Posts Tagged ‘magic’

Animated Statues

Since its publication in The Gnostic 4, there has been a fair amount of furor over Alan Moore’s article “Fossil Angels”. Though the article itself was written in 2002 (a point used several times to discredit it), it has not seen official publication until now. Contrary to many arguments to the effect that Moore’s commentary on the sorry state of contemporary occultism is no longer relevant, I see it as being as timely as ever.

Author and magician Aaron Leitch, whose work I respect, himself wrote a rebuttal of “Fossil Angels” entitled “Fossils of Angels”. In this blog post, Leitch’s main argument seems to be that Moore doesn’t understand magical practice and is out of touch with the community surrounding occultism. This, however, misses the point entirely and turns the debate back upon Moore’s qualifications (ad hominem) without addressing his concerns, concerns which are powerful from anybody with occult sympathies.

It seems to me that what Leitch and others are really responding to are Moore’s harsh words, terse tone, and tongue-in-cheek baroque writing style (including unflattering comparisons to A. E. Waite, whose work I love but whose writing style is something of a punishment for misbehaving English majors). But let us not be side-tracked by those things!

I am the first to admit that practical magic, done well, works. Yes, this puts me on the outs with a lot of free thinkers and even Gnostics, who want the subject to be entirely psychologized, or else who want it to go away like a teenager does an embarrassing parent. Moore—and his commentator and supporter Miguel Conner (another guy I respect a great deal)—seems to be saying that he doesn’t buy the efficacy of practical magic at all; I’m not sure if this is actually what he is saying, though. Even if he does feel this way about so-called “results-based” magic, that doesn’t detract from his actual message. I can’t help but agreeing with Moore that the petty applications of magic so commonly attested to are an absolute waste of the symbolism and methodology of magic. It is unfair and ridiculous to posit, as many critics have, that Moore simply “doesn’t know the community” he’s talking about; I’m sure that he is well aware that not every single occultist or magician falls regularly into the traps he disparages, but I’m right along with him if he asserts (as I read him to) that the majority of what he encounters in the erstwhile occult community are poseurs, pretenders to imaginary thrones, and overly dramatic LARPers. And of course, nobody will ever admit to being one of those people! While I don’t put Leitch in this category at all, it is in the interests of damn near every occultist in the world to either refer to Moore’s article as, in the words of one commentary, “self-important rubbish,” or to agree with it as whole-heartedly as necessary to appear to soar above Moore’s critiques. Anything not to have any demands made of oneself!

Well, let’s all just admit that every occultist or magician has committed the crimes of which “Fossil Angels” attests. Some of us have done so more often, or more egregiously, than others, but it is a total lie to say that any one of us has never been petty, childish, or delusional in our approach to or use of magic. If we aren’t willing to be honest about this one point, then we are responsible for the cultural powerlessness of magic. Period.

But the real emphasis is not on these negative points. Moore, in his aggressive way, spends the whole article leading up to the final punch:

We could, if we desired it, have things otherwise. Rather than magic that’s in thrall to a fondly imagined golden past, or else to some luridly-fantasized Elder God theme-park affair of a future, we could try instead a magic adequate and relevant to its own extraordinary times. We could, were we to so decide, ensure that current occultism be remembered in the history of magic as a fanfare peak rather than as a fading sigh; as an embarrassed, dying mumble; not even a whimper. We could make this parched terrain a teeming paradise, a tropic where each thought might blossom into art. Under the altar lies the studio, the beach. We could insist upon it, were we truly what we say we are. We could achieve it not be scrawling sigils but by crafting our art to spread its holy psychedelic scarab wings across society once more, perhaps in doing so allow some light or grace to fall upon that pained, benighted organism. We could be made afresh in our fresh undergrowth, stand reinvented at a true dawn of our Craft within a morning world, our paint still wet, just-hatched and gummy-eyed in Eden. Newborn in Creation.

I cannot imagine a more lively or exalted goal for a magician to attain to!

Finally, in support of this point, let me quote another source, Meditations on the Tarot (Anonymous):

This is the aim of sacred magic; it is nothing other than to give the freedom to see, to hear, to walk, to live, to follow an ideal and to be truly onself—i.e. to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, the ability to walk to the lame, life to the dead, good news or ideals to the poor and free will to those who are possessed by evil spirits. It never encroaches upon freedom, the restoration of which is its unique aim. (pg 61)


One has to de-mechanize in order to become a mage. For sacred magic is through and through life—that life which is revealed in the Mystery of Blood. May our problems become so many cries of the blood (of the heart), may our words be borne by blood, and may our actions be as effusions of blood! This is how one becomes a mage. One becomes a mage by becoming essential—as essential as the blood is. (pg 72)

Magic is an art, psychological and psychic, which has for its aim and purpose the restoration of freedom and the infusion of life. Just as the Egyptian priests and classical Hermetists had magical formulae for animating statues, so too must modern magicians of whatever tradition or clan be prepared not only to animate the images passed on to us by posterity, but also to create living works of art ourselves, works of which we can not just “take pride” but of which we are confident in our prayers and visions will bring LIFE and FREEDOM to the benighted and set more and more unchained upon the path which winds ever up the mountain. If our goals are anything less, how dare we?

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Evaluation of Magic Revisited

I have written previously on the limitations of magic within the context of the spiritual quest. At the time, I saw that article as a necessary rebuttal of a common view in Western occultism that somehow magic and spiritual practice (mysticism, in a very specific sense) are identical or “two sides of the same coin.” This is flatly false; magic is not authentically “spiritual” insofar as magic has no capacity to bring us into direct contact with the Reality behind the physical, astral, and mental planes. The belief that it can is largely the result of a misunderstanding of the levels of being. Broadly speaking, the great teachers of humanity have felt quite comfortable in referring to all planes of existence (as defined and explored by occultism, rAja yoga, etc.) as being “material” in nature, even if the constituting matter of any given plane is quite subtle compared to physical matter. I maintain the position of that article, as do all of the great Masters who have come before us. We ignore their experience out of our own ignorance (or arrogance), and at our own peril.

That said, there is an equally problematic position which places magic firmly within “the devil’s camp”, or else denies it any spiritual utility at all. Indeed, magic has a potentially important role to play in the continuum of human striving toward the Light. Magic has at least served us as a tool of survival in the inhospitable reaches of the natural world, but today it maintains relevance as a very human, cultured, yet ineradicably primal link between ourselves and those forces of Nature which can serve as foundations, or even propellants, along the Way.

Let me begin this discussion in earnest by defining some very useful terms: rAja yoga; bhakti yoga; karma yoga; j~nAna yoga; theurgy; and, finally, magic. (Note that the strange spellings of the Sanskrit words are intentional; please see the Wikipedia article on ITRANS for more information. ITRANS is a method of representing Sanskrit and other Indian language scripts in ASCII in a more phonetically accurate manner than a lot of more plain transliterations provide.)

rAja yoga is what most occultists in the West think of when the term “yoga” is used. The term can be translated as “royal yoga” or “royal union”. Yoga, generally, is any disciplined practice the goal of which is to attain “union” with the Divine. The various physical yogas are only preparations for and aids to rAja yoga, traditionally speaking, and are said to possess little to no spiritual value outside of that context. It is from rAja yoga that we get the idea of the seven chakras, the various energy channels, etc. The central discipline of rAja yoga is simply mental concentration; every other facet of rAja yoga develops somehow out of concentration. This is quite similar to authentic esoteric practice in the West, as well. Disciplined training in concentration comes first, and only after some degree of mastery has been gained in it will a teacher move the student on to other things. Even the so-called “siddhis” or “occult powers” cannot be gained except through concentration. So, it should be clear that the capacity for concentration is of paramount importance, whether a person’s interest is in mere psychism, or in the actual spiritual pursuit. Nevertheless, even rAja yoga cannot reach the pinnacle of spiritual attainment; instead, it serves as a preparation, and one can either get “stuck” in it, or else learn its lessons and move forward.

bhakti yoga, or “devotional union”, is rather distasteful to most Western occultists, but is still considered to be a vital preparation for the highest spiritual goals. bhakti essentially consists of some form of intense, earnest religious practice; it ultimately matters little which religion this is, as long as its focus is towards the Highest God of both law and mercy, beyond wrath and jealousy. Thus, the devotees of Christ-as-Logos kneel in awe alongside devotees of Ishvara/Siva, and the cultus of the Holy Mother in many cultures. This is not to say that there is no difference between these religious practices, or even their conception of God, but that the results are ultimately the same. bhakti yoga develops in the adherent a sense of honest humility, which eventually blossoms into the knowledge that it is not I who act but God who acts through me or, rather, that “I” and “God” are not as distinct as we are generally taught. It is the very “emptying-out” of self and “giving over” of one’s power (which is really God’s to begin with) to God which make Western occultists wrinkle up their noses in derision, much to their own detriment. (Note that Aleister Crowley wrote a truly awful essay on the practice of bhakti yoga based on his profound misinterpretation of it; I cannot recommend his essay for a proper understanding of bhakti because of his cynical, utilitarian approach to all things spiritual.)

This same “giving over” of one’s power, sense of self-will, and so forth, constitute karma yoga. Without going too deeply right now into the concept of karma, karma yoga can be translated as “action union”. This yoga is equally vital as a preparation; bhakti and karma practice generally grow with one another. It should be clear how karma yoga can grow out of bhakti yoga, and vice versa. The practice of karma yoga is simply dropping the sense of being “the doer”. This generally begins by first doing away with attachment to the “fruits of action” (karmaphala), realizing that once you have performed an action the results of it are out of your hands. Eventually, this practice itself fructifies into the realization that it was never “I” who “did” anything in the first place.

Both bhakti yoga and karma yoga serve to gradually undermine the sense of “I” (as in the limited little ego), which helps to make way for j~nAna yoga. j~nAna yoga, like the authentic practice of gnosis here in the West, is a process of enquiry, meditation, discernment and intuition which bring about insight. It is translated as “wisdom union”. While it is true that all of the preceding methods are essentially preparations for j~nAna yoga, that is not to say that they all lose their meaning the moment a person begins to practice j~nAna; no, many j~nAna practitioners remain bhaktis throughout, and it is quite impossible for them to give up karma yoga in any case. bhakti yoga, in a purely pragmatic sense, helps the j~nAni to maintain the “humility in wisdom” for which the Christian theurgist prays, but beyond even that pragmatism, a spiritual eye ever upturned towards God is what ultimately allows our minds to give in to the Reality of God. That said, j~nAna is definitely the most “advanced” of them, insofar as it requires a mind purified by the processes of bhakti yoga and a discriminating faculty honed to a fine edge by karma yoga. Yes, intuition will sometimes spontaneously “flash” before this point, but we cannot truly rely on it until we are capable of dispassionately observing intuition and “feeding” it with appropriate intellectual and devotional materials, and in any case it will not be reliably active until the ego-mind is quieted down.

I use all of these Sanskrit terms found in Hindu (and, to a certain extent, Buddhist) teachings because they are useful organizational categories for various practices which generally fall under the heading of “spiritual”. In other words, these four yogas—rAja, bhakti, karma, & j~nAna—differentiate quite nicely between the authentically spiritual (the trinity of bhakti, kamra, & j~nAna) and the purely psychic (rAja). With this information in hand, we can move back to the topic of magic.

In Hermetism, we largely split magic into two broad categories: magic proper, and theurgy. The difference between them is subtle but important.

A powerful example of theurgy is the Eucharistic Mass found in the Sacramental Churches, such as the Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and most Gnostic churches. The other sacraments and sacramentals are also theurgic in nature, as are many prayer practices such as the rosary and the Eastern Orthodox prayer rope. Of course, many of the practitioners of these methods, whether priests or congregants, would not recognize the word “theurgy” to describe them, but that’s what it comes down to.

The word “theurgy” translates roughly to “God-work”. Theurgic practice slots quite snugly into the category of bhakti yoga, insofar as it is a primarily devotional art, and because it acknowledges at the outset that it is not the practitioner him- or herself who brings about the results but rather it is God, and the practitioner is simply a tool or channel for that influence. The rituals of theurgy serve to “clear” or “broaden” that channel in the same way that Hindu bhakti yoga breaks down the personal, egoic barriers which keep the yogi from channeling the Divine Light. The differences in the types of theurgy are largely a function of who they are supposed to benefit. The Mass, and similar religious rituals, are theurgic in nature but serve a much larger number of people, at least in principle: a Mass performed by somebody with both the training and authority to do so not only sheds Grace upon (awakens Grace within) the priest him- or herself, but also upon the entire present congregation, and even out into the surrounding neighborhood. There are also “private” group theurgic practices, such as those found in theurgic lodges, healing circles, prayer groups, and so forth, which serve the needs of the members of the group and perhaps anybody else who is “linked” to their theurgic practice, such as those who ask the group to perform a healing for them, etc. Finally, there are private, solitary theurgic practices, such as praying the rosary or prayer rope, or performing a solitary theurgic ritual in one’s bedroom or home oratory (an oratory being similar to a combined “home shrine” and “meditation room”).

Naturally, this sort of devotional work, when practiced in an authentically devotional spirit, not only serves to bring about Grace-results (“miracles”) in the outside world, but also to connect the practitioners, beneficiaries, and parishioners with Grace within for the sake of their spiritual awakening; it also serves, just as with bhakti yoga, to gradually sever the sense of “I-as-doer”, leading into karma yoga, wherein the individual begins to more and more identify him- or her”self” as being only an instrument of the True Reality in the form of God.

Magic-proper is generally not so concerned with the emptying-out of self, but rather with the strengthening of it. All it takes is the close reading of any given manual of ritual magic to see this. The “exalted experiences” of ritual and ceremonial magic generally consist of contacting a being of the mental plane, because magic cannot truly reach beyond the manifest planes. However, there have been and still are magical practices and practitioners who find that the tools at their disposal, whether so-called “high ritual magic” or “low folk magic” (the latter generally working more consistently than the former anyway, despite the “high” and “low” designations) need not be the tools of the ego.

I have known ritual magicians, for instance within the Golden Dawn tradition, who understood that their magic was best used as an expression of Divine Grace rather than as a grasping for personal power. They are uncommon, but such individuals can be found. Within folk magic, it is much more common. The Pennsylvania Dutch methods of Braucherei are a personal favorite of mine for the deeply-ingrained devotion to God inherent in them which cannot be stripped away; if the bhakti is removed from the Brauche, the Brauche ceases to be. A prayer-charm with which I am familiar in the tradition of the Braucherei says that, “Dei Hand und mei Hand iss Gottes Hand.” That is, “My hand and your hand are God’s Hand.” (For those who are familiar with German, the form of the language spoken by the Pennsylvania “Dutch” is a bit different, due to a primary root in continental “low German”, contact with other Germanic languages such as Dutch, and the process of change inherent in having been settled in a non-German-speaking locale for multiple generations. See C. R. Bilardi’s The Red Church and his bibliography for more information.)

Has, then, the practice of Braucherei, the previously mentioned Golden Dawn magicians, and others like them, transformed their “magic” into “theurgy”? In a very real sense, yes. While they may not be practicing within any of the traditions which refer to their practices as being specifically “theurgic”, their intent is clearly as theurgic as those of any Martinist. They act for God, from God, and through God to achieve Godly ends. And while the healing of a damaged limb, or the removal of a curse from milk cows may not be specifically spiritual results, unlike with the “mere magic” of the egoic practitioner, the magic of the Braucher serves as a finger pointing to the Moon: the Braucher’s eyes are turned toward God and her magic turns the eyes of her patient Heavenward as well.

That, then, is the value of magic along the spiritual path. It is not flippantly that Draja Mickaharic has written that,

Being a magician is a stage in the process of developing spiritually. It is not the height of development; in fact, it is only a step in the first part of the range of real human development. the fact that many religious sects speak and act harshly against those who have the ability to practice magic is most revealing of the true character of the leaders heading those religions. Those whom they speak against may be more developed spiritually than the so-called religious people who speak against them! (Draja Mickaharic, Practice of Magic, page iiiv from the Introduction)

So magic is a stage of human development, and a potentially very important one for the people who have to pass through it. Even for many those who have passed beyond it, magic still remains a useful tool in guiding others and in aiding an ailing world. Dedicated to God, magic turns our gaze upward and inward; dedicated to self, magic solidifies and increases our suffering.

The Rational of Ritual

[Another excerpt from the upcoming book. I promise, there will be original content again soon!]

There is a purpose for structured ritual, and it is not just for the sake of pomp and circumstance. There is a pervasive misunderstanding that ritual has no place in “real magic” or “real religion”, both of which ought to “just come naturally”. It is said that we should just be able to do what “feels right” and let the details attend to themselves. While there is a place for spontaneity in magic, it is rarely appropriate or useful in the core of any given operation.

Magic is based upon certain specific laws, principles by which the universe works from the mental plane on down to the physical, and just as in engineering on the physical plane, we must follow certain formulae in order to take full advantage of those laws. Ignorance of those laws does not abrogate them; if we do not know of gravity, we will still find that we fall down when we trip. Likewise, arrogance will not circumvent the laws; if we defy gravity by throwing ourselves over a cliff, we will suffer the consequences. Granted, most impacts with the laws of magic will not result in such dramatic bone-shattering, but the illustration can be taken further in demonstration of the point. We may play one law against another, such as the laws of aerodynamics or the laws of tensile strength, to find ways around our predicament. Airplanes and suspension bridges are solid examples.

Likewise in magic, failure to observe the laws equals failure to produce results. If we do whatever we feel like in an attempt at producing magical effects, we may occasionally blunder into appropriate uses of law, but we will lose much in the way of efficiency. I, as a layman, may be able to construct a simple bridge out of available materials in order to cross a creek by foot; I may even, with a bit of planning, be able to produce a bridge strong enough to support a heavy car or truck. I will not, however, be able to produce a truss bridge by which a whole line of heavily-laden trucks and 18-wheelers may cross a river or ravine until I spend time studying the appropriate type of engineering, including the materials used and the mathematics involved. In addition, I will have to experiment many times in order to learn precisely how those various elements may be applied, and how to configure them to best effect under different circumstances. Magic is the same way. If we do not study the laws, and the various ways in which we may apply them, we can only get so far.

This is ultimately the difference between a sorcerer and a magician. Sorcery is the blind blundering about. A sorcerer may learn a few formulae for specific circumstances, but until he understands the laws behind those formulae, they will be only situationally useful; a true magician learns first rudimentary formulae, and studies the ways in which those formulae interact with the applicable laws, and builds upon this foundation through further study and practice. This is the way in which all true magic must be learned, whether natural magic or ritual magic. A natural magician begins by learning some basic spells, how to compile the appropriate materials, and perhaps some safe substitutions if all of the materials are not available. Those spells are studied inside and out, picked apart and put back together again, until the trainee understands what each ingredient does alone, and how they interact with one another. This process will eventually open the trainee up to the possibilities inherent in the law of correspondence, which makes further experimentation possible. Similarly, a ritual magician will begin by learning the foundational ritual of her teacher’s system. This ritual will usually begin, or intensify, a long process of inner transmutation and unfoldment which will compound and increase with practice. Just as with natural magic, there are steps involved in the learning process.

The first step is that of studying the ritual thoroughly. This involves first analyzing all of the elements of the ritual, including motions, drawing of lines of force, symbolism, sigils and figures, Names of God, words of power, invocations and incantations, and so on. The student will certainly not be able to understand every layer of the ritual from the first, but if this preliminary study is not conducted, usually lasting a week to a month, including research and contemplation, there will be little hope of a full success and advancement. Without this phase, the ritual will remain only so many words.

The next step involves rehearsal. The ritual need not be memorized start to finish, at first, but it is important to run through the physical aspect of it a few times, at least three, before the first true performance, so that the movements may perform their necessary function rather than merely serve as distractions from the inner side of the effort. This is the part which, if skipped, has the effect of leaving the ritual a halting mess of physical motions.

Finally comes the actual performance, putting the pieces together into an operative ritual. The first performance will usually not be the most powerful one, but it will be far and away more intense than if the first two steps had been skipped. If those phases are skipped, it is possible that, over many months or even years of consistent practice, the performance of the ritual will eventually develop the effects of the first two phases, but it is not likely, and that method lacks efficiency. In fact, failure to follow this scheme, or failure of the teacher to present it in full, has resulted in more aborted or significantly retarded magical training than perhaps any other single factor. It is also important, following this scheme, that only once the core ritual formulae have become well integrated into the trainee’s life, through consistent and disciplined study and practice, the student will be permitted to move on to further ritual work within the system. At this time, the individual will be able to see how the formulae of this first ritual expand outward into other rituals of limitless applications.

When we first begin to study a ritual, and when we finally perform it, we must look deeply into the many elements of it. These elements are manifold. A partial list of the more common and vital such components includes: projection of force, lines of force, sigils & figures, conscious movement, incantations, words of power & Names of God (two distinct components which we can, nevertheless, count as one for the sake of this basic discussion), and ritual tools. We will examine each one, in basic terms, in turn.

Projection of force and lines of force are closely related, the second depending upon the first. The projection of force is simply the capacity for directing the invoked energy wherever it is required within the ritual. This is often an entire area of training within a complete system, though only a rudimentary familiarity with its methods are required for beginning ritual work. The common methods are through visualization, and through kinesthetic imagination, or “imaginary feeling”. I find that combining the two is ideal, so that the student can learn to simultaneously feel the energy as it moves, and create channels into and through which it may move by way of strong visual concentration. Elemental fire alone may create effects if directed properly, but when directed into the lines of a crimson red upward-pointed equilateral triangle, the fire is stabilized and will even attract more elemental fire to itself, building and intensifying over the course of the ritual. The tracing out of such energy circuits in forms appropriate to the energy being worked and the purpose to which it will be put is known as the tracing or drawing of the lines of force. These visualized and physically traced lines actually behave like wires to electricity, providing a path of least resistance for the energy in question to take on the form required of it.

This takes us to the drawing of figures. These are very specialized lines of force which serve specifically to invoke more specific forces, or more specific forms of a given type of force. Some figures, which are often called sigils or seals, perform the function of gateways or conductors for conscious forces which we often term spirits. This can include archangels, angels, nature spirits, demons, and even the shades of the dead, depending upon the sigil, the force with which the sigil is traced, and the intent of the ritual. The red triangle mentioned above is an example of a figure, specific to elemental fire, while an angelic signature extracted from the appropriate planetary kamea would exemplify the sigils and seals. Before moving on, I must mention that archangels and angels cannot be summoned or have their energy drawn from without their consent, but the sigils and seals can serve as requests for their aid in the form of very particularized force.

Though not explicitly mentioned in a lot of training systems, conscious movement is essential to the full effect of ritual magic. Conscious movement, simply, is the process of conducting each movement in the ritual, including the drawing of lines of force, circumambulation, symbolic salutes, and such, not only physically, but also astrally and mentally. That is to say, the magician must be able to concentrate upon the action of all three of his bodies during each and every phase of the ritual. For example, while drawing the triangle above, the magician must be aware first of the physical tracing, the astral action of projecting force and the attendant emotion, and the mental motion of concentration upon the purpose of the particular force and the shape in which it is being formed. These are all movements upon their own proper plane, and are all important to the effective completion of the ritual.

Incantations must also be done consciously, in the same manner. Their effect is layered. First of all, the sonorous chanting, melodic singing, or dramatic recitation of the words will, on its own, produce very real changes in the atmosphere of the ritual area. The sound of an impassioned human voice sets off physiological changes in a person’s nervous system, including the individual making the incantation as well as any participants and assistants. Similarly, the emotion put into the words creates perturbations within the astral matter in the vicinity, making the flow of certain forces easier, and the flow of others more difficult, depending upon the emotional content of the words. Lastly, on the mental plane, the meaning of the words themselves is translated into a corresponding shift in the atmosphere in the uppermost reaches of creation. Of course, the process actually works in reverse order, beginning with the mental interpretation of the words and moving down to the psychic component, finally manifesting as the physical sound vibration and physiological shift, but we tend to be so materially focused that we become aware of things from the ground up, as it were; as such, the conscious use of incantations will tend to exalt the magician’s awareness from the physical to the mental.

Words of power are closely related to incantations, and are often included in them. Their action is even similar. Words of power, however, have much more specialized and precise functions. Very often, they seem like gibberish upon first glance, but are in fact constructed out of letters or syllables (depending usually upon the structure of the foundational language) according to specific rules. Even the ones that do not seem like gibberish, for instance the titles of the Angelic Hosts, are constructed according to formulaic rules. Let us take as an example the Angelic Host of the third sephirah, Binah, who are known as the Aralim. In Hebrew, this would be spelled אראלים (ARALIM). The first syllable, composed as it is of Aleph-Resh-Aleph, represents the solar power in its gentlest aspect, its energy carried in elemental air. This syllable may be seen as shorthand for the phrase from the Emerald Tablet, “The father thereof is the sun […] the wind carried it in its womb[.]” In short, it refers to the whirling of creative force. The second syllable is composed of Lamed-Yod-Mem, which points to a balanced descent into materiality. “Lamed” translates to “ox-goad”, and represents the putting into effect of authority, while it corresponds to the sign of Libra, representing the balancing authority of karmic law on the psychic plane. “Yod” is a hand, and corresponds to Virgo, the mutable earth sign, while “Mem” means water and points to the lower astral, etheric, and physical levels of creation. Now, the word “Aralim” itself translates as “Thrones”. All of the above symbolism combines to form a picture of Divine Authority manifesting creatively. So, when we intone “Aralim” within a ritual, we are calling that very influence, in the form of the Angelic Choir so named, into effect by allowing it to channel down through our mental, psychic, and finally physical bodies. The names of archangels, and of most spirits, are of similar composition and purpose. This is not to say that those angelic choirs or individual spirits do not exist, but because they are not as constrained by space as we ourselves are, they tend to manifest as pure forces unless we provide them with telesmatic (visualized) bodies.

Divine Names, or Names of God, work in a similar fashion, although they of course deal with forces flowing directly from Heaven. These Names are more properly titles, each of which points toward a certain type of Divine Force, Energy, or Influence upon creation. We will take as our example the simplest, yet most profound: Eheieh (אהיה). This Name means, simply, “I Become”. It is the very kernel of creation and of God’s relationship with creation, which makes it the perfect Divine Name to relate to the first sephirah, Kether. We can also analyze its letters in the same way we did with the Aralim. Aleph is again elemental air, and also the whirling rush of creative power. “Hé” means “a window”, while “Yod” is once again both Virgo (mutable earth) and the initial point of creation. All of these symbols point to creative power flowing forth from Heaven, through the cracks in our reality, and into creation. And, in fact, that is the very energy of this Name.

Finally, there are magical tools. These are perhaps the most maligned aspect of ritual magic, and yet one of the most genuinely and immediately useful. Each system of ritual magic has its own set, though some are common among multiple systems. For example, we may examine the four elemental tools found in most systems which have grown out of Hermetism. These are the fire wand, the air dagger, the water cup, and the earth disk. The usual criticism is that we can channel these forces without the use of physical tools, so why bother with them? That is technically true, however when a ritual tool used to channel one specific type of energy is properly constructed and prepared by a ritual of consecration for that one task, the efficiency of the task goes up enormously. A well-made fire wand, having been imbued with its task by the appropriate formulae, will accomplish the task of directing a line of elemental fire with much greater intensity than the ritualist’s own index finger. It is true that we must learn how to move these forces with only our own bodies, but if we can do so with greater efficiency and power with a tool, why would we not take advantage of the opportunity outside of an emergency? It has wisely been observed that it is only with long years of practice that the formulae of the ritual tools become internalized thoroughly enough for us to accomplish the same tasks as easily without them, and this only as we approach true adeptship.

A big part of the problem encountered with ritual tools stems from the fact that most people equate efficiency with multitasking. In magic, however, efficiency is better defined by the ratio of expended or directed energy to the result achieved. From that perspective, it is better to have a large variety of very specialized tools, whereas most would-be magicians think that they can cut down on a lot of “clutter” by using only a few generalized ones. Thus, many use their dagger to both direct air (or fire, in some traditions), and to direct any other forces required. This was done in an attempt at simplifying the older Hermetic tradition of using the four elemental tools derived from the Tarot suits, as listed above, as well as a separate dagger for the directing of the simpler vital energy used for many more general ritual tasks. It is also common in many schools of the Hermetic tradition to construct and consecrate multiple wands of different materials and forms for the directing of specific forces, one for fire, one for the electric fluid, one for pure Will, and so on. Likewise, a dagger for air would be used alongside a sword for the projection of the magician’s own divinely-granted authority. Even the clothing worn during rituals count as tools, from the white robe of purity to the hat or headband of correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm, from the girdle of strength to the pentacle of balance and power, each has a purpose to fulfill and an energetic function which can only be dispensed with gradually, over years or decades. Some magicians never dispense with them, if they have the space and time to use them, simply because properly prepared ritual tools always take some of the burden off of the shoulders of a very busy ritualist. Even adepti will usually have a store of tools at their disposal in order to make their jobs easier.

This has just been a brief survey of the many facets of a ritual system, and why they exist as they do. It is important that we remember that magic is not simply ritualized psychology, but is instead the technology of the superphysical planes. We may perform some tasks with nothing but our bare hands, so to speak, but the appropriate tools, used wisely, can help us in producing effects far beyond our naked capabilities with much less time and effort.

Or foundational rituals, though the better systems are built out of just one efficient rite.

Telematic, or telesmic, images are another important element of many rituals, but their study and use is an entire field of exploration unto itself. See William G. Gray’s Inner Traditions of Magic and Magical Ritual Methods for information on them.

Categories: Book Excerpts Tags: , ,

Evaluation of Traditions: Magic

February 25, 2010 11 comments

“There is no ‘black magic’, but rather sorcerers groping in the dark. They grope in the dark because the light of gnosis and mysticism is lacking.” (Meditations on the Tarot, corrected edition 2002 Tarcher/Putnam, pg. 43)

There are many different “traditions” of magic, though they all come down, more or less, to aesthetic differences over practical ones. Certain among these traditions do appear to be more consistently effective than others, but I’ll get to that. Given the preceding, I’m going to treat magic as a single subject for the purposes of this article, only referring to differences of magical systems when necessary for clarity. It is also important to define my parameters right from the start. Under the heading of magic, I include divination and psychism (psychic powers). Divination is simply the use of magical techniques to gain information, while psychic powers are magical powers usually distinguished by their untrained use. Within these categories are also included most New Age and New Thought practices.

“Psychic” means “pertaining to the soul”, from the Greek “psyche”. Let us briefly explore mystical psychology (study, or logic, of the soul) before moving on to the implications of such on magic. Each human being is composed of their physical body, their soul (personality, astral body) and mind (mental body). Nearly every mystical and religious tradition worldwide will agree on this scheme, or one very much like it. Some divide these three “bodies” yet further, while some consider the soul and mind to be two facets of a single entity. It doesn’t matter if these divisions are taken literally or not; while we are alive, there are no hard and fast divisions here, anyway. What is important is that we recognize these three levels of our living awareness: physical, emotional/personal, and mental.

There is still a subtler layer, though: Spirit. In much of Western esoteric thought, mind and spirit are often conflated with one another. Even the great Franz Bardon used the terms almost interchangeably (although with an often unnoticed subtlety that belies his acute awareness of the differences). The cause of the conflation is that most people will go through their whole lives with only a handful of truly, consciously, spiritual experiences. Under those conditions, experiences of the spirit seem to be explainable as simple overload of the mind-brain. This is not entirely untrue; the way we consciously learn to reach for spiritual experiences does involve a lot of mental game-playing (concentration) at first. Eventually, according to the masters, the games become unnecessary as mind melts into Spirit and becomes identified with It.

So what is Spirit? Without going too far with my words, Spirit is God. In Buddhism, Spirit and Nirvana are identical. In Judaism, Spirit may be called Ain Soph. In Hinduism, Spirit is the Atman which is Brahman, the Unknowable and Uncreated. For a Christian, we are talking about God’s Holy Spirit by which we attain to Union in Love with God the Father. Our bodies, souls and minds are of God, as we are each of our human parents, but our Spirit is that in us which is God. I cannot say “my spirit”, but only “Spirit”. Without Spirit, that which identifies itself as “Nicholas Graham” simply wouldn’t be. Spirit is the breath-of-God in which we live, move, and have our being.

All of that being said, we can move on to the relevance of this to an exploration of magic.

Magic is not, cannot be, a spiritual practice. It is mental and psychic primarily, and physical secondarily, but not spiritual. It is by virtue of Spirit that magic works at all, but that is true of everything, so magic is not uniquely “spiritual”. Magic itself cannot help us in drawing closer to Spirit, in the process of identifying mind with Spirit.

In fact, this is the very source of the prohibitions in most traditional religions against the practice of magic: it is not that magic is evil, so much as it is a distraction from higher pursuits. In both Christianity and Judaism, at least as far as the Scriptures are concerned, there is no prohibition against the practice of magic. The Bible only prohibits the use of specific methods of enslaving the souls of the dead (oboth and yideonim) in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament it prohibits poisoning with herbs (pharmakoi). In most English Bibles, all of these terms are translated “magic”, “sorcery”, “witchcraft”, “witch”, “wizard”, and the like, but none of those words actually mean “magic” or anything of the sort.

There is nothing inherently wrong with using magic to change the world in which we live, though any use of magic to attack or manipulate another living being is as unlawful as any other means of doing the same, with the added sin of doing so dishonorably, “behind the scenes” as it were. It is without question that using magic to help people with their problems is a good act, insofar as that aid actually removes barriers between them and God.

There is also the question of the various traditions of so-called “ritual magic”. The practitioners of these traditions typically make great spiritual claims about them, citing dramatic visions and meeting with all manner of metaphysical entities. I do not doubt that many ritual magicians do achieve these visions. I have plenty of personal experience in this realm, myself. I also do not doubt the life-changing nature of the experiences involved. They, at the very least, provide experiential confirmation that the physical world is not all that there is. Still, these things are not “spiritual” insofar as they do not have anything to do with Spirit. They are experiences of the mind and soul. The masters and saints of all traditions, as well as the personal experiences of many seekers through the ages, reveal to us the fact that pure spiritual experience is without any sensory input from within or without. “For silence is the sign of real contact with the spiritual world and this contact, in turn, always engenders the influx of forces.” (Meditations on the Tarot, pg. 11)

There is one category of practice often related to magic which is genuinely spiritual, insofar as it leads to spiritual experience. This is known as theurgy. “Theurgy” means “God work”; that is, the theurgist seeks to make of herself a conscious and willing “instrument of God’s peace”. “The magus in sacred magic plays the role of the last link in the magical chain which descends from above, i.e. in order to serve as the terrestrial point of contact and point of concentration for the operation conceived, willed and put into action from above.” (Meditations on the Tarot, pg. 57)

I will not go into theurgy more deeply than this for now, except to say that theurgy can outwardly resemble magical rituals in many ways, including the use of ritual gestures, physical tools, incense, and the like, but the inner processes differ greatly and more closely resemble contemplative prayer. Theurgy is also sometimes known as “sacred magic” or “divine magic”. It is only magic at all insofar as theurgy may sometimes be used to effect a change in the mental, astral or physical worlds.

In theurgy, we do find the whole of the ethic of magic:

This is the aim of sacred magic; it is nothing other than to give the freedom to see, to hear, to walk, to live, to follow an ideal and to be truly oneself—i.e. to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, the ability to walk to the lame, life to the dead, good news or ideals to the poor and free will to those who are possessed by evil spirits. It never encroaches upon freedom, the restoration of which is its unique aim. (Meditations on the Tarot, pg. 61)

Even the simplest sorcery will be judged upon this basis: does it enhance or diminish freedom? Does it liberate, or does it enchain?

So there is the crux: magic is itself not spiritual, but it can either aid or hinder the spiritual quest. It can create space in one’s life for Divine things, or it can become a means of abuse like any other. Magic is only lawful insofar as it creates that space and manifests true, perfect love; otherwise, it is the most foolish and vain of pursuits.

A Criticism of Common Approaches to Spirituality

November 14, 2009 7 comments

[Excerpt from an as-yet untitled upcoming book, taken specifically from an exploration of some of the Hermetic/esoteric meanings of the Ten Commandments.]

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Ex 20:17)

A topic of much contemporary interest to the New Age and Neopagan movements is that of cultural appropriation. For instance, are the “neoshamans” and “urban primitives” of our day merely spiritual thieves, or are they rightfully adapting the ideas and method of cultures past and present for their own traditions?

The key to this first question lies in the uncomfortable bravado and indignation with which the issue is usually met by the growing legions of “tribal” tattoo-covered “neoshamans” and studded-black clad “chaos magicians” of the urban landscape. For my part, I must ask: What traditions? If the hungry legions cannot point to true religion as their foundation, a living orthodoxy, they will remain hungry, no matter how many techniques of ritual, vision questing and pseudo-meditation they pry from the hands of their living brethren or lift from the defiled tombs of the holy dead. “Occultism” and “spirituality” have become only the intellectual homes of ghouls dressed in the mishmash of the expensive burial clothes of those from whom they have eaten. And like the ghouls of legend, lore and Hollywood, their hunger never abates.

Dramatic language to be sure, and seemingly harsh when used to describe fellow seekers. Still, my description is unfortunately apt. An entire “system” of sorcery has been built around what I have described above, though using the more picturesque title “paradigmal piracy”. This, a radiative anti-magic practice wherein the sorceror seeks to consciously “paradigm shift” from one religion or spiritual tradition to another and another and another as casually as I change my socks, is only the most extreme example of what Arthur Versluis refers to as the “anti-tradition”. (See The Philosophy of Magic for a brilliant study of this topic written in the 1960s, by a genuine magician watching the dramatic public emergence of the anti-tradition all through our culture.)

Such a condemnation might seem odd, coming, as it does, from a Christian Hermetic who enthusiastically learns from Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu and Pagan sources. Am I not committing theft or fraud as well? Such a question deserves a serious response.

The commandment under our present consideration is one of envy sourced in a great cultural lack in the West (spreading rapidly through the East as well): as Versluis points out, orthodox religion and the arts of mysticism, magic, alchemy and related pursuits have been rent asunder over the course of centuries of spiritual decay. This is not to say that our culture has not made some important forward movement, but that we have lost our soul as a cultural unit. It is only when religion and mysticism (used here to refer to the individual application of religion) are one, or at least when they respect one another fully, that either one of them is healthy. Mysticism is the life-force of religion, while religion give mysticism a body and a context (or matrix). Religion is also important because, contrary to modern occult cant, not everybody is a mystic, magician, priest or shaman by talent or temperament. This point is essential, but only if taken with proper humility: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) These are callings for some just as medicine, engineering, and auto repair are callings for others. “The powerful magician, the artistic genius, the profound thinker, and the radiant mystic certainly merit all these qualifications and perhaps still greater ones, but they do not dazzle God. In the eyes of God they are dear sheep to him; in his consideration of them he desires that they shall never go astray and that they shall have life increasingly and unceasingly.” (Meditations on the Tarot, pg. 39) Make this a theme for contemplation and much occult nonsense, as well as the pride of “human progress”, dissolves.

This dissolution has not reached the same degree in much of the East, and never existed at all in most “primitive” or “tribal” cultures. It is not, therefore, unwise to examine them from the perspective of a Western spiritual seeker. The problem arises when we seek to completely replace our own beautiful traditions, supplanting them with random elements lifted from the traditions of others. The so-called Perennial Philosophy is still alive in the West, as are our religious traditions. They are not dead, or even diseased, but wounded. Therein lies the essence of a healthy approach to exploring the spiritual traditions of others, living or dead.

When a person breaks a limb, even all four limbs and several ribs to boot, we do not leave her to die or, worse, bury her alive. yet, this is precisely what most occultists in the West are trying to do! Similarly, we would never dream of fusing that person’s whole body with the bodies of multiple other injured parties, thinking that so to do would leave us with one whole, healthy individual, but again that is the approach taken by numerous New Age practitioners every day!

Instead, we perform skillful surgery in a few problem areas to remove truly dead tissue and build bridges across the resultant gaps with transplanted or donated tissues, we infuse healthy blood from a willing donor, and we make certain that the healing body takes in proper nutrients in correct proportions to enable it to repair itself (always the best solution when the damage is slight enough to make it viable). A more difficult process, perhaps, and often painful, but if performed ably and with dedication, we have a whole, healthy, vital person in the end, rather than a disease-bearing corpse or a monstrous chimera.

I think that the point is probably plain enough, but for the sake of absolute clarity, let’s examine the metaphor. The spiritual traditions of the West—Hermetism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam*—are vital and alive, with much will for survival and the inner power to thrive. But they are most definitely wounded, each to its own extent and in its own way. In order to rehabilitate them, we must fill in gaps with borrowings from other living traditions. We do this in full awareness, rather than out of semi-conscious envy for the spiritual powers and experiences of others, because we know that our own traditions once held those very same practical methods explicitly, but they have since been wrenched away by the overzealous, or else forgotten by the indifferent. Such is the way of the “march of progress”.

This, though, is the mission of the Hermetist of any religion: recombine orthodoxy with mysticism. This is a task of lifetimes, and it cannot be artificially forced into a religious body or the culture at large, so each must first make this a personal effort. That is, each Hermetic must make this unity of soul and spirit (literally, and in terms of the present discussion) within her own person. In so doing, many philosophies, religions, theological constructs and methodologies will be explored, with bits and pieces being taken along for the ride and fitted back into the holes proper to them. The records of many such recent journeys exist for Christians to learn from and enjoy, such as our anonymous Unknown Friend, as well as Arthur Versluis, Thomas Merton, and Mouni Sadhu, many of which have been invaluable sources of teaching and inspiration for me personally. I hope to add some small measure by way of this present book.

In Hermetic/gnostic terms, then, this final commandment refers first to the full edifice of the religious and spiritual traditions of others (“your neighbor’s house”), and then to the more or less important ideas and practices within them. We shall not unlawfully desire and use them, either to replace our own, or by misguidedly grafting them all together into a harmful mishmash, but shall instead respectfully explore and examine them as humble students and servants, knowing that if we but ask, that which we lack will be given for our everlasting health.

*Others could be named, such as Neoplatonism, Platonism, Orphism, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and many more. However, they have all more or less lent their vital force and central fire to one or more of the traditions named above.

Some Notes Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Elements

Just as the title would indicate, this is not a complete essay. These are just some notes I’ve recently taken for my own use, and for use in my current book project. I thought that I’d post them here for the use of anybody else who might be interested in a deeper understanding of, and practice with, the Elements.

Sound—Akasha—Omnidirectional—Original Substance
Sight—Light/Fire—Straight Lines—Willed or directed motion
Touch—Air—Whirling—Neutralized motion
Taste—Water—Balanced—Passive motion
Smell—Earth—Inertia—Halted motion

Akasha through the planes:
Spiritual—Pleroma—Supercelestial Heaven
Mental—Akasha—Celestial realm
Astral—Astral Light—Planetary realm
Physical—Ether—Elemental realm

Descending Action — As in creation
Akasha -> Fire -> Water -> Air -> Earth

Ascending Action — As in spiritual growth
Earth -> Water -> Air -> Fire/Light -> Life/Wood (Taoist)
Consider a tree’s growth: from the Earth it grows first with the direct aid of water, then it breaches soil and partakes of air and light, which all produce Life/Wood. In spiritual growth, Life comes about through the dynamic admixture and action of the four Elements, though the matrix of life (Akasha/Ether) and the spirit which animates it are always present. They take advantage of the Elements and their activities to accomplish the goal of reaching back to the Source.

Categories: Blog Posts Tags: , ,

Seasonal Power

Halloween falls on October 31st every year, and is the evening before Hallowmass (Hallow’s Eve). Samhain, or true Halloween, however, falls on November 7th this year (and a different day every year; check a good Witch’s calendar or astrological calendar), the Saturday following the secular Halloween. How does true Halloween (which I will call Samhain through this article, for the sake of clarity) differ from the secular holiday?

The first answer depends upon your current religion, and your religious background. For most adult Americans, Halloween is just a way to indulge in the “dark and spooky” without social stigma, and for children to indulge their sweet teeth during the increasingly cold and dark half of the year.

For those who practice magic, divination, ancestor veneration, or anything similar, Halloween is an effective time for all of the above due to its cultural associations. The actual tides themselves have not changed to suit modern proclivities, but enough cultural energy has built up around the night of October 31st (and the day of November 1st for Roman Catholics) that it serves as a particularly effective time for all of those aforementioned activities. It is also close enough to the actual date of Samhain (which, again, changes yearly, but which is never far off of Halloween) that it naturally partakes of some of the Samhaintide energy.

Samhain itself is, of course, an even better time for magic and all things “dark and spooky” (as defined by modern Western culture). The natural tides are in motion at this time of the yearly cycle, when the Sun enters 15 degrees Scorpio, in such a way as to very literally thin the veil between the planes. The planes, it must be remembered, are not separate in the same way that one room is separated from another by a solid wall. Instead, they are segments of a continuum which runs from the physical to the spiritual. The segments are useful for defining the areas of the continuum which tend to interact more directly with one another, but are not absolute. For instance, the “lower astral” and “higher astral” are just the more and less dense sections of the astral plane; as different as they can be, they are still just “the astral plane” because they have more direct interplay with one another than either of them has with, say, the spiritual plane. Ultimately, though, everything is made out of the same “mind-stuff”, so neither the physical plane nor the spiritual plane, nor anything between, is firmly separated off from the rest.

I will be honest in saying that I don’t really understand the mechanism by which the planes “become closer”. Maybe the lower planes become less dense, or maybe the higher planes become more dense, or maybe something totally different happens; I don’t know. Experience shows, though, that this is what happens, and because of it many different metaphysical operations become a bit easier to perform.

Divination is the traditional activity for this time of year. Tarot readings, scrying, rune-casting, whatever it is that you do (or whatever you can have done for you) should bring you clearer answers with less effort this time of year. Take advantage! Samhain is not the only good time for divination, of course. Any time of year will do, with waning moons typically best. Still, Samhain, Yuletide, and Beltain are typically the best times for it. Along with divination, astral projection should also be easiest at Samhain, and easier throughout the dark half of the year than the light half.

General spellcasting can also be done to better effect at this time of year. The energy is flowing more freely all around, and messages get here and back with less resistance, so go ahead and do some magic (or have your friendly neighborhood spiritual worker do it for you).

Of particular interest on and around Samhain, too, is evocation. Because the planes are in closer communion, it is far easier to evoke a being to either astral presence or physical appearance. The higher beings, such as archangels, angels, and the greater spirits of the elements and of nature, are generally not too difficult to a well-trained summoner at any time of year. Samhain, then, is best for the evocation of “lower” elemental entities and demons, as well as for necromancy (the evocation of the dead). Now is a great time to set up a shrine to your ancestors, or to begin to befriend the spirit(s) of your home and the surrounding land.

The created gods, especially the earthy variety, are also much closer to us at this time. Cernunnos, Herne, Herodias, Habondia, Aradia, Osiris, Hermes Cthonos, Hel, Hades, Pluto, and so on are much easier to contact around Samhain, and throughout the dark half of the year. Light candles to one or two of them to whom you seem to be drawn in particular and ask them for their presence in your life. Don’t ask for anything until you have a real relationship with them; just talk to them and try to become friends. Friendship is its own reward, apart from any favors you may do one another.

I’m sure that other people have a lot of different ways of taking advantage of the season, things that I’ve never thought of. The above should give the interested some ideas, though.

Happy Halloween!