Friday, March 30, 2012

Public Interpretation is a Writer’s Responsibility

There is quite a dust-up going on in the Golden Dawn community, and I am not particularly interested in getting too deep into it. However, the source of the controversy is the latest book that Nick Farrell has writen about one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, S. L. MacGregor Mathers. I will admit that Mathers was quite a controversial figure in his time, and like all human beings, he had great virtues and terrible failings. Like most founders of occult organizations, he was a complex man who is now both honored and maligned by modern posterity. 

Ever since Ellic Howe’s book “Magicians of the Golden Dawn” and Francis King’s book “Ritual Magic in England,” it has been fashionable to paint Mathers as a sociopath and to declare that the Golden Dawn was based on deception and ruled by tyranny. Of course, my favorite book about the Golden Dawn’s history is still the one penned by Ithell Colquhoun, entitled “Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn.” I truly wish that this book was republished in a paper back, since it is one of the few books that deals with the various personalities of the Golden Dawn and its various offshoot orders in a fair and compassionate manner. I am lucky that I own a copy of this book, and it’s one of my treasures.

Ms. Colquhoun wrote her book in manner that she did because she was an occultist and a one time member of the order. Ellic Howe and Francis King were never members of the Golden Dawn, and in fact, Mr. Howe was a historian with little compassion or actual sympathy for the order or its various members. Francis King’s relationship with occultism was very complex. While he managed to write and publish some excellent occult books, he also delighted in reporting on the most salacious and scandalous aspects of the modern occult movement. To this day, I don’t really know if Mr. King ever belonged to any occult organization, so if he wasn’t very sympathetic to the various founders of western occultism, it shouldn’t be too surprising.

Therefore, if someone is a member of an occult organization, you would think that they would be sympathetic to their subject matter if they happened to write a history of their order. However, the latest writer attempting to write the history of the Golden Dawn, and to make a name for himself as both the cutting edge historian and insightful occultist, is Nick Farrell. In his latest book, “King Over the Water,” he has sought to enlighten the public about Mathers and his various failings while attempting to exonerate the order and its teachings. This is quite a balancing act, to be sure. To quote the advertising on this book as it is marketed in Amazon dot com:

“In King Over the Water, Golden Dawn magician Nick Farrell paints a picture of the founders of the Golden Dawn becoming out of their depth as the Order began to create magicians. Rather than painting Mathers as an eccentric genius, Farrell sees him as an autocratic fantasist. He sees Mathers struggling to keep up as his students rapidly became better than him at the system he created, and shows how he was unable to raise his game to help the Order develop further. ”

You can read over this advertisement and it becomes pretty obvious that the book seeks to show Mathers in a particularly bad light. Instead of giving him credit for having founded the order and written most of its lore, he instead seeks to show that the lore stands above and beyond Mathers, who wasn’t apparently up to the job of building a comprehensive system of magickal occultism. I had judged this book to be just another a “hatchet job” on Mathers, so I haven’t bothered to purchase this book yet, but maybe I will so I can at least do a modest job of critiquing it. I am not an expert when it comes to the history of the Golden Dawn and its various affiliates, but I know the basic history. 

The Golden Dawn was founded around 116 years ago, so attempting to investigate the intentions and motives of its founder ends up being nothing more than a guessing game. There are historical records to be certain, but the individuals are now long dead, and their life stories are fragmentary at best, or in the case of Mathers, there are still a lot of mysteries. I believe that it would be better to honor the founders of the Golden Dawn for their unwitting contribution to western occultism and the practice of magick rather than attempting to reveal them as failed human beings. After all, we all have virtues and flaws, and we all accomplish some things and fail to accomplish others in our all too brief of a lifespan.

However, one thing that Nick Farrell did write up in his book that has particularly offended the active organization and honored initiates of the Alpha et Omega is an ambiguous line that he wrote in his book. David Griffin has quoted that part of the book which he found quite offensive, taking some sentences that were actually in two paragraphs and putting them together. However, after examining the actual two paragraphs, I still believe that David presented the basic idea of what was being said. The wording is very ambiguous, and of course, no names are named, so it’s up to the reader to determine the actual meaning implied. 

Whenever an author uses such phrases it’s because he or she doesn’t want to get sued for libel, or at least create a greater controversy. David and his colleagues at the one and only Alpha et Omega operating in the world (as far as I know) have taken this to mean that Nick is calling their organization a “cult.” Here is a paraphrase of the what was said in Nick’s book, and what has gotten the A+O crowd royally pissed off. 

“By the end of the 20th Century this availability of [Golden Dawn] information enabled various reenactment groups to be established. Some of these groups are sound... Unfortunately, other groups border on religious or political cults, typically centered on a single leader.... Typically such groups claim a link to that section of the Golden Dawn Order known as the Alpha et Omega or AO.”
I don’t know about you, but if someone wrote something like that about my organization, even if it was couched in ambiguity, I would be quite upset. Nick has denied that he was singling out David’s organization, and has said that he was referring to the recently fallen GD patriarch, Bob Zink and his group. Whatever Nick Farrell’s intention when he wrote these two paragraphs, the interpretation is wholly in the provenance of the reader, since he elected to use innuendo instead of clearly stating his meaning. If the A+O organization is upset at what Nick wrote, then they are fully justified, in my opinion.

As a writer, I am responsible for how people interpret my words, regardless of my intentions. I might say something that I consider innocuous in one of my blog articles or in one of my books, but if a group of people find it offensive, then I am responsible for their umbrage. I can ignore it, or attempt to explain my meaning, or just wade into the conflict and call my detractors names and start a flame-war. The sensible thing to do is to apologize and to write a retraction. I had to do that act of humble contrition on more than one occasion when I wrote something which was erroneous or managed to anger some of my readers. This can happen to any writer, and whether one’s intention was pure and the offending writing was an honest mistake, it doesn’t really matter. You wrote it and so therefore, you own it. It’s just a fact of life that anyone who seeks to be a writer has to deal with this kind of public backlash at some point in their career. The best advice is to be compassionate and seek to amend the wrong if possible.

However, instead of attempting to mitigate the anger that some in the Golden Dawn community felt about what Nick Farrell had written, he has steadfastly refused to take any responsibility, and in fact has resorted to calling his detractors “Brown Shirts,” as if to say that they represent some kind of fascist wing of the Golden Dawn community. That was like throwing gasoline on a brush fire, and it only made things a lot worse. Not only did Mr. Farrell write a hatchet job book on Mathers, but he also insulted some of the members of an operating second order faction. Why anyone would do this is beyond my comprehension. The notoriety will undoubtedly sell more books than what might have happened without the controversy, but the legacy that Nick Farrell is leaving to the rest of us is anything but positive and constructive.

Of course, to deal with this issue, David Griffin has decided to engage in some melodrama and a bit of tongue in cheek, talking about a Godfather-like conspiracy operating behind the scenes. (The only real conspiracy is hubris, personal vanity and egotism.) Some months ago David was comparing Farrell and Zelewski to the Star Trek Borg, which I might add was a humorous way of dealing with individuals who had caused him no small outrage. I guess making fun of your adversaries is better than trying to somehow silence them. If the propaganda against David was correct, then we could expect a mafia style assassination of his detractors, but of course, that won’t really happen. (We won’t get a blog article telling us that Nick Farrell sleeps with the fishes.) What has really happened is a number of adepts in the A+O are quite upset at their treatment by Farrell and company. They are outraged by the slander and the constant attacks against their organization. They aren’t guilty of starting any of these altercations, but they are quite zealous in defending themselves. Who can blame them for that?

As for myself, I am watching this all happen on the internet through the venue of various Yahoo groups and blog articles. There are those who are defending Mr. Farrell and showing their disdain and disklike for David Griffin and his associates, while others are defending their right to practice their lore in peace and goodwill.

All of this is very simple to sort out. The A+O has declared that it is in contact with the same group of secret chiefs that Mathers was originally in contact with. Having met the gate-keepers of this clandestine organization, I can say for a fact that I believe that their claim is legitimate. That really shouldn’t matter to any other faction of the Golden Dawn. They can seek out a connection to this group, or find their own connections, or use the various available inner plane contacts to develop their own lore. There isn’t any need to defame the A+O for making this claim, and there is plenty of room in the world for more than one faction of the Golden Dawn to peacefully coexist.

Still, in order for there to be peace in the Golden Dawn community, various individuals need to refrain from writing and publishing negative broadsides about other factions in the overall organization - or for that matter, writing hatchet jobs on the founders. Until that happens, then it seems obvious that there will be a lot of friction and occasional flame-war flare-ups.

I find this overall state of the Golden Dawn community very sad and disheartening. Instead of engaging in a war of words, I think that it would be better to teach the public (and other magicians, such as myself) about the benefits and social obligations of being an initiate and adept of the Golden Dawn. In time, even this latest flame-war will die down, but I hope it does end soon. Maybe if Mr. Farrell would apologize for what he wrote about the A+O (regardless of his intentions), that would be a good place to start, in my opinion.

Frater Barrabbas 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Nature of the Reincarnation Conundrum - Part 2

This in turn brings forth yet another consideration of how to measure reincarnation in regards to spiritual maturity. Some in the New Age community refer to individuals as either “old souls” or “new souls,” and give those who are older an exalted status in the hierarchy of spiritual evolution, whether or not they have actually done anything in their current life to earn this regard. They have the potential of greatness because they are an "old soul," which is kind of a circular argument.

A humorous exchange occurred between two individuals at a New Age convention that I attended years ago brings to my mind two opposing ways of looking at this issue. I overheard an older man loudly bragging to a pretty young female student and her witty young companion about his supposed long lineage of life-times, “I have documented over a hundred lifetimes that I had, spanning over three thousand years!” It was almost as if he was saying that he was superior to everyone else due solely to his spiritual longevity and its recollection. His arrogance was readily thwarted by the reply of the young witty companion who completely reversed the situation. He stated that the large number of life times was probably more indicative of a continuous string of mistakes and stubborn ignorance rather than spiritual sagacity, since if he was so enlightened, why was he still being reborn?

Of course the old sage couldn’t answer the question intelligibly, and was humiliated by someone who was obviously not his spiritual equal. The rest of us found this exchange highly amusing, but it highlighted an important point. The question is, how can we objectively determine spiritual maturity if we must also take into account many lifetimes including the present one? Does it not become then simply a matter of subjective belief and possible fancy? Unless a peer group evaluates a person’s claims and forces a certain degree of objective clarity and mental discipline, then anyone could claim nearly anything, no matter how absurd. Since in most cases there is no peer group or authority to judge someone's claims, this is precisely the kind of unbridled ridiculousness that occurs in the greater New Age community.

Then there is the life story of the current Dalai Lama of Tibet who is currently living in exile in India. I became acquainted with this story through the movie Kundrun, (released 1997 - directed by Martin Scorsese) which I also later verified by examining his official written biography. (See his web page located here.) When the previous Dalai Lama died, his attendants began to search the country for his reincarnated self, and after a couple of years they discovered a young boy living in a remote village who seemed to have the memories of the old Dalai Lama. The young lad was tested, and he was able to recognize and pick out personal objects from a collection of real and fake artifacts, choosing only those that had actually belonged to the old Dalai Lama.

I have quoted Wikipedia’s entry for Dalai Lama: “When Tenzin Gyatso [the current Dalai Lama]  was about two years old a search party was sent out to find the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama. Among other omens, the head on the embalmed body of the thirteenth Dalai Lama (originally facing south) had mysteriously turned to face the northeast, indicating the direction in which the next Dalai Lama would be found. Shortly afterwards, the Regent Reting Rinpoche had a vision at the sacred lake of Lhamo La-tso indicating Amdo (as the place to search) and a one-story house with distinctive guttering and tiling. After extensive searching, they found that Thondup's house resembled that in Reting's vision. They presented Thondup with various relics and toys - some had belonged to the previous Dalai Lama while others had not. It was reported that Thondup correctly identified all items owned by the previous Dalai Lama, exclaiming ‘That's mine! That's mine!’”

However, even though this young boy seemed to have some of the old Dalai Lama’s memories, he still had to be taught how to read and write, trained in the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism, taught the discipline of being a monk and later on, how to be a spiritual leader, not to mention that he also had to grow up and mature to become the great man that he presently became. He couldn’t just use the past memories of the previous Dalai Lama and thereby dispense with any training. So the fact that he was reincarnated didn’t also mean that he had total recall of everything from that past life.

This could be conjectured as a kind of narrative proof of reincarnation as well as its limitations, and it is something that I think about when attempting to dismiss reincarnation out of hand. There have been other anecdotal evidence presented, showing that reincarnation seems to occur, and at least in some rare occasions, could be verified. However, these anecdotal forms of proof would not be acceptable to a thorough and rigorous scientific inquiry; but they could at least demonstrate that the phenomenon of reincarnation in some form was at least possible.

Christians have a more simplistic eschatological doctrine to follow and also one that does not have so many additional considerations and qualifications in order to make it plausible. Christians believe that a person lives only one life, and when it's over they are judged for what they did during that life. Once a person's soul is judged, it is either rewarded with entry into heaven or condemned to the fiery depths of hell until the final judgment. This model is very old and was used by many ancient cultures in the past, such as the ancient Egyptians, who excelled in developing a culture devoted to a life after death.

While I concur that this model is much more efficient, backed by historical antecedents and seemingly plausible, the final judgment and the irrevocable condemnation to hell does not fit well with my spiritual sentiments of justice and redemption, nor does it lend itself to any kind of spiritual evolution. Of course, the final judgment always had an escape clause, which is a certain shady method to get past it. Whether one was an ancient Egyptian or a modern fundamentalist Christian, there was always a way to certain salvation (such as the spells of the Book of the Dead, or being saved by Jesus). I rejected this doctrine as Christian dogma a long time ago, but I also failed to fully embrace reincarnation as an alternative.

The various pros and cons about reincarnation put me into a difficult situation, since as a member of a modern earth-based spiritual movement, the tenet of reincarnation is part of the accepted doctrine. Yet this doctrine is one that I just couldn’t fully accept, since it seemed too implausible and was misused by the ignorant masses to promote all sorts of ridiculous ideas. I admit that I struggled with this problem for quite some time, and I had my own impressions and romantic notions to deal with as well.

As a teenager I had believed that I was once an Atlantean magician and high priest, and even managed to put together a magickal system that I thought was a restoration of that very ancient system of Atlantean magick and occultism. I also had memory fragments of other lives in other times and once thought that these were proof enough for reincarnation. The notion of reincarnation was pleasant to believe in, since the other available perspectives were so forbidding, namely final judgment or oblivion. But as time progressed and I became older and more mature, I began to intensely question these romantic notions and could no longer accept them even as subjective facts, since they defied any real empirical analysis. So I decided to leave these questions for other studies and practices that were more immediate to me and grounded in the present. I felt that there was little point in attempting to answer these questions or to organize my doubts into something of a sensible alternative theory.

Then over a decade ago I was reading the Winter 1997 edition of the Gnosis magazine (See the magazine Gnosis, No. 42, Winter 97 - pp. 28 - 32) and read an article that galvanized my opinions and helped me to materialize my opposition to popular reincarnation. This article not only addressed my doubts, but it also gave me an alternative perspective to explain this phenomenon in a much more plausible and logical manner. The article was entitled “The Case Against Reincarnation” and it was part of the thematic edition on “Death and the Afterlife.” It was written by Joscelyn Godwin who is an obscure writer to many occultists, but whose academic career is highly esteemed. He is reputed to be a gifted musicologist and translator, known for his work on ancient music, antique paganism and occult based music.

However, the article was concerned with translations of materials written by the equally obscure French esotericist René Guénon who, in his metaphysical examination of popular reincarnation, not only determined that it was false, but that it was also logically impossible. He also supplied a number of explanations for other related paranormal phenomena, and I found these to be both compelling and an answer to my many years of searching, not to mention my dissatisfaction with popular reincarnation. I also used the insights that this article presented as a springboard to examine the history of beliefs around reincarnation, including an examination of those beliefs as they are held in the Hindu and Buddhist religions as well as the Greek antecedents, such as metempsychosis.

I discovered some very valuable things in the process and even managed to organize my own thoughts into a theory of death and the afterlife that acts as a counter theory to the popular belief in reincarnation. I also found that the eastern definition of reincarnation, particularly the Buddhist, made more sense to me than what is being followed in western occult groups and the New Age in general.

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nature of the Reincarnation Conundrum - Part 1

In modern occultism, whether it's New Age, Neopagan, Wiccan or Theosophic groups and organizations, there is a wide-spread belief and support for the tenets of reincarnation. This belief is so prevalent in these groups that it seems to be an accepted fact, and one is judged either a fool or an unbeliever if he or she does not accept this doctrine as truth.

New Age adherents attend workshops to assist themselves in determining and remembering their past lives, and Wiccan followers speak platitudes about being reborn again with friends and family. Wiccans even reserve a special kind of hell for oath breakers and others deemed cursed by the Goddess, since they are denied this benefit of rebirth with friends and lovers, and are forced instead to be reborn and wander the earth with strangers.

Theosophists have established a doctrine of reincarnation that proposes a kind of long term cycle of spiritual evolution. This cycle is where individuals engage in a long series or chain of lifetimes in order to ultimately evolve into ascended spiritual masters. Once having achieved that goal they then exit the reincarnation cycle and continue to aid and assist humanity with its collective spiritual evolution. If it were not for the thorny problem of verifying and proving that reincarnation is indeed a fact, perhaps the Theosophical model of reincarnation would make the most sense since it's so well thought out and documented.

For those who are believers, the popular consensus of reincarnation is that we as individuals experience multiple lives, and that we are influenced today by what we have done in those past lives. We are ruled by a balance of virtues and flaws that have been a part of us since our nebulous origins, and that these positive and negative effects continue to follow and haunt us from one lifetime to the next.

These powerful influences are given the label of Karma, and they are an inescapable component of the influences of reincarnation. What happens to us in this life is not so much determined by our actions and intentions, but by actions and intentions that were part of our past lives. We might be so greatly influenced by past lives that free will and self-determination would be illusions, since all is predestined by events and actions that happened long ago. Thus a person murdered in this life could have been a murderer in a past life, because his karma would have required the previous murder to be balanced out by being a victim in this life. Diseases, accidents and other maladies that afflict us could be considered the result of wrongs perpetrated in past lives and not adduced so much to our current life style and choices.

With so much of our actions, intentions and even our goals pre-determined by our past lives, it's a wonder that there is anything newly emerging in the typical person for their present life. Perhaps there's a mix of the past lives and personalities with our current inner self influencing us today, with the past having less of an impact than the present. We could grade things as being less influential if they happened further in the past, and more influential if they happened in a recent life, thereby judging past life events as being more or less relevant to the present.Of course, there could always be exceptions.

In whatever manner we seek to organize and understand these influences, reincarnation creates a very complex model of human volition; where individuals have to carefully sift through their motives, intentions, actions and even the accidents that have occurred to them in order to determine what is being influenced unduly by past lives.

If reincarnation is considered a fact, then all of these speculations, and indeed even the required examination of past lives through regression hypnosis and trance, become very important tools to understand the totality of the self. However, if it's not a fact, then these activities could be considered extraneous and even counterproductive to self realization.

My experiences with the social fad of reincarnation and karma have not made them more plausible or acceptable to me, and in fact many of the problems with these powerful concepts are amplified by how people thoughtlessly and carelessly use them. The fault is not theirs, though, since there is no real authority to guide them in these beliefs and judge their pronouncements as accurate and believable or erroneous, and so mitigate what is implausible and even ridiculous.

There are many individuals who claim to have had past lives, and some even seem to have vivid memories of these past life experiences, which is all very well and good. However, many also seem to hold the romantic notion that they are the reincarnation of famous individuals in the past, such as Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Napoleon, Washington, Queen Elizabeth I, Hannibal, Catherine the Great, or numerous other luminaries. Seldom have I ever heard anyone talking about having been an anonymous Chinese, Middle Eastern or European peasant, or some common cutthroat or nameless criminal, which would be much more likely if one considers the odds.

Reincarnation has been made romantic and glamorous in its common usage, and seems to be increasingly used to add prestige and a depth to people who would otherwise have shallow and uninspiring lives. Perhaps the most absurd element of popular reincarnation is that there is probably more than one individual claiming to be the reincarnation of the same famous person. To straighten out this conflict there would have to be some kind of mechanism to explain this phenomenon, either by verifying one claim over the other (or denying both claims) or by proposing that both are correct, with some kind of bifurcation of the reincarnation lineage occurring. Who is to say what that mechanism would be, or if there could be any criteria for judging such claims?

There is also another problem to consider, and that is what does it all signify? If some man or woman claims to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra, then what does that tell us about who they are in their present life? In my opinion, it really tells us nothing about the person living in the present time, since the life of Cleopatra was lived so long ago and all of the factors and the historical context of that life are long gone.

Promoting a famous past-life personality seems to be nothing more than a cloak or mask to hide the real truth of a person's sense of inadequacy and unimportance. Certainly, the claim of being the reincarnation of a famous person could not be taken seriously in a court of law, where someone would try to lay claim to the legacy of a famous person. So we are left with more puzzling questions and insolvable conundrums by accepting reincarnation rather than carefully judging it or considering that it might be fatuous as it is popularly defined.

The most difficult argument for reincarnation is attempting to define exactly what aspect of the “self” gets reborn if it does in fact occur. There is also the difficulty in defining an eternal and immutable aspect of the self, since by dint of its definition, such a thing would be inexplicable and incapable of being defined or discussed. If we consider that each individual is a unique product of genetics, culture, time, circumstance and life experience, and that this uniqueness affects all that is a determinant for an individual life, then such a life is impossible to be repeated at a later time.

If we also consider that life as we understand it is centered in the body, where reside the emotions, mind, ego and perhaps even the individual soul, then when that body perishes in death, so too must perish all of the other unique qualities of that individual as well. An individual life is precious, since once it is gone, the loss is permanent and irreparable.

There may be something that is permanent, immortal and eternal in regards to a human being, but it could not be related in any direct or conscious manner to what is based on the self as defined by the mind or by the living body, since these elements are verifiably perishable. The typical adherent to popular reincarnation seems to assume that their ego-based mind somehow manages to survive death, but there is no concrete evidence for that survival.

The lack of empirical evidence for an immortal soul would force theologians and occultists to define it as something ineffable and essential to the self; but not a part of that self which is perishable. The fact that they have defined the human spirit in just such a manner should be no surprise. Yet this would make temporal memories (life experience) and emotional or mental sensibilities incapable of being transmitted from one life to another, since they would not be a part of that immortal self.

So we are left again with the problem of defining what exactly gets reborn, and if it's so abstract and distant from the nominal self, what relevance does it have to the living and perishable part of a human being? Other questions that would need answering are how does reincarnation function, how long is the duration between death and rebirth, how is the new life chosen, or is it just randomly assigned, and who or what guides the spirit as it makes these transitions and implements these decisions?

One element that can be pointed to is that even with the large population of people currently inhabiting the planet, there is still 15 dead people for every one living. That number has been reduced in half since the 1960's, and might drop even further in the future. While one could conceive that there is a possibility of each person on the planet having multiple previous lives, there is also the possibility of a growing number of individuals who might be living their first life in the chain of reincarnated lives. 

Eventually, if the population continues to grow as it has, the number of living people may outnumber the dead, and then it would be likely that the majority of people would be “new souls” who have never experienced reincarnation. Other souls would have to be very archaic as well, since we would assume that all available “souls” would be used up before “new souls” would be fashioned. (There is also the question - how are new souls made, and who or what makes them?)

To be continued...

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thoughts About Reincarnation

I must humbly state to one and all that I don’t believe in the popularly held belief in reincarnation. I have thought long and hard about this tenet for a couple of decades, but I just can’t subscribe to the belief that reincarnation is a regular part of the human equation. I have a number of reasons for having this opinion, and I have decided to voice some of these opinions in a series of articles that will seek to represent my long exploration of this issue.

One of my objections to reincarnation was that I believed that there were more people alive today than the population of those who were dead. In other words, if the population of living people was greater than the number of dead, then there would have to be a lot of new souls living in the world today. “New souls” is the term for someone who hasn’t been previously reincarnated, which means that this life is their first and only life. I don’t know where I had acquired that little fact as being verifiably true, but it appears that it is actually an urban myth. Maybe I got it from the comedian George Carlin, but it has been in my head for many years.

Last month, Chas Clifton posted a short blog article that pretty much demonstrated that my belief in the living out numbering the dead was completely false. It doesn’t necessarily prove that reincarnation is a fact, but it does show that at least one of my objections to it has to be reconsidered. Mr. Clifton had a link in his article that led to an another article in the BBC News magazine about some scientists who used a bit of deduction and statistics to count the number of dead people going back to around 10,000 BCE.

Their results indicate that there are, even at the present rate of population growth, around 15 dead people for every living person today. So the dead outnumber the living by a significant margin, at least for the moment. That means that every living person today could have had several past lives at the very least. So another urban myth is challenged and shown to be false by science. I find that a bit ironic, however my other objections to popular reincarnation stand, and I will be presenting them in the near future.

Here is Chas Clifton’s short article in his blog “Letters from Hardscrabble Creek,” and this is the long article found in BBC News magazine. I also thought that the following quote from that magazine article pretty much puts this bit of controversy to bed, and I will include it here.

This means that we are nowhere near close to having more alive than dead. In fact, there are 15 dead people for every person living. We surpassed seven billion dead way back between 8000BC and AD1.”

In the near future, I will be presenting a multi-part series of articles stating my issues with reincarnation and Karma, particularly how they are perceived in popular culture and various New Age and pagan communities. I don’t believe that reincarnation is impossible, mind you, I just think that it’s a very rare phenomenon which has little or no bearing on the considerations for personal spiritual evolution, personal destiny or free choice. We are, more or less, self-determined individuals, and our personal fate and destiny is very much tied to what we do in our present (and in my opinion, only) incarnation. Some individuals can pretend to be “old souls” who are nearing their final spiritual evolutionary stage due mostly to their superior conduct in supposed past lives, and others can even present highly subjective proof of their past lives. This might be enough for them to prove without a doubt that reincarnation is part of the human equation, but it doesn’t mean that the rest of us need to swallow this belief without using any of our critical thinking skills.

What I intend to show in future articles is that I am highly skeptical about the popular beliefs about reincarnation and Karma. I think that these terms are particularly misused by many who subscribe to the notion that they were important people in the past, and that fact somehow makes them important people today. Pre-Christian paganism didn’t actually believe in reincarnation per se, instead a mechanism of metempsychosis was promoted, which is quite different than the popularly held notions about reincarnation. To ancient pagans, all life engaged in the dance of life, death and reincarnation, and that a person could be reborn as an animal or even a tree. Later on, Greek sages began to establish moral criteria for the direction of this process of reincarnation, but prior to that, there were no boundaries nor moral determinations. All life was considered sacred and therefore, ensouled.

I will also demonstrate that these popular beliefs in reincarnation are part of our modern world view, and are not to be found in either Hinduism or Buddhist religious tenets. To a Hindu or Buddhist sage, the terms reincarnation and Karma have very different meanings than how we popularly use them. Understanding this difference, and going back to the source religions that developed these terms, will help us strip away the urban myths from the real (and in my opinion) more interesting religious tenets from the East. I might not accept those tenets, but at least they make a lot more sense to me than what folks talk about in the New Age communities when they use the terms “past lives” and “Karma.”

Stay tuned to these future articles, and let me know what your thoughts are about popular reincarnation beliefs.

Frater Barrabbas

Monday, March 19, 2012

Adventures at Paganicon 2012

All Snakes Day

Paganicon occurred over the weekend, and I fully attended and engaged in the various planned and unplanned activities. Overall, I would say that this pagan convention has turned out to be quite good. There were 50% more people attending this year than the previous year, and folks from as far away as Indiana and Winnipeg, Canada, attended. I also made some new friends, restored connections with some old friends, and basically had a good time. The weather over the weekend was quite warm for this time of year, and I am sure that some new record highs have been registered. Last year it was pretty cold outside with many traces of winter still visible, yet this year there was no indication that winter was even active. Gone was the snow and ice, and the temperatures were in the high 70's, which is very strange for the Twin Cities in mid March.

My two back to back classes on the Qabalah were initially fairly well attended. I expected a maximum of 15 attendees, and that’s how many showed up. However, after the first hour, all of those attendees except two departed to attend other classes, and most of them went to see Christopher Penczak’s class on Ascension Magick. I can’t blame them for departing, of course, and I quickly discovered that I had far more material to present than I had time to present it. Each section took longer to complete than I had anticipated, so what I was able to present to the attendees was a partial introduction instead of the whole thing. Also, considering that most of the people left after the first hour was up meant that there wasn’t enough ground covered to really segue into the next section. So the remaining two attendees and I engaged in conversations about some of the rest of the material, and I answered a number of questions.

This was the first time that I had attempted to present these two classes, and considering that they will be incorporated into an 18 hour three day intensive, I am not too worried about re-sizing them or scaling them down. Instead, I will seek to break them into sections and expand them so they will be fully vested with all of the information that I would want to present in a much larger format. So, I was satisfied with the overall results of the two presentations, and I did learn something about how much time I will need if and when I present the full weekend intensive. Some of my attendees gave me good feedback and told me that they are looking forward to the new book that I will be publishing via Llewellyn in March of 2013.

Christopher Penczak was the main speaker for Paganicon, and I must admit that I was completely unfamiliar with any of his writings. I’ve seen his books in the book stores, and it is fairly obvious that he is a prolific writer with many books in print. Christopher has put together a complete system of witchcraft, publishing his books in series of instruction manuals regarding his Temple of Witchcraft system. I attended his Friday night class on the Three Rays of Witchcraft, and I found his class to be quite engaging and interesting. What became apparent to me is that Christopher has managed to successfully pull together some pretty amazing and radically different philosophies into the revised foundation of witchcraft. I have always maintained that modern witchcraft is fairly incomplete, and that in order to make it a more comprehensive system of spirituality and magick, one would need to fill in the holes using other sources.

What Christopher has done was to pull in sources of occult and spiritual lore that I wouldn’t have chosen, being either unfamiliar with them or at least felt that they wouldn’t work together. These disparate sources include Reiki, Theosophy, the Alice A. Bailey teachings, other various New Age sources (Ascension), as well as pagan Druidism, ceremonial magick and the Qabalah. At first glance, these very difficult occult systems might seem to be contradictory and incapable of being blended or merged together, but Christopher has managed to artfully merge them together as if they were meant to be worked as one overall system. I found his way of moving seamlessly from one system to another without any jarring contradictions to be quire remarkable. Still, from my own experienced standpoint, I wouldn’t employ very many New Age systems in my own revised and developed tradition simply because I would find such a syncretism to be inelegant and esthetically unappealing. That’s just my personal opinion and tastes in occultism, and they in no way negate what Christopher has accomplished. In his thoroughness, he has given birth to a comprehensive system of spirituality and magick, and all of it is based on a foundation of witchcraft. I found that to be both attractive and compelling, and I saw that others who were attending his lectures and rituals found it attractive as well.

The Three Rays of Witchcraft are, of course, based on the first three Rays of the Seven Ray system of Theosophy and the Bailey teachings (being the Red, Blue and Yellow Rays). Christopher merged the concept of these three rays with the traditional witchcraft (Clan of Tubal Cain) concepts of the three paths of the straight, the bent and the crooked, which he had perceived through a three-fold ray vision, where the three rays emerge from a common point or source. This theme is well established in Christopher’s book, Three Rays of Witchcraft, which you can find here. However, one point that he made in his talk that I found very illuminating is where he discussed the origins of his vision, and that it represented how many seekers have approached a more comprehensive practice of witchcraft - or for that manner, any system of occultism.

According the Christopher, most practitioners are inveterate eclectic collectors of many diverse and often different and divergent techniques, philosophies and ritual lore. He compared it to a totemic magpie collecting shiny bits that it steals while it browses around for food and novelty items. These attractive baubles end up in the magpie’s nest, and after a time, the nest is full of completely unrelated, shiny and colorful junk. Occult eclecticism is the disease of the inveterate collector, and often times what is collected might seem important, but ultimately, in order to become an integral part of one’s personal spiritual or magickal discipline, it must have both relevance and some degree of relativity to the rest of one’s regimen.

Often this process of making a unified system out of a lot of disparate parts is to first begin to order them in some manner, perhaps to extend the analogy of the magpie, this act of creating order would be to formulate a collage or a mosaic out of these various seemingly unrelated elements. This effort at finding unity in diversity is very important, because the mere fact that one is manipulating powerful spiritual symbols and philosophies will trigger a visionary event where the structure and image of a meta-system will be revealed to the seeker. For me, this meta-system was the Tree of Life, for Christopher, it was the Seven Rays. Later on, he was able to find a synthesis between the Seven Rays and the Tree of Life, and all this could be accomplished due to the unifying vision that he had of the Three Rays.

I found this obvious biographical trope about how Christopher himself was able to merge several unrelated occult systems together into a unified system (the Temple of Witchcraft) useful in my own discussion of the importance of using a kind of meta-system to order and organize the various collected systems and methodologies of the practicing occultist, and that this action of ordering will have a profound effect on the seeker. It was true with me, and it was also true for Christopher Penczak, so in a sense, our approach to crafting a unified system are very similar. In some ways, his story corroborates my own, and it lends greater power to the idea that working with the symbols of the Qabalah as if they were dynamically alive is the key to making it truly a powerful system of occultism. Without this approach, the Qabalah is nothing more than a glyph and a bunch of tabular lists, along with some very arcane lore about creation, cosmology and the final dissolution. Making it come alive is the whole key to empowering oneself and being able to use the Qabalah as a metaphysical system in the study and practice of magick.

Saturday night was the “All Snakes Day Ball,” which was a costumed ball. Since I had too little sleep the night before, and I had to help out with the security for an hour, I missed some of this soiree, but what I did see was quite amazing. The cash bar was a bit steep in price and the selection of available drinks limited, but overall, the ball room was well decorated and well attended. I ducked out a bit after 10 pm and went back to my room to crash, but the dance continued until midnight.

Sunday is when I took part in a panel that discussed the organization and presentation of the four public Sabbat events that had been held in 2011 under the aegis of NordCog, a local pagan organization (Northern Dawn and Covenant of the Goddess). On the panel were three of the presenters, the artistic director (Paul) and the presiding leader (Steve). The panel turned out quite excellent, and that was the end of my involvement in the Paganicon pageantry. I did attend a really good class on Helenic Polytheism put on by Cara Schultz, which was scheduled before my panel. Cara focused on the rites and practices that would have been performed in the home during a typical lunar month, and how those beliefs and practices are deployed in the modern Greek pagan household. The class was short, succinct and highly informative. I thought that Cara did an excellent job of presenting her beliefs and practices.

So I gathering my things, made some final shopping transactions, and drove home from the convention, quite satisfied with the whole event. The temperature was almost 80 degrees outside, so I had the window down while I was driving. I got home tired and sweaty, and was amazed at the very weird weather that we were having for a mid March day. If there were any doubts about the impact of climate change, then perhaps how this winter has turned out should allay any doubts whatsoever.

Needless to say, I think that Paganicon was a tremendous success, and it will be interesting to see if it is sustainable. I am already thinking about next year’s convention, when I will have a new book out in print, and be focusing on marketing myself as a knowledgeable Qabalist.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stumbling First Steps - Story of Teenage Insanity

Following up on my article on how a beginner can break the ice and make his or her first steps in the practice of ritual magick, I was reminded of my own first steps. It was a particularly awkward time for me, since I was just an overly impressionable teenage boy when I started my journey. I thought that I would reminisce about those early times just to show my readers that my own path started out on very shaky ground indeed. Perhaps we can all see this as an object lesson in how not to approach a serious study and practice of ritual magick.

My early history as a practicing magician, although it happened so many years ago that it’s now just memory fragments, was not a study in miracles and amazing accomplishments. If I could be labeled anything in those early days of being a ritual magician, it would be with the words “incompetent” and “delusional.” Now you might find that statement rather shocking and harsh, but it is also unfortunately true. My magick rarely produced any material effects, and yet I persisted in my magickal efforts largely because I believed that I was an especially gifted and great magician. Luckily, I am no longer burdened by such delusions, but back in those days, I believed that I had great powers and a special knowledge which no one else possessed. I can chuckle to myself about it now; but back then I took such notions in deadly earnest, much to the dismay of my friends and acquaintances. 

To be fair to myself, though, I was, after all, merely a teenager who possessed very little information in which to build a solid occult foundation. I didn’t have any teachers, and the number of good books in print on magick back then were very few, and I might add, prohibitively expensive for me. Not only was I quite young and a bit immature (we’re talking about a 16 year old boy), I also hadn’t yet bloomed intellectually and was still functioning as a remarkable underachiever - a common occurrence in those days. My notebooks from that time show a writing ability that was sub-par and an intellectual grasp of the occult that was based mostly on urban myth and personal fancy. Reading over them today is almost embarrassing for me, but they represent my unromantic and factual history.

What I did have back then was a very powerful visual imagination fueled by some pretty egotistical delusions about myself and my personal destiny. I worked magick as often as I could get away with it, considering that I was living in the same house as my parents. Yet most of what I was doing (according to my surviving notebooks) was pretty rudimentary and not particularly sound. What I lacked in terms of knowledge and reference materials, I more than made up with personal zeal, imaginary insights and questionable spiritual communications. Through the power of inspiration and creativity, I eventually put together a magickal system which surprisingly managed to work. Yet until that time, I was blindly stumbling around and maybe even a bit insane.

However, I suspect, based on the sparse journal entries in my notebooks, that much of what I did magically failed to produce any results whatsoever. Since I was living in a fantasy world, the fact that my magick failed to produce results didn’t seem to affect me very much. I was in too deep to attempt any amount of critical thinking at that time. It’s no wonder that when I got booted out of the Navy in 1974 that the service psychiatrist had identified me as an acute psychotic, and maybe, for a few years during that time, I was probably about as deranged as he had reported me to be. However, I was quite functional and could be reasoned with to a point by my parents and friends, so I didn’t need to be institutionalized. Besides, I crashed back to earth soon afterwards and was flexible enough to survive it, and in fact, I was able to quickly move on. Life as a teenager back then could be fraught with insane notions - “And all your children, are insane!” (Jim Morrison/Doors - "The End") I also suspect that not too much has changed since then.

Living in that kind of delusional state is not what I would recommend to anyone who is seeking to become a ritual magician. Perhaps the greatest thing lacking in my occult path at the time was someone older and more mature who could have given me direction and helped me curb my more egregious habits and predilections. Yet such a teacher didn’t exist at the time, so physical necessity itself intervened and forced me to adapt to the real world and its limitations. It was these events that functionally ended my childhood and forced me to deal with real issues and practical considerations. Compared to my friends, I started this path into adulthood a bit behind the curve of the bell-shaped graph of normalcy, but I eventually caught up with them, even though it took me several years. You could say that for a few years I was something of a “lost boy,” living in a dream world and oblivious to the real world that was all around me.

What moved and shaped me back then was likely the fact that my childish imagination was still overly febrile, and I could exist in my fantasy world without the rude material world intervening. In that kind of environment, the powers and knowledge of magick thrived regardless of their formulation, or that they were based on any kind of traditional occult knowledge. However, once I fell back to earth, then my magick started to be consistently tested against the hard facts of a remorseless physical reality, which was quite unsympathetic to my more delusional beliefs. Examining my notebooks, I can see that once I returned from my failed stint in the military, my whole perspective about magick changed dramatically. I began to become much more organized, and the few books that I had acquired were much more influential in my work. I relied less on my fantasies and urban myths, and sought to build a solid occult foundation. It took me a few years to complete this process, but the end result was a dramatic change in both style and substance.

By the advent of my 21st birthday, I had acquired some important books and tools that had pushed my knowledge of magick to a point where it was based on real traditional occult knowledge. However, I had gone as far as I could, and I couldn’t progress any further without some kind of outside intervention. I had gotten to the very boundary of developing such ideas as the vortex and the magickal gateway, but they weren’t mature enough yet to be useful, since they had been based on too much creative speculation and not enough solid expertise. I had grown to become a big fish in a tiny pond, and in order to really grow, I needed someone to guide and teach me, and I needed a much bigger pond! Had I failed to receive this outside help then I likely would have stagnated to the point where I would have quit working magick altogether, something that had been nearly unthinkable to me just a couple of years before. However, at that very point in my occult career, I was introduced to Christopher and Alexandria, and then soon afterwards, eagerly joined the Coven from Hell, and everything after that point changed forever.

To work magick with individuals who were experienced and knew what they were doing was such a potent and wonderful shock to me that it literally launched me to the next stage in my magickal studies. The contrast between the time before this event and afterwards was so astonishing that I doubt I could have simulated it in any other way. I had to have a teacher and I had to experience group magickal workings in order to really understand what was possible. The magickal powers that I experienced were so much greater than what I had been able to generate by myself, and it was nothing short of incredible. As an example, I had pushed the envelope so hard during that time that I had gone through all three degrees in my coven in just under two years. I suspect that I had set a kind of record, since the coven curriculum was quite broad and deep.

I am certain that others have had the same kind of experience the moment they made the transition from being a solitaire worker to being a member of a group practicing group magickal workings. Yet when I made that transition, it helped me to finally objectify something that had been too locked up in subjectivity to really amount to much. I had been working magick since I was around 16 years old, and in that five years I hadn’t figured out how to objectify what I was doing, even though I had gotten a few of my friends involved. Objectifying my magickal process was likely the most important thing that I was to accomplish in my long occult career, and it was the triggering event that led me to develop the magickal system that I use today.

So what does all this rambling discourse on my past follies and exploits have to do with the present world? It has to do with the fact that a solitaire practitioner, without peers or teachers, might be able to progress to a certain point of competency in their development using books and other materials, but they will need a socializing environment if they are to continue to evolve. I know that this was true for me, even though I had become something of a virtuoso for a while.

We all need teachers and peers in order to truly progress beyond our own limitations, and unfortunately, they are in short supply. However, part of any occult discipline should include the search for associates and like-minded seekers, and I believe that such a search, even if conducted in the most inhospitable environment, will ultimately be successful. I also believe that an occultist who is on the path to becoming an accomplished ritual magician will be able to acquire associates and a social circle of peers just as he or she will be able to acquire books and magickal tools. Such acquisitions are an important part of any magician’s path and process of spiritual and magickal evolution.

The key to all of this is for the magician student to somehow achieve that profound and special moment when his or her magick is objectified through interacting with others, and nothing else can do that like working group magick or magically engaging with one’s peers.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Magickal Mentoring and Breaking the Ice

Occasionally, I get an email from someone who wants me to teach them magick. They either want to be an affiliate in the Order or somehow to get me to teach them more directly. I usually shy away from such requests because I believe that the only way that you can really and effectively teach someone how to work magick is by doing it in person. Allow me the opportunity to work with someone in my temple, and I could probably teach even the most stubborn dullard how to work magick. But, the key to this kind of magickal mentoring is getting face time with me, and experiencing magick in a shared environment with plenty of “hands on” experiential work. In my honest opinion, this is the only way that I can effectively teach someone how to work magick from scratch. It would require someone to live in proximity to me in order to establish this kind of relationship, and it would depend on how much spare time I had to devote to such a task. For those who live far away, the possibilities of working with me are greatly diminished.

What I don’t have at my disposal is a program for learning ritual magick from the very beginning that I can give to long distance students. Some other magicians have this kind of program, such as the redoubtable Jason Miller, who offers an online course in magick, which I would recommend to any beginner. I suppose if I had the time and wasn’t saddled with a full time career, then maybe I might assemble something together for those who want me to teach them magick. What I do have is four books in print, and these should help either the experienced beginner or the intermediate student develop and build their own system of magick based mostly on the energy model.

However, I don’t have any books or materials for the beginner who doesn’t have any real experience or is ignorant about how to work magick. The reason for this is because I believe that the first steps in learning to perform ritual magick should be accompanied by someone who is experienced and who knows how to do it. Analogous to a medieval guild, I think that someone who really wants to master magick will need to be an apprentice to an experienced magician for at least a couple of years. Otherwise, attempting to learn magick without the help of an experienced sponsor can be quite difficult. You can spend decades reading all of the available material written on the subject, and even watch videos of people working magick, but at some point, you have to actually get some experience or forever be an “arm-chair” magician.

Doing magick is the only way to learn it, and there is no replacement for that kind of experience. Without an experienced teacher, the first steps will be awkward and will likely fail to produce the desired results. This often stops the erstwhile magician in his or her tracks, because the awkwardness and the failure would seem to bring about two lines of thought, both of which would likely end all but the most steadfast student’s experimentation. Either the would-be magician will believe that he just doesn’t have what it takes to be a magician, or he will decide that maybe magick consists of far more fantasy than reality.

Certainly, real magick doesn’t operate as it does in the movies or TV shows. As an experienced magician, I can’t tell you how insulting such TV shows as “Supernatural” are to everything that I know about magick. Our culture is steeped in fantasy, hype and misinformation in regards to magick, and attempting to get the very first spell to work can actually be quite underwhelming. Very quickly, a student who is on a successful track to learning to perform magick will realize how subtle and seemingly unremarkable most magickal phenomena appears when it does happen. It seems to operate under most people’s ability to sense and comprehend. Indeed, for the beginning student who hasn’t sharpened his or her sensitivities, magick can seem to be buried amongst the mundane occurrences of the lives of nearly everyone, including those who are avidly looking for signs of it.

Where are the rays of sparkling magickal light blasting from the finger tips or emitting from the eyes? Where are the plethora of demons, angels and other spirits miraculously manifesting in material form? Where are the miracles and the astonishing destiny-laden events? Real magick, to the beginner, seems so subtle and barely there that it could be chalked up wholly to one’s imagination. Later on, as the senses for magick and the corresponding sensitivity for occult patterns kicks in, the very world itself seems to literally change before one’s eyes. But that event occurs slowly and gradually over time, and sometimes it almost seems to arrive completely unheralded. Since magick is very subtle and requires an earnest effort at mind control and sensitivity training, an experienced teacher can more ably show a beginner what to do in order to see, feel and observe the occurrence of magickal phenomena. An inexperienced beginner might even successfully produce a profoundly magickal effect and not be sensitive enough to realize its significance.

So what can a beginner do if they don’t have an experienced teacher to guide them along the first steps of learning to perform ritual magick? Perhaps the most important thing any beginner can do is to be consistent, stubbornly persistent and to start doing rituals or something magickal every day. At some point the student has to actually begin performing magick in order to “break the ice” and start getting some real experience. Inertia is a terrible force, and it often keeps the beginner from engaging in any experimentation. They can be equally afraid of success as they are of failure.

First thing that any beginner needs to do is to assemble the basic set of magickal tools. These are the four elemental tools of wand, dagger, cup and dish. In addition, having an incense burner of some kind, candle holders or oil lamps, an altar, a robe and rope belt, charcoal, incense, spring water, sea salt and perfumed oils should round out the needed supplies. Yet the most important item is to have a room dedicated to the work. The more permanently dedicated the room, then the better the results of the magick performed within it. It is important to be able to work rituals in privacy and a quiet environment. If that means working ritual at odd hours when the rest of the household is asleep or away, then that fact will have to determine the available time slots for a magickal working. Assembling the materials isn’t particularly difficult, but dedicating a room and being sequestered for an hour or more is often one of the more problematic sticking points.

Second thing is to choose and adopt a specific tradition and then to assemble the books or materials on that tradition. What is required is to study and examine this material until it is completely familiar. Then extract some of the ritual activities and write them up in your own hand. You will need a set of rituals to perform a quick daily exercise, and then others to perform more elaborate operations. Get a blank book and begin to write up journal entries about anything that might be important, from dreams, thoughts, insights to any experience that might be achieved while working ritual. My first published book, “Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick” might be ideal for someone who is seeking to put together their own discipline. The rituals contained in that book are useful and can be modified to function at the level of the student magician. You can purchase a copy of this book here, but there are a lot of other useful books as well.

Third thing is to learn to meditate, and develop a meditation regimen that is performed daily, at around the same time, every day, without fail. A meditation session should include breath control, visualization, mantra intoning and assuming a comfortable seating posture (the basic Asana, Prana-yama, Mantra and Mandela disciplines of Yoga). In addition, learn to perform the discursive meditation technique. This methodology is from the Catholic technique taught for many centuries and was called the “lectio divina.”

  •     (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.  

Perform a combination of the fourfold Yoga techniques mentioned above to establish the baseline of consciousness, and then use the discursive meditation technique to examine and reflect on strategic passages from one’s study regimen. This operation should be performed every day without fail, so it becomes the foundation for any and all magickal work. This discipline will also cause one to become far more sensitized to magickal and occult phenomena.

Fourth thing is begin to perform magickal experiments. Start out doing something small and minor every weekend. Just setting a magickal circle and meditating in sacred space can achieve some interesting results over time. However, it is important to establish some small goals and to seek to achieve them with the aid of magick. Over time, these goals can become more elaborate and concrete.

Fifth thing, learn more than two forms of divination. I would recommend that any student worth his or her salt should master the Tarot and astrology. Learning Runes, the I-Ching or Geomancy would also be helpful.

Sixth thing should be adopting a spiritual discipline along with the magickal discipline. Making the magick become more aligned to one’s religious and spiritual perspectives gives it a greater importance and significance. If you are a pagan, then working with the cycles of the earth, such as the Lunar and Solar cycles, becomes an important element of your magick.

Seventh and the most important thing of all - once you start this regimen, then don’t give it up for at least two years. If you stop performing your regimen of daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal activities, then you will have to start them all over again just catch up to where you were before you stopped. It takes around two years of doing this kind of constant, periodic and consistent work before anything dramatic starts to happen. If you have a hands-on teacher, then this period of slowly growing and evolving happens a lot faster, of course. But if you are alone, then you will need a couple of years before all the parts of this spiritual and magickal discipline start working together to produce the effects that could be considered dramatic and profound. Keeping a journal will certainly help you figure out that certain patterns and other phenomena are happening and are in fact, quite real (since you have documented them). At some point, you will have to perform some kind of self initiation and truly dedicate yourself to the work of ritual magick, and when that has happened, then you might be able to call yourself a ritual magician.

One final thing that I would like to advise any beginner who is seeking to become a ritual magician is to never attempt this work in any kind of social isolation. Make certain that you have available friends and associates who are also seeking to work magick or involved in some kind of occultism. It can be very important to have someone to talk to if something strange or weird happens and you need to objectify it. Being completely socially isolated is, in my opinion, highly undesirable.

Learn about what is going on in your local community in regards to occultism or paganism, and then seek out individuals of like mind. Do engage in social activities and make certain that you can cultivate some close friends and confidantes. Having a community of occultists to talk to could help you keep your mental balance at a particularly difficult time in your magickal career. Who knows, you might even find amongst your acquaintances someone who is an experienced ritual magician, and who might share some ritual space with you, thereby giving you leg up on your own evolving magickal process. 

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Top Ten Grimoires - My Opinion

Recently, Chas Clifton, in his blog, “Letters from Hardscrabble Creek” had an interesting link to an article in the Guardian about the top ten grimoires of all time, written by Owen Davies, the very publisher of the book “Grimoires: A History of Magical Books.” I highly recommend the book and author, since I found a lot of useful information about the historical lineages of various grimoires. Anyway, the article on the Guardian isn’t very new, but I missed seeing it, and Chas Clifton pointed it out in his blog. Chas Clifton often has interesting stuff written up in his blog entries, and I enjoy reading them.

Anyway, the article put together a list of the ten most influential grimoires in history, and rounding out the bottom was the Necronomicon and the Book of Shadows. These books actually wouldn’t have been put on my list of important source grimoires for magick, but Owen Davies was listing those that have had a large social impact, and I must bow to his wisdom. You can look over his article and make your own judgement, but I decided to take a swag at putting together my own list of grimoires. So the question is, what are the top ten grimoires that I would actually recommend someone purchase and examine, with an eye to purloining lore for personal uses? After all, that’s the main purpose that I would buy an expensive limited edition book. It would be for the purpose of adding needed lore to my magickal work, since I am not really in the business of collecting books for their own sake.

First of all, I don’t belong to that popular crowd of magickal practitioners who believe in the sanctity of the grimoires. It has become nearly a fad to pick out a grimoire (or two) and then faithfully practice it exactly as it was written, allowing for no substitutions or deviations. The idea is that the old time magicians and sorcerers knew what they were doing, and we, today, have lost this knowledge, so we must rely on the old books to practice magick as it should be practiced. 

Of course, this presupposes that all of the other myriad collections of modern magickal systems are defective, corrupted, and mostly useless. Since I am a terrible revisionist, and I have actually invented whole segments of the ritual lore that I regularly use, I would fail to make the grade of being a proper magician in the eyes of these folks. Perhaps they would ignore the fact that my magickal techniques not only work for me, but they work quite effectively for others, too. The very fact that I have crafted a new magickal system using old and new parts would make what I am doing a complete contradiction to the grimoire purists. In fact, I have only within the last decade or so actually started to incorporate some of the lore from the old grimoires, and then, only what I consider to be the choicest bits. I am certain that my approach to the old grimoires is a lot more like a ghoul picking over dead bodies than an antiquarian sorcerer who worships the old practices.

Secondly, there is the problem of attempting to reconstitute the culture that underlies any one of the old grimoires, some of which have their origins in the early Renaissance or even late middle ages. The fact that a single grimoire is actually an archetypal representation of many unique variations over time, and that the grimoire purists are using published texts that are really translated reconstructions doesn’t seem to really bother any of them. In the end, the grimoire purist and the ultra-modern revisionist are really doing a variation of the same operation. They are both reconstituting a tradition or practice in the modern world, using modern perspectives, tools and other accouterments. Grimoire purists can pretend to be practicing an antique discipline, but without the cultural context that went into producing their cherished book of spells, they are in fact modern reconstructionists at the very least, or modern revisionists. None of us can recreate the culture of the 17th century or earlier, so we have to use the cultural context of a modern world perspective and creatively adapt our work.

Anyway, I have written up my opinions on this subject before, so we don’t have to belabor that issue any further. This is just one of several sticking points that I have with anyone who espouses a grimoire purist perspective. My magick stands in dire contradistinction to the whole grimoire purist movement, and I must say that I am freaking proud of that fact.

According to Owen Davies’ article, the top ten grimoires in his esteemed opinion are as follows: 6th and 7th Books of Moses, Clavicule of Solomon, Petit Albert, Book of St. Cyprian, Dragon Rouge (variation of the Grande Grimoire), Book of Honorius, 4th Book of Occult Philosophy (Le Grande Albert), The Magus, Necromonicon, and Book of Shadows. These might be the most popular books that have had the most impact on European and American cultures, but they are not the most useful books, in my opinion. I would scratch the Necromicon and the Book of Shadows off of the list to start with, and then assemble, in some kind of sequence, the books that I think are the most important grimoires.

Outside of this list of my top ten grimoires would be the source books that were so important to the birth of my current system of magick, and I should make mention of them as well. Two books that had quite a powerful influence on how I work magick were Israel Regardie’s Golden Dawn and Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft. I can also include The Magus in this list, but when Agrippa’s Books of Occult Philosophy later became available, the poor quality of this book became readily apparent (so I abandoned it). I also expropriated ritual structures and ideas from the pre-Vatican Priest’s Mass Missel, and I did use, for a few years, pieces from Simon’s Necronomicon. I should also mention Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows as well, as being one of the earliest source books that I borrowed heavily from for a while. However, we are talking about grimoires, so let me get on with listing the Top Ten Grimoires, in my humble opinion. Keep in mind that these books are not exactly ordered according to their importance to me (they are all equally important).

1. Greater and Lesser Keys of Solomon - this would include the Veritable Key of Solomon, and the Lemegeton, or Lesser Key. The Lesser Key usually consists of the Goetia, Theurgia-Goetia, the Pauline Books, the Almadel and the Ars Notoria of Solomon. Of these, I have made the most extensive use of the Goetia, Theurgia-Goetia, the Ars Notoria and to a lesser extent, the Greater Key of Solomon. I have found the verba ignota in the Ars Notoria to be quite powerful and very useful.

2. Book of Abramelin - since I have developed my own version of the Abramelin Lunar Ordeal, this book has become much more important to me than it was earlier in my magickal career. Prior to building up that working, this grimoire was nothing more than a curiosity, since I didn’t have the time or resources to devote the actual ordeal outlined in the book.

3. Four Books of Occult Philosophy by Agrippa. The three books are readily identifiable as having been penned by Agrippa, the fourth book is questionable. However, the fourth book is quite useful in that it usually has a copy of the Heptameron included in the appendix, which, I might add, is also a very useful grimoire. My opinion is that if someone wanted to adopt a Renaissance methodology for practicing ceremonial magick, then Agrippa’s books would likely be the best resource. I often find myself going back to Agrippa’s writings when researching a specific occult perspective or methodology, however, I only obliquely use the materials contained within them to practice my system of magick.

4. Liber Juratus - Sworn Book of Honorius - while the rituals and other workings in this grimoire have not been particularly useful to me, I have found the verba ignota written in the various psalms to be extremely powerful. I have used them in my magickal mass rites and in other workings as well. I have found this language to be even more powerful than Enochian. The language in this grimoire is very similar to that found in the Ars Notoria, and they may be related, since their place and time of origin is analogous (early 13th century Germany).

5. Enochian Diaries of Dr. John Dee - these books and writings, and other books that are based on them, have been very important and useful to my work. The fact that I have used the Enochian Keys or Calls for many years as well as working with a number of the spirits (Elementals and Talismanic Elements, and their associated spirits) in that system’s hierarchy would make these writings very valuable to me.

6. Arbatel - this grimoire contains an entire system of planetary magick based on the seven Olympian spirits. Since my first approach to planetary magick was through the Olympian spirits, and it’s something that I still use today, I would have to rate this grimoire as very important. 

7. Picatrix - only recently translated fully into English, the Picatrix is a useful resource for astrological magick. I have expropriated the system of Lunar Mansions from this work to use in my own talismanic workings.

8. 6th and 7th Book of Moses - this grimoire was also just a curiosity to me until Joseph Peterson came out with his definitive version of the book, having discovered a more uncorrupted German source to work from. The language or words of power used in this grimoire is quite potent, and so are some of the sigils, characters and special lamens. While I have not yet extracted any lore from this grimoire, it is high on my list of future projects.

9. Grimoire Armadel - one of the most curious and likely incomplete grimoires is the Armadel. The reason why the Armadel is on this list is because it probably represents a lost system of magick from the renaissance period, known as the art of Armadel. I haven’t had time to reconstitute this grimoire in a published format, but I have figured out how to make use of it. I have expropriated several of the characters from this grimoire and used them to decorate my magickal gateway keys. The net result was very powerful indeed, leading me to conjecture that the entire grimoire is worth reconstituting.

10. Grimoirum Verum - just a year ago, this grimoire wouldn’t have been on my list. However, I have been convinced by Jake Stratton Kent that this grimoire is both important and strategic in regards to working with goetic daemons. I haven’t found any use for this book yet, but it is also one that I intend on researching in the future. Other grimoires from this branch would probably include the Grande Grimoire, Grimoire of Pope Honorius, the Black Pullet, the Dragon Rouge and the recently published Dragon Noir. The Enchiridion and the Dragon Noir have been published together in a book entitled “Crossed Keys,” which I mentioned in a previous article. The tenth position is a kind of catch-all for any other miscellaneous grimoire that I might have missed, and for the more supposedly disreputable grimoires, many of which are in my collection.

So that’s my list of the ten most important grimoires, and I am certain that you have your own list as well. As you can see, it differs remarkably from what Owen Davies has written down in his article, but then again, he’s a historian, and I am a practitioner. We are bound to disagree on just this little matter, and that’s quite acceptable to me.

Frater Barrabbas

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Further Thoughts Regarding the Qabalah

I have completed assembling the lecture notes for my two lectures at the upcoming Paganicon lectures on Saturday, March 17 (at 9 am). That work also includes the handouts, since I always believe that the attendee should have something that’s printed up to take from the lecture. These tasks took a lot more labor than I thought they would, but the results have been, in my opinion, quite extraordinary. I am very happy with what I have put together for the two lectures, and I think that those who attend will get quite a lot out of them. They aren’t comprehensive, of course, but they will at least give the attendee enough information to be able to kick start their own studies.

Sometimes, the best way to figure out how to present something is to first assume that you know nothing about the subject matter, and then assemble the discussion in order to succinctly define what the topic is and how it can be used. In order to do this, you have to distance yourself from what you know, and then try to explain the problem from a fresh perspective. Detaching and then re-engaging in a completely new way can really help you to assemble a lecture that’s fresh and exciting. It forces you to look at the subject matter with new eyes, and that can really help you come up with a better way to describe the major points of your lecture.

What this operation did for me was to boil down the Qabalah, in terms of its theories and its practical applications, to the absolute essentials. So I think that I will be able to present my information in a manner that makes little or no assumptions, and manages to cover all of the important concepts. In each lecture, I have identified one very important key concept that helps to define the contents of the entire lecture. I am so excited by these key concepts that I wanted to share them with my reading public, since many of you probably won’t be able to attend my lecture in person.

First thing I discovered as I was assembling these two lectures was that the first one, which will be an introduction to the Qabalah, has too much material to be covered in just under 1 hour. So I decided to expand the Intro lecture to be 90 minutes, with a ten minute break after just an hour into it. I then shortened the Practical Qabalah lecture to be around 45 minutes, so both lectures should fit into the combined 150 minute slot. I thought that doing the two lectures in this manner would most efficiently use the time that was allotted.

Here is the Key point for the Introduction to Qabalah Lecture:

Qabalah encapsulates Symbols - these symbols are either religious or occultic, or both. Symbols are not signs. Signs represent something else - they are place holders.

Symbols are conscious markers for deep level psychic processes that are transcendental and transpersonal, and usually mysterious to most people. Focusing on symbols can give one access to deeper layers of meaning and collective significance. Sources of symbols are numinous, archaic and inexplicable. With these concepts in mind, we can say something about the collective symbology of the Qabalah, which contains the symbology of all the religions of the world.

Accessing these symbols is done through meditation, contemplation, path working and various forms of theurgy - Practical Qabalah. Organizing symbols into groups or structures also has an unintended affect.

Tables of correspondences are various arrangements of the living Symbols of the 32 elements of the Tree of Life. To learn everything that one could learn about the Qabalah, accessing the Symbols represents a greater quest than reading and studying a large body of books. The important task is to make the Qabalah come alive for the practitioner.

Correspondingly, here is the key point for the Practical Qabalah lecture:

The First Power of the Practical Qabalah is ANALOGY. The Power of Analogy is able to group, configure and compare various disassociated religious symbology to create a unified field where everything is connected to everything else. Creating connections in this manner causes symbols to become triggered, activating them so that the reveal their importance and meaning.  (In magick, causality is believed to be absolute, therefore, by creating connections, one is working a form of magick.)

The Power of Analogy is the foundation of Qabalistic speculation, and it was used to create new connections and extend the meanings of religious symbology. (‘As if’ approach.)

So as you can see, these two key points dove-tail, and the first key point is repeated from the Intro lecture in the Practical lecture. Also, note that because of the nature of symbols, how the power of analogy really shapes and profoundly impacts one’s study and practice of the Qabalah.

This leads me to a rather humorous story. Years ago, I was experimenting with putting together different variations on the Tree of Life, attempting to see if I could discover a new way of encoding the 32 elements of the Qabalah. I was talking to a friend of mine about what I was doing while we were both visiting the local occult book store, when some old man with a white beard overheard what I was saying. He turned to look at me and gave me one of those disapproving looks, mixed with a certain amount of shock and disbelief. Then he came over and interrupted my conversation, sternly rebuking me while shaking a gnarled finger in my face, saying emphatically that manipulating the Tree of Life was not only very impious, but downright dangerous. I could screw up the whole universe by mucking around as I was supposedly doing. (Who in the hell did I think I was, after all!)

Of course, my friend and I smiled at this rude interruption, and we just nodded to the old codger, as if to acknowledge that we heard him, but offering no comment. He then turned around and stormed away, and we both shook our heads, collectively sighed, and continued with our discussion as if nothing had happened. I can’t remember the guy’s name or even exactly when and where this scene occurred, but I remembered it as being quite silly. “Yeah man, somebody actually believes that changing the Tree of Life will wreck the whole freakin’ universe! Right!)

However, now that I have come up with this very fascinating and even startling perspective on the nature of occult symbols and how they function in the Qabalah, I not only remembered this conversation, but it doesn’t seem so absurd as it did many years ago. If organizing and shaping the structure of the tables of correspondence or formulating a glyph that contains them will have some kind of impact on the one doing it, then that old codger wasn’t really too far off.

Will the world end if I turn the Tree of Life upside down? No, of course not. But it might have some impact on how I see and perceive things within my own magickal and spiritual perspective. The impact is individual and very subtle, but it does exist - the very nature of magick makes it so. So that old guy was right, but perhaps if only he had really explained himself instead of acting like a cranky old fart, maybe I might have learned something then that I only recently discovered now. Then again, maybe he was really as clueless as I had thought he was back then.

How odd is the world, so filled with irony! Yet it often takes advancing age to remember and appreciate it.

Frater Barrabbas