Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Modern Mystery Rites and Practices in Ritual Magick - Part 2

3. Five Mysteries - A Definition

I would like to present a theory that there are five basic mystery systems at work in the natural world. These five mysteries have always been present in world, as long as there has been human beings who could perceive and engage with them. While all religions have noted them, and some use them in some form or another, it is earth-based spiritual systems that have particularly engaged themselves to these phenomena.

These five mystery systems represent the types and characteristics of transcendental magick that are practiced in those traditions, as representative of the liturgical mechanisms that not only forge an alignment with Deity, as is done in exoteric forms of Christianity, but to realize that Deity within one’s self, seeking to understand the nature of Deity and how it operates in the world. Thus the mysteries involve the Deity and how it manifests into the world of matter, allowing for an intimate relationship between it and humanity.

This declaration represents a slight change from the way the mysteries were perceived and practiced in antiquity. Today, the mystery cult is gone and so is the specific godhead associated with that mystery. The institutions have disappeared, as well as the various temples and shrines that were dedicated to them. Only fragments and ruins exist, both in terms of literature and archaeology, and very little of that can be used to replicate those once great social organizations. What is still present to this day are the powerful phenomena of nature itself, the ubiquity of Deity, and the need to gain some kind of spiritual certainty in a material world fraught with change, overwhelmed with crisis and filled with personal and collective loss. To acquire some kind of spiritual foothold in the world, religious practices, and in some cases, even magick, are employed to deepen one’s connection with the greater perception of Spirit active in the world. So, the mysteries have migrated from specific cults and their various gods, to the modern perceptions and feelings of awe, inspiration and wonder about the natural world, the Deity that moves within it, and our place amongst all of it. The natural world and all of its majestic beauty has now become the temple of the mysteries.  

With this perspective in mind, we can now see that the mysteries involve the various periodic cycles of change in the world, of Light and Darkness, Life and Death, which represent the effect of the Deity acting through that world. This concept of Deity is not perceived as being separate from the world, but acting as an integral and essential part of it. The mysteries are the apprehension, realization and inspiration of profoundly deep spiritual transformations. They are events that must be experienced in order to be realized and understood. The mysteries are powerful transformations that can impact a single person and an entire group simultaneously. 

The five mysteries consist of the following natural phenomena:

  • Cycle of Day and Night (Light and Darkness),
  • Monthly Lunar Cycle,
  • Solar Cycle and Four Seasons,
  • Cycle of Birth and Death,
  • Paradoxical nature of Spirit and Deity.

These five mysteries are analogous to what had been incorporated as mythic elements in the ancient mysteries, as we have already seen. The number is not arbitrary, but it is also neither a doctrine nor a dogma. It is a theory, and more importantly, a way to divide up the natural phenomena of existence in order to better understand it.

The Mysteries, as liturgical mechanisms (magickal rituals), are performed by the individual and groups to gain an experience of the godhead within the domain of Spirit and Nature. This makes the mysteries into transcendental occurrences that must be experienced in order to be realized. Experience is the key to knowledge of the mysteries. The mysteries also have the quality of being inexplicable, since Spirit transcends the domain of the mind and language. So only through experience does the practitioner of these modern religious traditions come to understand and know the intrinsic nature of all things that are of spirit, mind, body and of the world at large.

Spiritual experience is the foundation of faith and is superior to mere belief, which does not require experience, knowledge or wisdom to function. Experience leads to a kind of knowing that is a permanent change in the self, a kind of adaptation to a new way of perceiving and behaving in the world. Spiritual experience is the perceptual intuition of Deity in terms of how it behaves and relates to the individual within the world at large; so, it can be considered a kind of gnosis (intuitive wisdom).

Experience and adaptation together are the tools of the seeker and represent the manner in which an immanent spiritual tradition would function for such an adherent. The mechanisms that produce spiritual experiences within the traditions of Witchcraft and Neopaganism consist of a merging of contemplation on nature, ceremony and ritual. These mechanisms are not used to behold an outer and unapproachable Deity nor to bolster a groundless doctrine of beliefs, but to realize and adapt to a perspective where Deity, Spirit, and the individual person are in perfect and indivisible union. As you can see, the beliefs and practices of these new religions are quite different than their orthodox monotheistic predecessors.

The five mystery systems are based on the cycles of constant change that are perceived in the world and within one’s self. These five mysteries are based upon the apparent operation of cycles of change. They are imbued with a greater significance and meaningfulness than would be otherwise perceived, since they are an integral part of life on this planet Earth. These cyclic changes involve the diurnal cycle of day and night (wakefulness, sleep and dreams), the twenty-eight day (approximate) cycle of the Moon, the 365 day cycle of the Sun, the four Seasons, the life-cycle of all living things, and the internal transformative process of the individual. In addition, there is also the mystery of the nature and essential quality of Deity itself, where it is expressed as a distinct being or a multitude of beings, each with its own qualities and characteristics. Deity is also and paradoxically perceived in a non-dual fashion, as an expression of a unified whole that is Spirit.

All things that are living on this planet experience constant and gradual changes represented by the cycle of Life and Death, Light and Darkness. There are also catastrophic changes, accidental deaths, epidemics, and the natural predation between species and within species. Yet despite the constant and gradual changes, as well as the catastrophic ones, which permanently alter the world in which we live, human nature progresses through an established life cycle that has an apparent beginning (birth) and an end (death); a thing that it shares with all creatures that live and thrive on this planet. These cycles represent a process of duality based on the diurnal nature of planetary motion, but what is operating cannot be perceived as anything except a continuum of change. Life and death, light and darkness merge one into the other, and they have no separation except by contrast.

There is no intrinsic value for this duality of life and death, light and darkness, and one can’t judge them as being either good or evil. They simply exist. It is often a prerequisite of monotheistic religions to give values to light and darkness, life and death, to label one good and the other evil, and claim that this duality is in continuous conflict. However, these phenomena have no intrinsic values. It is perhaps overly superficial to value life and light as good, and darkness and death as evil. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially when we objectively observe nature. There is no good and evil in the phenomena of nature. Our perception of good and evil is based on what we judge as being either beneficial or inimical to our existence, and this is quite subjective and can vary for each individual.
Everything is a manifestation of a single unified expression of beingness that exists in an illimitable vortex of change. It is wrapped up into a seamless holism of matter, mind and spirit. If we are to apprehend spirituality as it truly exists, and to evolve beyond belief systems that do not allow questions, individual seeking, self determination, and the adoption of new realizations, then we must abandon the bankrupt myths and locked belief systems of the past and embrace, with an open mind, the natural world that we live in. Spirit within nature gives it a powerful non-dual expression, causing individuals to see it in a myriad of ways, however, the truth is that it defies all definitions and doctrines. We must perceive Spirit with the eye of spirit, visualizing it in its natural domain through meditation, contemplation, myth, symbols and rituals. We will find Spirit first and foremost within ourselves, then within the mysteries of the manifestation of the natural world, especially nature that is untrammeled by the human hand. It is not to be found in some mythical heaven, etherial plane or dimension beyond the world. It is here, all around us, if we can but perceive it.

We must also be aware of the fact that change occurs in two manners within human consciousness, translation and transformation. Mystery is all about the perception of the immanence of change in ourselves and in the world. Translation represents changing the outer appearance or surface of a thing. Transformation is change that alters something deep within us, changing its essential formulation. Thus, translation represents a surface change and transformation represents change at a fundamental level. The mysteries represent changes that are both translations (outer changes dictated by nature) and transformations (psychic changes or social revolutions), both of which occur within the individual and in the world at large. It could also be said that these changes represent an evolution of spirit and mind traveling through the changing world of matter and existence.

The primary cycle associated with the mysteries is the cycle of light and darkness. The definition of a single day is obviously the occurrence of a cyclic period of day and night, and it’s also the building block of our sense of the passage of time. The revolution of light and darkness that create day and night are intrinsic to human nature, since we cycle from sleep to wakefulness and back again to sleep every twenty-four hours. In daylight we are fully functional and active, at night, we complete our tasks and adjourn to sleep. In between this diurnal cycle of night and day, sleep and wakefulness, we dream, fantasize, and create worlds and realities with our minds. Dreamscapes are places and events that have no reality in the waking world but are usually derived, in some fashion, from our perceptions and memories of the waking world. The common occurrence of day and night is not the mystery, but our response to it, and the revelation of worlds of dream and fantasy, represent the first mystery.

The next cycle associated with the mysteries is the cycle of the Moon, that twenty-eight day cycle where the moon passes through its four phases, from New, to First Quarter, to Full, to Last Quarter, and finally again to New moon. This astronomical phenomenon is not at all mysterious, since it is readily explained as the visual image perceived by people on earth seeing the illuminated half of the moon from various perspectives, which is dependent on the viewing geometry of the moon relative to the earth and sun. Still, the effect of this constant lunar change, from new to full and back again, does have a powerful impact on the human psyche and the cultural consciousness of humanity.

Each full moon that occurs during a month has a special seasonal quality and mythology. A full moon also has specific astrological characteristics. There is also the symbology of the eight phases of the lunation cycle, and there are also the 28 mansions of the moon, and all of these qualities add to the occult perspectives of the entire lunar cycle that occurs every month. It represents qualities that are the opposite of the of the sun, and where it also functions as a luminary in the sky, the moon appears most dramatically during the night, when it has its greatest effect.

The moon shining in the night symbolizes the light that subtly illuminates the darkness, creating as many illusions and strange shadows as it reveals the contours of landscapes hidden by the night. Its illumination is spectral and represents the world as it is perceived in the unconscious mind, full of mystery and pervaded by strange fantasies. Such an environment is ideal for seekers who wish to know the nature of the hidden and inner self, and so the night and lunar magick assists the magician in determining the nature and the topology of the deep structure of the self, and the shared domain of the culture, the geographic location and the time when they exist.

Yet the sun has its own cycle, particularly one that determines the duration of the year. A solar year is that 365 day period in which the earth makes its orbital sweep around the sun. Yet from our perspective on earth, it is the sun that makes this transition. It is the combination of the orbital cycle around the sun and the fixed tilting of the earth’s axis that causes the amount of light from the sun to vary as the earth circles around it, causing both the phenomena of shorter and longer days and the changing of the seasons in the temperate regions of the earth. When the earth’s northern polar axis is tilted toward the sun, then summer and warmer weather ensues in the northern latitudes, while winter and colder weather ensues in the southern latitudes. When the earth’s northern polar axis is tilted away from the sun, then winter and colder weather occurs in the northern latitudes, while summer and warmer weather occurs in the southern latitudes.

The tilted axis and the orbital position of the earth relative to the sun are two processes that are really derived from the same phenomenon. They determine the seasons and help establish the calculation of the annual calendar, which is perceived as the transit of the sun through the twelve zodiacal signs situated at the celestial equator. While it is actually the earth that is making this transit around the sun, from the perspective of astrology, the sun appears to move through the zodiac on the path of the ecliptic, making a complete cycle approximately every 365 days. This annual progression through the twelve signs of the zodiac and the changing seasons, represent the two aspects of the solar cycle and its associated mysteries, which are the changing seasons and the corresponding waxing and waning of sunlight, and the life cycle of vegetation that are subject to these variations.

In the latitudes that are distant from the earth’s equator there is a noticeable difference between the changing of the seasons and the waxing and waning of light from the sun. The summer solstice represents the longest period of daylight during the year, and every day thereafter finds that the days  become shorter in relation to the nights. However, it is not until just before the Autumn equinox, more than three months after the summer solstice that the seasons noticeably begin to change from summer to autumn. The same is true for the winter solstice. The days after the winter solstice are getting longer, but the season does not change from winter to spring until after the spring equinox. In some latitudes, the season of spring does not become apparent until almost the month of May or later. So, one could perceive the growing season as being somewhat displaced from the actual solar cycle, and in the higher northern and lower southern latitudes, this observation is correct. For this reason, we could separate the growth cycle from the solar cycle and see it as two cycles that are inter-related but not equivalent.

As previously indicated, the solar cycle has four distinct nodes, and these are the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The sun proceeds on its apparent journey through the annual cycle, and the duration of daylight waxes to its climactic event at the summer solstice, and then starts to wane until it reaches its point of greatest diminishment at the winter solstice. The equinoxes determine the points during the year where the period of daylight is balanced against the night, but where either the light is in its ascendency or decline. The four solar events represent the transition of the periodicity of daylight vs. night, and also represent the four seasons in their transition from one season to the next.  These four solar events are concerned with the powers of light and darkness, and represent the transformative forces active in each of the four seasons.

The vegetative life cycle occurs during the four seasons, and these are marked by four periods that represent the fullness of each of those seasons. These four events occur in-between the solstices and the equinoxes, and represent the state of the life cycle of vegetation, which is also emulated by all living things in one manner or another. Thus there is birth, growth, maturity and death, symbolizing the growing cycle of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. These four seasonal events are concerned with the powers of life and death, so they are considered to be characterized as chthonic forces in nature and aligned to the deepest structure existing in all living things. The cycle of life and death is considered the greatest of all mysteries to those who live and must eventually die. The human life cycle consists of the mysteries of birth, puberty, procreation, maturity (aging) and death. This life cycle and its mysteries are echoed in various manners in all living things.

A spiritual seeker has an internal cycle as well, and this cycle is in addition to the cycle of the moon, sun and the seasons, and the cycle of life and death. This cycle can actually be dormant in some individuals and be barely perceptible in others, but when activated, its dynamism drives one to become a spiritual seeker. This cycle is represented by the dynamic interaction of a person’s conscious and unconscious mind, where the unconscious holds all of the potential within a human being, and the conscious mind represents all that is actualized within the self.

A person never remains static, and the dynamic state that exists between the light and dark halves of the self can cause both surface and deep structure changes within that being. This cycle of the self traveling into the unconscious and emerging into the consciousness mind is symbolized by the archetypal journey through the underworld. This is where the self undergoes the ordeal of disintegration and reintegration, and is seemingly reborn into the light of consciousness once again. There are two gateways in this cycle, the gateway of death and the gateway of life, the double gateway of self transformation and regeneration. It is known in literature as the Hero’s Journey, but it is the cycle of transformative initiation.

This light and dark cycle in the self is the greatest mechanism for realizing one’s full potential, but it’s also the mechanism where the self can be destroyed by inner or outer forces, and where madness as well as genius can be realized. The mystery of the cycle of initiation is the greatest mystery, for it can resolve the fear and terror of death and oblivion. Through this cycle is the individual spirit revealed, and that realization can lead to illumination, and ultimately, full conscious union with one’s God/dess Within.

As we can see, the importance of transformative initiation has not been either lost or diminished in the passage of time. It is, in fact, more important now that the ancient mysteries have vanished, becoming the primary mechanism where one may encounter and realize a form of personal salvation. Still, transformative initiation may not be so scripted or rigidly held as it was in the various mystery cults, since it is now based purely on the changeable phenomenon of nature, which is available as a focus for the mysteries to anyone who has awakened and become a spiritual seeker.

The fifth and final mystery of this series is not represented by a cycle per-se, but it could be considered the underlying spiritual process behind all of the cycles that a seeker might experience while practicing a spiritual and magickal discipline. The final mystery concerns the nature of Deity and how it’s defined. Whether that Deity is defined as a singularly distinct entity with specific qualities and characteristics, or as a multitude of Deities, each with their own personality or qualities is not important. Deity may even be perceived as being indistinguishable from its origin in the ground of Spirit, such as how animists perceive the ubiquity of the godhead. Perhaps the greatest truth and mystery is that Deity can exist in any of these states, individually or simultaneously, and yet not exist in any of them. This is because the definition of Deity cannot be adequately determined by the mind of humanity, so it can’t be narrowly defined by a belief or a doctrine. As Lao Tzu wrote, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”

Spirit is defined as the unified field of all beingness, encompassing all things of the living body, the mind and the individual spirit. Spirit is found in the integral expression of living beings, and that expression is ever changing and dynamic; yet it is also eternal in its continuity and infinite in its variations.

Therefore, Deity has one face, many faces and no face at all. The paradox is that all of these statements are true and also false. Deity is something that fails to be defined at all, but human nature, being what it is, will define the nature of Deity. Humanity will use holy scriptures, doctrine, dogma, elaborate models and heartfelt expectations to give a face and a character to the Deity, even though it will be based more on human nature and the human dimension of Spirit than on the reality of the nature of that godhead.

Human nature perceives Spirit in a myriad of forms, and all forms are true, but also not true, since they are limited. This is the supreme paradox of the nature of Deity; it exists as we perceive it, and also our perceptions are illusory. We personify Deity and it responds to us in kind, but behind it is the ground base of Spirit, which has no definition nor any personality whatsoever.

We may perceive spirits embedded in all things of nature, including inanimate objects as well as animals and human beings. We could see angels, demons, elementals, faeries, anonymous spirits, ghosts, demi-gods, saints and immortal masters, and various gods and goddesses. They would all exist as we experience them and more, and they could also be our projected illusions.

Any assumption about the reality of spirits and gods would be correct, but also incorrect, since any definition would be inadequate to define Spirit in its totality. We may personify Deity as a specific entity or entities; we could pose as monotheists, polytheists, atheists, agnostics, or even animists, and we would still only realize part of the puzzle. We could perceive Deity as being personified and also as an cultural archetype, and we might be getting closer to the truth, but still fail to define either Deity or Spirit fully.

Deity is actually indivisible from Spirit; they are truly one and the same. It is probably human fallibility that sees Deity as having a specific personality or individuality, when anything within Spirit is in complete union and has no individuality. When we shed our prejudicial notions about Deity, and seek to leave it undefined as a formless manifestation of Spirit, then we begin to approach the real truth.

All efforts to define or limit Deity fail when people seek to realize it in their minds, or through belief and doctrine. The mind can’t grasp spirit and words fail to define something that is trans-literate or trans-logical. What remains after the elimination of logic, words, doctrine, ideals and dogma/belief is just the experience of Deity and Spirit - that is, if one is able to directly experience it. Not everyone is graced with a personal experience of Spirit or Godhead, but most who have had such experiences are essentially religious. Those who have never experienced any aspect of spirituality or the phenomenon of deity are likely either atheists or agnostics - belief requires some kind of personal or internal verification of Spirit.

It is through the process of experience that Deity is known, but one can never define that experience or build a logical case for truth out of it, since it’s contextually subjective. Spiritual truths can be subjected to an examination and verified only by others who have learned to master the process that opens up Spirit to human awareness. That process, which opens the domain of Spirit to human inquiry, involves the adoption of an altered state of consciousness within sacred space. The tools used may include meditation, ritual enactment and contemplation. The mystery of Deity for humanity is to discover, awaken and realize the divinity within oneself. In ritual magick, and in other disciplines, there are four mechanisms for realizing Deity, these are devotion, invocation, godhead assumption and communion.

Devotion - Deity as Other Approached Through Love: Perhaps the least understood operation in apprehending Deity is through devotion. Some might consider this an archaic practice, since if one perceives Deity operating within oneself, then devotion to it seems not only illogical, but even a form of idolatry. Thus for this reason, most forms of mysticism begin with the supposition that Deity is distinct from individual humanity, yet later on, this distinction begins to disappear. Ultimately, the mystic and magician discover that there is no boundary between Deity and humanity. Spiritual union eliminates all barriers between beings, thus, in such a state of mind, all things become dissolved into one thing. This is why some mystics have claimed that “Thou art God,” much to the shock and dismay of orthodox followers. Still, perceiving the Deity as separate from oneself is not necessarily a sign of being unenlightened, for the greatest saints and sages have seen their relationship to Deity as one of lover to his/her beloved. Yet as they behave as a lover of God, they begin to dissolve into the union of that love, where the “I and Thou” become one and the same.

One could say that Deity and humanity are divided for the sake of union, so that they may find a way to unite and become one. The seeker achieves union with the Deity through the mystery of the Hieros Gamos, or Sacred Marriage, which is the core mystery of the Cycle of the Hero – the transformative initiation cycle.

This separation of Deity and self is imbedded in the reality of the separate self, which was a survival requirement for the human species. Also, as we develop and consciously grow and evolve, we usually start from the same place, which has been labeled by psychologists as the mental egoic level of conscious development. It is a level of consciousness where the separate self is celebrated, and then lionized at the higher Centauric level of development – at least, according to Ken Wilber.

Devotion to Deity, or Bhakhti, as it is known in the east, deflects the power of Spirit from the petty ego, and instead invests it in a divine “other,” which eventually becomes revealed as one’s immutable higher self.

Invocation: The spiritual seeker carefully defines the Deity so that it develops a specific personality and character. This definition becomes so real that it creates a vehicle so that the Deity may connect and commune with the seeker. The more detail that this Deity possesses, the more capable the seeker is to apprehend and join with that Deity. Such a mechanism becomes a bridge between the true formless Deity within Spirit and one’s distinct concept of Deity. The trick of this operation is that the seeker must not be too set in his/her definition of Deity, knowing that it servers a purpose only, and can be effectively replaced with any other definition. This vehicle is a device that magicians call an Eidolon or Imago of the Godhead, depending on whether one uses a descriptive device or an actual surrogate.

An imago (pl. imagines) in ritual magickal practice is the image or qualities of a spirit or Deity, usually in the form of an descriptive invocation. Eidolon is usually a statue or an individual impersonating a spirit or Deity. Often the statue has been consecrated and charged, with the spirit said to abide within it; and a person wearing a disguise is in deep trance, representing a surrogate for the actual Deity. The surrogate can also be a Priest/ess or special devotee of that Deity.

Godhead Assumption: This operation is where the seeker, through meditation, deep trance and the artifice of an imago, becomes the eidolon of the Deity. This is a rite of merging the spirit of the individual with the totality of Spirit, as determined by the construct or imago of the Deity.

As one’s definition of Deity expands and evolves, becoming completely transcendent, then the operation of assumption will foster a greater awareness of Deity and Spirit within oneself. This will ultimately allow one to transcend all definitions of spirit, deity and the self.

Assumption is the ultimate ritual vehicle of obtaining true union with Spirit, and is particularly practiced in most earth-based spiritual systems. When assumption becomes the central rite of a religion, it is an obvious indicator that such a religion has an immanent perspective.

Communion: This operation is the sacralization of the material world by an infusion of Spirit, as accomplished through the active imago or eidolon of the Deity. Communion is a process of determining spiritual union through assimilation. The imago or eidolon of the Deity blesses substances with its essential self, and thus imbued, these substances are taken internally in some manner by the devotees, who believe that they are joining themselves in a very physical way to their imago of Deity.

Communion forges a physical bridge between the seeker and Spirit, through the artifice of the Deity and sacraments. Sacraments can be food and drink, or oils, balms, spiritual healing medicines, elixirs, or any inanimate object. Substances become imbued with the numen of the Deity and enter into human life, thus imparting an infusion of Spirit to life itself.

There are also the rituals and blessing of the Deity that marks the passage of life, and these are known as the sacraments of naming (birth), confirmation (assumption of one’s role within spiritual community), marriage (union of opposites), seniority (eldership), and the final blessing, as the last rites (death). There is also the sacrament of transformative initiation itself (initiation degrees or holy orders), which is marked by the sacrament of the chrism (oil of anointing), laying on of hands and the pneuma (breath). In addition to communion, there is also atonement, which represents the process of self purification, ego abasement and reduction to simplicity required to enter into a state of communion with the Deity. 

We have thoroughly covered the five mysteries as I have presented them here. We shall now examine the rituals and methodologies used to make the mysteries real and manifested forces in the practice of ritual magick. We will also examine the ritual components that one would use to experience these mysteries, and to integrate them into a practical discipline that fosters transformative initiation and the evolution of consciousness. 

Frater Barrabbas

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