Archive for May, 2009

A Commentary Upon the Middle Pillar Exercise

Anybody familiar with the more traditional side of Western occultism has probably encountered the Middle Pillar Exercise (MPE). The Golden Dawn’s official papers placed little emphasis upon this (see Regardie, The G0lden Dawn, 6th edition, Llewellyn Publications), one of their finest and simplest technical methods, but Dr. Israel Regardie (and others) gave it the attention it deserves and expanded upon its essentials until the MPE alone comprised a fairly complete magic-mystical methodology. (See Regardie, The Middle Pillar, as well as his The Art of True Healing.)

The core practice is, for those with kabbalistic knowledge of even a very basic level, simplicity itself: the magician formulates the middle pillar of the Tree of Life diagram within her spirit, astral body, and etheric double, and then circulates the energy thus set in motion through and around all layers of her individual being. The core techniques are visualization and vibratory vocalization, both of which facilitate the awakening of the microcosmic Tree of Life, the linkage of same with its macrocosmic analogy, and the conscious manipulation of vital energy. (For the actual technical methods in full, see Regardie’s The Middle Pillar.)

The purpose of the basic Middle Pillar Exercise and its contingent circulations is not merely to become a willing and conscious channel for vital energy; this task can be accomplished much more simply and quickly with other methods. The primary function of the exercise is the conscious communion and eventual integration of the various levels of spiritual and psychic functioning. When approached from this angle, the MPE performs its duty admirably and becomes a magnificent training tool.

It is as well to remark at this point that the MPE seeks to draw the Ketheric Light, or Divine Light, from the macrocosm to the aspirant’s highest center of consciousness, then on down through successively lower phases and finally into mundane awareness. This scheme self-consciously differs substantially from most methods involving the chakras, wherein consciousness is raised from mundane awareness to the highest heights and “left hanging”, as it were, beyond the pale of this world. As Regardie pointed out in his The Middle Pillar,

In a word, the Western ideal is not to escape from the body but to become involved more and more in life, in order to experience it more adequately, and in order to obtain a mastery over it. The ideal is to bring down godhead so that one’s manhood being enriched may thereby be assumed into godhead. Always does this system begin from the real centre of working—the higher Genius which, by definition, is in contact eternally with whatever infinite deity there may be. (The Middle Pillar, second edition, by Israel Regardie, 1970 Llewellyn Publications, pg. 122)

In those systems based in Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Christian and even shamanic sources, everything must ultimately be brought back to Earth if it is to have any value.

There are numerous uses for even this most basic method aside from mystical attainment. Regardie himself used the Middle Pillar Exercise in therapy with his patients. He would use the vital energy so generated as an aid to massage, similar in spirit and technique to Reich’s orgone therapy, and would use the psycho-spiritual integrating power of the MPE while holding hands with this students and patients in order to influence their inner economies toward greater health and wholeness.

A number of outgrowths exist, as well, which expand upon and even complete the MPE. These include the addition of appropriate colors to the visualization, the formulation of the complete Tree of Life, the use of Archangelic names, and the Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar.

The basic form of the Middle Pillar Exercise uses only white light. Once the ritual has been mastered this way, the student is to visualize the Sephiroth in their appropriate colors. This practice enlivens the Sephiroth further, differentiating the Ketheric Light into its various phases of manifestation and bringing the spheres of Light into closer sympathy with their macrocosmic counterparts.

Once the basic exercise has been mastered with the specific colors, the student begins to work on enlivening the other two Pillars and their correspond Sephiroth. This can be done in several ways, but the one I recommend is as follows: on one day, add Chokmah in its gray color. The next day, add Binah in black, while maintaining Chokmah; add Gedulah the next day, then Geburah, and so on, in order, until the Tree is complete each time the exercise is performed.

To this scheme I would add that once Binah has been included, and ever after whenever more than just the Middle Pillar are employed during the MPE’s performance, the pseudo-Sephirah of Da’ath should be omitted. Da’ath is in actuality the lowest manifestation of Binah or, rather, Binah as “viewed from below.” When practicing the MPE using only the Middle Pillar itself, Da’ath serves as a vital link between Kether and Tiphareth, translating the Light of Kether across the Abyss (which itself only exists when viewed from lower phases of awareness) and into the realm of individual experience. Hence its name, Da’ath, which translates as “knowledge in English, indicating that it is the very human intellectual knowledge of Divine reality as opposed to the gnostic understanding of Binah proper. When Binah itself is recognized, Da’ath becomes redundant and even distracting.

At this point, the names of the Archangels may be added to the practice. They are simply vibrated after each Divine Name, otherwise carrying on just as before. It is important to note that when using only the Middle Pillar with the Archangelic names, the Archangel of Binah is to be employed for Da’ath, just as Da’ath shares Binah’s Name of God.

In theory, the student could eventually add the Angelic Choir and the Mundane Sphere of each Sephirah, and each magician is welcome so to experiment. In experience, though, this practice does not seem to add to the effectiveness of the MPE. Still, much can be gained through meditation on the associations of the Angelic Choirs and Mundane Spheres with the Sephiroth.

With time, it becomes possible to simply activate the sphere of Light itself in order to bring into effect the Divine Name, Archangelic power, Angelic Choir, and other associated powers. Even a rudimentary attainment herein can be a powerful experience. This complete microcosmic Tree of Life is known as the Body of Light (or Luminous Body), though this title is somewhat of a misnomer. It is not a body, but rather a psycho-spiritual garment of purity and protection identical to that which lies behind and empowers the magician’s ritual robe. In fact, the establishment of this Body of Light completely obviates the need for a robe in evocation and spheric magic.

The final phase of practice with the Middle Pillar Exercise is a mystical method of consciousness-raising that, when practiced in a methodical manner, amounts to a technique of self-initiation. Known as the Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar, this method is so simple yet so powerful. The initiate first performs the MPE itself. It is only necessary to work with the Middle Pillar. The side Pillars may be omitted, as this technique deals only with grades of consciousness; where the side Pillars are concerned with the magic powers, the Middle Pillar concerns only the levels of consciousness as such.

Once the MPE has been performed, and the circulations completed, the student intensely visualizes the Name of God pertaining to the Sephirah to be contacted, composed of appropriately colored flames or electricity, floating directly ahead of her. This Name is then breathed in using the technique of pore breathing (see Initiation Into Hermetics by Franz Bardon, 2001, Merkur), and condensed in the area of the solar plexus. It is then vibrated aloud and simultaneously projected outward to the ends of the universe, then imagined to speed back toward the initiate. At the moment of impact, she is to enter a state of mental vacancy and allow the energy of the Name, now empowered by the Supreme God beyond the Void, to integrate with her and affect her as It will.

A few points deserve attention. First of all, it is a good idea to work this method in a relatively open area with carpet, grass, or padding about. The Vibratory Formula can be very disconcerting and may well cause the student to stumble or fall, especially during the first few performances. No benefit is to be gained from smacking your head off of a wall or table!

It is also well to work up the Tree, from Malkuth to Kether inclusive, and in order, first, perhaps over the course of ten days, then to work back down from Kether to Malkuth over a similar period of time. This ensures that the initiate experiences the Tree in a balanced manner from the outset. Once the Vibratory Formula has been used to “ascend” and “descend” in this way, the initiate may return to the Names of God in any order she desires. Even so, it is to be suggested that she not work with any Sephirah or Sephiroth to the exclusion of the rest, and that work with any Sephirah on the side Pillars be followed up within a week by its opposite to maintain healthy equilibrium.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that traditionally the projection of the Name is accomplished with the Sign of Projection, while the mental quiescence as the Name “strikes home” is accomplished with the Sign of Silence (the two Neophyte grade signs of the Golden Dawn’s initiatory system). While these signs are effective for the Golden Dawn magician, there is no reason why others may not use similar signs and motions or simple visualization and energy work techniques from other systems.

All told, the Middle Pillar Exercise is among the finest of magico-mystical tools available to the beginning student of Hermetics and Kabbalah. It eventually becomes obsolete for intermediate to advanced practitioners, but can hold a central place in daily work for months to years, and serves to speed the student toward those heights in the meantime. I hope that these comments and applications provide some small help upon the path.


I just wanted to quickly state that I’m around. I have two new articles in the works, one a commentary on the Middle Pillar Exercise and the other on the kabbalistic Four Worlds, both of which should be done within a week.

Categories: Announcements

“The One Year Manual” by Dr. Israel Regardie

The One Year Manual by Dr. Israel Regardie

Originally Twelve Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment

1981, Weiser Books (1976; originally 1969)

10 out of 10

God bless brevity. There is an awful tendency in occult literature to go on and on for hundreds of pages without saying much of anything of use. Most of Regardie’s books are relatively short, and the ones that are not spare no space for filler but are densely packed with information in the truest sense.

The One Year Manual is the ideal “beginner’s guide”. It is short (the editions in my possession going to 70 pages, plus preface and suggested reading list), by design, and wastes not a single word on nonessentials. With a stated mission to avoid convolutions of theory in favor of simple, effective practice, Regardie provided the would-be magician and/or mystic with a complete kit for at least a year’s worth of training.

The book starts off with Crowley’s four solar adorations, which amount to simple, poetic prayers for the four “stations” of the Sun throughout the day. The goal is simple: the Sun, as a symbol of the Unknown God, is “adored” throughout the day to keep the student’s awareness focused on the Divine, while at the same time giving a sense of connection to the macrocosmic universe and its great movements and cycles.

Body awareness follows as the first “step” of the work; this is practiced at a set time each day, as well as throughout the day during normal routines. The benefits are manifold and include a greater degree of self-awareness, Zen-like mindfulness, and the gradual relaxation of physical tension.

The second step concerns a method of very deep physical relaxation. In addition to deepending relaxation and body awareness, the student also learns to use this technique for healing simple physical ailments and complementing medical treatments for more intense illnesses. It is worth nothing that these two exercises also tend to produce a meditative state, which stands the student in good stead for more advanced training systems.

The third step, breath control, depeens the meditative state and further enhances physical and emotional relaxation. Just as importantly, we learn through breath to deepen our relationship with the vital energy which exists and moves around and through us.

What is generally the first step in contemplative and meditative practices, mental awareness, is the subject of step four. This is quite simply quietly and nonjudgmentally observing the flow of your own thoughts. Here, the student becomes very deeply acquainted with herself, as well as gradually relaxing her thinking-mind’s tensions.

Expanding on the previous step, step five introduces the student to mental concentration, and deeper meditation, by way of mantra repetition.

The second, more active, portion of the year is opened in step six with the training and strengthening of the will. Do to the discipline and concentration developed over the past few months, this exercise will likely come easily. Still, it is the first time in this programme that the student exerts any active volition as opposed to more or less passively experiencing herself.

Step seven changes the nature of the work dramatically by introducing the daily practice of the Rose Cross Ritual. This ritual is, in my opinion, one of the finest techniques to come out of the Golden Dawn’s corpus. While Regardie does not state it implicitly, this ritual has some profound effects for the careful student. It banishes negativity, makes one astra-mentally invisible (as opposed to most banishing rituals, like the LBRP, which tend to “light one up” on the inner planes), and tends to induce a deep sense of divine peace. This ritual acts as a very intense prayer, and can really exalt and humble the student.

Step eight, as is the trend, expands upon the previous work by intensifying the student’s awareness of Divine Presence and energy by way of the Middle Pillar Ritual, another gem from the Golden Dawn.

The remaining four exercises are more or less abstract magico-mystical practices entitled, in order, “Symbol of Devotion”, “Practice of the Presence of God”, “Unity—All is God”, and “Invoke Often! Inflame Thyself with Prayer”. While profoundly different on the surface, these final steps are the perfect culmination to the training year in that they entail finding and employing personalized, emotionally and intellectually engaging methods of prayer and meditation.

These final chapters also include words of immense wisdom and beauty as well as encouragement. They are alone worth the cost of the book even to the most advanced student. I return to them periodically as “inspirational reading” and find them to be ever refreshing.

While definitely based in the Hermetic and Kabbalistic systems and traditions, there is nothing in this book which cannot be easily adapted for training a new student in nearly any magic-mystical system. I myself simply handed The One Year Manual over to my own student and said, “Here. This will be your course of training for now. If you can make it through, you’ll be ready for anything else you choose to study.” For the budding Hermetic, I can imagine no better first year of training than this book with, perhaps, The Kybalion and Regardie’s The Tree of Life to provide theoretical foundation.

In Defense of the Ego

It is a certainty that the human ego causes much suffering in individual lives and in the world as a whole. Still, that is not altogether the fault of the ego itself.

Eastern mysticism in general, and those Western systems which have been derived from or heavily influenced by the East, has given the ego a very bad name. Today it is not at all uncommon to hear phrases like “ego-consciousness” and “egoic mind” in purely pejorative (and generally judgmental) tones. New Age and New Thought teachers place a lot of emphasis on “transcending” or even “dissolving” the individual ego. The ego is thus treated like a parasite, an obsessing entity with nothing positive to contribute.

All of this is poor psychology, and even worse spirituality. Looking askance upon the ego is a flat denial of the potential held within an entire segment of one’s own psyche.

It is true that the ego is not the core of one’s being, that place being held by the pure spirit or awareness. The ego is also not a malicious leech upon the soul. It is instead the entire conscious content of the soul, a more or less organized conglomerate of thoughts and emotions steeped in personal significance. It is the light-of-day counterpart to the personal unconscious (in the sense of Dr. Jung) and, as such, is our only means of directly integrating the insights which arise from our individual unconsciouses (which, in thier turn, descend from the individual mind and spirit “above”).

The ego is only dangerous when we mistake it for our individuality which is the spirit, or else when we forget that the ego is not even close to the soul’s totality. These are admittedly common errors, ones to which we are all prone for so lon gas we are incarnate and possessed of souls at all. That is not the fault of the ego itself, however, but more of a reflection of our current degree of mindfulness and our collective lack of appropriate education. Ego is neither the disease nor the symptom, only the victim of slander at the hands of largely semi-conscious beings lacking in the tools of self-understanding.

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