Friday, February 3, 2012

Review of Ceremonial Magick for Pagans Lecture Series

John Michael Greer Workshop/Lecture Intensive at Eye of Horus

I attended the intensive workshop/lecture series that John Michael Greer presented at the Eye of Horus, on the last weekend of January (01/27 - 01/29). The intensive was well attended and consisted of a series of lectures that lasted for a total of 18 hours. Although the series was a bit pricey, I felt that it was well worth the money. JMG successfully gave all of us some very valuable and important information about ceremonial magick, and also how to integrate this body of lore into a uniquely pagan perspective. Out of a possible four stars, I would give it four stars - it was that good! I should also mention that the staff at the Eye of Horus were exemplary in their management and presentation of this important weekend intensive.  I give them high marks for all of the incidental things that they did to make this lecture series a success. The two afternoon catered meals were excellent, and the availability of refreshments was also greatly appreciated. 

John Michael Greer is probably one of the more brilliant, articulate and insightful occultists that I have ever met. He is obviously one of those remarkable men and women that I seem to run into from time to time, and I felt very privileged to hear what he had to say and to share thoughts and ideas with him. JMG was fortunate enough in his occult career to receive the teachings of several traditions, some of which were more intact than others, from individuals who represented the “old guard” of the occult community, now quickly passing away. Such knowledge and lore, which has since passed into oblivion, was brought to John’s attention, and he artfully pulled all of this lore together to craft a fairly comprehensive system of magick.

It’s rare these days to find someone who has a comprehensive knowledge of the practice of magick, especially possessing those more obscure and rare techniques that were once part of the regimen of the education of magicians and occultists. JMG shared a few of these obscure techniques and how they were supposed to work, and he laid down a foundation revealing what the older traditions and lore taught the aspiring beginner. These insights were profound and amazing! They were things that I didn’t know about, despite the fact that I have been a practicing magician for almost four decades. However, I will definitely add these insights to my own lore, and hopefully make it more comprehensive than it is.

I would like to share a few of JMG’s salient points which he made during this series of lectures, but I will omit the details and larger share of what he had to say. If you find yourself liking what I am presenting here, then I would advise you to either buy some of his books, or attend, if you can, one of his lectures at a pagan festival or convention. You can also read his blog, which is located here.

During the three day lecture series, John covered an operant definition of magick (Friday evening), the essential foundational practice (Saturday), and some methods for deriving a personal and pagan ceremonial practice (Sunday). This lecture series gave the attendees an overview of ceremonial magick, its usefulness, and how one might derive from it an essential practice. What wasn’t covered, of course, were the basic rituals and practices of an accomplished magician, as well as the steps and direction that one would take in the progression of spiritual and magickal growth. To acquire this additional knowledge, JMG basically said that there are plenty of books of these topics, and there are also many organizations that one might conceivably join to receive this more comprehensive background. What John sought to give his audience was the most essential element that one might need to actually begin to practice an effective system of magick. I can say without any doubt that he was able to achieve that objective, which is why I believe that this lecture series was so valuable to me and to the other attendees. 

First of all, John’s main definition, which shapes his overall perspective, is that magick is a function of consciousness. John uses Dion Fortune’s amended definition of magick, which she appropriated from Aleister Crowley. Dion Fortune has stated that “magick is the art of changing consciousness in accordance with the will.” I have found that this definition is actually quite concise, and it would be in agreement with my own experiences. This is particularly true since I work a form of magick that focuses mostly on theurgic ordeals instead of specifically making things happen in the material world.

Some have said that JMG’s perspective on magick seems to be heavily aligned with the mental model of magick; that magick is something which occurs exclusively within the mind. Yet this perspective is far too simplistic. John has stated that the mind is the receptor of the field of consciousness, and not necessarily the exclusive generator of it. That would mean that because consciousness acts as a field that is both external and internal to an individual being, the border between the mental and material worlds is both porous and eminently elastic. Also, everything that we perceive about the outside material world is a mental reconstruction, so much of what is construed as objective sensorial apperception is actually a mental map of reality. While reality has physical constraints, the mind actually has no boundaries. This creates a very fascinating tension between the supposed perspectives of objectivity vs. subjectivity.

According to JMG, the three most important activities that act as the foundation for the practicing magician are encapsulated in ritual, meditation and divination. These activities are pulled together to form an essential discipline that is performed on a daily basis, without fail. The kind of ritual that could be used in this daily practice would be the lesser ritual of the pentagram and the middle pillar exercise. Other rituals could be used as well, such as generating sacred space (setting a magick circle). Ritual activity is some action that is deliberately magickal and that serves no other purpose. Meditation is defined as the practice of discursive meditation, which is the intense focusing, scrutinizing and reflecting on a written tract or text, and divination is the drawing of a single tarot card, rune, I-Ching trigram or geomantic character to act as a revealing significator for the day. This threefold activity should be performed each and every day, in a monotonous, endless, periodic repetition. Taking this practice beyond the point of boredom and mental rebellion is the key to making it into a technique for self-empowerment and an important exercise of the will.

Mr. Greer also told us that discursive meditation was almost a lost art, and that the various “meditations” found in the Golden Dawn initiation and training lore required this kind of activity. In the 19th century everyone would have known how to do discursive meditation, so it would have been an assumed practice, requiring only a simple rubric to inform the initiate that certain training lore was to be inculcated through this technique.

I also discovered that I had been confusing discursive meditation with contemplation, although the source of that confusion had more to do with popular usage and changes in Catholic church practices. It would seem that contemplation replaced discursive meditation in Catholic practices (through the writings of Loyola Ignatius), and was only salvaged by Martin Luther, the Anglican church, and other early protestant churches. However, by the 20th century, discursive meditation was dropped from most protestant church practices, except the Anglican church and some Lutheran churches. Present day western practitioners use the Eastern definition of meditation, which is to empty the mind. This is actually how contemplation was originally to be used. However, the Catholic tradition (until the 17th century) used the following practices (called the “lectio divina”) in conjunction with meditation.

  • (Discursive) meditation - reflective reading of sacred texts and other material.
  • Affective Prayer - spontaneous reaction in response to these reflections.
  • Contemplation - reduction of meditation and affective prayer to a state of quiescence.

The popular definition of contemplation is that it is an operation of intently looking, thinking or examining something, such as a concept, ideal or short statement. It would seem that the definition of contemplation has been used to replace what used to be called discursive meditation. Needless to say, the same process is utilized whichever word is selected. Also, the above pattern of practices would represent a foundational technique that could focus and empower anyone who would use it, which is exactly the kind of mechanism that JMG was describing for magicians.

If a magician has adopted a core discipline that uses discursive meditation, then the obvious question would be, what is the focus for that meditation? The focus is anything that is used as the repertoire of the ritual body, the adopted symbology of the occult system, or the beliefs and affirmations that represent that core philosophy. The foundational ritual or rituals would be based on the rite that opens the self to the domain of the occult system, and the divination system would contain the coded symbols (representations) relevant to that system. Thus, the foundational practice would represent the method through which the magician would activate and enliven his or her target occult system. Not only would this practice empower the individual practitioner, but it would also make the chosen occult system both real and accessible.

In addition to this foundational practice, the magician would also acquire practices and techniques that would train the will and the imagination. The combination of these practices would ensure that the magician learned to be wholly self-directing and capable of producing occult symbols and representations in the mind’s eye, whenever required. Learning to master the will and the imagination allows the magician to not only powerfully influence and direct his or her own mind, but also to influence events and other individuals. In this manner, the mind becomes a potent tool that can change the magician’s consciousness at any given moment, and direct it towards a more progressive and evolving state of being.

Once these tools are acquired, then the magician can determine his or her own personal destiny and ultimate direction. Yet without these tools firmly developed and in use, an erstwhile magician will be unable to accomplish much of anything, other than wishful thinking and even self delusion. The foundational practice is the key to gaining everything that the magician seeks to acquire, and I am quite indebted to JMG for making this quite clear. Although I had the pieces of this practice already in my lore, I didn’t have it grouped in such an effective manner, so I learned something new and important. 

There were many other topics discussed during JMG’s class, and what I have revealed here is only a small sample of what was covered during those 18 hours. These topics, and many others, can be found written up in far greater detail in Mr. Greer’s books. So if you find what I have summarized here interesting, then I would recommend that you look over his list of books and find one to purchase. (I will be reviewing some of Mr. Greer’s books in this blog over the next several months.) I would recommend this book for the beginning solitaire practitioner, and this one for anyone who wants to assemble a magickal lodge.

I also personally found JMG to be quite witty, charming and at times, very animated. He made a very long series of lectures interesting, engaging and, I might add, fulfilling. The time often seemed to slip by because we were so wrapped up in his narratives. We spent a lot of time laughing at his amusing stories and enjoying some playful banter. John particularly enjoyed picking on me, although he did it with a great deal of humor and warmth. He also deferred to me when discussing a topic that was not directly in his area of expertise, which I might say, happened only seldom. JMG has a comprehensive knowledge of magick, and there wasn’t any question that he found either too rudimentary to answer or too complex to explain.

A great time was had by everyone, so I can’t but personally recommend John Michael Greer, his books and his ideas.  

Frater Barrabbas


  1. "This is particularly true since I work a form of magick that focuses mostly on theurgic ordeals instead of specifically making things happen in the material world."

    I've been receiving persuasive energies and events leading me down the path to discover magic. As a self-initiate that is trying not to rush into this art I wish to pose you the following question:

    I'm paraplegic in a wheelchair since the age of 14, is it possible (and I do acknowledge the egoistic nature of the inquiry) that I can "make things happen in the material world" as you mentioned, such as being able to transport myself effortlessly and free myself from being a burden to others ?

    Thank you for the excelente TheArchdruidReport blog tip!

  2. @Phoenix (actual spelling) - I am heartened by your desire to seek a magickal path, but I am also saddened by your disability.

    Magick, unfortunately, can't typically produce miracles, since it has to work within what is probable instead of what is likely impossible.

    If you seek to more effortlessly transport yourself and free yourself from being a burden to others, then I would recommend greatly strengthening your upper body, which is still capable of full mobility. You also have the option of seeking solace within the unbounded vistas of the mind, which is some comfort, small though it is.

    Otherwise, fate has given you a far greater challenge than the average person, which could, if you work within it, make yourself a greater person than those who are not so afflicted. Remaining positive, optimistic, upbeat and indomitable is probably the most effective magick that you can work on yourself. It is also the most readily available.

    Good luck with your quest -


  3. Thank you for replying.

    I am a very positive person by nature, although saddening my condition does not frustrate me one bit.

    The fact of the matter remains: can operations produce expectable changes in the material world ? You're familiar with the Third Book of Abramelin, correct ? Are those operations what you might call "probable instead of likely impossible" ?