Recently, I wrote an article entitled “Of Shadows and Darkness - Future Path of Witchcraft” and it got quite a bit of attention. In case you missed the article, you can find it here. Despite the length and detail of that article, I was just warming up to my subject. This is because the next part of this article has to discuss where this path leads and what are its goals and purpose. So, in this article I will attempt to briefly talk about the revelation of this path, what it means, why it is important, and where it ultimately will lead those who follow it.
To begin this article, let us review what one of my readers said regarding what I had stated in my article. She goes by the moniker of “Anna Munda at Enchanted Body” and she asked what I consider to be the most crucial question of all, which I am quoting here.
“A question: what does all of this get a person, in the end? When you've consorted with all the goetic spirits and the dark, chthonic spirits of the Underworld, and mined those mysteries, and conjured all the conjurations ... where does it leave one? I'd say, material riches and [longevity], but I'm not seeing a lot of long-living, rich shamans or witches of any stripe. (In fact, often the opposite.) Worldly power? Illuminati rumors notwithstanding, worldly power deals seem driven more by the boardroom and the backroom than the underworld. Peace of mind? Feeling at one with all creation? Certainty of one's place in the scheme of things? The ability to have deeper, sweeter and more meaningful relationships? I mean, it all sounds very sexy, but what's the point?”
The another reader, whose moniker is “YowYow” posted another question, which I feel is equally valid. I will also quote it in full.
“Having read Marlowe's version of Dr. Fautus, what would having access to all this knowledge do for others? As you remember, all Dr. Fautus did with his knowledge and power was conjure grapes for a princess. At the same time, do I want to interfere with the world? As I travel my little path, I often wonder if I should butt in. I see the necessity of the slowness of change in society. The in-fighting and compromises made on a short-term and long-term basis enables a stronger foundation to be built through the development of alliances rather than tyranny. And what of my attitude. I'm more of a dilettante rather than devotee. I've spent many decades at this stage. But the unicorns and wizards costumes have become trite and childish. Where were I fit in this new cosmic world?”
My friend Jack Von Faust responded to these questions in his own way, and you can look over the article and the comments and read them all if you wish. I want to focus on a few things that can quickly answer these questions and allow my readers to more concisely understand what I was getting at when I wrote that article.
First of all, the supposition that I stated in my article is that all true transformative initiations occur in the underworld. That means that any spiritual change or evolution that an individual might achieve is done so through a dark process of doubt, fear, dissolution and then, reconstitution and psychic rebirth. For the mystic, this is the dark night of the soul, and for the magician, it is the challenge of dealing and integrating with the dark image of the self. Without this process of total and complete transformation, there can be no deep kinds of changes needed to truly grow in a spiritual manner. Without transformation, then only translation occurs, which is just a surface change. If we are not truly challenged to the core of our being, then we remain in a kind of stasis where mediocrity prevails.
Secondly, there is always the feature of self-discovery that occurs during transformation, and that can assist us in knowing the God/dess Within, also known as the Higher Self or the Atman. The reason why such a discovery is important is because it reveals the path of ascension. This is because the underworld contains and also hides the gateway to ascension, and specifically, the portal whereby we might realize ourselves as gods. Yet without the powerful challenge of having to periodically re-invent ourselves, such a gateway will remain unknown and unknowable. It would seem that we cannot obtain ascension towards union with the One without first undergoing a profound series of internal transformations. I might also add that the place of transformation is the underworld - our collective psychic place of death and darkness, but also light and rebirth.
Thirdly, while the potential for material gain resides in the underworld, so does the potential for any kind of achievement whatsoever. In the material world proper we are faced with an immediate inertia, and then due to entropy, all things succumb to dissolution, death, and a return to their basic elements. Great civilizations fall into decay, buildings and statues crumble into dust, and inexorable powers of the wind, rain and sunlight, erase all traces that anything ever existed. What does remain, however, are the fragments of that psychic life process and the core spirit that sheathed them. Yet only that core spirit actually lasts forever, since it is immortal and immutable - that is where we should focus our efforts.
The cycles of fortune occur regardless of what we do or how we act in our short lives, and afterwards, our achievements fade away. We might be able to bend the probabilities of our lives to affect a slightly different outcome, but that is the best that can be done on the material plane. Those who are dedicated to gaining the greater share of the world’s material fortune have little time for anything else in their lives, and certainly, a serious undertaking such as sorcery would not likely be one of them. Those who take up the challenge of pagan magic and sorcery must precariously balance between these two worlds, with an emphasis on the domain of spirit to ensure a more profitable outcome in the arena of magick. Such individuals will half-heartedly seek out their material fortunes, while eagerly pursuing their magical muses into the nether realms of magic and mystery. Therefore, those who are proficient in magic are likely to be only moderately successful in the material world.
Even as the underworld contains the potential for any possible change, those who are able to travel into that world seldom take the path to acquire great wealth and power. This is because to change themselves into a wealthy and powerful man or woman would also have the effect of short-circuiting the entire process of the path of sorcery, and nullify one’s ability to gain entrance into the domain of the underworld. These two pursuits are diametrically opposed because one focuses on the inward and unseen world, and the other is focused exclusively on the material world. In my life experience so far I haven’t met anyone who is both a highly successful businessman who has built up a wealthy estate with his or her own hands and who is also a great magician.
How this typically works out in life is that someone who is born into wealth (and who doesn’t have any desire to acquire more) applies themselves to the exclusive study of the occult and magick. Some would classify this as a decadent path of slow dissolution itself. I have met and known individuals who fit this model, and Aleister Crowley, as a supreme example, comes to mind, as well as others. Still, it would seem that being an empire builder and a competent magician might actually be mutually exclusive. Thus the riches and wealth to be found in the underworld only allows the successful sorcerer to live a materially modest and comfortable middle-class existence, often with little influence or social power.
What then is the whole purpose for engaging in the forces and spiritual entities that reside in the underworld if it is not to materially enrich oneself? The purpose is to gain a special kind of spiritual knowledge, called “gnosis,” and this knowledge helps the magician to discover the path of ascension, and therein, to ultimately become a god. This is not a material process. It is a mental and spiritual process whose outward manifestation is enlightenment and at-one-ment with the Absolute Spirit. Enlightenment and union with the One is the ultimate purpose of both magick and mysticism; but they each take a completely different path to achieve that end. What I am saying is that without the powerful transformations that occur exclusively in the dark domain of the underworld, both the mystic and magician will fail to achieve this goal.
The state of enlightenment does one thing besides giving those who achieve it an inner core of imperturbability, insight into the problems of life, compassion for all, joy, bliss and an overall powerfully attuned psychic sensibility. It allows one the ability to understand the meaning of their life. It gives purpose, direction and certainty to the process that one is following. It also gives one knowledge of what comes after that final transition of death, since to be enlightened means that one is connected to that imperishable spiritual source residing in the core of one’s being. We all live and die regardless of our allotment of material wealth and power in this world or our achievements, but to have that kind of knowledge and awareness eliminates the fear of death and also the fear of not knowing what comes after when our life is finally extinguished. This is, in word, a form of psychic and spiritual immortality that one can acquire and realize in this life, living in the ever changing material world. I can’t think of a more powerful and eminent place to reside than to live in this state, and it is therefore, my ultimate objective.
Therefore, I say to Anna and YowYow, to gain a form of psychic and spiritual immortality and to be conscious of it is a profound and great achievement. I don’t believe that such a state is guaranteed to everyone simply because they are born with a mind, body and a spirit. To engage that spiritual essence that resides within us is a very difficult and nearly impossible feat, but to achieve that state is to pass through death and into a greater conscious life alive within the spirit that is a seamless facet of the One. It is, in a word, to complete the archetypal process of involution and evolution, and that is the nature of the Great Work, in my opinion. For those who believe in reincarnation, it is where the constant cycle of rebirth is nullified, and where the self and the spirit finally become one with the One.
After reading this article, my readers will no doubt understand that this is very much a monistic perspective of magic, paganism and witchcraft, and that some (if not many) will not share my perspective. I will attempt to write about how a monistic perspective is not only essential, but it is a natural evolution of the belief in a pantheon and a plethora of Gods and Goddesses. Still, I will write about this and other topics in future articles that will appear in this blog.
Modern Witchcraft has been around for almost 70 years, and yet it is still in its infancy compared to other faiths and religious practices. For those of us who have been involved in witchcraft since the early days in the 50's, 60's and even the 70's, we have seen it evolve from a coven based religious magical movement to the edification of conservative imbedded traditions and lineages, mostly with a broad appeal to the tastes and sensibilities of middle class adherents. While witchcraft is still ambiguously associated with uncanny and fringe types of practices and beliefs tinged with a tenebrous taste of darkness, it has now become the tamed, toothless, friendly, happy and harmless pagan religion that is not so different than other religions (like Christianity).
Still, the ancient heritage of witchcraft, or at least cunning-craft and sorcery, is still something that is imbued with “other-ness” and dark mysteries. Modern witches might be able to distance themselves from the shaman-like witch of ancient folklore fame, but in doing so they will only castrate the very tradition that they are seeking to vitalize and conserve. Actually, instead of castrating witchcraft, they will create something new, and many have begun to call this new religion, bereft as it is of the potent dark magic and mysteries, Wicca. Others have called it derisively McWicca, but I believe that it is just the outer religious practices and beliefs without any of the deeper mysteries, magical practices or psycho-spiritual lintel crossings. It is, in fact, a form of religious Wicca without the witchcraft. Everyone has to start somewhere, and Wicca is as good a place to start as any, as long as one quickly progresses beyond it. Those who linger will never know the greater secrets and be forever mired in mediocrity.
What this means is that the pathway of witchcraft has already bifurcated into two basic groups; one that is open to new possibilities and is attracted to the dark history of witchcraft and pagan practices, and another that is seeking to create a modern pagan religion for the masses. I, for one, have accepted the former and eschewed the latter. Since I believe that most modern pagans in the West lack even a basic understanding of what it is to be a pagan, at least from the standpoint of antiquity, then I have no problem being part of the smaller population who is progressing to that place where the future beckons. That future doesn’t include any of the practices, fetishes or tropes of the BTW, and in fact it is beyond the comfortable domain of Gardnerian based modern witchcraft altogether. The real future of witchcraft (if it is to have a future) is to revitalize elements of the past and merge them with practical workings of today. The real future path, in my opinion, is to master archaic forms of sorcery and a kind of chthonic shamanism, and therein, to discover anew the dark mysteries pervading the ghost enshrouded domain of the earth.
As I have stated previously in other articles, the place where the mysteries occur in regards to modern earth-based mystery traditions is within the darkness of the underworld. You won’t find pretty unicorns, lovely, soft and cuddly images of nature’s critters, or pointy eared elves with lovelorn eyes and feminine features. Where there is light, it would seem, that is where we are most comfortable and complacent, of course. Instead, deep in the underworld you will find all of the things that exist under the physical top-soil, rocks, dirt, clay, water, worms, serpents, centipedes, beetles, various roots and tubers, dormant seed pods, and also the rotting and stinking carcasses of the dead; and a host of other horrors (such as forbidding underground caverns), all of which constantly show the mortal nature of everything that lives. There are also ancestral ghosts, buried treasures, precious things lost, the spirits of heros, the souls of the damned, demonic entities, and the Gods and Goddesses of the Underworld. There can also be found within it the powers of dreaded diseases and corporal corruption, and also the power to heal, renew and be reborn. All fertility and death are intermingled in this place, and everything that ever was or ever will be - the veritable well of all potential - has its residence in this place of darkness. Here is the place where transformative initiations really occur, and where the seeker discovers the true meaning of life - the key to all of his or her personal mysteries. The underworld is the domain where magical power has its collective source and the door to the spiritual world resides. One has to gain access to this world before any other world can be entered. This has been an age old truth going back to the earliest stirring of our shamanic past.
What, then, is to be salvaged from the state of modern witchcraft today? Certainly the entire contents of the vaunted Book of Shadows is to be put aside once it is fully mastered. Mastery of the actual existent lore is a task of short duration, taking only a few years to complete. Coven based initiations consisting of the ordeals of the first and second degree as well as the calendric cycle of eight sabbats and 13 esbats are to be left aside, along with the rigid perspective of the dual theology of Goddess and God. Depending on whether the rites are performed in a temple or out in a grove, the opening of the self to sacred space would vary, and in fact the calling of the quarters could be dispensed with or replaced with something that is more sensible. So, if we discard most of the contents of the Book of Shadows, then what is left? The answer is, of course, earth-based magic, techniques of ecstasy, chthonic spiritual alignments and sorcery. The goal is to become a shamanic and goetic based witch who has access to the underworld and all its great wealth, terror and fascination.
Ironically, I have found myself in agreement yet again with Jake Stratton Kent when he has said that modern witchcraft must become immersed in the practice of Goetic magick. Certainly, the goetic demons span the interstices of heaven, hell and earth, and represent the gateway and hidden potential of the godhead that resides wholly in the underworld. Therefore, goetic conjuring is the true sorcery, in my opinion, of archaic post-modern witchcraft, and it must be investigated and re-established as a core discipline in witchcraft. The images and artwork of Austin O. Spare have revealed the vision of this domain and has shown that this pathway is to be found in all cultures in the world, throughout the entire history of the human race. It is, in fact, our true legacy.
Additionally, modern witches need to develop deep and personal relationships with the chthonic root Goddesses and Gods in all of their variations. Hecate comes to mind, also Persephone, Hades, Dionysus, Orpheus, and the Sybil in her various guises and forms. Still, all of the Gods and Goddesses of pagan antiquity have a hidden chthonic face, or dark-side, and this represents the very core and origin of their being. Interestingly, the one thing that all of these entities have in common is the all-pervading underworld - the place of universal origin and final repose. Following the “ghost-roads” of our ancestors into this world, the post-modern witch can revitalize the practices of witchcraft, but at the great cost of social acceptance and a plurality of human support. This path is obscure, lonely, and known only by those rare individuals who have the courage to move far beyond their social comfort zone. These isolated individuals would be too far and too few to populate a coven, but they could come together for the rare Grand Sabbat, held in secret in the dark and obscure places of the earth.
When an initiated priest or priestess of modern witchcraft (Wicca) decides to seek out the greater truths and the mysteries that reside in the underworld, then he or she will begin the task of determining a kind of witchcraft that will have more in common with the ancient past than what is being passed off as Wicca today. So what might that path of post-modern witchcraft be like? What practices would it contain? Allow me to indulge in some speculation, based as it is on my own experiences.
The foundation of Wicca is either a self-initiation into the basic attributes of a modern pagan religion, or the initiation into a kind of pseudo family based coven within an overarching tradition. There are the various celebrations, periodic workings and a focus on nature as the ultimate ground of the spiritualized world. Human acts in accordance with nature become sacralized, such as establishing sacred space, nudity, dancing, assuming the masks of godhead, sacred sexuality, feasting and drinking, making offerings and sacrifices, worshiping the old gods and goddesses and intimately engaging with nature itself. A form of earth-based magic develops in this environment as well as a keen insight into the changing of the seasons, the cycle of flora and fauna, the phases of the moon, and the rising and falling of the stellar ecliptic. If one lives near the oceans or seas, then a sense of the changing tides also becomes part of that opening of one’s self to nature. We grow up in this family and learn all that there is to know, and then at some point, a few of us find ourselves drawn to something greater and also, darker.
Where true initiation actually begins is in the place of the mysteries, so all previous initiations, whether performed by others or by oneself, are abrogated by this new awareness. We begin this path stripped of all our previous knowledge and achievement, just as we are stripped of everything when we die - for such an initiation is also analogous to death. Our path leads us beyond the sunlit fields where nature is tamed and docile, and leads us into the darkening deeper paths that branch into the essential and integral core of the mystery of life and death.
I have previously defined the mysteries as the five different elements that impact a material and life-centered existence. There is, first of all, the diurnal cycle of night and day, sleep and wakefulness; this seamless polarity represents the essential mystery of terrestrial life. From the polarity of light and darkness comes the polarity of life and death, along with the changing of the seasons (if one lives in the further northern/southern latitudes). Additionally, there is the cycle of the Moon and the Sun, representing the further power and projection of the cycles of darkness and light. Then finally, there is the paradoxical nature of Deity itself and its all-consuming mystery, which is the deity that resides in each and every one of us.
These five mystery elements exist within a domain that consists of three worlds - the sky, the earth, and under the earth. Yet in the most archaic cycles of self-transformation (that can be found in shamanism), the first point of entry into the mysteries is the underworld - from there one might ascend to the heavens on the branches of the world tree. Still, all that is relevant to terrestrial life resides in the underworld, and only the sun, moon and the stars, as well as various indifferent celestial deities reside in the heavens. So, we begin our journey away from the sunny fields of our pagan childhood and seek the gateway or lintel threshold into the underworld, where we shall undergo the ancient initiation rite of dissolution and reconstitution. We will be remade by the underworld mysteries, and transformed into a being who walks both the daylight and nighttime pathways.
Once we become initiated into the domain of the underworld, then we achieve the methodology of gaining access to that place whenever required. Even so, the key to the underworld is ecstasy, the lock to that threshold is trance (or pharmacology), and chthonic nature itself is the doorway. Our book of shadows becomes filled with all the new unwritten things that we will be taught by the various tenebrous godheads of the underworld. We will talk to the ancestors and learn from them the dark ways of the world of the spirits of the dead. And, we will resurrect and revitalize those occult practices and methods of sorcery that are in alignment with our new powers of initiation and our deep spiritual perspective. Certainly, engaging with the root Gods and Goddesses will be a preeminent part of our practices, but so will the re-establishment of the goetic conjuring of demons who have now been re-established as important underworld demi-gods.
Of course, the tool-set of modern Wicca will be completely replaced with the tools of a shamanic witch and goetic conjurer. The dual theology that is so prevalent in Wicca will be replaced with a much wider variation and selection of root Gods and Goddesses, along with demi-gods, ancestor spirits, and a host of earth-based (and under-earth based) spirits. These deities and spirits will require a constant and periodic engagement. The post modern witch will easily pass from this world into the underworld, and she will bring back all of the associated treasures (and curses) from that place of darkness. The eightfold calendric sabbats will be replaced with natural and seasonal phase changes, and the lunar cycle will become the sacred lintel light that harkens the opening and closing of the underworld. Initiation will no longer be defined by two ordeals, but rather by a continuous state of inner revelation, and the seamless blending of magic and earth-based mystery within a single hybrid practice. A veritable technology of ecstasy will become the foundation of these works, since it will assist the witch in gaining access to the underworld, and also taking others to that place.
All of the pieces of this post-modern approach to witchcraft have now become revealed to me, piece by piece, over a very long period of time. I have been inspired by the many books that I have read, the posting of other occultists, and by my own inner revelations. Now that this new path is becoming ever clear to me, I realize the importance of the writings of antiquity as well as the orthopraxis of just doing the work. As if I didn’t already have so much to do, and I am now entering into the autumn years of my life. May I succeed in making this transition and fully engaging with this new vision, thereby making it a reality before my allotment of life reaches its end.
Once again the issue of astral initiations has become something of a heated discussion theme in the occult and magical blogosphere. I have already discussed this issue quite thoroughly in an article that I posted back in January of 2011. This is not a new discussion and for some reason it seems to gain new life in a cyclic manner, sort of like the plague. I have made my point that astral only initiations performed at long distance are pretty much ridiculous. My friend Scott had a funny story about using a “sock puppet” with the photograph of someone’s face pasted on it, and then putting that construct through a Golden Dawn initiation. Would the person whose photographed face was stuck to the sock be truly initiated?
There is also the problem of some disreputable person scheduling a long distance initiation (to be affected via the astral) for someone, having them pay money for this operation, and then doing nothing at the appointed time. Then, pretending that it had actually happened. You can find my previous article on this topic here, although it was in response to Robert Zink proclaiming his “astral only” methodology for Golden Dawn initiations.
Another issue that I discussed is self-initiation, to which I stated that it was not as effective as being taught and initiated by an individual or group. Self initiation brings to my mind some important questions. If someone is performing an initiation solely by their own hand then where does any kind of objective measurement occur? How is such a person challenged, and if they are not challenged, then is their initiation even valid? These are important questions. At some point even the most isolated or secluded student has to have some kind of outside and objective peer review, not to mention the importance of having his or her experiences and knowledge fully challenged.
In my opinion, there is nothing more sad, ludicrous or pathetic than discovering someone who has been exclusively self-taught and self-initiated for their entire magical and occult career. If you want a clear example of this kind of phenomenon, you need only google the name “Venus Satanas,” to find a perfect example of someone who has been called by her peers the “Forest Gump” of Theistic Satanists. Yes, it would seem that mixing alluring sexuality with simple-mindedness does help individuals to sell their ideas, however badly formed or ignorant they might be. I think that FOX news and Goetia Girls has shown this to be true. Also, it is quite novel, in my opinion, for a priestess to have her very own dancing pole mounted in the middle of her temple. I hadn’t equated pole dancing with sacred ritual dance, but then again, what do I know?
Still, an initiation is not the mechanism by which someone is conferred a specific level of spiritual and magical development. I have made this statement often enough that it should be considered one of the trade marks of my magical tradition. Often, initiations are just in-house accolades and peer group lintel rites that allow someone to have access to the specific ritual lore of that degree. Yet initiations by themselves do little to actually help someone to spiritually evolve or ascend. In order to truly grow and expand, one must do the work on a regular basis, and it is the work alone that causes transformation and spiritual ascension. The work might be aided by intercession of a teacher or mentor, but only if the initiate strives through consistent effort will anything dramatic actually occur. In this manner, initiates are responsible for their own magickal progress and the enrichment of their own spiritual process.
In the Order of the Gnostic Star, only the first two initiations are rites performed by more than just the candidate and the initiator. Yet even these two rites have an alternate form that is reduced down to just the initiator and the candidate undergoing the initiation. All grades of the Order are associated with extensive ordeals or batteries of workings that must be completed and validated before the initiation rite is to be performed. In a sense, the transformative initiation is often achieved by the work and then just objectively validated by the initiation rite. In the ESSG, there is an important emphasis placed on the student and mentor relationship, and this relationship represents the entire cycle of degrees, from first through ninth. Although the identity of the mentor might change during the life cycle of the student, the relationship is still integral to the structure of the Order.
So, one could say that the Order of the Gnostic Star has both a form of self-initiation as the initiatory ordeals, and a mentor to candidate initiation at each degree threshold. What this does is establish a kind of ladder that runs up the Tree of Life, where each degree has its set of ordeals and workings to be performed (however long it takes), and at the completion and realization of each set, there is an initiation rite and mystery that acts as the threshold to the next level of expertise and magical knowledge.
In order to really and fully document and define the nature of the lower four degrees of the Order of the Gnostic Star, I have decided to pull some associated text from some Order documents that have never been published. I felt that if my readers understand the nature of the first four Elemental Degrees, a greater understanding would be established for realizing the degrees associated with adepthood.
One very important point is that a transformative initiation should not be a single event, never to be repeated. While there are some pagan and witchcraft traditions that espouse only one initiation, an occurrence of internal, cyclic transformations, expressed or realized through some kind of exterior ritual should be a natural part of anyone’s spiritual and magickal process. The exterior rite should not, in most cases, be one that is performed alone, but shared with others, who act as witnesses and perhaps even facilitators. They assist the candidate in objectifying the internal transformation.
This continuous and periodic transformation and it’s outer expression as an initiation rite characterizes an incremental expansion of consciousness and the evolution of spiritual awareness. For the progressive pagan, witch or occultist, spiritual evolution in this life is a very important virtue, denoting that one is on the “path” to ultimately achieving union with the Godhead. Not every pagan, witch or magickal practitioner has this as their goal, but for the progressive practitioner, growth and personal development is a critical part of one’s spiritual and magickal practice. It is also a natural by-product produced through the search for meaning, greater insight, and the exalted conscious realization of Spirit within the material world.
This is why many magickal lodges and other occult organizations have multiple degrees or grades, but the transformative process doesn’t adhere to fixed degree structures or orchestrated, time-in-grade measurements. Transformative initiations are, if anything, guided by the internal mechanism and the mysteries of the individual initiate, based as they are on his or her soul revelations. Some transformations are greater and far more profound than others, and they may occur at greater or lesser frequencies during the lifetime of the initiate. They can also happen during different time frames, some taking much longer to complete than others. What we can say about transformative initiations is that they are cyclic oscillations of an initiate’s internal spiritual process. That cycle can be compared to the mythic Cycle of the Hero or the twenty-two Trumps of the Tarot. An examination of the symbolic images of the Tarot Trumps, or the occurrence of one in a strategic Tarot reading, can indicate to the initiate their specific point in the ongoing and ever continuous initiation process.
As I have already indicated, cyclic transformations occur at various intervals, and have greater or lesser impact on the one experiencing them. The greater cycles can be symbolically compared to the ten Sephiroth on the Tree of Life (that is, if the Qabalah is an important tool), but other meta-patterns or symbolic structures can be used. Because, for me, the Tree of Life is a very useful tool, I also find it useful to determine the larger transformative patterns.
In the Order of the Gnostic Star, the Qabalah is used to build the required ordeals that an initiate must perform in order to attain to a specific degree, since by performing them, he or she triggers the associated transformation. Using the Tree of Life can also help us to define the differences between an initiate, an adept, and a high adept; a structure that is represented by the three triadic groupings of the nine Sephiroth. It’s assumed that Malkuth, the lowest of the ten Sephiroth, would represent the state of the non-initiate or the one who stands at the threshold of the process of spiritual transformation, but it is also the very first initiation ordeal that one undergoes.
What I am presenting here is something that is very simplified. One would have to incorporate the twenty-two paths as well as the ten sephiroth to produce a comprehensive examination. I will just use the sephiroth to aid this discussion, leaving the more complex analysis for one of my future books.
Initiates who are following a magickal path that uses the Tree of Life as a guide would begin their process at the point of the element of Earth. This is the place where the initiate crosses the first threshold, revealing the truth that the material world is imbued and suffused with Spirit. This often causes the initiate to see the world as a sacralized phenomenon of nature, where there is no division between matter and spirit because all is one and unified. One can take this experience as indicative of the veritable truth of pagan spiritual perspectives (such as Neoplatonism), but it can also cause one to realize that the product of creation is just as sacred and holy as that which created it (such as the writings of Emerson would indicate).
Once the initiate has passed this threshold of Earth as the manifestation of Spirit, then he or she begins a process of transformation that has many incremental steps, both great and small. Yet the first progression can be compared to a series of ordeals that emulate the internal qualities of the four Elements. These transformations are therefore referred to as the initiation of the Four Elements, and represent a larger and more complex cycle for the initiate who is seeking to master Spirit. Of course, the quest for mastering Spirit is the long sought after achievement that bestows adepthood upon the seeker.
Where Earth is the revelation of the material world imbued and made sacred with Spirit, the sequence of the next three elements represent a similar progression. Let me briefly note them here for you to examine and ponder. Keep in mind that an actual transformative initiation process might not undergo the next three elements in the order that I am presenting here. Some systems use the progression of Earth, Air, Water and Fire, others might use Earth, Water, Air and Fire, and still others might use Earth, Fire, Water and Air. The order is not important, what is important is that the initiate goes through all four Elements in some manner. In fact, it is usually the case that an initiate will track through all four of them multiple times until they are completely mastered.
Water (Yesod): This transformative degree is characterized by the imagination, the power of dreams, symbols and psychic occurrences. This is where magick seems to become a fully realized phenomenon, where spirits and powers are encountered and realized. Initiates who walk this path also acquire a spiritual sense of themselves, and they discover that they have helpers, guides and spiritual allies who seek to aid them in their spiritual and magickal quest. As you can imagine, divination is important in this sphere, as is the foundation of archetypal symbols that lie at the core of the spiritual domain.
Air (Hod): The next transformative degree is characterized by the occult intellect and the individual will, the ability to organize diverse spiritual and magickal phenomena using various occult systems, such as the Tarot, Qabbalah, Astrology, Alchemy, Psychology and occult metaphysics, and the desire to use them to will things into manifestation. Science is also used to understand the subtle occult processes that the initiate has personally experienced, and all disciplines and areas of knowledge are culled to assist the initiate in being able to intellectually apprehend the fullness of the spiritual and magickal world and then, to subjugate it.
Fire (Netzach): The final transformative degree of the four elements is characterized by spiritual love, selfless devotion, spiritual service, and the practices of spiritual alignment. This degree is where the initiate begins the transition of becoming a priest or priestess of Spirit, and it is also where the other three elements begin to blend into a seamless discipline of spiritual and magickal practices and insightful experiences. In some traditions this would be the first element degree experienced beyond Earth, particularly if spiritual love was the pre-eminent foundation that one had to establish before doing anything else (this would be true of the Abramelin ordeal as well as certain monastic Christian traditions and Sufiism).
This degree would also represent the beginning of the manifestation of the higher self, which becomes more materially apparent to the initiate through spiritual love. Initiates walking this path dedicate their lives to building a core of spiritual practices that erect powerful bridges between themselves and their chosen personal Godhead.
The first four degrees have associated magical lore and techniques that must be mastered (and proven to one’s peer group) before one is able to advance to the next degree. The first four degrees have the following magical ritual workings that are a part of the lore of the Order:
1. First Degree - Elemental Magic (using the Enochian Godname Pair and Calls)
2. Second Degree - Talismanic Elemental Magic (using the Enochian Seniors/Kings)
As you can see, the stipulated ordeals more or less fit the mysteries of the Four Elemental degrees. The progression is to first master Elemental magick, then Planetary magick (in combination for the Talismantic Elementals), then Magical Evocation, and finally Lesser Archeomancy (archeomancy of the 40 Qabalistic domains) and the assumption of the practices of the magician-priest as sacral technician.
I have previously written some articles about the Qabalistic degree cycles as they pertain to the Order of the Gnostic Star, and you can find them here, here and here. Combining what I have written in this article with these other three articles should completely fill out how transformative initiations via degree-based ordeals are established in the Order. For now, I believe that I have exhausted all of arguments that I can make in regards to astral-only initiations and self-initiation. I am sure that you, my readers, get my point and know what I think of these matters.
Just recently a reader posted a comment to an article that I wrote some time ago about the Qliphoth, Kenneth Grant and other similar topics. You can find that article and its associated comments here. This reader, who goes under the title of “Magic In Music,” seems to have a real aversion to things having to do with Goetic spirits, Kenneth Grant, the Qliphoth, and anything involving the left hand path. He claims to be a Thelemite, but most Thelemites I know are actually quite sympathetic to the left hand path, if not in fact practitioners of this tradition.
Here’s what Magic In Music had to say about my article.
“It's fine to use Grant as a reference for all this stuff until you realise [sic] and understand that he was mad as a hatter. Why was he mad as a hatter? because he had fallen in the abyss and become prey to ‘CHORONZON’.
Why anyone wants to mess with this filth is beyond me. The qliphoth need to be addressed, certainly, but not raised up as ideals and gods. They are the false parts of self that a Thelemite works to liberate themselves from, not to worship.
Insanity and death follow the adept who toys with the qliphoth unprepared. Be warned!”
Now I can understand this perspective, since it was one that I also believed in a while back. I had some concerns with the publication of a useable version of the Grimoirium Verum and also found it troublesome because it required a blood link with a demonic ambassador. However, over time I found that some of my own practices were very much steeped in the left hand path and that I also, as witch, had connections with Deities that would be considered at the very least chthonic, and at worst, diabolical. I could hardly criticize what one group of Goetic magicians were doing when I was heavily involved with the fallen angels of the Nephilim. I had behaved as an unwitting hypocrite, even though my intentions were good. It took a close personal friend, who also happened to be an initiate of Palo Mayombe, to really set me straight.
Spirits are, after all, just spirits, and each is unique. Some spirits are volatile (hot) while others are quite stable and consistent (cool), and this variation can be found whether the spirit in question is a supposed angel or demon. Also, in the world of the Spirit, which is an extension of the domain of the One, all spirits are beyond the polarity of good and evil since they must, by definition, be ultimately aligned to the One. This is an important rule to consider whenever thinking about supposed evil demons and good angels. That perspective might be appropriate to a Christian mythic belief system, but it fails completely when one actually seeks to deal with spirits in an objective manner. What this does is put to the question the whole foundation of the tradition of grimoire magic. If you aren’t a Christian who believes in the spiritual polarity of good and evil, then the descriptions and qualities associated with lists of demons found in grimoires are completely useless.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things that confronts any occultist/magician is learning to de-Christianize the myths and beliefs that accompany the path of darkness and the underworld, and realize that it is just Christian based propaganda. It’s OK to believe in a polarized world of good and evil if you happen to be a Christian, but if you are a Pagan, Witch, or even a Thelemite, then such mythic world views present quite a problem to achieving anything like a balanced and objective view of the spiritual world. While this holds true for Goetic demons, it also holds true for the supposed Qliphoth. Once again it depends on your religious perspective. If you are a fundamentalist Christian who sees the world as battle ground between good and evil supernatural forces, then demons and the Qliphoth would be operationally defined as a source of evil in the world. This, of course, would also be true if the student were an orthodox Jew or a pious follower of Islam. Even so, it boggles my mind why any pious and orthodox adherent of a monotheistic faith would ever traffic with forces and sources of evil.
How something is evaluated depends on the perspective of the occultist or magician. Based on that assumption, here’s what I actually said in my blog about the Qliphoth. Notice that it is speculative, but also based on some practical experience.
“The Qliphoth could simply be the outer shell or husk of the corresponding Sephiroth, and in actuality, it would function more like a socket or the bottom foundation of a specific Sephirah. In other words, the Qliphoth are the backside or unconscious dimensions of the Sephirotic Tree of Life. I believe that Kenneth Grant was the first to propose this interpretation in print, even though Michael Bertiaux has insisted that he first proposed it as a part of the deep esoteric qabbalistic descriptions in his traditional lore (Monastery of the Seven Rays).”
So, it would seem that according to my perspective, the Qliphoth and the Sephiroth are indelibly fused together, with the Qliphoth functioning as the chthonic or backside of the Sephiroth. They can’t really be separated, but the Qliphoth can be experienced if the magician uses either the portal of Daath or the portal of Malkuth. These portals open the magician up to what could be called the psychic and spiritual underworld, a place where the mysteries are realized, all potentials are to be found and transformative trials to be undergone. It is the place where the dead reside as well as important ancestors (both genetic and spiritual) as well as the host of earth-based spirits, hidden treasures, daimons and many other amazing and mythological creatures. Witches and pagans should be comfortable with this domain since their magic circles open up into it, and all initiations supposedly take place within it. To regard this domain as a place of filth, evil, madness and danger should be seen as quite strange for any magician not affiliated with the most polarized spiritual viewpoint.
If Choronzon is a great devil, then like all devils, he (or she) resides in the underworld, dispensing trials of initiation as well as teaching us the greater lessons of life through pain and pleasure, just like all so-called infernal spirits. Also, if any magician endeavors to realize the highest levels of spiritual and magical achievement (which is the ascension to the realization of the God/dess Within), then he or she must pass through the Greater Abyss and its associated underworld. This is not a process that is instantaneous, instead it takes many years and forces the candidate to undergo the greater cyclic trials of light and darkness many times over. Some may succumb to delusion or despair, while others are empowered and attain full self-mastery. Still, the greater lesson is the integration of light and darkness into a wholeness, the One within each of us. To achieve self-mastery, we don’t either cut away parts of ourselves nor do we have to overcome those parts of us that are deemed bad. Instead, we embrace all aspects of ourselves to become whole and complete, and that is accomplished by the greater power of spiritual love, especially the love of and for our internal deities.
Now that we have discussed these not so simple occult based facts, can we really consider Kenneth Grant to be “mad as a hatter?” Is it true that anyone who traffics with Goetic demons, the underworld of the Greater Abyss or the Qliphoth will become insane or dead? A friend of mine once said that in order for occult or magical practices to make one mad, one would have to be either mad already or at least borderline crazy. Magic can produce illusions and delusions, but it takes a real physical change in one’s brain chemistry to suddenly go insane. It’s an easy thing to say, “Don’t mess around with evil spirits or you will go crazy,” but it hardly seems more than just a bit of Christian propaganda.
Was Kenneth Grant certifiably insane? I really and truly doubt it, and in fact I would consider this judgement to be completely erroneous. Perhaps even laughably silly. Whether you like Grant’s writings or hate them, he knew what he was doing and he wrote books to bring back a balance between the left hand and right hand occult paths. (For that fact alone we can forgive him of his excesses and exaggerations.) Both the left hand and the right hand paths are legitimate paths for self-realization, personal empowerment and ultimate union with the One. All magic is ultimately a sacred art form, regardless of whether the magician is working with powers and energy forms, simple formulas, angels, earth-based spirits, pagan deities, monotheistic godhead attributions, or Goetic demons. Even a negative magical intent doesn’t detract from the fact that all magic is sacred, regardless of its use. It is also true to say that all magic is inherently neutral, and that it is the actual intention and directive of the magician that lends it an ethical consideration.
Of course, don’t take my word for this open minded perspective. You can find the same opinion in the writings of Eric Koetting, an actual representative of the left hand path. Here is a short article that he wrote to fight back against what he considers the overarching and absolutist opinions of the Christian society that we live in. You can find it here.
Finally, in looking over Magic In Music’s blog it would seem that he has an issue with anything tainted by the left hand path. He tends to focus on modern music (such as the group Tool, who I consider to be quite an excellent occult rock band) and also some elements in culture. Yet he often talks about these topics with an obvious bias. I feel that this is kind of sad because he is otherwise very shrewd and well informed, but it unfortunately represents the common exoteric urban occult perspective that is overly simplistic and quite naive. My hope is that Magic In Music will be able to open his mind over time and see that the left hand occult path is legitimate and even progressive, just like the right hand path. We who either fully follow the left hand path or who are immersed into it because of our traditions are neither mad, endangered or dangerous to others. No one ever stays the same and opinions do change over time, and I am a good representation of how one can change over time. Maybe Magic In Music will see the error of his ways and modify them.
July has now arrived, and we have entered what is known up here as full summer. I am often amazed at how fast the earth recovers from its wintry sleep and manifests into a full blown green soaked fertile landscape. It was a mere ten days that our world went from the browns and greys of post winter into the verdant landscape that now confronts my eyes. The nearly instantaneous transformation is almost like magic. Nature has now become mild and verdant, and it is a time to rejoice and engage in summer type activities. How unfortunate that the very beginning of this time I was still afflicted by the after-effects of my serious bronchitis infection. I saw nature transform, but I was not able to engage in much outdoor activity. The garden was neglected and so was every other feature of our outdoor world attached to the land that I supposedly own and maintain.
After several weeks I can now say that my cough is nearly gone. I occasionally cough from time to time, but I am not afflicted by the breathlessness that impacted my ability to even have a lengthy conversation for the past month. I hope to make for lost time the days and weeks ahead, since the warm summer days are in short supply up here in the great Midwestern tundra.
Needless to say, despite my chronic cough, I was able to perform well enough to participate in a digitally captured interview with Eric Koetting. I have found him to be quite brilliant and creative within his own magical path and established tradition, which I might add, is quite different from my own, but with many points in common. Both Eric and myself are more or less self-made men in regards to our occult knowledge and evocation practices. I will speak more about this in a future article, since I am planning to review two of his books.
If you are interesting in viewing this interview, you will have to sign up for Koetting’s “Interviews with a Magus,” and it does cost $19.97 monthly, with the first month free. However, the collection of interviews that Mr. Koetting has assembled is quite impressive and I believe that the money being charged for this service is well worth it. I have listened to this interview and I have found it to be quite interesting and engaging, representing a distillation of what I have learned and experienced over the last 40 years. Eric is also quite erudite and insightful himself, and his additions and comments in the interview are also very revealing and interesting. So, if you are interested in this interview (and the others that are contained therein), you can find the portal for signing up here.
To quote Mr. Koetting from his advertising for the “Interviews with a Magus:”
“To help aspiring magicians get access to these advanced rituals, unprecedented success stories, and cutting edge theories, I decided to start up my ‘Interviews With A Magus’ interview series. It's my way to showcase and debut all these innovative and controversial breakthoughs, many of which directly challenge the status quo of the occult.”
Secret Chiefs and Occult Spies
There has been quite a blow up recently in the blogosphere between David Griffin and his organization, and that of his GD opponents, with Nick Farrell as the apparent spokesperson for that faction. Nick Farrell threw down the gauntlet by declaring that if the “Secret Chiefs” truly exist, that they present themselves to him personally and prove, once and for all, that they are the defacto third order of the Golden Dawn. I don’t know whether to laugh at the absurdity of Nick’s demands or to feel sorry for his utter lack of subtlety and tact. Remarkable men and women are rare and often obscure, but they don’t come when we demand their presence. If someone demanded my presence in an unwarranted manner, I can tell you quite concisely how I would respond. I’d tell them to "piss off," that is, if I even bothered to respond at all.
Conversely, David Griffin has shown (here) that Nick Farrell has been engaged in a secret mission to rewrite Golden Dawn history in the Wikkipedia article for the history of that order, based, of course, on his recent self-published pulp books about Mathers. I have reviewed his poorly written and researched tomes in this blog, but it doesn’t really surprise me that he is attempting to rewrite the publicly online history concerning the order. What does surprise me is his rather highhanded failed attempts to coerce the editors of Wikkipedia into following his propaganda. They have rescinded his edits, but he has continued to reapply them, sort of like the endless argument between indifferent children. (Ain’t so, ‘tis too.) He is also using a laughably silly logon called “Magus007" to pursue this revisionist activity, much to the chagrin of the editors who know that his sources are highly suspect.
So, Nick Farrell wants to slyly pretend that he is an occult version of the fictitious spy, 007, a.k.a., James Bond. He also wants the secret chiefs to reveal themselves to him according to his deadline and prove that their bonafide as the head of the GD and A+O is valid and authentic. I wonder what kind of fantasy world Mr. Farrell lives in? He seems more egotistical and fantasy based than what he has accused Mathers of being in his books. Maybe Nick Farrell is the real “King Over the Water” and that we can dismiss him and his silly capers as being nothing more than the hijinks of a fatuous and immature clown. Maybe someday he will either write something uniquely interesting in a book or reveal a good practical technique on his blog - I would welcome such activity. However, I leave his current ranting and bloviating to the judgment of his ultimate Golden Dawn peers and future posterity, since I believe that initiates in the decades ahead will either judge him to be the incompetent hatchet man for an odious cabal or they’ll not remember him at all.
One of the points that I have made in previous articles in this blog is that there have been, are and always will be remarkable men and women in the western occult tradition. Mostly these individuals are singular, insular and rare; and those who gain a certain notoriety are shown to be both remarkable and also, I might add, flawed. All human beings are flawed and imperfect, but then again to expect perfection from human nature is not only erroneous but it seems to defy the whole purpose of nature. Secret chiefs are not supermen, immortals, Arhats or avatars - they are human beings subject to the laws of nature like everyone else. They might have insights that allow them a greater degree of vitality, longevity or spiritual wisdom than the average person, or they might even be bereft of all benefits except their own unique virtues and abilities.
Nature is not perfect, ergo, human beings are not perfect. However, if a small group of unknown remarkable men came together to form a group, and their occult background was Masonic and Rosicrucian, and they kept that group going for a couple of centuries, adding new members and losing others to the scourge of time, would that not be a good representation of the vaunted third order? It would just be a group of remarkable men who had achieved self-mastery in their lifetime, and that would also mean that they, as individuals and a group, weren’t perfect. (This also means that they wouldn’t be immortal nor have Godlike powers.) What this signifies is that you can be a master and also be vulnerable to the same vices and frailties as all human beings.
Additionally, something that gets lost in these never ending arguments about secret chiefs is that it’s important to separate an individual’s spiritual and magical process from the actual social phenomenon of meeting a remarkable man or woman. Often, our spiritual and magical process psychically informs us when we are about to meet someone very important or discover a crucial piece of our individual puzzle. We can talk about dreams, astral presences, intuitions or profound omens; but these are always events experienced when immersed in our process.
When our spiritual and magical process merges with an actual physical meeting with someone quite remarkable, then the encounter is colored by a profound sense of a life-altering significance. We could easily conflate the omens and astral encounters with the real meeting because all of these events are experienced through our own personal spiritual and magical process. That is how I believe Mathers saw and experienced his encounters with the secret chiefs, and we today have to realize that all of this was perceived and experienced by him through the process of his long spiritual and magical journey. We can either accept it or deny it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was one of the most authentic things (as well as mysterious) that Mathers underwent in his occult career.
The irony is that in order to actively use the lore of the Golden Dawn and profess to be a magician operating under that tradition, one would expect that individual to also accept and believe that Mathers had some kind of profound occult contact which allowed him to develop this unique system of magick. Even if you dismiss the entire history of the GD order (and its leaders) and just practice the rituals (i.e., do the work), you are in effect validating those remarkable men and women who developed this lore, particularly Mathers. As far as I can see, there’s really no way around this conundrum if you consider yourself to be a magician of the Golden Dawn tradition. This is why I find it so strange that Mr. Farrell has spent so much of his time and resources trying to prove that Mathers was some kind of failed lunatic. I would equate this effort with someone attempting to pull up the rug that they are simultaneously standing upon; an act of sheer stupidity and self-inflicted injury.
Anyway, I am certain that this sad and idiotic travesty will continue to embroil the GD community for many years to come. It reminds me of something that I learned long ago when I was an adolescent boy. When you are growing up, there’s always some kid who has the best and most expensive toys. He’s that fair-haired kid that the teachers love and the other kids despise. You can either hate him for his good fortune or you can coddle up to him to see if you can get a chance to play with those exceptional toys. A third path is to just admire him for his good fortune and to note that despite being blessed with favor and fortune, he is also generous and kind to everyone, at least at first. Continued hostility can also shape and change a person, making them guarded and even a bit suspicious.
I think that David Griffin is that fair-haired boy of good fortune, and we can either love him or despise him for what he has achieved. I chose to reserve judgment until I had a chance to meet him, and after meeting him, I realized that he was a good egg. If only others would be so open minded and not condemn someone that they don’t even know. However, in the age of the internet, it’s just too easy to use the protected insulation of the remote blog article or email to castigate someone who you imagine that you hate, and all without much consequence. Additionally, it is hard to properly impart humor, sarcasm or lampooning into one’s writing and not have it taken wrongly by some readers.
This is why I react dispassionately to things that I read on the internet. I might criticize what someone has written or be aghast at how they are behaving, but I try not to engage in ad hominem attacks. It’s too easy to respond emotionally to what someone has written and much harder to respond dispassionately. This is why I feel that the impersonal quality of the internet is a poor place to judge what someone is really like. I might not agree with what someone has written, but I have to use caution in order to not personally criticize them for their seemingly bad behavior. What this means is that I could easily have a beer or a glass of wine with Nick Farrell in a public social setting without feeling the compunction of tossing my drink into his face. I might ask him why he acts like an arrogant boor on the internet, but I will at least give him the benefit of the doubt, at first. However, once I meet someone in the flesh, then I can adequately judge as to whether I personally like them or not. And, I might add, I have the right to my own opinions, just like everyone else.
Anyway, there seems to be a real cold war between the two factions of the Golden Dawn, and it is apparent that the side opposed to David Griffin is actively and stealthily attempting to steal away initiates and whole groups, not to mention convince everyone that they are the only legitimate branch of the GD. I find that kind of behavior despicable and it doesn’t make me feel inclined to either listen to their diatribes or engage in a dialog with them. In fact, they don’t even seem to be behaving like adepts at all. If only that faction would just leave the HOGD and the A+O organizations alone and allow them to prosper or fail by their own merits. I guess that would be asking for too much, which I find quite sad and tragic.
I think that only time will be show which faction represents the true and authentic version of the Golden Dawn. Will it be the one that emphasizes an exoteric and reconstructed version, or the one that is an active esoteric tradition with a legitimate connection to a third order and who is revealing ever new and startling occult practices and lore? Someday, that answer will be known, but I have my suspicions as to which one it will be.