Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Novemberist Work - Where Did the Year Go?

Here it is, the end of November, and I have not yet gotten into the temple to do some magickal work. I had to make a business trip early this month, and then traveled down to Milwaukee to see my brother just before the Thanksgiving holidays. I also had to focus on getting the final set of edits done on my manuscript for the book project, “Qabalah for Beginners,” and that took most of the month as well. Not only did I have to produce a finished copy of the manuscript for submission, but I also had to supply the tables, timeline and examples of the 22 diagrams. Luckily, I found representations on the internet for what I want Llewellyn to produce for the diagrams, so I included them with a document that gave further instructions for each. The whole mass of documents, spreadsheets and pictures were bundled up into a zip file and sent off to Llewellyn for their perusal and inspection. 
We’ll see how things develop from this point on. I have successfully produced the required manuscript and materials as my contract required, so now it’s in the hands of the editors and the publication committee. They could reject the book and decide not to publish it, but I doubt that will happen. I suspect that what will happen will be a round of revisions and rewrites, and then it will be assembled for publication. I am expecting myself to be quite fast and efficient in the turnaround process associated with the rewrite phase, so maybe the book might be published in the autumn of 2012, or perhaps in the Spring of 2013. That’s a lot of time, so I will be working on other projects in the interim.

By the way, I just wanted to wish everyone a happy holiday season, starting with last week’s U.S. celebration of Thanksgiving. I have a number of things to be thankful for, and I stated these when my girlfriend and I had a feast of roast duck with a cherry sauce, wild rice, cranberry fruit salad,  and brandied carrots. It was a different sort of thanksgiving dinner than is regionally typical, but it was filling (yet not too filling) and also quite delicious. I said that I was thankful for my wonderful relationship, loving critters (four cats and a dog) and steadfast employment. Of course there are many other things that I am thankful for, but these three seemed to top the list.

I have been periodically communicating with John Michael Greer, and he had highly recommended a book for me to read, so I purchased it and am reading it now. I have always wanted to examine the Neoplatonic roots for modern occultism, but found that it was a very complex topic to examine. JMG has made that process much easier for me by recommending the book “Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus” written by Gregory Shaw (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995). I must say that I am enjoying reading this book, and I am also discovering that a number of very important occult concepts which I have long held are actually derived from Iamblichus’s work. I decided that it would be useful for me to remark on some of the more salient points as I carefully read the book, chapter by chapter. I might also add that this is not an easy book to read, and sometimes I need to use my Classical Greek dictionary to get at the roots of some term that is being used (and not adequately defined). It would seem that Mr. Shaw expects his readers to be much more knowledgeable of Plato’s works and the core issues of Neoplatonism than I have at my disposal. Since I lack this knowledge, I have had to do some ancillary study to make complete sense out of what I am reading. Even so, I have found this book to quite illuminating so far. I could go so far as to recommend it to my readers as a book that they should look over in their studies.

For many years I have been told by various savants that the roots to modern occultism, and even witchcraft and paganism are to be found in tenets of Neoplatonism. I have long regarded this idea as a great truth that I have not had the time or opportunity to adequately verify. I just accepted it as true without knowing the exact details. At this time in my studies, I feel that I need to finally examine this topic as thoroughly as I am able, even though I might lack a deep understanding and knowledge of classical philosophy. I have read over some of Plato’s dialogues, but not to the detailed level or with the required understanding that would make acquiring the knowledge of Neoplatonism an easy process.

I envy those occultists who have a classical education and are fluent with the writings of Plato, especially if that knowledge includes being able to read his works in classical Greek. Having a smidgeon of Greek and a rusty and ill used knowledge of Latin does put me at a slight disadvantage. Some of the various quotes that scholarly authors like to put into their published works includes languages that I regrettably don’t know, such as French, Italian or German. So I stumble along, and if I need to decipher an important and cryptic quotation made in another language, I will attempt to parse it myself or use some other online translation process. I suppose that if I were truly qualified to study this material and expound on it, then I would have already mastered these other languages. So what I will do is just attempt to distill some important points in the language that I am quite familiar with, which is English.

One thing that has always put me off from accepting Neoplatonism is its assertion that material existence is somehow debasing, or that the material cosmos is to be considered either inferior or controlled by demonic powers. This idea and opinion has a kind of prominence in Christianity (prior to St. Thomas Aquinas) and also was well developed in a number of forms of Gnosticsm. That some forms of Christianity still devalue the material world could explain why certain sects are predisposed into believing in an immanent apocalypse, which would make all forms of conservation seem irrelevant. I believe that it has fostered a deep sense of disrespect for the Earth, or that it is somehow irrelevant or even contrary to spiritual redemption. This negative impression of nature and the material universe has always puzzled me, since it’s not part of my thinking in regards to my pagan religious beliefs. Yet even so, I have found that this kind of thinking has unwittingly infected even my beliefs, based as they are on a modern paganism. That it was popular amongst the Greek intellectual pagans of antiquity (and by extension, to the entire Roman world) to believe that the material world was defective and life was not worth living seems to be in conflict with what I would have thought as a healthy form of paganism. Perhaps this pessimism could be summed up by a famous quote of Sophocles, who was amongst the more brilliant and creative minds of the 5th century BCE.
“Not to be born is, past all prizing, best; but, when a man hath seen the light, this is next best by far, that with all speed he should go thither, whence he hath come.” - Sophocles (Oedipus at Colonus)

This latent pessimism can also be found, although ambiguously, in two of Plato’s famous dialogues, which were the “Phaedo” and the “Phaedrus.” I have said ambiguous because the very opposite opinion can be derived from Plato’s other famous dialogue, the “Timaeus.” For some reason, Plato believed that from a cosmic perspective, the material world was good and that human beings had a soul that was fully engaged in the process of creation; but from an individual and psychological perspective, he saw human nature as trapped and imprisoned in matter. This ambiguity caused a major schism in Neoplatonism, with the philosophers Plotinus and Porphyry taking the ultimate stand that matter was inherently negative, and the opposite was taken up by Iamblichus, that matter, and the cosmos which it represented, was positive. For Plotinus and Porphyry, the soul did not fully descend into the body, and that it was up to the philosopher to forge a pathway that would allow for a complete escape from material existence. Like Sophocles, they seemed to believe that the material world was the domain of demonic forces, and that not to be born at all was a better fate for the human soul. Of course this perspective seemed to feed some gnostic cults, whose anti-cosmic beliefs were based in part on the Neoplatonism of Plotinus and Porphyry.

Porphyry’s doctrine of the undescended soul was the ultimate conclusion of this rather negative perspective. Even though this idea was not to be found in any of Plato’s dialogues, the Neoplatonists, starting with Plotinus and continuing with his student, Porphyry, seemed to accept this tenet as a great truth. An undescended soul represented the implied fact that the human soul was identical to the divine Nous (thought). It represented that humans were locked in a material existence and were bereft of any spiritual connection with the divine. The solution to the problem of material existence was to sever that partial connection between the soul and the body, which would have been to the undisputed benefit of the soul against the body. Additionally, to be redeemed, therefore, one had to escape from the cosmos of matter. Porphyry went so far as to say that the wise philosopher shouldn’t even participate in traditional or civic festivals, such as sacrifices and other religious celebrations of the time, because they were tied to the powers of nature, which were controlled and directed by inferior demonic gods. In taking this stand, he seemed to advocate the division of the sensible cosmos from the noetic, proposing a world of extreme dualism. 

However, in my opinion, this perspective of the world of matter as being the source of evil for the human condition presents a tenet that I would have to reject out of hand. In my experience, life is a mixed bag, and it is, to a certain extent, based on the motivations and expectations of the individual, as well as their outcome. I believe, to a certain degree, in the power of self-determination and the ability to transform and change, not only the individual, but even the world at large. The philosophy of Plotinus and Porphyry would seem to paint the material world as a kind of prison for the soul, where the mechanisms of fate (as determined by a negative astrology) and the extreme limitations and suffering of life would ensure that most of humanity could never evolve or even be capable of any kind of spiritual transformation. That seems too pessimistic for me, and there is nothing in my life experience that would even support it. As a naive optimist, I believe that everyone has at their disposal the mechanism of ascension and the realization of the Godhead.

For this reason I have found myself shying away from Neoplatonism and its philosophical creed, that is, until I discovered that Iamblichus broke completely from his predecessors and stated the opposite position - that matter is an important part of the greater good. While it is undeniable that material existence imparts suffering and trials, it can also be said that maintaining a balance between material desires and drives, and the desires and aspirations of the soul and the intellect is the key to a harmonious and fruitful existence. One of the ways of establishing that balanced relationship is through a religious life, and most particularly, the practice of theurgy.

Theurgy is defined as the “work of the gods,” and that work consists of invoking the powers of the physical cosmos, and through a linkage with the divine, cause a state of union to exist between the soul of the individual and the World Soul. Theurgy allows a fully embodied soul to engage the divine powers hidden in matter, and to thereby realize the paradoxical nature of human existence, which is that it is both mortal and immortal. Theurgy aids the soul of the individual practitioner to directly participate in the creation and salvation of the cosmos - to precipitate the ultimate union of the many into the One. The goal of theurgy, then, is to assist human beings to gain union with the One, which is a form of spiritual ascension. The World Soul, or Anima Mundi, is analogous to the soul of the individual and the ultimate expression of the One (the Unity of All Being). As Plato said in his dialogues, the world is a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence and is therefore, an intermediary of the Gods and the One. I think that many pagans can easily identify this concept of a World Soul with the modern concept of the Gaian eco-consciousness.

As Iamblichus has stated in his book, “De Mysteriis:”

“And thus, from on high to the lowest things, the Egyptian doctrine concerning principles (archai) begins from the One and proceeds into multiplicity, and the multitudes in turn is governed by the One; and everywhere the indefinite nature is ruled by a certain and defined measure and by the highest uniform cause of all things”

What Iamblichus is saying is that there is an unbroken continuity between the divine and the material world, since matter is divinely created and therefore is dominated by the One.

Theurgy, according to Iamblichus, has two basic functions. The first is that it consists of rituals conducted by mankind that assist in preserving the natural order. The second is that these rites are empowered by divine symbols, which causes the human spirit to ascend to the level of the Gods, and thereby to join with them. This is what is known as “taking the shape of the Gods.” A theurgist is simultaneously mortal and immortal, both man and god, and through theurgy, he or she becomes an icon (what I call an imago or eidolon) and an incarnated symbol of the divine. In this manner, a human practitioner of theurgy becomes powerfully aligned with the World Soul, and becomes fully awakened to his/her augoeides soma, or star-body.

What this means is that the ultimate purpose of performing ritual magick must be the revelation of the higher self as the augoeides, or holy guardian angel, and through it, to consciously exist as the mediator of the divine agencies of the One. Whatever else a practicing magician might attempt or seek to materialize, this ultimate goal represents what he or she will eventually achieve. I think that to state the overall premise of being a magician, and performing magickal rites and workings, is that it is a process of ascension and union with the One. It would seem to perfectly represent what I have been maintaining all along, and it makes sense as a pagan and a witch. It also likely makes sense as an esoteric Christian as well.

These are some of the concepts that I am examining and analyzing from this wonderful book, and I will be discussing other important elements as I read and digest them. What I am seeing from this information is that the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus would seem to agree with how I perceive ritual magick and pagan occultism. I guess you could say that I owe a great debt of gratitude to JMG for directing my attention to this book.

Frater Barrabbas

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Kansas City Adventure - Part 2

This is part 2 of a two part biographical article about the times when I lived in Kansas City in 1980's. This part is about the Order of the Gnostic Star and how it was founded.

It was in the year 1986, when I was living in Westport that I met two individuals who talked me into sharing my recently developed knowledge. I had been a confirmed solitary practitioner and as I said, I didn’t seek to form any group or teach my knowledge to anyone. I had been convinced that my newly acquired knowledge was for me alone, and that it was useless for anyone else. That made me shy away from sharing it with others. However, these two individuals, who became known in the Order as Frater Calixtus and Frater Discipulus Merlinii, convinced me that not only was my knowledge of magick relevant and intelligible to others, it was also incumbent upon me to teach this knowledge and spread its practice.

So inspired was I by these newly met friends and future associates that I began to immediately formulate what I had developed as a personal system of magick into the lore of the E.S.S.G. Frater Calixtus had been a wiccan high priest, occult scholar and theosophist, with many years of occult practice and knowledge. Frater Discipulus Merlinii was also an accomplished occult scholar, who had a quick wit and was also a brilliant writer. The three of us became the founding elders of the first temple of the Order. What they saw in me was someone who had a lot of practical magickal knowledge, the kind of knowledge that they needed to build a magickal lodge. So they formed an alliance with me and melded their greater scholarly skills and erudition with my practical and creative capabilities. The result of this synthesis was the birth of the lore of the E.S.S.G.

To gain an even better understanding of this event, I will use the musings of Frater Calixtus written in 1996, which was used  in the prologue of the first volume of “Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick.” I think that you can get a pretty good idea of how he perceived me and what he thought of my supposedly “useless” lore.

“Nearly a decade ago [1986] through the kindness of a mutual friend I met Frater Barrabbas. That encounter is still reverberating and growing within my magickal life. And much of what is best within me I owe to that encounter. It is difficult if not impossible to write of the life of any occultist, as Moina Mathers once wrote of her late husband MacGregor; ‘...there being so much of an inner and secret nature much of the symbolical in the historical, so much of the latter in the symbology.’ ( Preface to ‘The Kabbalah Unveiled,’ p. viii by M. Mathers)  Thus to write of Frater Barrabbas's outer life, his family, his siblings, his academic background is but to give you a single dimension of this myriad minded man.

At our first meeting it was our love for that Western yoga known as Magick which sparked our further conversations and enlivened our discussions. But I noticed early on in our friendship a unique quality to his Magickal vision and work. There was no derivation, no dependency upon past systems of magickal exploration in his philosophy. He was not content to retrace old patterns within the Magick ritual Circle, but to use them as jumping off points for deeper pioneering in the transfigured time and space of the Circle. Only with great reluctance on his part and even greater prodding on my part was I eventually able to see his Magickal diaries and rituals - and nothing I could have done could have prepared me for the experience. Immediately I saw innovative ritual structures such as the vortex and the Elemental Octagram presented. I saw his respect for Magickal traditions of the past; be they Kabbalistic, Enochian, Freemasonry, Golden Dawn, Thelemic or Neopagan. Moreover I felt his frustration that here in the late twentieth century ‘Magick’ for the most part was merely endless variation on themes established in the past and frozen in time.

Others of like mind came together to form the Egregora Sancta Stella Gnostica (E.S.S.G.) a gnostic ritual magick order. Uniting us was Frater Barrabbas's view that the sheer stasis of contemporary Magick was evident by the nature of the information available to the occultist in the public arena. And that adherence to a tradition regardless of its historical richness was a prison with its doors locked from the inside.”

How odd it seems to me today to be credited with changing Frater Calixtus’ life when not long after writing that tribute, he abandoned his study of magick altogether and became, instead, an atheist and a political Socialist. He must have believed what he wrote at the time, but whatever effects the group had on him were completely supplanted by other beliefs that he held more dear than the practice of magick or any form of occultism. Perhaps it would have meant more to me if he had remained and even mastered his occult practices and advanced his beliefs. I believe that he would have made a formidable occult scholar and practitioner. He even wrote some of the lore that the Order uses today. One other point, what Frater Calixtus was writing may have been true of the occult community in the 1980's, but by the 90's, there were a lot of new directions being developed, not to mention Chaos magick and the forming of the new Golden Dawn orders.

Anyway, let me continue with my narrative. At first there were only five or six members of this loosely defined group of magickal students. Then within two years, it had reached its peak of around fifteen active members. Those members began their task of crafting the lore of the Order by first writing all nine of the seasonal ceremonies. All I did was set the pattern for the rituals, the rest was their work entirely. Also, the first of the Circle Consecration and Elemental Octagon rituals were developed at this time. During the Autumn of 1987, all sixteen Elementals were sequentially invoked by the group in a period spanning a couple months of Saturdays, so they experienced the first flush of their own generated magickal power. In the midst of these intense workings, the egregore of the temple began to emerge, becoming a tangible presence. Also, the first two initiations were written and performed for most of the members of the group, and the first vision quest was devised and performed that autumn. We had planned to fast for most of the duration, but found that camping and fasting didn’t go well together, so we broke the fast and decided that such activities were better deployed in other types of (mystical) workings.

In January 1988, I wrote and performed an invocation ritual for the spirit of the Egregore, known as the Archangel Chiramael. This rite was attended by some of the members of the group and represented their first exposure to the specialized techniques of invocation and evocation as conceived and developed by me. Needless to say, the overall experience was quite a hit with the group, and that finally determined for me that the invocation technique which I used was capable of being perceived and experienced by others, not that I had any doubts.

In the second year, the group had already tired of the Celtic Grail lore and proposed to write up a completely Egyptian variation. I helped them with this task, but once again, they did most of the work. I later refined those rituals, but the material used was selected and incorporated by members of the group. So the more basic rituals were written and practiced as a group effort, all I did was act as the teacher and guide. I also often led the first attempts at performing these rituals, but soon afterwards, others were getting their chance to lead the group in the performance of these magickal rites. At this time I introduced not only the techniques of talismanic magick, but also my system of invocation and evocation. I conducted classes where these techniques were taught, and some of the group members were able to take up these new practices and perform them for themselves. The group also performed some of this new lore, but not as aggressively as had been done with the elemental workings. In the second year, I also introduced the specific five Grail celebrations, and then later on, the five Grail Alchemical mysteries. There was a lot of creative effort going on all during this time, and not only from me.

As new levels of occult knowledge and practice were needed by the group, the associated rituals and lore were translated from my seemingly endless personal supply. I also formulated the structure of the Order, and with the help of my associates we put together the bylaws and determined the hierarchy of the temple. On February 13th, 1988 (after practicing together for almost a year and a half), the group officially inaugurated itself as the first temple of Isis-Sophia #1, which was based in Kansas City. For the next year, I acted as the Magister Templi and brought to fruition the study and practice of magickal Gnosticism and the liturgy of the Anti Apostolic succession, which became the backbone of the initiatory lineage of the E.S.S.G. At least two members became ordained as gnostic priests, and one of them made it to the grade of acolyte. 

I had believed (and still do) that the Masonic lineage and occult lore, which had spawned numerous occult lodges and organizations, had been exhausted. So, I had based the lineage of the Order on my personal spiritual lineage, transmuting this new occult lineage from the ordination and consecration that I had received years previously. Thus, the Order became a Gnostic magickal religious order, based on initiatory holy orders and a sacramental system of illumination, making it quite different from what had been practiced previously.

Also, I decided, and was enthusiastically supported by the members, to fashion the hierarchical structure of all temples of the Order into a Star Group. This is an organizational structure where each temple is an autonomous group ruled by the consensus of its members regardless of rank or spiritual accomplishment. The internal hierarchy of the temple was temporary and subject to the will of the group. In this manner, I had finally put to rest the particularly bad experience that I had in the “coven from hell”eight years previously.

The structure of the Order and the hierarchy of the temple was successfully established and accepted by all. Yet as a sign that even I was subject to its rules, I relinquished my role as Magister and turned it over to my second, Frater Discipulus Merlinii, in an orderly fashion on Feb. 13, 1989 (the second Anniversarium). Group consensus was absolute, allowing no one to dominate it, which was a good and wise decision on everyone’s part. That meant that as the founder, I was not beyond or somehow outside of its rules. I had to comply with them in order for me to continue as an active and equal member, and I had no problems with this approach.

As I had given up my status as preeminent member of the group, some of the most important activities that the group engaged in were done without my direction or leadership. I can recall a couple of outdoor Vision Quests being done without me being the ritual leader, and at one of them, all I did was the domestic work of making certain that the torches and the fire were tended. The rest was done by members of the group, and the resultant ritual performances and magickal effects were quite profound. 

Then in the early summer of 1989, I finally left Kansas City permanently to pursue career opportunities in the Southeast. The temple in Kansas City continued on for another year and a half and then folded in late 1990, when its members could no longer function as a consensus-ruled group. The last Magister was Frater Arjuna, who was a faithful, brilliant and dedicated member of the Order, having received all of his transformative experiences through the practices and initiations of the Order. He was the product and prime example of what the Order was capable of doing for an individual seeker. He continued to be the head of an informal body, known as the Isis-Sophia #2 temple, which also finally disbanded in 1993.

My move took me to Atlanta, and then to Tallahassee, where I was able to assemble and perform some of the most important magickal and occult work that I had ever managed to previously achieve. Of course, that story is part of my continuing sojourn through the southeast, and one that I will relate in the future.

So that was my Kansas City adventure, and it lasted for six very important and formative years. At one of the last pagan gatherings that I attended there, one person summed up what I guess most folks felt about me leaving their community. She told me that the community was going to lose an important and valuable member, and that it would be nearly impossible to find anyone to replace me. I was flattered by her effusive support and belief in me, but I knew that no one was irreplaceable. However, according to my friends who still live there, the community did change, losing its depth and quality of engagement for a larger and less knowledgeable community. I blush at the thought of this acknowledgment, but I don’t for one minute believe that it was my fault or occurred because I left.

All communities change, and sometimes that change makes things less meaningful and engaging to some, but to others, it might seem as though things got much better. It all depends on your expectations and goals. One person’s engaging community might be another person’s boring continuation of fluff and superficial mediocrity. It all depends on your point of view. Needless to say, I will always remember my wonderful time in Kansas City and the great crew that I helped to assemble so we could forge and practice a new cutting edge type of ritual magick.

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Kansas City Adventure - Part 1

Here’s another biographical piece, which is all about the time that I lived in Kansas City. That town had a profound effect on my practices of paganism, witchcraft and magick. This is a long biographical piece, so I apologize in advance. Often, biographical details about the founding of an organization can be important to understanding the nature of that organization, and I believe that is the case with this article, which covers some of the details about how the Order of the Gnostic Star was founded back in the 1980's. I will pick up this story in early 1983, when I had managed to get my career in data processing started with an opportune job.

Because the economy was so bad in southeastern Wisconsin in early 1983, I decided to keep the job that I had miraculously acquired and migrate with the company move in June to Kansas City. Since I had been hired in early January of that year as a temporary COBOL programmer for the National Insurance Commissioners organization, I wanted to keep that job and make it permanent. The two primary staff programmers had homes and families in Wisconsin, and they weren’t keen on moving to another part of the country. I was single and ready to engage in my life as a great adventure, and moving to a south Midwestern town seemed like a wonderful opportunity, especially since the company was going to lose both of its permanent DP staff members. I was able to move cheaply and without any complications, so from the standpoint of the company, I was the perfect alternative choice for relocation. My period of being poor, dependent on my parents for support and not having a viable vocation was over. I had passed a milestone, and I was eager for it to begin. So in June 1983, I left my home turf, never to live there again. Behind me were friends and even a troubling love affair, but my ambition dictated that I leave, since there were few other opportunities that were so splendid.

As I prepared for my move to Kansas City, little did I know that I was about to embark on a very significant journey. The people that I were to meet and the things that I would do would leave a lasting legacy in that town as well as establish a foundation for all of my future occult work. It was there that I would found the Order of the Gnostic Star, help to start a coven or two, and establish the tradition of hosting an annual pagan festival. I would also form some of the most important friendships that I had ever had, and see my career go through its more difficult beginnings to become fully established and mainstream. I was leaving behind my failure to form a replacement coven for the Coven From Hell, and admittedly, I found the whole coven business and its leadership hierarchy unsatisfactory, since the lore and practices were too simple and limiting. During the highly and intensely creative period from 1980 through 1983, I had discovered a whole new system of magick and a possible group organization. Although it would be a few years before I would found the Order, the basic structure and occult philosophy of that organization had already been established before I even moved. I had also achieved my desire of gaining an episcopal consecration, so I was spiritually and magically ready for assuming the leadership of a magickal occult group, if such an opportunity presented itself to me.

So it was that in June that I packed my sparse belongings into a U-Haul truck, with generous contributions from friends and family, and with my brother, girl friend and lover, drove the long distance from Hartland, Wisconsin, to Kansas City, Missouri. It was a torturous journey that lasted the whole night and into the dawning light of a new day. We all crashed on the floor of my new apartment located in Gladstone (a northern KCMO suburb), insensibly tired from our arduous trip. After a couple of days of rest and transferring my stuff into the apartment, my brother and my girlfriend departed together in the U-Haul and left me to my new life far from home. I remember weeping at the departure of those closest to me, especially for my obvious temporary relationship with my girlfriend that was now apparently ending. I was alone in this new place, and although that might be intimidating to most people, I saw it as the beginning of a great adventure, even though I had become separated from what had been some very important friends.

Perhaps the most important thing that I achieved was to have my own private home and an extra bedroom reserved for a permanent temple, something that I had previously never had. My last independent residence had been sharing an apartment with my brother, and now, I had my own place. In the near future, I would have other homes where I would share the space with roommates, but this was my first home where I lived alone. It didn’t last, though, since I would have a roommate and friend move in with me before I had lived there a year. I used my time alone very productively, taking up the many rituals that I had been writing during the period of the early 1980's and performing and refining them. During that first year, I had managed to perform many hours and days of ritual work, and had completely tested and established a distinct system of magick. My world at that time consisted of spending many hours at work, or performing many hours of ritual magick in my apartment temple and not much else. It was a truly formative time for me, and it was where I built up a system of magick that covered the transformative initiations of the four Elemental degrees as well as both the fifth and sixth degrees. There were a lot of holes in this system that would be filled in over the next several years, but the basic structure was fully established by this time, and I had fully vetted my new system of magick. What I might not have realized was that I would soon meet individuals who would want to explore and adopt that system of magick, but before that could happen, I had to experience some hard times.

Kansas City had a moderate sized pagan and wiccan community, but most were eclectic and solitaire, and very few had acquired any kind of tradition or training. A few months after I moved there a new occult book store opened up, and it was called the “Magic Lantern,” owned and operated by Mike Nichols. Mike not only operated a shop that sold books and equipment used by magicians, pagans and witches, but he also taught a several week workshop on Witchcraft. Mike used his store as a contact point and clearing house for individuals and groups seeking to find each other, and a large informal group of people became associated with him and his store. I was one of those individuals. I was invited to sit in on his classes (since I was one of the very few trained and initiated witches in town), and later on, I also taught a class or two myself. Through the store I sponsored a group of individuals to form their own coven, and performed a handful of initiations for those who were seeking to run their own covens as legitimate high priestesses. However, I had lost any interest in forming my own coven, so I acted more as an elder, teacher and initiator than a high priest. I desired to work high forms of magick, like invocation and evocation, and that seemed to be far more advanced than what anyone else really wanted to do.

In fact during the first two years of my life in Kansas City, I had been hurt and put down by my old friends and my erstwhile lover, who had convinced me that what I had recently formulated and tested was too advanced and personalized for anyone else to be either interested in or even capable of learning. I found their arguments to be compelling and I believed what they said, perhaps because I had entered a kind of masochistic phase and felt that I needed to be put down. According to them, the new system of magick that I had been deeply and profoundly inspired to develop was only useful to me, and it remained unintelligible to anyone else. This was the reason why I kept to myself and didn’t want to found any covens or act as a high priest. I felt that I had nothing really valuable to give to anyone, since what I valued the most was without value or virtue to anyone else.

I don’t know why my friends made this point so emphatically to me, except to perhaps give me a good kick in the ass and bring me down to earth. Maybe I was a bit arrogant or really self-absorbed in my personal magick, and this is why they rejected what I was doing as relevant to them. However, they couldn’t have been more wrong and misguided if they had told me that I was insane or raving mad. What I was developing was not only relevant, it was highly cutting edge and represented a complete breakthrough in the practice of witchcraft-based ritual magick. What I now know is that they were justifiably concerned about me and what I was doing. They didn’t understand what it was about, but felt that it was taking over my life and making me less sociable and accessible. I was humbled by their harsh criticism, but I also likely took it too far.

Social politics was something that I seemed ill equipped to deal with, whether it was in my circle of friends and acquaintances or with my peers and superiors at work. During the period of time at my job when I had a gifted and creative boss encouraging me (who was also something of a womanizer and a drunk), my career really took off and it seemed as if there was nothing that I couldn’t accomplish. But when he quit after two years to become a consultant, he left behind an upset management that found great fault in me. Since they couldn’t touch my old boss, they instead focused their ire on me. I was a useful scapegoat, so they fired me soon after he quit, and I began a long period of being unemployed.

I searched for a job for nearly 18 weeks, and finally, when I was nearly out of money, managed to talk myself into a consulting job. I had to move out of my nice, new, beautiful apartment, which I had previously moved into with my roommate and friend nearly a year before (and who had moved out to live with his girlfriend), and instead moved in with a friend who owned a dilapidated house in Westport. I managed to continue to build my career, but had to look for a new job every year. This period of instability lasted the rest of the decade, and although I managed to get increases in my payroll, it didn’t look particularly great on my resume. From the period of October of 1985 through April 1990, I had four different jobs, but I had made a transition from Data General technology to IBM, and that had greatly increased my marketability. I might have had trouble finding a corporation where I fit in, but my new skill set opened doors that would have otherwise been closed to me.

In 1986, I got tricked into being the main point person for forming the metro area’s first pagan festival. Actually, it was a very important time, and I had a lot of fun doing it, but after a while, it became too much like work. So I passed it on to other folks, and it’s still going on today. I would like to quote from my lecture notes that I gave at the 2010 Heartland Pagan festival, which was the 25th anniversary commemoration of the first one that occurred in 1986.

“It all started on a cool somewhat rainy Sunday, August 18, at Antioch Park by the lake. This was the site of the first Rune Picnic (a local pagan newspaper), one of several to come. I had met both Lane and JoLynne at Mike Nichol’s classes on Modern Witchcraft. Anyway, someone was talking about Pagan Spirit Gathering and how it was so far away, making it unlikely for many of us locals to be able to attend. I dismissed PSG and said, “We should just put together our own pagan festival for the local people.” I believe that JoLynne said rather dryly, ‘Then why don't you do it.’ I was taken aback somewhat, then I remember thinking to myself (which I did out loud), “Yeah, we could do it. It can’t be that hard to put on a festival for maybe two or three nights.” Little did I know that what I was suggesting was actually a lot more difficult than I could possibly have understood, having never done anything that large before.

So the first meeting was scheduled to occur at a woman’s home named Storm Raven, on October 5, 1985, at around 3 pm. Only three people showed up! The next meeting was held at Marilyn’s home a couple of weeks later, and then we had a whole living room full of people - both locally and also a large contingent from Lawrence, KS. The group from Lawrence were heavy Liberal politicos, so they knew about community organizing, and a few of us had attended some pagan festivals in the past, so we bravely faced the logistical odds and got to work. There wasn’t any real organization or official roles, and many of us volunteered our money and labor to make this event happen.

Some of the early logistics that we faced - getting a name for the festival and for our newly formed organization. Finding an acceptable site (this took a lot longer and was a lot more complicated than we realized at first). Getting a P.O. box. Finding our first speakers - a friend and member named Sue contacted and secured her friend (and mentor) Star Hawk to be the first main speaker. We then opted to ask and acquire Isaac Bonewitz as the second main speaker. Isaac was living in the KC area on a temporary basis, so he was pretty easy to recruit. In order to get seed money to finance this operations we had a number of raffles and even hosted a Beltain gathering.

Some disasters - a huge rain storm on Friday night that nearly blew down the main tent (where the vendors and staff held court). The young man in charge of security went on a weekend long drunken binge, so he was not available to handle any security concerns. The person in charge of the feast decided to bail less than two weeks before the festival, so the rest of us had to pull together a menu and prepare it for the gathering (everyone had a hand in it). The food was actually pretty good, but much of it was contained in large black garbage bags and other impromptu containers.

It was blistering hot, but the muddy lake more than made up for it. However, Camp Hammond was really a large field with little or no shelter, and the shower facilities were very poor (one or two functioning outside showers). We relied on a handful of Porta-potties, which became fecund by the end of the event. It was a great first attempt at a festival, with over 275 attendees. ”

So after the minor disasters and also the successes, we planned for the next HPF gathering to occur in 1987. We changed the date to Memorial Day weekend and also the site location, and began a tradition that has been successfully occurring every year since. It was one of the cool things that I did for myself and the community, and it was one of the legacies that I (and others) left behind for others to help deploy or to happily attend.

Back to my story; there was a time during that interlude between the spring of 1986 and the late winter of 1987, when I spent several months living with a man (named Bill) who had recruited me to develop a PC based application. It was a software system  for insurance companies to enter their annual statement information, print it out for publication, and even electronically submit it to the National Association where I had previously worked. During that time I was more focused on my career than on my occult activities, since my boss was also my roommate, and he, being a conservative business man, wouldn’t have understood what I was doing or why. We were the oddest of roommates, where he wore suits and drove around in a Cadillac, I wore jeans and drove around in a subcompact. He was a moderate Republican and admired Ronald Reagan, and I was a left-wing Democrat. There was also around ten years between us, and I am certain that Bill found me just as odd and strange as I found him. But I also liked him and gave his project my maximum effort; but after while, my enthusiasm failed, then Bill finally asked me to go find a job, and then to move away when I could.

Our business venture had seemed plagued by problems and minor catastrophes, and Bill lost the bulk of his fortune attempting to prop up the business. In the end, we both lost interest in attempting to make the business work and complete the software development, so I had to find another job. Then a few weeks later, I moved out of our shared home and into an apartment flat with two other young men, one of whom was eager to help me to house a magickal group based on the Order group that was forming around me.

 That man was a newly found friend named Mark. I was rescued from my difficult situation by Mark, who had also been seeking to be a member of the Order, and we found a nice two story duplex to house our temple. I lived on the bottom floor, which had its own small bathroom and closet style bedroom, but the larger room was where the temple was to be established. The doorway was plugged up with a piece of foam, and therefore, was hermetically sealed from the rest of the flat. Once it was fully furnished, it was truly a grand temple. I used it to perform a lot of personal magick there, as well as group magick with the temple organization. We lived there from 1987 to 1989, when he suddenly decided to move to California to try his luck at being a clay animator. He also told me at the time of our parting that although he had tried to believe in and experience the magick that we performed, he just couldn’t understand or believe that it was real. Of course, this was after we had lived together for almost two years, so it did come as quite a surprise. I suspect that his strident atheistic father (who detested me and my practices) had something to do with Mark’s obvious change of heart, but I never took him to task for that admission. I thanked him for our time together and we went on our separate paths. To this day, I have never heard anything from him since that time.

Getting slightly ahead of myself, I need to relate what happened with this marvelous occult group that formed around me. The actual history of how the Order got its start is an interesting one, and I have told before, but let me re-relate it with more details for your reading pleasure.

(To be continued..)

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Excellent Hallows 2011

I just wanted to thank everyone for their warm wishes and kind words regarding the passing of my mother on November 1. I took a week off from writing because I wanted some time reassess my life, but also because I was very busy with a lot of mundane things, such as work, business travel and feting guests from out of town.

It was a truly wonderful weekend for me and my lady, and one that I shall remember for some time. Not only did the presentation La Balle de la Danse Macabre turn out really well, but I had two good friends from out of town who also visited and took part in the presentation. We were gifted by the appearances of Frater Arjuna and Soror Rekhetra, and their company was well received and enjoyed. For those of you who might not know, I have known Frater Arjuna for many years, and he was one of the original members of the Isis-Sophia lodge in Kansas City, founded back in 1986. Frater Arjuna is still active in the Order, and in fact, he and I were for a while, the only active members left from what had once been a nice group of people. Soror Rekhetra is also a good friend and has done a fair amount of the artwork used by the Order to illustrate some of the more unusual ritual devices and other interesting diagrams. She is also one of my faithful students and a steadfast personal friend and spiritual ally. Both of these good friends are particularly important to my work, and I must confess, that they have, from time to time, been instrumental in aiding me in objectifying my thoughts and practices.

I must also mention my lady, Soror Grace, who was a great help to me during the tight weekend schedule, and who was the photographer and helped with the setup and break down of the lighting system that added tremendously to the ambience of the underworld. I truly cherish her as an able helpmate, muse, friend, peer and lover. I am blessed to have such a wonderful woman in my life, after all of the difficulties that I have had during the last few decades in finding someone to love and with whom to have a relationship. Spending quality time with her and my friends over the weekend makes me realize just how precious friends and lovers are in the life of an initiate, which can be typically a lonely and solitary existence.

The presentation and event turned out to be remarkably good as well. The acting ability of Steve Posch was fantastic, and he made a really incredible le Roi Morte. With his make-up fully applied, and ratty tuxedo coat and golden crown, he was arguably the Lord of Death in all his fearsome glory. The same could be said of the blue-skinned character Checher de la Morte (Seeker of Death), played by the artist and theater impresario, Paul Rucker. Paul also did the make up for Steve and others. The other characters were also brilliantly made up and played, especially the grand dame who played Madame de la Morte. There were a few glitches in the design and execution of the presentation, but overall, it went extremely well, and I was quite pleased with the results. Time was the great limiting factor, and the thin resources available were pushed to the very limits of practical allotment. Yet it was memorable and had quite an impact on me and everyone who either took a part in it, or who attended.

I guess you could say that sometimes real life has a way of following the currents of magick and mystery that one unwittingly projects into the world through an artistic presentation like the La Balle de la Danse Macabre. On November 1st in the evening, my mother passed away, so my presentation perhaps was a way to celebrate and also mourn her passing. She had been living nearly a vegetative state for the last couple of years in a nursing home, so it was a merciful and much needed passing on her part. I had also been mourning her passing out of my life ever since I last saw her in April of the previous year; but the long distance and a very busy life-style kept me from getting to see her again. I do regret that I didn’t get a chance to see her before she died, but my memory of her as a caring and compassionate mother will never die in my mind. In my heart she is still alive, and youthful in her middle years - as it should be.

The following weekend we were visited by two of my oldest friends from Milwaukee, Keith and Anita, and we had a truly wonderful time with them as well, culminating in a feast day on Sunday where two of the stars of the presentation also showed up. Keith and Anita are witches in the very old style that is beyond any tradition with its degrees and dogma. They are also culinary epicures, so we had some very interesting meals. I engaged in some very foundational discussions with Keith, seeking to bridge our differences in our perspectives and build on our mutual agreements. Because I respect Keith and value his opinions, I always find myself thinking about our discussions long after our visit is over.

One thing that we discussed, that has also been going around my mind lately, is that we each have within us a conceptual map of the Spirit world lying dormant in our deep minds. We might not be aware of what it is or that it has any kind of formulation, but when we work methods of mysticism or magick, that map comes out and determines what we experience in regards to our contacts with the Spirit world. This can account for the different experiences that individuals might have when even working with the same magickal system or grimoire. While some might experience demons as evil spirits, others might experience something that is more ambiguous or even reversed in a kind of antinomian perspective. I have written about this phenomenon previously and it has changed my opinion about the nature of spirits in a generalized manner. No longer can I take the word of the grimoires, theologians or various occult pundits. If I use a matrix to define the table of spirits, giving each one a specific definition, then that matrix will be the foundation for what I will experience, even if that foundation allows for quite a bit of variation in experience between operators.

What this means is that our interpretation of the Spirit world is based on something that already exists within us, waiting to be released. All it needs is a proper stimulus to trigger a full and comprehensive experience of that “map” actualized into our conscious beings. The map can have some considerable variances between individuals who have different predisposed beliefs and spiritual practices. A Christian magician will experience something quite different than a pagan or Thelemic magician, and a Theosophist would experience something entirely different. This map is not a static thing either, since it can change and evolve over time as a person’s beliefs and practices are evolved through their experiences.

Our ever present source for this map is based on our geographic location, our generational affiliation and our life experiences. If a culture develops certain ambiguities or uncertainties that impact religious organizations, forcing them to be either more liberal or conservative, that will certainly have quite an impact on what an individual will experience when they begin to perform ritual or ceremonial magick. The stuff of our culture (including all of the elements of pop culture and urban legends) is the ultimate source for all systems of magick, even if they are derived from apparent traditional sources. What is important to any budding magician is to somehow trigger that internal map and cause it to become exteriorized or projected into the magician’s conscious reality. Ecstasy helps, but it can’t be the sole source of that stimulus that triggers the map.

Chaos magickal methodology stipulates that what really stimulates a operating magician is the use of something unusual, sinister or even completely alien. Instead, I would say that novelty helps, but pure occult techniques and practices associated with a deep spiritual encounter would appear to cause this trigger to be activated. Using something deeply significant and meaningful would also be very helpful. Somehow, though, many years ago, I activated the trigger of my inner map of the world of Spirit, and once that happened, I was able to experience phenomenon that could be loosely defined as paranormal, perhaps even supernatural. Prior to that eventful (but barely remembered time), I only was able to sense or taste various vague impressions of that domain. I knew what I was looking for intuitively, but I couldn’t articulate what it was until it manifested to me in all of its wonder and terrible glory. Something blasted through those doors or perception, I believe that I recall what it was.

After thinking about it for a while, I have decided that the most powerful thing that had happened to me, which opened the doors to the spirit world for me, was when I ingested over a thousand micrograms of LSD-25 when I was a mere teenager of 15 years. I had only recently experienced alcohol, but had never gotten high on Pot or any other mild hallucinogenic. The results of that terrible and amazingly long arduous trip completely and irreparably changed my perception of reality and made the world of Spirit suddenly and easily accessible to me. I was, in a word, never the same after that event. I know that somehow that would make my long tenure as an occultist, witch and ritual magician somehow suspect or even detract from whatever I have previously written. I insist that I am not addicted to drugs nor was I ever predisposed to take drugs instead of adopting a spiritual discipline. The context of the times when this event occurred was a time when many young people were experimenting with drugs, occultism, magick, paganism and witchcraft. It’s just that event, which happened so many years ago, that triggered my internal map of the world of Spirit, even though it wasn’t something that I had planned or even guessed might happen. In fact, I was completely oblivious and naive about any consequences for my actions. I was just a young fool, but in some manner, wisely foolish. However, I would never advise anyone to do as I did, and in fact, I would request that anyone who sought to take any variety of powerful hallucinogens to carefully think about what they were about to do before committing to any action. I survived my experience, but it could have turned out bad for me as well. It’s the kind of gamble that I wouldn’t think of doing in my middle years.

My inner map was exteriorized on that summer day way back in 1970, and I was never the same carefree and oblivious youth ever again. I lost some of my innocence, and I acquired from it the knowledge of a kind of brave new world. Yet for me, it was not a world of fear or paranoia ruled by forces of evil and good, instead it was a complex world of forces and intelligences that could guide, help, aid, or even destroy me. Madness was always a potential possibility, but I was buoyed by a powerful optimism and a spiritual love whose source is a mystery to me even in this late time of my life. Perhaps it was intrinsic to my nature, or maybe it was due to the unfailing love and acceptance that I have always felt emanating from my mother. It might also be true that now that she has passed this world and into the next, I might discover the answer to this riddle.

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Brief Sabbatical from Writing

To all my readers, I regret that I have not been writing much as of late. Life and its complexities has intervened to interrupt my typical regimen. It has been the happenstance of both happy events and also one that is very sad. The happy events have been the hosting of some of my closest friends over the last two weekends. However, on the first day of November, which is All Saints Day, my mother passed away from this world to the next. She was a very gentle and compassionate soul who taught me how not to judge people before knowing them. Her influence in my life had been very subtle but also very powerful. Perhaps one could say that my tacit love and respect for this woman had something to do with my search for a religion that would venerate and love the divine feminine. Although she has been in a nursing home for the last two years and under hospice palliative care, and has been unresponsive and barely conscious during much of that time, her passing has had its impact on me, even though I had already accepted her immanent passing as a likely occurrence. This is the sad event that I am dealing with, even though I am surrounded by friends who love and care about me.

Samhain was a wonderful experience for me. The presentation was performed better than I had hoped, and it was well attended. I was thrilled by the acting of the main members of the cast, and the attendees came dressed up and made up to look like the dead. There were a lot of made up skull faces, pale skin and hallow eyes absorbing all that happened. The dance portion was successful (even the children got involved) and the feast was well received. Even though we only had two and a half hours to finish all of the acts of this presentation, including the feast, we managed to complete it on time, and there were enough hands to straighten and tidy things up at the end. The critique of the rite that happened the next had a number of attendees and the negative criticism was light (some basic logistics) and the praise was heavy. I was delighted with the whole process and grateful for everyone who contributed to making this one of the best public rituals that I have ever developed, written and conducted. The brightness of that moment has not been dimmed by the death of my mother, and perhaps the one event presaged the other. In a sense, perhaps, I have acknowledged her passing with the presentation of a rite that glorifies living and honors death.

With all of these events unfolding and taking up so much of my time, I will likely not post very many articles in the next couple of weeks. I have many outlines and ideas for writing future blog articles, but I will just need some time to get all of the important mundane things in my life squared away. So please stay tuned to this blog and I promise you that there will be some very interesting articles coming later this month and throughout the winter. I am grateful for your reading and responses to my past articles. I hope that everyone had a great and wonderful Samhain, and that winter doesn’t come too early so that the fall may more gently descend into the coming months of darkness, cold and the soft covering of snow and ice.

Frater Barrabbas