence. The concept of boundaries existing beyond the physical and psychological has really only been explored to any degree by modern Christian ministries, though from a non-esoteric perspective. In esoteric work understanding, creating and being able to maintain functional boundaries is crucial.

Examples of Good Psychological Boundaries

Good boundaries on the various psychological levels may be characterized with these statements (adapted from the work of Pia Mellody):

  • Physical Boundaries:  I determine when, where, how, and who is going to touch me. I determine how close someone is going to stand next to me.
  • Sexual boundaries: I consciously determine with whom, where, when and how I am going to be sexual with someone.
  • Emotional boundaries: What I think or feel or do or don’t do is more about me than it is about you. Conversely, what you think and feel or do or don’t do is more about you than it is about me.
  • Mental boundaries: I have the right to think and believe as I choose to do. I accept the consequences of my thinking.

Boundaries show where something begins and where it ends. It is a marker towards what makes one thing itself and not another. For ourselves it is our boundaries that determine who we are. This applies to all levels, outer and inner. Emotional boundaries determine who we are on the emotional-astral level as much as the outer skin boundary determines who we are on the physical level.

If we have poor boundaries on the emotional level we will have other people’s emotions within the definition of ourselves. So when they feel a certain way, we do too. When they are depressed or happy we are also and so on. Emotionally then we are not ourselves – from an esoteric perspective we are technically obsessed. The same situation applies on the etheric and mental levels if we have poor boundaries on those levels.

The boundary structures we have and hold on each of the levels define our entire being; who we are physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. One of the key functions of the early and thereafter constantly repeated esoteric practices, such as grounding and the Lesser Pentagram (invoking more so than banishing) is to develop functional boundaries.

Without functional boundaries we cannot safely explore our inner beings at all:

Boundaries are also important for guarding and nurturing the soul that God entrusted us. They are like fences with a gate. You can control what comes in and what goes out. This is very important, because within us are many things that are very damaging to us. ~ Christoph Kreitz; Boundaries in Marriage.

Boundaries and the One

The esoteric traditions all assert that at the deepest core of our being we are united with or are the One Thing. That is to say, at the deepest core we are both unity and the no-thing from which unity arises. At this level then our boundaries are non-existent:

Where all is one there can be no separate names.

However, the esoteric traditions are also clear that this level of our being is not the regular human interaction level where we live and move and buy our vegies from the supermarket. You me and the Catholic Pope may all be One and united in essence but that reality is useless in the physical world when faced with regular daily tasks of interacting with human beings. The first function of boundaries then is to make clear the distinction between the planes, between the levels of existence.

Each of the planes is separate from each other in terms of  ‘laws’ and ‘actions’ within the plane. They do not segue into one another. To confuse the planes is a breakdown in boundaries and a constant problem within the esoteric community. At its simplest it creates a mistaken apprehension of reality and an inability to accurately apprehend what is occurring with one’s self and the universe. At its worst it produces the kind of magician who invokes or works magic for every little thing, like fixing the plumbing or finding a new lover. Or an esoteric blogger who assumes their chosen field of practice is their own ground of being, and all comments therein are about their own person or organisation.

From a Christian esoteric perspective the phrase “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21) refers to the need to avoid confusing the planes. Repeated practical magic, trying to utilise the etheric and astral to influence the physical is confusion of boundaries and of the planes. Conversely, structurally correct outer temples, props and rituals without inner workings and assuming they affect our inner lives, is also a confusion of the planes.

We are here in a physical condition in a physical world and while in that state we have to abide by the laws appropriate to it.’  (Fortune, Dion and Knight, Gareth, (1998) The Circuit of Force : occult dynamics of the etheric vehicle, p188-9.  Thoth Publications, Loughborough.)

The One and the Many

The esoteric understanding of creation is that the One, while maintaining itself as Unity also separates itself, unfolds itself unto the Many that exist here in the physical world. Depending on the esoteric tradition in question, there are varying stages within this process. At each stage appropriate boundaries, which are different from all the other stages, are required. The first boundaries however, and this is an important point, are created by the One itself. The very act of separation, even at the most rarefied level is the creation of a boundary. From a Christian perspective:

The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God. God defines himself as a distinct being separate from his creation and from us. He has boundaries within the Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one, but at the same time they are distinct persons with their own boundaries. Prestcott, Shirley – Boundaries: where do you draw the line?

Creation of and maintaining boundaries then imitates and partakes of the divine action of the One; it is a sacred act and one that is immensely powerful when conducted consciously.

Briefly then, functional boundaries on all planes – they:

  • Define who we are on the plane in question;
  • Are consciously created;
  • Are maintained throughout daily life;
  • Can be modified as we choose to do so;
  • Allow what we want to enter us, to enter us;
  • Repel automatically what we do not wish to enter us; and
  • Allow us to take responsibility by defining what we are responsible for (ourselves) and what we are not responsible for (others).

The two examples below, one very mundane, the other more esoteric will give a clue as to what functional boundaries are and how the inner reflects the outer.

Example One. Recently I was at a work meeting with an outside graphic designer who was doing some work for us. The terms had already been agreed upon but my supervisor tried to get the graphic artist to speed up the work. He simply and naturally replied, “No”, very politely. It was a natural response, did not take effort or require ‘walling off’. This was because of his good, emotional and work boundaries. I spoke to the person afterwards (who I knew a little socially also) and he confirmed that it had taken many years of conscious work to allow his boundaries to be so effortlessly effective.

Example Two. Year back when I entered the (semi-public) toilet at work I came across two young men leaving. Automatically the protective pentagrams created within my Sphere of Sensation came into operation – I saw them clearly flash ‘on’. I did not have time to wonder why before the men had left. However, upon entering the cubicle I saw freshly used syringes and blood. My astral and etheric boundaries had effortlessly activated upon the presence of something ‘not nice’ – the negative energies and entities that swarm around drug addicts – that I did not wish to enter me. This was a result of years of daily work with the pentagram rituals.

Inner Plane Boundaries

Without effective boundaries within a plane, we cannot function esoterically on that plane and it is very dangerous to do. In esoteric work we invoke large amounts of inner energies and interact with real inner plane beings. To do so safely and still receive the maximum benefit from our practice we need to be able to maintain our boundaries, let them go and reform them as we will. This takes much practice as it is not simply the case that we wish to avoid opening to all inner plane energies. Blocking of from all inner plane energies is the esoteric equivalent of the psychological concept of walls replacing boundaries. Walls protect the person who has constructed them but do not let anything in or out. This person lives in a state of loneliness, possibly protected from the assaults of others, but also prevented from establishing trusting and intimate relationships. In the esoteric traditions some people never experience the presence of the sacred or the invoked blessings because walls have been created on the inner levels. It is the function of good ceremonial initiations, over a number of years, to assist in the creation of inner boundaries and the transformation of any pre-existing inner walls.

Also in advanced esoteric work we always want to maintain the boundary of the self without closing off via an inner wall to the deeper ‘mystical’ states of being. The essence of the mystical is communion or union with spiritual powers, the letting go of the small self identity. What we do need to do is to establish such good, automatically self-reforming boundaries, that even after communion with the powers, even after ‘becoming’ the One during a full mystical communion, we return to ourselves as a clear, distinct human being with appropriate boundaries.

Returning, as always, he had the problem of becoming again a human being, in a human body, in one specific place, and adjusting to the limits that a body and a place implied – ‘I am here, on this soil, beneath this maple tree. I hear the sound of the water rushing in the creek. I smell the rich grassy earth smell. I am not an infinite star in infinite space. I am a limited human being with a limited human personality.’ – Robert Anton Wilson, Natures God.

Few of us, apart from gifted natural mystics, are born with the ability to do this. It has to be carefully cultivated. To this end the esoteric traditions have created structured training programs whereby inner boundaries are assessed, cultivated and strengthened before engaging in deep mystical surrender.

The structured training within any effective magical curriculum is in part a way of creating the boundaries required for esoteric work. This becomes apparent when we examine the inner work and effects of such tradition skills as meditation, will development, the Pentagram and Hexagram rituals and methods for creating sacred space and time. (Naturally see the wonderful, By Names and Images for concrete examples 🙂 )