Monday, February 25, 2013

Am I a Dinosaur?

And now for one of those terrible introspective articles that every reader dreads (and every writer periodically indulges in), where I ask that inexplicable question “am I relevant?”

Yes - this is one of those self-pitying write-ups that poses such existential questions as: Do I matter? Does what I am doing as a writer, teacher and practitioner of occultism, paganism and ritual magick really matter at all? Would anyone in the world have noticed if by some chance I had never existed? If I suddenly vanished from the face of the earth, would anyone even care? Are my ideas so redundant and unoriginal that someone else could have easily stepped into my spiritual foot print and done pretty much the same thing, except maybe quite a lot better? Or perhaps, someone has already done so innumerable times in the past, but it’s just that I hadn’t noticed? I know what you’re thinking, it’s just me feeling the futility of my efforts, and it will pass in a few minutes. (Taking a deep breath, I will endeavor to continue..)

I admit that there is a bit of hubris and self-loathing associated with such musings, and they usually represent the kind of maudlin sentiment and self-absorption that I find quite boring and pathetic in others. So why would I engage in this kind of disgusting feeling-so-sorry-for-myself public lament if I also found it so silly and distasteful? That’s a damned good question, and before I answer it with a “yeah, this too shall pass and be an embarrassment to me later” kind of statement, I think that I could at least explain why I occasionally feel this way. Besides, there are some interesting reasons associated with why I am sensing this angst at this particular time.

Perhaps the times have changed to a degree where I am altogether out of step, or maybe what is changing in the pagan and magical world is not for the best. Allow me to explain what I am thinking here and leave behind the emotional feelings that must accompany such an insight. At the end of this article I may attempt to answer the questions posed in the first paragraph, and perhaps have a better understanding of what is really going on in my world.

We all sometimes feel that are best effort isn’t good enough, or that what we feel is important and strategic in our lives seems to have little value to others. The sting of cognitive dissonance can be quite irritating and even distressing, but it is also (sometimes) considered the price that one must pay for any kind of social or technical precociousness. It’s all too easy for anyone to say to themselves that trite little by-line: “I am a genius and nobody understands me.” Often the opposite is more true: “I am a dinosaur and everybody has passed me by.”

Ideas do become extinct over time, and their purveyors usually die an obscure and ignominious death by a thousand yawns. The irony is that sometimes extinct or forgotten ideas are much later resurrected, and their long-gone spokespersons gain a kind of posthumous cult status. I have no desire to go through that kind of cyclic return, which would occur long after the worms and vultures have eliminated my mortal remains (including the various books and other materials that I have created), but I might also have no choice in the matter. Popularity is fickle and constantly changing, and often the mediocre and trendy are lionized at the expense of the true path-cutter or innovator.

So the question right now is in the world of paganism, witchcraft, ritual magick and western occultism, what is really vogue and exciting right now - in my opinion? Let me list them here and now for us to consider.

Pagan and witchcraft reconstructionism. Antique, classical paganism and the supposed “Old Craft” (anti-Gardinarian craft proponents) are the “in-thing” these days. If one doesn’t have a truly historically derived pagan or witchcraft tradition (or one produced by the properly vetted and agreed upon historical data), a tradition can be created through the use of trance, channeling or the imagination. Pagan reconstructionism is probably more aligned to the historical data, however, Old Craft is probably a lot less so, since the last documented cunning folk were nominally Christians. I would also include “Hedgecraft” and forms of “Bushcraft” in this list, which should be considered, in my opinion, synthesized or new approaches to an old perspective, instead of promoting them as some kind of antique version of pagan witchcraft.

Paganism and Wicca are becoming more like church establishments. Another phenomenon that is occurring and is quite popular is that the modern practices of Paganism and Wicca are becoming more like organized religions and less like systems of magic or the occult. What this entails is the systematic removal or elimination of actual practical magic from the liturgical and religious foundation of a given tradition. I have seen this happen to Gardnerian versions of Witchcraft (including my own), and also to other traditions as well. Also, the emphasis has changed from experimentation to the conservative preservation of the core practices and beliefs. That change in emphasis also seems to be behind an emerging fundamentalism that is slowly and insidiously invading traditions that are really only several decades old or less. When lineages, pedigrees, lineage vouches and staunch, mindless preservation of the lore become far more important than modification, revision and experimentation, then I think that religious conservatism has become the preeminent force in that tradition. This is a situation where legitimacy trumps authenticity, indicating that transformation and direct experiences of Deity and Spirit are no longer either wanted or needed.

Reconstructionism in Renaissance and Mediaeval Magick and Occultism. What is really popular in the practice of ritual and ceremonial magick these days relies on a kind of reconstructionism and strict adherence to source materials. While I have no problem with digging into the past for valuable and aesthetically pleasing magical lore, I do have an issue with the strict adherence part, because in my opinion, magick is something that is derived and recreated within each individual, thus actually making it a new and fresh construct. Since it is impossible to recreate a cultural context that is long passed, attempting to reconstruct the culture behind a collection of grimoires seems to be a fruitless task. Even so, with the publishing of ever more antique grimoires and other related tomes, the passion for reconstruction and strict adherence has become quite popular.

Shamanism, Ethnic and Native Spirituality. I have always believed that ethnic religious traditions belong to the ethnic groups who practice them. Outsiders are just that - they are outside the tradition and really don’t possess the keys to it. If someone wants to engage with teachers and spiritual sponsors of ethnic religious traditions then that is their business; but at least they are going through the same steps that everyone else who was born into that ethnic group must travel. However, it seems to be a popular thing these days to just read and research books on a given ethnic religious tradition, and then adopt some of those practices and beliefs that appeal to one’s tastes. This kind of selective approach produces modern or urban Shamanism, Neo-Tantraism, New Age Native American practitioners, uninitiated Voundoun or Palo practitioners, and quite a number of book-read experts and self-initiated masters. 

These days it seems that the self-taught and self-initiated are part of the greater outlier of ethnic religious traditions, and it remains a very popular approach for many people; although it is likely a source of confusion and consternation to those who have been properly vetted into one of these traditions. Book knowledge, derived practices, and independent development seems to be more important than actually finding a qualified teacher and becoming fully immersed in that ethnic tradition for many years. It would seem that the driving force for such a path has more to do with immediate gratification and personal edification than actually mastering a living and breathing tradition in an authentic manner.

This revelation brings me to my last point, which is the general trend of eschewing all traditional occult teachings, practices, and other elements of what I consider to be hard-core occultism. This would include mastering such obscure subjects as Tarot, Qabalah, Astrology, Alchemy, meditation, concentration and contemplation, Golden Dawn magic, classical ceremonial magic, classical mythology, world religions, basic philosophy, theosophy and theology, logic, systems of divination such as Geomancy, Runes, crystal scrying, pendulum work, and much, much more. I may not be a master of all of these occult beliefs, practices and techniques, but sometimes I feel like a cranky giant amongst a lot of narrowly focused Lilliputians.

It seems like I am meeting more and more witches and pagans who don’t know the basic magical operations of invoking or evoking spirits, using sigils or derived characters to imprint magical energy, generating Elemental energies, summoning Planetary intelligences or even fashioning talismans. These are basic magical practices that any witch or pagan should know, but they seem to be omitted or just plain considered irrelevant to the now established religious creed. At the same time Hoodoo is quite vogue and in many cases it is replacing hard-core basic magical practices (and associated transformative experiences) with a kind of derivative cookbook approach to acquiring magical phenomenon. (You don’t need to understand how it works or the cultural context behind it, just gather these items, do these procedures and mix them together in this manner.)

So, these are the hot topics and pursuits in paganism and witchcraft that are the cutting edge, in my opinion, and unfortunately I am on the counter point with almost all of them. I have been pursuing my own path for nearly four decades, and the basic foundation of my knowledge comes from being involved in a tradition, and then heavily revising and adding to it over the years. I prefer revisionism, creating new systems of magical practices that fit with my overall occult perspective than pursuing some new-fangled fad. I am deeply engaged in classical occultism, and have been so since the very beginning days of my spiritual and magical path.

I believe in and I am engaged in a practice of magic as theurgy, consisting of progressive and incremental transformative ordeals. Ecstasy is the key to what I do, but a deeply held occult discipline and practice is the locking mechanism that I use to open myself to wholly new and wondrous experiences. Because I represent such a strong counter movement to the above list of modern trends in paganism and witchcraft, one could say that I am an adherent of an antique perspective - that I am, in a word, a dinosaur awaiting an immanent extinction. I hope that my outlier practices and beliefs just represent a temporary contrary trend, and that in time, what I am doing and what I know will be valuable some day in the future. 

However, I have watched this change happen over a long time, and if and when it changes yet again, I will likely be gone from this world. Maybe my writings will be valuable to someone someday, but whoever they are, they will be missing that most important of teaching mechanisms, direct and hands-on training and peer review. What I am saying is that because it will take many decades for this trend to reverse itself, by that time I will be in my dotage or more likely dead and buried.

Only time will tell how all of this works out, and particularly, what the new generations make of my writings and my work. Will they see me as a quaint practitioner of something that should have been discarded back in the 90's, or will they see me as some kind of novel founder of a new perspective? I can’t effectively answer this question at the present time; but I can at least be true to my own beliefs and practices, knowing that what I am doing is important to me and the few associates, spirits and deities that are daily part of my life. Everything else is just “sauce for the goose.”

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, February 21, 2013

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t been posting articles to this blog with my usual frequency. Is it because I have run out of things to say? That would be amazing! Of course, I doubt if I will ever run out of things to say in regards to magick, witchcraft, paganism and the occult. However, physical problems, ailments and other maladies will interrupt the work of even the most zealous writer, and that is the case with me.

What I have been dealing with over the last month or so is a deficit of sleep. What is causing me to be unable to get the sleep that I need is purely of a respiratory nature. For some reason, when I lie down to go to sleep at night, my sinuses clog up and I am forced to breath through my mouth, I end up waking after only a few hours of sleep and the rest of the evening in spent in shallow sessions of sleeping and waking. During those periods of waking, I have to drink water to keep my mouth (and body) hydrated. My eyes and nose are dry, and my throat is sometimes a bit scratchy. I thought that I might have some kind of sinus infection or a low grade allergy, but during the day, all of the symptoms completely disappear. This pattern started in January and has since then slowly become worse until the lack of sleep made it hard for me to function normally.

Needless to say, my physical malady made work difficult, and I had to focus what little energy I had towards insuring that my level of output didn’t diminish. After my work day was complete, I felt like a zombie. Weekends gave me a little respite, but obviously, my sleep disorder was really interfering with my life. I certain didn’t have any energy or focus to do any extensive research or writing during the evening, and I certainly didn’t have any energy to do any magick. I had short periods where this malady would disappear and allow me to get a decent night’s sleep, but during the week, my deficit of sleep would pile up until I was quite exhausted by the time Friday rolled around.

Over the last few weeks this sleep malady was getting worse. I tried everything to mediate this situation, from using a vapor humidifier, neti pot, nasal sprays, mouth hydrators, and this regimen even included using powerful over-the-counter drugs. I found that some drugs cleared up my sinuses but left me quite groggy the following morning, and antihistamines (like Benadryl) had no affect whatsoever. Using the art of deduction to attempt to resolve my problem, I managed to eliminate the allergy and the sinus infection theories. Finally, in desperation, I decided to try the simple solution of wearing an adhesive nose brace with the product name of “Breath Right,” and much to my surprise, it worked quite well. I am happy to say that I am now getting the amount of sleep that I need - or so it would seem. I think that I might still have a minor sleep disorder, but at least my period of sleep is around what it was before this issue materialized.

When I look at the last two months, I can see that between this sleep disorder and my regular job, most of my time was spent dealing with these two things and very little of anything else. My all-important periods of study have diminished somewhat as well as my ability to plan and execute magical workings. I had planned on getting completely engaged and immersed in my magical work during this time of high winter, but that never happened. My holiday vacation was interrupted with work related issues that had to be immediately resolved, and then afterwards, I began to have problems sleeping. It is my hope that now that both of these critical issues have been more or less resolved, that I can now begin to do what I had planned on doing two months previously. I managed to get some important accolades for my job related work and it even materialized into a sizable bonus and a modest salary increase. My lost time over the holidays will be compensated for as well, since I had asked and received 40 hours of comp-time, which I will be taking in the near future. So things are really improving for me, but I am not yet feeling happy or pleased with how things have worked out. Losing the ability to getting a good night’s sleep is a very serious issue, especially when one is in the midst of middle-age related changes.

One of the things that seems to be slightly depressing me is the harshness of the winter. I didn’t get to enjoy much of the brief period of summer up here because I was deeply entrenched in work, and now the severe winter weather has me feeling that I really missed out on all of the beautiful weather. I guess one thing that I should plan for in the future is to get away from the winter for a week or two. Many folks up here take winter vacations to tropical areas so they can re-charge their psychic batteries, and I see the wisdom of investing in that kind of trip. Yet at this time, I am unable to travel anywhere, since my girlfriend is gone five days a week, and I am the primary pet care giver while she is gone. We have three cats and one dog, and two of our pets require daily medication to alleviate their own age related maladies. Putting them both up at our favored pet boarding place is expensive, and our dog has some abandonment issues to deal with when his mistress is gone. I had planned on going to Pantheacon this February, but I couldn't find a schedule that would allow me to go and not have to board our pets. It just became a very expensive and complicated ordeal, so I decided to not attend, and I think that my decision was a wise one.

The lesson that I have learned yet again and that I have attempted to express in this article is that often times life itself has a way of intervening and interjecting itself into the elaborate planning and practice of occultism. I have found that my sleep disorder really threw a monkey wrench into my well laid plans, and my job responsibilities ate up a lot of my free time, even after the holidays. I am happy to say that things are just now settling down, so maybe, just maybe, I will get the time that I need to catch up on everything that had to take a back seat to my career and health. I am looking forward to finally getting to achieve all of those planned magical workings and research sessions that I use to write interesting articles and new books. Hopefully, I will still have some time to get these things done before the weather shifts and becomes once again warmer and milder. However, I can be assured that life up here in the northern Midwest tundra will see a continuation of severe winter weather, and it will likely continue until mid April or even beyond, which means that I still have time to complete much of that wonderful occult work.

So these are the pros and cons of living up here in the great white north. I will, like everyone else, have to adapt and deal with it. Winter will not last forever, although sometimes it sure feels like I am living in the Ice Age up here. No wonder my girlfriend Grace (who migrated here from the Southeast) is eager to move to a geographic location that has a milder winter. I have found myself in perfect agreement with her, and perhaps in time, we will find a new place to live where our lives aren't so dominated by the extremes of cold and hot.

BTW - Some interesting news. My book “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” is ranked at 227,551 on Amazon dot com, which is actually doing slightly better than a few of Lon Milo Duquette’s books, so I am quite pleased with how this new book is faring. My three volume series entitled “Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick” is being re-printed in an omnibus edition, where all three books will be included in one large volume. I don’t know what the cost will be, but I believe that it will at least be cheaper to purchase one large book instead of three slim books. My objective is make certain that the omnibus edition is at least as good as the previous three volumes, and so far, that seems to be happening. I will let you know when the new edition is available, in case you had demurred from purchasing the previous three separate volumes.

I am also planning on attending the local pagan convention in the Twin Cities called Paganicon. I have a class called the Practical Qabalah in Brief that I will be presenting on Saturday, March 16th, at 9 am in the morning. I will also have a book signing the next day, which is Sunday. I will give out more details about this event as it gets closer, but if you can plan to be in town (or already live here), then I would highly recommend that you come to this event. You can find the website for it here.

Frater Barrabbas

Monday, February 11, 2013

Enochian Magick and the Two Paths

Everyone who attempts to work a tradition or system of magick begins their process with some simple and basic assumptions. Which assumptions the magician accepts will determine how he or she will undertake the practice of that system. For instance, if a magician believes that in order to master the elected system or grimoire of a particular type of magick that he must fully adopt it without making any changes or substitutions, this will cause him to behave as if the grimoire were the sole source of his magical work. We might call him a traditionalist or a strict-adherence kind of magician. Yet, if another magician takes the opposite view and sees the same grimoire or system of magick as being just one among many, and that the only complete and “whole” system of magick is the one that she has developed for herself, then she will examine that grimoire or system of magick as one of many possible sources that she can use to build up her own system of magick.

These two attitudes, as you can see, will foster two completely and diametrically opposed perspectives. It’s also likely that both magicians won’t see eye to eye about what they are doing, and in fact, the traditionalist might even be insulted by the other magician’s disrespectful purloining of source material and using it to build what is obviously a revisionist system of magick. As occultists, we are acutely aware of fads, poorly researched or contrived New Age hybrids or occult ripoffs, but the steadfast work of a magician who artfully draws from multiple sources shouldn’t be included in the usual judgements and disdain for such amalgamated bastardizations. A magician who is a revisionist carefully selects her materials and then tests them repeatedly within the matrix of her own system. If they work effectively, then they are kept, if not, they are put aside or discarded.

Also, we should be aware of the fact that it’s not always an “either or” type of choice. Sometimes it is an inclusion of both approaches, since most everyone starts out with some kind of tradition or system of magick as their base. Taking a strict stand one way or the other might be too limiting, since sometimes magicians are given a tradition to work with well after they have already developed their own system of magick. It’s important to keep an open mind and to be flexible, to adopt an attitude of inclusion instead of exclusion. I have found this mind-set useful in approaching my study and practice of ritual magick as well as examining what other magicians do. So, it would seem that extremism in the pursuit of truth is a major stumbling block or petty vice rather than any kind of virtue.

However, in regards to Enochian magick, the beginning assumption about this system profoundly shapes the direction that one will proceed from that point. It would appear that this system of magick has a pivot point that determines exactly how one will tackle the Enochian material, and I have found myself on the side of the extreme minority, but perhaps others have also taken up my approach and just not written any blogs or books on the subject. Allow me to clarify what exactly I am referring to when I make such a loaded statement.

There are two basic assumptions (or opinions) when one ponders all of the diaries and materials published (and unpublished) about the system of magic that John Dee and Edward Kelly channeled from their scrying sessions over four centuries ago.

1. The Enochian system magick is complete and whole, and Dee’s diaries are the definitive source of all materials on Enochian magick.

2. The Enochian system of magick is incomplete and missing many strategic parts, and that the various Angels that Dee and Kelly summoned into their shewstone are the definitive sources of that system of magick.

There could possibly be a third perspective, and that is that Enochian magick is part of the Renaissance tradition of ceremonial magick, and that whatever missing parts it has can be found in the historical records of that overall tradition. This would seem to be the perspective of the historian, and often occultists who espouse a predilection for reconstructionism find the work of such historians to be invaluable and subject to incorporation into their reconstructed system. However, this perspective would fit hand in glove with the first opinion, and it demonstrates that the second is the real outlier. Although I would state my belief here that the second opinion is the true occultic perspective.

If magical practitioners use the first opinion as their basic operating assumption for Enochian magick, then all that is needed for assembling this system is to be found in the diaries. That would mean that any extraneous or ancillary material or phenomena associated with Enochian magick would be judged against that foundational work, whether it was determined by the active discourse with spirits or through some other insight. If the new insights appear to be corroborated by some analogous materials in the Dee diaries, then it can be (cautiously) accepted, otherwise it must be either rejected or put aside as an unqualified deviation. This is the practical and rational approach to a conservative traditional engagement with the Enochian system of magick.

Yet what if the Dee material is incomplete, and it requires the operator to contact the spirits anew in order to get further instructions, revelations and devices to optimize the extent materials from Dee’s diaries? If we make this assumption then how do we proceed? Do we throw away everything that Dee established and start with a completely fresh approach? Of course, if we did that, then would we be able to call the resultant developed magical system “Enochian?” I think that instead of throwing everything away we can accept various elements of the Enochian system of magick as established by Dee, and upon that, extend the system with new revelations and insights provided by the same spirits that Dee and Kelly conversed with centuries ago. I believe that such an approach would validate Dee’s methodologies and would also fill in the blanks and assist in building up a more comprehensive magical system. Could such new material be reasonably called “Enochian” if the spirits who communicated it were the same spirits that Dee and Kelly contacted? I believe that the answer to that question is yes - it would still be Enochian magick. In fact it would become a living, creative and dynamic system of magick, something that assiduously following the diaries wouldn’t be.

When we examine the materials of Dee’s diaries that have survived the passage of ages, what we possess seems to represent a complete system of magick. However, anecdotal historical information has shown that the diaries were broken into two sections; one was buried on Dee’s property at Mortlake and the other was secreted into a hidden panel drawer in a chest. The buried diaries were discovered in 1620's and became part of the Cotton collection, and the other was rescued from the chest during the great fire of London (1666) and became part of the Ashmolean collection. The Cotton collection had been somewhat degraded (although still legible) because it had been buried, and the Ashmolean collection consisted of only half of the documents that were originally stored in the chest (the rest supposedly became liners for pie plates or were destroyed before their value was determined). Dee himself hid these documents to ensure that they were never found or viewed by an undiscriminating public as he was preparing for another one of his long journeys. Sadly, the prophesied long journey announced by the angels was his death.

The fact that any of these documents managed to survive the passage of time is nothing short of a minor miracle. Yet the diaries weren’t the only materials that were part of Dee’s personal magical collection. According to Benjamin Woolley (“Queen’s Conjurer”), Dee used the diaries (and other materials) to fashion finished books of magic. The crown jewels of his collection were books that contained the wisdom and science revealed by Enoch (Book of Enoch, promised to Dee by the angels) and the reputed Mystery of Mysteries, and Holy of Holies.

It would seem that the best part of the collection was never found, so the final products that Dee had labored so many years to produce are likely lost to time. Supposedly, the angels directed Dee to burn all of his books at one time, and at a subsequent later date they were miraculously recovered, but perhaps not all of them. This might explain why Dee continued to perform scrying sessions with lesser individuals acting as seers years after he and Kelly had broken their relationship. Maybe Dee was trying to regain his lost treasures or he was trying to continue the unfinished work that he had started. All of the valuable information that forms the foundation of the Enochian system of magick was the product of the collaboration between John Dee and Edward Kelly, and once that collaboration ended, the valuable spiritual link was lost as well.

Therefore, we can safely deduce that the Enochian system of magick is far from being complete or whole. What we have today are some of the source diaries, perhaps containing the most important elements of the magical system but not all of them. It was very likely, in the mind of Dee, a work in progress and it would hardly seem to be sensible to “close the book” on any new developments or insights simply because Dee himself is no longer alive and writing about his magical experiments. Yet that is the argument which is used to strictly define the Enochian system of magick, either from a traditionist perspective or the contrary minority view of the revisionist.

While I would never compare myself to John Dee, nor could I emulate in any manner the level of brilliance that he demonstrated, I do consider myself a competent occultist. The elephant in the room of this argument are the spirits themselves who are the real key holders and the source of this wisdom. What is required of any occultist who would seek to summon and hold discourse with these spirits is the knowledge of the invocation process and a well grounded spiritual and magical discipline. That source knowledge is still out there possessed by the Enochian spirits residing in the Spirit World. It is waiting for some gifted and creative soul who has the temerity and audacity to contact them, and the ability to channel the great gift of their knowledge into a recognizable and intelligible system of magick.

This is exactly what I did back in the very early 1990's, and following that series of workings led me down the veritable rabbit hole into a world of wonder and amazement. It seemed to me that the spirits of the Enochian system of magick were not only still quite active, but eager to share their wisdom with others. Even so, I seem to be one of a very small minority of individuals who actually took this path. I have written down these experiences and analyzed the communications that I received in a series of unpublished books known as the Sepher ha-Nephilim. Some might see it as an attempt to re-invent the wheel, others have said that the results of that work doesn’t conform to the Enochian material as it is currently understood or practiced (perhaps making it useless).

What I have said in response to many of my critics is to invite them to take the second opinion as their founding assumption, therefore proceeding in the footsteps of Dee and Kelly and then, with an open mind, see what develops. I believe that anyone who actually attempts to follow this path is continuing the Enochian tradition as it was originally conceived, and perhaps taking such an experimental trip would validate what I have done. Until then I am unfortunately like a lone voice in the wilderness, unheard and unheeded.

Frater Barrabbas