Sunday, February 27, 2011

Evocation - Purists vs. Modern Eclecticism

The virus that I am!

Someone recently left a rather tart comment on one of my old articles, raking me over the coals for blindly accepting that the “modern masonic, postmesmeric [sic] and eastern methods are better to work the Art of Ceremonial Evocation[,] which is exclusive to European midde-ages [sic] and reinessaince [sic] magic.” The article in question can be found here, where I concluded with my full analysis and examination of Joseph Lisiewski’s book. I know what you’re thinking, that the article in question was posted way back in June of last year. Anyone who would have commented one way or the other had already posted their opinion months ago - so this is really old news.

What caught my attention, besides the fact that this individual has problems with spelling and punctuation, is that I have been accused by him or her of using a modern Masonic methodology with an inclusion of Eastern methods in my techniques adapted for spirit invocation and evocation. I suspect that what he or she is referring to by “Masonic” is the Golden Dawn, and Eastern or “post Mesmeric” methods would be meditation, such as Asana, Mantram, Prana-yama, and Yantra yogic techniques. Of course, contemplation and trance techniques could be considered Western, and these are also espoused and used by me. I guess I would have to say “guilty as charged,” except for the fact that my use of these various systems is more of an appropriation and an adaptation rather than a wholesale use within their indigenous contexts. 

My rituals, if examined carefully, look like a fusion of Golden Dawn structures with a definite Wiccan perspective. (Some have even said that my magick stinks of witchcraft.) Eastern techniques, which are used for mind control and altered states of consciousness, employ methods that are obviously from the disciplines of Yoga. Of course, this makes me no different than a large population of other ceremonial and ritual magicians. I am, indeed, in good company! The fact that I also use techniques supposedly invented by Franz Bardon doesn’t get me off the hook either, because some folks could smear him with the same accusatory brush of being infected with an Eastern prejudice.

I guess you could say that I use these techniques because I have no desire to live like a monk in order to be able to perform invocation and evocation. Something else that the commentator forgot to consider is that I am not in any way, shape or form, a Christian occultist or Esoteric Christian practitioner. I am a pagan and a witch, nothing more or less, so that might exclude me from adhering to any of the Abrahamic practices associated with the old grimoires. I have the gall to think that any such rules or requirements don’t apply to me, and I suspect that they don’t apply to many others, either.

My critic goes on to state: “I’m not even going to waste my time to prove you [are] wrong, but this is hilarious. I hope that some day magical modernism will be defeated, before it corrupts Western Magic to death.” Of course, anyone who says that they won’t waste their time trying to prove me wrong is probably defending a position that is indefensible, but at least my conclusions were a source of mirth for him or her. If nothing else, my words were taken with humor and laughter by this reader.  (After all, I do try to be funny from time to time.) Still, he or she opined about the supposed evils of “modernism” corrupting the purity of Western Magic - to its utter demise.

Now it’s my turn to laugh! I hate to tell this fervent follower of the “old” ways, but Western Magick has been polluted with a lot of various hybridizations, multiple wholesale expropriating and borrowing from other systems and cultures, and a kind of modernist adaptation, which has been going on since the late 19th century! Where has this individual been hiding all of these years, in complete cultural isolation perhaps? Maybe he or she lives in a cave somewhere like some Trappist monk, and only recently got access to the internet. Yet I doubt that to be the case, since Catholic educators are known to be quite rigorous, and one of the indelible marks on their students is their innate ability to spell and write properly - not to mention thinking in a logical and coherent fashion.

So what we have here is someone who believes strongly that the “old” ways and techniques of working ceremonial magick are the only true ways, and that everything else is an evil aberration that is destroying the practice and tradition of magick, besmirching it with the stench and horrible taint of modernism. My, oh my, most of the magickal practitioners I know are so screwed, and they don’t even know it! This is the argument of the blue blood purist versus the evil eclectic - that’s me, folks. I am the primary cause of the fall of the High Art of ritual and ceremonial magick, and my ideas and practices would be laughable if they weren’t so perniciously attractive to others. I am like a virus, a disease of modernity! I should be wiped off the face of the planet before I spread my evil vapors everywhere. Although, come to think of it, I am not alone in this apostasy, there are so many of us. DOOM!!

Let’s deal with the purist perspective right here and now. First of all, I have no problem with anyone who takes a reconstructionist perspective in their practice of ritual or ceremonial magick. Some of my best friends are reconstructionists, and I am respectful and supportive of their work, as I am with anyone who is a true practitioner of magick. My single issue with reconstruction, however, is that it’s probably incapable of replicating a system of belief and practice that is holistically congruent with some past epoch. The further back you go in time, the less complete is the historical picture. To practice ceremonial magick as it was practiced, let’s say, back in the 16th century would require a veritable mountain of historical research, and the ability to surround oneself with all of the cultural accouterments of that time - a daunting proposition.

If one is electing to practice magick like John Dee in the late 16th century, then the entire belief system that John Dee espoused would have to be completely inculcated so that it represented a seamless and holistic world view. One would have to completely reject all modern inventions, perspectives, beliefs, as well as material comforts in order to completely model the mindset of a Renaissance man. I suspect that such an effort would fall short, and there would obviously be a lot of gaps in what constituted the mindset and worldview of an individual living in that time. What I am proposing here is a perfect model of a reconstruction of the English Renaissance perspective. It would require completely forgetting anything that might either abrogate or modify even in the slightest manner the entire basis of one’s religious faith. I suspect that such an attempt would be ludicrous and not very useful.

How about if we ratchet our model back somewhat in order to craft a worldview and a methodology that would have been more like what a Renaissance man might have been if that culture and time were modernized somewhat, so that one could at least consider it a purist’s perspective untainted by the evils of modernity. That leads us to thoughts about how to revive a worldview that is long since dead. Perhaps a monastic lifestyle would help, such as being partially sequestered, saying the Holy Office eight times a day, attending daily Mass, engaging in confession, penance and good works. One would also consider periodic fasting, abstaining from sexual intercourse with one’s lawful wife, or perhaps even being completely celibate. Long periods of prayer, meditation and contemplation, performing ablutions of various types and reading the scriptures would occupy the first stage of the five stages of classical evocation (i.e., consecratio). It doesn’t seem like there would be much time for building a career, but then just some good ol’ back breaking labor as a regular regimen of penance should suffice - along with wearing a “hair” undershirt. One should also avoid worldly temptations, so that would rule out theaters, television, magazines, newspapers, computers, and any books that were not sanctioned by the church. Daily penance could include flagellation, minor mortifications of the flesh or other forms of self punishment. It would be a very pious, sectarian, narrow, boring, masochistic and self-deprivating existence - one that only the unimaginative fanatic would enjoy. I, for one, wouldn’t ever choose such a life for myself, or anyone else, for that matter.

If we live in the modern world, then we can balance our spiritual and magickal lives with the requirements of living fully in that world. However, we can never emulate the piety of our ancestors of over four hundred years ago. Instead, we will need other tools to acquire the higher states of consciousness needed rather than just a regimen of prayer and religious practices. Whether one studies the Eastern systems of Yoga, or just learns to adapt the powers of breath and unwavering sight, the repetitious strains of affirmations and prayers intoned aloud, and not to mention adopting a seated posture that can endure long periods of this practice, they are one and the same.

As for the Masonic influences, considering that my rituals are based on pagan and Wiccan religious perspectives, and that the supposed Golden Dawn patterns have been completely overrun with highly complex structures and a reliance on prismatic energy patterns, I sincerely doubt that one could judge any of the rituals that I use as having been derived directly from Masonry. I may have invented a system of magick based on that which was given to me by my teachers and peers, one that mixed various systems and drew in many other sources as needed, but that is the way of the modern magician, in my humble opinion. No one really works magick as it was worked in the past, since we live in a modern world, we have adapted either an ancient tradition or built up a whole new perspective. Yet it becomes, as it is practiced by the modern magician, a new system without precedence. This is because we carry in ourselves all of the knowledge and experience of a modern existence, and there is nothing that we can do to change that. So instead of attempting to be a purist and condemning the synthesizing work of others, magicians should acknowledge that multiple applications of the practice of modern magick do and must occur.

Anyway, I have expounded a little on some of my thoughts about the opinions of this unknown individual. I not only reject his or her logic, but find it highly flawed and deeply ungenerous. Instead of just admitting that many folk practice magick differently, and that it’s OK (in fact it is a truly magnificent thing), this person has instead become so twisted that he or she has taken a very fundamentalist approach to ritual and ceremonial magick. That is a singular perspective which appears to completely confound the whole basis of the heterogeneous and syncretistic nature of the perennial philosophy, not to mention the practice of modern magick. As far as I am concerned, the person who has made these inelegant comments is both a narrow minded sectarian and a delusional practitioner of a dead end tradition. He or she has my deepest sympathy and pity. (We shall see if any more such brilliant comments are left behind, or if perhaps, it was nothing more than the periodic moaning of the winter wind.)

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pantheacon 2011 - Stregans, Remarkable Men and Women, and Low Magick

As you know, I was gone to Pantheacon the last few days, so that’s why there hasn’t been an article posted on this blog for that duration of time. I was also very busy at that event, so I didn’t get around to giving you a blow by blow report on what happened. So, now that I am still stuck here waiting for a late flight to get home, I thought that I would write up a report on how things went and what my experiences were like. There was a massive snow storm that shut down the Minneapolis airport for half a day on Monday, thus canceling my return flight. I had to scramble to get a replacement flight, and there wasn’t much to choose from. I will have to take a red-eye circuitous flight from San Jose, to Atlanta, then to Minneapolis, getting there Wednesday morning. Oddly, I will have flown in a triangle around the country during this entire trip.

Here are some notes that I wrote while the convention was underway.

The last affects of Pantheacon 2011 are winding down this Monday evening, and I thought that I would relate some of what I experienced while commingling with lots of strangely attired and pagan persona possessed people, including myself, of course. We descended on the few so called “normal” folks who were staying at the hotel for purely mundane reasons, and the hotel staff who expertly tolerated the crowds of unusual characters. It was fun, and it was informative - but more importantly, it met all of my expectations and exceeded them.

It would seem that Pantheacon is the kind of event that takes a few years for one to build up the kind of contacts and the social network necessary to make the con an event that is highly enjoyable and filled with the interaction of friendly and interesting folk. At least, this is true for me, an old cantankerous and dodgy sorcerer from the Midwest. It takes me a while to get to know people, and for people to get to know me - a veritable sign of the waning years of middle age. I am definitely not plugged in and hip as my much younger counter parts in the pagan world, so I stumble and creep along like some aged dinosaur, but I eventually get to where I want to go.

Anyway, as you know, I was stuck with the necessity of performing both of my presentations on Friday, which was a bit of a bother, but it turned out to be quite fortuitous. That meant that Friday was pretty much taken up with preparing for and giving the two lectures. Both were newly made and first-time presentations, but they consisted of material that I knew very well.
The first lecture was on the Decan Faces, a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and it went off pretty well. There was a bit too much information in the lecture notes, and it will require some tweaks to get it to a state where I will feel contented with it’s final form. This is a typical sentiment for me, being the avowed perfectionist when it suits me. One odd note was that all of the doors for the lecture rooms were locked and I had to get someone to open up the doors, and then the room wasn’t set up properly for the lecture. I guess someone thought that attendees needed their own tables to work on whatever was to be “constructed” for the workshop. My first lecture was moderately attended, and the feedback that I got was quite positive.

Later in the day I assembled my materials and went to give my second lecture, which was on Lunar Magick. Where the previous lecture was moderately attended, this lecture had more attendees than chairs, and soon the room temperature got up to the mid 80's, which was quite uncomfortable for some. This lecture was delivered adequately, although there was a bit of a problem with the end. I will probably go over the last section in the near future and iron it out, perhaps doing a bit of reorganizing. The attendees didn’t notice any of these minor issues, and the lecture was perceived as useful and successful. Some people later thanked me for this lecture and told me how significant it was. The most important point in the lecture is that using the Lunation cycle requires the witch or pagan to break their workings up into multiple sessions, so as to take better advantage of the changing lunar energy. I had stated in the beginning that I wasn’t an astrologer, and one of the questions that I took at the end was about the nodes of the Moon, which was off topic and a bit obscure for me. Thankfully, an astrologer was attending the lecture, a very learned man named Jim Schultz, who was able to answer that and a couple of other astrological questions - many thanks to him.

I also met and was introduced to Robert, the writer and owner of the “Doing Magick” blog. He was friendly and engaging, and we had some interesting conversations later on. I must admit that I was surprised at how he looked and expressed himself, all done in a down to earth and kindly manner, I guess you could say that I imagined that he would look and behave quite differently, based on the persona that I sense is projected in his writings. The reading imagination is an interesting tool when no real life imagery is supplied.

Another person that I spent a bit of time with was Ivo Dominguez Jr., who I found to be quite affable, friendly, and very humorous. Ivo is a very quiet, self disciplined and down to earth individual, but his wit and observation of human folly is quite insightful and enjoyable. Ivo is also very generous and socially accessible. I would have liked to have spent more time talking with him, but the reality of Pantheacon is unlimited distractions set within a very short time line. There were other old friends to meet and new friends to make.

One old friend that I truly enjoyed meeting again was Tony Mierzwicki and his lovely wife, Jo-Anne. Tony attended my first class and we spent some of the afternoon together getting caught up with each other. Tony is a delightful man; sensitive, highly intelligent, compassionate, and with the body of a Heracles, he presents a striking contrary image to the typical couch potato occultist. I regretfully communicated that I would miss his presentation on Monday afternoon, but as it turned out, I was able to happily attend it, and spend a good portion of the rest of the day talking with him and his wife.

Lon Milo Duquette was at the convention, of course, and I got to chat with him a few times, most notably with a well made martini in the OTO Hospitality Suite. As always, I found Lon to be eminently charming, hilariously funny, but also deeply insightful and down to earth. I picked up an autographed edition of his newest book on Low Magick, and he signed it “How Low Magick Can You Go?” I will be reading this book (and others) and will hopefully have something to relate on the comment. We both chuckled over it, and shared some other humorous observations about life in general, and occultism in particular. I bought the book a little later at the Llewellyn Author’s Presentation, which had a lot of new authors and books to examine. They also had free cake and a book raffle, but I had to leave after a short while, it was getting quite late for me. I was plagued by being two hours ahead of time in regards to my inner clock, so I found myself getting pretty sleepy by the time 11:00 pm rolled around. That would have been more like 1:00 am for me.

Saturday was the day that the del Bosco Sacro Stregan clan arrived at Pantheacon. I was very glad to meet David Griffin again, and to also meet his wife, Aegeria, and also to finally meet Dianus and Diana. Both Aegeria and Diana had been heavily afflicted with a recent bought of influenza, so that, and the long drive, slightly diminished them all with a veil of fatigue that they worked mightily to keep parted. Even despite these hardships, they were happy to be there, and that happiness was quite infectious, I must admit. They were dressed in long hooded capes and robes, and Aegeria had a drum to beat a cadence as they walked in a procession to the lecture hall. Thus, the long awaited presentation began.

The presentation of the del Bosco Sacro Stregan family was done in the style of an ethnographic interview, where Aegeria, acting as the anthropologist, asked a set of questions to Diana, which were replied by her acting spokesperson, Dianus, and translated by Lupercus (David). Questions and comments from the audience were discouraged during this presentation. This was an unusual presentation methodology, and some found it either unwarranted or unnecessary. However, I can understand why this methodology was used and I thought that was necessary, but it did place a restrictive barrier between the presenters and the audience. It made the proceedings far more formal and restrictive, and less interactive and engaging. The reason for this enforced structure was to ensure that the presentation was able to fully respond to all of the questions that were presented without detraction or disruption. It was also my understanding that the presentation was being recorded for future use. Anyway, the presentation had to be cut short due to desire of some in the audience to be able to ask questions individually, and that such a venue could not be held in the hallway after the event was completed. Aegeria’s list of questions were quite excellent, representing pretty much what everyone would have liked to have asked if they could have done so in an informal atmosphere. Afterwards, I had lunch with the whole group and was able to talk to them extensively in private, although Dianus’ command of English was limited at the present time. To communicate in any depth required David’s ever thoughtful interpretation in both directions.

Having personally met and talked and communed with Diana and Dianus, there was no question of their knowledge and abilities. They represent an authentic traditional teaching, which they were not shy to demonstrate on the following day. For a number of reasons, mostly due to fact that Diana was only recently bed ridden, the ritual event was not performed the following day. Instead, Dianus and Diana performed individual demonstrations of their techniques for a smaller and more intimate group. There were also some initiations performed, but everything was done completely on a voluntary basis, representing a very high degree of personal and spiritual integrity. I am unable to say more about this, of course, but what I saw and experienced in their company did more to eliminate any further doubts about their claims or the presentation of their knowledge. I can safely say that I am completely satisfied with what Lupercus and Aegeria are doing within the various pagan communities. All the various claims of nefarious manipulations, illegitimacy or a lack of ethical guidelines whispered by anonymous individuals can be seen for what it is, petty jealousy and spiteful judgements based on ignorance.

I must admit that I spent a lot of time with these four individuals, and got to see Diana and Dianus experience the wonders of the vender’s market place. I am certain that few Europeans would be able to see such a collection of specialized items for sale as were on display at Pantheacon. I could see the wonder in Diana’s eyes at all that she saw and got to examine in detail. That experience alone was quite a pleasurable past time for me as well as the four of them. Spending time with them meant that I didn’t get to attend as many of the workshops and lectures that I might have otherwise, but the sacrifice was well worth it. Spending time with these good friends and spiritual allies was the equivalent of attending quite a number of Pcon events.

Another interesting person that I met and had deep conversations with was Dr. Robert Word, a most pleasant fellow with a very keen intellect. Talking with him was like conversing with someone who had an almost encyclopedia like grasp of history as well as occultism. Other individuals that I met and got to talk with were Donald Frew, who was responsible for getting me deeply attached to Neoplatonism and who single handedly showed me that my intuitive spiritual perspectives and beliefs were based on the various teachings within that discipline. I also talked briefly with John Michael Greer (I promised him a drink, which I didn’t get a chance to honor), and I look forward with talking with him at the upcoming Pagancon in the Twin Cities.

I also attended the author’s panel put on by Weiser, and the theme for that panel was the republication of the book “Demon Lover” by Dion Fortune.  The author panel was supposed to have read the book and to comment on it. Although the authors presented a number of interesting and engaging perspectives about the book, little was actually said of Dion Fortune. I felt that many of the pagans who may have attended that panel would have only known Dion Fortune by her rather pagan books, such as the Sea Priestess, Moon Magic and the Goatfoot God. Demon Lover was a more obscure fictional story written by Fortune early in her career. However, Fortune’s fictional work was quite different than her non-fiction occult writings, both publically and within her spiritual order. I would have hoped that the panel would have started off with a short biographical note about who Dionne Fortune was, when she lived, died, and her overall contribution to occultism and esoteric studies. For instance, her actual name was Violet Firth, and she was much more known for her occult practices that mixed Christianity with forms of Theosophy than she was for her Golden Dawn or pagan associations. I think that Dion Fortune wouldn’t have liked to be referred to as a pagan occultist. Anyway, I was a bit disappointed by this omission, and was even asked to add some biographical detail off of the top of my head, which was kind of embarrassing, since I was hardly prepared to do so. Yet I managed to speak intelligently, although briefly, about Dion Fortune. Perhaps I may write a blog article about her in the future.

Because my flight was canceled, I got to attend Tony Mierzwicki’s presentation on Greek Religion and witness his invocation of Athena. I thought that it was an excellent lecture, facilitated with an eye-catching power point presentation and an English translation of the Orphic Hymn to Athena. I also spent some of the afternoon with Tony and Jo-Anne, walking in the lovely sunshine and proto-spring like weather outside. It was an enjoyable afternoon and evening, but the next day (Tuesday) saw few if any of the attendees left over. I had a quiet day of reflecting on what I had experienced, and some time to continue my reading of Jake Stratton Kent’s new book, volume one of Geosophia.

It was grand time of reflection, only interrupted when I had to undergo the horrifically torturous process of flying home. The only flight that I could find that was reasonable (only one stop over) traveled to Atlanta from San Jose, and then to Minneapolis. My journey was triangular, so that was kind of a bit of ironic humor. I had to endure a nearly four hour flight sitting next to an older unshaven man, with a bush hat and redneck teeth, who was traveling back to Ashville. While he wasn’t rattling the mucous in his throat, loudly snoring while sleeping, he was alternatingly coughing, sneezing or blowing his nose. He even spit some of what he was coughing up into an empty peanut bag, much to my horror and disgust. At least by the end of the flight I had discovered his middle name - it was Phlegm. Needless to say, I got no sleep on that flight, nor on the next, stuck and cramped as I was in the middle of the row. By the time I got home the following morning, I was quite tired and a bit cranky. I got over it all and settled into a pleasant sleepless reverie until my significant other came to pick me a couple of hours later.

So that was my Pantheacon experience - of course there were lots of other events and details that I have left out, but I think that I shared enough of it to give an idea of what it was like. Perhaps you might consider going there yourself someday, if you weren’t there when I was there. Anyway, time to get back to work and some more mundane things to occupy me for the nonce. There will certainly be more articles coming up, but for now, I need to do some writing and researching, punctuated with some fond memories.

Frater Barrabbas    

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Leaving for Pantheacon Today - See You There!

I wanted to post this article tomorrow, which is Thursday, but decided to post it tonight instead. I begin my travels to Pantheacon tomorrow afternoon, but I figured that I wouldn’t have enough time to do everything that needs to be done before leaving.

Today is the day that I pack up my hoard of occult loot (arrgh!) and board a plane for San Jose to attend my third Pantheacon. I am very excited and happy to get out of the frozen tundra for a few days, and of course, the weather here is oddly heating up and melting all of the snow. It will probably be only a little warmer there than here - although there won’t be any snow, just rain.

Meanwhile on the blogosphere there has been a friendly dust up between Frater A.I,T., Rufus Opus, Jason Miller and Balthazar - all of it over whether or not energy work is an important part of magick or just a load of manure, as R.O. has so eloquently put it. For me, I look at this argument as kind of puzzling. Energy work is only important if the Energy Model of magick has precedence in one’s magickal work - if it doesn’t, then the whole argument is rather moot. You can find them here, here, here and here.       
(Although why I give PR to blogs that don’t link to mine is a puzzling conundrum. I guess I haven’t been invited to that exclusive club just yet. The exception, of course, is Frater A.I.T. - many thanks to him for linking to my blog.)

You could imagine two magicians, one working through the Energy Model, the other, the Spirit Model, arguing with each other about how important energy working is in the practice of magick. Obviously, they both wouldn’t agree - ever! (Do magician’s ever agree with each other?) It would be just an exchange of two individuals talking in a different language at each other. Then Mr. Miller, ever the wise conciliator, has to chime in to show that both approaches are correct, but not absolutely so. He takes the middle path, which is not too surprising, considering the influence of Tibetan Buddhism in his spiritual and magickal perspective. 

Not to be outdone, Balthazar disparagingly (but respectfully) piles on with the fact that most forms of modern magick and occultism are the product of massive cultural appropriation and western imperialism. Balthazar is correct in saying that the Energy Model of magick is a recent addition to the collection of practices that make up some forms of the Western tradition of magick, although the Energy Model itself is quite ancient, such as with concepts like Chi or Mana, both of which are not western. The western energy model appears to use a metaphor of electricity to define and develop that particular theme in the practice of magick.

However, Balthazar appears to miss a major point that all forms of magick in the world are the product of cultural or religious appropriation, and that it is human nature to borrow ideas and concepts, often completely out of context, and use them in new and different ways. So, yes, we are all pirates at various points of our magickal career, and especially so were the founders of the various traditions of magick! Sometimes that process works to produce some very interesting results, other times it appears to be contrived and ridiculous. Yet it doesn’t matter whether one is a member of the “dominator” culture or part of the third world, human beings copy each other and exchange and spread ideas much more rapidly than any other kind of actual cultural change, whether due to internal or external forces. In the age of the internet and the world wide web, that process of exchange is happening at an even faster pace. After all, we are just hominids, so you know, monkey see, monkey do! Do we condemn that practice, or just examine the lore of a given tradition and judge it for its effectiveness? I’ll let you be the judge of that particular question.

Anyway, I suspect that this discussion will go back and forth for the next few days. So grab a bag of popcorn and enjoy the heated but respectful exchange. It’s doubtful that any of them will actually get nasty, call each other names and engage in ad hominem attacks, but you never know. 

Moving back to the topic at hand, I also answered a series of questions for an online text interview for Pantheacon. It would appear that many of the presenters are given this opportunity to share their ideas with the Pantheacon attendees. You can find the web site with all of the interviews here, but I don’t know if you have to register and create a logon account to access them or not. Anyway, give it shot - if it’s open to the general public, then you will find all sorts of interviews with some very remarkable individuals.

I am going to attempt to write a short article for each day that I am at Pantheacon, to describe some of the presentations that I will be witnessing and give you an idea of what it’s like to hang out with over 3,000 pagans of every sort imaginable. It will be crowded at times, but definitely not at all boring.

Here is the interview. Included in this interview are the questions that the Pantheacon staff wrote up, and my answers. These questions may reflect some of the things that you might have wanted to know as well, so I thought that it would be a good idea to include the interview here.

What are you presenting this year?

This is the third Pantheacon that I have attended in the last three years, and I am really looking forward to it. I am presenting two workshops this year, and both of them are occurring on Friday, February 18, the first day of the convention. The first workshop will be held at 1:30 pm in the Santa Clara room, it’s called “Key to Evocation: Zodiacal Decans,” and the second workshop will be held at 7:00 pm, again, in the Santa Clara room, it’s called “Lunar Magick.” I will briefly discuss both workshops.

Key to Evocation: Zodiacal Decans:

We will examine various source documents to show a strong case that the astrological decans are the key to organizing and giving meaning to the spirits lists of the angels of the ha-Shemhamphorash and the daemons of the Goetia.

We will look at the definitions of the 36 decans and how they relate to the quinarians, as well as discuss the methodologies of performing invocations and evocations through a structured matrix of definitions. It is my opinion that taking such path will allow the magician to both control what is conjured as well as understand the implications of that action.

Lunar Magick:

We will look at the phenomena of the Moon from a scientific and occultic perspective to examine how the Lunar phases affect the workings of ritual magick, and how we can incorporate the Lunar Mysteries into our liturgical workings. The moon is both a clock for active magickal workings and an core object of our liturgical mysteries.

The object of this workshop to understand the phases, to know the timing of practical magick and how to write a lunar mystery working. (A layout of a lunar mystery working is in the handout.)

We will be examining the factors associated with timing, not with how to either work magick or perform lunar based liturgies.

Is there anything you're excited about attending at PantheaCon?

I am most excited by the introduction to the national pagan and witchcraft community of two individuals who have traveled from Italy to share with us their knowledge and lore of European Stregheria. I am, of course, referring to the arch high priestess, Diana, and her husband, arch high priest Dianus, of the del Bosco Sacro of Benevento Stregan family. I think that this is quite an amazing occurrence! It is certainly historic and unprecedented.

Their first presentation will be at 9:00 AM Saturday morning in the large Fir room, and it is called “The Great Rite and the True Sabbat.” The second presentation that Diana and Dianus is giving will be on Sunday at 1:30 pm in the Fir room, and it is called “Stregan Invocation of Our Pre-pagan Shamanic Roots.” Both Diana and Dianus are not fluent yet in English, so they will be assisted by their translator, Lupercus, who is known to many occultists on the west coast as David Griffin.

I hope that many people will attend these two incredible presentations, since I will most certainly be there as well.

How do you feel ritual magic needs to be modernized?

That’s a pretty tough subject to discuss in only a few words, but let me give it a shot. First off, I differentiate between ritual magick and ceremonial magick. As a witch and a pagan, I work my magick within a boundary that holds things within it, and does not act as a barrier between myself and the spiritual domains. Secondly, I perform all of my magick in the guise of a godhead assumption, so whatever differences and variations occur in the rite, they are done through the aegis of my personal aspect of the Godhead. (Christian ceremonialists wouldn’t even think of assuming their Godhead, since for them there is too much distance and difference between them.) I think that ritual magick, which uses a very modern pagan perspective, is already quite modern. Ceremonial magick, on the other hand, requires a high degree of orthodox piety in order to prepare the operator for invocation or evocation in the classical definition of that procedure.

To a witch or a pagan, there is often little difference between practicing liturgies and practicing magick, they are even sometimes one and the same. A ceremonial magician, on the other hand, has to engage in liturgy, prayer and contemplation outside of magick in order to maintain the correct degree of piety.

Then there is the issue of whether or not to use the old grimoires in one’s magick, and that can take two different approaches. I was fortunate enough to be able to create a system of magick that can do pretty much everything that the old grimoires claim to do, such as make talismans, project elemental forces, invoke and evoke various spirits. What I use is modern and part of the combined traditions of the Golden Dawn and British Traditional Witchcraft. If I use any of the material from the old grimoires, it’s to decorate my personal magick with archaic components - a kind of post modern approach to magick. Others have decided that the old grimoires are the end all and be all of high magick, and they are wedded to them in a manner that I find incompatible with my own magick.

You've studied multiple types of occultism, how do you find they combine?

Whatever I do, I am first and foremost a Witch and a Pagan. The core of my beliefs and practices are steeped in modern paganism. What I look for, and what I have looked for, are occult systems that are compatible with my pagan outlook and beliefs. Qabalah is something that I work with, but mostly in a Neopythagorean and Neoplatonic manner, since I don’t relate well to Talmudic or Christian theological tropes. Astrology is essential to me because it tells us when to do magick - the timing. I am rather interested and fascinated with Hindu forms of Tantra and Sacred Sexuality, since there is a lot less material in the West that I can draw on. Yet it is the practice and perfection of ritual magick that really concerns me, and my ultimate goal is to experience conscious union with my Godhead, to be illuminated and enlightened. In that fashion, I am also like a lot of mystics and other religious devotees.

Tell us about the E.S.S.G.

The E.S.S.G. stands for Egregore Sancta Stella Gnostica, which is translated as the Egregore or Group Mind of the Sacred Stellar Gnosis. This is a magickal order or organization that is dedicated to the practice of ritual magick for the obtainment of Gnosis (spiritual wisdom), and that the emphasis of the empowerment and enrichment of the individual greatly aids in the development and evolution of the group. We call this organization, the Order of the Gnostic Star.

Unlike every other magickal order, this group consists of autonomous temples that are internally self determined through the power of consensus, producing a kind of group that I call a “Star Group.” Each and every member is important and considered an integral part of the whole organization, so that no one person has the right or even the ability to dominate or rule over others. Some people hate consensus, but I think that it is highly important for any mature group of spiritual seekers. There is no grand lodge, no autocratic leaders, and the hierarchy of each group is rotated annually. Group leaders have all of the responsibility and zero authority, which is vested in the group as a whole. Leaders in this organization are really just facilitators. So what these temples are practicing is a form of spiritual egalitarianism, which I consider to be essential for unfettered individual growth and balanced interpersonal relations.

The organization is nominally pagan and uses the Grail as it’s focal symbol. I suspect that pagans and witches would find this order to be quite comfortable for them, as well as Thelemites and even occultic Christians and Jews. Since each temple is autonomous, the temple group determines by consensus its spiritual and magickal direction, spiritual perspective and group religious practices.

At this time, there are over a hundred different rituals and rites, documents and other material that are part of the order’s lore. There are also seven degrees fully documented and organized by ordeals. (We believe in initiation and elevation by individual work and merit - the group decides by consensus who is to be elevated and when.)

Individuals can form a working group of five members and petition me for the materials to begin forming their own temple. If that’s not possible, then individuals can seek and gain an affiliate membership and work as a solitaire practitioner, although the order’s bylaws do specify a preference for working magick in a group. Joining the order requires no fees or dues, since this is an issue that must be determined through consensus by the group. Otherwise, I typically offer this lore at no charge to individuals who have shown themselves to be interested and capable of doing the work.

The Order of the Gnostic Star was started in 1988 in Kansas City, and had several years of growth, spawning one or two groups off of the mother temple. It became dormant through the latter period of the 1990's and the first decade of the 2000's. I am happy to report that there is now a new temple in Southeastern Massachusetts, and the mother temple is undergoing a resurgence and rebirth in Kansas City.

You can find more information about the Order of the Gnostic Star at the website here, which was assembled for various interested individuals.

What new projects are you working on?
I have four books in print right now, and I am in the process of writing four more, and they are in various stages of development. I am seeking to publish the basic lore for the Order of the Gnostic Star, and I also want to start writing occult and pagan fiction stories. I am also developing a battery of lectures and workshops that I intend to present to individuals who want to approach performing high magick from their Wiccan roots. Besides all of this, I am also working my own form of ritual magick, reading and research, as well as pursuing my career and having a quality relationship with my Significant Other.

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Much To Do - So Little Time To Do It

Next week Friday begins Pantheacon, and I will be there presenting two workshops. I will be out of town and out of pocket for five days, so I have a lot of tasks, both domestic and occult, to accomplish both before and after that event. I am really looking forward to Pantheacon, perhaps more than at any previous year because I will get some time to talk and hang out with David Griffin and his newly adopted Stregan clan, the del Bosco Sacro family. I will also get to meet Diana and Dianus and attend their presentations. David has become something of a good friend and a mentor to me, even though I am about as outside of the Golden Dawn tradition as one could possibly be.

I will also get a chance to hang out with my other good friend and mentor, Tony Mierzwicki, whose friendship and insights I have relied on for over two years. Tony has not only given me sage advice about magickal and occult subjects, he also helped my literary career along as well. I owe a great debt of gratitude to him and his lovely wife, who is something of a master at the art of laying out books for publication. It will be good to see Tony and Jo-Anne, and to talk to them face to face instead of only through the media of phone and email.

Pantheacon will also give me an opportunity to reacquaint myself with Lon Milo DuQuette, Athena W. and Ivo Dominguez Jr. I have been reading Ivo’s book “Spirit Speak” and have enjoyed it immensely. I have found him to be incredibly brilliant and deeply informed, both from a scholarly point of view as well as an experiential one. Athena is a very accomplished goetic sorceress and an enochian magician - she will be presenting a workshop on BDSM at Pantheacon, so that will be quite interesting. Athena also has a great sense of humor and is also quite down to earth. I hope to share a few jokes and stories with Lon, because he is one person where humor can not only be shared but also inspired. Lon’s wit, humor, and common sense approach to life in general is always thoroughly appreciated.

I hope to also get a chance to say hello and a hug to Oberon Zell Ravenheart, head master of the Grey School of Magic. I enjoyed hanging around and chatting with him at Heartland last year, and I hope to renew my acquaintance with him. Since the passing of Isaac Bonewits last August, I have felt the need to be more appreciative of the pioneers and trail blazers of my religious movement because it seems that fate has begun to claim some of them from our midst, and what time remains should be seen as precious. When I was young, all of these founders were also still fairly young and healthy, and it seemed like we had nearly forever to do our thing and get on in the world. Now it seems as if fate and irony have intervened to let us all know that our time in this world is quite limited.

So I am looking forward to having a great time seeing all of these folks and meeting new ones. I am also looking forward to presenting my two classes and having a meeting of minds with those who attend. There’s a lot of preparations, packing, buying things, organizing, cleaning, and spending some quality time with my significant other, who I am sad to say, won’t be attending this year’s event with me.

I also wanted to write a few comments about the latest post that Mr. Eckstein quoted in his blog “Gleaming of the Golden Dawn,” which were from Patrick Zalewski and his Golden Dawn Yahoo Group - you can find it here. Patrick has said, once again, that he doesn’t believe that there are any secret chiefs, and that such a belief is a myth and even a distraction to the work of a Golden Dawn initiate. I can understand his perspective and also why he stated this so emphatically. There are two sides to this issue, and these two sides not only don’t agree with each other, but they have been engaged a very hotly contested argument.

There is another side that says that there were and still are secret chiefs and that the order of the Golden Dawn has proceeded in an orderly manner from the basic cipher manuscripts and permissions from the German adept Ms. Sprengle that were granted to the three chiefs of the original Golden Dawn. Whether you believe that this was true or just made up to foster a fake legitimacy as far as the Golden Dawn is concerned doesn’t negate the reality and the importance of the Golden Dawn today. However, there is an important implication in either denying or accepting the validity of the secret chiefs, and this is what I wanted to articulate to my readers.

If Patrick Zalewski is correct, and there are no secret chiefs, then the implication is that there is no third order of the Golden Dawn and that the current founders and their second order adepts are all that there is to the Golden Dawn teachings and practices. It also forces the Golden Dawn to be much more engaged in authentic practices than legitimacy, since such an opinion presumes that the original founders would have supposedly just invented the Order based on their own studies and imagination. So that is the world according to Patrick Zalewski, and it is a kind of dull and sad world bereft of mystery and any real higher magick. There are no masters, so whatever we have in regards to lore and occult knowledge represents the very limit of what is known or even capable of being known. It almost seems to make the Golden Dawn into an occult dead end with little prospect of anything new or startling coming to light.

I find that all rather disheartening, but it is no different than my own current situation, although I have plenty of other occult practitioners and scholars who know much more than I do - there is still something yet for me to learn and creatively adapt into my own spiritual and magickal process. There are also quite a number of spirits and entities to engage and communicate with throughout the Inner Planes. I am also not limited to just occultism and the practice of ritual magick. Life itself is a great teacher, and there are remarkable men and women everywhere one looks, and from time to time, I have been lucky enough to meet a few of them.

Yet something to consider in Pat Zalewski’s words brings about the other possibility that we need to at least admit to ourselves. The other possibility is that there are secret chiefs, and perhaps if we listen to the leaders of one branch of the Golden Dawn (HOGD), it would seem even very likely. It means that the Golden Dawn is an organization that is both legitimate and authentic, and that there is indeed a third order above and beyond the second order practices and lore.

I for one find that a much more happier prospect! Suddenly the world is much more romantic, mysterious and nearly limitless in regards to occult teachings and self mastery. It means that there is a possibility of finding an obscure great teacher and actually learning new and more vital occult lore and practices. To believe that there is someone in the world who might know a whole lot more about the Western occult tradition than I do, breathtakingly more, is quite exciting and gratifying. If it’s a false notion, then nothing is really lost, since it will, at the very least, cause me and many others to perfect ourselves for the sake of admittance to an organization of masters.

So I don’t agree with Pat saying that such a belief is a distraction, that it somehow interferes with one’s growth or impairs the work of the practicing adept. Believing such a thing can only inspire one to do greater things.

Still, if Pat is dead wrong and the secret chiefs do indeed exist, then he, and all the others who agree that such a premise is false, are promoting an occult path that leads to nowhere except what one is capable of achieving alone and without aid. That aid might really exist, and individuals like Pat Zalewski are turning their backs to it without even testing their theory. It seems pretty foolish to me. We can stubbornly refuse any help from those who have a superior skill and knowledge for the sake of being independent and self directed, but at some point, everyone needs a helping hand to get beyond some personal conundrum or overcome obstacles. To steadfastly refuse even when that help is offered could be considered a form of obstinate stupidity, which can either be admired, laughed at or perceived as a tragic and fatal personal flaw. I would tend to see it as a tragic and fatal flaw, and I am happy to say that I am not so afflicted. If given the opportunity, I will gladly accept someone’s help, and I would be particularly gratified if that person was a supposed master or secret chief.

It reminds me of the often quoted Irishman who said in a dissembling manner: “Well, I don’t be saying that I believe in the little people, and then again, I don’t be saying that I don’t believe in them, either.” We can hedge our bets and believe in the secret chiefs and not be hurt by such a supposition if it's wrong, but we may also be greatly rewarded if it's true. I would rather behave as if the proposition is true so that I might someday actually be rewarded by the discovery of a pot of gold at the end of rainbow. Would I refuse to accept it if I found it, hell no! I would fill my pockets and hands with all I could carry!

Do I believe in deathless, omniscient and omnipresent masters, such as are celebrated in some Theosophical or New Age groups? No - I really don’t believe in that myth. However, I do believe in remarkable men and women, and that the average human life span affords some the time to perfect far beyond the ordinary lot in life. I also believe that there are a lot of secret and obscure lore that is not available to the public in the form of published books or web based information.

There are real mysteries in the world, and real individuals who live and work their secret purposes in the powerful shadows of those mysteries. I also believe that I am living at a time in my life when some of those mysterious shadows may open to me and reveal some of their secrets, and that I may indeed meet some very remarkable men and women who might just have something very critical and important to teach me. I optimistically look forward to that time, and I do believe that it will happen someday.

Meanwhile, there is so much work to do, things to write, presentations to put together and magick to practice. So much to do, and so little time to do it all. Life is fleeting, and I am not getting any younger - but I have hope that circumstances will all come together and reveal to me my ultimate destiny, long before I die.

Frater Barrabbas

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Purpose of Working Magick - IMO

Over the course of several weeks, perhaps even months, various writers in the blogosphere have been opining about using magick to cause shifts in probability, bending reality or producing outright miracles, either through the “Black Swan” paradigm or by just expecting magick to produce what it has been advertised to produce since earliest times. It would seem that magick is perceived as just a mechanism for causing change to occur according to the magician’s will, in some form or another. However, as the ever dissenting voice that is raised in contrast to the present ululations of how magick should work (miracles vs. probability shifts), I wonder aloud if the real purpose of magick has somehow been lost or just omitted.

This brings to mind a question that I have probably answered more than once over the course of the last year and a half, which I have written in articles posted to this blog, and that question is “why do we work magick?” Do we work magick to just make our lives more advantageous, blessed with material success and personal power? Is that the purpose for magick? Or do we work magick to cause godlike miracles to occur, showing ourselves to be godlike and almighty. Does magick, properly coordinated and worked, make the magician operator into a guaranteed winner?

Of course, for every winner there are a lot of losers, this is true in sports as well as life. For every miracle sought, very, very few ever manifest.  Still, a more simplistic judgement is that the only success in life is survival, and that everything else is merely superfluous. That would translate into the rule of thumb that if you have survived your ordeals in life, no matter what they are, then you are a success. The downside to that logic is that eventually everyone dies, so at some point in life, everyone is a loser.

Success, just like any condition of good fortune is, unfortunately, very ephemeral, whatever ruler you use to judge it. In the greater scheme of things, a person is born, lives, and then later dies, regardless of how great, successful, humble or inadequate - death is great equalizer, as always. This is why the Tarot Trump, “Wheel of Fortune” is such a compelling study for those who seek to master their lives, or at least, it should be. Next to that card in importance is Death and the Hanged Man, but that is another topic altogether.

Yet we still haven’t answered the most essential question as to why we work magick. If life is full of chance occurrences, opportunities, disasters, and a lot of boring same-ness, then applying magick to life situations may improve them, perhaps slightly or even better, but more often it doesn’t make a real lot of difference in the long run. The real purpose to working magick, in my humble opinion, is to cause just one great but essential miracle to occur, and that is the miracle of total godhead assumption and all that proceeds from that achievement.

Other names for this achievement are enlightenment, achievement of Atman (God/dess Within), conscious illumination, cosmic consciousness, Godhead realization, the immortality of individual consciousness and the ability to accept the role of divine mediator, to do whatever is required, however great or small. To be a functional spiritual avatar doesn’t mean that you are suddenly a great person endowed with godlike powers, it means that you understand your purpose and role in life, and seek to unthinkingly and selflessly perform it.

What that means is that the petty ego and it’s needs for status, power, wealth, love and happiness are completely subsumed to the point where they are no longer even relevant. It requires the greatest sacrifice that one can offer. That sacrifice is the willing abrogation and elimination of the outer external self, which is shown to be an illusion and an obstacle to perfectly channeling the Godhead. That, in my opinion, is the purpose of working magick. Wealth, career success, fame, glory, the adoration of the crowd, sexual gratification, these are the many illusions and delusions that confront both mystic and magician alike, and seek to upend and thwart the simple and pure aspiration for union with the One.  

If you think for a moment of what it must be like attaining union with whatever you perceive as the Godhead, and then trying to imagine how that would personally affect you if it did indeed occur, it would suddenly seem kind of odd to think about all of the small things that beset you in your current life situation. They would have receded far into the background of what would be a completely new and redefined existence. It would also make the endless pursuit after the various material accouterments of a comfortable and successful life seem sort of small and petty, and indeed, in the larger scheme of things, they would be.

Does that mean that striving to better ourselves in the material world is a fruitless pursuit, a folly that will cause us to be distracted at best, suborned in our spiritual search at worst? No it doesn’t somehow mean that all material pursuits are wrong or misguided. We do what we have to do to maximize our potential, but we do it both within a material and spiritual dimension. All the while we are living and struggling with our material existence, we should never loose our focus on that ultimate achievement, which is union with the Godhead. Everything that we do should selflessly and relentlessly promote our ultimate spiritual apotheosis, anything else is a distraction. Our True Will should be to achieve that perfect union with the One, and all that we engage in and encounter should merely aid in that process.

In my first published book, “Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick,” I wrote some pretty compelling things in regards to the seeker and what he or she is seeking, and also what can cause that search to fail or come to grinding halt. I would like to quote from that section of the book (chapter 3.6, pages 83 - 85), using the more raw pre-published text because it manages to express these ideas in a more direct manner. I’ll let you be the judge, and see if this section doesn’t succinctly answer the question as to why we should work magick and what our ultimate goal should be. To achieve at-one-ment with the Godhead is to take a profound journey through the strata of higher consciousness, but the goal is never to glorify in the achievement or the outward effects, but to unswervingly seek the goal itself.

“Ken Wilber, in his book, ‘The Atman Project’ (chapter 13, p. 183 - 185) outlines the difficulties and the challenges that one must face in order to truly gain, in a permanent fashion, these higher states of consciousness. Whether one is aware of it or not, we’re all seeking enlightenment. It’s the fundamental drive that pushes all of us through the vicissitudes of life. However, there are forces within us that disguise our motives or lock us in a static mental state of development where complacency and comfort are far more important than gaining any kind of new vista or spiritual perspective in life. We all begin our paths with the same objective, union with the All, but very early we are thwarted by the necessities of life, and we must at some point return to the fundamental quest of all being-ness, if we are to find true fulfillment and completion. We should make certain we always question our motives and the nature of our quest in life, so that we have not substituted our goal of perfect at-one-ment of Atman for some kind of imperfect and shallow surrogate, an ‘Atman Project.’

The ultimate nature of reality, according to Wilber, is an emptiness or voidness, but one that is not a true emptiness that is void of all forms or features. It is also a unified field of holism, where all space and time, and even consciousness itself is part of one seamless whole. The ultimate reality and the ultimate state of consciousness are one and the same, a kind of ‘super conscious All’ (p. 184). This unity is the only true reality, and all else is an illusion, particularly anything that is egoically or independently real. Even in the nature of Deity itself, there is only the timeless, transcendent one-ness, and so there is no difference between anything, even between man and God. What this entails is that we’re all part of a greater whole, and that magick is a process that has validity and power because of this wholeness, and cannot be comprehended outside of this unity of being and its various conscious derivatives, since it operates on and through that wholeness.

To be an individual, even an individual god, is to exist in an illusion, since everything is truly one and indivisible. We exist as separate entities glorifying in our uniqueness and our individuality, but we are also seemingly always seeking for something apart from ourselves, and that quest is also an illusion, since everything is whole and subsumed into the oneness. Therefore, living beings, in order to function and survive, have learned to suppress this perception of one-ness, since at the level of the undeveloped or Typhonic state it would lead to a disintegration of the self. At the trans-personal or Centauric level, the boundaries between the oneness and our individuality must be breached, and done so in a manner that does not destroy that individual, but illuminates one instead. Therefore, we live through the illusion of individual entities existing in space and time in order to function, but the irony is that we must transcend this state because it is a barrier to attaining the highest levels of consciousness. What this means is that whether or not we are aware of it, our ultimate quest is for oneness and unity, the ‘rediscovery of this infinite and eternal wholeness’ (p. 184).

Before the emanation of spiritual creation, where Spirit was imbedded in matter, there was the wholeness that is oneness, and we seek that wholeness that is [a] oneness within ourselves. That is the nature of the spiritual quest that the seeker seeks - to be one within the wholeness of the All, our perception of Atman, or God/dess Within.

However, the means to obtaining this sublime state necessitates the death or dissolution of the ego. This perception of ego death is frightening to the individual, especially at the Centauric level, since the ego has become invested with autonomy, and seemingly drunk on its own empowerment and uniqueness. The irony is that to die, the seeker learns to truly live and perceive reality as it actually is, without the limitations of time and space. But getting past that boundary is the most difficult task that seekers can face, and usually they become trapped into accepting their own ego as a surrogate god, thus denying their ability or willingness to evolve to the next higher level. Many occultists have failed this greatest test. Yet the desire for attaining those higher states, and the union of All-Being continues its alluring and seductive siren call, and we as seekers always seem to hear and are drawn to it. It is the ultimate approach-avoidance conflict.

It’s for this reason, because we greatly desire this ultimate achievement and we also greatly fear it, that we end up choosing surrogates instead of actual transcendence. Substitutes range greatly in terms of their variety, and they are usually huge distractions that take the seeker far away from true attainment, such as the usual sensual additions of food and drink, drugs, sex, fame, money, power, and knowledge, but also hidden addictions, such as hubris, self-righteousness, prejudice, misplaced or false piety, cynicism, apathy, and a loss of soul. All seekers truly seek for is the attainment of oneness, but what they actually get if they fail the test is a substitute gratification that makes them think that they have achieved the great quest. Therefore, we must always carefully examine our motives, and ask ourselves the fatal question - are we truly seeking Atman, or are we engaging in a diversion? That question can’t be quickly or easily answered, but we must be aware of what is motivating us, and at what level of our being. At some point in the career of magicians, they must step outside themselves and transcend all of these prior limitations, or be faced with living out their lives with those same limitations forever haunting them. They must [instead] cease working magick, and instead become the magick.”

I hope that this helps to convince my readers that the true purpose of magick is union with the One, and that all else is a potential diversion, an “Atman project” instead of true Atman.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, February 4, 2011

Belief, Faith and Experience - Levels of Experiencing Religion

I wish to continue to discuss the social categories and dynamics of religion, picking up where I left off with the discussion of legitimacy and authenticity. I would like to now focus on the three types of religious sentiment, and look at belief, faith and experience and how they can shape a religious organization as well as the opinions and practices of the individual adherent.

This brings us to the discussion of the three fundamental levels of experiencing religion, as based upon the definitions of religion given previously. Ken Wilber proposes (in the book “A Sociable God”) that there are three basic levels to religious practice and adherence, and these are belief, faith and experience. (See chapter 6, pages 105 - 111.)

Belief is the lowest level achievable by a member of a religious body because it does not require any examination or analysis of one’s creed. It only requires a complete embrasure and acceptance of a codified belief system or doctrine. Believers do not question their beliefs. They tend to interpret liturgy and sacred scriptures in a literal sense, and negatively judge those who are either outside of the faith or dare question any of the foundational beliefs that make up the base of that creed. Believers are passionate, often anti-intellectual and zealous because they adhere unconditionally to dogma and doctrine, and eagerly proselytize their beliefs to others. Religious wars, crusades and terrorist attacks are typically promoted by a minority of overly zealous believers. Tolerance and inclusiveness are usually not their modus operandi, since to admit anything different than what is dictated in their religious creed would, in their mind, jeopardize their belief entirely. Those virtues typically characterize individuals who have begun to actually examine their beliefs and question their basic spiritual assumptions.

The next level is faith, which represents a state where believers have progressed to the point of examining the nature of their beliefs, allowing for the intrusion of doubt, speculation and the inclusion of alternative perspectives; something that would have been impossible for a believer. To those who have faith, beliefs are not the source of their religious involvement, but rather it is an intuition of Deity, where they begin to apprehend a Godhead that has become more intimate and transcendental. Therefore, those who have faith avoid any kind of literal interpretation to doctrine, liturgy or sacred scriptures. Faith is a religious perspective that can admit that spirituality is full of paradoxical qualities which can’t be fully explained or determined through doctrine or dogma. Faith is a natural maturation of belief, and leads its adherents ultimately to become spiritual seekers.

We should keep in mind that zealous believers are also typically provided a great deal of spiritual experience through an active pursuit and full engagement of their religious doctrines. Yet this acts as a mechanism for merely reinforcing what they already believe. Still, that kind of spiritual experience is closely guarded, carefully defined and rigorously controlled by the religious organization that sponsors it, whereas people of faith seek their experiences independently and even outside of their mainstream religion.

This leads us to the next level, which is that of spiritual experience. Experience is superior to both belief and faith, since it is a kind of knowledge of Spirit that is outside and beyond the usual confines of a religious creed. Experience verifies the tenets of a religion, but usually in a manner that reveals far more than the original intent of those tenets. This is why spiritual experience can be considered dangerous and inimical to the dogmatic practices and rigid doctrines of the believer.

Spiritual experience is where individuals have direct and unsupervised encounters with the Deity, as a deeper perception of Spirit or a peak experience, either of which allows for a temporary insight into (and influence from) one of the authentic trans-personal realms. (Wilber has called these the psychic, subtle or causal domains of higher consciousness.) Spiritual experiences can also cause powerful cathartic realizations to occur, generating a profound internal transformation that can become permanent. Experiences are ephemeral, even when they cause transformations, so seekers are required to integrate those experiences into their base of spiritual knowledge, translating their messages from a deeply personal and subjective sphere into one that is objective and easily understood by others.

The integration of spiritual experiences into one’s personal spiritual knowledge is a process of structural adaptation. A peak experience is fleeting, despite the fact that it represents an authentic spiritual experience; it needs to be examined and analyzed so that it can become part of the seeker’s permanent knowledge of things spiritual. A single peak experience can’t alter the conscious mind of spiritual seekers, but a series of them can and do alter seekers in a very profound and permanent manner. The process of continual spiritual experience, which builds one’s spiritual knowledge through adaptation, also fosters a corresponding process of transformative growth and an incremental expansion of conscious.

So we have belief, faith and experience, representing the three levels of religious expression. Each of these levels represents progressive stages of spiritual maturity, knowledge and insight, which an individual acquires as they seek to directly apprehend the nature of the Godhead. But what of the nature of the various religions themselves? Certainly, the qualities of belief, faith and experience would be quite different depending on the nature of the organization in which they occur. Some religious organizations and institutions are closed off and don’t allow individuals to directly experience the numinous manifestation of the Deity; others require their members to ultimately move up this ladder of realization.

In the next stage of our consideration of religion, we should examine the different kinds of spiritual organizations that exist, particularly those in the U.S. We should examine the “source” religion as it is found within the underlying strata of our culture, and how that source religion changed and split up over the past century. We should additionally note that all religions are in some fashion the same and they are also quite different, nor should we eliminate quasi religious political systems or even atheism from our considerations.

This leads us to examine the nature of religion itself, to determine the structures and dimensions found within the cultural matrix in which they occur. One of the more insightful and valuable points that Ken Wilber makes in his book is that academics who study the sociology of religion have developed a theory which states that all religions seem to be fundamentally the same at their core or “deep level,” and that obvious differences are believed to be just surface translations. This theory was proposed in the 1960's by the eminent sociologist and professor, Robert Bellah, and distilled by Wilber in his book.

Bellah’s theory subscribes to the notion that all religions are the same, even though through a deeper analysis, this notion appears to be superficial and does little to explain the intrinsic nature of religions and their obvious differences. Adhering to this theory forces scholars to ignore rather than explain the differences between religions. Although somewhat limited by today’s standards, his theory was ground breaking nonetheless. Bellah’s approach to theorizing the function and structure of religion is  referred to as “symbolic realism.” This theory is presently in the process of being augmented with a different and more subtle approach, called “structuralism;” a scholastic mechanism that has been successfully used to explain a number of social organizations. Interestingly enough, structuralism has its origins in modern linguistics. This adaptation of Bellah’s theories was put forth by the sociologist Thomas Robbins and psychologist Dick Anthony.

Symbolic realism proposed that all religions underlie a universal religion at the level of the social linguistic deep structure. However, structuralism has maintained that religions that have a different surface structure must also have a different deep structure, just as different languages have both a different surface and deep structure. While not wanting to get deep into a discussion of the merits of symbolic realism vs. structuralism, it is important to note that different religions focus on different priorities in regards to legitimacy and authenticity, and that each of these two different perspectives have their own distinct deep and surface structures as well. Ken Wilber made some additions and minor modifications to these theories so that they would use the differentiation of legitimacy and authenticity, adding two more dimensions to the concept of surface and deep structures. I have found Wilber’s modifications to be quite useful and they seem to fix some of the flaws that the structuralist approach to religion still appeared to contain. Wilber’s contention is that legitimacy and authenticity entail different deep structures and surface structures in religions that focus on one of the pair, to the obscuring or altogether omission of the other.

Legitimacy in religion incorporates a deep structure of meaningfulness, social integration, membership status and symbols of immortality (collective destiny), as well as an exoteric mythic civil (mainstream) religious organization. Authenticity in religion incorporates a deep structure of non-rational engagement that precipitates conscious evolutionary growth, promoting a universal mysticism and an esoteric mystery religion; where paradoxical perceptions are valued, matriculated and utilized to act as transformative mechanisms. The dynamic contrast between exoteric and esoteric religions is fundamental to the difference between legitimacy and authenticity. Whereas surface structures change slowly through a process of evolution and re-translation, deep structures change through revolution, so the change in a deep structure, when it happens, is rapid, catastrophic and intense. It should also be understood that deep structures are not monolithic, that they can and do change, but the most common changes are surface changes.

After Wilber has throughly examined all of these theories about the sociology and psychology of religion (and added his own modifications), he then uses it elaborate on one of Bellah’s main theoretical premises, that of an American civil religion (see pages 124 - 139). This is where the concept of a “source” religion enters into our considerations. The source religion for the U.S. is the civil or state religion that shaped the ideals and insights of the founders who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This is the first time that I had ever been exposed to the theory of a basic civil religion practiced in the U.S., but it seems to make sense, since America’s pluralistic culture can tend to be homogenous in certain areas, such as language, education, and the mainstream civil religion shared by the majority.

This civil religion, based as it was on Anglo Protestantism, was a legitimate rather than an authentic religion, which Wilber says: “served good mana on a mythic-membership level and it offered an easy abundance of taboo-avoidance and immortality symbols” (pg. 124). America’s civil religion linked Protestant Christianity with obvious political expressions of nationalism and patriotism, producing such slogans as “In God We Trust” or “One Nation, Under God.” One could also easily define other state or civil religions in this manner, particularly in the manifestation of monolithic communist governments, such as in the former Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, to mention just two. The ramification of this theory of an American civil or state religion becomes quite insightful when we consider what happened to that spiritual institution in the late 20th century. 

The American state religion began to fail in the 1960's, and was rapidly replaced by new religions or by a reformation of the old Protestant paradigm (Evangelism, Dispensationalism, Fundamentalistic Christianity). The mainstream creeds began to lose their effectiveness and their membership began to drastically drop off. Wilber continues this analysis with the statement: “As the old translation-convenant finally disintegrated, it left in its wake three separate lines of development, lines that were already in existence” (pg. 125). These three lines were broken into two groups, those who found fulfillment in secular rationalism and those who chose to be seekers of authentic religious experience.

Seekers of authentic religious experience could also be broken into two basic groups; those who were ready for personal transformation and those who weren’t. Those who couldn’t transform became alienated by secular rationalism and took refuge in various pre-rational immortality symbols and mythological ideologies, either as fundamentalists or as new age religious cultists. Those who could transform chose spiritual paths that would best facilitate that need, so the various movements centered around esoteric religious interpretations, such as earth-based spirituality, theosophical and eastern religious transplants, were born. As diverse as all of these movements presently are, they have one point in common; they have given birth to an ever growing minority of spiritual seekers in America, which will hopefully one day become the dominant form.

Wilber writes: “Since established religion represents a compromise with the ongoing secular institutions, the only other possible host of revolutionary [religious] thought, however unwittingly, is the noninstitutionalized religious sector” (pg. 127).  So what we have in America, and perhaps by some extension, Europe, is a natural competition between regressive and progressive spiritual forces, which will ultimately lay the foundations for a completely new spiritual perspective in the West. We can see this dichotomy at work not only in religion, but also in politics and the collective cultural social psychology. There is a polarity between those who are socially and culturally conservative and those who are socially and culturally progressive.

Our current spiritual crisis in the U.S. is caused by the promotion of reactionary religious doctrines by various orthodox (or ultra-orthodox) organizations, which have attempted to enforce the failed legitimacy of the civil religion (American Protestantism). These reactionary forces disguise themselves as religious orthodoxy, patriotism, social conservatism and old-style family values, but are actually regressive reactions to the onslaughts of science and secularism. The fear of change and the desire to return to more fundamental values is completely contrary to adaptation and spiritual evolution.  It creates a kind of schizophrenic social pathology in which the future and all its potential is feared and rejected rather than embraced. Such fears, on the level of the social collective, represent a powerful regressive movement in our culture. Yet to our benefit, there is an equal counter force in our culture generated by a progressive spiritual movement that encourages tolerance, curiosity, courage, openness and optimism.

The conservative political movement in this country has defined conservative values as being religious and spiritual, in addition to fiscal conservatism and patriotism, and has defined its liberal opponents as being secular, unpatriotic, socialistic and anti-religious. This perspective is, of course, quite erroneous, since they appear to have excluded the possibility of individuals independently validating their spiritual beliefs through personal experience, and so, to them, there can’t be any evolution or growth of ideas. The viewpoint of orthodox religion and that of its political partner, social conservatism, are static and locked into an idyllic perception of the past. Since the technological world is rapidly changing and science is pushing back frontiers at even a greater pace, it would seem to be as vitally important for religions to be pushing back the frontiers of higher consciousness.

A progressive approach to spiritual studies and discipline would be the obvious new wave of the future for organized religions. A small number of groups and non-institutional organizations have already begun to trail-blaze this new direction, and it is only a matter of time before the rest of the Western world catches up to that small minority. In the meantime, social entropy gnaws away at the foundations of moribund orthodox religious institutions, and the dire necessities of the post modern world will even quicken their eventual end. However, that ending may be quite messy, as the current state of our post modern world seems to indicate.

Regressive social forces are not restricted to exoteric religious organizations, and these tendencies can bleed over into pseudo occult or spurious esoteric cults, producing an aberration of progressiveness that can never be authenticated. Such organizations, while pretending to be cutting edge or so called “New Age,” actually possess the same deep structure as extremely conservative fundamentalist religious organizations. They are typified by dogmatic or doctrinal tenets that can’t be evaluated, since they block any real means of testing or authentication.  These reactionary forces can also be defined as rebellious or counter-cultural, but they are still a negative reaction to science and secular rationalism. However, the counter-culture in some cases produced a real desire for authentic spiritual experiences and inspired some to become true spiritual seekers. That movement continues to gain momentum and depth.

The religious struggle in our present age, according to Wilber, is the struggle to somehow establish or resurrect legitimacy in a world where legitimate religion is no longer viable, due to the powerful social effects of science, technology and the necessity of secular government institutions. The struggle is represented in the world today by violent reactionaries, but is actually an inward search for an authentic religious experience. A resolution of this struggle will either produce a world that embraces authentic religion, conscious evolution and esoteric spirituality, or one that has destroyed itself - there seems so little possibility of compromise.

The relevance of these considerations to the greater occult community is that we, who are pagans, initiates and ritual magicians, by definition having formed an esoteric organization dedicated to Gnosis and spiritual evolution (i.e., the Order of the Gnostic Star), must represent the cutting edge of progressive thought and spiritual practices in the world. Our path must be one that is authentic, so for this reason we teach and share the mechanisms of the liturgy, rituals, and ceremonies of a modern transformative magick, as practiced within the Western Mystery Tradition. We don’t require anyone to blindly adhere to any doctrine or dogma, since whatever we hold as collective beliefs must be verified by personal experience.  We are proponents of conscious evolution, spiritual growth, continuous transformation, and ultimately, enlightenment and spiritual ascendency.

Our esoteric organization teaches the methods of conscious transformation, and these become the tools that the seeker and practicing ritual magician uses to foster a spiritual discipline of continuous transformation. Transformation develops depth, insight and stability at higher transcendental levels of being.

Ultimately, continuous conscious transformation has the effect of causing a complete social revolution within external religious organizations, permanently changing the translation of integrative forces and the nature of meaningfulness itself (doctrine, liturgy, sacred scriptures). In this manner, religion loses its literal interpretation of myth and lore, but does not lose its inherent mysteries, myths and paradoxes, thus removing from religious experience dogma and doctrine, and replacing them with individual and collective searches for authenticity based on transcendental transformation.

Wilber defines a true transformational organization as one that is based on the Buddhist Sangha model (a community of monks with a common goal or interest), which is analogous to an organization in the western tradition that I call a “Star Group.” This kind of organization is a close knit group that retains inter-personal access and is an appropriate place for rational inquiry, logical reflection, and a systemic study of all relevant philosophical areas. Such a group would reject dogmatic beliefs and insist on experience, and a peer review of those experiences. A Star Group is not a monastery or secluded group of individuals living in isolation (such as a Sangha), but a group of disciplined adepts living in the world, but periodically meeting to engage in important group activities. Such activities would include establishing a combined methodology or approach to acquiring total enlightenment.

The purpose to this kind of approach would be to destroy that “exclusive identity of consciousness with the mind,” but not destroy the mind itself, which would be subsumed into a larger supreme identity (pg. 134). Spiritual service and ego effacement would be promoted, as opposed to elitism and exclusive sect membership and its artificial ego enhancement. Therefore, all individuals would be subject to an examination by their peers, to “remind ego of its phase specific and intermediate place in over-all development” (pg. 134). This kind of group practice would foster a sense of selflessness that allows the transformation of one’s ego, so it may be transcended and allow for the greater levels of conscious development to occur without obstacle or impediment. This kind of organization is exactly what the Order seeks to realize in the formation of the autonomous local magickal temple and its membership.

A Star Group has its opposite, which is represented by regressive cults of the supposed “new religions.” Wilber points out that these groups can be identified by the following characteristics, and they should be avoided by all seekers as sinister traps and obstacles to true enlightenment.

According to Wilber, regressive cults are based on the dynamics of a pre-personal fixation on a “cult leader,” with consequent obedience to a father/mother figure/totem master, with self to clan fusion and disassociation (participation mystique) with group ceremonies, slogans (mantras of propaganda), and group mythic apocrypha. (See page 133.)

Entrenched members of such groups usually show borderline neurotic or psychotic dispositions with ego weakness and concrete immersion in the cultic experience, causing them to have difficulty in holding an abstract location in their mind. These people are typically engaged in a narcissistic involvement in their group, having low self-esteem along with a correlative difficulty in handling moral ambiguity, contradictions (paradoxes) or complex choice structures. Such a group fosters an atmosphere of passive dependence on an authority figure.

I think that behind Wilber’s Freudian terminology, we can easily see such a cult member as a person who believes that he has no individual worth, and who is therefore completely subsumed into the group. Within that protected environment he receives all of his personal worth and undergoes a kind of self-inflation through a deep identification and participation in the group. Such a person is barely able to function alone, and is completely indoctrinated into the group-mind, being unable to engage in any kind of critical thinking outside of the rigid definitions of that group and its limited view of reality. I can recognize these symptoms all too well, since I have experienced them myself when I belonged to a cult disguised as a witch coven.

A regressive cult highly discourages the very things that would make it a dynamic and creative organization, such as the power of  “active adolescent independence” (transcendence from subconscious dependence to self-conscious responsibility - pg. 132), rational self-reflection, critical appraisal and logical discourse.  Uncritical or unconditional allegiance to the totem master constitutes much of the psychological foundation of the cult. Such an organization, as described above, is exactly the opposite of what the Order seeks to form in the various spiritual communities of this country. For this reason, the by-laws were produced and consensus was made the pre-eminent method for the self-governance of an autonomous temple.

The contrast between a Star Group and a regressive cult could not be more obvious to anyone who has endured, even for a short time, such a terrible group dynamic. However, the various new age organizations, as well as fundamentalist churches, seem to produce these kinds of regressive groups in great abundance. Even an experienced adept has, at one time or another, been exposed to these kinds of groups, and likely endured a harrowing escape from them. Individuals who are suffering from extreme neurosis or psychosis should never be allowed to practice magick or occultism in organizations sponsored or underwritten by the Order or its members, just as temples that succumb to the excesses of a cult mentality should be banned or shunned. The Order sponsors a healthy regimen of occult practices and beliefs, and attempts to create a local organization that is safe, creative, dynamic, open, inclusive, and compassionate.

In order to illustrate the contrast between a Star Group and a regressive cult, I have shown the latter in its worst possible light. Many groups don’t fit this paradigm, and even those that are dysfunctional have redeeming qualities. Sometimes the endemic problems of a group have more to do with its structure, practices and doctrines rather than a despotic or tyrannical leadership. The world is not black and white, but more like various shades of grey. Still, there are two practical rules that can determine the objective worth of any organization, and that is the democratic rule of consensus in some form or another, and the critical appraisal and objective examination of all beliefs and practices.

Nothing should be done simply because it is traditional or because some authority figure has deemed it so; everything should be subject to question, analysis and rational dialogue. All beliefs and practices should have a practical reason for their adherence and use, transparently known by everyone who is a member. These two practical rules can easily determine the difference between a dynamic, democratic and creative organization and one that is locked into a stasis of irrefutable doctrine and inflexible dogma. We should also keep in mind that the emphasis of religious and spiritual engagement should be on authentic experiences rather than legitimacy - a confusion between these two perspectives can have very unfortunate consequences.

I, for one, have had my fill of dysfunctional groups and organizations, and therefore, seek the path of either a solitaire practitioner or the company of a loose confederation, an enlightened Star Group. Remember, the decision to stay or leave a group is always your one power of self determination - you should never allow that right to be abrogated by anyone.

Frater Barrabbas

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Final Farewell to Kenneth Grant

I recently discovered that Kenneth Grant, a noted and somewhat famous occultist and writer, had passed from this world to the next. Mr. Grant died on January 15, 2011, although many of us were not aware of it at the time. So I am putting together this brief eulogy to celebrate his great accomplishments and to note his passing at the ripe old age of 86. (Kenneth Grant: born 1924, died 2011.)

Mr. Grant was probably best known for his Typhonian trilogies, a series of 21 books that examined the dark side of occultism and magick. Grant was probably one of the first to attempt to give African Religious Traditions an occult context, and he also lionized, for a short time, the obscure and infamous occultist, Michael Bertiaux. He also was one of several individuals who claimed, for a time, to be the Outer Head of the Order of the O.T.O., a claim that produced a rather famous series of law suits, which in the end, he lost. Grant also knew Aleister Crowley during World War II, although that time period characterized Crowley’s declining years, both as an occultist and an elderly man. Crowley died in 1947, but the youthful Grant lived on to take up the torch of Thelemic magick, and to cultivate and evolve it into a profoundly post modern perspective. Grant also knew and was friends with Austin Spare, another amazing pagan occultist and artist.

At the present time, I can’t recall anyone else who was such a masterly proponent of the Lefthand Path than Grant, and his books very likely inspired a whole generation of LHP magicians and occultists. It was through Grant’s books that the Left Hand Path took on a particularly irresistible glamor. However, many of Grant’s techniques used to link together various obscure practices and beliefs were tenuous at best, fictional fabrications at worst. Grant also took the literary creations and fantasies of the infamous Lovecraftian Chthulhu Mythos and brought them into a supposedly respectable occultic context, which became rich fodder for chaos magicians everywhere. He was also deeply involved in resurrecting the writings and artwork of Austin Spare, and probably singlehandedly kept that work from succumbing to complete oblivion. His wife, Steffi Grant, added her darkly themed ink drawings to the burgeoning collection of “night gallery” artwork, which was always included on the cover and in black and white picture prints in the middle of each book. This artwork had as much impact on readers as the various odd and obscure occult concepts that Grant sought to darkly illuminate in his books.

Grant left a powerful and irreparable stamp on the practice of ceremonial magick and occultism, and those who practice chaos magick, emulate the practices of Austin Spare, seek to integrate ATR beliefs and practices into their western occultism and magick, develop a system of magick based on the Necronomicon and the Chthulhu mythos, practice lefthand tantra, or who seek a deeper understanding and appreciation of the writings of Crowley, owe him a great debt of gratitude. Grant seemed to leave no stone unturned, and he managed to forge together the dispirit threads of post modern occultism, science fiction and fantasy, horror fiction, exotic ethnic traditions and obscure antiquities, producing a blend of dark occultism and Lefthand Path practices. If you have even the faintest attraction to the dark side of occultism and magick, then Grant is likely your spiritual godfather, whether or not you have read his books.

I started to collect and read Grant’s books back in the late seventies, when the “Coven from Hell” that I belonged to decided that it should branch out into lefthand path occultism and magickal practices. I had to start with his first set of books that were already in print, but soon caught up and read every book up to a certain point. I recommend several of his books, which I consider to be classics and important reading material for anyone who is interested in having a well rounded occult background. The following list of works authored by Grant are just a small part of my recommended reading list, although some may be out of print, very expensive or quite difficult to find.

“The Magical Revival” (Weiser 1972) - This was Grant’s first book that set the tone for all of the books that were to follow. At this juncture, Grant was interested in extending the occult concepts and practices of his mentor, Aleister Crowley. He also introduced to the world the writings, artwork and practices of Austin Spare.

“Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God” (Weiser 1974) - The second book goes further into producing deeper revelations of the Thelemic current, focusing on aspects of sex magick, dream control, the Qliphoth and left hand tantra, which is a part of what Grant calls the “Ophidian current.”

 “Cults of the Shadow” (Weiser 1976) - The third book breaks the ground of revealing the background and connections of the infamous and secretive Lefthand Path, including forays into various African religious and magickal practices, Voudoun (with an emphasis on the Petro rites), lefthand tantra from India (Vama Marg), and numerous other reputed traditions both east and west that were infamously tainted with the lefthand path. It is in this book that Michael Bertiaux is introduced to the occult community. Grant even went so far as creating an African version of the Tree of Life, something that Bertiaux had also been working on.

“Nightside of Eden” (Muller 1977) - The fourth book is probably one of the great classics of lefthand path occultism. It is in this book that Grant attempts to pull together a complete system of the Qliphoth with all of its associated symbology and chthonic spiritual entities. Grant’s main premise is that the Qliphoth is nothing more than the backside or unconscious shadow of the Tree of Life, and that a knowledge of the Qabalah is incomplete without a corresponding knowledge of the Qliphoth, which exists as the core and the source of everything spiritual or material.

“Outside the Circles of Time” (Muller 1980) - The fifth book takes the knowledge and concepts forged in the previous two books and brings them together by tying in yet another source, which is that the lefthand path has its origins in extraterrestrial influences. According to Grant, we have not only been visited in the past by extraterrestrials, our entire corpus of dark occultism as well as even some of the genetic anomalies of sorcerous individuals have been due to periodic intercession and intercourse with extraterrestrials. This is where Grant begins to pull themes and ideas from H.P. Lovecraft into his work, as well as introduce the occult world to the workings of a group of magicians in Cincinnati who had proposed a new aeon of the Egyptian goddess Maat. I thought that this was also a good book, but Grant’s ceaseless proofs involving Gematria and other very obscure occult evidence seemed at times to be grasping at straws.

“Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare” (Weiser 1975) - Another excellent book by Grant. This book revisits some of Spare’s writings and reproduces a lot of Spare’s artwork. Grant attempts to categorize and give a more rational framework for Spare’s occult beliefs and practices, but the deeper examinations are contained in the above books. This book had quite a variety of Spare’s artwork beautifully reprinted, much of which had not been in the public purview for half a century or more. If you want to get a real insight and perspective into Austin Spare through his artwork, this is probably one of the best books on that subject. The artwork is carefully reproduced and given a greater critical and logical context that Spare himself was unable to provide in his earlier writings.

Kenneth Grant also produced his own versions of the books by Aleister Crowley “Magic in Theory and Practice” and “Book Four,” combining them together to produce a work entitled “Magick.” I never purchased a copy of this book, so I can’t make any recommendations for it. Grant had an interesting perspective on Crowley, and in some ways seemed to understand him in a deeper and more profound manner than compared to the writings of his other students and torch holders. In all, Grant published more than 21 books, although most of what he published I neither purchased nor read, since the bulk of it came out after the above six books. 

Beyond the above list of works, Grant, in my opinion, began to produce books simply for the sake of marketing himself and selling them. Very little ground breaking material surfaces from these works, and it would seem that Grant’s brilliance finally succumbed to telling tall tales and producing a fictional account of his occult world and experiences. Particularly painful is Grant’s writings about the “Mauve Zone” and his animating of much of Lovecraft’s fictional writing into supposed occult revelations. I found the books, “Hecate’s Fountain” and “Outer Gateways” to be nearly useless and even somewhat silly. I stopped buying and reading Grant’s books after attempting to read these two awful tombs, and decided that he had finally come to the end of producing anything revelatory or even useful in a practical sense.

Grant cranked out many more books, but I only gave them a cursory glance when I ran across them in occult bookstores. I felt that I had the best of what Grant was to produce in his long life, and had no regrets about not purchasing any more of his works. He had faded somewhat from the focus of my work, but his revelations and accomplishments with the six books listed above stand as a foundation to the work that I am doing, and the work that many others are doing. We all owe Kenneth Grant a debt of gratitude for all of the amazing things that he did give us in his literary career.

Frater Barrabbas