Liberal Catholic Church – enough, already!

cwl_1914For the past few months I have been following an excellent blog dedicated to a less than excellent, though fascinating subject, Charles Webster Leadbeater – C.W. LEADBEATER

Leadbeater was known for many things, chief among them was being one of the founding Bishops of what would become the Liberal Catholic Church. As readers of MOTO may know I spent several years worshiping at the Cathedral-Church of St John the Divine of the LCC in Perth. I would perhaps still be attending if I had not come to the happy realisation that my esoteric spirituality was actually better suited and served by joining a non-esoteric Church. Go figure! 🙂

However, I have many happy memories of my time at the LCC and warm feelings towards its clergy and members and so have more than a passing interest in its history and status. I started attending there fully aware of the history of Leadbeater, Wedgewood and others, having read Dr Gregory Tillett’s excellent biography of Leadbeater, ‘The Elder Brother’, and later his Doctoral Thesis on the subject. So I knew what I was getting into, but went for the connection to Christ anyway.

What amazes me now, in 2016, is the repeated denial, obfuscation, misinformation and downright lies LCC leaders and members are still promulgating regarding Leadbeater. I have tried to have clear conversations on the matter with some lovely LCC folk on Facebook, but nothing is ever fully resolved. Hence the writing of this blog, to make it clear where I stand, and where (cos I still care) I would like to the see the LCC head.

To take but one example referred to recently on the C.W. LEADBEATER blog: the date of Leadbeater’s birth. It has been shown comprehensively, undeniably by Dr Tillett (and the research reproduced and then accepted by Theosophists themselves) that Leadbeater was actually born February 16, 1854 not February 17, 1847 as he consistently claimed for many decades, most probably to provide a fictional link with birth year of his main Theosophical collaborator, Annie Besant.

This means Leadbeater lied. Pure and simple. I’m sorry but there is no way out of this, and once we accept he lied on that simple matter for decades all else starts to unravel.

This was clearly understood by the Liberal Catholic leadership. Again, drawing from the blog, in the ‘Liberal Catholic’, November 1996, Vol. LXIV, No. 4:22, we read that the Bishops of the LCC’s 11th General Episcopal Synod accepted “for all official purposes Bp Leadbeater’s own version that he was born on 17th February 1847” … “to do otherwise would make him out to be deceitful, which runs very much against the tenor of his life and teachings.” (Emphasis added).

Yet, in the face of overwhelming evidence by 2003 the official LCC table of Apostolic Succession gives Leadbeater’s correct birthdate, and this is often given in other LCC documents these days too. This means the LCC hierarchy in seven short years moved from denial to, in their own words, accepting Leadbeater as ‘deceitful’. It then beggars belief, that time and time again the LCC refers to Leadbeater as a paragon of virtue and spiritual ‘advancement’ and tries to defend his many other lies and delusions.

boys_own_magazine_feb_1855If you want examples of this go to http://www.cwlworld.info/ which is an out-and-out Leadbeater apologetic site. It clearly states that Leadbeater ‘used a different date’ for his birth date than the truth but says the reasons are ‘unknown’, as if there is some excuse for this lie. The site also states ‘Leadbeater’s claim to have had a younger brother, Gerald, travelling to Brazil is not supported by archival evidence obtained in that country.’ It does not however explain why Leadbeater’s humungous series of lies here, which occurred as part of a fantasy worthy of ‘Boy’s Own’ passed off as fact, has not prompted LCC folk to take Leadbeater off the Saintly pedestal he is consistently placed upon.

It is time the LCC grew up. We all have relatives and ancestors, even immediate family and progenitors who were rascals, deceitful folk or out and out criminals. It does not have to affect us. The same with the LCC, which may or may not have a commission from Christ to do His work in the world, something I and every other human cannot (and should not) judge. However, in the area of research and evidence, truth and common decency, we can and should discern.

For the Liberal Catholic Church to begin to function properly, it needs to accept, and disseminate the truth: Leadbeater was a serial liar, fantasist and child sex abuser who was mired in his own delusions. This does not mean he was not kind to people, it does not obviate fond memories of him nor impact on his published works which rise or fall on their own merits. But it does mean the Church will be free of something that will hold back the manifestation of any Commission from Christ – the covering up of lies and child sexual abuse. Thanks.

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Esoteric Perth

Perth from the Hills

Something I have been meaning to do for a while, and which since the publication of me book has been of interest, is to a say a little about where we live – Perth, Western Australia. More particularly, about its esoteric dimensions. On the purely mundane-physical level, Perth is a wonderful place. Now a large city – too large for me – it is still a great place to live. Dubbed the ‘best kept secret’ in the world for many years, the city has been the favourite of many visitors to Australia for all sorts of reasons. When I stay with my beloved in the hills of Perth and drive down, seeing the whole city beneath me, I am always moved by awe and love for this wonderful home of mine.

Noongar Calendar for Perth

The land here is magnificent, though still bearing the pain and disruption of colonial advancement and aboriginal massacre. Our seasonal cycle is sixfold, something a small group of us discovered twenty years ago when we realised a reversed ‘Eight Sabbat Cycle’ was not right for the actual land we live in. We spent the better part of 1991 and 1992 attuning to and listening to the Land and eventually came up with the EarthDreaming cycle. Years later, we found the local Noongar recognise six seasons, though ours were out by about a month, mainly I feel ‘cos we get our food from supermarkets these days. (Most Pagan and Wiccan groups in Perth, apart from those in the EarthDreaming tradition, have done little to incorporate the actual Perth seasonal cycle in their rites and still work the imported Sabbat cycle created by Nichols and Gardner in the 40s.)

In 1962 astronaut John Glenn passed over Perth as part of his orbit of the earth and thousands of street and porch lights were left on so the city was clearly visible from space (the rest of Western Australia and the Indian ocean were completely dark). Ever since then Perth has been known as the City of Light. Some New Agers, Wiccans and others have appropriated this tag to refer to the special spiritual qualities of Perth, which I do honestly feel exist, and which are remarked upon continually by esoteric and New Age visitors. Not that Perth does not have its fair share of spiritual dodgyness – it certainly does 🙂

Atlantean author of the ritual?

Back in the 80s the buzz in New Age circles was that the ancient sunken city of Atlantis had moved ‘under’ Perth. Yes, under. No one I spoke to was quite sure how this remarkable feat had occurred, but several were sure it had occurred and were now ‘in contact’ with the ancient Atlantean Priests far below our fair land.  Perhaps this is the genesis of such wonderful spiritual rites as this The Full Moon Ritual of Atlantis which comes from a Perth Wiccan source at this time (no, I am not transcribing it). Note how, in true pluralistic Wiccan fashion, the magic circle is a ‘Gypsy’ circle, indeed a royal one – that of The Circle of Queyne Maude of the Gypsies. Nice. (I’m not transcribing this one either).

In any case, despite such unlikely tectonic manoeuvres, Perth does have a nice spiritual rep about it. When I attended a conference on spirituality back in 1989, the Buddhist and Muslim speakers were surprised to discover that each of their international groups sent people to Perth and Western Australia for spiritual retreat, recovery and pilgrimage.  And let’s be fair, it is a gorgeous place to live and has produced or attracted more than its fair share of esoteric and depth spiritual folk.

For example, Buddhism – most American Buddhist centres do not have a resident teacher; someone authorized to teach and holding regular lessons. Instead lay teachers may hold meditation meetings with their teacher visiting once or twice a year. Now in Perth, still a small-medium city, we certainly do have centres like this. For example, the Diamond Way centre of the controversial Lama Ole. However, we also have centres with resident Lamas and teachers. Just of the top of my head (please do not take offence if someone does not appear on this list) there are:

All of these teachers are also internationally regarded – they are the ones travelling to other places, giving Dharma talks

Church of St John the Divine, Perth

However, years before the Tibetan diaspora Buddhism, of a sort, had already been promoted in Perth by the Theosophical Society. The TS and its cousins, Co-Masonry and the Liberal Catholic Church all had major centres in Perth. The leading light of this triumvirate, C.W. Leadbeater, saw Australia as a special land in the forthcoming evolution of humankind and his second major hub in Oz, after Sydney, was Perth. He actually died here and his ashes are a stone’s throw away from where I type. Later the Theosophical Liberal Catholic flame was continued in Perth with several prominent Australian Theosophists and Bishops stemming from our fair city.

Once Perth had caught up to the cultural changes happening in the 1960s, Wicca came along. To be fair there had been (and still are) rumours of more ancient Pagan happenings in the hills of Perth going back to the 1920’s, but little evidence. Wicca though was big thing in the City of Light. The main Australian promoter and initiator of Wicca in Australia, the late Simon Goodman, was from Perth. Therefore, for a long time Perth was the Australian Witchcraft capital, and remained so for some time, even after Simon had moved to a cushy government job in Canberra where he made good use of the photocopier, copying entire books for his network of covens across Australia. He returned here to die, tragically young, on the Vernal Equinox in 1991, leaving his extensive collection of documents to Murdoch University which I catalogued shortly after his death.

Contemporary with Simon, but still going strong in all areas of life, another Perthite, the Rev Dr Gregory Tillett became one of the leading world authorities on the occult, Theosophy and many other matters. He still is 🙂 Still in the 80s and 90s, Perth author, D. Jason Cooper published a number of good books on runes, numerology and other neat things with Llewellyn. At the same time, making good use of the ground broken by Simon Goodman, Perth became home to the first nationally recognised Neo-Pagan Church, The Church of Wicca, pipping the Canberra based Church of All Worlds to the title by a year or two. The CoW (an unfortunate acronym) was and is led by its flamboyant Arch-Priestess, Lady Tamara von Forslun, who it must be said annoyed more conservative and traditional Wiccans intensely. Despite once trying to convince me that a couple of vases (stamped on the bottom ‘made in India’) were from ‘the Temple of Diana’ in Rome and other shenanigans, I still have affection for the ol’ girl 🙂

So Perth has a fine and full esoteric history, and one that is continued today via the Internet, where a few of us have big shoes to full. Of the top of me head on the magical front alone, there is John McNair, esotericist, magician and musician for many years and producer of great Podcast interviews. Listen to his latest one with Bishop T. Allen Greenfield here.

Then there is the dashing and beautiful Mitzy Gaynor, a lady who is not afraid to tell it like it is, rub salt in self-inflicted wounds and challenge her Pagan community to give a damn and help stop kids starving in Africa. Mitzy also reminds me of the local Pagan charity WA-Pagan-Food-Pantry. And of course, there is the wonderful Fr. MvdV, magician in the esoteric Masonic tradition who has taken a break from Internet activity for a while, but who I hope will be back. All three, I am proud to say, were present at my book launch (Mitzy reverse-dragged up by donning a false beard and a bald-wig). There is also a fine and strong Wiccan and Pagan presence from Perth online – the excellent  Chaos Witch Blog – unscrewing the universe one lightbulb at a time (who can resist such a sub-title) and Teachings from the Temple, to name but two.

So, that’s Perth…small in one way, but very present in our online and esoteric world 🙂 Yay for Perth!

The Golden Dawn, the Inner Light and Leadbeater

Seal of the Theosophical Society

I recently read a very interesting article by the Rev Dr Gregory Tillett, ‘Modern Western Magic and Theosophy’ from the journal Theosophy and History (Vol XV, No. 3). Dr Tillett is an expert in a number of fields, including the history of the Theosophical Society (TS), so the article proved to be very interesting. It looks at how, despite Blavatsky’s misgivings and warnings about magic and theurgy, Theosophy went on to influence the course of western magic through the Golden Dawn and later traditions. Much of this is unknown to more recent magical students, which is a bit of a pity.

Now, Dr Tillett has probably forgotten more about the occult and theosophy than I know, and while there is nothing I would disagree with in his article, his analysis incidentally raised a few issues I wish to explore.  He begins rightly with the following statement:

The influence of the Theosophical Society on the development of modern western esotericism can hardly be over-estimated. Directly and indirectly Theosophy served as both a catalyst and a fountain-source for almost all in Western esotericism that followed the publication of the teachings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891) and the establishment of the Theosophical Society in 1875. (17)

No one can argue with this fact. Mathers, Westcott and other movers and shakers in the Golden Dawn tradition were members of the TS or TS influenced groups. This is not the case for the majority of contemporary GD folk, but the influence our GD spiritual ancestors have on us is huge, and they were pretty much all imbued with Theosophy.

Leadbeater

With the ascendency within the TS of the main subject of Tillett’s paper (as well as his doctoral thesis), C.W. Leadbeater, this influence of Theosophy on modern magic increased. Many of the ideas we in the magical and pagan community take for granted had their western genesis or modern modification in the Theosophical or Leadbeater-Theosophical milieux: spiritual evolution through a series of incarnations, karma, astral plane beings and Masters, devas, Atlantis and more.

In fact, from reading and anecdotal evidence, I would say that the vast majority of magical practitioners in the west today – Wiccans, pagans, ritual magicians and others – practice within a mind set and worldview that is heavily Theosophical. We do not notice it, because it seems a natural and easy way to see the world, and more particularly the inner world, but it is there. I mean, we certainly are not practicing within a traditional esoteric Christian framework, which rejects the monism so easily assumed by most modern esoteric folk. We are not practicing within a classic or traditional pagan worldview, which had very little personal deity relationship at all and was responsible for a mindset which happily bred and sacrificed 8 million puppies for Anubis. And we are not thinking and viewing the world like the majority of cunning folk, who held a craft, not a philosophy and whom happily used a mix of pagan remnants and Christian motifs to get the job done, including combating those evil witchy poos.

There are a few dedicated souls and groups reconstructing  genuine Hermetic, Celtic and other non-Christian and pre-Theosophical based worldviews, but they are in the minority. Most of us hold unconscious assumptions about the interior world that, if we follow them closely, lead back to Theosophy. Not that’s there anything wrong with that. (If you want to argue this point, please go ahead, but do me a favour and read Dr Tillett’s thesis on Leadbeater first. It’s all on line and free and all.)  🙂

Theosophical Ritual

So much for the worldview and in some sense the theory of modern magic, but what about the praxis? Did Theosophy and Leadbeater have a great influence on the practice of magic in our traditions? Initially, they certainly drew on the same raw materials – modernity, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, newly translated manuscripts and the western lodge tradition itself. Dr Tillett’s works are very good in tracing and exposing the early Theosophical use of ritual and traditional lodge practices, such as Masonic styled ritual, secrecy and signs, often unknown to modern Theosophists and others. These practices mostly died out early in the history of the TS, and today exist only in vestigial forms, with most non-Masonic Theosophical folk eschewing ritual entirely. But the ceremonial side was there from the beginning.

Later, Leadbeater would create or adapt a whole host of ritual and Masonic based ventures associated with Theosophy and fringe Christianity. Many of these, like the Egyptian Rite – created to be the most powerful occult order in the world – remain unexplored and secret to modern Theosophists and others alike. Again, most modern Theosophists and magicians know little or nothing about these ventures.

Theosophical Magic

Energy connection on Christian Altar

It is clear that Leadbeater believed passionately in the effectiveness of ritual magic, though he mostly avoided that term. Anyone who has taken the time to study his Science of the Sacraments will see what is essentially a ritual magic rationale being used to empower and explain both traditional Christian liturgy and Leadbeater’s own version of Christian ceremonial. A similar approach was used in Leadbeater’s revision of the Co-Masonic ceremonies, much of which remains unpublished.

Leadbeater’s rationale for and ideas about magical ritual are very similar in some ways to those of the Golden Dawn and later traditions. To quote from the article.

Leadbeater, however, went further: he claimed that the rituals themselves brought about (or at least had the potential to bring about) psychic changes in those who underwent them. The rituals stimulated forces on the inner planes and within the participants and invoked the participation of non-human entities.

Ultimately, Leadbeater taught that ritual magic could hasten the process of spiritual evolution in those who participated in it, and through the forces invoked in it positively affect those beyond, even if they had no knowledge or believe in the efficacy of the ritual, and indeed positively benefited the whole world. (31-32)

The same ideas are stated in several core texts of the Golden Dawn, the Inner Light and other modern groups. However, the similarity appears to be confined to the realm of ideas and principles, not the nuts and bolts of magical practice. Both Leadbeater-Theosophy and the Golden Dawn tradition seem to draw from the same source stock of lodge and esoteric ideas, but crucially there seems to something ‘extra’ within the early Golden Dawn, added before Leadbeater was any significant factor in the TS at all.

A classic example of the something extra are the Z Documents. To quote Nick Farrell, who recently published the earliest version of these crucial documents:

Z1, Z2 and Z3 are what made the Golden Dawn magical. Next to the Cypher Manuscript there is not a single bit of writing which is more crucial to an understanding of the Golden Dawn system of magic. (King Over the Water, 206).

These documents are still being explored by contemporary magicians and they are still yielding many treasures. The magical keys explored and outlined in these documents include:

  • Internal transformation by the virtue of magical practice. Though Leadbeater would later re-state this, the GD was one of the very first groups to practice this principle in a coherent and systemised manner.
  • The linking of the magical formulae that underlie group ritual initiations with personal magical and spiritual practice. This is a hallmark of the Golden Dawn and was an amazing innovation.
  • The creation and utilization of Godforms in which the astral or interior presence of temple officers are cloaked. While the general mental level principles of an officer representing a spiritual force or being had been part of the lodge tradition for centuries, the Golden Dawn took the process much further.
  • The use of colour in magic. Before the Golden Dawn colour was already a part of ritual magic, but without the depth and level of sophistication the GD would bring to it, with its Four Colour Scales. This was partly a result of the times: the range of paints and pigments needed for such an elaboration were not easily available before the Victorian era.

Leadbeater’s published works on  ritual magic show none of these keys to any degree. Nor does it seem they were included as part of any secret teachings he may have passed on to selected students. As Tillett first showed in his work, The Elder Brother, Leadbeater’s secret teachings, given to selected young male pupils only, were of a sexual nature. To quote from Tillett’s thesis:

In simple terms, Leadbeater taught that the energy aroused in masturbation can be used as a form of occult power, a great release of energy which can, firstly, elevate the consciousness of the individual to a state of ecstasy, and, secondly, direct a great rush of psychic force towards the Logos for his use in the spiritual development of the world. (p.888)

 Tillett traces Leadbeater’s sexual magic to tantric influences from his time in India and indirect or direct connection with the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) via Vyvyan Deacon. Since Leadbeater passed on these teachings to his pupils without the formality of OTO authorisation, it seems to suggest that that he would have done the same with Golden Dawn secrets, the ‘something extra’, if he was in possession of them. It is therefore probably safe to say that the GD did not unduly influence Leadbeater’s ritual magic, and that the two streams developed side by side.

Dion Fortune

Tillett’s article also briefly recounts the Thesophical influence on Dion Fortune:

…her writings on the inner effects of magical ritual can hardly be said to have developed without significant influences from Leadbeater’s work, any more than her attempt at the establishment of something very much resembling a church – the Guild of the Master Jesus and the Church of the Graal –  is unrelated to Leadbeater’s Liberal Catholic Church.  Fortune had been a tentatively enthusiastic Theosophist but the real reasons for her break from Theosophy, other than her desire to establish her own organization and give her own teachings, remain unclear. (44)

Dion Fortune

While this seems opaque and indisputable, I think a couple of points need to be made. Firstly, the motivations behind the creation of the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC) and Fortune and Loveday’s Guild of the Master Jesus seem quite different. In a nutshell, the LCC was created to allow Theosophists to continue to practice their childhood and historical religion without comprising their Theosophical beliefs. Basically, it was a case of having their cake and eating it too. The impetus and support for the Guild of the Master Jesus however, like all things Dion did, stemmed from her allegiance to her inner plane contacts. Further, the work of the Guild (later the Church) was but one part of the integrated threefold way, advocated and practiced by Dion throughout her Occult career. It was not an add-on to bring in a more religious approach and satisfy the emotional need of members for traditions remembered from childhood. (See this post for more on the threefold way).

Even though Dion first came to the mysteries via a Theosophical cafeteria, experienced her initial contacts with Theosophical imagery and obviously was imbued with the ideas of Leadbeater, her actual magic and that of the Inner Light show little influence. As an initiate of the Golden Dawn tradition and a member of two Orders, Dion would presumably have been exposed to the ‘something extra’ that provided the magic. From her own account though, this something extra would have been confined to the documents not the magicians, for she felt the spark had gone out of the GD branch she was initiated into. Her account matches up nicely with the research done by Nick Farrell and presented in his King Over the Water, showing indeed that for a decade or more prior to Dion’s membership, the Mathers were watering down the rituals and selling high degrees for higher fees. Dion was certainly not given oral instructions on practical magic to any depth, leading to her famous criticism of the consecration method for the Lotus Wand, as I recount and explore in this post.

Instead Dion developed her own methods of magic, being instructed and trained by her Masters year after year. While many of these drew on and belonged to the lodge and ritual magic traditions of the past, many were also innovations. She tended to present these innovations through her fiction. Her novels the Winged Bull, Sea Priestess and Moon Magic contain a number of these potent magical formulae and methods that owe little to the Golden Dawn and less to Theosophy. Her later projects, such as ‘the Arthurian Formula’, shows she continued this innovative approach until her premature death in 1946.

Wicca

Wiccan Initiation

So the Leadbeater-Theosophical influence on two major streams of modern magical practice seem very little. What about the source of most of modern magic, Neo-Pagan Witchcraft or Wicca? Here the influence is clear, though I would argue only partial. Though most Wiccans and pagans reproduce and accept much ingrained Theosophical concepts, their magic I feel is quite different. Aside from the practical magic techniques, originally encapsulated by Gerald Gardner in his Eight Ways of Making Magic, Wiccan transformative magic centres on the initiations, the religious-spiritual transformation brought about via Drawing Down the Moon and psychic linking to the inherent transformation of the Eight Sabbats.

Regarding the ceremonial initiations, Tillett correctly points out that the Gardernian rites were influenced by his exposure to Theosophical Co-Masonry and Rosicrucianism:

The Wiccan rituals contain elements that seem to be influenced by traditional craft Freema- sonry, but also elements that are not found in that form but are unique to the rituals of Co- Masonry as revised by Leadbeater. (36)

Gardner’s use of sex and sexuality within these initiations however is quite different to the approach of Leadbeater, being one of sacramental worship not the generation of power to accomplish spiritual aims and development. Moreover, the initiations are only one aspect of the transformative path in Wicca; the Drawing Down of the Moon and the Eight Sabbat system show little or no sign of Leadbeater’s influence. Thus we have a definite, though by no means major influence.

Sources of Magic

We can see then that Golden Dawn, Inner Light and Wiccan magical practices have little influence from Theosophy and Leadbeater. They contain crucial elements which are not readily found in the historical forms of ritual and lodge magic Leadbeater had access to and which he developed according to his own peculiar wishes. This is why they stand out from Leadbeater and other forms of magic. Where then do they arise, what is their source?

Doreen Valiente

Some of these are clear. There is no doubt that the majority of the Inner Light tradition stems from Dion Fortune’s relationship with her interior Masters. Much of Wiccan magic can be traced, but some aspects simply cannot. While there is little indication that Gerald Gardner was in touch with inner plane contacts, the other creator of Wicca, Doreen Valiente certainly was for a time, as she recounts in The Rebirth of Witchcraft.

As for the Golden Dawn, the need to create a charter based legitimacy back to a prior physical Rosicrucian Order seems to have muddied the waters a bit. Mathers and Westcott’s descriptions of the sources of the GD are ambiguous enough for modern folk to believe whatever they want to foist onto them, from physical Secret Chiefs to schizophrenic delusion. Sources of the tradition aside however, it is clear where the all important Z Documents came from – the inner realms. As Nick Farrell puts it, “Mathers got the Z Documents from [the Angel] Raphael”.

So we are left with the realisation that in some ways, the main progenitors of modern magic and the Theosophical patriarch C.W. Leadbeater have something in common: all relied upon and gained much from discourse with invisible forces and beings. A major difference though, I feel can be found in their approach. Leadbeater’s vision and interaction with the inner world was obviously corrupted by his own unconscious. This was examined by another Theosophist, E.L. Gardner and summarised in Tillett’s thesis:

Gardner’s basic thesis is this:  Leadbeater unconsciously created an entire, artificial system, based upon his own strongly held views, and, again unconsciously, used his occult power to visualize this system into a state where it had the appearance of reality, and appeared as an objective reality to him when he viewed it clairvoyantly. (p.890)

I would argue Dion’s interaction, though far from perfect, was not so corrupted, for the simple reason that even after 20 or more years of interaction with the inner planes she was known to at least once consult an outside medium to ensure she was not deluding herself. She questioned her material constantly, whereas Leadbeater was 100 per cent sure of himself and his visions. He even cheerfully declared he had got Christ’s own personal imprimatur for the liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church without so much as batting an Episcopal eye-lid. From such surety delusion ensues.

So when it comes right down to it, Theosophy, particularly C.W. Leadbeater’s version of Theosophy, still has a major influence over the general tenor and worldview of modern magic, but much less so on its practical methods. This may be seen as exposing a discrepancy and mismatch between the theory and praxis of magic, a criticism often directed at modern magical groups, one which I must say most magicians happily ignore. It is after all an orthopraxy based tradition, which emphasis goes some way to explain the continued and hidden Theosophical influence.

Leadbeater Today

Church of St John the Divine, Perth

Leadbeater himself continues to be treated by some as a saint and others as a pederastic child abuser full of self delusion. Either way, his memory continues on. I live in Perth, Western Australia, where he died in 1934 and where a portion of his ashes remain, behind a wall plaque in the Liberal Catholic Church of St John the Divine. Many in the  local Theosophical community continue to revere him. At my first Co-Masonic meeting I was ushered in to meet a charming elderly woman based on the sole qualification that she remembered Leadbeater from her childhood.

Many Theosophical folk in Perth simply refuse to accept the evidence presented by Tillett and others of Leadbeater’s sexual activities with young boys at all. Years back when required to complete an assignment for library school I choose the Perth Theosophical Library. Nearing completion of my interview with the Lodge President she seemed to insist I switch topics from the Dewey Decimal Classification to something more esoteric. So I mentioned I had just finished Tillett’s biography, whereupon I was subjected to a tirade of venom and abuse about Dr Tillett, most of which was certainly un-Theosophical and definitely unladylike. So ol’ Bishop Leadbeater still arouses strong feelings and his presence remains very real for some. However, despite worshipping many times seated next to his ashes, I cannot say I have personally felt it.

Catholic Mass, Tradition and Change

northperthredemptoris2tThe other day M and I took a friend’s elderly relative to a mass at the lovely Redemptorist Monastery in North Perth (or more accurately the church on the Monastery grounds). As I have recounted previously my communal Christian endeavours have been largely Liberal Catholic or Anglican. It’s been a while since I was at a Roman Catholic Mass and I guess I had “expectations”. This is always a problem.

The first thing I noticed was a large roll-down screen at the front of the apse displaying a PowerPoint presentation. You can just see the edge of it in the top right of this picture. They tried to make it fit in with a nice wooden top-piece but really it clashed a bit with the sacred architecture. The screen proceeded to have sections of the liturgy displayed upon it throughout the service as well as lyrics to modern songs that were sung by a live band off to the side. Much to my relief there wasn’t a karaoke style bouncing ball over the lyrics or Words of Institution (“…this is my body which will be given up for you”). But I reckon this was only because of technical limitations.

These songs struck me the most about the Mass. Based on older hymns and parts of the traditional Mass they were very lovely and emotional, not at all fevered like some of the Evangelical tunes. They did however give a very different feel to the liturgy. We even sung them during the Preparation of the Gifts and the Fraction, which for me is one of the most mystical parts of the Mass.

Other elements of the Mass were wonderful, such as linking hands in a communal chain while praying the Lord’s Prayer (or ‘Our Father’ as the Catholics call it). Overall though I couldn’t irreverently help recalling the advert on the Simpsons episode, “Sunday Cruddy Sunday“.

[Thanks to Fox‘s scouring of the net this video may disappear, so this synopsis just in case:

A lone blue automobile drives down a deserted road.  When it reaches a tiny two-pump gas station, a man steps out.  Seeing no one else around, he beeps his horn. The door to the station pops open; three minimally-clothed young women step out as ZZ Top’s “Legs” plays, sans vocals.  After a bit of posing and wiggling, they go to work cleaning and gassing up his car, until the man notices a cross hanging down in the cleavage of the blonde.  A voice-over says, “The Catholic Church.  We’ve made a few … changes.“]

The Buddy Christ -Looking Out for YOU!

The Buddy Christ -Looking Out for YOU!

While not approaching the tradition of the Buddy Christ, this new Catholicism is a bit too happy-clappy for me. Of course all traditions, all liturgy changes. They have to – even if there was a piece of contemporary liturgy unaltered for 1500 years, the social, cultural and psychological makeup of the laity itself has changed. Hence the liturgy would mean something different to a congregation now in 2009 than it meant in 509. This one of the reasons why liturgy, like tradition is dynamic not static. As we change, it changes to meet us and being based on sacred revelation it is, at any point in history, our doorway to the One.

It is the directing agency for the changes in liturgy and tradition, not the changes themselves that need careful examination. Is the change directed by the tradition and its sources (the One) or by the institutional and personal concerns of the Church and the priesthood? These questions apply equally to the Golden Dawn and the western magical tradition as it does the Church? Are the new manifestations of the Golden Dawn complete with changes such as astral and self-initiation directed and birthed into being by the inner sources of the GD (the Secret Chiefs)? Or are they directed by the conscious and unconscious needs and desires of individual Orders and adepts? I don’t know. But we do need to think about these things before instituting any change to tradition.

As I said I’m a bit behind the eight ball regarding contemporary Christian worship – the Liberal Catholics who I worshipped most with are reactionary to say the least. Not being in communion with Rome they have not undergone the transformations begun with Vatican II. For example, the priest still faces away from the congregation. A wiser commentator, Fr Gregory Tillett, years back commented on the decline of Christian religion in the west:

“The real explanation [for the decline], I suggest lies within the Christian Churches. It is the Churches, no less than society as a whole, which have become increasingly secular. … This is seen, for example, in the form of services. The secularisation of liturgy has led to Church services which involve nothing of the mysterious, the numinous, the inspirational. These services are performed in buildings often largely indistinguishable from town halls or convention centres. Preaching focuses on social action, pop psychology, or vague platitudes about being good and showing love.

Many people, particularly younger people, have sought to meet their spiritual needs in that wide range of movements covered generally by terms like New Age, Neo-Pagan, eastern or esoteric, many of which often consciously replicate the characteristics of traditional Christian religion. To take the example of worship again, many of these groups employ elaborate rituals, emphasise mystery, offer clear and specific teachings, and impose obligations of conformity to particular codes of behaviour. The very things which, so many churches claim, young people in the modern world will not accept, and have therefore abandoned.”

Last Sunday with the songs, live band and PowerPoint I saw what by Fr. Tillett was on about occurring within a Catholic Church belonging to a very established and venerable order. This is not to decry or criticise the Mass which was very beautiful in many ways. I do though believe this approach only satisfies part of our spiritual needs. By focusing on appeals to the contemporary fashions and tastes – the songs, the PowerPoint, obscuring the mysteries of the Fraction etc. – the liturgy then focuses on the higher personal, the Netzach or Yesod experiences. It may even hinder the Tiphareth experience, that of the Higher consciousness, the sphere of Christ within ourselves. This is similar to the experience of the various forms of music I outlined in this post. That won’t stop me going back again this weekend though. 🙂

JC and I – a journey with Christ and Beyond

The other day a friend’s daughter asked if I was a Christian. I explained (in words suitable for an intelligent seven year old) that though I worshipped and communed with Christ I did not call myself a Christian, as I felt my relationship with Him was not deep enough. My friend, who knows me very well, empathically interjected – she thought I was indeed a Christian.

It was an odd and unexpected touching moment. Christ and I have danced a very strange dance over the years and to be called a Christian moved me deeply for some reason. As a wee lad in Scotland I was denied the opportunity of Sunday school and thus I developed my own idiosyncratic understanding of Christian religion. This could explain a lot 🙂

Christianity, as no one needs telling, is a very mixed bag and often a very big problem. No one sensible can deny the vast amount of abuse and suffering engendered in the name of Christ or the Churches. Also, many of the tenants of exoteric Christianity range from, on the good side, ‘unskilful presentations of eternal truths’ right over to ‘you want me to believe what?”

For example, on the outer level Christianity starts with a requirement of faith. Most Churches would agree that Christianity is the religion centred on the teachings and life of JC as contained within the New Testament. However, JC’s teachings and the later words about Him/them in the Bible are all based on the assumption that God actually exists. If one does not share this assumption or has had an experience that may be labelled as or stemming from “God”, Christianity leaves one high and dry.

And this is just God, let alone the rest of it: Jesus as the only son of God, the Holy Spirit, sin etc.

Compare this for example, with the starting point of Buddhism, which basically says:

“(1) existence itself, your life, is suffering, (2) yours and everyone’s suffering is caused by wanting things, (3) the end of suffering comes about with the cessation of wanting things, (4) the way to cease wanting is X…dot…dot…dot.”

These are simple, direct teachings that exist on their own, that can be tested and found true or wanting by anyone, without reference to another article of faith, an older Testament, the assumed existence of God etc.

For these and for many, many other reasons I have never formally committed myself to a Church. No matter how I try and swallow it, the exoteric Christian pill will not go down. And these are some of the reasons why, in a post-faith secular society, Christianity continues to crumble whilst Buddhism continues to climb.

However, the western esoteric tradition is essentially Christian in form, feeling and function. There is no other way of cutting it, and for all the Pagans out there, I am sorry, but this is the way it is. The Romans won and they destroyed most European pagan religions as they expanded their Empire(s). Exoteric Christianity came a little later, moved in and made Europe its home. Goodbye Paganism.

There were virtually no Pagan survivals of substance. There were no hidden Witch meetings or Pagans giving each other the nod in Church before scooting home to an evening of hidden celebrations and rustic sex under the hedgerow. We only have to look at the English Reformation and the acts of Henry VIII to see how quickly the religious fabric of a nation can be altered and virtually erased when the supreme authority decides to ‘make it so’.

The bedrock of western consciousness, mysticism and esotericism has for centuries been Christian. Early in my esoteric life I denied this truth, identifying as Pagan. However, as I moved through the esoteric path I, like millions of others focused on Christ and not the religion.

So for many years my relationship with Christ was private and not very deep, and I still cringed when discussing religion with most Christians; we were just not in the same book, let alone the same page. However, in 1992 I was invited to present at a weekend camp on the work of activist, Witch and all around good woman, Starhawk. The camp was run by the Creation Spirituality Network and here I met Christians who were on the same page; some in fact were in the same sentence and more Pagan than the Pagans I knew 🙂

Creation Spirituality has flowered due to the work of Fr Matthew Fox, whose vision of Christianity is so different to what is bandied around in most Churches and schools we can hardly call it the same religion. Naturally this has led to a little friction between Matthew and the Churches. He was investigated for heresy by the now Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger (none was found) and eventually, as he says “given a pink slip by the Pope”. I won’t go into his vision and ideas here; if you’ve not read his books, please do, especially Original Blessing.

So through Creation Spirituality, though the network never held any Christian events, JC and I became a lot closer.

Matthew though, for all his greatness and brilliance, is a visionary, a dreamer, and inspirer of practice, not a teacher of mystical experience. For this I had the good fortune a few years later to come across the works of Neil Douglas-Klotz, particularly his work on the Aramaic Jesus. Now here was something that resonated and drew from the same sources as the western esoteric traditions, that was in essence a modern version of them.

Neil is a mystic, a writer, a dancer, an embodied teacher of the Blessings of the One. If you have not delved into his work, again, please do. If you ever get a chance to Dance the Lord’s Prayer as composed by Neil, you must take it. When we helped to host Neil on his first trip to Perth in the mid 90’s I gained a deep and lasting appreciation of the mystical roots of the Western traditions and their focus through Jesus. My relationship with Him changed, expanded and is still receiving the blessings of that contact with the living Aramaic tradition of Christ.

Having established a deep and mystical connection with Christ my esoteric unfoldment naturally expanded considerably: after all the Inner Order of the Golden Dawn is a Christian Order. Secure in my connection, I ventured out into the real flesh and blood world of Churches.

There is probably not much to say here that has not already been said. One of the saddest moments was my attendance at lunchtime communions at St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Perth. Israel Regardie once complained how his Adept initiation was ruined by an officer reading out the ritual like a shopping list, without feeling or energy. That is good compared to how the Priest and Deacon doled out the Body and Blood of Christ. The liturgy was rushed through, spoken as fast a possible with an obvious desire to get it over with. There was no reverence, no love, and no presence of Christ. I am amazed they continue to bother.

However, the Anglican Communion lived up to its reputation in providing extremes within the same Church. I once attended the most glorious and profound experimental Eucharist with Rev Evan Pederick, consuming the Blessed Sacrament to strains of the Eurthymics, The Miracle of Love, which is of course what it is all about.

However, in my cynical moments I am still with that anonymous Bishop who once said that the only good thing about being Anglican was that it didn’t interfere with your religion or your politics.

For a number of years I attended regularly at the Liberal Catholic Church in Perth. Wishing to partake of full sacramental communion, and not wishing to be Confirmed, my options were very limited and the LCC allows anyone who seeks the Blessing of Christ to take communion with them. I enjoyed my time there, the services being very varied. Mostly I attended the small spoken services held early mornings by Fr David. These were very simple, very touching and full of the presence of Christ, due largely to the faith, prayers, inner work and love of Fr David and the few members of the community who attended.

Now the LCC is a particularly funny beast, started largely by and for Theosophists. You can read all about it on the net of course. What I found interesting was the continuing reverence given to one of their former presiding Bishops, C.W. Leadbeater. He was spoken about with utmost veneration and never once was it doubted he was saintly, noble, honest and completely accurate in all his clairvoyant visions. This is despite ample evidence and proof that he was active sexually with young boys under his charge, likely to have been engaged in homosexual sex magic and woefully inaccurate in his predictions and descriptions of the inner side of matter (for example see the Elder Brother). I stopped attending the Church after Fr David left, as it was very hollow without him.

Outside of my little temple the tension between modern esotericism and Christianity is very noticeable. Many contemporary magicians are anti Christian not in any overt Satanic way, but mostly as a reaction to the perceived wrongs of Christianity both on a personal and social level (and as for the Pagans…). Sadly, there is a lot of this reactive force in the western esoteric traditions (and as for the Pagan paths…)

One personal example: there is a brilliant Golden Dawn ritual, the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram which is one of the most effective daily practices in the Western tradition. Over the years I have seen many lives changed, healed and enlarged through this ritual. It is however based on the Jewish and Christian mysteries. Every time I teach it, there is at least one person who has a problem with it, either with asking for Archangelic blessings or the form of the Cross or even saying ‘Amen’ (some Pagans use Aum or ‘Amenti’ – to so avoid staining their precious lips, I guess).

This resistance has resulted in the creation of many ‘Pagan’ lesser pentagram rituals most of which are as near to ritual rubbish as you can get, as they totally miss the point that it is through connection with the Jewish and Christian mysteries the ritual works. Those people who, despite initial problems with Christianity, engage in this ritual often also find their religious outlook broadening and their reactive issues with Christianity falling away. Such is the love of Christ, even for those who don’t actually like Him:)

Esoteric Christianity itself however poses a number of problems. Mostly these centre on the exclusivity of the Christian Revelation. Take for example the point of view espoused by Fr Greg Tillett in his New Age or Old Faith. Now Greg probably has forgotten more about western esotericism and occultism than I know and is reported to hold several magical lineages. However, for him the Christian message is simple:

“Christianity makes a number of exclusive claims: it does not represent itself as one religion among many, as simply a better alternative, let alone an equal option. Jesus declared: No man comes to the Father except by me. One can accept or reject that claim, but the claim is clear and unambiguous.”

What is the non-Christian to do with that? However much I admire the boldness of the statement it remains an issue of concern.

Gareth Knight, one of the wisest Christian magicians around simply declares that Christianity is the best religion, not the only true one, just the best revelation. He is of course comparing Christianity only with other revelations…(as for the Pagans…). Naturally we all think our system is the best (or equal with the best); otherwise we would do something else.

Some Christian occultists go the other way, relegating Christ to another Master among many, but remaining focused on Him as a personal preference.

My own way out of this impasse was found years back when reading about a guy visiting William Blake (don’t ask me for a reference, this was when I was 17 or so, and I remember only this). This guy, a committed Christian, tried to ‘trap’ William by asking straight out if he accepted Jesus Christ as the only Son of God. To which William replied, “Oh, definitely He is. But, then so are you, and so am I”.

This reality, this eternal truth, can only be experienced not discussed. The best and most direct way I know of is extensive meditation on this phrase from St Bonaventure, used in Christian based Golden Dawn Orders the world over:

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

This meditation also holds the key, along with the Holy Qabalah for the reconciliation of Theistic esotericism such as esoteric Christianity, monist esoteric schools and non-theistic esoteric Buddhism like the Vajrayana. Through this reconciliation Christ is, was and always shall be, and like all, is empty of intrinsic existence. Again experience only here and I am blessed to have received teachings, Christian and Tantric, to help me slowly and stumblingly gain this experience. This mystery is, of course, present in the Eucharist instituted by Christ Himself and re-enacted every day throughout the world 🙂