Monday, March 31, 2014

Peregrin’s Reply to Christian Magicians

Peregrin Wildoak responded to my article that took issue with his article about Why Christians Make Better Magicians. His response was rather harsh, but I expected that. I suppose that anyone who disagrees with Peregrin, according to him, must be mentally deficient and not up to the task of proposing an alternative perspective. He was not interested in posting his critique on my blog because he felt that I have provided a hostile environment for him to present his ideas. While one commentator on my Face Book link to the article I wrote did disparage Peregrin, I didn’t refute or delete what he said. I didn’t agree with it, but I felt that everyone has a right to their opinion, and that is also true of Peregrin himself. For that reason I decided to post and comment on Peregrin’s response so that all opposing views to what I may say or think are herein represented. It also allows me to clarify my points, but what Peregrin wrote doesn’t in any manner change my opinion about what he or I originally wrote. I agree to disagree.

What does seem to be operating here is a clash of different perspectives based on geography. Peregrin lives in western Australia and I live in the midwestern US. Australia, Canada and Britain are probably three of the most non-sectarian areas in the world. Other areas that are so blessed are Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe, not to mention Japan. There are probably a number of countries where being an occultist, pagan or even a Christian magician has no cultural stigma or much cause for concern. However, that is not the case in the U.S., as a perusal of the daily news will easily reveal. I live in a nation that is polarized by sectarian differences and where Christians routinely bitterly remark about how they are oppressed by the secular government and various institutions. Some even go so far as to blame the decline of the US on liberal attitudes towards gays, pagans, witches and occultists. We do not live in a liberal culture, although there are pockets of liberality that still exist in this nation.

Occultists, magicians, pagans, witches and other minorities are typically discrete about their activities in the U.S. Some have come out of the closet, but this is still a nation where individuals can lose their jobs or their children because of their religious affiliation. From Peregrin’s perspective, religious organizations and churches have little political power and the overall religious climate is sane, peaceful and highly tolerant. In the U.S., the opposite is true. Churches wield considerable political power (even though there is supposed to be a separation of church and state) and there is an ongoing cultural war that is sectarian and religiously intolerant. There are liberal areas in the U.S. where religious toleration is allowed to thrive, but there are also many other areas where religious intolerance, bigotry and racism still thrive, even violently so. My world is one where it is better to be discrete than open about one’s personal spiritual perspectives, particularly if they are quite outside what is generally accepted as orthodoxy in this nation.

So, what we have here are two very different perspectives, and the glaring differences between them can be shown to have their origins in the cultures from where we differently speak. Anyway, allow me to present Peregrin’s rebuttal to what I previously wrote. 

Frater Barrabbas has responded to my deliberately provocative MOTO post, ‘Why Christians Make Better Magicians’ If you are at all interested, have a look – though I will admit I had to muster up some effort myself to read through it all – other fish to fry, I guess?

I’m not gonna respond on Frater’s blog, as that has proved a hostile environment to sensitive little moi, and his Facebook post has folk summing up the weight of the arguments by simply declaring me a ‘freak’. So here are just a few points and then I’m done with it

The main thrust of Frater’s argument is the question of being able to be an openly practising magician and a member of an established (not esoteric, new age or ‘Gnostic’) church. Well of course this is not possible in many circumstances, and of course very possible in other.

Two words: Gareth Knight. Another two: Peregrin Wildoak; the priests and laity of my church are fully aware and accepting of my magic. Oh, more words: Anthony Duncan; a Canon of the Church of England. I’d even wager these two: Bob Gilbert. And two more: Whare Ra, which included Priests and a fucking BISHOP in its ranks. It all depends on the time, culture, magician and church.

Now ALL of these very faithful and theologically accepted, folk practised magic just fine while being involved in mainstream church life and duties. So I really am unsure what Frater is on about. As for the Catholic catechism – well, anyone who has ever spent time with Catholic priests and nuns knows that this is often simply a background while they get on with activities and ideas contrary to it.

I am unclear, but it seems Frater has not actually read or understood modern Christian magicians like Gareth Knight, nor the theology of people like Canon Anthony Duncan.

Frater writes: “It is my opinion that an esoteric or occult version of Christianity is the only kind of spiritual faith that would allow for a simultaneous practice of magic; but esotericism and occultism are not limited just to Christianity. Esotericism and occultism are, by definition, pan-religious, so someone who is an occultist or an esotericist would not be confined by Christian theology. They wouldn't be considered even nominally Christian, either.”

Thanks for your opinion, Frater, but it does not cohere with FACTS. There ARE Christian magicians who are members or CLERGY of mainstream, non-esoteric churches. In fact from the view of traditionalism, espoused by Guénon and others an exoteric, regular, mainstream and outer practise of our inner and esoteric faith is ESSENTIAL.

To declare “someone who is an occultist or an esotericist” not “even nominally Christian, either” is a bit presumptive. Again, there ARE plenty of Christian magicians – and these people ARE accepted by others in their church as being REAL, not nominal, Christians. I’m a case in point. So really telling me my lived experience is wrong, and that of my parish friends too, is just … well I’m not sure what it is.

Frater’s statement, “Even Catholics have been steadily removing the magic from their liturgy and practices since Vatican II.” is interesting. Clearly he is using his own terms here to describe Catholic liturgy, not that of the Catholic’s themselves. Not sure what to call that either. Of course, NO orthodox catholic theologian and few Catholic or Christian magicians would say there was ever ANY magic in Catholic liturgy. I think what Frater means – and which he erroneously calls magic – is liturgical ritual and symbolism. However, this is not and never has been magic. And Christians magicians are generally clear on the difference between sacramental and magical ritual, which again is one reason why many can a happily be an exoteric Christian at church and an inner esoteric Christian on their own or in their practise group. If one is not clear on the difference, please read Antony Duncan and Gareth Knight.

‘Nuff said? Thanks

Now that you have had the opportunity to read Peregrin’s response in its entirety without any interrupting rebuttal from me, I would like to respond to a few of his comments here.

First off, I have indeed read nearly all of Gareth Knight’s books. I have found him to be one of the most pagan friendly Christian occult authors and I can readily see that he and I have many points in common. However, having read Gareth Knight’s books, I can say that his perspective on magic, Qabalah and the occult is suffused with Theosophy, Western Occultism, and even a kind of nascent Paganism bundled together with a Christian spiritual perspective. While Peregrin might consider Gareth Knight to be a mainstream Christian, I have a problem with what seems to me to be obvious themes, such as his belief in a feminine spiritual element that he has called a Goddess, which is contrary to mainstream Christian doctrine. Mr. Knight may consider himself a Christian, but because his works are so accessible to Pagans it would seem that his teachings would have to be classified as occultic and esoteric. I have classified Gareth Knight’s writings as such and I can say that some of his ideas have certainly shaped my thoughts and perspectives on magic, even though I am not a Christian.

Peregrin then goes on to say that there are indeed occultists and magicians who are members of the clergy of some very liberal churches. There is also a Theosophical Christian church called the Liberal Catholic Church. I have never denied that this was a fact. I even possess one of these lineages that link me to the Old Catholic tradition in England. He has stated that some of these clergy magicians are Christians in good standing in their respective churches. Of course, we are talking about the Anglican Church of England, which has become quite liberal over the decades, just as the Unitarian church in the U.S. has been a bastion of liberal religious perspectives. All of this is true, even though the Anglican Church has specific cannon laws against practicing magic, divination, paganism or occultism. These laws are obviously not enforced, but that is not true of Roman Catholicism and many other denominations. This is also especially true in the U.S., where such activities would be grounds for a clergy member’s dismissal.

The point that I wanted to make in my article is that if you carefully examine the Old Testament and the New Testament there are plenty of verses that condemn magic, divination and witchcraft and any extra-theological derivations. We can start with Exodus 22:18 “Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live.” and work our way through the entire Bible and build a pretty strong case against magic, divination or occultism. Then there are the church cannon laws that specifically condemn magic, occultism, divination and the like and compare them to “Satan’s works and pomps” as renounced in the Baptism rite. When I said that a true representation of mainstream Christianity was opposed to magic and occultism, this is represented by what is in the Bible, cannon law and even in the liturgy. 

While I never disputed that a Christian could perform magic and occultism, I did state that it would represent a contrary direction to many mainstream churches, and that to deal with this dissonance, a Christian often becomes more aligned to esoteric and occult doctrines to alleviate this dissonance. (By comparing himself to Gareth Knight who presents himself in his books as an obvious mix of Christianity, Theosophy, occultism and even paganism is to make the case that Peregrin’s Christianity is not pure and canonical.) 

However, Peregrin is correct in assuming that if a church and its members have no qualms about either lay members or clergy being occultists and magicians, then there would be no external stresses whatsoever. This should be understood as being more rare in the U.S. than it might be in Britain, Canada or Australia. Even so, it behooves one to be discrete in the U.S., and likely other places in the world where there is a lot less religious tolerance. (I would love to see Peregrin visit the U.S. and be quite open about his beliefs and practices to the congregants of a Southern Baptist church. He would very likely be ejected with a certain cold hostility usually associated with dangerous apostates.)

I found this remark from Peregrin rather astonishing. He said, “As for the Catholic catechism – well, anyone who has ever spent time with Catholic priests and nuns knows that this is often simply a background while they get on with activities and ideas contrary to it.” I have spent some time with Catholic priests (but not with nuns), and while they are all human beings subject to human frailties, I have never heard them talk about occultism or magic, or for that matter, indicate that they took their vows and responsibilities lightly. As representatives of the Catholic Church, those that I have met are quite straight laced and they always talk the “church party line.” 

Peregrin seems to be hinting that priests and nuns engage in illicit activities, but I would find that highly unlikely. Of course, I haven’t met any Catholic priests in Australia, but here in the U.S. they represent a strict regimen of observance, despite the fact that a minority have disgraced their “cloth” with criminal activity. About the most controversial thing that I have ever heard a priest talk about was his study of Teilhard de Chardin, whose ideas he admitted as being uncanonical but still rather Catholic. I wonder what Peregrin has gotten up to himself that he would know what priests and nuns are doing when not engaging with their duties? (Sounds to me like sectarian slander.)

Peregrin is also correct that Christian theologians have never admitted that their liturgies were ever magical, but even so, they have quietly worked to remove the possibility of anyone working “magic” using their church liturgy. The symbols and ritual actions are still there, but the Latin language has been replaced with the vernacular and there is far less an emphasis on a literal interpretation of the Body and Blood of Christ as having actually and physically been transubstantiated. They would call it a “superstition,” which is the canonical Catholic perspective on extra-liturgical practices. However they would find my use of the abandoned Tridentine Mass as a specific and powerful magical rite as a vile and vicious blasphemy. I do see these liturgies as being suffused with magic and I have not been beyond appropriating them for that purpose. Since a number of the old grimoires employ church liturgy in the blessing and consecration of tools, and even in the five steps of performing an evocation (not to mention the actual invocation verbiage), I would have to state unequivocally that liturgies have been used as magic rituals for centuries.

This brings me to his final pronouncement “And Christians [sic] magicians are generally clear on the difference between sacramental and magical ritual..” which I feel is either patently naive or simply a lie. All anyone has to do is examine what is going on in Voudoun, Santeria, Palo, Hoodoo, and (drum-roll) Michael Bertiaux’s magical occultism to see that there is a profound blurring between religious liturgy and magic. I suspect that this kind of revisionism and mixing of forms will continue to occur into the future whether or not Peregrin admits it. It should also be noted that this is a natural phenomenon that has been going on for millennia. Religious liturgies are one of the more important source materials for personal magic. It has always been so and probably always will be so. This is why there is so much expropriation going on within religions and across religious boundaries. While Peregrin maintains that he and other Christian magicians know and obey the boundaries between their magic and church liturgy, there are many more who have and continue to cross this boundary without any qualms or trepidations. I would have to include myself in this crowd, so I have to refute Peregrin’s last point as being completely false.

Anyway, let it not be said that I don’t give opposing views a proper place in my blog. That being said, I did find Peregrin’s critique to be rather pompous and arrogant, as if the rest of us are sadly below his intellectual prowess. He has made some legitimate points, but overall, I would say that he really missed the whole point of my previous article.

Frater Barrabbas 


  1. It is funny because I am getting ready to turn in my master's thesis at a Christian Seminary addressing this topic exactly. I have been reading your blog along time and I am a fan but I think you are completely wrong in your thinking about Christianity. Christian Theology, and dare I say even the Bible, are not anti magic as you think. It is a very complex religion. In fact, Ritual Magic has historically been a practice of the Christian Clergy.

    I think your argument is based on your own disdain for Christianity because of the American Bible Belt perhaps? Christianity is so much more then that. But like I said I have great respect for your work and Paganism as well.

  2. @DCUboy - Thanks for your comment - it is a complex subject. However, magic performed by the priests is not really considered as magic, where magic performed by the laity or foreigners is. An obvious double standard to be sure, but still, scriptures and cannon law are against all forms of magic, but not the liturgy practiced by authorized prelates. Even when (in my opinion) rites of the church are obviously magical. So, there really isn't any disdain for Christianity, just the belief that Christian make better magicians. I think a better phrase would be that magicians make better magicians than other religionists.

  3. Consider yourself lucky that you get some good response to your blog and a Peregrin now and then on the rampage! Some of us bloggers are still trying to get any kind of response to our blogs. LOL. You should be able to give your opinion. The rest of us think you've still saying some good things. That's why we are still reading.