Finding gold – extracting the esoteric from rejected knowledge

The pseudo-occultism of the present day, with its dubious psychism, wild theorizing, and evidence that cannot stand up to the most cursory examination, is but the detritus which accumulates around the base of the Mount of Vision. All such worthless rubbish is not worth the power and shot of argument; in order to form a just estimate of the Sacred Science we must study originals, and try to penetrate the minds of the great mystics… whose works bear evidence of first-hand knowledge of the supersensible worlds. ~ Dion Fortune.

Dion Fortune

One of the difficulties the student new to occultism faces is the task of obtaining solid and worthwhile information. If she is a member of a trusted teaching Order or magical group this is lessened somewhat, though the wise student will always seek to verify what they receive by reference to independent sources. Prior to the internet, the student’s main task was to actually find the material she was looking for. This involved hours of searching catalogues, purchasing rare books, borrowing from friends, much copying and many dead ends.

In the post internet world the main task of the student has shifted away from finding material – there’s way too much to read and digest – and towards sifting out the gold from the tarnished and even the downright fraudulent. This task is made even harder because ‘occultism’ is often associated with the entire field of ‘rejected knowledge’ and much of this dross appears in internet searches along with occasional specks of gold.

Lobsang Rampa, the first Walk-In?

Rejected knowledge is essentially every theory and paradigm to explain the world which was and is not accepted as relevant, correct or logical by the bourgeoning scientific academy since the Enlightenment. Included here of course is magic, alchemy, astrology and all the mainstays of western esoteric occultism. However also included here is Ufo Religion, Cryptozoology, Biorhythms, Ancient Astronauts, Breatharianism, Perpetual Motion machines, Walk-ins, Polywater, ESP, and that ol’ standby, the Flat Earth theory. And really, for many regular folk, talking about ceremonial magic causes their eyes to glass over as much as talking about the Hollow Earth.

This is a great shame. While the reframing of occultism in the late 19th century as a spiritual and gracious art has gone apace it is, in my view, still infected by much of this rejected knowledge and pseudo science. It’s kinda embarrassing, actually. Personally, I’d like to see the whole sobbing lot ejected from the esoteric arts and make these humble comments toward that noble aim. 🙂

Psychicism and Spiritual realisation

This is my biggest bugbear. To adapt from me book a bit:

Over the last fifty years there have been literally thousands of books published and techniques devised to develop the psychic powers latent within everybody. Despite the high sales of these books and success of the courses, these powers are no more apparent within people today than previously. This is because these powers and modes of awareness are too latent, too buried within the majority of the population. In short, not everyone is psychic to any degree of usefulness and certainly not consistently. Psychic awareness appears to be a particular mode of inner awareness, often developed from an early age but also often developed following a traumatic event. Sometimes people may experience a temporary expansion of their psychic awareness and abilities following the shock from such an event, only to ‘lose’ them as they integrate the event more into their daily life, as they heal.

While it may be true that everyone can develop these powers to some degree, the time and effort required, which is considerable for most people, far outweighs potential benefits gained from possessing such skills. Also we must consider why we should want to be able to develop these powers – is it to unfold spiritually, to serve the One Being – or is it to bolster our egos or shore up our insecurities? The intermixing of the notion of psychic powers and spiritual unfoldment within Western magic is unfortunate and has led to some quite ridiculous notions of what makes someone ‘spiritually evolved’. Reading the history of psychic research, parapsychology and occultism makes it quite clear that spectacular and unusual psychic phenomena can be produced by the most immoral, self-centred and corrupt people.

The Society of the Inner Light had this to say concerning psychic awareness: ‘Psychism is simply one type of inner awareness and there are other types at least as valid and as common’.

It is quite possible to practice magic and esotericism without being ‘psychic’. Indeed psychism often functions at the Yesodic level while the aim of magic is to remake the self in the service of the One from the Tipharethic level, directed by the Ketheric. Stuffy old traditional folk like me can’t help but wonder if all this ESP, astral travel (next door not inner plane), psychic impressions, card readings for love stuff may actually hinder this aim. You can unfold spiritually without being psychic, and your spiritual unfoldment may or may not affect your psychic abilities.

Modern Science and Occult science

Now of course the scientific paradigm is only one way of viewing and interacting with the universe. I acknowledge that. There are other paradigms equally as valid, even if they are generally mostly promoted by an internet that rests squarely on the scientific method, peer reviews and all those other boring things. Indeed there is nothing more amusing that being lectured to about the evils of science and technology by someone whose Facebook photo shows them peering through bifocals. 🙂

And yes, I acknowledge the scientific establishment has enfolded on itself to produce a self-sustaining and sometimes limiting institution, which can be pretty myopic at times.  St Bob in his The New Inquisition and many others show this clearly. So I am not making an idol of science, but hey, it is science. Most forms of ‘occult science’ are anything but, in that they do not follow logical premises and do not actually make sense. The biggest problem here is of the confusion of planes, which is perhaps best illustrated by a stand up ‘discussion’ I had with a New Age Shaman Wannabee (NASW) at a party who insisted Atlantis was ‘real’. Condensed and cleaned up for ‘G’ audiences, it went like this:

ME: So you’re sure Atlantis was real?

NASW: Yes.

ME: Really real?  Physical, shared space-time real, like the glass of Norfolk punch you’re holding.

NASW: Yes.

ME: How do you know?

NASW: I’ve seen remains of the outlying islands.

ME: Physical remains of physical islands?

NASW: Yes.

ME: Wow! How amazing. Where? When?

NASW: In a vision.

ME:  So…er….you saw ‘physical remains’ in a vision and that makes it true physically?

NASW: Yes.

ME: Right…I think I hear the cat calling my name. Bye.

When we critically examine the ‘science’ behind a lot of these ‘occult sciences’ we come up with essentially the same problem. Sadly some magicians and Pagans, even GD magicians, go in for these forms of ‘occult science’.

Let’s take two practices often listed as pseudo-science by ‘the establishment’ but seen by their advocates to be forms of science; homeopathy and Breatharianism. To the scientific rationalist they are both hokum and dangerous. However homeopathy, like a few other forms of ‘energy medicine’, works within a paradigm of physical and subtle bodies. It recognizes there are no actual physical molecules of Belladonna in its Belladonna remedy. Instead it asserts there is an ‘energetic’ dimension that may affect our subtle bodies and thereby help our own subtle bodies promote physical health. There is no trickle down of ‘Belladonna’ from subtle to physical; only our own subtle body affects our physical and the remedy is seen to help with the subtle body alone.

The whole concept of subtle bodies  is the big break between orthodox scientific and homeopathic worldviews. But homeopathy at no time asserts its remedies directly affect the physical body. At all, at all. The planes are not confused. It has its own logic and supports physical intervention for the physical body while it addresses the non-physical.

The Queen Mum – swore by the Arnica, she did.

Breatharianism on the other hand seems to be touted by folk who simply can’t get their heads around the planes. They talk about physical ‘nutrients’ being derived from the air as well as prana/chi/orgone/life force. And at no time do they explain how the physical body is supposed to be regenerated by pumping the subtle bodies full of the equivalent of subtle body food. Sure the subtle bodies can affect the physical, but food on one level is not food on another. This is why some folk who practice these methods die of physical starvation, while homeopathy – as complimentary to common physical sense and a good nosh up – seemed to do no harm to the centenarian Queen Mum.

In all magic, in all things suggested or promoted to us by anyone, we need to look at how it all works. If it appears the planes are confused, be cautious. Now of course, being magicians we do see strange things from time to time that do not fit into any paradigm – subtle planes or not. Weird things. However – and this is very important – they are not being paraded around as replicable science within a commercial market place.

Natural and Supernatural

It is very common within modern magic and occult circles to come across the meme that there is no ‘supernatural’ – it’s all natural, ghosts, levitation, remote viewing etc – we just do not understand it yet. Very nice. We fey folk, occultists, Pagans and true believers of the weird and wonderful must be patient and wait for the rest of the world to catch up. Again, very nice.

However, hand in hand with this ‘it’s all natural’ meme often goes a valorisation of the abilities, ‘powers’ and phenomena which are being reclaimed as natural. Search for courses and books on astral travel, bi-location, remote viewing, clairvoyance and you will see what I mean. There’s money to be made in them there super-powers! 🙂

Like the ‘natural’ abilities of cooking, creating, weaving, writing and art, these ‘super-powers’ have the potential to deepen connection to the One in service, increasing the love, harmony and beauty in the world. Unlike serving up the meat and three veg at dinner though, they can be a source of glamour, ego expansion and psychic disturbance if not wisely handled.  The traditional approach to these ‘powers’ within pretty much all sensible esoteric traditions to is to recognize their potential and occasional existence and even usefulness – and then to focus on the main goal, which is re-forming the self to serve the Mystery, however concieved.

I am very glad to say the vast majority of Golden Dawn, Pagan and western magical groups have a good approach, and do not focus on the development of ‘powers’. Personally, I think such a focus is counter to the spirit of the modern western mysteries and the source of more delusion and suffering I care to point a stick to.

Another aspect of the natural and supernatural spectrum is the concept of immortality. It is sometimes stated that the goal of the mysteries is to become immortal:

Initiation is the preparation for immortality.  Man is only potentially immortal.  Immortality is acquired when the purely human part of himself becomes allied to that spiritual essence which was never created, was never born, and shall never die.  It is to effect this spiritual bond with the highest that the Golden Dawn owes its ritual and practical magical work. – Israel Regardie.

Would Regardie want THIS version of his personality immortalized or an older one? 🙂

Sometimes however this concept is misunderstood and an impression of personal immortality is touted. You know, you – yes YOU – living forever. That is, your personality self as it is now, going on and on and on… Sounds kinda exoteric Christian, and it is, of course, nonsense.

Our personality selves cease when we sleep (and orgasm and sneeze if you believe the Tibetan Buddhists) and reform simply out of habit, structure, Karma or wot not. I mean, ingest a hundred grams of alcohol and see how loose and non-permanent your personality self is. Still don’t believe me? Follow it up with 500 micrograms of LSD. Or a year in solitary confinement. Like all things temporal and in the lower worlds, we age, we decay and we die.

However, we are more than what dies. Do some volunteer work in a hospice. As you get to know those who are dying with dementia or some other brain condition, you will see little personality self. Yet the ‘person’ is still there; they are still the terminus of the Great Chain of Being that is their unique expression of the One Thing. In magic we dedicate, use and sacrifice our personality self – our terminus –  our ‘me’, to form the bond, the link with the eternal. This is the ‘immortality’ Regardie is talking about, and the method towards it is clearly shown in the Adeptus Minor initiation (and indeed the Rosicrucian manifestos themselves). It is not a personal immortality, which really is just another ‘super power’ as discussed above, only differing in magnitude not type.

In the end of course, personal immortality appeals to our personality based ego-fear of death. The acquisition of super powers appeals to our personal sense of disempowerment, and attraction to highly glamorised psychicism or alternative theories appeals to our personal need for validation and excitement. There is nothing wrong with any of this. But such things should not be confused with authentic western esotericism which focuses on the transpersonal. And once more I will finish with a much loved quote from Cynthia Bourgeault, a contemplative Anglican priest with much esoteric study:

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.


The personal and transpersonal in Golden Dawn magic

Recently Abhainn Rivers blogged about his responses to a discussion between myself and Dean Wilson on Dean’s blog, Mishkan ha-Echad. The discussion was sparked from my notes in By Names and Images on practical, or low magic – magic designed to cause changes in the physical ‘out there’ universe rather than the interior sphere of the magician. I’ve discussed this before and though I would probably re-state things today, this post still gives a good overview of my thought.

I am interested today in the broader concepts alluded to in this discussion – the concept of self – who we are, and what makes us who we are. Now, magic was traditionally taught only within the Inner Order of the Golden Dawn. There are many very good reasons for this besides the rather vacuous ‘magic is dangerous’ warning and assumption that the morals of those in the Inner Order are more developed than those in the Outer. A key reason for this structure, I believe, is that by then, especially after the experience of the Adept Grade, the magician has a different, a more expanded, more accurate understanding of themselves.

As has been noted before, the aim of magic is to become more who we are, more ourselves. Yet paradoxically this ‘self’ we find, this intensity of personality, this presence and realness of existence is, at the same time, known and realised to be interdependent and non-existent in essence. We discover ourselves, and lose ourselves at the same time. This is one of the deep mysteries of the Rosicrucian inspired Adeptus Minor grade. True adepts, like my Tibetan Tantra teachers, are some of the most intense and real people I know, having tremendous presence and power. Yet, like their Buddhist counterparts who insist the self is not real on its own side, these adepts are also humble, conscious and aware of the universe that supports their being. Their personal is wedded to the transpersonal.

When the adept initiatory process goes wrong, for whatever reason, the finding and forming of the self is distorted and disturbed. The personal finds and knows itself only through the personal realms, being unable to surrender and wed itself to the transpersonal. This would be fine and not too problematic on its own, as there are plenty of people who are self-focused out there. However, as part of the training and initiatory gifts of our traditions, the personal ego of the magician also becomes connected to the intense inner forces and currents the tradition provides.

The personal ego alone, unwed to the transpersonal, was never meant to be the focus or conduit of these forces, and hence enlarges and dysfunction results. While this is not the place to discuss the various forms this dysfunction can take, a typical result is where the ego seeks to source its power and validation from the personal level, not the transpersonal. Hence the magician seeks energy and validation from the lower levels, from outer praise for their personal achievements, ‘spirituality’, prowess and skill. The results can be seen in any of the self focused leaders around today.  Typically these folk are focused on what makes them (and by extension their groups) wonderful, unique, powerful, true etc. Naturally the whole plethora of outer symbols, grades and titles are used by these folk in an effort to give more self-focused ego feedback

Since my primary tradition has always been the GD / RR et AC, I think I my concern with practical magic is that a focus on personal (lovers, money etc) and non-personal (family friends etc) concerns may hinder the development of the transpersonal, which is the aim of the whole biz as far as I am concerned. As I said in my post referred to above:

In my experience the best and most successful forms of practical magic are those performed collectively for altruistic purposes and which work in alliance with spiritual beings under the presidency of the higher powers. These are keys elements: a collegiate experience to go beyond the self; altruistic and transpersonal intentions; working in harmony with beings in the other realms where we at best can but blunder around, and; an attitude of surrender to the One.

Now, I am not saying it is ‘wrong’ to be self-focused or that it is not spiritual, since as we have seen the personal and transpersonal ultimately should wed. I am just wondering if personal and even non-personal (family, friends etc) focused work partakes of a different mystery to that of the traditional RR et AC approach, which is transpersonal focused.

The majority of practical magic in the west is surely practiced by Wiccan or Wiccan inspired systems, most of which acknowledge and work the ‘path of the Hearth Fire’ as it is poetically called, the path of daily life lived spiritually. This term, I believe, stems from the work of Dion Fortune, who extended, went sideways and introduced a lot more into the magic she learnt from the Golden Dawn. Describing this path, she writes:

…as true a way of initiation as any of the disciplines imposed by the occult fraternities.

However, she also very clearly describes the importance of the transpersonal within this path, as much as the initiatory occult path. The personal work, focus and action must be directed towards the non-personal and thereby, with the right intention and inner direction, moved also towards the transpersonal.

If we rule our homes in a spirit of selfless love and serenity of heart, asking no return, but doing our duty for the sake of the need of those to whom we minister [non-personal], our house will be a true Temple of the Hearth-Fire in which we can receive our initiation [transpersonal].

…let us, in imagination, always put a chair at the fireside and lay a place at table for the Unseen Guest, and live our life and do our work in the light of that Invisible Presence [transpersonal]. (Training and Work of the Initiate, chapter four).

Any concerns I have with practical magic therefore seem to stem from how some people use their spiritual arts for personal or non-personal (family, friends) concerns without the development of the transpersonal. I have seen this happen on a regular basis. Now, as I have said, this may be a different mystery and approach to the RR et AC – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just wonder if this approach has just sort off slipped into the Golden Dawn since its public expansion with personal and non-personal magic being practiced in the Outer Order. I also wonder how this affects the GD and those who practice magic in this way when they enter the transpersonal focused Inner Order. I use the word ‘wonder’ here specifically – I have no definitive answers and make no moral judgements. Responses appreciated 🙂

The Practice of the Esoteric

This is something i have been meaning to post for a while, and just found in my backup.  We have used similar things in groups and courses to great effect.

These points summarize several of the key values, ideas and perceptions esoteric students must develop to be successful upon the esoteric path. If you have any consistent and strong trouble with any of these points, then the esoteric may not be the right path for you at the present.

The Esoteric

The word esoteric means ‘inner’, referring to the inner aspects of ourselves and the universe, the two being ultimately one. What unites the two is active engagement with the inner dimensions of the various symbols, myths and motifs of our path.


In the union (however brief from our temporal perspective) of limited self and the eternal we are remade. We become aware not only of our own eternal, unchanging self but also of the unity and interconnection of all beings. The outer world expression of such a realisation is active service. In focusing attention away from our limited selves we mimic and promote the Unity, where all beings are one. Through expanding the concept of self we defeat the lies of the ego. All authentic esoteric traditions are paths of service; all authentic esoteric experiences promote service within the individual.

Cultivation of Value

With the realisation of our ultimate identification with all, we become aware of how much suffering and restriction most beings undergo. We re-evaluate our own lives and recognise the incredible blessings we have; as conscious human beings and as westerners living in affluence, having time to practice a spiritual path and having opportunities to be part of an esoteric tradition. We therefore learn to value and hold dear all esoteric symbols and paths for they are the bridge between our limited self and the unborn, real and eternal self. We consciously cultivate respect for the path and the avenues whereby we may walk along it – the various teachers, teachings, books and wisdom so freely given to us.


To touch the esoteric, the inner reality both within and without us is to transform utterly. As we practice our path we change completely. By its very nature spiritual unfoldment is unpredictable. We consciously choose to live with change, recognising also that only that which is born can change or die. The unborn, uncreated aspect of self never changes or dies. We learn more and more to identify with that self and to hold loosely all thoughts and ideas, identities and opinions.


The esoteric path is one of relentless honesty. We recognise that we are rife with resistance to change and imbued with negative, self-serving patterns of action and behaviour. We do not deny our addictions to the self. Nor do we simply accept them without seeking change. We honestly hold them clear in our minds and choose not to act from them much as we can. We are bound to fail, but we know this is no reason to avoid the attempt. Not even the Masters are free of the petty distractions of the human ego. Their power of choice however, is such they may choose to act solely from the Good.

Disruption and Disturbance

Like a child whose toy is removed from them, when our esoteric work threatens our ego identity, we will storm and tantrum. We know this happens to everyone. This will affect our work and our lives and therefore we make preparations. These include cultivating habits of decent and moral behaviour so that when we are possessed by our lower self we still act in the way our higher would choose. We know we may, through our storming, disrupt our groups, families, friends and teachers. We therefore take great care to develop means by which we limit our tantrums to avoid damaging those who have given us so much.

Practice and Perfection

We know that every esoteric symbol, icon, ritual and practice is a gift from the One and a link to an infinite source of divine blessings. Each of these gifts is a universe unto itself and therefore cannot be exhausted. We know we can never partake fully of that which is transcendent and therefore acknowledge that all practices and rituals – even after we may think we have mastered them – are gifts and teachers for us. We therefore rejoice in every opportunity to learn through repetition and practice. We know that the esoteric path of magic is the Yoga of the West and therefore can learn from the conduct of yogis, who practice the same asanas each class, gaining every time. We know that if we are reluctant to repeat an action of divinity (such as ritual or meditation) it is our thinking that is in error.

The Internal and the Ego

We know that spiritual unfoldment takes place inwardly and has no unique outer sign recognized by our finite perception (service can be ‘faked’). We also recognize our own self identified egos are sources of delusion. We therefore honestly acknowledge that our damage and patterns will distort our inner perceptions of the eternal verities the esoteric path points toward. Our own ego security can become bound up with our perceived success or failure of esoteric activities and practices, knowing that these cannot be ascertained or questioned by all but the true adept (or Master). We therefore may feel bolstered or put down, whichever serves our purpose, by our experiences of esoteric techniques. If our egos need reinforcement, either through positive or negative perceptions, we can create an unconscious pattern that traps us and which uses the esoteric as a tool, simply because only ourselves (other than a Master) knows our inner experience. To avoid this we seek and honestly accept feedback and criticism from those we acknowledge as teachers and adept in the paths we wish to travel.