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

1 comment:

  1. Care Fr,

    Thank you for this very interesting article, which I think is very accurate.

    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.

    The various outer traditions and initiations, hidden practices and lineages, are all tools to help us make this inner, personal connection. As soon as we value them as something other than this, or insist those without a particular toolset (lineage etc) can’t make it, we have veered towards idolatry. The remarkable thing about Mr Gray was that his limited connections with the outer tradition sparked off and produced so much fruit, power and spiritual depth. He took a few crumbs and produced a banquet.

    Then again, if we accept RJ Stewart’s view of adepts like Ronald Heaver (who Gray met) they are able to plant ‘seeds’ of spiritual transformation and magical practice at a single meeting. These ‘seeds’ may take years to germinate, but if the student prepares the environment (her or himself), then they will eventually come to fruition. I hope this is true, as I have been blessed to meet several remarkable adepts in my time :)

    As for hoping one day to be seen in the same kind of light as Mr Gray and others – if the quality of the rest of your magic and practice are on the same par as your last series of wonderful articles, you are WELL on the way! Thanks again :)