Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Phase One of Final Abramelin Lunar Ordeal Working

Not everything turns out as you would like it to, but most often, it turns out as it needs to be. This is certainly true about the first phase of the two phase final part to the Abramelin Lunar Ordeal. As you may remember, I had scheduled to work magick for the weekend of April 16 and 17 during the full moon. I was going to re-establish contact with the previous structures of the Ordeal, which would include the Ogdoadic Godhead Vortex ritual, the Triple Tetrahedral Gate ritual, to be followed the next day with the Bornless One invocation (Stellar Gnosis version). Typically, if I schedule myself to work magick on a particular day, I will move heaven and earth to make certain that it gets done on that date. This is part of my magickal and spiritual discipline, and I am proud to say that most of the time, I adhere to this rule without prevarication. However, I found myself unprepared mentally and physically to do these rites for the scheduled weekend. Something seemed wrong about doing it then, and I also felt very much compelled to spend the time instead with my girlfriend, since she was leaving for nine days in the middle of the coming week. So I decided to perform the two day working on the following weekend, since I would be alone and able to better focus on my intention to do the work. It was also quite interesting that my plans intersected with the Christian observance of Easter and the Jewish observance of Passover.

Changing the date to the following weekend (April 22 & 23) seemed like a good idea to me. But then I started to think about what I was going to do and the sequence how I was going to do it. I had planned on doing the Alchemical Hierogamy Rite of Union during the next month as part of the second phase, but for some reason I felt driven to add it to the Friday working, so its effect would be in place before I performed the Bornless One invocation the next day. I could make this change because I had previously performed these rites back in December of 2009. I wanted to experience the joining of the Element Godhead with the HGA before I re-performed the Bornless One invocation. I felt obligated to do this, and so I listened to my intuition and decided to act on it. I am very glad that I listened, since the end results were quite splendid.

I now realize how important that ritual was, and how fortunate that I was able to figure it out and write it up. Had I managed to develop this ritual back in the autumn of 2009, I believe that the period of the overall ordeal would have been significantly shortened. At any rate, often the pioneer and trail blazer has to do things the hard way and experience the creative process of developing an ordeal with all of the half hazard, chaotic and serendipitous occurrences that happen along the way. Had I not delayed the working, then I might have done it the way that I originally planned. By letting the date slip a weekend, I came up with a different, and I think, better plan. We shall see over time how it works out, but so far I am very pleased with the results.

Additionally, I also decided to dispense with using the planetary hours for the two workings. Since most of the rites have been performed before as part of the original ordeal, I felt that it wasn’t necessary to enclose the working with planetary hours. I will, however, use planetary hours for the last working in May, because it has not yet been attempted. I also felt that the Benediction rite was unnecessary, since the temple was quite properly aligned and fully charged. Since I completed the first part of the ordeal back in December 2009, the sigils and other regalia for this working has been kept in the exact place where I left them. The forces and intelligences that were contacted back then are still quite active. I also felt that the auspiciousness of the dates precluded the need to somehow make the whole operation more sanctified and spiritually blessed than what it already was.  The important part of this working was to perform the Rite of Union, and to do it before the Bornless One invocation.

Needless to say, those (in the Order) who choose to undergo this ordeal as it has been established will perform it with the Rite of Union being done after the Bornless One invocation. I also will recommend that it be executed very quickly afterwards, perhaps the next day after the invocation. It was important for me to perform the Ogdoadic Godhead Vortex ritual and the Triple Tetrahedral Gate ritual in order to re-awaken and re-connect with the ordeal where I left it. Since the Rite of Union was supposed to be worked while the HGA and the Element Godhead were active, I felt that I needed to re-immerse myself in this work. So I assumed that the second time through these rituals wouldn’t really been very illuminating. The key, of course, was with the Rite of Union and the effect that it would have on the overall working. I was looking forward to that event with a great deal of anticipation.

Astrological considerations for the dates April 22 and April 23 were not particularly auspicious. The moon was in the sign Capricorn and it was five days from the full moon, or two days before the last quarter. Moon in Capricorn is not an emotionally effusive aspect - it is, in fact, cold and inhibited. However, the lunation cycle for the moon was at type 6, which was the disseminating type, useful for communication and guidance. I could expect a stable and placid, if not subdued, lunar impact, particularly with the sun recently entered into Taurus. Still, this was the date for Good Friday and Earth Day, with next day of Saturday (Holy Saturday) representing the transition from death to rebirth, at least in Christian practice.

In the tradition of the Roman Catholics, the church altar was stripped on Holy Thursday after the mass rite, and no mass was actually said after that event until Easter Sunday. Good Friday was a time of prayer, adoration of the cross, a procession of the Holy Eucharist and a mass of the pre-sanctified, using sacraments produced on Thursday. Holy Saturday continued the abstinence of saying mass, but consisted of the blessing of the fire, reading of the prophecies, blessing of the baptismal font (in preparation for a special baptism in the old rite), and at vespers, the first celebration of Christ’s resurrection. All of these rites commemorated the execution, death and rebirth of the founder and savior, Jesus Christ. So I was undergoing my personal rites of the Abramelin Lunar Ordeal when the rest of the Christian world, orthodox as well as the other denominations, was celebrating their holiest weekend of the year, next to Christmas. Therefore, the timing was particularly auspicious, if one considers the impact of performing personal magick during a religious holiday.

On Friday and Saturday (starting during the evening on Friday) the Passover Shabbat is celebrated, representing the most auspicious moment in the eight day celebration after the two Seder meals and before its final end, which is Tuesday. These are the fourth and fifth days of Passover, known as the Choi Hamoed, or intermediate days. The intermediate days represent the Hebrew’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt and their travels to the Red Sea. They are still in danger of being captured or killed by pharaoh’s soldiers, and it is the seventh day when the miracle of the Red Sea splitting is performed by Yahweh, allowing the Hebrews to cross over and safely begin their sojourn to the promised land.

Let me now relate what happened to me during these two events, since we have established the reasons and the context for their operation. I will write up edited notations from my journal, excluding only those entries that I consider too personal to relate here.

Friday, April 22: Began the working at approximately 8:30 pm. I completed setting the magick circle just after the clock signaled the half hour, so I was able to determine the start time. I performed the Mass of the Goddess to charge the temple, and the rite proceeded without any incident. I felt in high spirits for this work, and body was without fatigue or any pain - not at all like the last time I did this working. I performed the Ogdoadic Godhead Vortex ritual and found that the individual Seraphim and Cherubim had become completely fused into union. I received no sense of any individual messages or insights, instead they manifested as a powerful combination of force and intelligence, which was quite remarkable! I was nearly taken aback by the powers and the sense of the coalesced entities that I had awakened.

Once I had completed the invocation of the Element Godhead of Water, I did reconnect and re-encounter the Goddess aspect that I had encountered nearly sixteen months ago. I found myself returned to the peaceful misty beach, where I had met a youthful barefoot woman with a white lace shift, tanned body and face, blond hair in french braids, green eyes and a friendly smile. I could once again smell the sea salt and hear the gentle sound of the waves lapping against the shore. I also heard sea gulls in the background, but noticed that the sun was completely occluded by the enveloping mist. I communed with her a little while, and felt comforted and refreshed by her presence. I had a strong sense of well being and happiness, as if anticipating a time of joy. I now wonder if the Goddess was anticipating her wedding to the HGA, feeling the joy that one would expect to feel for such a glorious union.

The next ritual in the series for that evening was the Triple Tetrahedral Gate ritual. I found this rite to be easy to perform and did so without incident. There were no striking visitations or other magickal phenomena. I could feel the power of the ritual reach a kind of crescendo with the opening of the Great Gate, and I also sensed or even saw the Goddess and the HGA meeting each other on either side of the gateway. This rite set the stage for the next and final rite, having awakened and pulled together all of the elements from the last working. I was ready to proceed to the next level of the working.

Performing the rite of the Alchemical Hierogamy Rite of Union was effortless, flowing and nearly flawless. I marveled at how well the ritual worked, even though this was the first time that I had performed it. The first stage of the rite held an element of sadness, since that is where the young King and Queen are executed and drained of blood, preparing them for the alchemical resurrection. However, instead of sensing the Goddess and the HGA going through this process, I felt myself going through it instead. I could visualize myself progressing through the three steps of alchemical dissolution, where my sense of ego based selfhood was completely destroyed and made ready for distillation and regeneration. However, when I got to the central part of the rite, and began to perform the rites of Conjuction, where the Goddess and HGA were to be wed, I found that they had returned to my vision’s sight, and I drew them together through the wedding rite.

I then envisioned a scene right out of the Lovers Card in the Tarot, with me acting as the prelate who officially joins the two young lovers together. Once this act had reached it climax, I felt my heart filled with an indescribable joy and a blissful happiness. It was a powerful sense of ecstatic union, and I even saw in my mind’s eye where the two youthful lovers embraced and became as one great being of light and love. I had to stop the working at this point for a while as I fully processed these new sensations. I fully sensed and felt the mysterious “Lover Within” as I had never sensed it before.

The rest of ritual proceeded without any further interruption, but as in the first part, I saw myself being reconstructed and made alchemically whole, fulfilled, regenerated and renewed. The end of the rite had me feeling as if I were reborn and made completely new.

Once the final rite was finished, I had to sit and meditate for awhile. I felt that the Rite of Union was very likely the most magnificent ritual that I have ever experienced. I was so powerfully affected that I couldn’t go to asleep right way. The rite had been completed at around 11:30 pm, which was a three hour period of intense ritualizing, but I was not at all tired. Later that evening, my dreams were very vivid and active, and I felt a blissful kind of joy and happiness that I haven’t felt in some time, as if the weight of all my cares and troubles had been completely removed from my shoulders.

Saturday, April 23: This time there was a bit of a delay before I was able to begin the working. I had some tasks to complete for the day, and then afterwards, I wanted to take short nap to catch up on my sleep. Unfortunately, I slept for around two hours, which meant that the time at my waking was around 7 pm. It was still light out (because of daylight savings time and because the days get so much longer in Minnesota the closer one is to the solstice), so I was at first confused by the time. I hadn’t done the preparations for the Bornless One rite, so I had to focus on getting them completed before starting the work. I decided not to perform the Mass of the Goddess for this evening’s work, and instead, I would focus on just doing the Bornless One rite. I finally got everything ready, took a shower and properly anointed myself. The magick circle was fully erected at around 10:00 pm.

I then went through the five stages of the Bornless One invocation rite, where I set up the four Qabbalistic Worlds as the platform steps to a raised energy temple, with the fifth stage functioning as a trapezoidal prismatic temple at the very top. I was able to pace myself and make it through these five arduous stages without difficulty or fatigue slowing me down. I felt ebullient, inspired and fully empowered, so I managed to work through all of the operations until I got to the Bornless One invocation. I then went through this invocation and the final experience was far more powerful and remarkable than I have ever experienced it before. The ecstatic feeling from the previous evening was greatly amplified, and by the time I had completed the invocation, I felt a truly great joy and happiness overpower all of my senses. I felt that the HGA and it’s apparent manifestation was supremely energized by the Rite of Union of the previous evening. It was so apparent to my senses that I felt as if I were two individuals and not one. I could sense its thoughts and feelings as if they were my own. The union between us was neither complete or perfect, but it gave me a strange kind of doppelganger effect, where I moved and sensed myself in space and time in two places at once, even though both bodies were very close. It’s the oddest sensation that I have ever experienced, but it does represent to me that I am getting very close to my objective of being fully unified with the Higher Self.

Once the rite had achieved it’s climax, I found myself blissfully enclosed in a state that was absolutely wonderful. I saw the world through the HGA’s thoughts, and could even engage in an internal dialogue with my higher self, even anticipating the answers! I wanted to know my destiny, at least for the rest of my life, and I saw that there was still so much more to experience and learn, even though I have lived more than half of life so far. Could that mean that I have a long life ahead of me? I could interpret it that way, or it could just mean that my last days will be very busy, allowing me to complete my travels and studies in good order. I now realize that I have built a good solid foundation, and the HGA showed me this, and so much more.

After I sat in meditation for a while, the superimposition of the HGA and myself merged until I felt it in my body, or perhaps I was in its body - I couldn’t tell. He was talking to me inside my head as if it were just another facet of myself (or like to friends in a casual conversation), and I felt just blissful, whole and completely happy. Then when there was nothing more to say, we both became quiet but fully aware of and delighting in our merged beings. This state of mind continued as I completed the ritual and finally retired for bed. I felt like I was a container for this being, sharing the space of my thoughts, feelings and sensations with it. The whole thing was indescribable - and it is still very much active, even now, many hours after it was completed.

One thing that I did ask my HGA was to help me to determine a theme for the Theurgia-Goetia spirits. Looking at this problem through the eyes of my Higher Self, I found it to be all quite simple. The spirits of the Theurgia-Goetia are based on the sixteen directions of the winds, since they are winged air spirits who fly. Half of them are good, and the other half are demonic, so they would represent the spirits that ward the gateway of the Abyss - half of them are on this side, and the other half are in the night side of the abyss. They form a circle whose center is the abysmal gateway. I am sure that this will help me develop a magickal system to invoke and evoke those spirits, and I believe that more information will be forthcoming, but it was fascinating to ask this question and have it so easily answered.

The working was completed at around 1:15 am Sunday morning, and after shutting everything down, I tried to sleep. I have to admit that it was difficult to sleep, even though I was tired, because another part of me (the HGA?) was still awake and processing everything at light speed. I even had the odd thought of: “so this is what its like being in a body and seeking the succor of sleep - how interesting!”

On Sunday, which was Easter, I decided to rest somewhat, but I did feel moved to perform a Thanksgiving mass, which I did after completing my journal entries. I had woken late in the morning and still felt tired. I also felt like something was still moving around inside my head, inspiring me with all sorts of visions and insights. I said the Mass of the Goddess with all of the solemness and joy of the moment, but I also was very tired. I cooked for myself a wonderful feast and thoroughly enjoyed eating it, since my senses had been so much enhanced from my experience. I felt that I had successfully completed the first phase, and felt a great deal of wonder and amazement at the magickal process that produces these experiences. There was much to grateful about, and felt gratitude at the deepest levels.

I am looking forward to the next and final phase of this ordeal, which (unless something peculiar happens) will be Saturday, May 14. At that time, I will attempt to perform the Bornless One Envisioning rite. I will produced an edited version of my experience and also probably put together an epilogue for the whole ordeal. Stay tuned, because it only gets more interesting!

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thoughts About the Qliphoth

“It is futile and false to imagine a coin with one side only.”
  Kenneth Grant - “Nightside of Eden,” p. 2.

A number of occultists have over the last few decades written about the Qliphoth, or Qliphah (singular), and some have stipulated that there is a Tree of Evil or Death in addition to the Tree of Life, acting as its reverse or negative image. This seems to be a theme expressed by some adherents of the left hand path, and some have proposed a Tree of Evil, and through it to assign a quasi hierarchy for the various lists of evil spirits and devils that supposedly populate the material world. Having two such trees allows one the duality of choosing one or the other, or perhaps, going to one then the other. According to Genesis it is true that there were two sacred trees in the Garden of Eden, one was indeed the Tree of Life; but the other wasn’t its opposite. The other tree was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Since humankind ate from the later and not the former, we have the power and potential of knowing truth on all levels of being, but we are not immortal. Yet the scriptures never mention a Tree of Evil, so one would have to assume that it is apocryphal or even a recent urban myth. However, there is another way of interpreting the Qliphoth and determining how it fits into the overall schema of the Qabbalah without having to propose two opposing trees.

The word Qliphoth or Qliphah comes from the Hebrew root QLPh, which means “to peel off,” and the noun means “husk, shell or rind.” Qliphah, therefore, means in Hebrew, a shell or the outer covering of some kind of fruit or nut. When applied to the Qabbalah it has been variously interpreted as a kind of afterbirth or discarded element. It could even be defined as a previously failed attempt at creation (an abortion), but only if one doubted the perfection of the Godhead. Yet there is another meaning to the word that would allow it to merge into the Tree of Life, but only if we can overcome the basic prejudice built up by the previous definitions. The Qliphoth could simply be the outer shell or husk of the corresponding Sephiroth, and in actuality, it would function more like a socket or the bottom foundation of a specific Sephirah. In other words, the Qliphoth are the backside or unconscious dimensions of the Sephirotic Tree of Life. I believe that Kenneth Grant was the first to propose this interpretation in print, even though Michael Bertiaux has insisted that he first proposed it as a part of the deep esoteric qabbalistic descriptions in his traditional lore (Monastery of the Seven Rays). A few friends of mine have said that such lore would likely have been part of the infamous Choronzon Club workings, and there is, at least, a little bit of evidence to support that belief. (Which I intend to show at the end of this article.) 

Using this revelation, suddenly the Qliphoth are neither evil nor the negative partners to the Sephiroth in the Tree of Life. The troubling Tree of Evil or Death disappears, and in its place is just the night and light sides of the one Holy Tree. Just as we have a light and darkside, so, too,  does the Tree of Life; but that darkside represents neither a duality nor a split between good and evil. As the glyph of the Tree of Life is outwardly defined, all of the elements contained within it are seen as a unified whole, and that includes the Sephiroth, the Pathways, and even the Qliphoth.

I have found it most productive to see the Qliphoth as the arising potential for each Sephiroth - they are, in a word, the unmanifest potential first laid down by the emanations of the negative veils. The fusion of Sephirah and Qliphah is seamless, but each represents a different kind of spiritual quality and hierarchy. One can’t enter into the corresponding qliphah from the sephirah, since through the sephirah, they are both perfectly united. The backside of the Tree of Life can only be accessed through the portal of the gateway of Da’ath, which is also the gateway of the Greater Abyss. Therefore, the individual qliphah can be acquired and realized only through the gateway of Da’ath, otherwise their influences are nearly invisible, except through the periodic subtle dark emanations coming from the abysmal gateway. (Some have called these dark emanations the heartbeat of darkness itself.)

It is my belief that the Qliphoth contains all of the unknown and invisible chthonic proto-elements of our spiritual, mental and physical worlds. Atavism, archaism and dark inner pathways connect the backside of the Tree of Life, like the endless tunnels of the catacombs in Paris. The light side of the Tree of Life has only twenty-two pathways, but the backside has as many possible permutations for pathways as there are sephiroth. Thus all of the sephiroth are interconnected below the surface at the level of the qliphoth with what is nominally called “Typhonian wormholes.” The underworld domain of the backside of the Tree of Life is populated with the dead ancestors, gods and goddesses of the underworld, and the various demonic and sub-elemental spirits and powers.

Aleister Crowley and other occultists (like Grant) have taken some incomplete information from Jewish qabbalistic sources and have given names, qualities and rulers to the ten anti-sephiroth of the Qliphoth. Grant has attempted to extrapolate on this incomplete information and attempted to build up a system of anti-correspondences. I have found this work to be quite weak and incomplete, and based upon a decided Jewish monotheistic mystical bias, which I think is contrary to any practical magickal workings with these forces. I would recommend that the forces and spirits of the qliphoth and their wormhole pathways be examined as merely the negative source potentials for the obverse sephiroth and glyph determined pathways. If they have any names or qualities, it would not be just a mirror image of the surface structures of the Tree. They would be the veritable archaic sources for those structures. The backside of the Tree of Life is without morals and spiritual values, and is therefore, beyond good and evil.

High adepts are supposedly those individuals who have crossed the Greater Abyss, having left their old lives, motivations and aspirations (like lifeless shells) behind them. That crossing is not so much a leap across a chasm as it is the voluntary leap down into the abysmal gateway, and therein fully engaging and resolving the various powers and spirits of the Qliphoth before one is allowed to emerge on the other side, profoundly transformed and completely remade. A high adept has supposedly completed the process of conquering his or her internal issues and complexes before ever attempting this greater passage, and thereby seeking to resolve the sins and inequalities of the world as opposed to the self.

This underworld passage and ordeal has always been the theme of the exalted apotheosis, but it has reflections in the underworld transformative journey of the proto-shaman. Even Jesus descended into hell and underwent its harrowing before ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of the throne of his father. The oldest written variation of this theme is the Egyptian underworld ordeal known as the Book of Gates (Am Duad), where the sun god, ensconced in his solar boat, had to fight the forces of darkness to achieve passage to the eastern horizon every night. As an initiation theme, it is the most important and the greatest of all ordeals, since few emerge as victors from that terrible descent. Likewise is the theme of a mock burial and resurrection, particularly if it is enacted within a temple, vault or sacred grove. Such a theme emulates the famous initiatory burial and ascent that took place in the pyramid tombs of ancient Egypt. All of these themes characterize that the spiritual, mental and physical changes to the one undergoing such an initiation are massive, radical and quite permanent. Madness and death instead of illumination and rebirth could easily be the end result for such an ill prepared undertaking. (One does not take the Oath of the Abyss either lightly or presumptuously.)

In the system of ritual magick that I use, there are some prismatic shaped energy fields that can emulate these kinds of structures and aid one in opening the abysmal gateway, allowing the magician to gain passage within. Such an act must only be undertaken by someone who is supremely knowledgeable and capable of dealing with the consequences. Although I have the knowledge of how to accomplish this kind of working, I have yet to attempt it, for obvious reasons. Still, such an undertaking is definitely on my list of things to do in the next five years or so. Here are the steps that one would need to perform in order to open up this kind of gateway.

  1. Establish a highly polarized cross-roads using the four Angles.
  2. Build a double concentric spiral vortex, each with a common midpoint. This is done by generating a basic vortex, then establishing a central circle, and finally erecting a vortex within that central circle. Thus generating a vortex within a vortex with a common central point. Both of vortices would have a negative spin (widdershins), so they would produce a kind of black hole singularity with gateways extending into four different universes (what Bertiaux calls his universe A, B, C and D).
  3. Establish an inverted Tetrahedral gateway - this would be the entrance into and out of the abyss.
  4. Once within the abysmal gateway, Qliphotic path workings would commence. Supposedly, there are thirty-three separate and distinct path working encounters, grouped into three sections of eleven encounters.
(That means that this rite would have to be repeatedly performed at least thirty-three times to satisfy all of the possible variations.)

The Order of the Gnostic Star has a ritual working already written (but not yet attempted) that makes use of the above ritual elements, but there are other attributes to this rite as well. It is a ritual working that has been carefully constructed and refined over the years, but it is still untried. Hopefully, someday, if my progress in self purification and perfection has been sufficiently adequate, I will attempt this working. However, there is no hurry and I am under no obligation to begin this rite at any future date or time. For now there is only the need to continue to learn, grow and work out my internal issues, following a progressive path towards spiritual illumination.

One final thing that I would like to discuss is the practice of Qliphotic path working that is used in this kind of ordeal, and how that supposedly relates to the Choronzon Club workings. As you may or may not know, the Choronzon Club and its lore has become the exclusive property of Michael Bertiuax. This lore, along with other inducements, was offered to me many years ago if I made myself accessible to Bertiaux. Of course, I refused, so I never got to see any of that lore. The one exception was derived from what Michael penned on the back inner cover of my copy of Nightside of Eden, which I had bought from him. The few lessons found at the back of the Voudoun Gnostic Workbook are almost comically useless and meaningless, so all I have is what’s written in the back cover of Kenneth Grant’s book. Still, let us digress a little and discuss the history of the Choronzon Club.

First of all, Choronzon was a powerful evil spirit mentioned by John Dee in his diaries and then elaborated upon by Mathers and Crowley, and later, Grant and Bertiaux, among others. Choronzon is considered the lord of the domains of the Qliphoth and is its guardian and chief initiator. Grant has determined that the gematric value for Choronzon is 333, making its name half the value (and therefore, functioning as the consort and opposite) of the Great Beast, whose number is 666. Choronzon was vividly encountered when Aleister Crowley began to invoke and gain visions through the higher level of the Aethyrs of the Enochian system of magick. This entity was perceived by Crowley as being highly aggressive and quite negative, requiring the magician to engage and defeat it in order to gain access to the more exalted states revealed by the Aethyrs.

For some reason, one of Crowley’s favored American students, whose name was Cecil Frederick Russel, became enamored of this entity and used it to name his personal magickal organization. Thus was born the Choronzon Club, which he assembled first in Chicago, and then later in California. Russel had received certain teachings and initiations from Crowley at the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu, Sicily. Supposedly, he was taught and initiated into the mysteries of the IX and X and XI degress of the O.T.O., and used these teachings to propose a shortcut to becoming an initiated higher adept. Of course, very little of this lore was Russel’s own invention, so he had been plagiarizing and misrepresenting the teachings of the A. A. and the O.T.O. Once exposed, his organization fragmented into two parts and mostly died out.

One of these fragments was the Order of the G.B.G (Great Brotherhood of God), whose lore and practices were published in the late sixties and early seventies by Louis T. Culling, the last chief of that organization. Another fragment of that group had retained the name Choronzon Club and the location, Chicago, but practiced a form of exclusive homosexual trantric magick. By the 1960's this group was dying out when it was discovered by Michael Bertiaux, who merged its teachings with his own. It’s hard to see how such a direct tantric system of magick would have had anything to do with obscure forms of qliphotic qabbalah, but according to Bertiaux (if we are to believe him), the Choronzon Club did indeed teach this kind of lore. Since no one has come forthpresenting the Choronzon Club teachings as they existed before Bertiaux acquired them, we will never know what that lore looked like. Supposedly, it became the basis of the O.T.O.A. (Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua), but since I am outside of that organization and not privy to the exact nature of its teachings, I can only guess and surmise this from rumors and internet related gossip. (I have recently found an interesting article on the web about this subject, and you can read it here.)

All of this would be the barest and meanest of speculation on my part if were not for the colored notes penned by Michael Bertiaux in the back inside cover of my copy of Nightside of Eden. It is labeled “Choronzon Club Pathworking”, and works with the symbolic numbers of eleven and three, which were supposedly very significant to both the higher degrees of the O.T.O. and the Choronzon Club, from which it was based. I am reproducing it here for your curiosity and amusement, perhaps you will find it useful as well. I have been studying these diagrams for many years, and they now make a lot of sense to me. These diagrams show the patterns of the qliphotic pathworkings and how they are to be deployed. There also appears to be alchemical and a sex magick attributes to them as well. I will leave the rest to your erudition and imagination.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, April 22, 2011

Is the Qabbalah Superfluous?

Some occultists and magicians have been making the point that the Qabbalah, which they see as having been derived from an exclusive form of Jewish mysticism, has been over-rated and that its influences and beliefs are not required for working ritual or ceremonial magick. This is not a new argument, but since it has been a popular topic as of late, it’s one that I feel obligated to examine in greater detail.

The real question that all magickal practitioners of the Western Mystery tradition should consider is this: Is the Qabbalah superfluous to practical magick? Can a magician work a system of magick that is completely expunged of all qabbalistic influences? The answer is, yes, of course! If we consider that the Qabbalah is merely a meta-system and a source of meta-knowledge, then choosing a different meta-system and meta-knowledge will readily replace the functionality occupied by the Qabbalah.

We should also understand that the Qabbalah was not derived exclusively from Jewish mysticism, that its historical source was a hybrid that had pagan philosophy and gnosticism blended into it. Also, the system of Qabbalah that most magicians use today is a product of the Golden Dawn and it’s various derivations, especially the Fraternity of Light and Servants of the Light. The Qabbalah of Dion Fortune and her occult progeny (such as Gareth Knight and Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki) has had the greatest impact on the Qabbalah that many of us study and use today, and they infused it with some theosophical elements as well. Thus, the Qabbalah of today is the product of a hybrid that has been mutating for centuries, and it is likely still mutating today. This is not the Lurian Qabbalah of the Hasidic European communities of the 17th century, and in fact, it is not the Qabbalah of the late 19th century, either.

My focus for ths article is really about the nature of a meta-system and meta-knowledge as they are used in occultism, how the Qabbalah is able to function as such, and what any other replacement system must contain in order to be effective. Since I don’t believe that the Qabbalah is either absolutely necessary or critical to the performing of either ritual or ceremonial magick, then I will need to explain why I still continue to use it and find it very capable in my own occult work. This only means that I am unwilling to replace the Qabbalah with another system, but I am able to define the parameters of that replacement. Still, the basic foundation for the Qabbalah is language, particularly, the mysticism of letters, numbers and their interchange in strategic words and phrases.

The Jewish Qabbalah has as its foundation the Hebrew language, specifically, Classical or Biblical Hebrew. Yet Aleister Crowley had shown in his writings (“777”) that the Hebrew language of the Qabbalah could be replaced with any other (sacred) language, but it should be one that has a certain mystique and occult affiliation. The numbers ten and twenty-two are still important, but alphabets that have more elements than twenty-two can be accommodated. Therefore, we can add Greek, Egyptian (Coptic), Arabic, and even Latin, Sanscrit and English to the range of possible foundational languages used to build a qabbalah. However, once we depart from the dual structures of the ten Sephiroth and twenty-two pathways to facilitate building a system with a completely different numbering system, then we will irreparably change the structure of the Tree of Life, and even the number of Trumps in the Tarot. It would seem that there are built in limitations if the purpose of building a variant qabbalah is to use the innate structures of the Tree of Life, the Pathways and their interaction as noted in the processes of spiritual evolution (for the individual seeker), and the emanations of the Godhead.

Other elements of the Qabbalah are its cosmology, cosmogony, occult metaphysics and the various practices and techniques of the practical Qabbalah, such as building tables of correspondences, establishing various spiritual hierarchies, determining the interrelationships of a word-based numerology, and the creation of acronyms, ciphers and sigils. Some of these practical techniques are not critically important, such as the crafting of acronyms and ciphers, which depends on the utility that the occultist or magician finds with such techniques. However, I have found them all to be useful and important in my studies, so I would have to completely replace them if I chose a radical meta-system and meta-knowledge to be the foundation of my magickal practice. I will cover these in greater detail a little bit later in this article, but for now, I want to focus on the nature of a meta-system and meta-knowledge.

What is a meta-system and what is meta-knowledge? I must admit that I am neither a computer scientist nor a mathematician, so my definitions will not be as precise as they might be. I will use imprecise verbiage to define these terms as they would be used in defining the nature of the Qabbalah.

A meta-system is a system that is described by attributes that are themselves abstract objects with their own properties and attributes. The interrelationships between these attributes would form what is loosely defined as a meta-system. It is, therefore, a system describing a system. This definition, as it applies to the Qabbalah, provides the basis for the tables of correspondences and the ordering of the various attributes around the associated qualities of the ten Sephiroth and the twenty-two Pathways (making a series of tables with at most 32 rows). It could also be applied to the various hierarchies and lists of spirits and gods, which could also be included as a subset of the tables of correspondences. The tables can also be reduced to focus on just the ten Sephiroth, or attributes of the four elements, seven planets or twelve signs of the zodiac.

Meta-knowledge is defined roughly as information about information, including the qualities that it has a structural organization (modeling and organizing) and a way of defining specific attributes (tags). This definition would specifically relate to the model of the Tree of Life, and how the various attributes of the Sephiroth and Pathways would be organized into relationships and attribute qualifiers, which could also be reflected in the various tables of correspondence. It should be noted that information implicitly associated with the glyph of the Tree of Life establishes a hierarchy of creative emanations and their interrelationships (through the 22 paths) as well as a holistic and symbolic expression of those formulations.   

As you can see, the two essential qualities of the Qabbalah (definition by attributes, information expressed through a model and specific tagging) could be associated with the concepts of a meta-system and meta-knowledge. These two qualities are the most important aspects in determining the value of the Qabbalah, and they would also function as important qualities for any system that would be used to replace it. A replacement system would have to have the following six elements:

  1. Stages or phases of emanation (analogous to the Sephiroth) based on pure number,
  2. Alphabetic system of interrelationships (analogous to the Pathways),
  3. Glyph or symbolic model depicting the structure of the emanations and pathways along with an implied hierarchy and interrelationships,
  4. Foundational language - typically a sacred tongue of some kind,
  5. Spiritual hierarchy,
  6. Various Tables of Correspondences - important occult attributes and their associated tags.

In addition to the above list of elements, the meta-system and meta-knowledge would be used to determine a cosmology and cosmogony, a structure of the inner spiritual planes, as well as the ability to define a kind of occult epistemology (nature and scope of knowledge) and ontology (nature of reality). It would also define the relationship between the ultimate Godhead as the One, and individual human beings as the Many. Emanation and evolution are both implied by this hierarchy as well as the definition of the macrocosm and the microcosm. This structure is also recursive, since the glyph of the Tree of Life applies to the cosmic emanations of the Godhead as well as to the psycho-spiritual structure of an individual human being (Adam Kadmon). I would also include the four Qabbalistic Worlds as representing a more direct model of the groupings or structures of the inner planes, and also the theorem that mind existed before matter. Therefore, if one were to omit using the Qabbalah, then some of these qualities would have to be determined using some other kind of philosophical mechanism.

Yet suppose that a magician decided that most of the above qualities were unnecessary to the actual practical work of magick. Suppose that he or she only wanted to borrow or rework those practical techniques that were absolutely necessary, and then discard the rest. What, then, is absolutely necessary to the practice of ritual or ceremonial magick.

The first thing that is most important, in my opinion, is for the magician to develop a methodology for crafting the sigils of the various spirits, particularly if such sigils didn’t already exist. The second thing is to be able to somehow conceptualize the nature and structure of the inner planes. Spirits don’t exist in a vacuum, suddenly appearing when properly summoned. They exist in a hierarchy of domains. Thus, the use of spirit lists and an associated hierarchical structure would also be quite important for the practicing magician.

One could have a number of disparate tables to use for spirit lists, or one could attempt to link all of those lists into a meta-hierarchy. Extending these spirit lists into a meta-hierarchy would develop the inter-relationships between the various spirits, and it would produce a structure that would be a lot like a qabbalah. A meta-hierarchy is useful to the ritual or ceremonial magician because it helps to uniquely define each spirit, making them more easy to invoke or evoke. Developing a qabbalah out of these spirit lists would make their over-all structure (or meta-hierarchy) even more refined, thereby showing why adopting some kind of qabbalah would be useful and natural to the practice of magick.  

The other practical uses of the Qabbalah could be omitted, but they are also very useful and important tools. I have found that a strict and intensive use of Gematria (as the transformation of the letters of words and phrases into numbers) is not really very useful. Kenneth Grant has shown this behavior in his books, giving us an example of what an abuse of Gematria can produce - a lot of tenuous occult proofs and dubious connections. Yet a moderate use of Gematria (as shown by Aleister Crowley in his writings) is useful and illuminating. So, too, with Notariqon and Temurah, since the usefulness of acronyms and ciphers varies amongst occultists. Still, being able to pull together many lists into a holistic structure of tables of correspondences is very useful to the magician who is either invoking through a symbolic matrix, or finds the use of ancillary attributes and symbols to be magically effective and conducive. Such additional attributes would consist of the following elements:

  • Colors,
  • Incense,
  • Perfumes,
  • Ethnic Godheads,
  • Planets, Elements, Zodiacal Signs,
  • Metals,
  • Minerals,
  • Herbs,
  • Magickal formulas or words of power,
  • Spiritual or theological concepts,
  • Various spirits (angelic, demonic, neutral) associated with various hierarchies,
  • Symbols or geometric shapes,
  • Magickal weapons or tools,
  • Alphabets,
  • Tarot cards,
  • Alchemical concepts,
  • inner plane domains,
  • etc. ad infinitum.
The ability to link all of these attributes together into a single structure would allow all of them to be related to specific occult concepts, representing a greater domain with many sub-domains operating within it. Such a methodology would allow for the creation of powerful associations as well as the ability to build an operant link for any specific spirit or godhead.

Personally, I can’t think of a more useful and important function than being able to build an operant link. This capability, not to mention everything else covered above, would show that the Qabbalah is a very important meta-system for the accomplished ritual or ceremonial magician. One would either have to use what is already available or invent a replacement in order to retain that degree or level of functionality. For myself, I would choose to use and extend what is already available instead of having to create a replacement, since that would be a lot like reinventing the wheel. Others may have their reasons for crafting a replacement (or not), but I would rather focus my efforts on other areas.

If someone elects not to use the Qabbalah, then that’s their choice, of course. But to also omit any of the above functionality is to wield, in my opinion, an inferior magickal methodology.

Frater Barrabbas  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Remembering Michael Bertiaux

 (Bertiaux and Allen Greenfield - 1980's)
It was back in the summer of 1977 on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in Chicago that I got to meet the notorious Michael Bertiaux. I had traveled with my teacher and High Priest, Christopher Syn (Bill Schnoebelen) and selected members of our group from Milwaukee (the infamous “coven from hell”) to attend one of Michael’s lectures. Michael was giving a lecture to a quasi theosophical group consisting mostly of elderly women (who seemed to adore him), and it was so philosophically banal and boring that I can’t remember today what it was about.

I do remember buying a copy of Kenneth Grant’s newest book “Nightside of Eden” from him, which had Michael Bertiaux’s signature and date on the front inside cover, and certain colored pencil tables and other writings in the back inside cover. Those tables and writings were from the supposed “Choronzon Club” lore, and represented the methodology of path working for the back side of the Tree of Life. (It took me nearly seven years later to figure out what it meant and how it worked.) This book was part of a collection of books, recorded cassette tapes and other paraphernalia that Bertiuax was selling to those who had attended his lecture. I talked briefly to Michael after purchasing the book, showing him the colored pencil notes in the back, and seeing that Michael really regretted parting with this book and offered to buy it back, which I smugly declined. Yet it was after we had left the lecture hall and went out to dinner that I got to hear more of the kind of strange and bazar occultism that was Bertiaux’s hallmark perspective, which he applied to nearly everything!

(As a side note, one of Bertiaux’s cassette tapes that Christopher had bought contained an impromptu lecture on the Chaldean Oracles, which is probably one of the more important writings from antiquity. I borrowed it from Christopher, and popped it my cassette player, expecting to hear a lot of amazing revelations. I was truly astonished at how superficial it was. I learned nothing from it, and it would seem that when Michael recorded it, he was also quite ill, and had to stop the tape whenever a coughing fit overcame him. That was an important lesson - not everything that Bertiaux did was worthy or valuable.)

I found Michael to be highly creative, intellectually facile, extremely imaginative, charming, in an old world sort of way, and full of outlandish occult tales of power, horror and secret lefthand path societies. From his perspective, the world had a definitive Lovecraftian taint, mixed with the musty scent of long dead corpses and the exciting thrill of true evil. But who was Michael Bertiaux and what was he really like? I can answer these questions, although what I learned about him happened so many years ago. Yet it made such an impression on me that I have not forgotten any of it. Meeting and interacting with Michael Bertiaux was certainly not something that anyone would ever forget. (I do believe that people change and no one stays the same, but after my experiences with him, I never had any desire to see if Michael himself had actually changed.) 

Why am I writing about this weird occultist and what happened between us over thirty years ago? Why indeed!

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about a supposed classic work written by Bertiaux, entitled “The Gnostic Voudoun Workbook,” a creepy favorite tome for collectors and afficionados of the ultra-obscure. This book is as famous now as its notorious author, a white Midwestern American who blended the traditions of Haitian Voudoun and various systems of Western occultism long before others in the U.S. had ever thought of doing it. Yet Michael Bertiaux crawled out of complete obscurity into the black light of occult notoriety not by his own skill or enterprise, but by the efforts and gratuitous attentions to the dark side of occultism propagated by Kenneth Grant in his numerous books.

Kenneth Grant made Michael Bertiaux famous within a small community of ceremonial magicians and occultists. If it wasn’t for Kenneth Grant, I doubt that Michael Bertiaux would have been known outside of his Chicago community, and even within that locale, Michael was very, very obscure. His fame was wholly spread by the books written by Kenneth Grant, and since then, some have believed the hype and stories spread about him. Michael himself has helped to spread a lot of rumors and tall tales about himself, and delighted in the effect that it had on others. Scandal and controversy were always a part of what Michael did and said, so I suppose his greatest curse would have been to be ignored or dismissed. 

While it is true that I have a copy of his book in my occult library, and I have attempted to read it through a few times (only to give up), having known Michael Bertiux in the late 70's (which would have been considered his “hay days”), I can truly say that I don’t take him, his book or his methodologies very seriously. I would also advise others not to seek any nuggets of wisdom from Bertiaux’s writings, because honestly, I truly believe that there aren’t any. I also believe that there are a lot of better sources for all of the topics that his book attempts to cover. Michael’s writings are tainted by his disguised brutal sense of humor and by his own astonishing imagination, which he tended to liberally use to fill in the blanks or make something far more interesting or sinister than it might have been. Michael is, therefore, something akin to a pulp fiction writer and a tabloid publisher. It’s probably an impossible task to distill his writings to determine the actual traditions and practices from which they are derived, so I have given up attempting to do so.

Additionally, to have a serious conversation about the book “The Gnostic Voudoun Workbook” is to give far greater credence to Bertiaux than what he really deserves. I will maintain that he was a capable occultist and could work fairly malefic magick if he so desired, but he never represented any kind of traditional teaching or initiation. Bertiaux was a creative huckster who had very little respect for any tradition. He used magickal and occult lore to paper his world much like a child would use the beautiful photographs in a slurry of magazines to create amusing collages.

Therefore, when I read about occultists giving Michael Bertiaux’s writings a serious critique, I found it quite ridiculous. I am almost certain that Michael would find such discussions to be very amusing, too. Like Aleister Crowley, Michael believed that any PR was good PR, and after all, it only helps to sell more books. I have even heard through the grapevine that Michael is planning on publishing more books (“Cosmic Meditation” and “Vudu Cartography”), and why not? His first book is a classic that has sold for hundreds of dollars on the internet, but most would find it to be a confused mishmash of hoodoo, Haitian voudoun, Thelema, Shintoism (?) and every other obscure religious or occult system pasted together in a curious but delirious manner. To me, this book is a sinister joke, but you would have had to know Michael Bertiaux to appreciate the punch line.

I knew Michael Bertiuax from around the summer of 1977 through the summer of 1979. I have recounted in a previous article the story about the last time I visited him in his Chicago lair, where he demonstrated to me the art of Megapolisomancy. You can find that article here, just in case you missed it. I also visited Michael with my teacher, Bill Schnoebelen, and was off-handedly initiated into the cult of Baron Samedi as a fully vested priest or houngan, you can find an article describing that event here. Do I feel different because of this event? Does this mean that I have a valid Haitian initiatory lineage included with everything else that I am working and doing with my occultism? The answer to these questions is a very solid “no.” This initiation was done as a way of attempting to gain access to me, and since I never let Michael in, either physically or magickally, I would have to say that nothing significant happened to me, luckily. I was forced to quickly drink a large goblet of Jack Daniels Wild Turkey, but for some odd reason I remained stone cold sober, probably because I didn’t trust Michael and was very much on my guard.

This sounds like a juicy tale and a bit of gossip, so I will satisfy the curiosity of my readers and briefly relate it. As an object lesson, it says everything that anyone needs to know about Michael Bertiaux. I found him to be cruel, manipulative, ruthless, and completely without any human compassion whatsoever. This is not the kind of person that you could trust, believe in, nor would you place yourself into his hands for any reason. I would rather offer my head to the gaping jaws of a crocodile than give myself into the hands of this man. Anyway, I am digressing here, so let us get back to the story.

Back in the summer of 1977, I was quite taken with Michael Bertiaux. Having read and reread the book “Cults of the Shadow” written by Kenneth Grant, I was eager to meet him. Michael was a big deal for our coven, so we all began to study and engage with various African Traditional Regions, particularly with the Haitian diaspora variations. We weren’t really interested in the outer court religious beliefs and practices of the common man, and we had little respect or understanding for the Haitian culture. We were, in a word, occult pirates who were trawling for new thrills and supposedly forgotten dark practices, and Michael served us up a bounty of these beliefs and practices, being a pirate himself. We sought out the practices of the bokor or black magician, and the various obscure occult orders where such individuals met and congregated. It’s likely that these traditions and occult systems were mostly invented by Bertiaux, or based on some facts mixed with rumors and legends, and he also filled them out with his own concoctions. It’s hard to say what was authentic and real, and since we were steeped in our fantasy associated with those beliefs and practices, we really didn’t care. Besides, who had the time and money to travel to Haiti and actually perform the proper kind of research to verify what Michael was telling us?

At first, only two members of our extended coven periodically went down to Chicago to work with Michael. Those two members were Christopher and a senior member named John, yet after the first trip, only Christopher went down to see Bertiaux. It seemed that John’s first experience was too traumatic to be repeated. I thought this strange, but John regaled us with his frightful experiences with Bertiuax. It would seem that Michael used a form of sexual terrorism to get his students into the right frame of mind for his various occult and magickal operations. He would select an approach that was guaranteed to frighten and unbalance his subject, acting as either a homosexual or a heterosexual lover, as it suited him. His unwanted advances would be rationalized as being the only manner that such occult knowledge and initiatory mysteries could be communicated. It was an excuse to sexually abuse and exploit individuals who came seeking knowledge and special teachings, and Bertiaux had no problem obliging those foolish enough to accede to his desires.

Michael was around middle height, portly, with a dark Mediterranean complexion and features. He was bald, bearded and hirsute, having hairy knuckles and even hairy toes. His back and shoulders had a pelt of coarse hair, so he had a kind of beast-like quality when naked, except for the top of his head. He wore glasses, except when working magick and not needing to read. How do I know such intimate details about this man? I am sure you can guess - I saw him nude on more than one occasion during my short two adventures working magick with him.

Michael often performed his Voudoun ceremonies completely nude, or sometimes he would wear a mask. This was quite a departure from Michael the wandering bishop, who would wear beautiful handmade silk and satin vestments and perform private masses using the Greek Orthodox rite (of St. Basil). In his mundane habits, Michael would wear rather drab and even ill fitting clothes - he looked a bit like a slob. He was much more comfortable wearing exotic outfits than fitting in with the urban masses. Since he worked for the State of Illinois in the capacity of a bureaucrat in the government aid services, he probably wore a nice suit and easily fit in with the grey masses of fellow bureau workers. I never saw him wear a suit, since the few times I visited were during weekends.

My initiation consisted of first being completely naked, presented to the various spirits and lwa of the dead, then being forced to drink a third of a bottle of Wild Turkey, and finally, being sexually accosted by this man. I remember distinctly lying naked on the floor of his temple, with this rather flabby fury man laying on top of me, pinning me down while attempting to french kiss me (as I gritted my teeth) and thereby arouse me. Yet all it did was bring out in me a sense of complete revulsion and a stubborn willpower to keep myself from being violated in any manner. I succeeded in that, but then probably didn’t receive the full blessing of being magickally affected or transformed by Michael’s operation. I was given a title and an accolade later, but I actually felt little changed, and I was just relieved that I had avoided any spiritual contamination. My teacher just accepted all of this without a single complaint, and didn’t intercede for me when it was obvious that I was resisting Bertiaux with all my efforts. I was also restrained out of courtesy and some degree of openness to Michael, since otherwise, I would have become violent towards him.

I now know why Christopher didn’t interfere with Michael when he was assaulting me, and that is, he had hopes to receive the many blessings of Bertiaux’s initiations. Indeed, he underwent many initiations, got his bishop’s consecration and other titles, and much of this is actually documented in his books. Christopher, or Bill Schnoebelen, which was his real name, completely cooperated with Michael Bertiaux for a couple of years. He probably had to endure quite a bit of sexual abuse at his hands. I have heard that others who have sought out initiations from Michael Bertiaux received far more than they bargained for, having to forbear him with the favor of anal sex as a certification of the transmission of legitimate occult initiations. Although I had been offered such enticements myself, after just one episode, I tactfully demurred any further accolades. I found Michael’s admission price for initiation into his dubious mysteries much too high to pay, and I knew that I could get the same lore and initiations (if I really wanted them) from other less exploitative sources.

Michael’s history, or how he came to acquire all of this knowledge, was not really a secret. Michael freely told the story about how in the early sixties (1963), he was sent to Haiti as a Christian missionary (in the Anglican church), and I believe that he was, at the time, not a Catholic, but with Catholic sympathies. However, after spending a short time in Haiti, and meeting the man who would become his teacher and mentor (Dr. Jean-Maine), Michael supposedly aborted his missionary job and stayed in Haiti for a number of years. It was there that Michael became an old Catholic bishop (although there is some question about his actual lineage) and acquired a lot of his Voudoun initiations, including learning to be a bokor and gaining access to some of the more obscure and secret occult organizations. 

Keep in mind that this was during the time when Duvalier Sr. was running the country. It’s even rumored that his teacher had to leave Haiti in the last years of his life during Baby Doc’s reign. How much of this was factual is subject to debate. I did see pictures of Michael’s teacher, from older black and white photos to more recent color pictures. Michael also appeared to know a lot of people, including French and European occultists, and others from South America as well as the Carribean. He talked on the phone to some of these individuals during my visits, sometimes in French, and he also talked with his mother at least twice, which made Michael seem more human. I can say that he loved his mother fiercely, and acted as the dutiful son when talking to her on the phone. (I found this to be quite comical, because while talking to his mother, he was sitting in an apartment full of things that she would probably find abhorrent.)

While I stayed with Michael for that one full weekend (and there was another brief weekend some months later), I had to fend him off constantly - he saw it his duty to keep me on the defensive the entire time. However, I also had time to look over Michael’s voluminous papers, notebooks and other materials. Some of what was published in Michael’s book consisted of loose type-written papers back then. I even got to play around with a device that Michael had crafted which he used to travel back and forth in time. It was an old metal lamp cover for a reading light tree which had wires attached to it, connecting it to a flat piece of wood, brightly painted with silver and gold paint on a black background. It was voudoun magickal micro-circuitry (according to Michael), and the lamp shade part, which was shaped like a cone, fit over the head. I never got to try it out to see if it actually worked.

Other devices that Bertiaux had was a black box with a black light in it, which he used for a kind of Voudoun seance, and various African fetishes, some of them authentic. He also had an electrostatic massage wand, which he threatened to use on my privates. Michael’s furniture was ornately painted and decorated with bright colors depicting snakes, scorpions, centipedes, spiders, vevers, sigils and anything else that was spooky or ooky. His walls were covered with hundreds of paintings, depicting either Voudoun or even Lovecraftian horror themes (some of these are shown in Kenneth Grant’s books). At night, these variously primitive horrific paintings and garish furniture seemed to come alive and move and quiver of their own volition, since they were often painted in Acrylics using pure electric or complimentary colors. In a sense, Michael’s home was like sorcerer’s toy box, full of papers, notebooks, magickal implements of various kinds, strange books, paintings, luxurious Persian carpets, Greek Orthodox icons and the images and regalia of black magick - it was a highly cluttered large apartment full of beauty, strange wonder and horror. This is what attracted poor souls to Michael, all of them somehow hoping to gain some of this knowledge. He took from them whatever he could get, mostly in the way of sexual favors, psychic access and various forms of vicious manipulation.

During my two visits to see this man, Michael Bertiaux had moved his residence from one location to another on the east side of Chicago. He had at first lived in a large basement flat that had little light to illuminate it during the day. It was a gloomy and tenebrous place, with walls painted a dingy green pastel that seemed to fit Michael quite well. Some months later, he moved to a lofty penthouse apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. This apartment was well lit and actually bright and luminous during the day, with bright white walls and many colorful carpets, yet at night it became the same shadowy place full of nameless things skulking around that his old apartment had been. Spending the night in Michael’s home, although considered an honor, was neither peaceful nor pleasant, at least for me.

Michael was a heavy drinker when I knew him, although alcohol never seemed to have much of an effect on him. He told us that the alcohol served to feed the spirits who drained it from his body, thus freeing him of its influences. I believe that I had experienced the same thing while working with him. He was a gracious host, always serving various exotic mixed drinks to his guests, but I always supposed that he did it to get his guests inebriated so as to make them more amendable to his manipulations. Michael once joked that he wanted to take the various bottles of liquor in his liquor cabinet and remove their labels, replacing them with planetary, Qabbalistic and zodiacal symbols. Then he could mix together various liquors to create what he called Qabbalistic cocktails. To this day I wonder if he actually did that - it seemed like a very creative and amusing idea. While sharing drinks with his guests, Michael would engage in his most favorite pastime; he would gossip about other famous occultists that he knew. Michael also expected his guests to supply him with gossip and dirt on the occultists that they knew. I often wondered if Michael was in the business of blackmailing other occultists, or at the very least, helping to spread rumors and reveal the improprieties of others.   

I found all of Michael’s fetishes, magickal toys and volumes of occult lore to be fascinating and highly alluring - but the price was too high, so I passed on obtaining any of it. I knew that I could be nearly as creative as Bertiaux. I would prefer to know the various sources that I had gathered information from as well as freely admitting to others that I had created or invented something. Michael never admitted to creating or inventing anything. It was all from his various teachers and contacts, and even spirits or lwa, and all of it, according to him, was from traditional sources; but those sources were never cited nor indicated anywhere. After my last harrowing visit, I decided that I would cease having any further contact with him.

Since those times I have met other occultists, Thelemic magicians of various stripes (like Allen Greenfield) who have fully engaged Michael Bertiaux to gain his knowledge, acquire some of his voluminous papers and receive initiations. I also know that they paid a very high price for that knowledge or those initiations. Being made a bishop by Bertiaux was something of an inside joke for me and others who had personally known him, since we knew that the recipient of such an honor had to give himself or herself to Michael in a very intimate way. Yet I never had any regrets about disconnecting myself from Bertiuax, and never sought to reconnect with him.

As an object lesson, I believe in sharing my occult knowledge with others and in engaging with groups in a completely egalitarian manner.  I would never exploit a student or take advantage of them. In short, my brief adventure with Michael Bertiaux and Bill Schnoebelen taught me to respect and honor anyone who came to me for knowledge or experience. I learned a priceless lesson from these two men about how not to teach and engage with other people.

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Seven - Mystic Number of the Macrocosm

In the Golden Dawn tradition, it is taught that the number five represents the microcosm and that the number six represents the macrocosm. This is why the pentagram is used in magick that manipulates the microcosm, and correspondingly, the hexagram is used in magick that manipulates the macrocosm. The pentagram is used to invoke one of the four elements and spirit, and the hexagram is used to invoke one of the seven planets. It’s all very neat and tidy, and it would seem that there is no room for debate if one accepts this logic, and many ritual and ceremonial magicians do indeed accept it.

I am, regrettably, an exception, because I don’t accept this logic and haven’t for three decades! For me, the septagram (also known as the heptagram) was the perfect representation of not so much the macrocosm, but the sphere of the seven planets, which is exalted above the mundane sphere but is not the highest level of being. This is similar to what many Neoplatonic philosophers of late antiquity believed, thus it’s not so far fetched as it would seem. I believe that the planets are not actually the emblems of the Godhead as they are the spheres through which that unity engages with the material world. Above the sphere of archetypes exists the One, and it is that one through which we seek union and perfect emulation in ourselves. That one-ness within us is our individual godhead, our Atman or God/dess Within.

The seven archetypes, which are typically associated with the seven planetary intelligences, are also associated with seven of the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life (and the Seven Rays of the theosophists), but all of these qualities are the attributes of the One (the Monad), but that is not the same as saying that they are equivalent. So for me, there are layers to this model, and the stratification of these layers can be largely and generally classified as consisting of the macrocosm and the microcosm, but there is also a mesocosm between them. In other words, it’s just too complex to be left to a bipolar explanation, however simple that would be.

How did I arrive at the deduction that the number of the macrocosm is seven instead of six? It was an accident! Well, maybe it was due more to my frustration with the hexagram as a tool for drawing the invoking planetary angles. When it came to drawing the invoking formulation for the sun, the magician had to invoke all of the six preceding planetary angles, and then their combination (along with the solar glyph) produced the proper invocation angle of the sun. I thought that this was kind of convoluted, and not being wedded to the Golden Dawn methodology, I instead opted to experiment with the septagram.

Of course, Aleister Crowley had already come up with the unicursal hexagram, which had a specific angle for the sun, but by the time I encountered this new form, I was already using the septagram. Another factor was that the use of the hexagram for planetary magick was quite vague in the Golden Dawn material, and the version stipulated by Aleister Crowley in Liber O wasn't much better. Since there wasn’t anyone around to help me figure this out, and me being something of a revisionist dunderhead, I opted to create a whole new system. After all, I was a practicing witch, and the whole foundation of my ritual work (using the magick circle as sacred space) was quite different than that practiced by the Golden Dawn.

The first time that I attempted to make a precise drawing of this star form, I had to figure out where the points were and then connect them. That sounds simple enough, right? Well, to do that, I had to divide a circle containing 360 degrees by 7, to produce an angle of 51.42857.., or rounded to 51.43 degrees. Using a protractor and a compass, I had to mark the exact angles at the protractor points of 51.43, 102.86, 154.29,  205.72, 257.15, 308.58, and 360 or 0 degrees.

This task, of course, was not as easy as drawing a hexagram, but the resultant septagram was quite beautiful and elegant. (I must admit that it was like love at first sight when I finished drawing one for the first time. How geeky is that?) The one drawback to the septagram is that it’s pretty tough to draw in the air with any degree of accuracy or consistency. So for this reason, I constructed a large talismanic septagram device painted on a rectangular piece of plywood with a black background, a device that I call a trigon. The trigon is placed in the middle of the circle after an inner circle structure is drawn and opened, and it is used to invoke or banish one or all of the planetary angles of the seven planets. Adopting the septagram seemed like just a practical endeavor on my part, but once I began to really analyze the seven pointed star, I realized that it had a lot of potent symbolic correspondences that made it a really great choice.

The most profound and dramatic of the symbolic associations with the septagram and the number seven is that they symbolize the union of heaven and earth. The mystery of the Godhead is often denoted by the number three, which is why the triskelion (three interlocking spirals) and the trinity are important aspects of the Deity. These symbols are far more antique and widespread than the later theological Christian Trinity. Thus, as the number three, the Deity represents the combined forces of creation, preservation and destruction that permeate the material and immaterial universes. The Godhead, as three, is joined to the Divine Tetrad (the number four), which symbolizes the world as Cosmos, to produce the septagram. Therefore, the number seven is an amalgam of the numbers three and four, the Godhead immersed within the manifested world - the joining of Spirit and Matter in perpetual Union. Thus the number seven is quite a powerful symbol characterizing the impact of the macrocosm upon the microcosm, fostering a kind of magickal mesocosm, which is the place of mediation and union between these two domains. Taking all of this into consideration, what symbol could better represent the invocation and manipulation of spiritual intelligences commanded by the magician (as representing the godhead) to impact the mental and material planes?

Even though I began this journey of adopting the septagram out of frustration, curiosity and creative inspiration, it’s only later that I discovered how important and significant it turned out to be. I found that my adoption of this star form was quite an important feature of the kind of magick that I work, and it took me to a completely new kind of ritual magick. All of this happened because I wasn’t smart or gifted enough to figure out how to work planetary magick using the Golden Dawn system. Two of my friends, Scott Stenwick and David Griffin, had to study and carefully examine the Golden Dawn documents passed down to us from Crowley and Regardie, and from these they were able to figure out how to work this kind of magick. I suppose that I wasn’t shrewd enough or as dedicated to the Golden Dawn tradition to come up with the same analogous method that they came up with. Instead, I invented something completely new.

This should prove to be an interesting point of discussion, and perhaps the central point of this article. When does a student depart from tradition and invent their own method of performing some magickal operation? I guess the answer would be that whenever that technique or method is not well articulated in the legacy material, or if it seems inelegant, inefficient or just plain clumsy, then the student has every right to create something that is better or more elegant.

Using this logic doesn’t give anyone the right to change everything and attempt to reinvent the wheel, as it were. Yet if that’s what the student wants to do, and if they can pull it off without making a confusing mess of things, then they are fully within their rights to do it. They may upset other occultists in that tradition, or if it’s a reconstruction, then they might do something that has no prior precedent. Regardless, if it works really well and can be readily taught to others, then it has progressed to the point where it has become a new practical technique. The bottom line is that most magicians who are at least worth their salt will ultimately craft their own independent system of magick, even if many parts of it are represented by an ongoing and living tradition, they will put their own unique stamp on it.

So the septagram became for me the central occult symbol of the magick of the macrocosm, representing the higher magick of the seven planetary intelligences, and the art of theurgy and evocation. I still use the hexagram in my magick, but it is used to signify the union of the archetypal masculine and feminine, and I don’t articulate it to invoke specific planetary archetypes. The hexagram is just two triangles superimposed upon each other, showing that the union of the ascending and descending graces is the core of the Great Work. Therefore, I have actually elevated the meaning and use of the hexagram in my magick. I use the simple sign of the hexagram to indicate that the previously generated forces or invoked spiritual aspects are now in glorious union. Perhaps in some manner, I have found a more suitable alternative for planetary magick, and placed the hexagram in a much greater position of honor and respect.

Creativity and experimentation are critical parts of the repertoire of the ritual and ceremonial magician. Without them, the practicing magician will never learn anything new or discover another and better way of doing something. Personal growth, an awakening awareness and an evolving understanding and practice of spiritual techniques are the hallmark of the progressive aspirations of the initiate and the adept. Doing the same thing forever or maintaining a dogmatic unwillingness to try anything new or different are the signs of a failed occult practice. May we all be open minded, receptive and innovative in our practice and appreciation of magick.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hot April Sales Event - Academy of Sorcery (NOT!)

Arcane Occult Lore from the AoS!

As an experienced ritual magician, witch elder and lineage holder, and the author of four books (with two more on the way), I have seen all sorts of nonsense over my three and half decades of study and practice. However, the most amazing and, in my opinion, torrid advertisement that I have ever encountered is found in the highly dubious website for the Academy of Sorcery. For some unfathomable reason, I keep getting advertisement spam from these folks, touting their pricey instructions that will help the faithful adherent (sucker) acquire the mastery of arcane wisdom and forbidden knowledge. As their cheesy website tells the eager (juvenile) applicant - you, too, can be a powerful sorcerer:

Arcane Masters in the Academy have the rare opportunity to learn the closely guarded secret (sic) of time divination - the ability to clearly see into the future.  They quickly rise within the community to become recognized as powerful authority figures as they've been trained in the Advanced Secrets of Magic & Sorcery.”

I suppose that it’s our lot as occultists that we must tolerate all levels of gratuitous exploitation and not give in to the temptation to respond to obvious low level hucksters, but this site shows such a profound accumulation of ignorance, urban myth and other unadulterated baloney that it can’t but make someone like me completely outraged as I read through their broadsides. I could imagine some poor slob walking the streets wearing a sign board, where one side says “Eat at Joe’s,” the other side says “Learn to be an Arcane Master of the Forbidden Wisdom - Join the Academy of Sorcery!” It reminds me of that extremely funny article in one of the older issues of the National Lampoon magazine - Don Juan’s School of Sorcery: “If I can’t teach you to be sorcerer in sixty days, I’ll turn myself into a jelly donut!”

Accompanying the text are all sorts of lurid images, including a hot sorceress wearing a tiara, and a shadowy black magick wraith. Of course, after I got done laughing about this ridiculous commercialized ploy, I began to do some serious thinking. How many people actually pay the supposedly reduced fee of $77.00 to master the following four awesome-mystical topics:

Art of commanding spirits - “unleash a spirit army” - this is, of course, referring to the 72 Goetic spirits. It’s a wonder that if someone were actually and successfully able to evoke all of the Goetic spirits simultaneously, would they still be alive afterwards, or sane for that matter. If this series of lessons are legitimate (and they are not), they would certainly give Jake Stratton-Kent a run for his money. Still, I doubt if any true practitioner has much to worry about.

Tarot and Divination - “time is an illusion we can control” - Tell that to your boss when you miss deadlines.

Black Magic Spells - “most devastating guide to black magic ever released to the public” - That should keep the root doctors in business for a long time.

Potion Mixology - “psychic potion kits,” - "unleash subtle power of the mind” - Ah, I get it, better living through chemistry. Didn’t Timothy Leary advocate that approach years ago? Well, don’t be too eager to gulp down any of their concoctions, although, they do talk about psychic potions, which means that they are likely imaginary.

And don’t forget, there are two surprise bonus topics! Not to mention that they always say how there’s a limited number of seats available in the upcoming sorcerous semester (15 and going fast), and a 90 day money back guarantee, although it might take someone more than 90 days to figure out that they had been duped. The books of arcane lore are written by special living planetary logoi, all of whom are likely part of the scam (or they could be penned from the same person, which is more likely).

The mysterious author of this website even has a personal note for the would-be student who has any doubts that he or she will become an arcane master after reading and following the course work for just 90 days.

Devour all my stuff for up to 90 days. If you aren't successful, I'll question your IQ, but I'll also give you a 100% refund. I only require that you let me know which things you tried and what didn't work for you, and how you used them.  If I see that you're REALLY trying, I may even help you personally.”

I suppose that anyone who takes this advertisement seriously should have their IQ examined, but for someone who knows nothing about the occult or magick, it might actually seem too good to be true - but it’s only $77, so why not try it out? Sadly, our American culture has a disparity of critical thinking, and too much motivational reasoning (another way of saying propaganda).

Motivational reasoning is defined as hearing what only reinforces already existing opinions. It means, basically, that if you already know what the truth is, then why listen to any other (and opposing) viewpoints? FOX News knows about this truism, and so did P. T. Barnum, who said that there is a sucker born every minute. Of course, the website is full of quotes from satisfied customers praising the course work and talking about how wickedly powerful they have become. However, a cursory inspection of the internet found this interesting little gem -

Yes, people it is a scam, a big fat one. Look; i have enrolled in their Arcane mastery and have even their Enchanterx and can say that Academy is a fraud. Most of the work they give is copied from other sites, is free or taken from Kazaa. Their address is non-existent, they sell items which never reach your home and never reply to e-mails.”

While I am unwilling to part with $77.00 USD to investigate and report/review this scam, someone else did the work for me. You can find the review/report here, courtesy of Phoenix Fire, who did everyone a great favor by purchasing and examining the actual material that this website is peddling. You can find her (?) review here.

One of the most damning things that I found in that review was the following quote:

The main book upon looking at it appears to be very [comprehensive] until it is actually read. [Nothing] is described in detail and there are many omissions. One such example is when they talk about dimensions they give the names without any explanation of what they are. Section after section is explained in just one paragraph with little expansion of any topic. Looking on the internet for extra detail I came across websites that contain the exact information word for word. Looking at publishing dates it appear that this e book is nothing more than a copy and paste of a collection of websites, this includes grammar and spelling mistake's which show they did not even apply the effort to read what they are publishing.”

Hmmmm. It makes me kind of wonder if they have been stealing bits and pieces of my lore and pasting it into their books. I wouldn’t be surprised by that revelation, but I am not at all afraid, since it would be out of context and wouldn’t fit in very well with the rest of the stuff they are unloading on the public. Still, these are the risks that you take in seeking to write substantive articles for the blog-reading public.

One of the funniest things that I saw on the Academy of Sorcery website is the claim that Aleister Crowley was the founder of the Golden Dawn. I am sure that the Great Beast is laughing himself silly in his venerable grave. Perhaps if enough fools take on this course work and study the Golden Dawn material from these hacks they will likely spread this vicious myth, and it will become one of those often quoted urban myths. It will easily identify the speaker or writer as one of the elite morons from the Academy. Anyway, that certainly clinched it for me, not that the various spelling errors, boastful tirades and grammatical mistakes didn’t also turn me off.

So I think that we can happily conclude that the website is a complete and utter fraud. They also don’t seem to be interested in giving out refunds, so caveat emptor. If any of my readers want to learn sorcery and get some “hands on instruction” from a qualified online instructor, then I can recommend Jason Miller’s course at Strategic Sorcery, or Christopher Warnock’s site on Renaissance Astrology, or even Oberon’s Grey School of Wizardry. I can also gratuitously recommend my own four books in print as useful, helpful and accessible. (IMHO)

What we have learned from this article is the following little bit of wisdom: that ritual or ceremonial magick can only be mastered if the seeker is willing to put a lot of time, study, practice and experimentation into it. Thus, a discipline is required, as well as many years of devoted practice (not to mention an investment in books and equipment), in order to transition from a dilettante to an initiate, and thence, to an adept. There are no quick fixes, silver bullets or fast tracks to becoming an accomplished ritual magician. Now you have been warned, and it’s my hope that you will take such lurid advertisements and outrageous boasting claims with a great grain of salt, you will be armed with an adequate amount of reason and wisdom. Beware of the tales of power spun by sorcerous individuals (including me), for they are merely object lessons and not to be confused with the literal truth.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dion Fortune - Godmother of Pagan Movement and Pivotal Author?

When I attended the Weiser panel at the last Pantheacon on topic of “Dion Fortune and the Demon Lover,” I expected more than a panel of authors talking about the latest reprint of one of Fortunes earliest fictional works. I wanted someone to talk about Dion Fortune herself. I felt that the most important thing that wasn’t mentioned was a brief biographical introduction to who Dion Fortune was and how her writings have powerfully shaped occultism, ceremonial magick and even modern paganism and witchcraft. Instead, the authors on the panel valiantly talked up the book and spoke in glowing terms about Dion Fortune, but strangely, no one really knew that much about her.

While some may regard Aleister Crowley as the truly great magician and propagator of modern paganism and magick, Dion Fortune was the other great occultist in the Western Mystery tradition. (However, rumors that Dion Fortune and Crowley met or had some kind of contact are very likely just urban myths.) In fact, one could say that Dion Fortune’s influence in pagan and Wiccan circles is probably greater and more lasting than Aleister Crowley’s. However, unlike the Great Beast, little is known about Dion Fortune’s past, and her early biographical history is vague and generally speculative. Many modern pagans consider Dion Fortune to be one of their inspired intellectual forebears, and this could be believable if one read only her pagan fictional stories. Yet Dion Fortune was a very complex individual who held different beliefs and perspectives at different points of her life and in her occult career.

I think that it’s very important to write something about Dion Fortune so that pagans, Wiccans and other interested occultists will know more about her and the legacy that she bequeathed to us living in the 21st century. To believe that Dion Fortune was an early promoter of modern paganism is not only very superficial, but actually misrepresents who she really was as well as confuse and needlessly obfuscate her full legacy. For this reason, I would like to write a brief article that does what the panel failed to do - define who Dion Fortune was and to articulate her great contribution to western occultism. Hopefully, in accomplishing this task, my readers will have a better understanding and appreciation of this amazing and pioneering woman.

To aid me in this quest, I have consulted two books, one was written by Alan Richardson, entitled “Dancers to the Gods,” and the other was his written introduction to the lost lectures by Colonel C. R. F. Seymore, entitled “The Forgotten Mage.” In both of these works, Alan Richardson sites the influential sources who stimulated and impacted Dion Fortune, causing her teachings, for a time, to be imbued with a nascent paganism and an emphasis on ceremonial magick, which later on was suppressed. Little of that current can now be supposedly detected in the organization that she founded, the “Society of Inner Light,’ whose main purview is a form of mystical and esoteric Christianity. However, there was also a quasi pagan, Christian and magickal offshoot, nurtured by W. E. Butler and Gareth Knight, and then passed on to Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki. That branch (Servants of the Light) is still very much alive and viable, even though it is not (as far I know) an accepted part of the parent organization founded by Fortune.

Dion Fortune was born Violet Mary Firth on December 6, 1890, at Bryn y Bia in Llandudne, Wales. Her early history is quite vague and indeterminate, and like many on the path of the mage, it would seem that Dion Fortune wanted it that way. She had relatives in Yorkshire (possibly the Harrisons), and from them later took the magickal model of “Deo, Non Fortuna” (From God, not from chance), which became her occult name Dion Fortune. This motto, perhaps in many ways, encapsulates who and what Dion Fortune was as an occultist.

One notorious incident that occurred to Dion Fortune when she was 20 years old was that she had a complete nervous breakdown. This breakdown also caused her to have health problems that very likely haunted her for the rest of her life. Some have pointed to this incident as a means to question the legitimacy of Dion Fortune’s gifts and what she later produced, saying that it indicates a person who had a weak mind or a predisposition to psychological disorders. This opinion couldn’t be further from the truth. Dion Fortune was a very strong willed, dominating and almost masculine-like woman. While the exact historical occurrences about her breakdown are obscure at best, it would seem that it was precipitated by an outside influence. Dion Fortune obliquely claimed that she was attacked and mentally accosted by a cruel and manipulative superior where she worked, the warden of a women’s educational institute. It was through periodic and constant mental abuse at the hands of her boss that she experienced a complete mental breakdown, which also egregiously affected her health.

However, as a credit to Dion Fortune’s strength and resilience, she managed to recover and in fact, during the war (WWI), functioned as the highest paid lay psychoanalyst at the clinic where she worked. Dion Fortune also claimed that the woman who brutally abused her had occult training and knowledge from her long tenure in India. One might also assume that Fortune sought out such knowledge as a form of self defense against any future attack. Whatever the truth of the matter, experiencing such a traumatic fall from grace helped Dion Fortune to master herself and taught her to help others who were so afflicted.

Biographical traces of these early incidences of Dion Fortune’s life can be found in the books “Pyschic Self Defence” and the “Secrets of Dr. Taverner.” In fact, many of the people that Dion Fortune knew and the places that she frequented found their way into her books, particularly the fictional works. This is not uncommon, since often writers will draw upon their own experiences to give a literary work greater believability and continuity.

Like many great occultists, Dion Fortune didn’t develop her occult perspectives and beliefs in a vacuum. There were several individuals who had a remarkable impact on Dion Fortune, and who helped her to forge the beliefs and the system of occultism that she espoused. They could be said to have been the remarkable men behind the great woman. It is to these individuals that we might seek as the source of Dion Fortune’s occultism, her attachment to the pagan mysteries and ceremonial magick. Since without the influence of these important men and their passions, she might never have discovered her great gifts or produced cutting edge occult works. It is my belief that Dion Fortune’s genius was her ability to distill and refine the raw passion, belief and powers of others for the benefit of all. She obviously had mediumistic abilities, and was also a gifted mediator.

Her first great teacher was a man named Theodore William Clark Moriarty, a doctor of philosophy. He was a possible source for the fictional character of Dr. Taverner, since he did perform some occult based cures, not only on Dion Fortune herself, but also on individuals who were associated with her. It was Dr. Moriarty who inculcated Dion Fortune into a variety of occult disciplines, melding Masonic philosophy, occult metaphysics, theosophy and a distinct kind of Gnostic and occult Christianity together into a unique perspective. Moriarty assembled an informal occult group, called the “Science, Arts and Crafts Society,” which first met in a house and cottage complex in Eversley, and later moved to Hertfordshire. The group was posthumously referred to by Dion Fortune as the occult college that she had attended, although it was much less formal than that. Still, the topics that were taught, both in the inner and outer courts, were rigorous and thoroughly engaging. Later on, after Moriary’s untimely death (1923), Dion Fortune would write a book that completely captured, distilled and refined her mentor’s teachings and beliefs in the work “The Cosmic Doctrine,” despite the fact (as far as I know) that there was no actual mention or posthumous citation given to the man who had made that project possible. Dr. Moriarty and Dion Fortune may have shared the same spiritual contacts, or he may have given them over to her at some point. It is likely that he continued to have an impact on her even after his death, since Dion Fortune would obliquely refer to him as one of her continuing inspirations, and apparently seemed to be able to channel him after he had died.

It is also at this time that Dion Fortune had a brief engagement with a faction of the Golden Dawn known as the Stella Matutina, where she met Moina Mathers. One can easily appreciate how much influence the Golden Dawn and its teachings had on Dion Fortune. Considering her later writings, it’s obvious that she deeply absorbed everything that was given to her. How far she went into the grades can only be surmised, but she was asked to leave after only a few years, and the likely catalyst was the publishing of the book “Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage,” which purportedly alluded to practices of sexual alchemy as likely taught in the inner order of the Golden Dawn (A & O).

Because of her unauthorized revelation of inner order secrets, Dion Fortune was dismissed from that organization. Prior to breaking with the Golden Dawn, Dion Fortune was given permission to form a group that would act as an outer court to draw more members into the temple. Later on, after the breakup, that group continued to use Golden Dawn materials and even its initiations as its own. Like the Golden Dawn, it was formed into an outer organization, and an inner court of adepts. Supposedly some of this material found its way into a kind of correspondence course, which attracted a number of like minded students to Dion Fortune. Later in the 1930's, the initiation rites and ceremonies were changed and rewritten to be more unique, and the process of revisionism, which had started with such good intentions, continued until they were omitted altogether.

One person that she had met and befriended during her short tenure with the Golden Dawn was Israel Regardie, who would, later in the 1930's, publish the entire corpus of that order. Supposedly, she had attended one of Regardie’s initiations, and thereafter, had a friendly relationship with him. Regardie sought a brief home within the organization that Dion Fortune founded in the mid twenties, since both them had incurred a similar sort of oath-breaking offence. However, we are today in the debt of both of these individuals for publishing the material that they did, despite the risks to themselves incurred through their literary indiscretions. This would not be last time that Dion Fortune would risk herself and her supposed integrity by revealing oath bound material to the general public.

Dion Fortune’s first group, the one that acted for a time as the outer court of the Golden Dawn order, was called the “Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society,” which demonstrates the various sources that she drew from and amalgamated into her teachings. She had also at this time mysteriously acquired a powerful spiritual connection with the first of her inner plane connections, and that was with the occult persona of Melchizadek. It is possible that this historical and mythic person, who had become something of an occult egregore for many esoteric Christians, was being channeled by her. This entity may have also been the contact that had inspired and guided her teacher, Dr. Moriarty, but Dion Fortune mentions this contact and elaborates on it in greater detail in her later book, “Training and Work of an Initiate” (1930). So it would seem that a form of esoteric and occult Christianity was being merged with various teachings and beliefs espoused in theosophical circles, and these were the foundation of Dion Fortune’s public lectures. Yet the Golden Dawn teachings and initiations, and the deeper occult instruction from Dr. Moriarty, represented the core of her inner teachings, which she only shared with her inner order members.

What were some of the core beliefs that Dion Fortune subscribed to at this stage of her occult development? Well, first of all, she believed emphatically in reincarnation, and felt that her various friends and close associates were all individuals who populated her past lives. She also believed in Atlantis and felt that it had, in the remote past, seeded the occult beliefs and teachings of the west, and from Atlantis, that wisdom had traveled to Egypt, Greece and the British isles. She believed that ancient Britain was a major recipient of those teachings and it stood at the cross-roads of a potent resurgence of that wisdom. Mystical Christianity was her first love, and it was these teachings and beliefs that she returned to during the final years of her life. But there were other things stirring inside her that had not yet been given expression, which were also a part of Fortune’s beliefs and practices. Certainly, her knowledge of ceremonial magick and the Qabalah was not at all wasted, and it’s likely that she continued her studies and practices within that discipline as well, sharing and practicing them with the more advanced students of her organization. One could even say that the Golden Dawn continued for a while within the Fraternity of Inner Light.
While Melchizadek was credited with being Dion Fortune’s most important inner plane contact, she had also developed a belief that she was under the influence of a trinity of spiritual guides. This belief was promulgated in the book The Cosmic Doctrine, but may have also been a part of Moriarty’s teachings as well. Needless to say, to understand the dynamics of Dion Fortune from an inner spiritual and occult perspective, we need to examine the nature of that trinity. This is because it not only represented powerful inner plane contacts that inspired her spiritual path and its direction, it also became characterized by living people as well.

This trinity can be summed up by the concepts of Power, Wisdom and Love. (I am very much indebted to Richardson for revealing this important factor in Dion Forune’s occult practices and beliefs.) Power was attributed to the inner plane contact with an Egyptian personage named Kha’m uast, who was the son of Ramses II, the High Priest of Ptah and the keeper of the occult and esoteric knowledge. Wisdom, or knowledge, was oddly attributed to a Greek personage named Cleomenes (Kleomenes III, 260 -219 BCE), a Spartan King who rebelled against Macedonia and briefly consolidated the Peloponnese. He was defeated and fled to Alexandria, where he supposedly became a philosopher before he committed suicide after a failed uprising. Love was attributed to the Lord of Eldon (John Scott, 1751 - 1838), who was the charismatic diplomat, minister and guide behind the thrones of George III and IV. These three spiritual personages became the prime movers in the early organization that Dion Fortune formed in the mid 1920's, although they were replaced by other personages in the last years of Fortune’s life.

Wisdom, or knowledge, and Power were two points of the triangle that Dion Fortune felt quite comfortable in representing herself. However, it is the point of love that Dion could never emulate, showing an intrinsic weakness or flaw in her character. This is because Dion Fortune was a very strong and masculine sort of woman, and once she had become confident and resolved in her beliefs and practices, she was a formidable and powerful individual, dominating any group in which she took part.

Although she wrote a great deal about spiritual love and the occult aspects of sexuality, Dion Fortune was not a woman who could easily surrender or submit herself to the supposed feminine role of the lover. Her relationships with men were always unequivocally on her own terms, and she tended to engage with men who readily submitted to her will. Her one and only marriage, with Thomas Penry Evans (1927), was more likely a union of minds and souls, and less one of the body, since they remained childless and were separated after only a decade of marriage.

Something that no one seems to have remarked upon is that Dion Fortune wrote her first fictional occult novel ‘The Demon Lover” around a year before she married Dr. Thomas Evans. That first work was not at all one of her best, and in fact it declares a theme that is very much unlike Fortune; that the heroine’s innocent love is the greatest power for catharsis and transformation. It basically says that a woman should be steadfast in her love in order to redeem and transform the beast-like qualities of her man (and his moribund order), assisting him to become closer to God. Observing the coincidence of these two events, one wonders where Fortune picked up on that theme, since it is the opposite of the themes that she expresses in her later fictional works. Did Dion Fortune get married to somehow absolve or redeem Dr. Thomas Evans, or was it that Evans sought to redeem her? It might have also given her the ability to express why she had gone against the Golden Dawn to share an important inner truth with the public. We will probably never know.

However, when Dr. Thomas Evans joined her group ( a few years before they married), he began to assume the role of the point of power within the triangle. It was also he that gently pushed the group to engage with the more ancient pagan mysteries, whose archaic landmarks were to be found throughout Britain. It’s little wonder that the inner group name for Dr. Evans was Merlin, shortened to Merl by those who knew him well. It was said that Merl was far better at developing and writing magickal rituals than Fortune herself, but she tended to play the High Priestess, channeling the spiritual forces and intelligences thus invoked, and maintaining her preeminent authority position throughout. Still, no one can doubt the powerful impact and pull that Merl had on the group, bringing out Dion Fortune’s latent paganism and fostering a new and daring magickal path. 

The point of love in the triangle was taken by a man named Thomas Loveday, who assumed the leadership of the outer court of the organization, which was called the “Guild of the Master Jesus.” The Guild was a Christian esoteric devotional group that acted as a holding group for those who were less capable of handling the inner order teachings, but later on it likely had much more influence. At this time (1928), the group changed its name and also its focus, becoming the “Community of Inner Light,” which was the early variation of the now famous “Fraternity of Inner Light,” which it later became known. However, the point of love, as associated with mystical Christianity, would oddly and eventually dominate the organization after Dion Fortune passed away.

Throughout the 1930's, the group thrived and produced, in my opinion, some it’s greatest works. It had gathered together a group of practical ceremonial magicians who had at least a sympathy if not an outright interest in a revival of paganism as an integral part of the Western Mystery tradition. It was during this time that the best of the pagan inspired fictional work was penned by Dion Fortune, and the group would meet at the Chalice Orchard, in Glastonbury, a place where it seemed that a wonderful synthesis had once existed between the old pagan mysteries and the mysteries of Christianity. Dion Fortune assumed her role as the flamboyant priestess, keeper and dispenser of the mysteries, even though others behind the scenes greatly aided her efforts.

Yet in 1935, Dion Fortune and her group, appeared to reach an apex that, depending on one’s orientation and beliefs, either began a marked change or slow decline. That mile stone was the publication of the book “Mystical Qabalah,” a masterpiece whose publication Dion Fortune admitted to her close associates as having broken previous oaths of secrecy and threatened her existing inner plane contacts. That change in perspective was probably at first more latent than actual, but it marked the beginning of the end, even though the best work was yet to be written. As Richardson said it in his book, “Dancing with the Gods,” it would seem that Dion Fortune had run the full spectrum of the pagan revival as far as she could take it, and was beginning to tire of it.

“The alternative thesis is this: from 1935 onwards, disenchanted with the direction of the lodge, disenchanted with [her husband] Merl, and seeking to become truer to her own essentially Christian self, she deliberately began to relinquish the pagan side of her magic, deliberately withdrawing the links with these two entities [associated with Power and Wisdom]. She might have ossified had she not.” (“Dancing with the Gods,” p. 52)

My own opinion is that this change of heart and mind didn’t occur until toward the end of the decade, just before the war started in the autumn of 1939. However, despite these changes, she continued to work a kind of pagan based ceremonial magick, engaging Charles Seymore in this work (as a replacement for the Power association) when she had broken up with Dr. Thomas Evans. If there was any threshold where things were irreparably changed, it was when the war broke out with Germany in the autumn of the last year of the decade. Still, Richardson is probably correct that these changes had been likely formulating for years.

From 1935 until the beginning of the war, Dion Fortune’s public writings were completely fictional, and these novels are considered some of the best that have been written in that genre. Such books included the Winged Bull, Goat Foot God, Sea Priestess and Moon Magic. There was rumored to have been a fifth book planned for that series entitled Sun Magic, but it never materialized, and nothing has ever been found to indicate that it had ever been anything but a vain hope or an urban myth. The rest of Dion Fortune’s writings consisted of numerous articles for the Fraternity’s confidential magazine, which was published and distributed only to members. Her novels were mostly about sex magick, although risque for the time, they are quite tame by today’s standards. A possible source for these ideas (as I previously indicated) were the proposed teachings of the inner order of the Golden Dawn, but that is just speculation. They could have also been based on her years of experience as an occult teacher and a psychoanalyst. Richardson gives the basic theme that can be tied to all of these books, saying:

“In these books we can see a range of castrated, ineffectual men achieving superb consumations on magical levels when they yield to the inherent (if sometimes unconscious) superiority of the woman.”  (“Dancing with the Gods,” p. 53)

A single woman character that appears in both the Sea Priestess and Moon Magic was Vivien Le Fay Morgan, who without a doubt was a prototype for Dion Fortune herself. It’s interesting to note that Richardson, in his introduction to Seymore’s lost lectures, reveals a diary entry where Charles Seymore complains of having had enough of the magickal rites of Isis (p. 13). It is likely that Fortune used his ritual and occult knowledge to assist her in performing such rites, which she later distilled into her book. That Moon Magic appears to be based on an initiatory theme, guided with a deep understanding of the kind of magick that was involved in a revitalized worship of the ancient Egyptian moon goddess, makes it some of the best fictional writing of all time. The invocations that are used in the book are lyrical and ring true. They are also quite powerful, having been used as the lyrics for musical incantations and actual magickal work in recent years.
Yet this eventful time, where adept magicians practiced ceremonial magick and performed rites of the pagan mysteries, was to be short lived. When the war started, it dispersed many of the various adepts who had promoted this work to different parts of the country or the world, and the group was never able to get together again in the same manner. Still, the characters, places and activities alluded to in these four works of fiction had a basis of truth, representing individuals and events that had actually occurred in some manner.

During the war, the headquarters for the Fraternity was bombed (1940?), and then later, Dion Fortune became ill and began her swift decline, dying in January 8, 1946 of Leukemia. Although Dion Fortune had moved to a new location, the demise of the old meeting place represented a complete change of the underlying spiritual and occult perspective. A devoted member of the Fraternity, named W. K. Creasy, stepped in to become Fortune’s closest associate, along with a cadre of devoted women followers “who felt that she could do no wrong,” and the magickal and heavy occult perspectives were loosened, so that the new organization represented a more tame sort of mystical Christianity. Merl was gone, and Colonel Seymore had suddenly died in 1943, and other members of the magician adepts had left or found different paths. The organization was renamed to the Society of Inner Light, and began a process of continual mutation over the years - it still exists today.

One itinerant magician from the old Fraternity was William Ernest Butler, generally known by the pen name of “W. E. Butler,” who wrote some important works of his own on ceremonial magick. He was joined in this endeavor by another later member of the Fraternity whose magickal name was Gareth Knight (a.k.a. Dr. Basil Wilby). The two of them formed the Helios foundation, which published books on ceremonial magick, Qabalah and produced a Qabalistic correspondence course. Later, the name was changed to the Servants of the Light (1977), and after Butler retired, Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki (a past member of the Society of Inner Light) was named director of studies. Butler died shortly after that transfer of authority (1978), and Dolores has continued the tradition of instructing occultists in the Qabalah and ceremonial magick that Dion Fortune had originally taught. Gareth Knight has most recently begun republishing some of the voluminous occult articles that Dion Fortune wrote for the Fraternity’s magazine during the 1930's, with written introductions to each article, thus bringing out more of Fortune’s writings about ceremonial magick, Qabalah and other occult topics.

Despite the efforts of these individuals to preserve and continue disseminating Dion Fortune’s occult legacy, it would seem that her long departure has, to some extent, dimmed the spiritual lights that she sought to maintain. For some, the dream had ended and the source of the mysteries had all but dried up, yet for many others, the heritage of Dion Fortune’s writings helped to give birth to a whole new generation of seekers, who through the inspiration of her last four books, have successfully sought to bring the pagan mysteries back to life. I believe that they have fared very well in this endeavor, much to the glory of the men behind Dion Fortune, such as Dr. Thomas Evans and Charles Seymore. I am sure that they would have found the modern pagan and wiccan movements to be very much akin to their own spiritual and magickal perspectives.

Finally, I would like to say that I, too, have been personally touched by Dion Fortune’s writings. I was thrilled by both the Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, which I first read so many years ago, and I found the invocations in the latter book to be completely useful in my own work. I also read Psychic Self Defense and the Mystical Qabalah several times. Yet I wish that if only the rituals and the pagan lore that were once a part of the Fraternity of Inner Light were still available, and perhaps they are, in some unpublished store of diaries, typed notes, manuscripts and mimeographs. What a treasure that would be! But until such a cache becomes published, we will still have Dion Fortune’s invaluable books - both fiction and non-fiction. You can find a list of her books here.

Frater Barrabbas