Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Summer’s Lease Hath All Too Short a Stay

We are now coming to the end of August, and soon summer will end and autumn will begin. Because I was sick with a very nasty cold in July, I lost close to three weeks of the warmest and most wonderful days of summer this year. While I am kind of saddened by that loss, I look forward to the more productive but less outdoorsy oriented days ahead. Autumn is a time to begin to plan for some interesting indoor temple magick, and winter is the time to do it. As a pagan, I greatly appreciate the changing of the seasons, but climate change is making the temperate climate of the northern regions of the U.S. more extreme. I hope that autumn will be glorious, and that winter will be short and mild - or at least I can hope for the best and brace myself for the worst. What often does occur is somewhere in the middle.

The controversy over Reconstructionism vs. Tradition is still a hotly disputed topic in some of the various Golden Dawn group discussion sites. Some have said that to give reconstructionism a pejorative meaning is to mislead folks into believing that somehow tradition is superior to reconstructionism, and I think that a few leaders in the HOGD organization who are calling some of their peers “bad reconstructionists” isn’t the same thing as being somehow misleading, egotistical or even nasty. Let’s just consider it as the moderated voices of the followers of the GD tradition who are very likely internally outraged, but are actually being civil about it. I think that like everything else, taking things in moderation is a proper way to promote any kind of perspective, and that being an aggressive reconstructionist while simultaneously denying the validity or existence of others who are traditionalists is the same thing as being a bad reconstructionist.

Since I started the whole imbroglio with my two articles posted this last Spring, where I compared a couple of the GD organizations to Frankenstein monsters (without a head), some might say that I am mostly to blame for this exchange of umbrage. However, I think that I was correct in pointing out where reconstructionism can go wrong, especially when it is promoted as the “only true way,” and denying that other organizations who are following an extent tradition must somehow be deluded or fraudulent. I suspect that these two parties will never agree, and as long as the aggressive reconstructionists continue to deny the possibility of there being a true third order with actual (mortal) secret chiefs, there won’t be any peace between these two groups. Anyway, I have spent far too much time either discussing or thinking about this topic, and I would like to move on to other more interesting themes.

On a positive note, David Griffin is offering the Golden Dawn community the opportunity to engage with his organization and therein receive the newly transmitted lore for the second order, with a possible ultimate access to the third order. This is very generous of David, considering the flack that he has taken every since he was contacted by those same secret chiefs. It would certainly be the way for anyone to test any and all of David’s claims. These are truly interesting times for the Golden Dawn, since such discussions have become the impetus for further development, particularly with those GD organizations who want to proceed without the aid and intercession of the secret chiefs. I only wish that I was either starting out my magickal and occult journey today, or if I would have had access to a proper GD group back in my formative period in the early 1980's, so that I, too, could take advantage of this generous offer. Yet because I had to determine my own direction and develop a magickal system that is now quite distinct and different from any of the GD methodologies, it would likely not be profitable for me to seek any kind of GD initiation at this late date of my development. It’s a great thing for the Golden Dawn organization as a whole, but it does leave out those of us who have built up occult systems that are not based on that system. 

As for myself, I am happy to be completely independent of any organization or group. I follow my own path and determine my own direction. I have learned the hard way that dependence on anyone for my spiritual and magickal development only leads to disappointment, as I so bitterly found out when I chose many years ago to hitch my horses to the “Bill Schnoebelen” wagon. That situation only lasted for four years, but the harsh lessons learned have lasted me all of these years. Since that time, I have decided not to join any organization without clear objectives, and once those objectives were met, to freely leave and continue my wanderings through other disciplines. Only I know what is important, relevant, insightful and key to my own spiritual development. No one else has this knowledge or insight into my internal process. I also believe that this is true for everyone on the occult path of magick and mysticism. Teachers and mentors, as well as initiatory organizations, should be temporary and non-binding, otherwise the teacher or group will readily substitute the student’s process for their own agenda. When this substitution occurs, it has the terrible effect of shunting or even turning off that person’s ability to grow and evolve through their own inner contacts.

When I was a member of Bill Schnoebelen’s witchcraft cult whatever spiritual and magickal progress I had made during my first year in that group was effectively put on hold for the following three years. I came out of that “Coven from Hell” stunted and underdeveloped, like some creature that had lived its whole life in a cave. Getting back on track and unlearning some of the bad habits that I had acquired took at least two to four years, and I was supposedly a prodigy. I could easily imagine someone getting sidetracked and not finding their own true path again for the rest of their life. I would find such a fate for myself to be grievously sad and deeply disappointing, so that is why I am so concerned about maintaining my freedom and independence.

I have written two articles that very plainly stated my opinions about self-made remarkable men and women, and how, as a self-made pagan and ritual magician, I was able to find my way without any outside intervention. These articles communicate something of my internal essence, and they show why I am not interested in giving up my hard earned independence and freedom that allows me to seek, discover and expound on whatever I feel is important or vital to my personal development. You can find the articles here, and here. If you want to really understand what makes me tick, then these two articles would represent my essential modus operandi.

These article were not written with multiple levels and they don’t require any kind of “reading between the lines.” They are as straightforward and written plainly as I am able to make them. I have always been a terrible liar and had problems disguising my motives or dissembling my communication. If I am diplomatic, it’s only because I have learned the hard way that sharing my undeveloped opinions have often caused me more harm than good. However, I have never shirked from sharing opinions that are developed and based on what I passionately believe. So you can be certain that what I write in this blog represents what I currently believe, even though those beliefs may change or evolve over time.

Now on to other topics - I am starting to write up my book temporarily entitled “Qabalah for Beginners,” and that will be one of my most important writing tasks for the next several weeks. Hopefully, I will get it done sooner than that, but it will be my main focus for a while. I will also be volunteering for the Minnesota Pagan Pride Day to be held at Minnehaha Falls Park on September 10th. I recently created a Yahoo! group for Order of the Gnostic Star, which is an online group for initiated members, affiliates and interested parties. The group is closed and requires either an invitation or approval to join. I will consider any requests sent to my blog associated email address. I also plan on getting in some last minute outdoor activities, such as kayaking and doing some tourist type activities over the next couple of weeks. Since I lost three weeks, I am hoping to catch up on them in the next three weeks; hopefully the weather will stay warm and sunny for some of that time.

So, make certain that you take some time off and have a wonderful time for the rest of the summer. Drink some beer or wine, spend time outdoors, go to some parties, and generally have a great time. Winter will all too soon be upon us again, and we will regret any time not taken to enjoy the great outdoors while we can.

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Zohar - Book of Splendor - Its Importance to the Jewish Kabbalah - Pt. 2

Now that we have established the background for the Zohar, examining the vast array of Hebrew religious literature and some of the individuals who were responsible for writing it (like Simeon ben Yochai), we can now proceed to examine the various books of the Zohar. What we will see is that the author of this massive set of writings sought to emulate and copy the methodology of the Tannaim and Amoraim scholars of the past epoch to create a decidedly esoteric and occult interpretation of specific passages, mostly from the Torah and a few other strategic works. So the very first task that the author sought to achieve was to produce a qabbalistic midrash. Because only certain passages and books of the Tenakh were actually important or useful, the qabbalistic midrash was neither comprehensive nor complete. Other books followed, but the actual sequence of all of the books, which was preserved in the original collective manuscripts, was lost when the books were printed in the late 16th century. One thing that we need to keep in mind is that the Zohar is not a single book, but is actually a collection or body of qabbalistic literature. In printed editions, the Zohar is composed of five volumes: volumes 1 through 3 are called the “Sepher ha-Zohar al ha-Torah,” volume 4 is called “Tikkunei ha-Zohar,” and the fifth volume is called the “Zohar Chadash.” The Zohar Chadash is a collection of quotations and other discourses found in the manuscripts of the Sefed kabbalists, which were made and later collected after the main body of the Zohar had already been printed.

I have consulted Gershom Scholem’s book, “Kabbalah” to assemble the information of the contents of the Zohar and a basic synopsis of each book. As I have already indicated, the Zohar was a collection of books, mostly assembled and written by a single author, with some additions possibly made by either another author or the same one at the end of his writing career. You can find the actual source of the information that I used about the Zohar in Scholem’s book, starting at page 213 and continuing through page 243. I found Scholem’s brief commentary on the history and contents of the Zohar to be invaluable. Still, for those who desire to study the contents of the Zohar, the book “Kabbalah Revealed” is still available, and three nearly complete authoritative English translations are available from three sources: the first by Maurice Simon and published by Soncino Press, second, the Pritzker edition edited by Daniel Matt, and the Kabbalah Center version. Of these three, I would recommend the Soncino version or the Pritzker edition.

Books of the Zohar

1. Selective Midrash - The first and main part of the Zohar consists of a selective midrash, and is constructed in such a fashion as to resemble an authoritative midrash on the Torah. Each section begins with a Psalm or verse from the books of the Prophets and then breaks into the actual verse of the Torah in question, accompanied with various declarations from the main teacher, who is Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai, and an accompanied discourse from his companions (harrayya). Another teacher who is quoted in the various sections is Rabbi Eleazar ben Hyrcanus, who doesn’t appear in the other books of the Zohar. In these sections, sometimes the conversations occur while they are traveling, sometimes over meals or during a rest period, and sometimes at night before retiring. Often, the discourse jumps to topics completely unrelated to the actual verse from the Torah. While this qabbalistic midrash undoubtably was formulated to eventually cover all of the more important verses of the Torah, it is decidedly sparse and incomplete. The style of the conversations are immersed in a kind of travel narrative including all of the trivial occurrence that such a journey would entail, which is apparently contrived to disguise what is really discourses and the elucidations of qabbalistic ideas. A second part consists of a partial midrash on the biblical book, Song of Songs, which was traditionally an important book for qabbalists.

2. Sifra de-Zeni’uta (Book of Concealment) - This book focuses exclusively on the first sentence of Genesis, the Bereshit (In the beginning) and expounds on the qabbalistic ideas about creation. It is formulated “in short obscure sentences like an anonymous Mishnah,” according to Scholem.

3. Idra Rabba (Greater Assembly) - This book consists of a discussion of the mysteries of Adam Kadmon, the primordial and first created man. The dissertation is conducted by Simeon, with comments and questions inserted by his companions. According to Scholem, this book is of a superior quality and is the most structured and detailed discourse in the entire Zohar.

4. Idra Zuta (Lesser Assembly) - This book tells of the death of Simeon ben Yochai and expounds on the closing words to his followers. Scholem has compared this book with a qabbalistic version of the death of Moses. This book was often considered the final book of the Zohar, since it deals with the death of its main protagonist.

5. Idra de-Vei MashKena - This book describes a study session conducted by Simeon with his students concerning the nature and components of the tabernacle of the temple. It also expounds on the mysteries of prayer.

6. Heikhalot (Palaces) - This book expounds on the detailed descriptions of the Seven Palaces in the celestial Garden of Eden. These palaces can be accessed through meditation and prayer, and is the final resting place for the religiously pious after their death. It includes special prayers and the angelology associated with the seven palaces. There is also a brief exposition of the seven palaces of uncleanliness, which would represent the domains of Hell.

7. Raza de-Razim (Secret of Secrets) - This book is derived from an anonymous source based on the occult sciences of physiognomy and chiromancy - divination based on the outer human anatomy and palmistry.

8. Sava de-Mishpatim (Discourses of the Old Man) - Simeon and his companions encounter an old man on their travels who is actually Rabbi Yeiva, disguised as donkey driver. Much to everyone’s wonder, he delivers a discourse on the doctrine of the human soul based on a mystical interpretation of the laws of servitude in the Torah.

9. Yanuka (Child) - Simeon and his companions encounter a child prodigy, who is the son of Rav Hamnuna. The child teaches the companions about the great mysteries found within the humble sayings of grace after meals, and other matters.

10. Rav Metivta (Head of the Academy) - This book contains a narrative about a visionary journey lead by Simeon ben Yohai and his students, where he takes them to the Garden of Eden and therein they receive the teachings of one of the celestial heads of the academy about the world to come and the mysteries of the human soul.

11. Kav ha-Middah (Standard of Measure) - Simeon gives a discourse on the details of emanation as found in the prayer, the Shema, to his son. The Shema is the prayer that is recited twice daily: “Hear now, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”  

12. Sitrei Ottiyyot (Secrets of the Letters) - This books contains a discourse by Simeon on the letters of the divine name and how it is associated with the mystery of emanation.

13. This book has no official title, but contains an interpretation of the vision of the Chariot as found in Ezekiel, chapter 1.

14. Matnittin and Tosefta - These are a number of short sections that act as a mishnah of the Talmud and of the Zohar itself. Most of these sections begin with a heavenly voice heard by the companions followed by a short narrative discourse. The topics consists of summaries of the ideas of emanation and other key concepts found in the Zohar, These small sections are typically scattered throughout the Zohar to lend a greater authority to specific points made in the various books.

15. Sitrei Torah (Secrets of the Torah) - This book contains an analysis of specific verses in Genesis.

16. Midrash ha-Ne’lam (Esoteric Midrash) - The Esoteric Midrash functions as a subset of the main midrash (book 1), and consists of a mixture of short Hebrew and Aramaic expositions on strategic verses in the Tenakh. The topics are quintessentially qabbalistic, centered around themes that are the foundation of qabbalistic doctrines. It includes mostly sections from Genesis, compares the lives of the Prophets to the general fate of mankind, and includes the books of Ruth and the Song of Songs. This book was written mostly in Medieval Hebrew and parts of it may have been written before any of the other books.

17. Ta Chazei (Come and See) - This book consists of a number of expositions on the Bereshit, each beginning with the words, “Come and see!”

18. Ra’aya Meheima (Faithful Shepherd) - Faithful shepherd is a reference to Moses, which is used as a theme in this book. This book is considered a later edition to the corpus of the Zohar, and contains a qabbalistic interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Simeon and his companions, through the artifice of prayer, achieve a visionary encounter with Moses, and the various tannaim and amoraim who attend him. These various celestial spirits of the honored dead speak with the companions and teach them the mysteries of the commandments.

19. Tikkunei Zohar - (Chapters of Spendor) - This book contains many sections or chapters (tikkun) each of which expounds in a unique manner on the Bereshit of Genesis. It was designed to have 70 different sections, which would emulate the 70 aspects of the Torah, but in fact, there were many more. Even though the subject of each section is supposed to be about the Bereshit, the actual expositions digress and vary from the topic considerably, discussing items that do not appear in the main body of the Zohar. The Tikkunei is also considered a later edition to the Zohar, and is completely independent of it.

20. Numerous untitled fragments and short sections, some of which were not included in the printed editions of the Zohar, but do appear in the manuscript versions.

As you can see, the comprehensive Zohar is a massive work, but also one that is very consistent and tightly organized. Often there are pointers or references in one book that allude to a further discussion of a topic in another book, showing that the author wrote the Zohar using a disciplined layout of books and their contents. All of the books use the same method of composition and are constructed in an analogous manner. The style of writing is also consistent throughout, with the only exception being the Ra’aya Meheima and the Tikkunei Zohar, which are obviously written later by a different person. We will discuss that particular issue later in this article.

Sources, Historical References and Language Styles

Zohar text cites numerous literary sources, most of which are fictitious, and this has had the effect of burying the actual sources that the author used. Some of the actual sources are the Babylonian Talmud, the Midrash Rabbah and Tanchuma (three collections of Pentateuch haggadot), Midrash on the Psalms, the Targum Onkelos and several other authoritative books, some of which are no longer in existence. These sources are not captured word for word but are distilled or summarized into the peculiar literary style of the Zohar.

The sources of Jewish Kabbalah were, of course, the Sepher Yetzirah, Sepher ha-Bahir, Ma’yah ha-Chokmah, writings of Eleazer of Worms, Rabbi Ezra’s Commentary on the Song of Songs, the commentaries of Azriel of Gerona. Other influences were represented by a synthesis and distillation of the various ideas, doctrines, terminology and practices of the gnostic Jewish kabbalists of Castile. The ideas presented in the Zohar represents a distillation of the ideas of the Qabbalah from the Sepher ha-Bahir up to the writings of Joseph Gikatilla (Ginnat Egoz - 1274). It would seem that from the qabbalistic sources employed in the Zohar, that it was contemporaneous with qabbalistic thought of the late 13th century.

Additionally, there were numerous references to actual historical events and occurrences found sprinkled throughout the Zohar, such as the crusades and Arab rule in Jerusalem. Certain Jewish laws and customs cited are found only in late medieval Spain. This is also true pertaining to comments about medicine and pharmacological based remedies. Enough circumstantial information is imbedded in the text to fairly identify the cultural background of the Zohar as that of a nominally dominant Christian culture with various Muslim influences, which would fit the locale of Castile as the place where the Zohar was written.

From a linguistic perspective, the two languages used in the Zohar, which is Hebrew and Aramaic, have distinctive characteristics. The Hebrew, used mostly in the Midrash ha-Ne’lam, was particular to a type of unremarkable medieval Hebrew used in documents written in the late middle ages. This was due to the kind of special philosophical terminology that was employed in the text, which didn’t appear in the Hebrew language until long after the Geonic period.

However, the Aramaic is a peculiar synthetic form or imitation of that language, which appears to have been pieced together using idioms, phrases and words distilled from the Babylonian Talmud and various targumim (such as the Onkelos). It was obviously written by someone who was not at all fluent in Aramaic, but was very knowledgeable of Hebrew, and used that knowledge to synthesize an Aramaic language. While Aramaic and Hebrew are closely related, there are also a number of differences, such as the verb constructions, nouns and adjectives used; yet these differences proved to be stumbling blocks for the writer of the Zohar. New words were invented, syntax was confused, correct words were used incorrectly, and even errors and corruptions found in the copies that the author used were unwittingly passed on to the text of the Zohar.

So the language that the author used to compose the Zohar was highly synthetic and full of errors, which could hardly elevate it to the same literally level as the Sepher Yetzirah or the Sepher ha-Bahir - that would take a couple of hundred years to rectify. There was also the unsubtle phenomenon of borrowing Spanish and Arabic words to fashion Aramaic words, when no such Aramaic word was readily at hand. This peculiar version of Aramaic was, however, consistently used throughout the entire length and breadth of the work, strongly indicating that it was written by a single author. The two later books in the series (Ra’aya Meheima and the Tikkunei Zohar) are even more poorly written than the main body, both in regards to vocabulary and syntax. Thus, it would seem that the author of these two books attempted to emulate the peculiar style of the Zohar, and only partially succeeded.


There are many myths and arguments about who was the true author of the Zohar, since such a declaration was omitted from any of the books. Some Jewish kabbalists believe that the author is either unknown or that it is, in fact, Simeon ben Yochai. However, it’s doubtful that the Zohar has an ancient source because it is was written in a contrived and synthetic form of Aramaic. Certainly, someone from the Geonic period or even earlier would have been completely fluent in Aramaic as well as Hebrew. Gershom Scholem, in his book “Kabbalah” provides, what I believe to be the definitive proof that the author of the Zohar was known to the Jewish kabbalists of late 13th century Spain.

According to the testimony written by Isaac ben Samuel of Acre, the Zohar was disseminated as individual manuscript books at various times to various people, and the writer was a man he personally knew named Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon, who died in 1305 CE. Isaac of Acre met Moses de Leon only a few years before his death, but he was a known author of many books in the Hebrew language, from 1286 until after 1293. He was friends with many contemporary kabbalists, and he supposedly exchanged manuscripts and other papers with them.

One interesting bit of evidence that was remarked upon by Isaac of Acre about the authorship of the Zohar was that the widowed wife of Moses de Leon, who resided in Avila, was asked to give as a present the ancient source document (used to write the Zohar) in exchange for her daughters’ hand in marriage to a man who was seeking a wife for his son. Moses de Leon’s widow had to sadly tell the man that no such source document existed, and that the entire Zohar was written by her husband independently of any original source (other than the ones we have sited above).

Another curious occurrence was that the parceled out manuscript copies of the Zohar were used by Moses de Leon’s contemporaries to build up their own work, and at the time, they didn’t consider it to be of an ancient provenance, which would have required some restraint or respect. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the Zohar was considered to be an important work to qabbalists. Additionally, a comparison of the Hebrew writing style and idiom used in Moses de Leon’s known manuscripts was identical to the Hebrew used in the Zohar, which could also identify him as the unknown author.

Taken together, the evidence seems to be quite definitive that Moses de Leon was the author of the Zohar. Various copies of this work were spread amongst many of his contemporaries, but it wasn’t until much later that anyone had all of the books of the Zohar assembled into a single work. The assembling of this work into a collective body was done nearly a hundred years later by Jewish kabbalists, but some of the collected manuscripts had sections that were either missing or omitted from others. In addition, it appears that a few sections may have been altogether lost and never recovered. The sequence of books that the final circulated manuscript collections maintained was unfortunately altered when the Zohar was finally printed in the 1570's. However, the Zohar was avidly studied and lionized by the Jewish and Christian qabbalists of the 16th and 17th centuries, even despite the fact that the Aramaic language it employed was obviously highly flawed. Perhaps some saw this anomaly as a sign that it was truly antique, while others likely saw it as an obstacle to fully comprehending its secrets, whether deliberate or incidental.

The Zohar was the first successful attempts at producing a qabbalistic Midrash; prior to that great achievement, no one would have dared to have undertaken such an ambitious endeavor. It is apparent that Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon wrote this monumental work during the period between 1280 and 1286 as an attempt to distill at least two different philosophical schools (Gerona and Castile) into a single unified one, producing a work that merged rational philosophy with gnostic and occult insights and tenets.

As Gershom Scholem, in his book “Kabbalah” has so astutely declared: “The Zohar is the most important evidence for the stirring of the mythical spirit in medieval Judaism.”  (pg. 57)

And also:

The mingling of these two currents - the Kabbalah of Gerona and the Kabbalah of the ‘Gnostics’ of Castile - became in the mind of Moses de Leon a creative encounter which determined the basic character of the Zohar. Instead of the brief allusions and interpretations of his predecessors he presents a broad canvas of interpretations and homiletics covering the whole world of Judaism.” (also pg. 57)

This work consisted of a vast multi volume set of homiletics on the Torah, the books of Song of Songs, Ruth and Lamentations. These were not comprehensive commentaries, but instead focused on strategic passages. The Zohar had the effect of producing a kind of uniquely Jewish mystical based theology, even though it was also wedded to tenets that were particularly uncanonical.

Yet despite its irregularities and peculiar writing style, the Zohar helped overall to bring the Qabbalah into the mainstream of Jewish thought. This did not happen immediately, since the Zohar was fragmented for over a hundred years into the various books and sections elucidated above, until it was re-assembled and made available to qabbalists a few generations after Moses de Leon’s generation had passed away. The Zohar was an important foundation for the work that was to come later, in the Palestinian town of Sefed, where the brilliant diaspora of Spanish Jewish intellectuals came together to formulate the qabbalah that we would know and recognize today. Those great savants who built the Qabbalah of Cordovera and Luria owed a great debt to the obscure but daring writings of Moses de Leon and his Sepher Zohar, the Book of Splendor.

Whether or not we acknowledge the Tenakh and other Jewish literature as an important contribution to the sacred literature of the West, in order to understand the culture that we live in today, Jewish literature as well as Christian, represent an important keystone to an esoteric apprehension of the modern world. Even more important are the products of Jewish and Christian occultism, which underlie even the most ardent of modern pagan perspectives. To engage in ritual magick or even pagan mysticism, the tenets of Christian and Jewish occultism are as much a part of the melange of ideas and insights as any antique pagan philosophy, in fact, they are probably more important due to their relative proximity in time. Thus I can only assume that a modern pagan practice of ritual magick and witchcraft has within it occult elements of its predecessor religions, which are Christianity and Judaism, and they in turn, are built on the foundation of the pagan mysteries of antiquity.

Frater Barrabbas

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Zohar - Book of Splendor - Its Importance to the Jewish Kabbalah - Pt. 1


In my history of the Qabbalah series, I briefly touched upon the topic of the Zohar, but I now feel that it requires a more extensive and separate article. The reason for this reappraisal is because the Zohar was even more important to the formulation of the Qabbalah than the Sepher Yetzirah and the Sepher Bahir, although they were used as sources for it. The Zohar is the penultimate product of the Spanish Qabbalists, and it became the foundation for the final revisions and refinement that took place in Safed, Palestine, nearly three hundred years later.

The Zohar consists of mystical and gnostic interpretations of the Torah, which is the foundation and source for all Qabbalistic speculation. Others may propose a wholly Greek version of the Qabbalah, but without a body of holy scriptures like the Torah, that proposal is both weak and groundless. Of all the various religions of antiquity, only the Persians, Hindus, Sabians and the Hebrews had holy or revealed scriptures. Christians, and later, the Arabs, followed with their own holy scriptures, but the other religions of western antiquity had neither the need nor the impulse to create such written lore. It is the Torah that gives power and authority to the Qabbalah for both Jews and Christians, and the Zohar sought to vest the Qabbalah within the sanctity and power of those scriptures.

So now we must define the nature and contents of the Zohar and explain why it is important to those of the Abrahamic faiths. Modern pagans and wiccans might find this level of scriptural based detail to be irrelevant, and indeed it is certainly abstruse and not particularly important to someone who is following an earth-based spiritual system. However, since most of us live in societies where Christianity is dominant, the legacy of the Bible is part of our own world, whether we have reason to seek out its mysteries or not.

Our western culture is so suffused and saturated with Biblical references, myths and beliefs that even the most stubborn and focused pagan can’t avoid continually coming in contact with them. Modern pagans (such as myself) must acknowledge this legacy and perhaps even incorporate some of it into their spiritual considerations, even if it is done in an oblique manner. The reason that we must acknowledge and to some extent include some of the Bible myths into our spiritual considerations is that our own pagan myths are either weak or incomplete. Much has been lost over the last two millennia, and also, much has changed. Christian and Jewish myths still shape and move our culture, so we must address them in some manner, since they are also to be found operating even within our individual psychic deep structure.

I have assiduously avoided studying the Zohar myself, except where a specific topic from the Zohar has been elucidated in another work. I have had Mather’s book “Kabbalah Revealed” on my bookshelf for decades, but I have never been able to completely read it. As I will reveal later, the book “Kabbalah Revealed” has within it the very core of the Zohar, translated into Latin in the 17th century by the German mystic, Christian Knorr Von Rosenroth. This book had only three of the books of the Zohar translated, but for the occultist, they were the more important books, having only omitted the initial Zohar midrash from this main body of work. Thus the “Book of Concealed Mystery” and the “Greater and Lesser Assembly,” all three of which functioned as the very heart of the Zohar, were chosen and included in Rosenroth’s book, and later translated from Latin to English by Mathers, including the mistakes and typos from the original. 
It was likely that this work of translation, no small feat for a supposedly poorly educated man, forced Mathers to be intensely wedded to the Bible based Hebrew Qabbalah, even as he ventured into spiritual derivations of an Egyptian pagan revival. If we throw the corpus of Enochian magick of Dee into the melange of traditional lore, we can easily see why the Golden Dawn organization had problems digesting these various streams into a common and seamless whole. Many occultists today have the same problem, which is probably why I have avoided attempting to fully digest the Zohar and integrate its massive lore into my own spiritual and magickal practices. 

Before I get into discussing the various books and topics found inside the Zohar, I would like to briefly discuss the various parts of the literature associated with the Hebew bible. In order to really understand the Zohar, one must have a basic understanding of how the various books of Hebew religious literature were formulated and written down, since the Zohar sought to emulate that process with a decidedly mystical and even gnostic bias. I have not found a single book that has all of this information contained in it, and instead, I had to rely on numerous sources found on the internet, including Wikkipedia. However, checking the sources of these sites, I believe that I have compiled information that is reliable and more or less correct.

The Hebew Bible is called the Tenakh, and it consists of three essential parts. The first and most important part is called the Torah, which means “instruction.” Another name for this part of the Tenakh is the Pentateuch (five books), which is its Greek name, since the Tenakh was translated into Greek in antiquity to produce the Septuagint. The Torah contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which consist of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The second part, in sequential order, is called the Khetuvim, which are the lesser books, such as the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Joshua, Kings, Judges, and others, and the third part is called the Nevi’im, which are the books of the Prophets. The word Tenakh is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im and Khetuvim, or TNKh. The cannon of the Hebrew bible was formulated and finalized sometime during the last two centuries BCE, during the Hasmonean kingship.

In addition to the Hebrew bible, there was also a considerable amount of orally transmitted lore regarding various legal considerations, traditions and even folklore. This oral lore was finally written up after the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judea (132 - 136 CE) because the rabbis feared that this knowledge would be lost if it weren’t committed to writing. Therefore, a new religious literature was redacted and completed around 200 CE by Judah ha-Nasi, and it was called the Mishnah, which means “repetition” (derived from the verb root ShNH, which means to “study and review”). Many rabbinical scholars worked on the Mishnah, where Judah ha-Nasi was only the last in a long line of multi-generational scholars, and they were called the Tannaim, or teachers. The Mishnah had a companion book called the Tosefta, which was a supplement to the Mishnah, having been structured in an identical manner. Often the Tosefta and the Mishnah agreed on a particular point of Jewish law, but other times the two books would arrive at different opinions about the same passage of the Torah.

Once the Mishnah was committed to writing, there were many comments and additional considerations that began to be associated with it, and these were compiled into another book, called the Gemara, which consisted of writings that presented a deeper and more thorough analysis of the contents of the Mishnah. The combination of the Mishnah and the Gemara was called the Talmud, which also contained a lot of historical information and foot notes about the associated scholarship (annotations, controversies and arguments) that went into the canonization of the Tenakh and the final formulation of the Mishnah. The rabbinical scholars of the Gemara were called the Amoraim, which means “those who say or tell about [the Laws].” Additionally, there were two Talmuds that were developed, the first in Palestine, which was called the Jerusalem Talmud, and the second in Babylon, which was appropriately called the Babylonian Talmud. Of these two Talmuds, only the Babylonian is complete, while the greater part of the Jerusalem Talmud was lost.

Another important book in the body of Jewish biblical lore was the Midrash, which means “to investigate or study.” The Midrash was a body of written lore that consisted of many homiletic commentaries and an in-depth analysis of various passages of the Torah. These textual analyses consisted of two kinds, those that were concerned with Jewish religious law (“halakha”), and those that were concerned with non-legal and homiletic themes, called “aggadah.” 
The writers of the Midrash was tasked with performing several different kinds of biblical analysis, and these were represented by a simple or literal interpretation (peshat), a deep textual analysis (examination of hints - “remez”), a comparative analysis (comparing different texts using the same words - “deresh”), an analysis of hidden meanings, mysteries or secrets (“sod”), and an examination of legal pronouncements (commentaries on various judgements - “din”). Of course, to perform a “dersh” analysis, one would need a concordance of Hebrew words used in the Tenakh, and there is such a concordance. The Midrash emphasized peshat, remez, deresh and sud for aggadic analysis, and din for halakhic analysis. The various books of the Midrash were focused on a single book of the Tenakh, and these were ultimately grouped together as ten midrashim called the Midrash Rabba, or Great Midrash.  One can easily see that the later qabbalistis would greatly expand and inflate the use of “sod” over all other methods. 

Medieval qabbalistic lore was concerned with mystical and therefore, a non-legal exegesis of the Torah, so it was based on the pattern of the Midrash, using the homiletic or aggadic method of “sod”to derive hidden or occult meanings from strategic passages of the Torah. A homiletic discourse is actually a fancy way of saying a sermon or a religious discourse of some kind. Obviously, qabbalists were interesting in writing sermons and religious discourses that presented their unique way of interpreting and revealing the hidden or underlying knowledge contained in specific biblical passages. Instead of fostering a comprehensive interpretation of the bible, qabbalists were only interested in certain passages that seemed to embody their essential beliefs concerning creation, ultimate cosmic destiny, the human soul, the after-life, and for some, the attributes of the cosmic messiah and the redemption of humanity. It is for this reason that the bulk of qabbalistic commentary was based on the first several verses of Genesis (Bereshit), where the story of how the Hebrew God created the universe is described.

The Tenakh was mostly written in Hebrew, but much of the commentary was written in Aramaic, although the Jerusalem Talmud was written in both Hebrew and Aramaic. In the Geonic period, when the Babylonian Talmud was being written, an authoritative Aramaic translation of the Tenakh was produced. These writings were called the “Targunim,” and they consisted of translated passages and Midrashic interpretations of the Torah (Targum Onkelos) and the Nevi’im (Targum Jonathan ben Uziel). There were also several targums that covered the books of the Kheturim. I am specifically mentioning these two collections of writings because the author of the Zohar used the Targum Onkelos extensively (and to a lesser extent, the Targum Jonathan ben Uziel) in composing the text of his book, including using various word structures, idioms and even borrowing some themes from those works. The Zohar was also written in Aramaic, as if to make it seem more antique and authoritative, as if it had been assembled during the Geonic period based on writings from an earlier epoch. A thorough analysis of the Aramaic used in the Zohar has shown that it was actually written by someone who was not fluent in that language and whose mother tongue was Spanish, as we shall later see.

One of the rabbinical scholars that had a hand in crafting the Mishnah, the Gemara as well as the Midrash was the legendary Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai. He was a known historical figure who was one of the members of the Tannaim. His work and life were recorded in the Talmud, but for some reason, the qabbalists of medieval Spain believed that he was the first qabbalist, and that his son, Eleazar, was the scribe who wrote down the qabbalistic lore that later became the Zohar. What historians do know about Simeon ben Yochai was that he lived during the first century after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and he was also the eminent disciple of the great Rabbi Akiva, who was the main religious scholar behind the composing of the Mishnah and the Midrash. Simeon was a religious legal scholar and helped to write some of the sections of the “Sifre” (commentary on Leviticus) and the “Mekhita” (commentary on Exodus), which were parts of the Midrash halakha, or legal exegesis of the Torah.

According to Talmudic legend, Simeon ben Yochai publically criticized the Roman government and was forced to flee for his life, along with his son, and remained in hiding for thirteen years. They both lived in a secluded desert cave for the duration of their forced exile, and miraculously, soon after they had arrived, there appeared a fountain of water outside the cave along with a sumptuous fruit tree, which kept them alive. During their exile, the two men spent their time reading and studying the Torah, and many interesting and unusual things happened to them there. These legends grew until it was said that the two men were the actual authors of the Zohar, with Simeon ben Yochai dictating, and his son, Eleazar, acting as scribe.

This brings us back to our subject, the Zohar. The actual author was never explicitly declared when the books were written and disseminated, and the main character featured in the Zohar narratives was Simeon ben Yochai, so many later qabbalists assumed that he was the original author. A book that claims a specific authorship that is false is known as pseudopigraphy, where the claimed author is often someone famous and far enough in the past for his role in the work to be indisputable, which also obscures the true author who wrote the work at a much later time. Since the date of the authorship of the Zohar is estimated at sometime after 1274 CE (we will cover how that was determined), it would be unlikely that Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai was the original author. It would be also highly unlikely that a religious legal scholar would also be a mystic who spent a large portion of his time writing quasi gnostic and theosophical works, the cave story notwithstanding.

The association of Simeon ben Yochai and his son, Eleazar, with the Qabbalah is entirely mythical, loosely based on Talmudic legends of his supposed exploits and intellectual excellence. While it is very curious that the Sepher Yetzirah might have been written during the Tannaic period when Simeon lived, it was also unlikely to have been authored by someone who was a rabbinical scholar. This is because the theme of the book consisted of a kind of heterodoxic speculation that would have been rejected by such individuals.

Still, for whatever reason, the author of the Zohar chose Simeon ben Yochai as the rabbinical master whose numerous sermons and discussions occurred while he traveled through parts of the Galilee with a group of intellectual companions. Oddly, some of these companions were historically known individuals who either formed part of the Tannaic or Amoraic groups of religious scholars. The exploits and symposium-like discussions between Simeon ben Yochai and his companions characterize each and every one of the themes of the books of the Zohar, regardless of the topic, with exception to the earliest work, the Midrash ha-Ne’lam, which featured other known rabbis. It is particularly unlikely that this group of ten men ever congregated together (some of them were from different time periods), nor would they have discussed such heterodoxic topics with each other. The format of the dialogues, which seem to imitate the kinds of discussions found in the Greek philosophical dialogues, were obviously fictional, artificially set up to aid in the discourse of qabbalistic doctrines and ideas.

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hidden Contacts and the Self-made Magician

My article on Remarkable Self-made Men and Women (where I lionize the laudable personal accomplishments of William G. Gray) got an excellent comment by Peregrin, who discussed the importance of hidden contacts that aid and assist the direction and development of such stalwart individuals. Peregrin is referring to what he calls the “Inner Tradition,” and that one can achieve an inner contact spontaneously through working with the outer forms of a tradition.

Here is the most important kernel of Peregrin’s comment, which I include here.

With regards the remarkable WG Gray, I think he was able to use what outer teachings and connections he picked up to make contact with the abiding Inner Tradition. This is a theme explored well by Richardson and Claridge in the biography. My own understanding is that connection with the non-corporal inner tradition is essential for authentic and transformational magical practice. This though does not necessarily mean ‘channelling’ inner plane Masters and wot not. Inner connection is an Art and there are many ways for people to practice the Art, some hardly looking like ‘magic’ outwardly.”

I find that I completely agree with Peregrin, since what makes someone remarkable isn’t due to their outer talents or abilities. It must, therefore, be something else that resides internally within a person which makes them shine with an ethereal light. Although I myself have undoubtedly experienced internal contacts of a very powerful and profound nature, they were not deliberately sought nor achieved by direct methods. In fact, I don’t actually know how they occur (but I have some interesting speculations about them). All I can say is that if a magician builds a discipline and performs his or her work in a regular and periodic fashion, then these internal contacts do occur, and they become the greater source of inspiration and creative development.

A magickal discipline, performed regularly and continuously will, after a time, produce a phenomena that I call “the process.” What that rather nebulous term really means is that there appears to be a kind of magickal and spiritual field that surrounds a practicing ritual or ceremonial magician. That spiritual field becomes tangible over time, and begins to inspire, alter, direct and reveal important spiritual truths to the practitioner. The process is subtle, and at times, nearly invisible, but once triggered and consistently energized, it appears to have a mind and a will that is distinct from that of the magician. It is the empowered and dynamic process that makes subtle internal connections, alignments and spiritual alliances, often without the direct conscious knowledge of the practicing magician. 
Because the process is very much a part of the overall psychic core of the magician, it would never lead him or her to an end or goal that is destructive, delusional, distractively irrelevant or regressive. In measuring my own specific process, I have found that it is innately good, positive and progressive. Following my process has always lead me to an optimum resolution to any given crisis or issue, and ignoring its message has always forced me to experience the worst possible outcome that life has to offer. Having learned this lesson very early in my magickal career, I now listen very intently when I sense that my process is communicating to me.
Peregrin talks about this “Art” as if it were a battery of techniques functioning at the core of a ritual magician’s discipline. Yet to this day, I must admit that I don’t have any such specific tools. What I do have in my repertoire are specific invocation rituals for the few spiritual beings (let’s call them demi-gods) that I have discovered and were by chance revealed to me as important to my personal spiritual and magickal process. However, these discoveries were revealed and inspired by something that is truly internal, subtle and usually quite invisible - in a word, my own process. I have been led and carefully nurtured by something that is truly beyond me, but also very much a part of myself. It’s a paradoxical phenomenon, but it also something that might possibly be explained using the Qabbalah. The process would therefore be the activated awareness and sensitivity to the Yechidah as perceived through the Neschamah at peak moments of the Ruach. In other words, my personal Atman is the “behind the scenes agent” for arranging events and making contacts in the spiritual and mental worlds, which are covered by the Neschamah and Ruach.

My experiences, however, are specific encounters or brushes with the Godhead, which resonate within my own personal God/dess-Within. At those moments I feel the uncanny connection between everything, spiced with paranormal phenomena and charged with the presence of the Deity. What this phenomenon has lacked until recently is a name and a definitive characterization. Since I managed to successfully invoke my Holy Guardian Angel, I now know a lot more about that core being which lurks at the center of my spiritual process.

I suspect that William G. Gray and other independent and remarkable persons have also had this kind of spiritual experience, which I call the process. I have discussed this with other occultists and I have found it active and operating within them as well. I would suspect that for a person who belongs to a Golden Dawn, Thelemic or Theosophical organization, the process would assume the character of the Egregore of that organization. However, for me, that quality, which I call the process, seems to act independently of any organization. I would suppose that my process is independent because I am independent as well, but that has made identifying and defining it much more difficult. However, over the many years of practicing and studying, I have found some basic practices that have greatly helped me to identify the active elements that are operating within my own spiritual and magickal process. (Perhaps this is what Peregrin meant by an Art of inner contacts.)

First of all, the most essential element of one’s process is the Higher Self or Holy Guardian Angel. This is the most important link to the deeply internalized kernel of the spiritual self known as the Atman. Any magickal or mystical operation that can fully reveal the Higher Self and assist one in knowing its name and defining its character is probably the most important key to any kind of adept level working and realization.

Other spiritual entities will become important and they will reveal themselves to you through a continuous magickal practice. These entities (usually in the form of demi-gods or various important spiritual beings) should become part of the personal pantheon of the practicing magician. Often when I discover such a spiritual being, I will assemble an invocation ritual to effectively focus, define and characterize that spirit. Performing such a custom invocation ritual greatly assists me in forging an important and powerful bond with that entity. I may also acquire a statue of that demi-god and place it on my shrine, and give it offerings and devotional attention. Building up a personal magickal and religious cult is an important task for the ritual magician, since he or she must maintain an alignment (bond) and connection with the Godhead to enable a fully realized assumption whenever magick is to be performed. After a while, the temple shrine becomes crowded with statues and various sacred objects whose sole purpose is to facilitate a connection with the various spiritual entities that are operating in the magician’s personal sphere. These spirits, godheads and demi-gods also populate the magician’s process, and can aid, guide, protect and even reward the magician as he or she progresses on the path of spiritual awakening and enlightenment.

This is how I am able to identify and incorporate various entities into my personal magick and my religious cult. Yet that religious cult, where I act as high priest and congregation, is nothing more than a personification of my more invisible and inexplicable spiritual and magickal process. The temple shrine with my magickally animated statues, offering bowls, horn drinking cups, phallic representations, magickal jewelry, vase of flowers and incense burners, where I focus my devotions, offerings, oblations and prayers, is the manifestation of my process and all that it contains - or at least everything that I am aware of. A shrine may start out modest and sparse, but after many years of working, it seems to grow in size and capacity, just like the magician’s process. If my temple shrine exemplifies my magickal and spiritual process, then it also helps to materialize and objectify not only my spiritual progress but also the extent of my spiritual alignments.

To recap what I have presented here - a magician’s process can be materially realized through the following four spiritual and magickal practices:

  • Full invocation and conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel or Higher Self,  
  • Invocation of various godheads, demi-gods and spirits associated with one’s magickal practice,
  • Use of a temple shrine, with animated statues, sacred objects, personal magickal fetishes, offering bowels, incense burners and flower vases,
  • Regular performance of rites of alignment - devotion, prayer, contemplation, sacramental rites, communion, invocation and godhead assumption.

I believe that the above four practices will help practicing magicians manifest their inner spiritual contacts and allow such contacts to aid, guide, develop, reward and empower them in a manner that would help them ultimately become enlightened and one with the Deity. Once such a methodology is adopted, it would certainly make that magician into a remarkable and self-made man or woman.

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tarot History Revised

I had presented, along with my article on the provenance of medieval emblems in the Tarot trumps, some of my thoughts about the history of the Tarot. Unfortunately, those historical comments were actually quite inaccurate, a point well made by a commentator who has the moniker of “robjo.” Due to his excellent comment, and the fact that my historical notations were completely wrong, I felt it important to more carefully research the history of the Tarot, and this time, get it right. I found most of my answers in Wikipedia, and they appeared to be correct, you can find that web page here.

What I found is that the Tarot was not the first card game that appeared in Europe in the 14th century. In fact the Tarot was developed a century later in Italy, and the base card system that it was built upon was the simple 52 cards that we know today. The original game appeared first in China during the Tang dynasty, although it was quite varied and different than what is used today. India also had its own version, using round cards and many suits, but the Arab Mamlukes used a system that was very similar to the later European playing cards.

In the Mamluke deck there were 52 cards consisting of four suits and twelve court cards (malik - king, na’ib-malik - viceroy, thani-na’ib - assistant viceroy). These three personages later became the face cards of the King, Queen and Jack or Nave. Since Arab law forbade any kind of human likeness to be depicted, all of the cards consisted of geometric designs. The numbered cards (Ace through Ten) had the suit emblems depicted in geometric arrangements, and these cards were called the spot or pip cards. The four suits were staves, swords, cups and coins, which is how they were depicted when introduced to Europe, probably around the late 1370's. Early card sets were hand painted, but cheaper wood block printed versions began to appear in the 1420's. The four suits used most widely today first appeared in France in around 1480, being the images for clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds.

Whether we are talking about playing cards, or Tarot cards, they were all used specifically for gaming. While it is possible that cartomancy may have appeared when card sets became more common, the use of the Tarot for divination didn’t become widely accepted until the late 18th century. Afterwards, the Tarot diverged to become an occult instrument used in cartomancy, and common playing cards continued to be used for gaming, although some continued to use the Tarot for gaming up to the present time. Of course, some individuals, like Gypsy fortune tellers, used the common playing deck for divination, too.

Anyway, the Tarot was invented in Italy sometime during the 15th century, perhaps as early as the 1420's. However, the Tarot had an additional court card (the knight), and twenty-one Trump cards along with the Fool card, thus producing a deck of 78 cards. While the Fool card might be confused with the Joker card, the Joker didn’t appear in the standard 52 card deck until the 19th century, and was actually an American innovation. The Joker was used as a third trump card in the game Euchre, and was probably introduced around 1870.

The rest of what I said in my article was correct and accurate, except that the common 52 card set of playing cards came about long before the invention of the Tarot, and the Joker card was a recent invention. In the late 19th century, the twenty-two Tarot trumps were allocated to the twenty-two paths of Tree of Life, elevating them to a higher symbolic characterization than what they had ever achieved previously. What this whole process represents to me is that things that have a common origin and use can become sacred exemplars in a later age. Perhaps there is even hope for myself to someday become a kind of magickal saint (but I doubt it).

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Talking About Ritual Magick - Second Anniversary 2011

Happy Anniversary for the Blog, its writer (me), and all you wonderful readers!

How time flies when you have your nose to the grindstone, as it were. I am now happy to announce that this blog has passed its second anniversary, and it has now been around for two whole years. This is quite a remarkable mile-stone for me, and there has been quite a few substantive and in-depth articles for you to peruse and examine, hopefully, at your leisure.

My ability to write appears to be getting better, and so is my ability to articulate and express my beliefs, which I might add, have also been changing over the last couple of years. If anything, I seem paradoxically less certain of myself and a lot more open to variations than where I was when I started. That would seem to represent a kind of progress or maturing occurring within me. Or it could just be that I am being worn down and getting fatigued by a constant process of erosion, where I am periodically and consistently beat across the head by my pundits until a certain amount of sensibleness temporarily overtakes me. Either I will become wise some day, or my head will be reduced to mere dry pulpy dust through the unrelenting process of having to mitigate my prejudices and restate my opinions. A blog opens you up to the public eye, and this can be a very humbling experience, especially when you go public with either a half-baked or incorrect idea. Yes, such mistakes are (hopefully) the stuff of amusement, and not annoyance, for many others. If I am not a good example, at least I may function as an object lesson for others to see and take warning.

The life of an occultist is never easy, since we have to, by definition, constantly refine and revise our beliefs and practices based upon a never ending stream of insights and revelations. Yet throughout all the struggles of a pagan spiritual life, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have found it a good thing to be forced to constantly hone my intellectual skills and challenge my ability to engage in critical thinking. There is no rest for those who are forever seeking spiritual truths, and thank the gods for that happy occurrence! I would rather be a lifetime seeker than to pretend to be someone who has all of the answers (and ignore the hard questions that can’t be answered).

I think that some forms of fundamentalist Christianity actually inspire their followers to short-circuit their critical thinking skills in favor of accepting their religious doctrine without either doubt or questions. It’s the terrible folly of being a true believer, which is something I could never be.  I know myself all too well, and I could never function that way, and that’s probably why I became a pagan so many years ago. (I was the obnoxious kid who kept on asking all of those troublesome questions in Sunday school until being asked to leave permanently.) I guess you could say that I am doomed to only believe in what I have seen and experienced myself, and luckily, I have experienced the full spectrum of angels, demons, devils, gods, goddesses, earth spirits, ancestors and dead heros. Because I also know how to write, then I might share these thoughts, opinions and experiences with you, and then see what you might do with them.

From the blog statistics, I have around 450 individuals who are subscribing to my blog site, around 185 who are actual followers, and an approximate all-time total of 86,000 views since the blog was first started. A few of the articles have actually gone slightly viral, like the one on Michael Bertiaux, but mostly, I have seen a very modest and sizeable increase in my readership, which is very heartening. I hope that these favorable ratings continue to increase, and I will do all in my power to help make them so. 

So here we are, another year down, and a new one beginning. What are my plans for the next year of blog based articles? I am quickly approaching the 250 articles benchmark, and most of these articles are quite long and in-depth. I have been saying for the last few months that I need to scale back the length and depth of my articles, and that will be happening starting next month. The articles will be shorter and focused on a specific topic, which might make them more interesting to read for some. I have decided that I need to start putting some of my fervent writing into other venues, particularly non-fiction occult books, and even some occult, horror and supernatural fiction stories. I recently completed a seven week course on Forensic Sciences for Writers, and I intend on using that knowledge in the future, perhaps writing some occult detective stories, something that I have always been rather keen on doing. I am also starting my writing project for Llewellyn, so I will have less time to devote to this blog. This doesn’t mean that the blog will suffer, only that it will be more topical and each article will be considerably shorter.

Even though it is the middle of summer, and I am thoroughly enjoying these short months of sunshine and balmy weather, I am already making plans for this autumn and winter. I would like to share some of these ideas with you.

  • Write up three manuscripts for three new books, especially the Llewellyn book project on the Qabbalah. These will be on-going and will require a great deal of time. I suspect that I will be working on these projects until next summer, but I might post an idea or section from the two projects that are entirely my own, like the Abramelin Lunar Ordeal or the book of Pagan Ritual Magick.
  • Plan, develop and put together a weekend intensive on the Qabbalah, to be held at a local occult book store in Minneapolis (hopefully) sometime in the middle of November. I will let you know when this plan becomes immanent.
  • Develop and perform Qabbalistic minimalist workings to test the five operations and five methodologies. This is a system of magick that I discovered when doing my intensive Qabbalah research. It is a system of magick that requires only a minimal of ritual and ceremonial regalia.
  • Perform some theurgy - invoke both a few Goetic spirits and also a few of the corresponding ha-Shem angels. I am particularly interested in working with the ha-Shem angels, since I haven’t had the opportunity of really working much with them. I might also consider doing a few of the workings for a revised version of the Grimoire Armadel, if I have time.

There will be lots of things going on, and I will share some of it with you, my faithful readers. Thanks for all your support, comments and questions. You have made this a very rewarding experience for me, and I hope that I have given you some moments of inspiration as well.

Bright Blessings to you in the coming months -

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Complete Topic List For Qabbalah

As I promised in a previous article, I am including a complete set of links to all of my articles on the topic of the Qabbalah, beginning with December of last year. I have placed these links in an order that will more easily facilitate, you, the reader, to select these articles by topical area and specific link. I will probably be adding a few other articles on the Qabbalah, but I think that I have most of the foundational topics already covered. I hope the “July is Qabbalah Month” series was informative and interesting for you, and that by now, you will see how important the Qabbalah is to anyone who aspires to a mastery of ritual and ceremonial magick.

Introduction to Qabbalah for Pagans and Witches - and Others

1. Part One.
2. Part Two
3. Is the Qabbalah Superfluous?

Twenty-two Pathways - in Six Parts

3. Part One.
4. Part Two.
5. Part Three.
6. Part Four.
7. Path Working.
8. Qliphoth

Qabbalah, Creation, Nature of Evil and the Four Worlds

9. Creation - part 1
10. Lurianic doctrine of Creation
11. Qabbalah of the Four Worlds and Human Spirit

History of the Qabbalah - Four parts

12. History part 1
13. History part 2
14. History part 3
15. History - Moses Cordovero

Practical Qabbalah - Various Topics

16. Qabbalah and Theurgy
17. Qabbalah and Non-Hebrew Languages
18. Tables of Correspondences
19. God Names - Analysis and History
20. God Names - Power and Use
21. Sacred Sexuality
22. Ascension, Transformation and Gnosis

Hope this link list helps you find all of the interesting topics recently posted here about the Qabbalah. You should be able to easily find any of the articles that you read and previously enjoyed, and you might even find some that you missed.

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Does Culture Influence Occultism and Spirituality?

I have been pondering this theme for some time now, and it really boils down to a question of what is evil, what is good, and if our culture says something or someone is evil, can that belief be overturned or ignored? Do what the masses believe have any power over what individuals believe or practice, even if what those individuals believe or practice goes completely contrary to what the masses believe?

This may seem a bit nebulous, but I would like to bring this line of questioning into the frame about the debate about whether witchcraft and paganism are endemically or intrinsically evil (which, of course, I adamantly deny), and whether such religious characters such as Satan or Lucifer are indelibly stained by cultural contagion. Social movements can supposedly reclaim culturally accepted definitions, or redefine them, and over time, those movements can actually have some success in changing the public mind about certain things.

This has certainly occurred in the religion of modern witchcraft, where due to a persistent and continuous effort, the public opinion has altered and changed its mind about this topic. The witch has gone from a feared bogey and social pariah, to fairy tale nemesis, and finally to whimsical fantasy figures. Reclaiming had to deal with a thematic character who was no longer believed to exist in the real world and therefore, rendered harmless, except to those who espoused more fanatical (fundamentalist) religious beliefs.

Reclamation has not quite had the same success with the devil, since many people, even educated and sophisticated individuals, still believe in a force of evil of some kind operating in the world, even if it is often divorced from the usual religious based theology or characters, such as Satan. This would assume that Satanists or devil worshipers would even want to reclaim their deity and eliminate the notoriety or bad press associated with the Devil. Calling oneself a witch is not as big a deal in our culture and society as declaring oneself an adherent of Satanism. While there is some push-back in the more orthodox religious communities against allowing the reformation of a religious witchcraft, there is much more controversy for anyone who espouses devil worship regardless of other people’s religious beliefs.

The fact that some Satanists actually enjoy the notoriety and cultural disharmony that their declared religious beliefs have caused in public has also made reclamation to be a difficult and nearly impossible feat. Successfully reforming the Devil so that he is perceived in a positive light would probably be counter-productive anyway, since then the appeal and fascination (as well as power) would likely completely evaporate. A thoroughly white-washed devil would be pretty boring and indistinguishable from any of the other more obscure savior or spiritual intermediary types. Besides, as Anton La Vey was so fond of saying, the Devil has kept the Christian church in business for most of its lifetime. So I would doubt that anyone in the Christian community would ever agree to allowing others to redefine the nature of Satan and thus rob them of an important theological foil.

These considerations can also be used in thinking about the reclamation of demons as well, since Satan is believed by Christians to be their leader and lord. It would seem that because of this powerful and longtime association, that anyone who traffics with demons would be considered by some to be a Satanist, whether or not they declared that as true, or just vehemently denied it. This singular painting of the world as either black or white has the effect of judging everything that is not in strict alignment with what is defined as good, proper or orthodox in Christian organizations must be, by default, considered evil, improper and unorthodox.

While it may be tempting or even justifiable for some Christians to either declare or hide the fact that they traffic through ceremonial magick with demons, the rest of us who don’t share their beliefs or faith are left in the unenviable situation of having to deal with these myths and their associated social powers and stigma. Since many of the grimoires and other books of ceremonial magick that propose trafficking with demons are typically wedded to the theme that demons are evil, it could be assumed that someone who whole heartedly believes in these books and uses them as they are written would experience some of the blow-back associated with socially empowered myths. How much of an impact this phenomenon would have on a would-be goetic practitioner is dependent on whether that operator is open minded and flexible, or closed minded and sectarian. I would suspect that the latter operator would find himself or herself in the unenviable situation of performing goetic work with a guilty conscience, others wouldn’t be so afflicted.

What would seem to be the determining factor is both the intent and spiritual alignment established by the practitioner. Does the operator intend to do “evil” to others through a malefic demonic based cantrip (justified or not), and if so, are the demons that he or she engages with considered inimical and spiritually toxic? Those who stand between an alignment to Christian spirituality and an indigenous native pagan-based belief system might find themselves in either situation, or perhaps even on both sides of the issue at once. Spiritual alignment is the key to identifying whether someone is functioning as a Christian diabolist, as a pagan-Christian heterodox, or completely through a pagan magickal perspective.

Intent is also important, although it becomes less so if the operator has decided to willingly abrogate any kind of Christian morality. If the operator has revoked Christian morality and approaches all deities and spirits with an open mind and a generous disposition, then that individual would readily and easily pass through the threshold of judgement and socially based stigmas to arrive at a place of pragmatic truth. Such individuals would find their own ethics and learn their own limitations, often the hard way, but inexorably so. I would refer to such a place of pragmatic truth as a domain beyond the simple values of good and evil.

This brings me to the real core of my article, and that is to question how useful the old grimoires are in regards to trafficking with goetic demons. Probably the most illustrative point that I have encountered recently was found when I was reading over the newest addition to the published grimoire collection, which was the Scarlet Imprint edition of the “Crossed Keys.” This newly published book consists of two classic grimoires, the more obscure Black Dragon, and the more famous Enchiridion of Pope Leo III. The Black Dragon is concerned with a system of demonic magick that is driven by the four Infernal Princes, and the Enchiridion is a grimoire of psalm and prayer magick. How these two could be combined into one book is one of the more interesting questions, but I found that the book seemed to work well as a unit despite the differences in the two systems of magick. (Crossed keys could be seen as a symbol of the keys to heaven and hell, but I will defer any comment until I actually review the book.) I will assemble a review of that work sometime in the near future, but something that really caught my attention was the apparent dissonance that the writer/translator experienced when attempting to work with the Black Dragon. In the original preface to the work, the following couple of introductory paragraphs pretty much define the spiritual alignment and character of the demons that the magician is supposed to evoke.

Indeed, it is no trivial matter to have direct relations with demons, for they are our greatest enemies, yours, mine, and all of humanity, and each time they are able to bring us misfortune, there is relief and joy for them.”

They will reveal themselves according to your character - that is to say, in accord with your weakness, whether you are submissive, thoughtful, polite, courteous, or loud, ostentatious, quick tempered and threatening - with the intention of deceiving or intimidating you always for your loss and for their relief. Be composed, resolute and upright and it will be easy to avoid their trops.”
(Crossed Keys - Black Dragon, p. 4.)   

Reading this introduction, and also examining the invocations will lead one to presume that demons are really irredeemably evil and toxic entities, but that they are also weak, cowardly and able to be commanded if one is composed, morally astute and resolute - in other words, beyond being corruptible. In looking over this grimoire and judging it from the standpoint of its obvious spiritual alignment, there is nothing surprising about anything contained within it. Demons are the enemy of mankind, but they can bullied, coerced and commanded through the words of power and the authorities of the Christian Deity and his representatives.

However, when the author, Michael Checchetelli attempted to perform these invocations, carefully following the directions and intoning the memorized invocations exactly as they were written, he discovered that not only did the infernal lords find his invocations offensive, but that they felt no loyalty or fealty to the entire spiritual hierarchy through which the grimoire was invested. The demonic spirits only materialized out of curiosity and interest in the operator, and perhaps lured by the offering of his own blood. How did this happen and what does it mean? Are the old grimoires somehow terribly flawed and deliberately misleading? Is the purist doctrine espoused by some writers that the old grimoires should be used exactly as they are written faulty and specious?

Somehow, I think that Mr. Cecchetelli had the experiences that he had due more to his own personal spiritual alignment than to any fault or discrepancy involved in the grimoire. He did discover that there were some omissions and mistakes in the versions of the grimoire that he possessed, which interestingly, the demons helped him to remedy, but the whole spiritual theme of the grimoire didn’t match up with the operator’s internalized spiritual perspective.

The reason for this occurrence is subtle, but it should have been obvious to all magicians (including me). When the grimoire operations were magickally realized, then Michael’s internal spiritual alignment was also activated, and these two processes fused in union to form an energized domain. Yet within the matrix of that energized domain, the pious sentiments and clear theological dictates written into the grimoire had become completely irrelevant, since they were not relevant or meaningful to the operator. If Michael had been a very strict Christian who would have fervently believed in the theology of the Black Dragon, then everything that would have happened would have been part of the “empowered” script. What Michael actually discovered in his working was the core of his own spirituality, merged and animated as it was with the grimoire working. We can also assume that this would likely be the outcome for any modern person who would seek to use one of the grimoires for the purpose of demonic or even angelic magick. The outcome would be dependent on the deeply held belief system of the operator, and that is the key to whether or not any magickal practitioner should engage with supposed demonic or angelic spirits.

What all of this means is that there just isn’t one way of judging or evaluating everything that is spiritual or religious. If you believe strongly in the Judeo-Christian spiritual themes, then for you those themes are relevant, powerful and compelling. A magician whose spiritual foundation is Christian theology is going to experience blessed angels and perfidious demons, yet all conforming and being commanded through the authority of Jesus Christ and his proxies. Yet on the other hand, if you don’t believe strongly in the Judeo-Christian spiritual theme, or if your beliefs are mixed with other beliefs, or if you completely and passionately reject it, then your magickal and spiritual experiences are going to be quite different. This means that the old grimoires are completely correct and relevant only for those whose spiritual foundation matches that of the old grimoires. It also signifies that the old grimoires must be adapted, redacted or even completely rewritten for those individuals who are unable or unwilling to adopt the conservative and pious religious views upon which they were founded. I also believe that it is nearly impossible for anyone to completely reconstruct the spiritual sentiments and world view that someone had over five centuries ago, so the result of working with Renaissance themed grimoires (even if they were posthumously written in the late 18th century) will be quite variable even for a devout Christian.

The question of good and evil therefore becomes a relative question instead of one that is steeped in universal principles. In order to intelligibly speak about demons, devils and spirits of the dead, we need to first define our own spiritual foundation, and based on that alone, establish our judgements on the nature of these spirits, their use in magick, and their overall spiritual characteristics. This is why individual practitioners who have vastly different spiritual foundations will also have very different experiences when they perform magickal operations using the same spirits. An operator’s spiritual context should always be stated first before he or she opines about any kind of magickal working and its results, especially when an occult topic as loaded with expectations like a goetic working is being discussed. While universal doctrines are useful for categorizing spiritual beliefs and organizing a religious creed, they can’t be taken literally and presented as universal truths. That means that a demon is one thing to me, another thing to another person, and it all depends on the foundational spiritual belief system that one espouses.

If what I have said is true, then what are we to do about the old grimoires? That depends on our core spiritual beliefs. If a magician is a pagan and witch, such as I am, then a lot of the themes and pious sentiments are completely irrelevant and need to be changed in order for the magick to be optimally successful. It means that a grimoire such as the Goetia would have to be completely reworked if you are not an adherent of the Abrahamic faith, and it also means that a grimoire like the Grimorium Verum would lend itself as a better model for someone who sought to develop a system of pagan based goetic magick. It also means that substitutions, redefinition, and extracting the basic system and putting it into a completely pagan based religious architecture is something that pagans and witches would find quite rewarding. Some grimoires would not easily lend themselves to this kind of revisionism (such as the Grimoire Armadel), others would easily enable such a rewriting. As far as engaging with chthonic deities, spirits of the dead (ancestors, heros, etc.), and even goetic demons, this would be completely up to the pagan or witch. However, assiduously avoiding the darkness has its own problems, since attempting to be an exclusive white-light wiccan practitioner would be to gut witchcraft and paganism of its power and mystery. As I have said to many of my students in the past, the mysteries are not to be found in the light, they are to be found in the darkness, where reside all of the hidden things.

I think that another book recently published by Scarlet Imprint succinctly says everything that I have been trying to say in this article. I am referring to the book on Palo Mayombe, written by Nicholai da Mattos Frisvold. I recently bought this book at my favorite occult book store, and happened to stumble across this quote when I was superficially examining it. The quote encapsulated my whole point in a simple statement, much to my pleasure. I haven’t read this book yet, but my attention has been powerfully captivated. I will quote the pertinent text here so you may enjoy it as well.

You cannot have the day without the night and otherness is always around us, like an invisible mirror leading to the land of death and ancestry.”

Given the cruel history of the Palo Mayombe, it is amazing to see how this movement towards unity and connectedness is still at work.” [This because unity and connectedness are central to all forms of magick. -FB]
(Nicholae da Mattos Prisvold - Palo Mayombe, Scarlet Imprint, p. 30)

When we approach any religious or magickal system, we have to put away all of our prejudices and biases in order to truly understand how that system functions. We shouldn’t judge that system or evaluate it using our own spiritual beliefs and values. This is especially true when examining a religion that is quite different than our native faith or beliefs.

On other hand, the words demon, devil and evil spirit are loaded with obvious Christian values, and if we accept them into our own workings without critically re-evaluating them, we will unwittingly build up egregious errors into our understanding and our magickal practices. We should first approach these various entities in a neutral manner, understanding that we must eventually join them within the context of our own belief system. I have made this mistake myself in the past, and now I must mitigate that mistake when re-approaching this material. As a pagan and witch, I am not obligated to see reality as a pious Christian, and so when I work magick using material from the old grimoires, that magick should be based on a pagan spiritual definition - to do otherwise is to add to the overall confusion.

Frater Barrabbas

Monday, August 8, 2011

Self-made Remarkable Men and Women

A couple of weeks ago, David Griffin had discussed on his blog “Golden Dawn Magus” that some folks in other traditions of the Golden Dawn (most notably Pat Zelewski) are saying that alchemy is the highest and final study for an adept, and that it would behoove members of the GD to begin to seek out alchemical lore and then to build it into the Golden Dawn, thereby fashioning a new and higher discipline. In this manner, one could perhaps reconstruct a third order regimen and through it, achieve the Magnum Opus, or Great Work, of the western occult aspirant. You can find the pertinent article here.

This seems logical and likely, except for the fact that the lore of the mystical third order has already been deemed an alchemical regimen by the HOGD and its inner order, the A + O. Not only that, but the higher level discipline of spiritual alchemy (according to David) is employed by the third order and the secret chiefs, so this is a secret teaching that has had no lapse in continuity, unlike the Golden Dawn and the A + O.

It could also be presumed that the regimen of spiritual alchemy practiced in the third order might only have some very minor themes, echos or hints in the lore of the outer order, and it could also be possible that there is little or nothing that one could use to build up an authentic third order based on available lore. So the reconstructionist attempt at building extensions to the GD would very likely fail. A better approach would be to build a system of spiritual alchemy from scratch, and to approach it with the guidance of eastern traditions of spiritual sexuality (Indian Tantra, Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Taoist alchemy, etc.), which would assist one in translating the many strands of western alchemy and finding a methodology that would work. This would be a very arduous task, and there is no guarantee that it would even work. I, myself, would find it very daunting, because the amount and extent of alchemical lore is enormous, and the number of possible paths is quite large as well. I would never envy anyone who would attempt such a quest as that, but I believe that it would not be impossible to achieve.

David makes a pretty profound statement in his article, which would pretty much sum up my opinion about attempting to create a spiritual alchemical tradition from scratch.

All throughout history there has been only one traditional way of learning alchemy - by becoming an apprentice to an initiated Master. Without the guidance of a Master alchemist, one remains forever lost in the alchemical labyrinth.”

This might be true in regards to spiritual alchemy, and even perhaps a number of other traditional paths as well, but I don’t believe that it represents a complete barrier to anyone who seeks the highest spiritual achievement without belonging to a tradition or receiving the teachings of a master. There have been self-made men and women who have acquired complete at-one-ment with the Godhead and they didn’t belong to some specific initiatory tradition. In fact, many of the remarkable men and women in history seemed to achieve this goal in contradistinction to any spiritual, religious or occult organization that they belonged to. I would call these people, remarkable “self-made” men and women.

One perfect example of such a self-made master was the irascible and curmudgeonly magician adept, William G. Gray. There is a recently published biography about William G. Gray, written by Alan Richardson and Marcus Claridge, and it’s entitled “The Old Sod: The odd life and inner work of William G. Gray” (Skylight Press 2011). I have recently purchased and read through this work because I found that I knew so little about this man, even though I had read many of his books. Who was William G. Gray and how did he manage to learn so much about the Qabbalah, Magick and the Western Mystery Tradition?

Was Mr. Gray a member of the Golden Dawn or the Society of Inner Light, or perhaps some other group or tradition that no one knows about? As it turns out, Mr. Gray belonged to no tradition or group. He succeeded in briefly joining the Society of Inner Light, but soon dropped out when he determined that there was little within that organization that was relevant to his personal spiritual and magickal path. What Mr. Gray did was to meet and engage with almost everyone who knew nearly anything about the occult over a period of several decades. He met the many remarkable men and women of his days, from the 1930's through the eighties.

He eventually formed his own organization, called the “Sangreal Sodality.” As the authors (and the title of the book) doubtlessly communicate that “Bill,” as he was known to his friends, was not a perfect man, and he had many flaws and odd predilections (he was a bit of a racist), he also had many wonderful qualities of self reliance and self determination. He was, by his own account, an odd sort of man, but even so, what he accomplished in his life was highly commendable. Without any master or teacher, he single handedly created his own system of occultism, joining the various strands of paganism (most notably, the Grail mythos), Christian occultism, Qabbalah, ceremonial magick, and a kind of gnostic and pagan episcopal clergy together into a unique and viable system. The Sangreal Sodality was a monumental creation on his part, and it is still functioning today.

I find a certain amount of comfort reading about such occultists as William G. Gray, since his life and personal spiritual evolution are similar to my own. The only tradition that I truly own today is my Alexandrian witchcraft lineage and all of its associated lore, which amounts to a rather meager and incomplete magickal religious system. I have had to study, research, experiment and create most of the occult lore and knowledge that I have today. It has been a long, hard and difficult path, since I had to determine my direction and focus without any assistance or intervention from anyone else. Since the days when I was initiated as a witch, I have amassed so much additional lore that it makes my original tradition seem almost irrelevant in comparison. When I was going through this massive self-education process, there was no Golden Dawn temple, O.T.O. camp or any other kind of hard-core occult organization for me to join and teach me the basics. My one great occult mentor turned out to be a traitor to his own cause, and left the occult community to become a fundamentalist preacher. I have met many very interesting and remarkable people in my many years as an occultist, and these individuals probably have had the greatest impact on me, and they still do.

Another point that I would like to bring up is that the changing times may be making the exclusivity of esoteric organizations into something of an endangered species, and like a dinosaur, perhaps they may even become extinct someday. Since the publication of occult materials in print and on the web have become so prolific, and the number of individuals, such as myself, who are following their own path have grown considerably, perhaps self made men and women will become the rule. My experience in occultism and magick is that there is an intrinsic elegance to acquiring and using pristine occult sources that have no typos, errors or omissions; but these tropes are just esthetics and don’t rule out that poor sources and badly contrived structures also appear to work just as well. You can be a snob and say you have materials or information that is correct and highly accurate, which you have discovered or received from secret sources, but the poor slob who doesn’t have that advantage will still be able to perform the work anyway.

Why is it that I constantly see this happening wherever I go and whenever I experience other people’s magickal practices? They might not do things the way I do, and some might have sources of information that I would either disdain or wrinkle my nose in apparent elite disgust, but still, the magick works. There are a lot of factors that are operating in ritual and ceremonial magick, but having all of the source material exactly correct isn’t one that would seem to doom any magickal working. That means that if I have made errors in my workings, or have relied on information that is suspect, it only effects the esthetics of what I am doing - but it still works. For this reason, I find it less compelling to join some group because their sources of information are more accurate or pristine than what I am currently using. What I would find more compelling are insights and techniques that are missing from my own work, which I could add to what I already have. I am, by definition, a revisionist, and I tend to borrow and adopt other bits of information to my own lore. If it doesn’t fit, then I either save it for later possible use, or discard it.

Another blog article that has had gotten some recent attention lately is the swan song written up by Raven Grimassi, in his blog “Bird’s Eye View,” where he has complained bitterly that the various traditions are in decline because everyone seems to want to wing it on their own, and few appear to be willing to engage with a traditional occult or pagan organization. You can find his blog article here. He cites this strategic point in the 1980's when Wicca broke off from Witchcraft, and a new form of public or politicized witchcraft became very popular. I am referring to the event when Star Hawk’s book (Spiral Dance) was published, and reclaiming witchcraft and its association with the Feri tradition became the actual cutting edge of the modern witchcraft movement. According to Raven, things have been going down hill since then, because this change allowed many individuals to seek out their own spiritual perspectives based on personal experience, rather than sit at the knees of some master and learn their craft through a mentoring relationship. Of course, Raven fails to relate the fact that there were just too few mentors to go around, and that many of the traditional witchcraft organizations were not interested in engaging in any kind of mass training program for the general public. In fact some groups were quite resistant to acquiring very many new members at all. Demand far exceeded the available resources, so there was a market and a need for individuals to organize and assemble their own traditions. Publications and other materials soon caught on, and the “roll your own tradition” movement soon gathered momentum.   

Jason Miller did a great job responding to this rather odd lament from Raven, and even showed where Raven himself had published a book on how one can assemble their own personal tradition. You can find Jason’s article here. In fact this seems to be one of the major forces operating in the overall culture of occultism, paganism, witchcraft and magick. People are hungry for personal experience, and you can hardly blame them. Since mentor and teachers are in such short supply, and good ones are even harder to find (there are a lot of bad teachers out there as well), it would seem that winging it was probably the one of the more viable paths that an occultist could choose. At some point, students will meet up with those who have more knowledge, or more specialized knowledge, and perhaps they might even engage in a relationship of mentoring, which by definition, should be temporary.

Raven complains that if people don’t engage with the last remaining real traditions, that these organizations, like many occult book stores, will fade away and take with them an important connection to the mysteries. I find this opinion hard to believe, since the mysteries are associated with the common occurrences of life itself, and that within nature, as well as in the human spirit, the mysteries will always be powerfully evident. They just require seekers to discover them (or rediscover them), and then to pass their techniques and methodologies on to other seekers. This is how the perennial philosophy has been reconstituted in every age, and the lore is rediscovered and passed on to future generations, where it is re-established and re-determined within the matrix of a new age and culture.

In pondering over these various articles and discussions, it brings me back to my own situation. Even though I have been a member of a tradition, I had to continue my studies outside of that tradition in order to continue to grow and spiritually evolve. I have been spoiled, I guess, by the availability of so much material, information and getting to talk with interesting individuals. It would seem to me that there is more material available now than there ever was before. When I started out, there were few books on the occult subjects that interested me, and what books were available were expensive and often, hard to find. I was lucky that my interest in the occult dovetailed with the burgeoning national interest in these topics, and a lot of new books started to become available as I made the transition from teenager to adult. Over the years I have spent far more time engaged in my studies and practices outside of any kind of occult organization than I ever spent inside of one. I went through the first four degrees of the O.T.O., but saw little there to compel me to climb any further. I guess you could say that I am just caught up in my own personal process, and I enjoy the freedom of meeting different people and learning new things.

Since I have spent far too much time outside of any occult organizational structure and have developed much of what I do from a magickal and pagan standpoint through my own research, development and experimentation, there is little that attracts me to any of the current occult organizations. After all, what would they do with me? I would find starting out at the beginning to be boring and hardly challenging, and would likely soon give up such an undertaking to continue my own work, which I have always found to be quite interesting and satisfying.

Does this intransigence on my part make me a candidate for failure because I wouldn’t submit to a great teacher or master to complete my training and help me obtain the final step in my development? I have come to truly doubt that this is true, since my path has apparently guided me all of these years to an ever greater and more splendid evolving knowledge and ability in regards to spiritual wisdom. I feel that I am closer to that final goal than I have ever been before, and I just need to follow the steps that I have been able to determine by myself to their ultimate completion. My only concern is that my age and health won’t conspire to block me from this final achievement.

Yet even if I were to expire in the near future, what I have discovered and learned and taught to others is enough to assist me in establishing a kind of legacy of sorts. This alone will give me a great peace of mind by knowing that I have accomplished all that I could in the time allotted to me. There might not be any kind of accolades from my peers, or devoted followers singing my praises or calling me a modern day great spiritual leader, but then, that wasn’t my goal in the first place. My goal has always been to discover all that I could fathom in my short period of life, and then to teach and pass it on to others, and then see what they make of it. In other words, success is survival, life is to be lived to its fullest with no regrets, and that the life of a person is measured in what they have passed on to others. I hope to be someday compared with such individuals as William G. Gray, who was one of those self made but remarkable men and women.

Frater Barrabbas