Monthly Archives: February 2011

One in Essence, Three in Aspect

From the Art of Transformations study group, an exploration of the Emerald Tablet (using the Sigismund Bacstrom translation)

The Secret Works of CHIRAM – One in essence, but three in aspect.

It is true, no lie, certain and to be depended upon, the superior agrees with the inferior, and the inferior agrees with the superior, to effect that one truly wonderful work.

As all things owe their existence to the will of the only one, so all things owe their origin to the one only thing, the most hidden by the arrangement of the only God.

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Three Paths of the Magic of Light

Picture Credit: Golden-Dawn.Org

Responsibility is essential in developing society.  One of the most difficult responsibilities we’re faced with is the Socratic maxim to ‘know thy self‘.

In this Philosophical Dialogue titled “The Three Paths of the Magic of Light”, originally presented on V.H. Frater I.C.L.’s Tales of Abiegnus site, we find a wonderful way to begin investigating and understanding the responsibilities we are presented with by the  vocations we’re lead to through our innate inclinations.

Many thanks to V.H. Frater I.C.L. for allowing us to repost this helpful dialogue. 

***

The Three Paths of the Magic of Light

***

Kasmillos: In our Order their are many magicians, but I am beginning to discover that they do not all practice the Royal Art in the same manner.

Straphalos: Indeed, there are several ways to approach mastery of the self and the Spirit.

Kasmillos: But, we all learn the same techniques, we practice the same rituals, we endure the same initiations. Why is it, then, that we do not all walk the path in a similar way?

Straphalos: Our bond is in our destination. Our individuality is expressed in the manner of our journey. We are not like a church, we do not impose our personal enlightenment on all. Everyone’s Revelation is unique. The invokation of Spirit, Power and Light will reveal different things to different people.

Kasmillos: So we all start at the same place, greatly diverge and end up at the same point?

Straphalos: In a sense. Although, it is a mistake to believe that anything a person comes up with on this Path is automatically worthy and right. We all fall short at some point, usually at many points. That is why the Power of True Discernment is so greatly sought for and envied by those who see the most clearly on this Path.

Kasmillos: So how do we judge truly the manner in which we follow this Path?

Straphalos: Pray and invoke the Higher Light for the Gift of Discernment; you will need it.

Kasmillos: All well and good for when I do achieve it. But, what of until then?

Straphalos: Over the millenia of the Western Mysteries, it is clear that out of the many ways to pursue the Great Work, a few show themselves to be more effective and blessed than others. If you contemplate these paths and try them, you will not go wrong. Though, you may find that one is more right for you than that which you initially chose.

Kasmillos: What are these paths?

Straphalos: They are three in number: The Path of Active Invokation, the Passive or Internal Path, and the Path of the Practical Magician. All magicians who specialize in one of these three ways still work elements from the others, but their personal gifts, character, and motivation will distill out one path that particularly characterizes their journey. One that fits them better than the others.

Kasmillos: What is the nature of the Path of Active Invokation?

Straphalos: This is the most common way to pursue our Mysteries. It is characterized by the frequent use of our rituals for the general development of the powers of our souls. Those on this path are exhorted to “Invoke and Invoke often!” for this sets up a standing wave of vibration in our Sphere of Sensation that ever elevates our consciousness and powers until we stand in the presence of the Ancient of Days, interwoven with Light and in unity with our Higher Genius. This path is pursued by the frequent and reverential practice of developmental ritual magics.

Kasmillos: What, then is the nature of the Passive or Internal Path? Do they not also practice ritual?

Straphalos: Yes, they do, but their focus is different. Those who pursue this path are far more meditative. Their emphasis is on stillness of the body, while their conciousness is trained by internal practices to open up to the Infinite Spirit. They draw upon the ceaseless stream of splendor that descends to us from God. Where others merely put out their hands to sip from this treasury, the practitioner of this path reaches out with great vessels to harvest far more of the vast bounty that continually surrounds us. Outwardly, their life appears charmed and effortless. They are like a leaf blown by the Breath of God. Always they appear at the right time and place, always they possess what they need and plenty more to share with others generously. They learn, by their focus, to surrender to God’s Infinite Mind, and in so doing they find perfect peace. Instead of rising up the planes from strength to strength as the Active Invoker, they simply appear in God’s Presence, traveling through the realms between without moving.

Kasmillos: How then, does the Path of the Practical Magician differ?

Straphalos: This is a very useful and attractive path to those who still bear many mundane dreams, yet also desire to rise above the material in time. They are the clearest about their goals and desires and learn to focus their Magical Will most strongly. To them, the journey is not about a starting point and an end point with an epic adventure in between. Their path is characterized by a series of goals, accomplishments they wish to manifest in stages: smaller dreams in succession which add up to Greatness. These smaller accomplishments act individually as rungs in a ladder, each one propelling them forward to greater understanding of the world and themselves. Magicians on this path tend to focus on practical, as opposed to developmental, magics. Their work and practice is about manifesting specific things and conditions of a practical nature to their needs as well as for the benefit of others. Consequently, they tend to be the most relevant to the non-initiate, for their efforts improve mundane lives and make communities more prosperous.

Kasmillos: So the Practical Magician is the most service oriented?

Straphalos: All of them are, and all of them aren’t. A magician can be equally selfish or philanthropic in any of these paths. Active Invokers can be concerned only with their own empowerment, or they they can use their power to heal bodies and upflift souls. They have the greatest chance of showing the Divine Light to others and changing the spiritual direction of those around them. They are like a Light Shining in the Darkness. Followers of the Passive Path can isolate themselves like monks living in the world interacting rarely with those outside of themselves, or they can mingle with an open heart among the lost, welcoming those whom God brings to them serendipitously to comfort and guide. They have the greatest chance of bringing Peace Profound to the tired and world weary, and healing the wounded heart. They are like a Well of Living Water, that those lost in the desert of their own jaded nightmares stumble to and are refreshed and awakened. Practical Magicians can gather for themselves of the world’s good for their own consumption and gratifcation only, or they can turn and share their manifest bounty with those in need. They can raise up Temples and Hospices and liberate those enslaved by poverty and misfortune. They have the greatest chance of ensuring the continuation of the Mysteries for they have the means to establish the institutions and facilities that give permanence to things. And they provide the most tangible proofs to the non-initiated of the efficacy and relevance of our Path. They are like a Font of Prosperity blessing any community of which they are part.

Kasmillos: So none of these three Paths is greater than the other.

Straphalos: Indeed none. And, further, elements of all three must be learned by all who would call themselves “Magician of Light”. But, one will fit most naturally with you and become the way in which you best and most efficaciously interact with the Spirit and the World.

Kasmillos: How can I choose which one to follow most closely?

Straphalos: Invoke often, meditate in stillness, and discern your goals clearly so that you may pursue them by the combination of conscientious magic and worldly action.

Kasmillos: In otherwords follow all three paths?

Straphalos: Indeed, and in so doing God, by your Holy Angel, will Light your Way.

***

V.H. Frater I.C.L. is an alchemist and adept in the Golden Dawn Tradition. A teacher of Ceremonial Magic and Alchemy for 14 years, he has been a student of Magic, Alchemy and Metaphysical Healing his whole life.

A Greater Snake Than the One in Hand – Serpent Handling, scripture and the narrow path of union

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”

- 1 Corinthians 3: 1-3

“Now, O Father, thou hast put me to silence for ever and all my former thoughts have quite left and forsaken me, for I see the greatness, and shape of all things here below, and nothing but falsehood in them all.”

- The words of Tat to his Father from the 7th Book of the Corpus Hermetica

The extremity of the serpent handling practices of some Holiness congregations has been the cause for dismay amongst judicial representatives of both the state and religious orthodoxy. These practices represent not only the literal interpretation of certain scriptures, but also the solidification of these scriptures in physical practices that prove the scripture through the successful completion of ritual.

In order to achieve the ignification of the astral light, namely the transformation of fluid mercury (spirit) into manifested mercury (spirit), some chains use forms of violence (e.g. dervishes, flagellants), while others employ orgiastic forms, or a  combination of both…In Saudi Arabia, in order to reach a certain degree of exaltation and supreme fixation, at the center of chains that are prepared with a crescendo of progressive rhythms and movements of the head and torso, the fluidic vertigo is taken on and dominated by an action of the Head of the chain, who, in a state of absolute lucidity, pierces the his body with a sword. Since he is in a state of magical equilibrium, it leaves him unscathed, and shows no signs of entry wounds or blood.

- Introduction to Magic, UR Group

Disapproval from secular authorities is quite understandable. Since they don’t believe in the ritual in the first place, all of this seems like a lot of nonsense that could get someone killed. Religious disapproval is often based on similar grounds. Contemporary religion is, for a good portion of  its adherents, no more than mythically oriented ethics and self affirmation, secular thought dressed in divine clothes to beef up its authority. When people start picking up snakes and drinking strychnine to prove the power of the Spirit things become a bit too real for those who are more comfortable hearing sports metaphors used to describe Sacred teachings.

Not all of the members of the snake handling congregations take up serpents, it is only done as the Spirit calls and marks proof of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. However, proof is not the only outcome of this practice, traditionally the purpose of asceticism has always been unification with the Divine, and with unification comes participation in the power of the Divine as well. In Holiness congregations this comes in the form of prophecy, healing and successful prayers.

Most Protestant critiques start with “do not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:7) as their refutation of choice for such practices. Such critiques based on seeing things in terms of hubris miss the opportunity for a deeper understanding.

This split between the physical and mental expressions of belief are common in all religions and philosophies. Pierre Hadot, a classical scholar who studied the ‘spiritual exercises’ of the philosophical tradition, sees this as an inherent problem with the Western world. The gradual shift from philosophy as a way of life to philosophy as a means of discourse has left us with a crippled tradition. Radical practices such as serpent handling present the opposing pole of this split between physical practice and mental abstraction. They are physical demonstrations of Metaphysical truths that often lack the deeper understanding that move these truths to a higher level.

As impressive as they are, these practices remain in the carnal realm, they are the milk that Paul talks about in light of the meat of further Faith leading to absorption in Gnosis. When Protestant critiques use something like Matthew 4:7 to dispute the validity of snake handling they merely flip the pole back to the discursive and deny the validity of the Signs (prophecy, healing, and answered prayers) which are clearly present to the snake handlers. This dance between opposing poles continues to conflate the problem, keeping things at the carnal level, without ever coming to a point where both sides meet in the middle and move up the Ladder to a higher realization.

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.

- Luke 10:19-20

This verse does not deny the power demonstrated in something like snake handling, in fact it gives it even greater credence, however it ends in an active admonishment that moves the understanding to a higher level. To rejoice is an activity, the active power over Death is given validity, but the disciples are given the further charge to accept with humility the physical signs of their Faith in light of the greater gift of participation in the Divine.

Shaykh Ahmed al-Alawi presents a similar (and topical) reconciliation in a recollection recorded in Martin Lings’ A Sufi Saint in the 20th Century.

My first leaning [in the direction of Sufism] was marked by my attachment to one of the masters of the ‘Isawi Tariqa who impressed me by his unworldliness and evident piety. I made every effort to comply with the requisites of that order [known for its practice of wonderworking], and this came quite easily to me on account of my youth and the instinctive attraction for wonders and marvels which is a part of human nature. I became proficient in these practices, and was well thought of by the men of the order, and I believed in my ignorance that what we did was purely and simply a means of drawing nearer to God. One day when God willed that I should be inspired by the truth we were at one of our gatherings and I looked up and saw a paper that was on one of the walls of the house we were in, and my eye lit on a saying that was traced back to the Prophet. What I learned from it caused me to give up what I had been doing in the way of working wonders, and I determined to limit myself in that order to the litanies and invocations and recitations of the Quran. From that time I began to extricate myself and make excuses to my brethren until I finally gave up those other practices altogether. I wanted to drag the entire brotherhood away from them also, but that was not easy. As for myself I broke away as I had intended, and only retained from that contact the practice of snake-charming. I continued to charm snakes by myself or with some of my friends until I met Skaikh Sidi Muhammad al-Buzidi….

One day, when he was with us in our shop, the Shaikh said to me: “I have heard that you can charm snakes, and that you are not afraid of being bitten.” I admitted this. Then he said: “Can you bring me one now and charm it here in front of us?” I said that I could, and going outside the town, I searched for half the day, but only found a small one, about
half an arm’s length. This I brought back and putting it front of me, I began to handle it according to my custom, as he sat and watched me. “Could you charm a bigger snake than this?” he asked. I replied that the size made no difference to me. Then he said, “I will show you one that is bigger than this and far more venomous, and if you can take hold of it you are a real sage.” I asked him to show me where it was and he said: “I mean your soul which is between the two sides of your body. Its poison is more deadly than a snake’s, and if you can take hold if it and do what you please with it, you are, as I have said, a sage indeed.” Then he said: “Go and do with that little snake whatever you usually do with them, and never go back to such practices again.

This is a very pointed example due to the fact that it comes from Sufism where Quranic authority is usually relied on to dispute unorthodox practices, yet here again we find an active reconciliation that goes beyond verbal or doctrinal refutation. Skaikh Sidi Muhammad al-Buzidi redirects the active energy that Shaykh Ahmed al-Alawi was putting into a physical manifestation of his devotion into a higher level of practice.

Discursive arguments lend themselves to the possibility of misinterpretation, however activity is proven by results. The end to which the action lead to are the measure of their worth.  In our devotion we can either take on the snake in hand, or the snake in Spirit, either way Death will prove the results.

Note: Thanks to Charles Upton of Sophia Perennis for pointing me to the passage in Martin Lings’ A Sufi Saint in the 20th Century, and to Bibliodyssey for the illustration from Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.

See also: Of Snakes & Sufis for more analysis of the serpent handling holiness tradition – Click Here for the article.



Alchemical Invocations of Vox Populi – Leland’s Aradia & the Creation of the Folk

“If the lawful order (κόσμος) hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

If ye were of the lawful order (κόσμος), the lawful order (κόσμος) would love his own: but because ye are not of the lawful order(κόσμος), but I have chosen you out of the lawful order (κόσμος), therefore the world hateth you.

Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. “

- John 15:18-21

Most reading the charming reprinting of Charles Leland’s Aradia, Gospel of the Witches easily forget how far we are from rural Italy in the 19th century,  from the world inhabited by those who remember the Ancient Ways, perhaps more telling, how far we are from the lives of the dispossessed in our own time.  Leland’s disarming erudition of Margherita Taluti’s information lulls us into gentle repose, arrested only by the sudden bursts of light when the reality of Margherita’s world sneaks through our contemporary dream.

In those days there were on earth many rich and many poor.

The rich made slaves of all the poor.

In those days were many slaves who were cruelly treated; in every palace tortures, in every castle prisons.

Many slaves escaped. They fled to the country; thus they became thieves and evil folks. Instead of sleeping by night, they plotted escape and robbed their masters, and then slew them. So they dwelt in the mountains and forest as robbers and assassins, all to avoid slavery.

An educated Western audience may find it uncouth that such things would be spoken aloud, but they aren’t spoken aloud, they are passed in secret, sub-rosa, in silence. Leland’s passion for various groups on the fringes of the society of his day, the Romany, the Native American, American Voodoo and European witches, gave him a strong sense of Romanticism for the struggles of the people, and provides him with the raw materials for an invocation of this struggle through his writing.

This is not the genteel voice of an educated Marxist lamenting capitalism, nor the hopeful philosophies of Utopian sustainability, this is Lex Talonis, justice driven by the Left Hand under the auspices of Divine Right. This is the uninhibited outcry of those who labor, live and die without ever seeing the fruits of their work, and watching daily while an uncaring elite sit in abstract control over their destinies.

During the Haitian Revolution in the late 18th century, escaped slaves met in the mountains and gathered strength while plotting to overthrow the Colonial French. During a ceremony in the northern mountains at Bois Caiman, which has since passed into a national myth, the freedom fighters called on the gods of their homeland to give them strength, protection and the vigor to overthrown their oppressors.

According to accounts of the ceremony “a woman started dancing languorously in the crowd, taken by the spirits of the loas. With a knife in her hand, she cut the throat of a pig and distributed the blood to all the participants of the meeting who swore to kill all the whites on the island.”

- History of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution

An interesting thing about Leland is that he’s writing from a place of experience. He was active during the American Civil War, both as a propagandist and journalist for the North and as a soldier, and was in Paris during the French uprising in 1848 where he participated in street fighting against the Royalist supporters.

In all of these revolutionary moments, however, we must be honest and recognize that the people do not stir on their own cognizance.  Even the Haitian revolution was spurred on by educated Haitians who invoked the power of their traditions to stir the people.  It takes someone to spark the collective consciousness, and that someone is more often than not a sympathetic member of the literati.

The tradition that Leland invokes in Aradia is an idealistic tradition of the people.  Unbound by the historical accuracy or literary criticism through the character of Margherita Taluti, who is herself unbound through the mask of Aradia, he attempts to give voice to a deeper current of thought running through the cultural narrative. Just as the African Diaspora Traditions easily slide between Christian saints and African gods, Aradia presents the picture of a living tradition that invokes the Spirits by their Signs without regard for any cultural designations.  These are not the civilized gods of Empires, but the unrefined forces of Nature herself.

Despite the hesitation of some contemporary pagans over the use of the name Lucifer in the text, the marriage of Lucifer and Diana is not necessarily an amalgam of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman traditions. In Latin Lucifer can be interpreted as “Light Bearer” an epitaph for Apollo (also called Φοίβος, Phoibos, “radiant”) who is the brother of Artemis, Artemis being another name for Diana.  With Italian being so close to Latin, it may be that the use of Lucifer actually predates the Christian tradition.

Another appellation given to Apollo is “born of the wolf”, and in pre-Hellenistic times (as Jake Stratton-Kent points out in his work Geosophia) Apollo had a definitive role in Cthonic (underworld) rites. The designation given in Aradia of Diana’s husband with “one who of old once reigned in Hell,” may be a subtle clue that it is this Cthonic Apollo, the Oracular Apollo, who is being called upon.

The Invocation to Aradia hints at this when it says, “may there be  one of three signs distinctly clear to me: the hiss of a serpent, the light of a firefly, the sound of a frog” The Serpent was sacred to Apollo, and the connection of the firefly to the “light bearer” is self evident, the frog is sacred to Hekate, a Cthonic Greek goddess who, like Diana, is connected to magical rites and nocturnal pursuits.

If this seems a bit academic for folk wisdom, it may very well be. Leland’s recounting may be every bit as free as his critics contend. In his work English Gipsy Songs he laments that none of the Romany he spoke with  could give an adequate representation of their tradition.  “Not finding what I wanted, I had given up the intention of forming such a collection, when the perusal of a few excellent Rommany ballads by a friend who may fairly claim to be among the ” deepest” of the deep in the language, as well as others by Professor Palmer and Miss Janet Tuckey, suggested to me the idea that poetry, impressed with true Gipsy spirit, and perfectly idiomatic, might be written and honestly classed as Rommany, even though not composed by dwellers in tents or caravans. The experiment was made, great care being taken to avoid anything like theatrical Gipsyism, or fanciful idealisation.”

There are many correspondences in Aradia to beliefs common to European and early American folk magic which Leland would have been familiar with through his extensive reading and passion for the “occult.” The Charm of the Stones Sacred to Diana is surprisingly similar to the seer stone used by  Josepth Smith for treasure hunting and scrying while dictating the Book of Mormon. Leland’s niece recounts that he, “not only studied witchcraft with the impersonal curiosity of the scholar, but practiced it with the zest of the initiated,” so it would not be surprising if a bit of his own practice seeped in to the reworking of Margherita’s account of Italian witchcraft.

In fact Leland, in his memoirs, tells of his own ownership of such a stone, only he calls it a “voodoo stone,” and based on the timing of the tale he tells (at the end of the Civil War) his possession of it predates by many years his time in Italy:

“Now, to-day I hold and possess the black stone of the Voodoo, the possession of which of itself makes me a grand-master and initiate or adept…”

- Memoirs, Charles Leland

Similarly the Conjuration of Diana which calls for water, wine and salt, bears resemblance to invocation techniques used by folk magicians discussed in George Oliver’s book from 1875, The Pythagorean Triangle: “It appears that in the time when conjurers could profitably exercise their art, they used to raise spirits within a circle nine feet in diameter, which they consecrated by sprinkling with a mixture of holy water, wine, and salt; that they might be protected from any onslaught of the fiend.

This combination of ingredients is found in Christian exorcism rites practiced by the Catholic church, or more pointedly rites which would have been found in the Episcopalian tradition that Leland adopted during his time at Princeton:

These four—water, wine, salt, and ashes—were the ingredients of the Exorcising Water to expel the enemy from a Church at its consecration ; the water symbolising the outpouring of tears, and so penitence ; the wine, exultation of mind ; the salt, natural discretion or wisdom; and the ashes, the humility of penitence.

- The symbolism of churches and church ornaments, Guillaume Durandus

And these three can also be equated in alchemical terms to Mercury (water), Sulphur, (wine) and Salt, which in the Paracelsian tradition are the three essential elements that form the basis of reality prior to the four elements of fire, water, earth and air. The rectification of these three also forms the basis of the Philosopher’s Stone. Leland was well acquainted with Paracelsus by the time he wrote Aradia, we find him discussing Gnosticism and NeoPlatonism at Princeton while still a student:

When (Professor Dodd) asked me how it was that I had renegaded into Trinitarianism, I replied that it was due to reflection on the perfectly obvious and usual road of the Platonic hypostases eked out with Gnosticism. I had…learned…that ” it was a religious instinct of man to begin with a Trinity, in which I was much aided by Schelling, and that there was no trace of a Trinity in the Bible, or rather the contrary, yet that it ought consistently to have been there…For man or God consists of the Monad from which developed spirit or intellect and soul; for toto enim in mundo Ivcet Trias cujus Monas est princeps, as the creed of the Rosicrucians begins (which is taken from the Zoroastrian oracles)…and it is set forth on the face of every Egyptian temple as the ball, the wings of the spirit which rusheth into all worlds, and the serpent, which is the Logos.”

- Memoirs, Charles Leland

Here we see the core of Leland’s belief, “there was no trace…yet…it ought consistently to have been there.” Aradia is a classic work of Pastoral poetry, the work of an educated Romantic who longs for the Golden Age of Nature. Through the use of vox populi he takes the unrefined elements of folk culture and, in an alchemical moment of myth building, creates what “should be there.” He separates out the dross of true poverty and seeks the essence of hunger, desperation and wisdom that exists in the lives of the dispossessed.

Leland takes what the common people already know, but have no chance to define, and  shows them a reflection of themselves. Reworking their traditions with the purpose of returning to them the freedom that they already have, while undermining the bonds of control that have been put on them by social conventions that laud ostentation while rejecting the simplicity of life.  It is therefore no surprise that Aradia has had a foundational affect on contemporary witchcraft, that was the very purpose of the book.

Margherita Taluti’s information alone could not complete his vision, but it provided the ground and reality from which he could perfect the Work. It contained the Prima Materia missing from his own experience and provided the Key. Leland’s practice is no different than Ovid, Homer, Chaucer, Boccacio, Shakespeare, or any of the great Traditional Poets who took the popular mythologies and legends of their time and re-veiled them.

As he remarked to one of his fellow folklorists, “I am proud to be a first pointer-out – just as I am of having been acknowledge to be the first discoverer of Shelta…also of Italian-Latin witch lore and mythology, which latter has not as yet been credited to me, but will be some day.

Through an alchemical invocation of the popular voice Charles Leland created a vision for the dispossessed to lay claim to. His ‘gospel of the witches‘ was the ‘good news‘ of the free spirit, the reclamation of the Edenic purity of Humanity that “shall dance, sing, make music, and then love in the darkness.”  It is the message to the establishment that “the true God the Father is not yours; for I have come to sweet away the bad, the men of evil, all will I destroy!” It’s a mark of success that Leland’s work has been reviled by the Academy, he wasn’t writing it for them, he was writing it for the People.

Note: The folks at Red Wheel/Weiser were kind enough to provide a copy of Charles Leland’s Aradia, Gospel of the Witches for research and review. Check out Bob Freeman’s review of Aradia and  Freeman Presson’s review as well.

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n in e te e n th
c e n tu ry .

Handler’s Tail

“There is something about Chicago that paralyzes the spirit under a dead weight of formalism dictated by hoodlums…everywhere the smell of atrophied gangsters, the dead weight of those dear dead days hanging in the air like rancid ectoplasm…You suffocate in the immediate past, still palpable, still palpable, quivering like an earthbound ghost…Here the dream is suffocating, more real than the real, the past actually, incredibly, invading the present. It’s almost like you could reach out and have your youth over again, so solid, nostalgia taking solid form and face…But the fraud is immediately apparent. And the horror, the fear of stasis and decay closes round your heart.”

- from Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs

There’s a certain feeling in the Midwest that’s not readily captured by images of Detroit or Chicago.  If our major cities were the mark of Midwest culture the Manhattan Project would never have gotten off the ground. Despite the international mystique of the University of Chicago, it was in the prairies West of the city that Argonne and Fermi Lab were built. In that open air and golden landscape the seeds of the 21st century were sown by metallurgists and physicists working on a project that changed everything about the way we look at life and death, international relations and the power of applied science.

A park near where I live sits on an abandoned missle silo that used to protect Argonne and Fermi during the Cold War, but most folks around here just go their to play baseball. It’s called Nike Park, first in honor the missiles once housed there, and second after the Greek goddess of victory.

The Congregationalist Church down the street from me was one of the first churches built in the area in 1833.  In 1955 Rev. Eugene Kreves broke with the church and founded the first Unitarian Universalist congregation in DuPage County.  The current church congregation still remembers the “heretic pastor” and blames him for bring the Devil to Dupage. When the church steeple was destroyed by lightening awhile back they saw it as a continuation of a curse on the building.

Drive a half hour out and you end up in corn fields, but that only gives you the perspective to see industrial factories on the horizon. About an hour south of here you hit “Armory Road” where a giant gas refinery sits all flashing lights and grey smoke. Lew Welch summed up the feeling in his Chicago Poem:

“I lived here nearly 5 years before I could
meet the middle western day with anything approaching
Dignity. It’s a place that lets you
understand why the Bible is the way it is:
Proud people cannot live here.

The land’s too flat. Ugly, sullent and big it
pounds men down past humbleness. They
Stoop at 35 possibly crining from the heavy and
terrible sky. In country like this there
Can be no God but Jahweh.”

I live in the suburbs, heading into the city by train it looks as though Chicago sits at ground zero of it’s own sociological atomic bomb.  Everything surrounding the city is dead and crumbling, a rotting infrastructure that no one cares to rebuild.  Head away from the city and you’re met with the plastic facade of suburban development, go out farther and you hit small semi-rural towns were the memories of farmers hold fast in the midst of economic collapse.

At night the metallic howl of the freight trains cuts through the constant hum of highways and the electric hiss of high tension wires. I think of  missile silos, government laboratories, lightening struck churches and factories squatting fat on once fertile farmland. I get together with friends, we pick up instruments as folks have always done, and tell our tale in the minor key:

“This Summoner bore to him a stiff burden …
A voice he had as small as hath a goat.
No beard had he, nor never should have;
A smooth it was as it were late shave.
I trowe he were a gelding or a mare.”

Josh Stockinger (HorseThief) – Bass, Electric Mandolin, Drums, Guitar
David Metcalfe – Guitar, Keyboards, Thermin

That Great Atomic Power

And the flame truly sprang upwards at the place and time prescribed, energy did indeed burst forth from what, to ordinary perception, was inert, non-inflammable matter. Man at that moment found himself endowed not merely with his existing strength but with a method which would enable him to master all the forces surrounding him. For one thing he had acquired absolute and final confidence in the instrument of mathematical analysis which for the past century he had been forging. Not only could matter be expressed in terms of mathematics, it could be subjugated by mathematics.

Perhaps even more important, he had discovered, in the unconsidered unanimity of the act which circumstances had forced upon him, another secret pointing the way to his omnipotence. For the first time m history, through the non-fortuitous conjunction of a world crisis and an unprecedented advance in means of communication, a planned scientific experiment employing units of a hundred or a thousand men had been successfully completed. And very swiftly. In three years a technical achievement had been realized which might not have been accomplished in a century of isolated efforts. Thus greatest of Man’s scientific triumphs happens also to be the one in which the largest number of brains were enabled to join together in a single organism, the most complex and the most centrated, for the purpose of research. Was this simply coincidence? Did it not rather show that in this as in other fields nothing in the universe can resist the converging energies of a sufficient number of minds sufficiently grouped and organized?

Thus considered, the fact of the release of nuclear energy, overwhelming and intoxicating though it was, began to seem less tremendous. Was it not simply the first act, even a mere prelude, in a series of fantastic events which, having afforded us access to the heart of the atom, would lead us on to overthrow, one by one, the many other strongholds which science is already besieging? The vitalization of matter by the creation of super-molecules. The re-modeling of the human organism by means of hormones. Control of heredity and sex by the manipulation of genes and chromosomes. The readjustment and internal liberation of our souls by direct action upon springs gradually brought to light by psycho-analysis. The arousing and harnessing of the unfathomable intellectual and effective powers still latent in the human mass. . . . Is not every kind of effect produced by a suitable arrangement of matter? And have we not reason to hope that in the end we shall be able to arrange every kind of matter, following the results we have obtained in the nuclear field?”

- From Some Reflections on the Spiritual Repercussions of the Atom Bomb, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

Having been well cured in the after glow of the first nuclear tests at Trinity, it’s rare today to find those who fully appreciate the weight of those discoveries. In Teilhard De Chardin’s analysis, written in 1946 shortly after the terrible events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humanity has discovered a sure sign of it’s unlimited potential. Rather than an end point, he sees the atomic bomb as just the beginning of a new stage of evolution in which Humanity is crowned with the glory of knowledge and comes full face with the roots of existence.

We know today that this discovery is not so easily contained, each of the categories that he discusses are attended by an endless stream of ethical questions that seem insurmountable within the present state of society. Genetics is in the hands of corporations, pharmaceutical companies and a limping Academy, the issues that surround disposal of nuclear waste have stopped development of any far reaching use of nuclear power, and the reactors that have been built are currently decaying under a lapsed economy that cannot support heavy infrastructure maintenance.

We also face an aging population of scientists who have the skills and knowledge that have maintained these reactors up to this point. The physicists, metalurgists and chemists who designed, built and maintained these sites are getting older, or have already passed on, and due to the focus of the Academy on providing ‘thought leaders’ and technicians who are ready to ‘face the future,’ we have left behind much of the knowledge necessary to keep up with what we have.

Some foresaw the tragic potential in this exploration of the inner sanctum of Nature. Writing in the 1930′s the anonymous Adept Fulcanelli discusses a less democratically optimistic view of these advances:

God the Father holds in his hand this globe, surmounted by the fiery sign. The four great ages— historical representations of the four ages of the world—have their sovereigns shown holding this same attribute. They are Alexander, Augustus, Charlemagne and Louis XIV.3 It is this which explains the inscription INRI, exoterically translated as lesus Nazarenus Rex ludeorum (Jesus of Nazaredi, King of the Jews), but which gives to the cross its secret meaning: Igne Nalura Renovatur Integra (By fire nature is renewed whole). For it is by fire and in fire that our hemisphere will soon be tried. And just as, by means of fire, gold is separated from impure metals, so, Scripture says, the good will be separated from the wicked on the great Day of Judgment.

The first three are emperors, the fourth is only a king, the Sun King, thus indicating the decline of the star and its last radiation. This is dusk, the forerunner of the long cyclic night, full of horror and terror, ‘the abomination of desolation.

- Mystery of the Cathedrals, Fulcanelli

In alchemical terms this discovery was not the achievement of the Great Work, but the discovery of just one more False Light held up as a distraction and trap. Rather than find the Secret Fire which is attendant to the perfection of the Philosopher’s Stone, they merely encapsulated and unleashed the deadly potential of the Central Fire, whose positive symbolic form is the Fire of Life and thus in polarity the Fire of Death. Following the Traditional philosophy of Cyclical movement, Fulcanelli foresaw this exemplary act of hubris in the form of technological advances that outpace the moral,  intellectual and spiritual advances necessary to maintain them.

In Hindu mythology, the four equal sectors of the circle, formed by the cross, were the basis of a rather strange mystical conception. The entire cycle of human evolution is figured there in the form of a cow, symbolizing Virtue, each of whose four feet rests on one of the sectors representing the four ages of the world. In the first age, corresponding to the Greek age of gold and called the Creda Yuga or age of innocence, Virtue is firmly established on earth: the cow stands squarely on four legs. In the Treda Yuga or second age, corresponding to the age of silver, it is weakened and stands only on three legs. During the Touvabara Yuga, or third age, which is the age of bronze, it is reduced to two legs.

Finally, in the age of iron, our own age, the cyclic cow or human virtue
reaches the utmost degree of feebleness and senility: it is scarcely able to stand, balancing on only one leg. It is the fourth and last age, the Kali Yuga, the age of misery, misfortune and decrepitude.

The age of iron has no other seal than that of Death. Its hieroglyph is the skeleton, bearing the attributes of Saturn: the empty hourglass, symbol of time run out, and the scythe, reproduced in the figure seven, which is the number of transformation, of destruction, of annihilation. The Gospel of this fatal age is the one written under the inspiration of St. Matthew. Matthaeus, Greek  Ματθαῖος, comes from Ματταθίας, which means science. This word has given μελέτη, μνημονικός,  study, knowledge, from μάθετε, to learn. It is the Gospel according to Science, the last of all but for us the first, because it teaches us that, save for a small number of the elite, we must all perish. For this reason the angel was made the attribute of St. Matthew, because science, which alone is capable of penetrating die mystery of things, of beings and their destiny, can give man wings to raise him to knowledge of the highest truths and finally to God.

- Mysteries of the Cathedrals, Fulcanelli

There is a Loretta Lynn song titled “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die,” that speaks very plainly to the issue at hand. Every one wants the advances of technology, but too many lack the humility, the ego transformed in death, to truly benefit. Worse, those who are actively pursuing development in these areas have proven time and again that their quest is based on idle curiosity, vainglory or envy.

I spoke of the Spirit of the Earth. What are we to understand by that ambiguous phrase?

Is it the Promethean or Faustian spirit: the spirit of autonomy and solitude; Man with his own strength and for his own sake opposing a blind and hostile Universe; the rise of consciousness concluding in an act of possession?

Is it the Christian spirit, on the contrary: the spirit of service and of giving; Man struggling like Jacob to conquer and attain a supreme center of consciousness which calls to him; the evolution of the earth ending in an act of union?

Spirit of force or spirit of love? Where shall we place true heroism, where look for true greatness, where recognize objective truth?

It would take too long, and it is outside the scope of this paper, to discuss the comparative worth of two opposed forms of adoration, the first of which may well have attracted poets, but only the second of which, I think, presents itself to the reflective mind as capable of conferring upon a universe in motion its full spiritual coherence, its total substance beyond death, and finally its whole message for our hearts.(Witnesses of that experiment in Arizona found, in the anguish of the last instants, that in the depths of their hearts they were praying. [Official Report: appendices.])

What does matter here is to note that Mankind cannot go much further along the road upon which it has embarked through its latest conquests without having to settle (or be divided intellectually on) the question of which summit it must seek to attain.

In short, the final effect of the light cast by the atomic fire into the spiritual depths of the earth is to illumine within them the over-riding question of the ultimate end of Evolution — that is to say, the problem of God.”

- From Some Reflections on the Spiritual Repercussions of the Atom Bomb, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

Both Teilhard De Chardin and Fulcanelli saw the end point of these advances to be a meeting with the Divine, with the end point of Being. What Fulcanelli has pointed out with more honesty is that such a meeting is always attended by a trial, and that the quest for Illumination requires a sacrifice. Despite the title of his Reflections leading one to think that they explore the Spiritual repercussions of the atomic bomb, Teilhard De Chardin’s analysis remains firmly rooted in the physical sphere, blind to the full implication of Igne Nalura Renovatur Integra (By fire nature is renewed whole,) and lacking the realization that Actaeon, upon his vision of Diana, was devoured by his own dogs.

As Ira and Charlie Louvin sing so sweetly:

Do you fear this man’s invention that they call atomic power. Are we all in great confusion, do we know the time or hour, when a terrible explosion may rain down upon our land, leaving horrible destruction
blotting out the works of man?

Are you ready for that great atomic power? Will you rise and meet your savior in the air? Will you shout or will you cry when the fire rains from on high? Are you ready for that great atomic power?”

Note: This post is dedicated to Zac Odinn who has been instrumental in introducing me to the many mysteries of Almagordo.

Initiation, Art and the Inner Ontological Shift

An Interview with Sasha Chaitow, Academic Director of the Phoenix Rising Digital Academy:

In our technologically ravaged age we often lose sight of the inner resources necessary to fully express our creativity and intellect. With the ease that comes with digital art, the deeper connections that the creative process requires and engenders is something that can be passed over in the lust for immediate results.

Studies in the humanities are facing strained support from the mainstream Academy. As scientism increases its stranglehold on our culture we hear the continuous hum of critique that philosophy, poetry and literature have had their day, it’s time for more practical concerns.  In this environment it has become more important than ever for serious scholars to seek outside the Academy to create institutions that support and encourage society to continue seeking a deeper understanding of life that goes beyond corporate interests or shallow scientific discoveries.

Sascha Chaitow is director of the Phoenix Rising Digital Academy, an online initiative to “to reinstate appreciation and scholarship of philosophy and culture.”  Phoenix Rising allows scholars a place to continue to address the depth of culture, and, through digital communications, presents a new avenue for these discussions to happen on a global scale.

The potential of the Esoteric Renaissance is well represented by individuals who embrace the full spectrum of our times. As an artist, scholar and innovator, Sasha has embraced the potential of technology to explore areas that many futurists neglect in their forecasts.  In the following conversation Sasha discusses her artistic practice and provides insight into the interstices of art, culture and Tradition.

***

What inspired you to pursue painting?

Synaesthesia and music. I’ve always been synaesthetic – a quality (aka condition!) meaning that I associate sensory input from one sense with that of another. In my case, it means that I visualize images, colours and shapes, when hearing sound or reading text.  It all began with Jim Morrison’s poetry when I was 14, and I later traced his sources and drew inspiration from the Beat authors, then moved to Blake, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and John Milton. This led to an enduring interest in the Fallen Angels mythos and Gnostic cosmology, which was also essentially my lead-in to the study of esotericism. I quickly reached a point where the images my mind would generate when reading poetry in particular would form in a constant cascade, which I felt compelled to bring into reality. I have always accompanied my paintings with excerpts from the texts or poems or song lyrics that inspired them because for me they are an integral part of the work itself.

How can the artistic process aid in initiation?

In its most simple form, initiation is an inner ontological shift – one which I conceive of as an ongoing, immanent process. Traditionally (within the Western Esoteric Tradition), initiation for the individual is supposed to be a process of understanding, connecting and uniting body, mind and spirit so as to produce a very special kind of perception of the world and our own existence – something that Patrick Harpur calls “a different way of seeing” which Joseph Campbell also describes beautifully in Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Now, the creative process leads to several leaps of faith and a lot of inner work, whether one is esoterically minded or not. The process of creating anything is an extremely powerful one, which demands that the artist (or musician or poet or writer) reach past his/her very self into that invisible realm of Ideas that Henri Corbin termed the Imaginal mesocosm. It requires a very specific frame of mind and way of seeing the world – one which I believe artists of all kinds do naturally. For it to become an initiatory process however, the artist needs to consciously examine the thought processes that s/he follows when “visited by the Muse.” This inevitably leads to soul-searching questions, many of which are difficult and which I suspect lie at the heart of the “tortured artist” stereotype. Yet if one persists, one becomes conscious of being a part of the creative impulse within Nature itself – one comes to understand the imagination quite intimately, and in the process, learns a lot about oneself.

Initiation has become very strongly embedded within formalized ritual in a good number of esoteric systems, but to my mind the act of creating an art-form is a ritual in and of itself, even if the motions of that ritual involve laying out the tools of one’s trade, creating an atmosphere appropriate for working in, tuning one’s instrument, rather than what we would traditionally consider ritualistic acts. Hence, following a number of esoteric thinkers over the centuries, I am quite convinced that the creative process is a powerful, if not a supreme, initiatory vehicle for anyone with a predisposition to explore it, and I also believe it is also open to everyone, regardless of talent and artistic bent; hence its healing power as witnessed in the various art therapy systems. It is not the technical result which is important, but conscious engagement with the creative process.

What inspires your art?

Symbolism, wordplay, double entendres and palimpsestic meaning.  Or, put another way, anagogical thinking (See Angela Voss’ excellent essay on the topic). I am far less interested in exploring visual techniques than I am in finding new and surprising ways to communicate layered meaning so as to surprise and engage the viewer.

I see visual art as a language and draw heavily from the emblematic and esoteric symbolic traditions in order to tell whole, layered stories -  through a painting. I like dealing with uncomfortable or equivocal meanings that somehow relate to central esoteric concepts; the question of evil for example, or that of initiation itself. A number of my more recent paintings deal with the initiatory journey itself, and I have made use of a number of ancient and archetypal symbolic conventions presented in portrait form. Even if the viewer does not consciously comprehend each of the symbols, it is my belief that in some way they resonate with the unconscious mind.

Are there specific art movements that focus more heavily on the “artist as initiate” than others or is this a common theme in art?

Although it has appeared a number of times as a source of inspiration, I don’t think I would go as far as to say that it is a common theme as such, though I would be surprised if the sensations and thought-processes I have mentioned above are not familiar to all artists, regardless of the technique or philosophy they choose to express. Looking back in time there are artists whom we may consider initiates on account of their depth of esoteric insight, yet they may have considered themselves tradesmen or artisans, or something else entirely.

Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Poussin are some such examples. Artistic movements that show a clear awareness of this concept make their appearance in the 18th century, as part of the early counter-Enlightenment, and those aspects of Romanticism that were most influenced by Illuminism. It was widely discussed by Fabre d’Olivet, Saint-Martin and elaborated by Novalis, Schlegel, and Pierre-Simon Ballanche. The poet was respectively seen as “the recipient and transmitter of revelation and a divine universal language,” “a priest who will lead humanity to its eschatological fulfillment by relinking the world here below and divine transcendence,” while “poetry is the intuitive faculty of penetrating the essence of beings and things. 1

In addition, the 19th century French Symbolist movement was almost entirely inspired by this concept as put forward by Josephin Peladan, an eccentric and greatly misunderstood figure in the history of both esotericism and art. Peladan’s work and vision is in fact the topic of my PhD thesis, in which I hope to rehabilitate his image, to some extent at least!

Who are your favorite “artist initiates”?

To answer that it depends how strict I should be about defining the term “initiates”, as I believe that all artists are initiates, whether they realise it or not,  not only restricted to those movements which consciously attempted to utilise art to such ends. They would certainly include the Renaissance Masters, especially figures such as Gustave Dore, Bosch and El Greco, the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (Rossetti in particular), and a good many figures from the Symbolist movement,  such as Jean Delville, Gustave Moreau, Carlos Schwabe, Nikolai Konstantin Kalmakoff, and Nikolai Roerich.

One cannot leave out the poets such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire, nor the musicians and dancers, such as Stravinsky and Nijinsky. Then, of course, there is Wagner, who, controversies aside, was also an immensely influential figure for the 19th century symbolist movement and whose theories Peladan developed.

Are there any contemporary artists that you think elaborate on this idea?

Indeed, though there are different categories: those artists who may have no knowledge nor interest in these concepts, yet whose art communicates breathtaking insights, artists who deliberately seek to use their art as a mode for communicating these ideas, and those who go as far as to incorporate art and ritual as well as to develop these concepts still further.

Some wonderful contemporary artists who depict overtly alchemical and other esoteric themes include  Laurence Caruana, Eleonore Weil, Vincenzo Marano, Karena Karras, and Madeline von Foerster, among many others. I think this concept is also at the heart of the performance art so frequently found in occulture and pagan festivals in recent years.

How are the visual arts like alchemy?

Although there is a danger of oversimplification in terms of historical and cultural relationships between the two, nonetheless both art and alchemy have immense transformative powers, and both require the uninterrupted input of the active imagination (see Dr Voss’s article linked to above, as well as the seminal article by Henri Corbin – Mundis Imaginalis ), which in turn,  they both enrich.

Both art and alchemy are processes of becoming, of manifestation and of metamorphosis, which only yield as much as is put in. Both of them are acts of Poïesis (creation or manifestation), and the supreme act of love, according to Socrates, is “a begetting in the soul which strives for the Forms, the only way to possess immortality and true happiness.” 2 In this sense, they are alternative routes to the same end, making use of the same driving force (Eros) in order to reconcile dualities and imperfections in matter and in Man, and a means to achieving immortality, whether in the form of an image which by its nature is timeless, or of the Philosophers’ Stone, which in this case is a clearly symbolic and philosophical end in itself.

Do you think that today’s alchemical practitioners have the view of becoming “conscious (intermediaries) in the process of redeeming dualities between man and nature, matter and the divine.”?

I daresay that depends on the practitioner! That particular process could be described as being the epitome of medieval and Renaissance alchemical practice, wherein it would be unthinkable to separate theory and practice, and those who did focus on practice for material gain were disdained as charlatans of the lowest order!

In modern times, the opposite seems to have occurred, as thanks to Jung the spiritual aspect of alchemy has by and large been isolated and cut off from its practical side. The reason this is misguided, even though it has its own value as a spiritual-psychological way of seeing the world, is because Nature – material nature and her correspondences with both Man and the Divine – are at the heart of alchemical work.  To truncate that means that one is no longer practicing alchemy, but a form of spirituality inspired by alchemy.

Is it possible for art to have the same effect?

I firmly believe that it is, with one major caveat, as expressed above. The artist is always in danger of losing touch with material reality, and many artists do truly suffer from the “tortured poet” syndrome. One esoteric explanation for this relates to the effect of the spiritus mundi: expressed beautifully by Franz von Baader:

“[E]very true poet or artist never escapes a doubled affect or emotion. Each yearning after the manifestation or incarnation of the Idea [Sophia] in any case has the complementary effect of pain and even anger against the refracting Substance.”

Baader is referring to both the imperfection of the manifested image compared to the Idea, as well as the ‘labour pains’ experienced in the conflict with the spiritus mundi, explained by Arthur Versluis as corresponding to “the demiurge of the ancient Gnostics: the power of selfishness, of acquisitiveness and of power-over.” 3The manifestation of this effect is the dark, melancholic, Saturnian  side of art, abounding with ‘metaphysical despair,’ or ‘incandescent melancholia’ explained in modern terms as ‘the expression of the attitudes, the feelings and the ideas of a man who has left static mechanism but has not yet arrived at a reintegration of his thought and art in terms of dynamic organicism. 4 Its alchemical correspondence is of course the nigredo phase of the prima materia – so necessary and brimming with potentiality which can be manifested once the dark night of the soul (allegorical, figurative, or literal) can be overcome.

  1. 1. Antoine Fabre d’Olivet, La langue hebraïque restituée, (1815-1816) F. Schlegel, Novalis, Athenaeum (1798-1800)
  2. 2 Robert Cavalier, “The Nature of Eros ,” http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/80250/Plato/Symposium/Sym2.html
  3. 3 Franz von Baader, ‘On a Lasting and Universal Spiritual Manifestation Here Below,’     in Arthur Versluis ed., trans., Wisdom’s Book, pp. 241-247 (p. 245) – Arthur Versluis, Wisdom’s Book, p. 16
  4. 4 Morse Peckham, ‘Towards a Theory of Romanticism,’ repr. in. Gleckner and Enscoe, Romanticism: Points of View (Detroit, 1962) p. 242 cited in Wouter Hanegraaff, ‘Romanticism and the Esoteric Tradition,’ Gnosis and Hermeticism, pp. 245-7 (p246)

Sasha Chaitow is the founding director  of Phoenix Rising.

Sasha Chaitow  is a graduate of EXESESO MA Western Esotericism (Exeter) and MA English Literature (Indianapolis-Athens).  She is assistant professor in Religious Studies at the University of Indianapolis Athens, and also an artist, writer, and events organiser. Her research interests include art and esotericism, mind and consciousness, ritual and initiation, and Modern Greek Masonic history.She is also an artist, painting portraits on commission and alchemically surrealist-symbolic images on inspiration. Sasha directed the 1st International Phoenix Rising Conference entitled “A Dying Society or a Renaissance for the 21st Century, ” which took place on 6th & 7th November 2009, in Athens, Greece. She was also coordinator for Greece for the 2008 Esoteric Quest Conference, on the theme of Ancient Greek Mysteries and Philosophy, hosted by the New York Open Centre and which took place on Samothrace, Greece.

Phoenix Rising Digital Academy

Online courses in Western Esotericism, Philosophy and Art are made globally available by an international faculty of accomplished scholars seeking to reinstate appreciation and scholarship of philosophy and culture.

This independent academic initiative is a direct response to the closure of many university programmes in the Liberal Arts across Western universities, and to the perceived need for better academic representation of neglected aspects of Western Esoteric Traditions outside formalised academia. Phoenix Rising Academy is the first such initiative globally to combine serious scholarship of these topics at entry-level with digital learning technology. For 2011 the Academy offers 39 courses covering numerous topics across the spectrum of Esotericism and the Arts, ranging from introductory courses in Esoteric topics to Occultism in pop culture and more.

In a time of cultural crisis and widespread misinformation, this Academy’s purpose is to offer accessible and accurate information on a broader scale, with an active interest in bridging the widening gap in the humanities. Online and live events and intensive seminars are in planning for various locations in the UK and Greece.

Visit www.phoenixrising.org.gr for full course listings and detailed information about the Academy’s philosophy, structure, faculty and activities.

Digital Discussions and the Esoteric Renaissance

In 2004 the Esalen Institute Center for Theory and Research hosted it’s inaugural conference under the interesting title: Esoteric Renaissance.

The conference was organized by Wouter Hannegraff, professor History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam,  and Jeffrey Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University, and hosted some of the finest scholars from around the world working in the field of esoteric studies.

During the 1960′s Frances Yates and A. J. Festugiere began to look deeper into the history of science and Western thought, addressing areas that the academy had largely ignored. Up to that point the insurmountable evidence of alternative paradigms at the root of our culture had remained the ground for artists and specialists who were less direct in publicizing their explorations. By the late 1990′s a number of colleges and universities around the world began to offer courses in the history of esoteric movements and philosophies to support professors who took up the torch to organize these investigations with more discipline.

The Esalen conference marked a further development of this organizational interest. Jeffrey Kripal’s remarkable history of the Esalen Institute, and his work on the history of heterodox religious movements in the 20th century, shows that an undercurrent of mystical thought has moved throughout the major cultural changes of the last century. With this in mind he has organized a ground breaking series of conferences at the Esalen Institute to bring together scholars, writers, public intellectuals, artists and academics to discuss this ‘hidden’ history.

With the global economic instability formal support for these initiatives has become less forgiving, but communications technology and digital media is making these efforts even more accessible to the global community.

Jeffrey Kripal is currently working on a documentary called Authors of the Impossible which focuses on what he sees as phenomenon that exist in the liminal ground of the convergence of the subjective and the objective, of narrative and science. Along with the documentary itself he also hosts a series of podcasts that go deeper into the individual scholars and scientists featured in the documentary.

For Kripal the problem with the hardline skeptics is that they fail to appreciate the subjective power of the mystery narrative. He thinks there are better tools for investigating human potential that allow for both subjective and objective techniques to aid each other in the investigation.

Other initiatives have sprung up with the support and foresight of Esalen conference attendees. Arthur Versluis, Michigan State University and Editor of Esoterica: The Journal of Esoteric Studies, was at the commemoration of the Phoenix Rising Academy of Esoteric Sciences and Creative Arts, a digital school that is seeking to fill the gap left by the closing of many humanities departments. They are using communication technology to facilitate scholarship and discussion across the field.

Erik Davis and Mitch Horowitz, both authors and scholars who explore the esoteric influences behind pop culture, will be hosting a workshop at the Esalen Institute on the weekend of March 25-27, 2011, called The Occult in America: An Adventure in Arcane History. Both Erik and Mitch attended one of the conferences in the Esoteric Renaissance series, bringing a contemporary perspective to the role of esoterica in the cultural narrative.

Erik recently released his latest study on the intersection of culture and anomoly titled Nomad Codes. It features essays published in the Village Voice, Wired, Salon, and Slate over the last decade exploring a wide range of mythically resonant topics from the pulp horror auteur H.P. Lovecraft to Burmese transsexual nightlife.

Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation is Mitch Horowitz’, editor at Tarcher/Penguin, latest book dealing with history on the fringes and the intersection of mysticism and politics in the United States. This is not a conspiracy tome, but a serious work of popular scholarship which investigates some of the more baroque aspects of American history.

With the continued development of online networks and digital connectivity it will be interesting to see how these efforts grow and influence the emergent field of esoteric studies. Through new insights from scholars like Jeffrey Kripal, Woulter Hounegraff, Arthur Versluis, Erik Davis, Mitch Horowitz and the innovative teaching techniques of the Esalen Institute and the Phoenix Rising Academy, we are seeing a return of the academy to public discourse and a renewal of investigations that have lain dormant for quite some time.

*Resources and references are linked in the text, this article was originally posted at openmythsource.com

The Crown of Glory & the Decadence of Contemporary Conflict

“Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 

When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

- John 6:60-62

In a post on the Templar Wisdom blog regarding the treatment of captured Templars during the crusades  I came across the following observation:

Historian Karen Ralls claims that Saladin often reserved the nastiest post-battle treatment for the Templars and Hospitallers on account of their penchant for pain

I had noticed this the other day while reading Ralls’ work and it lead me to reflect on the conceptual barriers we encounter in seeking to understand traditional warfare. We see through eyes darkened by our present leaders and conflicts, and never guess that there could be more to the art of war than the debased sadism and chaos that we see today.

This is not to whitewash the terror of war in any age, nor to support some idealized vision of conflict. The important point to realize is that there are different perspectives that can be taken, different understandings that can help to mitigate the horror and move towards a greater understanding of peace.

In the Islamic Tradition Martyrdom is considered a gift which immediately negates all past sins, this is the same in the Christian Tradition where the “Crown of Martyrdom” or “Crown of Glory” is seen as the assurance of faith. It is an aspect of the Mystery of sacrifice, and despite what fundamentalists think today, is not an active pursuit, but something made necessary in particular situations, such as times of war or oppression.

It  should not be taken in the sense of suicide bombers who take the lives of others, or any other forms of outward violence. Martyrdom is an inward process, and a last resort. In the traditional depictions of martyrs they are faced with a situation from which there is no escape other than an affirmation of faith and an acceptance of their fate. It is the ultimate seal of patience with the horror of a world that has lost it’s central guide post.

For I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” – (Galatians 6:17)

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” – (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

“”Which one of the Prophets did your fathers not persecute, and they killed the ones who prophesied the coming of the Just One, of whom now, too, you have become betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52)

And most specifically in the figure of Stephen, the first Martyr, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) where Martyrdom is equated with the Transfiguration.

Within this mirrored tradition  Saladin was in part honoring the Templars by making them Martyrs.

Friends on that day will be foes one to another, save those who kept their duty,” Quran Surah 43:67

On no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear: before Us is a record which clearly shows the truth: they will never be wronged.” Quran Surah 23:62

These verses from the Quran form a counter point to the writings of the Apostles:

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? ” 1 Peter 4:13-17

Which then leads back to the Quran:

And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way.” Quran Surah 43:61

In our contemporary understanding we have a difficult time coming to terms with this relationship to G-d, however Muhammad had nothing but praise for Jesus and the Quran is fairly explicit about the validity of his Spirit.  Stories about Saladin and Richard Coeur d’Leon outline the mutual respect that was shown between these leaders during the 3rd Crusade. This is the same level of respect Saladin was showing the Templars when he gave the the highest honor he could to those who took up arms for their faith. The brutal realities of the situation should not be forgotten, however the cultural narrative in which the events took place is important for understanding the actions.

Richard Coer d’Leon’s historical track record is not necessarily as honorable as the stories told about him,  and it is important to distinguish between the possibilities pointed to in folklore, story and myth, and the reality of war. There is, however, a sense that something has changed, today the possibility for this kind of mutual respect is greatly mitigated by the use of contemporary technology, theory and techniques.

The traditions of Chivalry in Islam and Christianity are nearly identical. Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh gives  a helpful outline of Islamic Chivalry, which shows the similarities, and parallels to, the development of this Tradition in the West:

Before Islam appeared, the tradition of chivalry (javanmardi) in the Middle East was maintained through the training of men to be chevaliers (javanmardan).

The tradition of chivalry involved consideration for others (morowwat), self-sacrifice (ithar), devotion (fada-kari), the helping of the unfortunate and unprotected, kindness towards all created beings, keeping one’s word and self-effacement – all qualities that were later to emerge as the noble attributes of the perfect human being from the point of view of Sufism.

In addition to these attributes of a true human being, the chevaliers were committed to a particular code of etiquette and conventions, from which the main objective and principles of chivalry or javanmardi were derived.

With the appearance of Islam, these chevaliers embraced the religion of Islam while retaining the conventions of chivalry, thereby founding the creed of Sufism on the basis of both Islam and chivalry. Thus, the etiquette of the chevaliers became part of the practice of the khaniqah and of the Sufis.

Gradually, as the philosophy of the Unity of Being (wahdato’l-wojud) and divine love were made more profound and appealing by Sufi masters, the tradition of chivalry, hand-in-hand with it, gained an extraordinary influence and currency. The spirit of Sufism consisted of focusing one’s gaze in one direction (towards God) through the power of love, and its method was to cultivate a humane code of ethics, which was equated with that of the chevaliers.

In Hinduism we can see this in the Kshatriya, or ‘warrior caste’. The Bhagavad Gita gives a succinct description of this Tradition:

Arjuna told Krishna, “Take us out between the armies.”

Krishna positioned the chariot halfway between the armies, and stopped. It was quieter there; both armies were distant; Arjuna looked out.

“I see my brothers there, my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends.”

He swung around.

“And there also, there are my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends. They are all my brothers, Krishna. It cannot be lawful to kill them. I cannot kill them. I will have no part of this action.”

Krishna answered. “There can be no blame for law-minded action, if you act with the proper dispassionate attitude. You must do the right thing, and be heedless of consequence.”

Arjuna said, “Krishna, all those people are going to die. I will not be responsible for their deaths.”

“Quite right,” said Krishna.

“What do you mean?”

Krishna explained. “We act as instruments of dharma. Everybody on this field today is working out karmic dramas that extend back through lifetimes upon lifetimes. You and I, my best true friend, have been preparing for this battle for hundreds of lifetimes. I remember every one of them. You don’t.”

Arjuna studied his friend.

“Krishna, who are you?”

And there was a flash of light, bright as a thousand suns, and Arjuna saw Krishna’s cosmic form as Narayana, one of the great gods. There, all at once, were all of the planets and all of the stars and all of the gods and all of the demons and spirits, gandarvhas and apsaras, all of the sages and saints, all of the priests and warriors, all that is and all that ever was and all that will be. Arjuna saw, and felt, endless perfect love swelling to fill the everything that Krishna had become. And he saw all the gory deeds that were ever done and the carnage that must come with time; he saw Krishna tall as mountains, black as night, his eyes blazing as he waded through rivers of blood, the mangled corpses of Duryodhana and his brothers dangling from his bloody jaws.

“Krishna, stop!” Arjuna fell to the chariot floor, his head in his hands. “Be just my friend again.”

“But you see how it is, Arjuna,” said Krishna, as he helped his friend up. “You cannot kill them, because they are dead already; their own actions have doomed them. You cannot be responsible for their deaths, because each one is responsible for his own death. In each lifetime, each one does what he has to do, and if he does it selflessly, in love of me, without regard for gain or loss, he may come finally to rest in my perfection and be free of the cycles of action and death.

So was it maliciousness on Saladin’s part that lead him to treat the Templars as he did? Or rather respect and full faith in the Divine Will outside of any temporal appearances? In exploring the second possibility there is no need for a justification of violence.  These same Traditions speak more highly of Peace than they do of war, and it would be foolish to use specific examples to put what has been taught out of necessity above what is longed for by any rational person.

These Traditions only hold true for those living within their narrative, and none of the leaders in today’s conflicts show even the slightest hint of this being the case. We are lead to mistake the contemporary secular and sectarian organizations that have assumed the outward trappings of religion for a true tradition.

Remember that John of the Cross, Francis of Assisi, and Therese of Avila were all persecuted for “excessive piety” by secular factions within the Church hierarchy.  Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, known as Shaikh al-Ishraq (Master of Illumination) and  Shaikh al-Maqtul (Murdered Sheikh), was Martyred by Saladin’s son when he took over his fathers place.  Al-Hallaj was Martyred by Fundamentalists for the same crime as Jesus the Nazarene.

To view the Church or religion as a unity in it’s physical manifestation is to miss that the only Unity that exists is in G-d, thus Muhammed can speak in praise of the “People of the Book” and Buddhism can speak of “hidden buddhas” and “buddhas of all times and places” and Prophets in Judaism can say that the people of G-d will be taught by a stranger.

Islam means “submission” and Muslim “one who submits”, Catholic means “universal”, it’s only when we start taking secular authority and secular organizations for the truth that divisions arise due to sectarian beliefs that are inconsequential to the teachings of any Tradition. Pythagoras, Diogenes of Sinope, Aristotle, Plato, Avicennia, etc. were all accepted by Orthodox authorities within the Christian Tradition. Similarly Islamic Tradition affords the utmost respect to all people of Faith. Whether this is carried through by the fundamentalist secular organizations that assume wearing a cross or a star and crescent give them authority over the Faithful has no bearing on the reality that these Traditions speak of.

If these Traditions do not justify today’s conflict, they serve as a heavy critique for the inhuman, technologically driven, and calculated massacres that are sanctioned by the world’s leaders. These are not battles with the possibility for redemption, these are a vile continuation of the same debased logic that lead to the tragedies perpetuated in every conflict since the first World War.  The mechanical horrors of mustard gas, aerial bombings and automatic weapons have progressed to the point where we have adopted their logic into our own concept of warfare and at the end of that road lies only a cold metal abyss.

Fiat pax in virtute tua: et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Propter fratres meos et proximos meos, loquebar pacem de te:
Propter domum Domini Dei nostri, quaesivi bona tibi.
Rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem: et abundantia diligentibus te. (Ps.121.)
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost,as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

Mytho-Poetic Returns and the Fine Art of Grey Truths: Robert Cochrane’s Letters to Robert Graves

Like any true craftsman, he was able to mold raw material into a magical synthesis, creating a marvellous working system, at once instinctively true and intrinsically beautiful.” -  Shani Oates on Robert Cochrane, Founder of the Clan of Tubal Cain

Who tells your story? Is it the fallen leaves that line your door speaking of your past travels, the lines etched by experience on skin and bone, or do you stand ready to relate the world through words that you alone craft with care?

While digging in to Judika IllesField Guide to Witches, one of the latest in Weiser’s Field Guide series*, I ran across a familiar name that’s intrigued me since I first encountered him while researching contemporary Pagan traditions years ago.

Robert Cochrane (born Roy Bowers) is an enigmatic figure in the world of emergent beliefs. While claiming a hereditary lineage to the “Old Religion” as the impetus for his Clan of Tubal Cain traditions, he  worked studiously to support, develop and literally create his beliefs whole cloth through research, ritual and practice. His teachings were built on fragments of myth, religion and suppositions based on archaeological evidence, all filtered through an active ritual practice that shaped the interpretations put on the underlying ideas.

As with many spiritual explorers and would be leaders, Cochrane’s life was not void of controversies, however, he is one of those rare few whose ability to weave stories, traditions and innovations that connect to the deeper truths, move him beyond charges of fraudulent intention and into the realm of true storytellers capable of bringing their “lies” to life.

All That’s Old is New Again

Critics have often questioned the legitimacy of Cochrane’s (and really all Neo-Pagan) claims to tradition. The historian Ronald Hutton’s research seems to discredit the idea that any vestiges of pre-Christian belief were able to maintain an organized foothold in the Western world through 2000 years of dedicated persecution by Roman, Christian and secular authorities. 

This is a legitimate question for historians, but I would argue it is not necessarily important to the value of these practices and beliefs. In the Judaic traditions this process of invention is clearly detailed in the Torah and Tannak during the many “rediscoveries” of G-d’s word throughout the history of the Hebrew people. In Christianity this process formed the basis for the religion itself, with the early Christians utilizing Jewish, Greek, African and Eastern sources to formulate their basic understanding of the events that provide the basis for their beliefs.

Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, all have their basis in this process of reworking older traditions. Hinduism is perhaps the most stark example of this with it’s foundation resting in British Colonial experiments to unify a diverse system of local beliefs with overarching religious systems developed by the upper castes of Indian society.

Mytho-Poetic Returns

One of Cochrane’s sources for the development of his ideas was the poet Robert Graves. The White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, which Graves published in 1948, claimed to explore the true nature of poetry as a devotional practice to a Neolithic Goddess. Exploring these ideas through Celtic mythology and the interpretation of archaeological clues Graves created a vision of a long hidden tradition rediscovered during a time of crisis and change. 

Published shortly after the end of World War II, The White Goddess provided the public with a reassessment of the very same quest for tradition and archaic continuance that had been the basis for much of the Fascist propaganda in Italy, Japan and Germany during the war years. Academic historians, however, were quick to point out the inaccuracies, speculations and quite bluntly, lies, used to prove Graves’ thesis.

To judge the work in such a harsh light misses one of the key elements that Graves was working with, poetry. While academics handle facts with some amount of precision, poetry and practicality are not areas that they move through as easily. Graves work, while being factually inaccurate, was  practically relevant and in turn actionable in a way that historical facts are not.

Action at a Distance

The same questions can be raised today for groups working with the ideas of alchemy, myth and storytelling to guide society towards sustainable solutions. Did Medieval alchemists concern themselves with the triple bottom line? Would they recognize contemporary concepts that are labeled alchemical? Probably not in the way we would hope, but they might recognize within our contemporary understanding the seeds that can give birth to true transmutation if properly cared for and watered.

In a text attributed to Edward Kelly, the conman and seer who assisted Dr. John Dee, there is a personal reflection that fits well the path of Cochrane, Graves and all those who seek to renew the body of truth through fragments of the past:

“My mind, remaining unbound, has all this time exercised itself in the study of that philosophy which is despised only by the wicked and foolish, but is praised and admired by the wise. Nay, the saying that none but fools and lawyers hate and despise Alchemy has passed into a proverb.”

So who tells your story? Is it hedged in by historical facts? Lost in the lingering legalism of shortsighted lawyers? Have you taken it upon yourself to craft your own tale?

Or, is it built on conversations, letters from friends, tale tellers and poets?

Dear Robert Graves,

I have read and re-read your book, ‘The White Goddess,’ with admiration, utter amazement and a taint of horror. I can see your point when you write of inspirational work, and realise that it must have resulted from quite an internal ‘pressure,’ since from my own experience, that is the way she works…” from Robert Cochran’s Letters to Robert Graves

*Note: The folks at Red Wheel/Weiser were kind enough to provide us with copies of their Field Guide Series to spur our creativity and give us some meat for the Mythic fires. Article originally posted at openmythsource.com