Sunday, June 12, 2016

How Have I Offended Thee, Let Me Count the Ways


When I was a young man there wasn’t the plethora of books on magic and the occult and there wasn’t the internet to search for topics or contact other like-minded individuals like there is today. There were libraries that had little or no books or information about the topics that I wanted to know about. Some of the more popular occult books in the library were stolen or lost and seldom replaced. The few occult bookstores that existed were stocked with either prohibitively expensive books or cheap or almost useless paperbacks. As a youth with limited resources, I was left for the most part to the ministrations of my limitless imagination, and in the early years it functioned in an almost unbounded manner.

What I had to do in order to practice the art of magic was cobble together the various bits and pieces that I found in the sparse book sources available to me and fill in the gaps with a great deal of imagination. In those beginning years my magical system was more imagination than actual magical facts, and its effectiveness suffered accordingly. Over time, as I acquired more information, most notably from the Golden Dawn and Crowley’s writings, I was able to assemble together a very workable system of magic that was quite effective and worked for me. It was very individualistic and personalized, but it did allow me to begin to explore the magical world as I understood it.

I had very few teachers at that time, and except for a four-year stint in the coven from hell, I didn’t belong to any traditional groups or orders. I was, for the most part, self-taught and self-directed. By the mid 1980's I had developed a system of magic that was capable of achieving a full invocation or evocation of a demigod or spirit, although the mechanisms were cumbersome and laborious. I had managed to bring together the energy and spirit models of magic, adding some elements of the psychological and informational models as well, to produce a magical system that I considered unique at the time.

A few years later I was asked by some friends to write up the operant rituals for a magical order based off of the personal magical system that I had already developed. This new magical system was like the old one except all of the personalized and idiosyncratic elements were replaced with the elements and themes that the group as a whole had agreed to. I continued to work on this new depersonalized system of magic and pushed it to a number of directions that I though prudent, although I did receive the affirmation and buy-in from the members of my group. When the magical temple group dissolved I continued to develop this system of magic and it’s what I use today.

Because I had started my magical avocation in a time of limited resources, I had gotten into the habit a long time ago of appropriating lore and techniques from other magical traditions to build up my own magical system. Of course, if someone asked me where I got this or that particular technique or lore I would tell them instead of pretending that I had invented it myself. There were plenty of elements of this magical system that I had invented, but I never tried to take credit for something that I didn’t invent myself. I was happy to appropriate techniques and lore from other traditions, but I didn’t feel the need to lie about it. I just naively assumed that what I was doing was natural for anyone who practiced magic. I believed that we were all, more or less, thieving magpies when it came to the cool stuff that we encountered in our studies. 

My course work and study path was also motivated by what I might be able to appropriate and make usable in my own system of magic. What I didn’t know at the time is that there were quite a number of people who were devoted to their external traditions of occultism and magic, and who would take a very dim view of anyone who appropriated their lore to pad their own personal system of magic. I was truly innocent and I felt that most of this lore was antique, part of the common domain (if it was published or publicly posted), and available for me to use or not as I wished. Since I was generous with my knowledge, to a point, I felt that everyone else would be as well. I gave copies of my ritual lore to friends and associates and never thought that this material was my exclusive property nor part of some traditional edifice that I had to protect.

Extracting lore and magical techniques and ritual structures from the Golden Dawn didn’t earn me any criticism or demerits from the members of that tradition because back in the 1970's there wasn’t really any official Golden Dawn order that was functioning. Regardie had published the rituals and initiations of the Golden Dawn decades ago and I happily pillaged that lore to figure out how magic really worked and how I could develop and produce my own rituals. Later on, what I developed was far enough removed from the Golden Dawn that there were only some remote similarities to that lore and my own. I certainly deviated from that tradition when I adopted the septagram as my emblem for planetary magic. I was also developing a system of magic that had as its foundation the magical practices and methodologies of witchcraft, so I was following a path that was contrary to the one of ceremonial magick and unique to my own situation.

During my early years I had been exposed to the Protestant Christian church in the Midwest, and I recall that it was a church devoid of magic and supernatural emanations. The liturgy was dull, monotonous, and had little or no artistry. It had wonderful music, but it was only the gigantic pipe organ and the trained choir that elicited any kind of artistic appreciation from me. The congregation sang hymns together (some loudly out of tune) and the pastor monotonously preached his meaningless and banal sermon. The whole religious travesty lasted around an hour or two, grinding through a predictable schedule of events, depending on if there was a special religious holiday (and there were few of those) or if it was just another boring Sunday like all the others. Because I was a kid with a very over-active imagination, my church experience was as bland, dismal and forgettable as any other enforced activity. It is no wonder that I abandoned the church as soon as I was old enough to do so. I sought out other forms of religious experience later on when I realized that I had a powerful sensory ability to “feel” and “sense” spiritual occurrences, unlike many of my friends and acquaintances. I was drawn to the gothic media displays of supernatural fantasy at a young age, and when I entered my mid-teens I discovered Witchcraft, much to my joy.

Since I was raised a Protestant, I had always been curious about the Catholics who went to other churches that appeared more exotic and seemingly magical than what I had experienced. They even had their own schools to teach their children all about their religion and other obscure topics. I always sort of envied my Catholic friends, and for the same reason I had envied my Jewish friends, even considering at one point to convert to Judaism. However, once I got into Witchcraft, I had spurned all things Christian and particularly the Christian youth movement that I called “Jesus Freaks” or “Hippies for Jesus,” which had left me cold. I verbally sparred with them and acted the antagonist because I found that their aggressive attempts to convert me were both insulting and demeaning. I had left Christianity behind me, or so I thought. Still, it was hard to be deaf to Christianity when you lived in a society that was so Christian in its bias and perspective.

Later on, when I was in the coven from hell, my teacher and mentor, Christopher Synn (Bill Schnoebelen), pursued a religious and magical path that coopted Catholic liturgy for its magical practices. When I was exposed to Michael Bertiaux at the same time, he too used Catholic and Orthodox liturgy as part of his magical workings. Christopher took the Tridentine Mass and rewrote it for his own purposes and the resultant ritual working was very impressive, so I followed his example. He also bestowed on me an Old Catholic ordination, and later on, one of his woman students who had received a consecration from him, conferred upon me the consecration of a bishop. Christopher had been consecrated by Michael Bertiaux, so I now had that lineage as my own. I developed my own set of Mass rites and used them to establish a sacramental system of magic. I used this magic to charge and empower my temple for the greater ordeals that I sought to perform within that sacralized space.

Over time I had mixed selected and rewritten Catholic liturgy into my magical system and had made it friendly to my Wiccan, Pagan and Gnostic sensibilities. I considered myself to be a gnostic pagan bishop with a heavy slant towards the magical use of sacraments to empower my tools and working space, and also to declare my higher spiritual perspectives and insights. I was using the Mass rite and the benediction rite for specific magical purposes, and my overall magical perspective was quite medieval in its use of sacraments, reliquaries and sacramental tools. I even blessed my parchment sigils used for invocation and evocation with the sacramental wine produced in the Mass rite, and I offered to my personal deities and tutelary spirits the consecrated host and wine.

My first experience at outrage against what I was naively doing was when I met one of the foremost gnostic bishops operating in the country at that time. I won’t reveal his name, but he was also an author and was involved with the Theosophical Society. We met and seemed to get along quite well, but when we were alone in my car while I was driving him to our order’s temple, he asked me if I followed the horrific practices of Michael Bertiaux, using semen and blood to charge and bless talismans. I assured him that I didn’t engage in that kind of practice, and he seemed quite relieved and happy. Then I told him that I had written my own Mass and benediction rites and used the sacramental host and wine to do the things that Bertiaux had been doing. He turned white as a sheet and gave me a look of complete horror. We didn’t talk about it for the rest of that evening and he seemed to have gotten over what I had shared with him. Later on, long after he had left to go back to his home, he wrote a missive against anyone who either wrote their own unsanctioned Mass rites or who used the sacraments for anything other than what they were intended, to communicate the congregation. I had outraged him with my heterodoxic  practices and my allegiance to (what he had called) magical superstition. He was only the first of many people that I had outraged with my magical system, but he would not be the last.

I have always approached my magical study and work with an idea of expanding what my magical system was capable of achieving. I was following a system and a regimen that was quite plain to me, and also to those few who had been part of the temple work done years ago. I have always approached a problem with the knack of trying to resolve it with what I already had, and to use my well developed techniques and lore to build a working or a series of rituals that would accomplish what I needed them to do.

In this way I had decided to apply this expertise that I had developed for many years to achieving the Knowledge and Conservation of my Holy Guardian Angel, or what I had conveniently perceived as my Atman or Higher Self. Since the Bornless or Headless Rite had been appropriated to work this kind of ordeal, and the Abramelin ordeal had been promoted as a more arduous alternative, I decided to combine them together. However, what I was going to produce was not only a hybrid, but it would likely produce a different effect and impact than the original workings. I understood this, yet I believed that I could achieve the same outcome, which was the vaunted K and C. I didn’t want to approach this ordeal in a passive manner and spend 3 months unemployed to successfully completed the Abramelin working. So, I chose instead to use the cycles of the moon, since the Abramelin working called for at most (in the German edition) 1.5 solar cycles, or 18 months. I would instead formulate my working using lunar cycles, and 1.5 lunar cycles is 90 days. I also would seek to invoke the four Cherubim and Seraphim consecutively as part of the ordeal and crown it with an elaborate Bornless Rite. It worked quite amazingly well and it did powerfully transform me. It gave me the ability to establish a connection with my HGA, Atman or Higher Self, and as far as I am concerned, that was the objective.

However, my joy was short-lived, because there were a cadre of individuals who had performed the Abramelin ordeal exactly as it was written in the grimoire, and who spent enormous amounts of time and resources to accomplish it. The fact that I was saying that I did it in 90 days without having to retire from the world for a few months was quite galling to them. I had written up all my experiences and techniques into a series of blog articles and I had maintained that what I did was indeed different, but I knew that it had at least achieved for me the same overall goal. Their opinion was that I couldn’t have accomplished anything other than self-delusion, and I was an obvious fraud for suggesting that anyone could come up with a replacement methodology on their own. I had violated a tried and true tradition, and I was something of a upstart or worse. That was the second group that had I offended, and I am sure that even today when one of these stalwarts discovers my blog articles on this subject that they will continue to be offended. (I do get emails from time to time to let me know how wrong or evil I am for crafting this alternative proposal.)

The next outrage was when I put together my own version of the Portae Lucis working, as formulated and written by Jean Dubuis. I had found some of his translated material on the internet and I was greatly intrigued by what he had written. I also bought one of his translated books and I steeped myself for months in his writings. Based on my studies, I determined that the Portae Lucis was a powerful and very valid working. However, there were a number of elements in it that either didn’t interest me or I felt was incompatible with my own system of magic. I understood what needed to be done and how Mr. Dubuis had done it, so I took that working and translated it into a specific talismanic working with strong Qabalistic overtones. 

I understood the objective of the rite, but I found that I had other resources that would get me there. What I left out were the Spagyric alchemical operations producing specific magical medicines that would aid in the physical component of the working. I also used an active method of charging the talismans, and expanded the working to include all 28 of the lunar mansions deployed into charging seven metallic talismans, four of which would be used in the operation. Because I was using planets and elements, I felt that the combination would be magically potent enough to replace the alchemical medicines. In my opinion, the revised method worked, even though I couldn’t (and didn’t) declare that they were the same. What I achieved was different than the traditional method, and the effect was different as well. But I believed that the objective achieved was similar, and the results of the magic that I experienced are still being felt and processed by me to this day, four years later.

However, when a group leader of a Yahoo group dedicated to the Portae Lucis working asked me to join his group, I happily agreed. He had wanted me to join because he felt that my different approach might be valuable to the group. I thought that this kind of openness to other techniques and alternative approaches was very broad minded, and I foolishly believed that I would be welcomed and treated as an equal. 

When I joined the Yahoo group, introduced myself and then posted links to my blog articles where I described what I had done to accomplish this ordeal, I was astonished at the outrage that I experienced from its members. I was verbally savaged by a few members of this group! They declared that I had no right to take this material and adapt it to my own needs. They thought that I was audacious and delusional to think that something that I had developed could even be considered as an alternate to what the great occultist Jean Dubuis had laid down for his followers. Who the hell did I think I was to even consider modifying this great traditional working? I quickly left the group, with apologies to the group leader, and I didn’t look back. (I felt the door slam on my butt as well - poor innocent fool that I was.)

Now I understand that not everything I do or say is right and perfect, nor do I have any kind of monopoly on truth when it comes to magic. I am first and foremost a student of the occult and magic, and also religiously, a Witch and a Pagan. I have written things in the past on my blog that are either wrong or based on incomplete information. Over time my opinions have evolved and changed, and I have left a record of these changes over the last several years in my various writings. I am not ashamed to be either schooled by others or shown to have made erroneous or incorrect statements. It is in my nature to acquire lore and information from any and all applicable sources, so I have no problem being shown something new or given a more accurate perspective on something. I have, if nothing else, developed a certain resilience and adaptability in the many years that I have matriculated my own way of working magic and worked on my particular system of ritual magic.

However, the fact that I am able to perform the same kind of magical evocations as others who are vested in the nascent tradition of grimoire magic seems to have annoyed some people. Add to that my propensity for appropriating materials from these same grimoires to serve my personal magical system seems to them cavalier, unsanctioned and disrespectful. That I have stated my opinion that many magicians (having no other recourse) seek to pull together their own system of magic because the various grimoire sources are incomplete, incompatible to current religious perspectives or no longer part of the social-cultural context has also gained me some rather intense condemnation and even personal attacks. From my perspective of having spent decades building up my own magical system from very sparse occult and magical resources (until recently), such a pathway seems intuitively obvious to me, but seemingly highly untraditional and unorthodox to them. According to some, I appear to lack the requisite qualifications to have any opinions on the grimoire tradition, so it would seem that there is another group that I have offended with my magical workings and associated opinions.

Perhaps the only group that I haven’t offended yet are the chaos magicians. I have picked up a number of useful techniques from that group, most notably the methodology of sigil magick, and I continue to find their perspectives and insights both refreshing, baffling and intriguing. I am not crazy about some of their operating philosophies and I would never mix and match deities and demigods from disparate religious traditions. I would also never bother to invoke Cthulhu or Yog Sothoth, since I consider them fictitious entities produced by the neurotic nightmares and racist insinuations of the author H.P. Lovecraft. I have a strong and intimate connection with the entities that I work through and with, and I would never approach them in a cavalier and dismissive manner. However, I understand that the anti-tradition of Chaos Magick consists of a series of working ideas and suggestions, and that each chaos magician pursues their own path and develops their own magical system replete with paradigms based on personal experience. I probably have more in common with them than any other group, including the hosts of the BTW and Wiccan groups that I have met and know.

What can I deduce from all of this outrage and anger that I appear to have caused in some folks in the various occult and magical traditions? I have steadfastly proceeded on my path without any malice, greed or egotism. I am nothing more or less than a student, and my knowledge, even based on years of experience, is decidedly imperfect. Do I insist that I am always right in whatever I do or say - absolutely not! Do I listen to others even when they shower me with disdain and disapproval, of course, how can I not?

Regardless of what others may think, I am still working with the system of magic that I have matriculated and built up over the decades, and I am loath to drop or discard it for the next new shiny thing that others are infatuated about, however compelling. Instead, I will look it over, and if it looks useful or fills a need that is lacking in my own system, I will shamelessly appropriate, modify and mutate it so that it fits seamlessly with my existing magical system. Some may think that I am just being a pirate or a magpie, but because I do spend time altering the lore to fit into what I am already doing then I think that I am more than just an occult or magical-lore thief. I am an artist, but more like a spray-paint graffiti artist, perhaps. However, it still angers and outrages those who consider themselves the arbiters of a sacred tradition and the defenders against revisionism. I just think that nothing really is sacred or forbidden for me to purloin if I find it needful unless it is oath-bound material, and if it is published by someone then it is no longer oath-bound.

To all of those magician magpies out there who see some merit in what I am doing, if nothing else than justifying their own eclectic approach, I make common cause and solidarity. For those who are outraged by my activities and who condemn my unorthodox approaches I can only wonder at their emotional insecurity and baseless complaints, and they are quite baseless as far as I am concerned.

You could say that I am naive and stupidly innocent in my piratical approach to occult and magical lore because I don’t understand how my actions are a cause for outrage and dismay among the proper adherents of these traditions. Crossing these boundaries is just asking for trouble, you would probably declare, but still I am steadily proceeding with the activity of building up my magical system and will continue this work until the day I die. If you have a problem with what I am doing then you can either seek to school me, guide me with additional and important insights or just get out of my way. Otherwise, I am pursuing what I deeply and passionately believe I need to pursue, and I will not be stopped by what I see as puffed up posers who think that they are proper representatives and information marshals of an imperious and perfected tradition. To them, I will make my braying donkey call and scornfully but inexorably move on.

Frater Barrabbas - the Lone Donkey, braying in the wilderness.       

11 comments:

  1. Hello, I just happened onto your site, and all I can say is that creativity IS the universe. Create on --- and damn the torpedoes! 😋

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  2. Love the creativity, the irreverent in the face of pomposity, the joy of discovery through exploration.

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  3. As you know, I agree with you entirely with respect to designing and testing new ritual forms rather than blindly adhering to traditional methods. Magick needs to be a progressive science that grows and evolves as more experimental data accumulates.

    That being said, I think that the issues you had in the two cases you describe stem almost entirely from terminology. "Abramelin" does not mean "Holy Guardian Angel Invocation." It refers to a specific grimoire that includes such an invocation. Crowley reworked the Abramelin too, but he didn't call his revised version Abramelin, he called it Liber Samekh. That, to my way of thinking, was appropriate because they're not the same thing.

    Likewise, "Porta Lucis" does not mean "ritual to invoke the seven planets in a balanced configuration." It is the specific title of a ritual written by DuBois that performs such a function.

    So I think that if you had posted the exact same things you did, but described your reworked Abramelin as a "Lunar HGA Invocation" you might have gotten some pushback, but not nearly as much. Likewise, if you talked about "An Original Planetary Invocation inspired by DuBois' Porta Lucis," I don't think anyone would have complained very much.

    Or, maybe they would have, I don't know for sure. But they would have looked a lot sillier doing it.

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  4. @Scott -

    Crowley used a notation system for nearly all of his official documents, and I don't have such a system. Secondly, even if Crowley would have called his method Abramelin-like no one would have disputed this with him or been outraged at the time, since few even knew about this grimoire.

    Actually, I was under the impression that Crowley opted to use the Bornless or Headless rite instead of the long-drawn out Abramelin working, since he had found it too difficult to manage.

    Needless to say, nomenclature was not really part of the problem as much as the fact that I had appropriated traditional lore and modified it. I don't think it really would have mattered what I called it as long as I admitted that it was based on an existing traditional working.

    I have always honest about where my lore comes from if I didn't invent it myself, which was one of the points that my article made. That adherence to a simplistic honesty has caused me some trouble with some folks, and that was the basis for my article.

    FB

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  5. I was shouted down the first time I went onto Barbelith because I said I only want to work alone and my primary aim was to experience meaningful contact with a non-human intelligence. The experience did nothing to make me change my mind about working with anyone in 'the occult community'......

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  6. Care Frater,

    I never understood the infighting and sniping that goes on between different disciplines. Perhaps that's just the nature of humanity. I don't tend to think of magic as if it were the Catholic Church where everyone has to hew the line on liturgy or else. I find it far better when we color outside the lines and share experiences. The only question should be "Does it work?" If the answer is yes, then that's all there is to it.

    I do, however, find myself getting irritated at imprecision. I recently had a conversation with a friend about the Goetia and the various correspondences and ritual aspects, as he likes to ask me questions. Now, he mostly knows what he is doing and is talented, but I was surprised at some of the correspondences with other demons he was willing to make, or inclusion of ones not listed. He said "Well, this is that and it's obvious." I arched my eyebrow and said no, not it was not. And I actually said, you can do whatever you want but please don't say you're using the Goetia because you're not. The Goetia is specific, you are using your own syncretic system and that's OK, but it is NOT the Goetia. Your post hit me because I just had one of these conversations, and it made me think.

    So maybe, at times, what you're experiencing is this sort of reaction. I have to agree with a previous comment that saying "based on" or "using X as a jumping off point" defuses that a bit. In bringing up Crowley, even he did that. He made no secret that he was embellishing/improving/changing established fact. He wrote Liber Samekh as his HGA invocation method as he said that he thought Abramelin was too much. His basic instruction was simple though: "INVOKE OFTEN". I take that as saying "just work and don't worry about the method so much".

    I think there's this sense in the magic community that something has to be based on "tradition" to be valuable. Bull. We all need to own the changes we make and, hopefully, push the art forward with our own touches. It also doesn't occur to other practitioners that our universes, and what inhabits it, is particular to ourselves, so results are based on that, not slavish adherence to someone else's manuscript. Bravo to you for doing that. Your blog continues to delight me. Thanks for taking the time to post.

    M:.C:.O:.

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    1. Oy veh! Same thoughts, sentiments and lamentable experiences here.

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  7. Great miniature memoir! We can all learn from this.

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  8. Actually, I find many of your posts to be a delightful and thought-provoking read, including and especially this one :)

    Cheers and Thanks for this post.

    FT - Your fellow braying donkey in a geographically different wilderness

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  9. braying here as well...I have no qualms about challenging or personalizing ritual and rite. The mages from long ago sourced their information from a plethora of sources and then pushed and pulled the pieces into their own working rites. If you ask me...you are part of a long and glorious tradition. Keep at it...the naysayers can remain static in their glass bubbles.

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  10. You have the best magic blog in the web. Really inspiring.

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