Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February Calends (Leap Day)

Well, February is finally ending, and that means that spring will soon be here. Well, in another two months or so we can expect some spring-like weather - maybe. Meanwhile, there is a lot of work for me to do, and I will be starting to charge the talismans which I will be using in my own version of the Portae Lucis working. I will post an update to this article so that any interesting things that occur during the final working on Tuesday, February 28, will be noted. I am planning on doing the base workings on Sunday, and that involves the concurrent summoning of three Talismanic Elementals. All four of the elements of the Sun will be fully invoked and applied to the talisman by Tuesday evening, during the Lunar Mansion of Al Haqah (White Spot).

Pantheacon and Trangender Issues

Even though I didn’t attend Pantheacon the previous weekend, there seems to be no end to the controversy that Z. Budapest created when she put on a “genetically women’s only” ritual gathering. You could say that event really stirred up the pot of issues, especially about the definition regarding gender, and it was a continuation of a particular stand that Z. Budapest has been pushing since last year’s Pantheacon. At last year’s Pcon, the issue was over the fact that the exclusion of men was extended to transgendered women, and that it wasn’t advertised as such. This caused a confrontation when a few transgendered women attempted to gain entry and were excluded.

At the time, I reported my opinion about wondering why anyone would seek to put on any kind of exclusionary rite, since the whole purpose of having a pagan convention was to be inclusive. This time, however, the exclusion of transgender women was actually stated in the convention’s brochure, and was supposedly accompanied by some rather sad and prejudicial statements made by Z. Budapest herself. The event this time was accompanied by a silent protest outside the door where the rite was held, with a group (led by T. Thorn Coyle) holding signs disparaging the statements that Z. had made and supporting transgendered women. You can find many of the different opinions and points, both for and against, that occurred on this blog post put out by the Wild Hunt.

My opinion is short and maybe not so sweet, and merely restated from what I had said a year ago. The whole problem, in my opinion, is because some folks want to share their experiences with an exclusive group of like minded individuals. I can both understand and agree in principle with this desire, but only to a point. Where I draw the line is at a public venue like Pcon. I think it’s not a good idea, as far as I am concerned, because it can foster divisiveness, hurt feelings and create huge misunderstandings - and this is born out by what happened. I also believe that Pantheacon was at fault for allowing this kind of ritual to be performed at a public gathering of pagans. Maybe, after this years imbroglio, they will finally get it and quietly eliminate such exclusive programs.

Z. Budapest also loves controversy, perhaps I should say she revels in it, and she has gained for herself a kind of relevancy that she might not have had otherwise. Having encountered her on more than one occasion over the many years that I have been in the pagan community, I have to admit that I have little respect or agreement with what she is promoting, even though I do respect her as a person and as a spiritual leader. What she is promoting reminds me too much of other exclusive groups and organizations that passionately believe in the negative dialog of exclusion, victimization, hatred and bigotry.

Since we are such a small minority in regards to our religious beliefs, I think that gender exclusion or isolation by practice or creed is not a good theme for any public gathering. At such public events, we should present a united front, since in reality, we all have something to learn and gain from experiencing each other’s perspectives, and even sharing ritual space. It is my hope that the staff at Pantheacon will seek to ban exclusive gatherings in the future. If anyone wants to engage in a ritual with an exclusive group, then there are other places for doing that, such as at a hotel suite. A gathering just for Dianics who are biologically women, held at a private ritual space, at a home or even at some public place exclusively set up for that event would be quite acceptable to one and all. What is objectionable is to flaunt this difference and its implied exclusion at an event that should be open to all pagan folks, whatever their differences. Anyway, that’s my opinion about this issue, and I will now move on to other topics.

Portae Lucis Talisman Working - Sun

I have completed the first installment of the Portae Lucis talismanic working. What I thought would be a fairly simple set of workings, one planned for Sunday evening, the other, Tuesday evening during the correct Lunar Mansion auspice, turned out to be a really difficult ordeal indeed. In fact, it was far more difficult than I had ever imagined, and that wasn’t at all because of the difficulty of the rituals - in fact it was despite them. How ironic that I had carefully drawn up all of the sigils that I would need and did a remarkably beautiful job engraving the three inch diameter brass disk that would function as the target talisman. I made certain that everything would be ready for the working, only to discover that all my plans would have to be altered in order to be successful.

While I had intended to begin performing this working on Sunday night, February 26, I instead came down with a virulent strain of stomach flu that’s been going around. I had a series of excruciating and painful purgations occur in the early morning hours that were so intense that I pulled a muscle in my side (and it is still not fully healed). I haven’t been that sick in quite a long time, and it seemed that my illness might actually cause me to have to reschedule the first installment of the working. As I have stated previously, Lunar Mansion workings require a specific timing that isn’t easy to do over - I had one shot to accomplish this working for this month. Thanks to the tender care of my girlfriend, I managed to make it through the first day, although it was very difficult. However, by the second day, I was starting to feel much better, but I was left in a weakened state.

Just as a reminder, when I say that I am performing talismanic magick, I am actually working with a construct that joins one of the seven planets of antiquity with one of the four elements. Within this matrix, I am able to generate twenty-eight unique empowered spiritual entities that can be used to charge and empower talismans, or wherever else I seek to apply them. I have chosen to give them the names of the Enochian Seniors, but they could conceivably take other names as well. Because the energy of this being is both planetary and element based, and the fact that they are constantly interacting, they have the tendency of producing a charge that lasts a long time as opposed to what they would do as separate qualities.

The three talismans that I am generating for the Portae Lucis working require that all four of the planetary elementals of the Moon, Sun and Saturn be invoked and fused into a single hybrid charge. Therefore, in order to produce one of these talismans, I would have to invoke all four of the talismanic elementals for each planet, such as, Sun of Fire, Air, Water and Earth joined together through a base Lunar Mansion. So there is an element of timing involved, since the correct Lunar Mansion (occurring during the waxing moon) will appear only during certain times of a season, although there is some overlap. If you want a more detailed over-view of this ordeal, you can find it here in a previous article. I am also including a link to my past article on planetary magick, just in case you need to brush up on that information as well.

My chosen day to complete the working was Tuesday, then under the auspices of the 5th Lunar Mansion, called Al Haqah (White Spot). I had planned on having three of the Talismanic Elementals already summoned by that time, so I had to think about what I could do to condense the working so that it could be performed in its entirety on Tuesday evening. I also knew that having just recovered from my sickness, I was in a weakened state, so I would not have the stamina to engage in any long magickal working. What I decided to do was to collapse and condense the ritual working to its essentials, and remove any extraneous verbiage or executions. Initially, I had planned on invoking each Talismanic Elemental separately so as to fully experience each one as a distinct entity. Now, with limited time and strength, I had to assemble something much more efficient than what I had previously planned.

What I did was use the existing ritual that I had and rewrite it so that I would perform simultaneous element invocations at each point in the magick circle. Instead of just invoking one element, I would invoke all four. I chose to draw invoking pentagrams for each element, superimposing one over the other for all four elements, using the sequence of Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Since each pylon in the ritual required an apex of either Spirit Masculine or Feminine, I superimposed both of them together, and produced a pylon of all four elements at the base, and both aspects of spirit combined at the top. I have never attempted to draw all four invoking pentagram patterns sequentially at the same point, so it was an interesting technique. The end result was quite powerful (even a little mind-blowing), which shouldn’t have been very surprising.

I assembled all of the materials that I thought I would need, prepared the temple for the working, and tried to draw together as much bodily energy as I could to complete the working. As if to add to the difficulty of what I was undergoing, my girlfriend came down with the same flu bug that I had been fighting. While I was recovering, she was becoming sorely afflicted with the initial stages of this vicious virus. I had to tend to her needs as she had so devotedly attended to mine, but I managed to ensure that she had everything that she needed before I was to begin my working. So here I was going to attempt to complete this working in one session still weak from being sick, while my girlfriend was also being so afflicted, and then Old Man Winter decided to visit his vengeance on us for having given us too mild a winter so far - we were hit with a blizzard. (It’s still snowing today as I write this article, with more than a half foot of snow already accumulated.)

When I got into the temple, I realized that I had precious little energy to get this working done. I set the magick circle and thereby locked in the planetary hour of Jupiter, which I had felt was an auspicious combination, considering the planetary day was Mars. (Jupiter would balance out Mars, and so allow the power of the Solar aspect to come through.) I used no ritual to set the magick circle, but silently performed all of the ritual actions from memory. I was amazed at how weak I was, and how little stamina I had to perform this working. However, my lack of physical vigor translated itself into a much greater force from my magickal actions, for it seemed that my less than usual robust physical expressions (gestures, body postures, movements, etc.) seemed to produce a much greater effect than I had thought they would. I used a very efficient and frugal manner in performing the ritual actions, but the magickal results were greatly amplified. I assumed that it might have to do with the fact that I had been unwittingly fasting for the last couple of days, having managed to eat just barely enough to recover from my sickness. I was, as it were, greatly unencumbered by my physical body, so I felt very light and close to my spiritual body. That made the magick much more powerful and my magickal senses more keen.

I had planned on saying a full and ceremonious Mass of the Goddess to charge the sigils and the talisman, but decided instead to omit many of the more extraneous passages and just perform those that would accomplish the production of sacrament. So I scanned through the rite, performing those sections that I felt were critical and omitting or glossing over those that were superfluous. Drinking the sacramental wine made me a little giddy, but I managed to get through the Mass without making any mistakes or omitting any important steps. I charged the talisman with the sacramental blood of the consecrated wine, and I felt that it was highly charged and uniquely sacralized. It seemed to glow with an inner light as I held it in the candle light.

While performing the ritual that invoked the four Talismanic Elementals, I noticed some glitches in the hastily assemble rite, which I corrected on the spot, and then found that I had forgotten the Enochian invocations of the seven planets. That could have been a stumbling block for me, but instead of panicking or stopping the ritual to try and find it amongst my archived papers, I just put my hand on the septagramic talisman in the center of the circle (used for performing planetary magick) and drew out the sounds of the invocation and uttered a few of its words to set it into the spell. I did this three times, and it was a spontaneous action on my part. I was amazed at how successful that action was, and I could actually visualize the invocation emerging from the center of the talismanic septagram like some stream of sound and light. Since I had uttered this invocation many times in the past, I wasn’t too surprised that I could just pull it from the septagram, it just hadn’t ever occurred to me to do so.

When I had completed with establishing the fourfold Element base and the invocation of the Planetary Archetype (via the Olympian Spirit of the Sun) and passed through the invocation vortex and spiritual gateway, I performed the sequential invocation of each of the four Talismanic Elementals. The final stage of this process produced a remarkable power that seemed to radiate throughout the whole temple - at times it was almost overwhelming. However, I didn’t have the energy or stamina to sit and marvel at this startling combination of forces and intelligences, since I had so little energy left. I proceeded with the final application rite that focused this power into the brass talisman, engraved with the sigil of Gabiel, the ruling spirit of Al Haqah.

The rest of that ritual working went pretty much as planned, although dealing with a lack of stamina and energy made things a little rough, and at times, overall, it was a little difficult to focus on the structure of the rituals and perform the ritual actions. Yet I persevered, and after a while, everything was completed. The charged talisman of the sun sat in the center of the circle (on the central altar where the septagram talisman was ensconced), fully empowered and covered by a protective cloth. Everything had worked, although I made some mental notes about a few changes that would make the next working more efficient. The working had been started a little after 8:45 pm CST, and ended just as the clock bell began to toll for 10:00 pm. I had succeeded in completing the working, but the overall ordeal was quite amazing to me. I had no clue beforehand that embarking upon this effort would prove to be so difficult or have so many external events intercede or interfere.

Now that this working is done, I have to wait the required three days before the talisman will be ready to be used. It will be interesting to see how fusing four Talismanic Elementals together into a single talisman will work once this incubation is complete. This, of course, will be the first test to determine how effective my idea was about substituting Jean Dubuis’ alchemical Portae Lucis with one that is completely magickal and talismanic. I have no doubt that the results of this first working will be quite amazing, considering all that I had to endure in order to make it happen. If this is a good representation of what is in store for me as I progress along the path of this ordeal, then I will have a lot more to deal with before its completed, perhaps even more than I had originally bargained for. It’s certainly looking like that to me right now, as I stare out the window at the accumulating snow.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, February 24, 2012

Is Magick Scientific?

Now that we have fully presented the methods of rational and critical thinking, it’s time to give the devil his due and talk about the other side of this argument. While it’s vitally important for the average person to have his or her wits about them in order to function in the modern world, it’s also important to have an open mind and a knack for creativity. These skills might seem to be mutually exclusive, but they are actually the full tool set for the practicing ritual magician. The reason why the ritual magician has to straddle both the rational and irrational worlds of reality is because of the nature of the phenomena of magick itself.

Magick is, in my opinion, a rather irrational phenomenon. It doesn’t appear to adhere very well to  logic, rules, models or other restricting presumptions. These various rules and methodologies can be proposed, but there always seem to be other associated phenomena that would ordinarily falsify those same assertions. In order to force magick into a certain regimen, we have to ignore any conflicting or contrary data, and I believe that by doing so, we ignore some important attributes associated with magick. So it would seem that maintaining an absolute rationalist stance when engaging in magickal practices is likely to be too extreme.

A happy balance is found between sloppily functioning within a Cargo Cult mentality and insisting that everything experienced conforms to one’s rational dictates, and can thereby be empirically proven. This delicate balance between complete credulity and stubborn skepticism is a requirement for anyone who wishes to practice magick without going off the deep end, or for that matter, never getting anywhere. I have brought up this discussion previously and posted it some time ago on this blog, where I proposed that magick doesn’t really have any rules other than what we assume it has. You can find that article here.

To the emphasis on rationality, logic, critical thinking and even practical common sense must be added a few other important elements, such as divergent thinking, creativity, tolerating ambiguity, being open to the miraculous and accepting that magick and science are very different mental operations. Attempting to make magick conform to an exclusive scientific perspective is likely to ultimately deny that magick is even possible. Some may have problems with a definition of magick that is overly reliant on objectivity and empirical causality or one that seems to be steeped in metaphor and relies too much on ambiguous definitions of consciousness. As expected, magickal practitioners seem to inhabit both spectrums, and everywhere in between.

All of this brings us to the primary question, “Is magick scientific?” The answer to this question proposes some fundamental definitions about the nature of the occurrence of magick, and whether it can be empirically defined as a natural phenomenon or proved to exist at all. As a practicing magician, it quickly becomes a situation where my experience has to be accounted for by my ability to reason and understand. Also, my failure to be open to possibilities and the constant need to rationally explain everything has the effect of restricting or dampening magickal phenomena. To be a magickal practitioner, I have had to let my feelings and subjective observations occur without any kind of bias or blockage, and that is quite difficult in this day and age.

Now that we have gotten to this point in our considerations, I may call upon one of the more peculiar authors in the annals of magick for some kind of corroboration. I am, of course, referring to the godfather of chaos magick himself, Ramsey Dukes (a.k.a. Lionel Snell). A while back, my friend Jack Faust had recommended that I check out the writings of Ramsey Dukes, particularly his entitled work “S.S.O.T.B.M.E.” (Sexual Secrets of the Black Magicians Exposed). It would seem that Ramsey Dukes can offer me some support for my own rather unorthodox opinion of the nature of magick, or so it would seem.

Ramsey Dukes is not the kind of author who will stand on any single position for long. He offers his various opinions and perspectives on magick with a bit of tongue in cheek, and at times demolishes his own theories to ensure that they don’t become too powerful. In a word, Ramsey Dukes is something of an intellectual weasel, but a humorous rather than an annoying one. After reading the more recently revised essay on magick, I found in him at least an ally who also believes that magick is quite “wiggly.” 

Of course, the very first thing that can be said about the book “Sexual Secrets of the Black Magician’s Exposed” is that the contents of the book has nothing to do with the title. It’s just another of Ramsey Duke’s inside jokes. All of his book titles are patently ridiculous and have nothing to do with their content. Ramsey also has the strange habit of referring to his other pen names as if they were distinctly other people, such as quoting the work of Lemuel Johnstone (another pen name) in a critical light, as if it were someone that he once knew well. Those who are not acquainted with Lionel Snell and his various pseudonyms would obviously not get any of his subtle humor. I also get the feeling that Mr. Dukes likes to make elaborate gags to amuse himself, which I suppose are even more humorous to him if the reader doesn’t get it. Cleverness for the sake of cleverness can get a bit boring, but overall, Mr. Dukes does make some important points, which I felt would be useful in my discussion about magick.

Ramsey Dukes never really answers the question as to whether science can prove the existence of magick. However, his book implies that the entire question is not particularly relevant. He begins his essay with a model where the social world of humanity is divided into four vectors, and these are Religion, Science, Magic and Art. These four vectors are bordered by the longitudinal and latitudinal vectors of Intuition (for Art and Religion), Thinking (for Religion and Science), Sensation (for Science and Magic) and Feeling (for Magic and Art). So where Science is a combination of Thinking and Sensation, Magic is a combination of Sensation and Feeling, where sensation is defined as a form of observation. These vectors are to be seen more as directional dimensions than spacial domains.

Based on Mr. Duke’s model, it would appear that Magick and Science represent two contrary perspectives of the world. The contrast between the two become quite obvious when we see that the one point which they have in common, observation, is dealt with in completely opposing manners. 

Science relies on logical and rational forms of thought to produce an objective analysis of any phenomena. Truth is paramount to science, and so is the elimination of unpredictability through the necessity of repeatable and verifiable processes. Science is also concerned with establishing causal connections so as to determine the cause and effect of any physical event. To the scientific perspective, magick can only exist in the world of un-truth, and therefore functions in much the same way as the Devil does in some religions. And like religion, science, at times, can be quite dogmatic. Science is the dominant mental perspective that rules the Western world, brainwashing everyone into being rational thinkers even if they are romantic and overly impressionable feeling types, such as myself.

Magick is completely the opposite of science! It relies wholly on feelings and subjective experiences. Truth is considered relative, and can be bent or ignored altogether through the operation of the “as if” power of analogy. In the world of magick, there are no absolute truths. Causal connectivity is assumed to be total, and every possibility exists in some manner, although not necessarily physically.

Perhaps one of the most profound magickal experiences that I have had is the extreme sensation that everything is connected together, and that behind reality is a single Spirit where everything dissolves into union. So magickal theories must fit the experience of the one who experiences them, and because of this, there can be many different, perhaps even opposing, models and perspectives amongst the various practitioners.

Magick is the producer of miracles and the maker of astonishing fortune (Black Swan events), yet due to the power of science, those miracles are infrequent and muted. We have been unwittingly taught not to see or expect miracles, and so they happen but rarely. In fact, our scientifically dominated world has fostered many defense mechanisms against any possibility of either miracles or evidence of the supernatural. According to Mr. Dukes, if you experience a miracle, however minor, it’s important to be secretive about it, because there is an inherent censoring mechanism operating in our society that seeks to eliminate the miraculous. A reported miracle quickly becomes rationalized out of existence, and then its much harder to produce the same magickal results at another time.

As Ramsey Dukes so eloquently puts it: “A miracle is only a total disaster to a rational thinker. If by nature you are a ‘feeler’ rather than a thinker, you can happily survive a few inconsistencies.”

However, the evidential occurrence of a real shocking miracle whose only source could be classified as supernatural would likely cause a worldwide collapse of rational thinking, unless, of course, it was steadfastly and passionately denied. Such a catastrophe must be avoided at all costs, thus we are taught to live in a rational world and to expect the ordinary, rather than the exceptional or the unrestrained remarkable. While some may hope for a day when magick can be completely understood, classified  and codified in a laboratory setting, I for one am hoping for just the opposite - a breach in the world order. Perhaps when the hermetically sealed container of the rational and logical rule of science is cracked, some truly amazing things might be witnessed and experienced. In my opinion, it would be as if a black and white world was suddenly and strikingly invaded with vibrant and living colors, banishing forever the dull word of various shades of grey. 

Ramsey Dukes also discusses his interesting theory (disguised as the theories of Lumuel Johnstone) that the world is actually a cleverly made virtual reality, where the granular elements of the real world are nothing more than bits of information. According to him, the universe has its origin in information, which surreptitiously exists as the very foundation of everything, whether physical or mental. This is obviously, the informational model of magick. Another important point in his book is that in science, theories are imperfect, but the scientist performing experiments is considered perfect, almost as an iconic or archetypal persona. A poorly performed experiment is shrugged off, and only a perfect representation of an experiment becomes the proof or refutation of a given theory, and then only when it is repeated sufficiently by other perfect scientists. No one questions that the scientist performing the experiment may be actually determining the results, at least not until quantum mechanics and Schrodinger’s Cat. Even so, such perspectives have hardly touched disciplines like elementary physical chemistry.

In magick, the theory (or rather formula) is considered perfect, and the operator, imperfect. If the magick fails to produce the results, it doesn’t in anyway indicate that the theory is incorrect. Rather, it is an indication that the fault lies exclusively with the magician performing the rite. This is because, according to Mr. Dukes, magickal theories are simple, abstract and universal. They need to be this way, because it is the tendency for elaborate theories about magick to accumulate evidence, no matter how absurd, until they become the veritable key to the universe itself, and only then, collapse because of their own weight.

This is why Ramsey Dukes is against stating any objective theory about magick and giving it too much weight. He would rather articulate a more general and traditional formula (such as the Four Elements), and work that to the benefit of all magick. I have found his caution interesting and intriguing, since it dovetails with some of my own experiences about using and making magickal models. However, in regards to the imperfect individual magickal operator, the whole of a magickal regimen is to incrementally improve and advance him or her, ultimately culminating in total and complete enlightenment. That, by itself, is the fuel that makes the practice magick so compelling and irresistible.

One very interesting point is that my whole approach to producing new magickal lore is one where I incorporate divergent and convergent thinking processes. In order to determine the ritual structure, discover the relevant occult elements and derive the overall theme of the ritual working, I will draw pictures, schematics, produce various lists, and pretty much fill up a few pages of paper with notes, pictures and other scribbling. I then take some of these notes and do some background research on them, and finally, pull all of the pieces back together again into a completed work. 

While I am in the divergent phase, any conceivable connection or idea is explored, no matter how tenuous or odd. My background research then adds a deeper layer to this mixture of discursive ideas. It only manages to cause a greater confusing mixture of ideas, but it can foster new and unusual linkages. Then afterwards, when this stream of consciousness has seen its end, I will select and carefully assemble the appropriate pieces into the skeleton ritual structure, thus filling it out. This is where I use convergent thought to bring the pieces into union. The end result usually has many levels and typically produces a very unique approach to any given methodology. I used this same technique when I devised a new version of the talismanic Portae Lucis, and the end results seems to be quite compelling.

As you can see, I use a very creative approach in developing and building up my ritual lore. Yet the methodology I use is very much a part of the magickal process, according to Ramsey Dukes. It is a dynamic and creative procedure, and the technique of creating new lore is a magickal ritual in and of itself. Nothing is sacred and nothing is dogmatically adhered to. Everything is subject to questioning and even revision. All materials are available for the use of the magician to perform magick. I guess you could say that this would make me into a kind of chaos magician.

Nothing is true!
Everything is permitted.”

This brings me finally to my opinion that magick is unpredictable, unbounded, and incapable of adhering to any model. Magick is wild, wooly, crazy, untamed, fringe, weird, strange and deliriously ecstatic. Magick is decidedly wiggly, so wiggly that it will placidly seem to behave itself, all the while enjoying a vicious joke on the magician who is spinning theories or playing too seriously with models. A some point there will be a spike of completely unexpected data, an experience that doesn’t fit any model whatsoever, and perhaps behind it all, there is the laughter of the insane beingness of magick, who has played yet another trick on a presumptions human operator. 

That being of magick is like the great shaggy twisted eared Puka, who is vilely deceptive and unconstrained, even to those who are its supposed allies. I call it Uncle Wiggly, and I am sure that some are sick to death at the crazy things that I have penned about this being. Others delight in it, since what is wild and undefined is likely capable of producing any kind of miracle or supernatural occurrence. So I part with this final quotation from my previous article, stating the Uncle Wiggly Law of Magick.

The Uncle Wiggly Law of Magick

“Whatever laws, models or theories that you propose about magick, there will always be something that will occur while working magick at some point to not only falsify that law, but will show itself to have a very nasty sense of humor, the least of which will be irony or satire, the worst of which may even take your life. Never assume that you have all of the answers or have all of the contingencies of magick covered, because shit happens!”

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thoughts and Events In the Midst of Winter

Here we are, in the middle of February and in the middle of winter. Spring is yet another sixty days away at least, and winter has been going on for so long that I can barely remember what it was like to have leaves on trees and growing things. So far, it has been a pretty mild winter, but there are patches of snow and ice, and nothing would seem to indicate that winter is losing its grip anytime soon. So I look outside my window and day-dream about going outside and enjoying the warmth and witnessing all of the green vegetation. I admit that often it seems we take these things for granted until the middle of winter, when we find ourselves pining for their return. That’s what life is like living in the tundra that is Minnesota in the winter.

I did want to discuss some things that are relevant to this blog other than displaying my angst about the seemingly never ending winter. There are some really wonderful things happening, and I have been very busy working at my day job as well as writing up my occult topics during the evening. Sometimes things just seem like all work and no play, so I need to plan in some playtime and some temple time as well.

By now, all three parts of my article on “New Age Cargo Cults” have been posted, and everyone has had a chance to look them over. While perusing the recent news, I have finally come to the conclusion that the Republican Party seems to be functioning more and more like a Cargo Cult. News pundits, presidential candidates and various other governing elected officials operating through the Republican party doctrine have created a view of the U.S. and the world that is almost completely mythic in its contents and perspectives. In the past, beliefs and opinions that would have been sequestered in fringe groups like the John Birch society, the KKK, Aryan Nation, the Religious Right, Libertarian Lunatics, Warmongering Neocons, Anti-Science Climate Change Deniers, Plundering Plutocrats and various other hate-groups or ultra-conservative fanatics are now fully embraced and shown as part of the mainstream conservative agenda.Very scary indeed!

Republicans have created a false sense of urgency and crisis in this country, but it’s focused laser-like on social values and protecting the entitlement of the very rich, instead of jobs and income inequality. The whole ridiculous entourage reminds me of a political circus, except that there is nothing entertaining about it. As a political moderate, I find the constant harping and unwillingness to do anything constructive both wearying and deplorable. The apparent stimulus for this obstreperous behavior seems to be nothing more than the fact that we have a black man in the White House. (Horrors to horrors!) Unfortunately, our current president has actually been functioning as a political moderate, with many of his policies inhabiting a place in the right-of-center of the political spectrum. Yet if you listen to the right-wing punditry, Obama appears to be a dangerous, foaming at the mouth, left-wing fringe, racist, liberal socialist Muslim Kenyan. I find it all so very unreal and insultingly stupid.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is still way too high and many people are financially suffering. It’s obvious to anyone that there are terrible inequalities growing between the rich and the poor, and the middle class is being effectively erased. It would seem to be the objective of the conservative right to consign the middle class to the hosts of the poor, where they will cease to interfere with the ongoing government sanctioned kleptomania by the rich. At some point, the whole things is going to collapse - and it’s only a matter of when. If you want to read a really good article about what is actually going on, you can check out this online link from the recent November Rolling Stone and look it over - you won’t like what it says one bit.

Hopefully, a more sane and realistic dialog will occur between now and November, but I am not optimistic. At least all of this political noise is having the effect of completely damaging the Republican Party brand. This is likely also a boon to President Obama, who will sail to an easy reelection victory during a fiscal downturn. Perhaps when the Republicans hit rock bottom, we can expect maybe the rise of a more sane and sensible alternative. I am against any kind of one party rule, and I think that having more than one party facilitates a proper political dialog, or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. To quote a famous Stan Lee saying (used by many of his Marvel characters), “Nuff said.”   

Starting on February 26th, I will begin the four Portae Lucis preparation workings. On that date, I will begin the process of charging the four talismans that will be needed to perform the talismanic alternative to the traditional Portae Lucis, as set down by Jean Dubuis. I will keep my journal current and report to you, my readers, anything that is interesting or out of the ordinary. The Portae Lucis working is supposed to achieve its culmination and climax just before the Summer Solstice, now planned for June 17 through June 19 of this year. It will be interesting to see if I was able to properly interpret this working and write up a more active, magickal, alternative.

On February 8, Llewellyn Publications had a Vision meeting and accepted my manuscript for the book project, “Qabalah for Beginners.” This was a pretty happy event for me, and it means that my book project now has a scheduled series of stages to be completed so that the book will be in print by March of 2013. It typically takes Llewellyn a year to move a book project from the manuscript stage to the fully published and printed work. I have a number of fixes, changes and revisions on the original manuscript to be performed, and I will need to re-submit the revised manuscript by May 1. 

Since I have already completed most of those changes already, I only need to work on the history and creation chapters so that multiple sources will ultimately be cited for the information contained in them. I have also ordered some additional books to help me with this task, and I suspect that the final revision will be completed in the next two to three weeks, well before the deadline. The book project Launch meeting is to be held on March 5, so I am looking forward to that event as well. What will happen after the revised manuscript is received and accepted will be the final editing process, and that will probably last for a few weeks or up to a month.

Looking over the current condition of the manuscript for “Qabalah for Beginners,” I feel that it is the cleanest, best researched and organized book that I have ever written so far. And this is its current condition before the actual final editing process is started. I believe that this book will be the very best that I have been able to produce in my writing career, and it will be great addition to Llewellyn’s book catalog. I have been very pleased at how I have been treated by Llewellyn so far, and would consider writing another manuscript for them if the opportunity presents itself. They are able to motivate and extract from me a level of perfection that I have not been able to achieve completely on my own, which can only benefit those who would seek to purchase and read my new book. Anyway, I will continue to report about the progress of this project, and give you ample notice when the publication date is nigh at hand.

The annual Pantheacon convention occurred in San Jose this last weekend, and unlike the previous three years, I did not attend. I missed not being able to go, but I just couldn’t justify the cost and the time involved. This year is going to be a more lean year financially than previously, and I have had to make choices about where I spend my money. Instead of the pricey visit to San Jose and staying at the Hilton Hotel for Pantheacon, I will be putting my resources into the local convention in the Twin Cities, called Paganicon. 

Our Pagan Pride organization's second annual Paganicon will be occurring on March 16 (Friday) through March 18 (Sunday). I will be giving a double presentation starting at 9:00 am on Saturday, March 17, on the topics “Introduction to the Qabalah,” and the “Practical Qabalah.” The total time for these two presentations is 2.5 hours, so it should be pretty good as far as covering all of the substantive details for this subject. Hopefully, I will get a decent number of attendees, since the presentation time is early and my scheduled slots compete with the main speaker at least for the second half of the presentation. I will also be staying at the hotel for the two nights of the convention (at a reduced rate), so hopefully I will be able to completely absorb everything that is going on. I will write up a report about how that turns out.

Next year, I fully plan on attending both Pantheacon and Paganicon, since my book with Llewellyn will be in the pre-publishing or fully published phase. I could at least expect a gala book signing and some additional public exposure as a Llewellyn author at one or the other conventions (or maybe, both). I am also still in the planning stages for at least one or two of my book projects, so hopefully, one of them might see fruition in 2013 as well. However, at the present time, I am immersed in work and there is an enormous amount to accomplish for this year. Hopefully, I will get some of it done and I can tell you all about it.

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, February 18, 2012

New Age Cargo Cults - Part 3

This is part three of a three part article on New Age Cargo Cults and the use of Critical Thinking. Part 3 deals exclusively with critical thinking skills that can help occultists keep their rational balance dealing with an irrational process.

Use of Critical Examination

The first consideration is that all premises and assumptions should be carefully examined in an objective and careful manner. Does the claim make sense, and does it seem rational and readily accessible to the seeker? Are the tenets verifiable by independent experimentation or actual spiritual experiences? Are there requirements that force the adherents to suspend judgment or accept doctrines and practices purely on faith? Does the organization seem more interested in getting their fees and donations up front than allowing their beliefs and practices to be tested in an objective manner, thereby determining their authenticity?

There are also some important tests and considerations that the student can apply to any occult or spiritual belief system. I have found that the best mechanism for determining the truthfulness of spiritual claims is to apply some of the skeptical tests that have been promoted by the philosophic movement of atheism. The author Michael Shermer has written a book “Why People Believe Weird Things,” and also published a website called “How Thinking Goes Wrong - Twenty-five Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things.”  You can find the website here.

While I am not an advocate of atheism by any stretch of the imagination (as Michael Shermer has abundantly declared himself to be), ironically, some of his written arguments are actually quite important for the measuring of objective truth and authenticating spiritual beliefs. I feel that we can examine some of them here to help us define a methodology for examining spiritual claims in an objective fashion, and so allow us to make judgments about the veracity of any given spiritual system. Therefore, I have included twelve of the most pertinent ones below.

The first thing that we need to keep in mind is that all spiritual experiences are necessarily subjective, but this fact should not in any way discount them as being invalid or merely the products of the imagination. The way in which subjective spiritual experiences are validated is through the process of peer review and experimental corroboration. While it may at times be difficult to corroborate a person or group’s spiritual claims, we can also use some rational tests as well, and this is where Michael Shermer’s writings come in handy. We should also keep in mind that occultists and spiritual teachers often use the “what if” metaphorical approach to creating concepts and building explanations for experiences that are, by definition, inexplicable. When I use the word “inexplicable,” what I mean is that certain concepts can’t be reduced to rational thought.

The second thing that we need to consider is that the spiritual realm of consciousness cannot be apprehended by the senses alone, nor can it be encapsulated by the mind as rational theories or models. Spiritual consciousness and its associated subtle phenomena can only be apprehended and realized when an individual is within the proper altered state of consciousness. Spiritual truths must always be determined by the methods that were used to establish the associated state of consciousness Not to do this is to take a spiritual truth or perspective out of its spiritual context. We can then say with a certain degree of confidence that spiritual claims which are able to be measured by the senses or by rational examination can be determined to be true or false. Other claims or experiences have to corroborated by performing the corresponding technique or practice. If a shaman claims to be able to physically transform himself into a wolf, then he would be subjected to same rigorous requirement of proof that any scientist would undergo making the same claim. Where problems arise in spiritual discourse and the testimony of spiritual experiences is where metaphors become confused for literal things or are taken out of their spiritual context.

We should also be aware that when occult tenets or beliefs bracket both the spiritual and physical worlds, then at least the aspect or part that affects the physical world should be able to be proven in an empirical manner. If a group believes in physical reincarnation, then the physical aspect of being reborn should have physical evidence that can be examined, tested and either verified or refuted. In such a situation, merely examining something as being logical or rational is not sufficient to verify it as truth, since what is being proposed should be able to be proven as a fact using the traditional scientific method.

Shermer’s document begins with an examination of “Hume’s Maxim,” which I am also quoting here for our examination. David Hume was a Scottish philosopher who lived during the middle of the 17th century. He states in his writings:

“That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.”

What Hume means by this statement is that a testimony or subjective experience should be able to be examined in the light of natural phenomena or judged as unsubstantiated fancy, and that the greater miracle should be rejected for the lesser, more rational, explanation. Of course, this logical analysis would be used to examine any spiritual claim that involved some kind of physical phenomenon. Yet it could also be used indirectly to determine truth in regards to spiritual tenets or doctrines as well. The important consideration is that any claim should have within it the means or mechanism through which it can be examined and potentially corroborated or refuted. Unsubstantiated claims must always be treated with a certain degree of skepticism. If the entire set of doctrines or tenets of a spiritual tradition are unsubstantiated, then the seeker should be extremely cautious of that tradition.

The following twelve points should help anyone critically analyze claims made within a spiritual community, group or promoted within some New Age or occult tradition. It is important to understand that metaphors which describe spiritual experiences are not to be confused as claims for objective truth; just as poetry or fictional stories are to be enjoyed for their own sake, and one need not take them literally.

1. Anecdotes are not scientific: The recounting of experiences, although interesting and perhaps even insightful, does not make them a fact. All statements and claims must be supported by corroborative evidence, usually from other independent sources, in order for anecdotal evidence to be accepted as truth. Just because someone says it’s so doesn’t necessarily mean that it must be so.

2. Using scientific language does not make something scientific: The use of jargon or the clothing of claims in scientific language does not make those claims scientific. What makes something scientific is the precise manner that the premise is stated and thoroughly tested by evidence. One example that comes to mind is Creationism, which appears to be scientific because it is written using scientific terminology. However, Creationism has not presented any corroborative evidence that would make it in fact a scientific theory and not a theological premise dressed up in scientific clothing.

3. Using bold statements to make a claim does not make that claim true: Someone can claim to have discovered the greatest new idea since the discovery of fire or the wheel, but that does not make it so. Rather, all claims need to be backed up by supporting evidence instead of emotionally charged exclamations.

4. Heretical claims are not a sign of truth: A claim that is ridiculed or violently opposed does not mean that the claim is necessarily valid. Many scientific theories have been proposed without any ridicule or opposition, but they have been verified or falsified based on the supporting evidence. Often heretical thoughts or claims are a sign of poor science or political grandstanding rather than radical or revolutionary thought.

5. The burden of proof is on the one making the claim: Those who are making the claim must supply the evidence to support that claim, not those to whom the claim represents a contradiction of established fact. For instance, those who claim that the holocaust did not occur must supply the proof for their claim. It is not up to those historians who have already presented the mountain of evidence that the holocaust did indeed occur to disprove the claim that it didn’t. Similarly, the proponents of the theory of evolution do not need to prove that the theory of Creationism is false. It is the task of the proponents of Creationism to validate their counter-theory using corroborative evidence and prove that evolution is false.

6. Rumors do not equate reality: If we hear a claim reported from unsubstantiated sources, then it must be considered an unsubstantiated rumor and not a fact. This is how urban myths are created and spread by gossip and opinion. All claims must be properly substantiated or they remain untrustworthy sources of information, and can even be disguised misinformation. The internet has seen to it that urban myths not only continue to tenaciously exist; but that they spawn other spurious beliefs and seem to have an independent life and volition.

7. The unexplained is not inexplicable: Just because something occurs that can’t be explained due to insufficient data or lacking objective proof does not mean that it is an unresolvable mystery, evidence of paranormal activity or proof of the supernatural. It is important to accept some things as unexplainable phenomena, perhaps requiring further experimentation and more data to ultimately explain it. This is so, despite the fact that human nature dislikes not having a neat and useful explanation for everything. We also need to be careful when labeling something as paranormal or supernatural. Operationally, all things that occur in the higher strata of consciousness have this quality of being paranormal, but they often do not produce physical phenomena that could be measured or recorded except as anecdotal subjective accounts or narratives. Occultists also use the word “mystery” or “inexplicable” to represent the fact that spiritual experiences can’t be communicated in a rational and objective fashion.

8. The failure to prove a claim is rationalized or ignored: Often this represents an excuse for why the claim can't be proven or shown to be true under all circumstances and situations. A psychic or prophet might complain that he or she is unable to envision or profess because the time of day isn’t right, it's the wrong phase of the moon, there are bad vibes, or the setting isn’t auspicious. Also, failures may be altered through data tampering or even entirely omitted, ensuring that the claim is always shown to be true. In science, negative results are considered as important as positive ones, since it indicates that either the claim is wrong or that some other factor is causing the results to be skewed. Spiritual claims that prove to be false are often rationalized by the faithful as being true; but only under certain (indefinable) circumstances.

9. After-the-fact reasoning is used to explain nearly everything: This is a fancy term for superstition. A bowler has a victorious night bowling, and attributes it to his lucky bowling shoes. A gambler can have a lucky key ring, and a baseball player, a lucky mitt. This also produces such beliefs as the wearing of lucky charms, keeping a rabbit's foot in one's pocket, wearing a St. Christopher medal, avoiding the number 13, avoiding black cats, the evil eye, not stepping on a crack on the sidewalk or walking under a ladder, etc. We can look at such beliefs and easily see their foolishness, but it's human nature to ascribe the cause of an event or situation after it has already occurred. Ask someone to determine the cause of an event before it happens, and they will seldom predict such an outcome better than chance.

10. Coincidence is happenstance: Often times what seems like a miraculous coincidence is actually within the realm of probability. We color these relationships as meaningful to us when they are just happenstance. We seek meaningful relationships between events even when none exist. Synchronicity is an often ill used term, invented by C. G. Jung to describe the quality of meaningfulness and connectivity that one feels when two unrelated events occur and are perceived as being related. This does not mean that the sense of connectivity and meaningfulness that one feels is indicative of some kind of causal link between them.

For instance, a man meets a woman friend at a concert in an arena, and amongst several thousand attendees her seat ends up being right next to his, even though the occurrence was accidental and unplanned. They might consider such an occurrence auspicious, perhaps indicating that they should get to know each other or to become lovers, since this “sign” has indicated a connection between them. Actually, the event is within the realm of probability, even though it seems singularly auspicious and meaningful to them.

11. Contrasting representativeness determines the difference between typical or unusual occurrences: We must always understand the context in which an unusual event or claim occurs. We should analyze it for the representativeness of its class of phenomena, and establish a comparative baseline for usual or explainable phenomena. If the unusual occurrence fits with the usual or explainable phenomenon that acts as a baseline, then that unusual event is actually part of the class of explainable phenomena.

A good example is a reputed haunted house, which seems to abound in strange sounds and paranormal events. These seem less remarkable when compared to the base line of usual sounds that an old house might make, such as the groaning of out of square joints, the knocking or rattling of old plumbing, the scratching sounds of mice burrowing in the walls, the settling of old foundations, etc.

12. Miscellaneous Points: Other mistakes that can skew or cause us to make false judgments or claims are listed as the following points below. A lack of evidence does not prove or disprove a claim; it makes it unverifiable or unknown. A case in point is the proof that God exists because there is no evidence to prove that he does not exist, or, that God does not exist because there is no evidence to prove that he does exist.

Hasty generalizations: usually scientists err on the degree of caution before making a generalization about a given claim or phenomena; but the average individual seems to have no problem in making judgments even on the slimmest of evidence. This is also called prejudice. For instance, a few Muslims are found to be terrorists; therefore, all Muslims must be potential terrorists.

An over reliance on authorities: If someone has a PhD next to their name, they have become an unquestioned authority even in areas beyond their specialization. Talk radio and cable news are full of so-called experts who offer their opinions as facts, even if there is no independent supporting evidence or sources. It used to be that a news item could be reasonably verified if there were at least three independent sources to corroborate it. Unfortunately, this is no longer true, since getting the scoop is now more important in the internet age than producing news that has a certain degree of factual integrity.

Circular reasoning or tautology: This is where a conclusion or claim is merely a restatement of one of the premises. For instance: God exists because the Bible proves it, and the Bible is true because it is the inspired word of God.


If we avoid the above mistakes in logic and seek to verify spiritual claims in a rational and objective fashion, then we can avoid falling for spurious teachings and being duped or coerced into believing and accepting things as fact when they are actually false, unsupported or unverifiable suppositions. Any legitimate esoteric or spiritual tradition offers the mechanism for verifying their tenets or doctrines and never requires anyone to merely believe and accept them as unqualified facts. Also, any legitimate esoteric or spiritual tradition allows for an open examination of its beliefs and practices, and uses a form of peer review to ascertain if subjective spiritual experiences are valid or not.

We would be well advised to shun any group or organization that resists an honest examination of their beliefs and doctrines. We should be wary of any organization that forces its members to accept unqualified doctrines and unsubstantiated truths in order to effortlessly acquire godlike abilities or powers for money. We should be dubious of anyone who claims to have achieved godlike powers or abilities with little or no effort, and we should be very cautious of any teacher or spiritual leader who refuses to be accountable for their actions. Through a sober consideration of all claims, creeds and tenets, we can avoid the pitfalls of cults and the interference of false prophets and teachers, and thereby not lend support to the ever burgeoning growth of various New Age or Occult cargo cults.

While we can discuss the spiritual ramifications of spiritual matters to our hearts content, when it comes to the physical world, science is more able to determine the nature and even origin of life than any form of occultism. So for this reason I have dropped any occult theory or system that attempts to explain physical reality.

I have to admit that I am biased in favor of occult beliefs because I am a practicing occultist and ritual magician. My occult studies and magickal practices are therefore confined to the domain of spirit and mind, which seems to be the most fertile area for my work. I talk about magical powers and dealing with angels, daemons, gods, goddesses, etc. However, I am referring entirely to the domain of spirit. Where things happen in the material world through the art of my magick, I would say that it was my magick that caused it; but I wouldn’t attempt to prove such an hypothesis in a scientific manner.  I highly recommend that other occultists follow my example.

What I do is to keep those things that are spiritual in the context of the spiritual world, and I don’t attempt to make elaborate models and theories to determine what is happening. I consider these phenomena to be metaphysical occurrences. They involve spiritual revelations, but they are not something that I can empirically prove. I don’t need to. Instead, I leave the ultimate judgment of my work to my peers who are qualified to work the same rituals and see what the results produce. But from a scientific point of view, my results are subjective and anecdotal, which means that they could not be used as any kind of logical or rational proof.

For this reason, I prefer to call my magickal practice an art and not a science. It may have rules and structures, but it can’t stand up to an empirical analysis, so it should not be confused with other things that can be proven in this manner. I have so much respect for science and what it has discovered that I am unwilling to dispute it. I will allow scientists to find out the truth about the physical world, but I will work on what I consider to be spiritual truths that are within the provenance of my understanding.

Frater Barrabbas

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Age Cargo Cults - Part 2

Heaven's Gate Founder

This is part two of a three part series on New Age Cargo Cults and Critical Thinking.

Cargo Cult by Extension

Although the term cargo cult was used by anthropologists to describe a very specific cultural phenomenon, it found its way into the common vernacular to describe other phenomena not associated with the effects of a superior culture affecting a more primitive culture. The term began to represent any people who imitate a process or a system in a superficial fashion without understanding either its structure or the underlying substance.

The key point is that the islanders reversed the logical sequence of causation, mistaking a “necessary condition” (building an artificial representation for the receiving points of cargo) for a “sufficient condition” (building the infrastructure to actually manufacture cargo).    

What is indicated in the more general use of this term is that something is being promoted as true but is actually using a flawed model of causation. This more general definition has been used to describe poor scientific research methods as well as business models, plans and even software engineering.

I have now used it to describe erroneous methods and ideas that are promoted in the New Age and occult communities. The term generally has the meaning of a shallow imitation or attempting to gain true spiritual effects and personal transformation without applying any of the actual work or effort. Belief systems are usually not put to any kind of rational examination or testing, so at times even the most absurd concepts and ideas can be held as some kind of sacred truth, and in time, produce disastrous results.

An example is the New Age fascination with the book and the movie called “The Secret,” which has popularized the dubious “Law of Attraction.” I have already dealt with this issue in regards to the practicalities of magick, and you can find that article here. However, the Law of Attraction basically states that merely by projecting positive and empowering self affirmations, the desired state will somehow miraculously manifest. It belies the old adage that if you want something, you need to plan and work for it. Another example is the UFO cult Heaven’s Gate, whose members thought that by imitating the appearance and behavior of aliens they could attract a UFO to come down and take them away. As you can see, both of these examples are guilty of reversing causation, and thereby acting in a manner very similar to the cargo cults of the islanders.

One of the truisms of the New Age, which is actually quite misleading, is that people have the power to make their own reality. Of course, the opposite is also true and important, that reality shapes the minds and actions of individuals. By proposing one perspective and ignoring the other, people can act as if they have unlimited power to determine their fate, which is a false assertion. Actions are always limited by circumstance, which is obvious to most people, but the New Age would turn that bit of logic on its head. The lesson here is that critical thinking will automatically force someone to examine more than one possibility, and to see things in a practical manner - an important criteria for success. 

In the discipline of magick, flawed models of causation seem to abound, and many individuals appear to take quite literally what is, after all, a kind of imaginary speculation that is used to put the mind in places where it normally wouldn’t be able to go. This is what I call the “as if” paradigm of magickal operations; but just because someone uses a mental tool to gain a different perspective, it doesn’t follow that the underlying assumption represents a physical reality.

For instance, astral travel can be likened to a kind of visualization exercise, and at times can have a powerful and even physical kind of manifestation and corroboration. That doesn’t mean that operators who practice this technique can actually levitate or fly. It is an “as if” mechanism to aid the mind in its perception, and therefore, not to be taken literally.

Another example can be found in the list of attributes associated with Goetic demons, whose evocation will produce all sorts of miraculous occurrences, particularly those that can enrich the operator with unearned wealth. Although more complex and involved than the New Age maxim of the Law of Attraction, using Goetic evocation to somehow attract or acquire unearned wealth is just as erroneous. Still, many magicians ardently believe that their kind of magick is superior to New Age thought and will produce the desired results, even though they are actually making the same error of causation. 

(These are some of the same points that John Michael Greer has made in his class on pagan ceremonial magick, regarding certain cautionary issues confronting adherents of this path. He covered these points without giving any extensive examples, but I was on the same wave-length as him and have followed up with a more in-depth discussion. Thus, I have added these points to this article, but I must credit him for making them more apparent to me.)

Often imaginary speculation, which can be a powerful mental tool if properly used, can produce all sorts of unsubstantiated claims, all of which would be easily resolved and shown to be false if only they were subjected to a kind of rigorous examination and peer review. Since this does not typically occur, and in fact it is often harshly rejected as a kind of negative or offensive criticism, some very foolish notions and silly ideas seem to be shamelessly promoted by would-be enlightened hucksters. These will-o-wisps are then gobbled up by the unsuspecting masses, who think that they’re going to experience a wondrous change. Should we then find it so strange that the press has a field day with the practices and beliefs of cultists and their leaders? This bad press has the corollary effect of making the public suspicious of the research and experimental work of occultists who are legitimate.

The New Age has its own cargo cults, and in fact these organizations seem to abound, since they promise so much and require so little effort. Perhaps some common sense should tell us that if a proposition sounds too good, then it probably is. If someone wants to sell me a Rolex for $50, then I should be on my guard for a possible fake impersonating the real thing. Similarly, if some guru claims that he can help us attain perfect enlightenment without much in the way of work or effort, we should be just as skeptical if not outright scornful. What these scams do offer us is much more like the proposition of “just putting down your money and suspending your analytical faculties, and everything will be blissfully fine.” The odds are good that it will fail. 

Carefully examining the documentation and lore for legitimate spiritual paths has shown that any amount of self transformation, not to mention actual enlightenment, requires a lifetime of work and devotion. There are no shortcuts to this ultimate goal and nothing is certain.

Perhaps a useful analogy is the discipline required to become an athletic contender for any major sport. A person dedicates their life to the training and regimen and even then, there is no guarantee that he or she will defeat all other competitors and become preeminent. There are also the elements of innate talent, physical genetics and luck.

What I am proposing is that the process of becoming an enlightened sage should incorporate the same considerations as those impacting a professional athlete. Even a person who devotes their entire life to this work may do no better than anyone else who is not so intently engaged. The path of spiritual enlightenment is not like the Special Olympics, where everyone gets an award no matter how they perform. If anything, spiritual paths to enlightenment are probably a bit more like the real Olympics; for every winner there are a multitude of losers.

What makes the bogus promoters of a New Age cargo cult so appealing to average individuals is that they appear to guarantee their results, and that makes the harsh reality of living in a competitive world more palliative and easily swallowed. It mitigates the need for self examination or admitting one’s flaws, as well as celebrating the virtues. In a word, it creates a false and superficial understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. It creates a cargo cult of our life and our spiritual path, and in the end, all such activity is doomed to fail expectations.

However, not every modern spiritual path or undertaking is a cargo cult. Even the most popular trend may be indicative of an actual proven methodology that works. What is needed are a set of tools for measuring truth and validating that some technique or practice is indeed real and authentic. What I am going to attempt next in this article is to propose a set of steps that anyone can take to verify that a trend or spiritual technique is valid and authentic. However, keep in mind the old adage that “the proof in the pudding is in the eating.” Experience should be used to measure the efficacy of any spiritual system. Therefore, experiment, test, and then objectify what has been experienced!

(To be continued..)

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, February 12, 2012

New Age Cargo Cults

This is part one of a two part series on New Age Cargo Cults and Critical Thinking, both of which I think are quite relevant topics for us to ponder.

I wrote this article a few years ago for an anthology, and it was summarily rejected. It’s not that it was a bad article, but it just didn’t fit into the subject matter very well. Now, I have decided to dust it off and re-work it since it seems appropriate to the line of discussion that I have been engaged in for the last couple of months.

The real issue for anyone practicing magick is to deal with the contrast of rational and critical thinking against the odd and often strange phenomenon of magick. We can go too far and try to make magick fit our expectations and act as if it were a scientifically objective phenomenon, but that often has its own risks. If we approach magick with “tunnel vision” and reject certain approaches or perspectives because they don’t fit our paradigm, then we will have determined a magick that is as artificial and scripted as any religious dogma. Magick, as I have maintained, has an element of mystery and irrationality, and we should be open to allow for many different perspectives, even ones that contradict our own opinions.

That being said, I think that it is unwise to promote an irrational approach to magick, or just to engage in really sloppy and uncritical thinking. Magicians should avoid being too credulous, and they should demand a certain degree of testing and verifying any theory or hypothesis, as well as supposed sacred tenets and enshrined belief systems. To accept any and everything without discrimination is to create what I have fondly called a “cargo cult.” Occultism should never be so blatantly irrational that it becomes ridiculous to outsiders, so critical thinking is important in any spiritual system. 


We live in an age where anything is possible in the popular media, any idea, plausible, and any pretext of spirituality however dubious, seems to be potentially authentic. The internet is the doubtful mechanism that seems to disperse even the oldest urban myths and disproved misinformation everywhere, simultaneously. It manages to serve up stale and moldy ideas as new groundbreaking discoveries, except those who have any degree of critical thinking can pierce the new wrappers covering the old fallacies.

Unfortunately, we don’t correspondingly live in an age of critical thinking or discriminating tastes, so many individuals, blogging pundits, groups and organizations seem to gobble up and spew out much of the obvious (and not so obvious) urban myths and misinformation, furthering its dissemination and so attempting to re-establish its legitimacy. What is true in the secular and politicized worlds of the internet is also true for spiritual organizations, occult groups, blogsphere authors, and various adherents of the New Age. While many have shown caution and restraint, a few others have gone in the opposite direction, losing their credibility in the process.

It’s my opinion that the New Age collectively appears to gleefully gather together all sorts of rubbish along with valid information and promote it all seemingly without any discrimination whatsoever, building trendy new-thought paradigms that have the quality of a superficial fad rather than a revealed truth. Perhaps it wasn’t enough for these aficionados of the trendy and obscure to rob and pilfer from the graveyard of discredited New Thought writings, but now they seem intent on just making stuff up for the sake of their supposedly superior viewpoints. I won’t get into the particulars, but when a poorly written book like the “Celestine Prophecy” becomes a best seller, it is nothing less than sadly incredible.

In our current age of instant information and high speed propagation, we often accept empty spiritual platitudes, meaningless slogans and obvious irrational and illogical beliefs without any desire to corroborate or examine them in a rational and scholarly manner. A person can be forced into the situation of being either a believer and accepting the whole of a New Age fad tradition, or labeled a cynic or an unbeliever, a harbinger of negative “vibes” to be avoided at all costs by the host of pious (but credulous) believers.

What is being confused by the pundits and proponents alike is that in the present age all spiritual paradigms should be subject to testing and validation, and nothing should be taken merely on faith. The age of belief and the quest for social legitimacy has been replaced by one of experience and authenticity. Anyone can make a claim about their spirituality, we just don't have to accept that claim until it is, in some way, operationally verified. However, many New Age groups attempt to circumvent this important measure of validity and instead require its followers to be believers, blindly accepting their doctrine in order to realize the secret truths and powerful underlying teachings behind their newly minted traditions.

While I could write several books about many New Age organizations who seek to short-circuit a proper validation of their doctrines and dogma, this is not the purpose of this article. I have often said that some aspects of the New Age tradition (but not all of them), remind me of a Cargo Cult. Now this comment has earned me a few laughs, a smile or even a knowing nod or two; but only a few probably knew what I was talking about. A couple of my learned friends have actually criticized my use of the term, saying that I am probably misusing it. So I have decided to examine exactly what the term means and clarify what exactly I am saying.

History of Cargo Cults

As one can easily imagine from just listening to the combination of words, a “cargo cult” is a phenomenon that has been studied and documented as occurring amongst primitive tribes living in the south pacific, most notably in New Guinea and other nearby isolated islands located in an area called Micronesia. This is a part of the south pacific where the islanders have very dark skin and supposedly at one time indulged in head hunting and cannibalism. Comparing an anthropological phenomenon that occurred amongst very primitive peoples to proponents of the New Age may seem whimsical or perhaps even denigrating to either party, yet I feel that there is some justification for it. I have found the following definition of a cargo cult and will use this definition to build my case. (I have consulted the Wikipedia page on Cargo Cults to help research this article, so you can find it here. All quotes are from that article.)

So, exactly what is a cargo cult? The anthropological definition of a cargo cult is that it is a religious movement that appears in tribal societies when they are exposed to technologically advanced non-native cultures. The focus of a cargo cult are the products of the advanced culture, such as the sophisticated supplies of food, clothing, and other manufactured materials, which the more technologically primitive tribal culture seeks to acquire. However, the manner of seeking to acquire this “cargo” relies on a system of magical thinking, religious rituals and practices instead of the more direct and slower route of building up their world to manufacture these items themselves. The natives are typically partitioned and isolated from the technologically dominant culture, so they use the “tools” of their own world to somehow enter into and acquire the wealth of cargo that they have witnessed but not understood. There is also an additional belief that the wondrous materials of the cargo are from the gods or ancestors (not the foreigners who are using it), and that this cargo was actually intended for the tribe, but somehow purloined or stolen from them.

From this definition we can deduce that a cargo cult occurs wherever a primitive culture encounters a superior one, and the equipment of that superior culture, as well as its goods and other material items, become coveted signs of the beneficence of the tribal deities and ancestors. The equipment and goods of the superior culture are perceived as having been created by magic, since the mechanisms for its manufacture and production are not understood. In fact, the vast infrastructure that produces such goods isn’t even conceivable to the members of the primitive society. They believe that the goods and gear come from the gods and ancestors, and that it is somehow either stolen or mistakenly granted to the foreigners. The object of the cargo cult is to find a magical means of restoring the cargo to its rightful owners, the natives themselves.

Using the logic from the perspective of the tribal people, the cargo cult seeks to overcome the dominance of the foreign visitors and their material wealth by performing rituals that imitate key behavior that they observed amongst those who attract and possess the desired goods. Their assumption is that these rituals and practices will somehow influence their ancestors and deities to give the desired cargo to their own people. Thus, members of the cult develop an elaborate religious and magical system, along with specific spiritual intermediaries to help them acquire the valuable materials of the foreign people.

Members of a cargo cult will appropriate the symbols of the superior culture, often out of context, and make primitive facsimiles and use them in ritual and ceremonies as fetishes and instruments to magically acquire the coveted cargo. The driving idea behind this is that a properly performed rite with all of the right symbols and fetishes will produce the desired results. Sometimes even individuals from the superior culture can become a godlike personage, such as the cult personality of “John Frum” on the island of Tanna, of the Vanuatu group. Godhead personages represent the individuals who were responsible for bringing the cargo for the foreigners, so they are invoked as a means of securing cargo for the natives.

Cargo cults began to appear in the late 19th century when explorers, colonizers and missionaries visited the remote islands and jungle villages in the south pacific, but saw a startling increase during the Second World War, when the invading Japanese and the conquering Americans and their allies flooded the area with a huge surplus of manufactured goods, weapons and equipment.

“The earliest recorded cargo cult was the Tuka Movement that began in Fiji in 1885. Cargo cults occurred periodically in many parts of the island of New Guinea, including the Taro Cult in Northern Papua New Guinea, and the Vailala Madness that arose in 1919 and was documented by F. E. Williams..”

By the time of the Second World War, the phenomenon of cargo cults was already established; but the enormous amounts of equipment and supplies, first deployed by the Japanese and then by the Americans and their allies, were unprecedented. The influence of all these materials had a profound impact on some of the islands and areas of New Guinea. Long after the end of the Second World War, cargo cults were still in evidence, and the phenomenon lasted for seventy years before finally disappearing, with exception of the John Frum cult on the island of Tanna.

Cargo cults typified behavior that imitated what the natives saw the soldiers and sailors do when cargo was either air dropped by parachute, landed by plane or debarked from ships. Natives would carve earphones out of wood and occupy deserted or fabricated radio shacks or control towers; they would build radios out of cocoanuts, bamboo and straw, imitate landing signals at deserted runways, send out light signals to the shipping lanes at night with fabricated signaling devices, and even built planes out of bamboo and straw. All of these efforts that used forms of sympathetic magic were done with the expectation that it would cause the flow of cargo to return.

Unfortunately, not only did the newly developed and practiced magical religion of the cargo cult not produce any of the desired manufactured items, but it also had the terrible effect of erasing all of the older and indigenous religious practices and beliefs, along with much of the original tribal culture. Cargo cults also had the effect of eviscerating the government, systems of exchange and many other traditional beliefs and practices amongst the tribes, making them culturally poorer in the aftermath, when the cult had run its course.

The native cultures that were impacted during the Second World War never recovered, since being powerfully affected by the more sophisticated Japanese and American material cultures had both eradicated and irrevocably changed them in a distorted manner. Although life continued on for these native peoples, they had given up their indigenous religious practices and spiritual beliefs to practices the cargo cult, and afterwards, had then lost whatever cult they had developed to attract cargo.

Anthropologists have shown that this kind of contact between cultures where the differences in technology are vast can have terrible consequences, especially when the technologically inferior culture has been isolated from the rest of the world. The dominant culture often unwittingly causes a great degree of destructive change and suffering to the inferior one, and afterwards, it is impossible to mitigate or rectify the impact of those changes even by the ministrations of the dominant culture.

(To be continued..)

Frater Barrabbas