Foundations of Magical Practice: Meditation

Before we get into the second element of basic magical training—if you will, the second foot of the bubbling three-footed cauldron the novice operative mage, like little Gwion, must keep stirring—a brief glance back at an earlier subject is in order. Regular readers will recall a post in April about the emergence of a witch hunt in the Neopagan scene. I’m pleased to say that the post came to the attention of the wannabe witch hunter, Rhyd Wildermuth, who posted an entertaining screed insisting that it was absurd to talk about witch hunts when he hadn’t yet managed to get anyone burned at the stake.

He needs to work on his sense of timing, though.  His screed appeared while one of his allies had a rant on the Neopagan web calling for a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence—that is to say, a witch hunt—against people in the Pagan community whose politics she didn’t like. (It’s been taken down and put back up at least once already, but you can find a screen capture here.) Connoisseurs of historical ignorance will find much to ponder in Wildermuth’s risible claim that violence is only ever committed by leadership figures against the masses, never the other way around.  Admittedly, if you’re a demagogue trying to whip up mob violence against people you hate, it’s probably a good plan to go around insisting that mob violence doesn’t exist; given the abysmal state of education these days, you might even be able to get away with it.

In the meantime, as this sorry business lurches toward its destiny and we wait to see whether it will drag the entire mainstream Neopagan scene down with it, there are more interesting things to talk about.  One of them, as noted above, is the role of meditation in magical training.

(Please note, before we proceed, that all the caveats introduced in last month’s post apply to this one as well. The recommendations I’m making here aren’t  meant as quasi-divine commandments that apply to every conceivable system of magic, and anyone who treats them as such will be beaten with a pterodactyl’s colon. They’re the advice of one longtime practitioner of magic to those who are considering taking up a specific form of magic—the ceremonial high magic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and certain of its offshoots—and don’t happen to have a qualified teacher handy. Thank you, and we now return to our regularly scheduled Well of Galabes post.)

There are, as it happens, two common misconceptions about meditation that are best gotten out of the way first, and both of them can be overturned neatly enough by a glance at the word “meditation” itself. The first misconception is that meditation is something foreign, something “Eastern” (whatever that word means on a round planet), invented and practiced by strange people in strange robes far away. The second is that meditation, by definition, is about turning off your thinking mind.

So let’s take a look at the word. “Meditation” isn’t borrowed from Sanskrit, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, or whatever the imaginary language was called that Madame Blavatsky claimed she was translating out of when she made up The Book of Dzyan. It’s a perfectly ordinary English word and, like about forty per cent of English vocabulary, comes originally from Latin. This may suggest to you that Latin-speaking people in the Middle Ages and English-speaking people thereafter knew what meditation is—and if that suggestion has indeed occurred to you, dear reader, you’re quite correct.

In English, though, this word “meditation” only got the meaning of mind-emptying exercises quite recently. You can see this by considering other words in which it’s an element. When we say that a crime was premeditated, for example, that doesn’t mean that the perp spent half an hour in lotus posture chanting a mantra before he did the crime. It means, quite the contrary, that he thought it through in advance. Notice that premeditation isn’t just thinking, it’s focused, purposive thinking.

That’s what meditation has traditionally been in occultism: focused, purposive thinking. That’s actually a tolerably common approach to meditation in Asian spiritual traditions, for that matter; it’s just that the traditions that have been most enthusiastically imported to Europe and America since the latter years of the nineteenth century have been the ones that don’t use that approach. In some Buddhist traditions, for example, it’s quite common to meditate on the four noble truths or the twelve stages of dependent origination, thinking them through, understanding every detail of them, applying them to one’s own experience, and thus learning to think like the Buddha. It’s just that those traditions aren’t the ones that caught on big here in America.

What’s more, this sort of meditation—discursive meditation, to give it its proper name—used to be standard practice in Christian churches. Though I originally encountered it by way of the very sparse instruction given in the knowledge lectures of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, I learned a great deal more from the writings of Joseph King, who was an Anglican bishop in the seventeenth century and whose earnest and detailed books on the subject, at a time when the internet didn’t exist yet, could be read on microfilm in the Wing collection of early English printed books in the basement of the University of Washington library. It was a common habit from the Middle Ages straight through until roughly the First World War; books of themes for meditation were popular and widely available once the printing press was invented; so was another kind of book, to be discussed a bit later, which hasn’t usually been recognized as a resource for meditation.

Let’s go into a little more detail at this point. To get the best results, discursive meditation requires the same sort of preliminaries that the more familiar forms of meditation do. The standard advice among old-fashioned occultists was to sit in a chair with your spine comfortably straight, not leaning against the back; your feet are flat on the floor; your legs are parallel to each other, and bent at a right angle; your hands rest on your thighs close to your knees, and your elbows are at your sides. Every muscle you don’t need to use to stay upright is as relaxed as you can get it. Having assumed the position and deliberately relaxed the muscles just mentioned, you breathe slowly and deeply for several minutes, paying attention to the inflow and outflow of the breath, and turn your mind away from every topic of thought except the theme of your meditation.

The theme? That’s the thing you’re going to be exploring with the focused, purposive thinking we talked about earlier. We’ll get to the choosing of themes in a bit. Whatever the theme is, you hold it before your mind for a while, simply being aware of it; if it’s a bit of text, you might repeat it silently to yourself, while if it’s a visual image you might visualize it as though it’s standing in front of you, and so on. You then think about it in a general way for a little while, find some aspect of it that interests you, and follow out the train of thought all the way to its end. You don’t let your thoughts wander onto other subjects. If, as happens all the time in the early stages of training, your thoughts get away from you, go grab them by the ears and bring them back to the theme. Repeat as necessary. When you’ve gotten all you can out of the train of thought you were following, take a few deep breaths and then shake your muscles to loosen them; that finishes the meditation.

Now let’s talk about themes. You choose your theme before you meditate—in fact, in some occult schools it’s standard practice to choose the theme for each day’s meditation the night before, and go to sleep while turning it over in your mind, so that when you start your meditation first thing in the morning, the theme’s been enriched with all the considerable ingenuity of your subconscious mind. Anything can be a theme for meditation, and what you choose will depend on your personal beliefs and the occult or religious tradition that you’re studying.

In the writings of Bishop Joseph King, for example, verses from the Bible were the automatic go-to default option for meditation themes. (The numbered verses of the Bible are in fact very nicely sized for use as themes. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”—a Christian occultist who can’t get at least one good solid session of discursive meditation out of that, if not considerably more, simply isn’t trying.) People who come to discursive meditation from other religious backgrounds can choose texts better suited to their own interests, and some magical texts are specifically set up for this practice. Those readers who wonder why Dion Fortune’s famous textbook The Mystical Qabalah is divided into numbered paragraphs can draw their own conclusions.

Another approach, very common back in the day, was to have students read a chapter of a textbook or a lesson from a correspondence course once a week, and while reading it, look for “seed thoughts”—short passages, from a phrase to a sentence in length, that sum up a detail of magical teaching that catches the student’s attention. Each student would write down seven seed thoughts from the assigned reading, and use those for the themes for the next seven days’ meditation sessions. It’s an effective approach, and it has the advantage that when you’ve finished the book or the correspondence course, you can turn around and go through it again. I promise you that if the material’s any good, you’ll find a completely different set of seed thoughts the second time around.

Texts, though, aren’t the only game in town, not by a long shot. Those of my readers who’ve had any exposure to traditional occultism will know already that there’s quite the plethora of odd symbolic emblems and imagery to be found there. From the enigmatic pictures on the 22 Tarot trumps through the ornate allegorical emblems of the old alchemical literature to the tracing boards used by initiatory orders, there’s a lot of puzzling imagery out there. Various people have explained those in various ways, but even in modern occult literature, you have to look long and hard to find a discussion of the practical application these things used to have, which is as themes for meditation.

It’s in dealing with these images, and with the elaborate symbolic narratives that so often accompany them, that discursive meditation really comes into its own. Most of the older occult schools encoded much, most, or all of their teaching in these emblems and narratives, and then handed them to the student to unpack through discursive meditation. To use a contemporary metaphor, these things are zip files from which pages and pages of documents can be extracted, and the extraction program—yep, that would be discursive meditation. That was partly a security measure and partly a method of training.

If you pick up one of the more ornate alchemical texts—the Book of Lambspring, the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, the Trinosophia of the Comte de St.-Germain, Fulcanelli’s La Mystere des Cathedrales, or what have you—and try to make any kind of sense of it without discursive meditation, your choice of destination is limited to the Slough of Despond on the one hand and La-La Land on the other.  Get a good basic knowledge of alchemical thought by way of the less cryptic texts, and then go through your chosen book one detail at a time using discursive meditation, and doors to very interesting places start opening.

That brings us to the third source of themes for discursive meditation in the occult traditions, which is initiatory ritual. In a ritual of initiation—a subject we’ll be covering in much more detail down the road a bit—the candidate goes through what amounts to a symbolic narrative, in which words, emblems, gestures, and a variety of other things are woven together in much the same way as incidents in one of the alchemical tales just mentioned. When it works the way it’s supposed to, initiation furthers the awakening of previously inaccessible states and capacities of consciousness—but these days, it very often doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, and the reason behind that is the collective amnesia that swallowed the practice of discursive meditation in the early part of the twentieth century.

In earlier times, before the term “meditation” got redefined as mind-emptying, it was standard for those who had been through an initiation ritual to go over it in meditation, one detail at a time. That helped get the effects of the initiation solidly fixed in the initiate’s awareness, and it also gave him or her a head start on learning the ritual to as to be able to help confer it on others. There were other things done in occult schools to help make the effects of initiation stick, and some of them are still in use today, but discursive meditation used to be an important part of the initiatory toolkit. The same approach works just as well, by the way, when applied to the sacramental rituals of the religion of your choice.

Finally, there’s another important item in the traditional occultist’s toolkit that needs regular doses of discursive meditation to keep it from running off the rails. It has a variety of names: the Golden Dawn traditions call it “scrying in the spirit vision,” for example, while Carl Jung and his followers call it “active imagination.” (One of these days I’m going to have to do a post about the awkward fact that Jung wasn’t a psychologist who dabbled in occultism, but rather an occultist—an extremely learned and competent one—who successfully managed to pass off a system of occult philosophy and practice as a school of psychology; still, that’s a topic for another day.) Under any name, it’s the use of the trained imagination as an instrument of perception.

The very simplest version of scrying in the spirit vision is an exercise most people who’ve dabbled in occultism have done at least once. You take a symbolic image—a Tarot trump, let’s say—and imagine it expanding, until the frame becomes a doorway and the scene it shows becomes three-dimensional. You then imagine yourself walking through the doorway and having a conversation with the person or people on the other side. Because we know more than we consciously realize, this sort of exercise routinely turns up insights the conscious mind can’t get at in other ways; furthermore, with regular practice, what starts out as a simple daydream evolves into an intensely experienced journey through vivid dreamscapes packed with unexpected meaning and power.

There are, of course, downsides. The most common, as Israel Regardie liked to point out, is that this sort of work can very easily degenerate into a kind of astral tourism in which junketing around in the spirit vision becomes an end in itself rather than a tool for the attainment of knowledge about the self and the universe. Rarer though far more problematic is what happens when the scryer forgets that the things perceived by the trained imagination are symbols of inner realities rather than realities in their own right, and takes the symbolic experienced literally.

That’s problematic enough by itself—it usually means the end of any significant magical development—but when you mix in the very common desire to feel important, the results in extreme cases can range from the founding of a new religious cult demanding absolute faith in the visions of the self-proclaimed prophet, on the one hand, to a rapid descent into acute schizophrenia on the other. More common, if less colorful, is the sort of pseudospiritual gossip that fills so many well-meant tomes, in which bits of visionary experience with obvious symbolic meaning get turned into chatter.

Here’s an example. A long time ago, when dinosaurs strode the earth, I used to get away from the tawdry realities of a suburban adolescence by taking classes on occult subjects in some of the hip neighborhoods of Seattle. At one of these, the speaker earnestly informed us all that Jesus had traveled to Britain during the years not discussed in the New Testament, and married a Druid princess. Her evidence was of course some mode of inner experience—I honestly don’t recall whether she got that from a channeled entity, saw it while scrying, or what have you—and since there were at that point in the late 1970s, by a conservative estimate, eleven godzillion minor mystics in North America who all had their own visionary accounts of where Jesus spent those undocumented years, and each of these accounts contradicted all the others, I smiled and nodded and suppressed an impulse to roll my eyes.

Look at that as a symbol, though, and it stops being a bit of pseudohistorical gossip and turns into something meaningful. It may have been meaningful on a personal level—the vision may have been trying to tell her that she needed both the values symbolized by Christ and those symbolized by the notion of a Druid princess, or it may have been trying to tell her that she needed to balance and harmonize worship of Christ with reverence for the elemental powers. It may also have been meaningful on a transpersonal level—the vision may have been suggesting that modern Christianity needs to face up to the values that the symbol of marriage to a Druid princess represents, such as reverence for nature and a less prudish sense of the relationship of masculine and feminine principles. A few sessions of discursive meditation on the vision might well have told her how to make sense of the symbol, but since she apparently never tried that, we’ll never know.

Like ritual, finally, meditation is best done daily. The standard habit is to do your daily banishing ritual and then, in the space cleared and cleansed by the ritual, do your meditation. The ritual will take you five minutes or so, and fifteen minutes of meditation, including the initial relaxation and breathing, is enough to start with; that accounts for twenty minutes of the thirty minutes a day I mentioned earlier will be enough to make you a capable operative mage. We’ll get into the last ten minutes next month.

Resources:

Discursive meditation is kind of a hobby horse of mine, as the above has probably demonstrated! The upside of that is that nearly every book of mine that discusses magical training at all has at least a brief discussion of discursive meditation, and most have much more. Readers who are interested in the classic Hermetic Golden Dawn system will find a good account of discursive mediation in my cowritten book Learning Ritual Magic; those who prefer the system of Druid practice associated with the Ancient Order of Druids in America will find a detailed discussion in my book The Druidry Handbook, while those who fancy the hybrid Druid/Golden Dawn system I mostly practice these days will find a similar discussion in The Celtic Golden Dawn.

142 Comments

  1. There is another copy of BodaciousBanshee's rant at https://archive.fo/4ymRR

    For practitioners of mindfulness meditation, do the rules of multiple systems apply? That is to say, discursive in the morning, and mindfulness at night could work, or would the commitment to discursive meditation have to be total?

    Lastly, would “scrying” into a Tarot card correspond to an “Upper World Journey”, or is it considered a different metaphysical destination?

  2. I just read spinoza's ethics and am getting into kant's kritik der reinen vernunft and it is very long discursive meditation in small bits. To get it concentration has to increase. Basically such hard reading is for me a sort of meditation as opposed to infotainment, websurfing, novels. Sitting in lotus during an asana yesterday I felt such a good energy I considered started regular meditation, so your audience seems to be tuned into your latest posts.

  3. Thank you again John! Your definition for discursive meditation, as opposed to mind-emptying, was most useful and served to clarify my own experiences a great deal. Although I have a strong natural tendancy for it (my parents called me the space-cadet for a reason!), having it defined so clearly, and having its potential so well explained, has most definitely opened up new vistas of possibility.

  4. JMG, I have entry for your Broomstick Challenge called Bishop Schleimhaut's Magic Broomstick, the sequel to Trevor, which is an entry to your latest space bat challenge.

    In case the space bat challenge has been swept under the rug, I would be delighted if you were to reconsider Trevor for the broomstick challenge, together with Bishop Schleimhaut's Magic Broomstick. And if you need more filler, more chapters are on the way!

    I am happy that Infinity and Beyond Plus 1 Magazine has published these stories. They were very impressed with Josepth E. Quantummy's important ability to defy physical limitations.

    Infinity and Beyond Plus 1 Magazine, where everything beyond infinity is briskly expanding.

  5. Indeed it is a pity that John Woodroffe and associates mistranslated dhyana as meditation. It has obscured the whole western tradition and made it largely unavailable for generations. Whatever their knowledge of Sanskrit, they seem uninformed about standard Christian vocabulary and practice.

    Discursive meditation and lectio divina certainly have a rich and helpful literature before and since Joseph Hall, if one is willing to read Christian tradition.

  6. My father in law once told me about Jesuits doing meditation way before it came to the West in its imported form – so he was right!

    About the “scrying in the spirit vision” – is this the same as the vision magic practiced by people like Josephine McCarthy? I can't remember reading anything on this blog regarding this topic and would be really interested to hear your informed opinion on the things vision magic/ inner travelling can and cannot do – perhaps in a future post 🙂
    I have started the Quareia program's first lessons a few months ago and I'm still busy with module 1, Lesson 1: basic meditation techniques. They are mostly focused on stilling the mind, getting a feeling for the third eye, shifting colour around and eventually meditating the inner flame. I also bought the Celtic Golden Dawn and find the different approaches to meditation used in both schools really interesting!

  7. Re: Witch Wars 2016: It's starting to feel at this point that continuing to listen to these people even to criticize is just another way of letting them goad you into playing the game. There are definitely things that have changed this year, and one thing that’s becoming apparent is that the narrative of polytheistic and pagan religions shaping the future is beginning to fade. This piece in particular shows just how deeply the realization that an era is ending (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2016/09/druids-polytheism-and-impermanence.html), but on a small, group scale, people are emphasizing finding common ground despite differences. At East Coast Gathering this year, the druid grade members brought a call for unity among druids in divisive times, and both my ADF grove and my friend’s grove have placed a similar emphasis at the heart of our coming high rite, and have made political arguments a no-go in sacred space. It’s a tense year, and it’s seeping into many communities, not just esoteric and metaphysical ones. But, as the macrocosm attempts to turn every community it can into a microcosm of itself, the best way to resist seems to be to take to the grove, coven, hof and lodge instead of taking to the streets, and it feels like… in a way… the people leading the reactionary response to the things that are going on, are dutifully stepping in to playing the game themselves by tagging Rhyd and his ilk as the persecutors and filling in the blanks from there accordingly.

    *sigh* As for this year’s divisive political arena, I’ve given up on standing for or against anything for right now and taken to just reminding my friends on both sides that it’s not the ideas you already find repulsive that you’ve got to watch out for, because those you’re already geared to stand against when they cross the line into atrocity. It’s the ideas you find appealing that are the most dangerous, since that’s where our blind spots lie. That’s really the only political statement I’ve got energy left in me to make these days.

    Now, on to the meat of the piece: Right now, my meditative practice has settled into a shape of meditating on one of the ogham kennings every day, getting to the end, and then cycling back to the beginning, which has been making my work on part 3 of the magical foundations you’ll be getting into next month take off in incredible ways. There are other things to pick apart, for certain, but I’ve been uncovering so much with just that one simple practice. One thing I’ve been wondering about, is the degree to which it’s appropriate to combine the scrying method with the discursive method? One thing that I’ll often do, mostly because it’s a habit I’ve formed with OBOD’s practice, is go into my inner grove before sitting down, closing my inner eyes, and beginning work on a theme. I’m not sure if that’s appropriate or not, but it feels right, and separating them out would be a challenge at this point. One other thought that I’ve got, since you’ve pointed out the relationship between discursive meditation and the symbols of initiation, is the process of memorizing the lengthy lectures in Masonry, with the requirements of constant practice and full memorization being such a key part of that tradition. Because they’re so long and complex, it’s impossible to memorize those passages effectively without picking them apart bit by bit and thinking long and hard on every word and line, which requires the same mental footwork as discursive meditation even if the person learning them doesn’t have a familiarity with that practice, and the act of memorizing and pulling together associations and meanings to make recalling easier is a very discursive act even when it doesn’t involve opening a ritual space, sitting down, closing eyes, and sitting with it in a formalized meditation session. I know they’re slightly different practices, but would you view the practice of memorizing long passages such as the masonic catechisms, charges, and lectures, as a related practice to discursive meditation?

  8. I can't resist an opportunity to serve as something of a war correspondent from the front lines of really weird magic, so let me tell you what /pol/ has been up to. They've developed their own gematria based on post IDs; worship of Kek, one of the ancient deities of the Egyptian Ogdoad and now seen as the patron of anonymous chaos, is widespread and seems not-entirely ironic; and the community has been creating mantras and sigils of focused attention in hopes of making Hillary Clinton have a coughing fit and soil herself during one of the televised debates. You've made more than one mention of “strange bright banners,” and it's hard to imagine a much brighter or much stranger banner than Pepe the Frog in an SS uniform. The mainstream news is starting to take notice, and Hillary even gave a speech accusing poor Pepe of being a white nationalist symbol, much to /pol/'s delight.

    Of course, perhaps this churning engine of absurdity will all blow up and fizzle out like all the Aquarian movements of the sixties. I wonder if the great machine-mediated telepathy of the Internet might make a difference in this counterculture's fate.

  9. Have always found this sort of meditation more useful than the “cessation” types seen in some Eastern traditions imported here (the question being–what's making so many people try to get their thoughts to “shut off”? But that's another topic, I guess). It helps having an active imagination, but good caveat on not taking those “internal” realities for granted as “external” truths.

    Salve.

  10. No doubt there are schools of meditation that teach mental silence, or “mind emptying,” as a sort of end point, and certainly that is the common understanding of “eastern” meditation among people who are not doing it.

    But I would suggest that before you can focus your thinking in a “discursive” meditation you do need to have a clear grasp of how your mental processes work, and a meditation practice that enables you to get to silence, where you can watch thoughts arising, may be a necessary first step.

    As you say, in early stages thoughts will get away from you, and you want to be able to see this at the earliest possible stage so you can bring them back. Like a lot of things, this is a very practical discipline. To be effective, you need to learn to use the tools.

    I guess another way of saying what I am driving at here is that the mental processes the ordinary person allows to control their everyday experience are not adequate to the task of focusing on the object of meditation, redirecting the attention as it begins to wander off, and deriving insights that are not simply variations on already received ideas.

    To the contrary, everyday awareness is almost entirely made up of thoughts wandering. If you bring only this awareness to a “discursive” meditation, your insights will be heavily inflected by the accumulation of your experiences as a self-identified individual personality, embedded in a specific historical and social moment.

    A meditation practice that allows you to establish mental silence as a starting point places you in the actual moment. Here you are. Whatever lies behind this awareness you have come to think of as “I” is simply present in this body, in this space, glued to the earth, immersed in this field of visual and auditory inputs. Start from there, and then bring in the object of meditation.

    My entry in the “broomsticks challenge” is linked here
    http://cafebrick.blogspot.com/2016/09/cat.html

  11. I have a clarification question about the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. In these posts you've talked about doing a daily banishing ritual, and also mentioned that in the Celtic Golden Dawn you suggest to beginning practitioners to alternate the banishing and summoning forms to get a feel for the differences. You also mention in the Celtic Golden Dawn that often rituals will begin with the summoning ritual and end with the banishing ritual, in order to prevent the magical influences from spilling over into everyday life. I've yet to work up to doing daily druid practice (I know, I need to get there if I want to start making serious progress), for now practicing twice a week or so feels like a big step and as much as I can manage.

    So I'm wondering: Is there a risk in doing the summoning form of the ritual one day, and then waiting three or four days to follow up with the banishing ritual (and vice versa?). Other than being lazy and making slower progress by practicing less often, is there a risk of harm in “leaving the gates open” too long after doing the summoning form?

  12. Peter Prochilo,

    I think the appeal of mindlessness meditation is that thinking means dealing with the world, your place in it, and who you are. All three are painful, especially in a declining society. The last one is especially painful, since most people don't live up to their ideals (myself included), and so anything that requires focused, prolonged thought means dealing with it. The idea of shutting off your mind, even for a moment, can be very appealing…

  13. Hi JMG, I am enjoying these detailed, step-by-step 'scope' and 'foundations' posts.

    One question that keeps coming back to me is of a different kind than most posted here. As a (fascinated) first-time learner on this forum, what I keep wondering is, why do people practice magic? Why put so much work and effort and secrecy and risk into becoming an operative mage? Like asking a writer why they write, or a swimmer why they swim, maybe this question has an answer that's obvious to those who do it and opaque to those who don't… in any case it likely can't be answered in a comment post! Maybe it's one of those open-ended questions best meditated upon 🙂 But I am curious how others would answer.

    Finally, here is my submission to Beyond Broomsticks: http://awizardofearth.blogspot.ca/2016/09/midnight.html

  14. Interesting post,thanks.

    1) Yes, pretty please write the Jung as occultist post. Can't wait to read that one.

    2) Wondering if there is an English word that might better fit mind-emptying types of meditation. “Contemplation” perhaps?

    Pierre

  15. It is helpful to think about reviewing meditative scrying in the same way as Jungians talk about interpreting dreams. I do remember you mentioning to someone that reading the akashic record is like fishing through all of the b-movies ever made for information on your past lives (or something to that effect). My thoughts got turning when the protagonist of Fortune's Sea Priestess talked about how the typical occult 'review the day in reverse meditation exercise' was meant to revive memories of past lives… It is easy to see how people I know have taken their visions of their past lives too seriously and how that has gotten them into trouble. I was interested when I read about how easily and accurately Dr Taverner read through his and others' past lives in his meditative trances… perhaps that is all left up to a more advanced magical practice?

    I have always been able to get lost in thought (another earth to Oliver space cadet here), and for a while my magical practice was hard to sustain because it tended to go on much longer than 30 minutes. Bringing focus and discipline to that has been very good, though challenging!

  16. Jeffrey, I'd definitely practice different forms of meditation at different times, if you find both kinds useful enough to practice them in tandem. As for “upper world journeys,” that's not a term I find useful — what's “upper” and what's “lower” vary drastically depending on your choice of theory. The term used in the magical traditions I mostly practice is simply “the inner planes” — “inner” in what sense being carefully, and rather impishly, left undefined — and so the kind of Tarot work I mentioned is simply an inner plane working.

    Robert, thank you.

    Ed, focused reading can be another form of meditation, so you're already well on your way.

    Mark, glad to hear it!

    Thecrowandsheep, the latest space bats challenge got a very modest number of entries, and I haven't yet had time to work out whether there's going to be an anthology's worth in it. (If not, I'll be forwarding them to Into the Ruins.) Thank you for your submission to the Broomsticks challenge — as soon as you put through a comment marked “not for posting” with your legal name, author byline (if any), and email address, you'll be in the contest.

    Brother G., granted. I cited King purely because he was a significant influence on my own learning process. I'm not sure that all the blame rests on Woodroffe, though — I think the term “meditation” was being misapplied to dhyana et al. before his time, and certainly the Romantic distrust of the thinking mind focused through Madame Blavatsky (“The mind is the slayer of the real, slay thou the slayer”) laid the foundation for the cult of thoughtlessness.

    UtopiaBorderPatrol, yes, it's pretty much the same thing. To my mind scrying is very much overused in many schools of contemporary occultism, to the neglect of more essential occult disciplines, but it does have a place — and yes, I should probably do a post on that as we proceed!

    Kelly, got it. If you can put through a comment marked “not for posting” with your legal name, author byline if any, and email address, you'll be in the contest.

    Eric, well, obviously I disagree about the nascent witch hunt, but that may be because I got to see where this sort of thing tends to lead back in the 1970s, when it destroyed the last remnants of the New Left. Still, if people are responding by declaring politics off limits for Pagan events, that strikes me as a definite good idea, and something that may just get some aspects of the Neopagan movement through this business intact.

    As for the meditative meat, I did exactly the same thing when I was working my way through the OBOD course — did the grove opening, entered the inner grove, did the Light-Body exercise, and then did twenty minutes or so of discursive meditation on a theme drawn from the weekly gwers before closing the grove — and it worked extremely well. (I've meditated my way through the course twice since then and am early in a third repeat, as there's a lot of meat on those bones.) So I have no objection to that approach! With regard to Masonic memorization, yep, and that's one of the reasons that Masonry does actually manage to initiate a significant number of its candidates in a meaningful sense.

    Dammerung, yes, I'd read about that. Imaginary deities have a very odd habit of doing the velveteen rabbit trick and becoming real — I'm not sure whether it's just a matter of egregor engineering, or if some existing deity says, “Sure, I can answer to that name too” — so it's entirely possible that Kek will start performing really weird miracles sometime soon. But we'll see.

  17. Peter, our culture overvalues the thinking mind, and so it's not at all surprising that people who are dissatisfied with the cultural mainstream swing to the opposite extreme and convince themselves that everything will be okay if they just stop thinking.

    Zach, as a longtime practitioner and teacher of meditation, I have to disagree. No, you don't need to do mind-silencing meditation first before you can do discursive meditation, and in fact, I've found the opposite to be the case. If you start students out on discursive meditation, they get sufficiently annoyed with the way their minds go running off the rails onto everything other than the theme that they have a stronger motivation to learn concentration, and in the process they end up with a very clear sense of the way their minds function, while still gaining the benefits of discursive work. Furthermore, it's by no means a disadvantage that students start off where they are, with their minds in whatever state of chatterhood they normally inhabit, and move step by step toward deeper and deeper modes of insight and consciousness — quite the contrary, the increased clarity and understanding that comes through meditation seems to spread more readily to the rest of life. Your mileage may vary, but that's what my experience has taught me.

    Got your entry to the story challenge — many thanks. A comment marked not for posting with your email address et al. will put you in the contest.

    Curtis, not in the early stages of practice — you won't be raising enough force to do any harm. Once you finish the Ovate Grade work and move onto the Bardic Grade work, the alternating summoning and banishing rituals are replaced by the standard Golden Dawn ritual exercise, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram followed by the Middle Pillar exercise (aka the Exercise of the Central Ray, since in the Druidical GD we use rays rather than pillars). So you're banishing daily, and then invoking energies into specific centers of your subtle body, and the potential risks of opening the gates and leaving them flapping in the breeze are avoided.

    Dylan, all I can tell you is that when I found out that there really was such a thing as magic that could actually be practiced, in the real world, I knew that that and nothing else was what I'd been looking for throughout my life up to that point. It was rather like falling head over heels in love, and yes, I can tell you exactly where I was and what the circumstances were when that discovery hit me. Other mages may have different experiences to report. Thanks for your story!

    Pierre, “contemplation” is actually a tolerably good word for it. As for the Jung post, all in good time!

    Harvester, I really do need to do a post on the use and abuse of past life memories, don't I? Maybe there are adepts out there who can go into the Akashic eight-track tapes and get the details of somebody else's previous lives like that, but I've never met one, and those who claimed that ability have not impressed me when it came down to practice. The deadline for the current challenge, btw, is the end of this month, though there's some wiggle room — especially with advance notice.

  18. Good timing. I've been concentrating on getting a regular ritual practice going the last few weeks, and knew that I'd need to get back to meditation and add that in soon lest I leave it too long. So that's the challenge this month. By the end of the month to have a regular ritual and meditation. I'm not going to use the D word yet as the mere thought of it can put me off doing it 🙂 but regular sounds achieveable.

  19. Greetings all

    Given that meditation was a common habit in the western world from the Middle Ages straight through until roughly the First World War , how come it fell out of use so quickly that within 2 to 3 generations it was all but forgotten there?

  20. @JMG A well timed essay for me as I started on Wednesday (my birthday also) the First Lesson from the CGD book. I have a black bean seed over my desk and I'm waiting for it to sprout. And I'll be reviewing this essay for the moment I'll start with meditating on the sprouting of the bean.

  21. Oh, I've got a functional question, if you have a moment. Whenever I try to do the elemental cross the deities keep disappearing into a haze of “could be anything.” I'll mix one up with another, or Inanna will accidentally become Aphrodite, or I'll involuntarily think of any one of a hundred deities that could serve the same function and maybe I should have it switch from the right side to the left side. I've got the intuitive feeling that that's not right. But every time I try to nail something down, I subconsciously mix it up, or consciously think, “Couldn't this be arranged just a little bit better?” and break the whole thing. Any advice?

  22. Very interesting post. Most books deal with the more nirvanic stuff, so I was surprised the first time I encountered a description of discursive meditation – in a book about Rudolf Steiner, I think. It was interesting to learn that this is actually an ancient Western tradition. For a long time, all “alternative spirituality” has been Hindu, Buddhist or “made in Lemuria” (yeah, right), despite the fact that there seem to be many truly indigenous traditions in the West, both Christian and non-Christian. (No criticism of Buddhism intended!)

  23. “well, obviously I disagree about the nascent witch hunt, but that may be because I got to see where this sort of thing tends to lead back in the 1970s, when it destroyed the last remnants of the New Left.”

    *sigh* Well… after watching a forum I follow go full Lord of the Flies yesterday over various hot-button issues… you may be right… at the same time, it's not just one political position that's dragging this out, and it really does take two to tango. At any rate… I suppose it can count as some small comfort that despite all the crazy that came out of it once it got politicized under Hitler and Stalin, plus the aftermath of the Krishnamurti fiasco, the Theosophical society technically still exists in a diminished form and has many successful descendants, so there's at least some hope of something on the other side for those who can ride this thing out.

  24. This may be slightly off topic, but since people are discussing Kek (he he), I might as well ask this question…

    Does anyone have any good information on esoteric and/or mystical traditions within Protestantism? Most of the traditions I´ve heard about seem to be Catholic or Orthodox. The Rosicrucians and Boehme were mentioned previously, but are there others? In Sweden, we have Swedenborg, but I also wonder about mystical traditions within “official”/orthodox Protestantism, if such exists. (Swedenborg was pretty heterodox!)

    Answers don´t have to be long, you could simply point me to books or websites! Thank you.

  25. Dylan,
    My family has a trait of dreaming possible futures. It's not straight-up prophecy, because these futures don't necessarily come to pass. My dad does it. I do it. And I married into a family with the same trait: my mother-in-law does it. So of course our kids do it, too.

    I'm a Christian. Furthermore, I'm one of those who's actually heard the Father's voice. (Not all of us do. A lot of Christians get something like a feeling, only much more certain and solid than feelings, and often refer to it as “Christ/the Spirit/the Father laid this on my heart.”) So I know for sure and certain that there's more to the world than the physical world that meets the physical eye. (And yes, I'm quite sure it was the Father.)

    Add into that my experience–or rather lack thereof-with ghosts, as they're commonly called. (I doubt very much the popular conception of them as actual spirits or souls of the deceased–see the description of King Saul's experience with the Witch of Endor and Samuel's ghost–Samuel wasn't waiting around haunting.) They get the heck out of where ever I am, to the point where people who see them report them leaving as I arrive. “Oh, hey, the lady in white was just here, but she went down the hall as soon as I heard your steps on the stairs.” I lived in a haunted dorm in college and spent hours every day in a haunted practice building (former dorm) and heard lots and lots about ghosts, but they stayed strictly away from me. They also stayed away when my husband and I went on a Haunted History tour a few years ago at Hallowe'en. From what the tour guide said, we were the only tour group that didn't experience any supernatural effects up to that point that year. (The group was disappointed. I was amused, but didn't say anything: if people want to experience ghosts, it's best not to advertise oneself as ghost-repellant, right?)

    So that, plus plenty of curiosity, plus I don't remember how many years of reading the Archdruid Report, when Brother Greer started this blog, I followed him over here as well. (He's a Mason, I'm an Eastern Star, thus the familial title.) I figure that was part of his intention with setting up the second blog, to pull people he'd intrigued with the first over to learn at the second. I thought I'd just read about the topics, but he had a book to recommend written by a Christian and for Christians, and magic in this sense and use isn't, as far as I can tell, what's forbidden to Christians as magic Biblically, and I know I'd get a warning of some sort if I was contemplating doing something I shouldn't be (I did not all that long ago with something unrelated I was considering). There are definitely areas and kinds of magic that are inappropriate for me, but then, temperance is important in most areas of life.

  26. Great post on an interesting topic.

    Some thoughts on my experiences with discursive meditation–

    About two years ago I read an article about the pack of wolves that invaded the city of Paris in 1450. Apparently this is a thing that happens sometimes– wolves gather in very large packs and attack humans. I was thinking about it, and thinking about how living in a world in which such things happen would change my view of the natural world. I decided to use this as a theme for meditation. I was also reading a fair bit of medieval history at the time.

    I thought that, going into meditation, I would just kind of think about what it would be like. Instead I went into a full scale unplanned pathworking, in which I, as a medieval peasant, attempted to make a journey through the forest in winter to retrieve holy water from a shrine renowned for its healing powers to save my dying wife. At the end I died.

    I did not, at the time, take it as a really-real past life vision or anything like that. I just thought “Wow, that was cool,” wrote down the details and moved on. Now it occurs to me that, like a pathworking of the more ordinary variety, the experience itself could have provided at least a week's worth of meditation themes. Hmm.

    I've also found that, when I sit down to meditate, the first thing my mind does is explode in 17 different directions at once. Chatter about the day, plans for next week, so mad about politics, such a good dinner tonight, can't believe he said that, did you read in the news…. I've been finding that it's easy to let it do this for a few minutes, and then launch into the actual meditation. I use an hour glass, rather than a clock, to track meditation because I hate clocks. The trick is remembering to open my eyes now and then to see if the sand has run out. I often find that if I allow my mind to gets its chatter out of the way at the beginning, then afterward I get so deep into the meditation that I go way past the time I had set.

  27. RE: “Mind clearing”/”cessation” meditation, it also strikes me as a useful antidote for those of the Scientism mindset, as a way of relieving the attendant inflated sense of ego/control that comes with that religion of the modern age juxtaposed with the inability to exert the usual level of expected control over one's thought processes. But it's also interesting that people don't seem to have much luck clearing the mind/self/et al. for extended periods of time, because, I guess, the mind is not going to go away. Imagine if we took a similar approach to other organs or physiological processes. “This hand just keeps on moving. Instead of trying to get it to do something useful, let me just lop it off…” [Not sure the comparison is entirely apt, but…] In my opinion, one does not need meditation, necessarily, to understand the relative insignificance of oneself to the rest of the cosmos, unless perhaps one has a grotesquely inflated sense of ego to begin with. Just got finished reading “Waking Up” by Sam Harris, which is a fascinating case, in that the author, an atheist, makes an explicit argument for secular spirituality. Somebody out there feeling the vibes (or the void, as the case may be).

    JMG, really enjoy these posts. Lots of insight and clarity.

  28. In response to some hullabaloo that was going on in the ADF forums over the last few days, one of ADF's former Archdruids put out a statement that the people following the whole paganism and politics situation should find encouraging:

    http://intothemound.blogspot.com/2016/09/paganism-and-politics-2016.html

    “I take some comfort, even pride, in knowing that the org values tolerance of diverse ideas more than any specific cause or socio-political position. To me there is a primary ethic of the sacrifice-ground – that tribal and personal enmities be set aside for the sake of the Blessing. Despite my own concern for social issues such as racism, sexism and environmental protection I am willing to share the sacred fire with those who feel differently than I about the nature of and solution to those problems.

    […] The thing is, there are a lot of organizations and coalitions that work for public socio-political goals. Those whose passion directs them there have many choices for where to put their efforts. Some people can manage intense involvement in both spiritual and political work (which I do not think consist of the same actions, generally) but many must choose where to commit their resources. I think that our most valuable job as a national Pagan church is to make a house of the spirits available to regular modern folks who live in apartments and get by. One that is home-grown in the culture in which it operates, and thus actually can belong to any modern citizen of a developed country. We have come a long way toward that goal in 35 years. I see it as the only seriously valuable institutional thing a church like ours can do to move the planet onward toward peace, joy and happiness.”

  29. Hey ADJMG,

    As pertaining to your mention of the use of Bible verses in meditation here is something I discovered.

    I was looking at a Chinese translation of the Bible, and I noticed that the verse where Jesus said “I am the Way” John 14.6, is translated as “I am the Tao(Dao)”, as in Taoism.

    For some reason I like the connotations of this much better than the English translation.

  30. JMG – “I really do need to do a post on the use and abuse of past life memories, don't I?”

    That would be helpful! I have to say that it has been helpful to check Fortune's fiction against your posts and the wisdom gleaned from the commentariat here. I worked through both Taverner and Psychic Self Defense in preparation for Beyond Broomsticks. On the whole both books really resonated with me, despite some of the political, religious, or cultural aspects that I found off-putting. I think the appeal/impulse is similar to the importance I experienced of needing to find a self-defensive physical culture practice shortly after beginning magical/spiritual training. Your post last month touched on this self-protective aspect of the ritual foundation. I suppose there is wisdom in guarding ourselves from the tendency to take our meditative/active imagination too literally as well.

  31. I've been following this blog since it started, and our host's other blog since 2008, I think. The ideas and arguments over there have changed and reshaped my life. If this blog carries on along the lines of this and the last few posts, there's a sporting chance of the same thing happening again!

    I'd like to say thanks in particular to many of the commenters, whose insights have been very, very helpful. A few years ago, living in South-East Asia and China, I was practising neigong and vipassana meditation very intensively, and making very good progress. However, in part because of company I was keeping, I drew the attention of certain spirits. Two, I believe were benevolent, and I hope to make their acquaintance again. One was certainly not; while not actively malevolent, it was powerful enough that I wouldn't have wanted further attention. Other things led to me dropping my practice, and so the issue faded away. I've recently re-started both practices, but I'm now aware of the need for magical protection. On a recent visit home to Wales, I picked up a copy of JMG's Celtic Golden Dawn and Druidry Handbook, with the intention of following the syllabus therein. It's been instructive, therefore, to hear of people's problems when they try to mix neigong with Western magical techniques. I think, as a result, I'll hold off, for the time being.

    I picked up at the same time a number of books by the teacher of the neigong practices I'm studying, and it turns out there's an equivalent method of raising a circle of protection using Chinese techniques. The guardian animals involved are the dragon, pheonix, pheasant, tiger, and deer, but the system allows substitution – which, in my mind's eye, started happening immediately. The tiger was replaced by the Cŵn Annwn, while the dragon morphed into Gwyn ap Nudd. A raven replaced the pheasant. The deer could stay, but the Mari Lwyd (with whom I've had a long relationship) keeps trying to sidle into that slot when I'm not looking. I'll have to apply some purposive meditation to the pheonix, to see what fits in there.

    Regarding different types of meditation, there was talk in the comments last week about Dawn Foster's Guardian article on mindfulness. I wrote a post on my (very intermittent) blog about that at the time, on which I would welcome feedback from the experienced community here. It may also (I would like to think) help to answer those such as Peter Prochilo, who wondered why those of us who practice Buddhist meditation want our minds to “shut off”. For anyone who's interested, you can find it here: Is mindfulness dangerous?.

    Many thanks again to our host and to all of you who are commenting for your very valuable insights!

  32. “what's making so many people try to get their thoughts to “shut off”?

    My understanding is that it is to get at the real self, what's known as the Observer, which the constant distractions of life and the constant thoughts obscure. It is to take a step back, literally within consciousness, and identify with that actual flame of consciousness that is primary to our experiences. That we misidentify “up front” as it were rather than deeper back to that source of primary experience. One has one's attention and it is, due to the situation of how incarnated life works, nearly always drawn outward via the senses and this also leads to the type of thoughts one has. Also, fear and other emotions keep the thoughts running at an unnecessary pace. Some Hindu practices go to the length of physically, with one's fingers, shutting off the sensory inputs from eyes and ears and nose so as to help one's attention get to the inner realities.

    I'm not a practitioner and actually naturally engage in something like discursive meditation, albeit not in the disciplined way taught here, and I have always referred to it in my mind as contemplation.

  33. (One of these days I’m going to have to do a post about the awkward fact that Jung wasn’t a psychologist who dabbled in occultism, but rather an occultist—an extremely learned and competent one—who successfully managed to pass off a system of occult philosophy and practice as a school of psychology; still, that’s a topic for another day.)

    I for one and looking forward to that day. I've long felt that there is much more to the Myers-Briggs typology then meets the eye.

    Maybe the INTJ letters of my type would be a good theme for a meditation

  34. JMG, would you recommend to do scrying in a grove ritual only? And what would be the AODA equivalent of the Middle Pillar? Thank you for this informative post, as always!

  35. thanks, john, and in particular thanks for framing your response in terms of your own experience. i see now that i was generalizing from my own experience, which is very limited.

    also i was assuming that to instruct someone to “jump over this” without teaching her first to flex her legs would be frustratingly ineffective. but i now see that one might allow the student to discover the necessity of flexing her legs on her own, and that this in fact might be a “more effective” method of instruction. frustration itself might be a good teacher.

    as it happens, i have not developed much ability to engage in discursive meditation, though i do read cards quite a bit. in particular i find it difficult to visualize anything willfully.

    but i can sure as heck drop to silence in a matter of seconds and stay there quite awhile, watching fewer and fewer thoughts arise and allowing them to recede without attaching to them.

    and this has, to use your phrase, spread to the rest of my life, where i find i am much less engaged in reacting to others or mentally justifying or defending myself.

  36. @Donnie: I'm infp, a few years ago in the website Personality Cafe I said that each of the 4 groups represents one of the elements, and that each type inside the group has a second element. For example the NF idealists are associated with fire, NT are air, SP are water and SJ are earth.

  37. Hi, all, The earliest discursive meditation I can remember doing was when I was about 8 years old, triggered by a preacher’s rant about scientific claims to know the origins of Creation. I can remember lying in bed doggedly working back: before, and before that, and before that . . . ; I ended up with the realization that “the Beginning of the Universe” is an intellectual impossibility. I could not articulate it, but I found out that discursive intellect can’t supply all the answers.
    My first love was music, and I took to it like our host JMG took to magic. It formed my mind in a definite way, which has its pros and cons. It’s not optimum for world-class, hands-free discursive meditation. I know it isn’t good for learning to play chess: I can think 3 or 4 moves ahead for one piece, but after I’ve considered other pieces, I find I can’t recover the conclusion I reached for the first, and I feel like I’m trying to map a bowl of spaghetti.
    In a Zen period, I got pretty good at emptying the mind. Those Zen swordsmen had very good reasons for doing it, it’s good for musical improvisation, and I do think it encourages a process of de-conditioning: The “illegal” discursive meditation that happens in the process s helped me ditch some unconscious assumptions I hadn’t even known I had. But after some years of disciplined regular zazen, I decided that the investment of time and effort needed to be spent otherwise.
    I did find that emptying the mind had unexpected uses: When done as a respite or distraction from illness or insomnia, the access to non-discursive awareness and will, under some conditions, yields the possibility of maneuvers that discursive mind impedes.
    But my experience is also that discursive meditation does attract help from the theosphere. There is something out there that is quite eager to arrange helpful coincidences. Things I wished I knew, that I had been led to believe I never could know, I have sometimes learned. Wild goose chases have yielded pay dirt.
    In adult life I have done most of my discursive meditations by reading and writing—very helpful crutches for minds that boggle without them. All the relevant thoughts can be laid out where they remain in view, and then fleshed out until I see where they join up. And sometimes they mesh like clockwork and go, go, go!

  38. Alex, by all means avoid the D word, then!

    Karim, the First World War was an overwhelming cultural trauma in Europe and the European diaspora. Most people in those parts of the world spent nearly all of the nineteenth century convincing themselves that the world was basically settled; God and progress and European global dominion guaranteed a nice stable prosperous world forever. The First World War shattered that comfortable faith, and a vast number of things that had been part of prewar cultures got chucked in disgust. Think of the way that Victorian sexual mores went into the trash in the 1920s! Most Christian churches after the First World War either embraced the “social gospel” — basically, the idea that dominates liberal churches today, which is that social welfare work and politics should take the place of religious activities — or they went fundamentalist, embracing the idea that faith in Christ is all that matters and any spiritual practice other than prayer, Bible reading, and going to church on Sundays was suspect. Discursive meditation was one of the things that dropped out of common practice as a result.

    Nicolas, delighted to hear it.

    Dammerung, that kind of mental static is a common obstacle to practice among beginners. The only way through is to refuse to listen to it, and just keep on practicing the ritual the way you've set it up.

    Tidlösa, Steiner's quite a decent source for this sort of thing. He understood, better than almost anyone else, that thinking can be a vehicle for the spirit.

    Eric, I expect the Neopagan movement to end up more or less where the Theosophists and the Spiritualists are today, so yes, there's definitely hope.

    Tidlösa, Boehme, the Rosicrucians, and Dion Fortune's Guild of the Master Jesus are the only ones I know about. The first two are mildly heterodox Lutheranism, and the last is rather heterodox Broad Church Anglicanism. There may well be others, but that's the extent of my knowledge.

    Steve, exactly — pretty much any inner experience, including dreams, can be fodder for discursive meditation, and will yield much when approached that way.

    Peter, of course you don't need meditation to come to any conscious realization you care to name. What gives meditation its power is that it can bridge the gap between the thinking mind and the other aspects of the self. I know quite a few atheists who would agree that human beings are insignificant and the universe doesn't care about us at all, but then go on to babble about how it's humanity's destiny to conquer nature and spread throughout the universe, as though the concept of “destiny” isn't based on exactly the anthropocentrism they think they've rejected! The power of magical practice is precisely that it gets below the conscious surface of the mind, to reshape the orientation of the will — which is where the real power in the human mentality resides.

    Eric, delighted to hear it. It'll be the organizations that take that approach that are most likely to survive.

  39. DaShui, you might be interested to know that according to linguists, the word Dao (which was pronounced something like “drogh” in Lao Tsu's time) is a loanword borrowed into Chinese very early on from Central Asian languages, and is related to the English words “track” and “trek.”

    Emmanuel, that varies from person to person. Most people find that it distracts them from the theme, but some people find that it helps them concentrate. Meditation is definitely not “one size fits all”!

    Harvester, got it in one. Discursive meditation can, among other things, serve as self-defense against nonsense.

    Donnie, you do know that Jung didn't invent Myers-Briggs, don't you?

    Anioush, yes, scrying is best done in a space that's been purified and consecrated with ceremony; and the equivalent of the Middle Pillar is the Grail working, which you'll find in my book “The Druid Magic Handbook.” Thanks for asking!

    Zach, one way to teach someone to use their legs is to start them making very little jumps and hops, and let them scale it up step by step until they're bounding high into the air. That's the approach of discursive meditation.

    KKalbert, reading and writing as discursive meditation go back a long, long way. The old Stoics used to write their meditations as essays, and it made a very effective practice — Pierre Hadot has written some useful books on ancient philosophy as spiritual practice, exploring that sort of thing.

  40. Increased focus on logic and definition of terms is something seeping into my daily thought process, discussions by reading kant. Like with spinoza basic terminology repeats over time and mind gets restructured, used to the discussion, so it becomes not torture but pleasurable to read. Spngler, also a very turgid german writer was hell for me and I have lived here a quarter century. It is also very calming to focus on basic concepts, stilling the mind, so to speak. Blogs are always stimulating outrage, excitement, like doomer porn. So closed eye meditation on own topic unnecessary, goal of calm, focus, peacefulness, logical directed thought actually acheivable by study of philosophy.

    Classic meditation on my part was yesterday sitting upright, watching tv with family and focusing on sending energy into arms and legs over heart then shoulders belly, hips respectively. I continually open up new pathways. Similar to logical dedeuction new pathways are important. I had too much energy in my trunk exciting me and had to drain it off. It seems new paths are permanent like the logic concepts of kant, they remain with me. I woke up and flow over dian tien(belly button) still working to hips and downwards. The origination of this attempt was speculation on my part about sending energy to my hands by visualizing fire in palm, as in martial arts internet talk. Did not work like
    that. Conscious directed energy being a sort of holy grail for healing, fighting. I had marital sexual problems which I solved this way, i.e. sexual fantasy directs energy, replaces viagra and it was so successful in this way(too much so) I thought serious attempts at other uses should be attempted. Now I have new pathways and more control, in limbs and in bed and due to kant (who may have studied vedas if I read him rightly) more logical control.

    This is all empirical experimentation. One thing leads to another, unpredictably, from one area of life to another. I was glad to hear your comment to Dylan. Reading autobiography of a yogi on the plane trip back from a home visit in Alaska summer of 98 I felt about yoga as you did about magic, excited that 'supernatural' could be real, not just BS or fairy tale or something from 2000 year old bible stories. Now, step for step I apply this in daily life, very cautiously, individually, at my own pace, as needed, intuitively. No groups, religious instructors telling me what should be, groupthinking, repression, just letting it flow. Meditation is a good start focusing mind and energy at same time(really same thing), now I have developed other ways, sex and love is taboo but works for a while too but has its own limits as does discursive meditation. One must switch horses when blocked, get a new tool set. Maybe martial arts, healing arts.

  41. Hi JMG,

    Happy belated equinox to you, Boss! :-)!

    I do try to meditate daily, but do not always succeed at that goal. I also enter a meditative state when working on the farm and I always find that to be quite an interesting experience. I often have very good and very clear thoughts at some of the most menial and repetitive activities. That is always a surprise for me.

    However, once I went on a 130km (about 80 mile) five day walk through the forests in the south west of this state and my mind was curiously blank the whole time. I enjoyed the forests, the quiet, and the river though.

    My discursive meditation rarely reaches such exalted heights as I am fixed here on the surface of the planet and have a very practical mindset, plus I try really hard to live consciously, which is not as easily said as done, but still it is worth the effort. I'm unsure whether it is of interest to you, but I try to conduct the discursive meditation as an exercise in letting go, which involves analysing a matter and turning it over and over just to see what insights and other courses of actions will present themselves. That works for me… And I wrote the words “letting go” as it is a process which alleviates my mind of further worry on that matter, whatever it may be. Unfortunately, my mind is rarely quiet and so I seek resolutions and/or multiple courses of action and by doing so that brings me peace. Oooo, that is all very complicated isn't it?

    Anyway, I suspect the spirits don't leave the forest as I don't really feel their departure.

    Cheers

    Chris

  42. Hi Brother Guthlac,

    Thank you! My gut feeling is that is a possible goal in that the external world can become a representation of our inner world, but in a good way, and not as it stands today, which is sort of bad.

    Cheers

    Chris

  43. KKalbert and JMG, that comment about different forms of meditation seems very interesting (I'm a musician too) – could it be that mind-emptying forms of meditation don't intend to teach you how to think, but how to be present in physical disciplines like music or martial arts?

  44. KKalbert and JMG, that comment about different forms of meditation seems very interesting (I'm a musician too) – could it be that mind-emptying forms of meditation don't intend to teach you how to think, but how to be present in physical disciplines like music or martial arts?

  45. Hello Archdruid. This comment might be a bit off topic, but I'm wondering if you've ever had any difficulties aligning the Daoist elements of your magical life with the Western elements. my latest reading leads me to believe they have a Lot in common in terms of technique and even historical background. ( I'm thinking about what I've read in Peter Kingsley so far, and in the Tantric Alchemist by Levenda). Does one set of metaphors ever seem to conflict with another, given their divergent histories? Or do you find, instead, that they complement each other? For example, does a banishing ritual work well in beginning an Yi Jing reading? Or is it best to keep these traditional exercises separate? I'm curious, because here in the beginning of finally finding workable practices, I suddenly find myself in possession of an abundance of material!

  46. Dear Mr. Greer,

    The other day I sat down to write you a long personal letter about my frustrations in trying to begin a system of magical practice. The letter still sits unsent in my writing folio. I have three of your books: Monsters, A World Full of Gods, and The Celtic Golden Dawn; and I have appreciated your lucid and approachable writing on these subjects. Thus, I was hopeful your advice could help me clarify some of the inevitable murk that surrounds the practice of the occult arts. Then I find these posts that are brilliantly answering each of my concerns. Thank you for this. I look forward to next month's post.

  47. KKalbert,

    “I ended up with the realization that “the Beginning of the Universe” is an intellectual impossibility. I could not articulate it, but I found out that discursive intellect can’t supply all the answers. “

    No, but coming up to that precipice is quite important. For me, it informed me that matter cannot be the origin, that although my mind cannot take the next step nor wrap itself around this dilemma, it nonetheless points logically to Something Else about reality.

  48. JMG – You undoubtedly know Blavatsky better that I do, so I am happy to believe you on that.

    BorderPatrol – The Jesuits do indeed know, or knew, a good deal about discursive meditation. Even if one does not have time and a director for the classic 30 day silence and solitude version, the Exercises of St. Ignatius can be useful as self-study. With regard to texts and reading, I would look to Benedictine or Trappist sources on Lectio Divina. I also find JMG’s “Mystery Teaching from Living Earth” good for both.

    Tidlösa – My impression is that the Protestant Reformation is the primary reason that the “esoteric” went deep underground or so far out on the fringe as to fall off the edge of the flat earth. Thus requiring it be quite “unorthodox” by protestant standards. Even puritans knew of meditation and Wesleyan Methodists were so named because they were methodical. But the lack of ritual or “esoteric” sensitivity” and an almost fixation on moralism probably are what led to the manifestation of esoteric and magical lodges, systems and teachings all around the margins. JMG – you will know this far better than I. Our host has indicated that neither mysticism nor “folk magic” are the primary direction that he is heading with us here.

    Dylan, As to why to practice magic, if we accept JMG’s indication of magical training aimed at “the awakening of the higher potentials of human consciousness”, what else is worth bothering with? Regarding BoysMom’s comment concerning whatever sort of magic might be Biblically unacceptable, clearly awakening of higher potential of human consciousness seems to be another way talking about what Biblical language would call spiritual growth or sanctification. I find the conversation between Gareth Knight and Fr. Anthony Duncan to be illuminating. Well, at least so it seems to me. What is the phrase here? Mileage may vary.

    JMG – Thank you for pointing to Pierre Hadot. He can indeed be useful. Those old philosophers did seem to have some idea of what they were seeking – and how to get at it.

  49. Well, once again I feel as if I had done a bit more digging on my own, I might have come closer to answering my own question. Apparently, the traditional cauldron in Daoist Alchemy (inner & outer) is called a Ding, and like Gwion's cauldron, to which you referred in your First Paragraph, it too has three feet. As your fascinating posts continue, I look forward to seeing what other obvious signs I'll miss…

  50. Hi, all
    I want to chime in enthusiastically on JMG’s and Brother Guthlac’s recommendation of Pierre Hadot, especially Philosophy as a Way of Life.

    I picked it up several years ago after reading other stuff full of lines like this: “The first thing to be done by those who wish to achieve metaphysical understanding is to take up a position outside of time, we say deliberately in non-time,” if such an expression does not seem too peculiar and unusual.”

    Well, it sounded very mysterious and intimidating.

    Pierre Hadot gave me the key to “non-time,” straight from the classical philosophers: “forget the past and the future, and attend to the present moment, which is effectively infinite.”

    That’s just for starters. Hadot is wonderful! Lots of good things that can be used immediately: How to make looking at the stars a spiritual practice, how art can get you out of your ego—it is packed to the gills with priceless ideas.

  51. Dear Archdruid,
    Not sure if you still read the comments this late in the week, but I was wondering – a few years ago you replied to Kutamun that “the metaphysical implications of nuclear power are another matter entirely, and one that I may eventually have to address over in the other blog.” (Dark Age America: A Bitter Legacy)

    That sounds fascinating to me. Any chance of that still happening?

  52. Ed, if you find that studying philosophy is all you need, great. A great many people have found otherwise, and those are the people for whom meditation is appropriate. BTW, Spengler, turgid? I find him very readable in either language.

    Cherokee, and a happy even more belated equinox to you! Yep, it's complicated. 😉

    Anioush, that's a good point. Different forms of meditation are certainly appropriate for different things — and discursive meditation doesn't strike me as particularly useful in martial arts training, for example.

    Disposium, I don't mix systems casually. When I was doing a lot of taijiquan and related practices, I did them at a different time of day, without mixing in any of my western magical work, and when I did the latter I didn't muddle it up with Taoism. When it came time to fuse the Druid tradition with Golden Dawn magic, I worked out the necessary connections over a period of several years of research and practice, and tested everything carefully as I went. In my experience, that's essential to avoid potentially serious problems.

    Chris, thank you! Delighted to hear it.

    Brother G., Hadot is a real treasure. His books taught me how to understand the Stoics, who are still my go-to resource in tough times.

    Disposium, yes, but I don't recommend mixing the Taoist three cauldrons with their partial equivalents elsewhere. The result is at best a little like fried chicken ice cream, and at worst like “I wonder what happens if I drop this match into this canister of gasoline?”

    Brother G., no, not at all. Pathworking is traveling in the imagination. Discursive meditation is how you learn from the images that you experience in pathworking. Confusing them is like confusing your mouth and your intestines.

    Sister Crow, got it and you're in the contest!

    Brigyn, on this blog, I read comments straight through the month. I'll consider a post on that, though it may be a while.

  53. I second Brigyn above – that would be fascinating. Also I've been thinking recently. Is it good, from a metaphysical perspective, to turn wifi off when not needed or even better to use a cable?

  54. Hi, JMG. I’d like to submit a short story in response to your call back in March for fiction dealing with some aspect of magic. Here’s the URL; http://ummuhh.weebly.com/, and please excuse the look of the site. The file is in Word, and is titled “Mastectomy.”
    Thanks for taking a look.
    All the best,
    Rich McKay

  55. Disposium–

    I don't know if you were here last month, but I posted a bit about the difficulties I ran into earlier this year combining a too-intense qigong/Daoist magic practice with the DOGD Western magical work. I didn't go into detail but I will be happy to if you want to hear more about it. The bottom line, though, is that I would strongly, strongly caution you to keep the two practices separate. By that I mean both, don't try to blend the metaphysics, and don't do practices too close together.

    The things I ran into were genuinely bizarre. I would have terrifying spirit-attack nightmares, and wake up with excruciating pain in the region of 魄門. The pain would dissipate only after I performed the LBRP– in the Hermetic Golden Dawn mode. (Why? I have no idea.) My girlfriend started having the same “dreams” just sleeping near me. Other extremely unpleasant stuff happened, and it didn't calm down until I stopped all magic practice of any kind.

    These days I practice a bit of qigong, without much in the way of visualizations, and the Yang-style taiji form. I do this at a separate time from my Celtic Golden Dawn practice. It's mostly fine, but I've found that even this is potentially dangerous. For example, I was recently practicing forms at a local park. Upon completion I felt a very strong urge to perform the Pentagram ritual in Banishing and then Summoning mode. Why? Again, who knows. Local spirits, my own sense of wanting to keep “doing stuff,” I'm not really sure. It was sort of fine, but I had a weird feeling about it, and the next morning I met and had to confront and deal with someone who I feel nearly certain was possessed by a demon. Seriously, it was Hollywood status, down to the dogs in the room all going crazy as soon as he walked in. Related? I don't know, but enough weird stuff has happened that I now view mixing Druid and Daoist practice as the spiritual equivalent of mixing bleach and ammonia. If you're going to practice both, please be careful.

  56. Steve Thomas,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! Could you clarify a couple details? What region did you feel excruciating pain in? That sentence seems to have gotten cut off. When you say the pain would dissipate after you performed the LBRP in the Hermetic Golden Dawn mode, do you mean the ritual with the Hebrew, as opposed to the Celtic Golden Dawn LBRP with the Welsh? Also, how long were you practicing in each tradition before you experienced issues?

    I've become very interested in energy system conflicts, and I've started taking some notes on where people tend to have issues.

  57. I know Jung didn't invent the Myers-Briggs but my understanding is that the typology was Myers/Briggs's attempt to simplify Jung's book “Psychological Types.”

    http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/c-g-jungs-theory.htm

    I'm not an expert on the subject, but I remembered reading that Jung was associated with the MBPT so when you brought him up that's where my mind went.

    I took a long range precision rifle class a few years ago and at the closing dinner we did a poll and 10 of 12 students were INTJ. Only 2 students had ever met before. Male INTJ's make up 3% of the population, I've been thinking about the implications and meaning of that ever since.

  58. Yucca–

    What region did you feel excruciating pain in? That sentence seems to have gotten cut off.

    It wasn't cut off. I posted the Chinese characters for “po men,” which I'd prefer to leave untranslated…

    “When you say the pain would dissipate after you performed the LBRP in the Hermetic Golden Dawn mode, do you mean the ritual with the Hebrew, as opposed to the Celtic Golden Dawn LBRP with the Welsh?”

    Yes. And actually, I performed the ritual astrally– that is, in imagination– without actually getting up and moving around the room. The reason for that is just that it was the middle of the night and I was exhausted.

    “Also, how long were you practicing in each tradition before you experienced issues?”

    Interesting question. Thinking about it, I realized I actually began experiencing minor issues quite early on. I began to learn medical qigong around the time I began practicing the Bardic grade of the DOGD, which includes a middle pillar ritual (so, “energy work.”) Every day I would do an hour of qigong after work, then magic an hour or two later. After about a month of this I started having weird *stuff* invade my visualizations. I can actually remember the exact moment that happened– I was in the garden doing qigong. I began working with a heart exercise, gathering a ball of red mist at the heart. Suddenly the thing I was gathering felt strange, even nauseating, and rather than visualizing a ball of red mist, I couldn't stop seeing a weird red cartoon character. For a few days after, I kept having weird cartoons (literally actual cartoons that I had enjoyed when I was younger) pop into both my qigong and Druid magical visualizations. After that I stopped practicing qigong entirely for a while.

    The deeper issues didn't begin until over a year later, this past Spring. At that time, I'd been practicing Western magic for 3 years, with 2 of those in the Druidical Golden Dawn. And I had been doing intensive training with my qigong teacher (3 hours a day for two weeks at a time) for about six months.

    I typed out a long description of what happened, but it's so weird that I don't know how much detail I want to go into “in public.” Suffice to say that there was a period of about a month where I was afraid to go to sleep at night, like Nightmare on Elm Street status. Weird stuff happened to every other member of the qigong group too, and to some other people directly connected to us. If you or anyone else wants to know more of the specifics I'm sure JMG can connect us privately.

  59. Steve Thomas, Thank you for the fascinating information! I'd love to hear more–I have a gmail address with the name yglauca.

    Donnie, every single time I've ever heard Myers-Briggs brought up–which is actually quite a lot in a variety of different settings–at least half of the people in the room claim to be, or test as, INTJ. Most of the other half are INFPs. I'm not quite sure I believe the population percentages that are usually given.

  60. Donnie, etc. re: MBTI-

    One thing to bear in mind is that while the MBTI is based on Jung's personality theories, it departs from it in a few key ways. First, Jung did not believe that your type was necessarily fixed. Secondly, Jung's theory placed one function as dominant, its opposite as inferior, and the other two as somewhat flexible in their significance and contribution to personality.

    Yucca:

    Donnie, every single time I've ever heard Myers-Briggs brought up–which is actually quite a lot in a variety of different settings–at least half of the people in the room claim to be, or test as, INTJ. Most of the other half are INFPs. I'm not quite sure I believe the population percentages that are usually given.

    That's fascinating, and strangely believable. I've personally tested as IN*P, with the points dead-even between Thinking and Feeling, which strikes me as quite appropriate. I joked with the therapist that I feel Thinking is more important but think Feeling is more important.

  61. Re: Myer-Briggs and all the IN's in the group: self-selection, perhaps? This is a magic-oriented blog, after all, and there are a huge number of people in the world who are temperamentally uninterested in any magic they weren't reared to – if even that.

  62. Couldn't agree more on recommending “Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth”

    A must have primer. For anyone reading this blog.

    If ones tastes are more extreme. The late Dr.Hyatt “Undoing yourself…” Book can yield some interesting insights at the very least. A dangerous book filled with riddles, you've been warned. 23!

    😉

  63. Interesting comments on the Myers-Briggs. Fun fact: my personality type (which isn´t INTJ, by the way) is roughly the same both on the “pseudo-scientific” Myers-Briggs and the “scientific” Big Five, so clearly something is amiss, ha ha. (And it aint me!)

    Since the INTJ is the über-genius personality type, there can´t be *that* many of them, while many may want to be (or imagine themselves to be) such a type. Perhaps this explains why so many test positively for INTJ? It´s a kind of confirmation bias. Another possibility is that INTJ´s are over-represented among people interested in Myers-Briggs tests, since such a test confirms their genius.

    Nobody wants to be, say, the boring worker-ant (ISTJ) or the competent nurse (ISFJ)…

  64. I hadn’t intended to enter the broomstick challenge, but about four days ago I was accosted by an idea. I’ve been typing like mad in hopes of getting the story posted by the 30th, but it looks like I’m not going to make it. I’m about halfway done, I think, at 2,000 words. You mentioned in an earlier comment that the deadline might be ever so slightly flexible. Could I get a few more days?

  65. Before I launch into comments, a note to everyone who's submitted a story: please, if you haven't done so already, put in a comment marked “not for posting” with your legal name, pen name (if any), email address, and the name of your story, so I can contact you if the story is chosen for the anthology.

    Alex, I'd say experiment with it and see what works best for you.

    Rich, got it! Thank you.

    Hereward, got it likewise, and thank you.

    Donnie, fair enough. I've never looked into Myers-Briggs — I simply went straight to Jung.

    Nano, thank you!

    Marie, yes, you can have a few more days. I'll look forward to your entry!

  66. I recently read “A Meditator's Diary” by Jane Hamilton-Merritt, and noted that I'd never really had anyone lay out the distinction between vipassana and samadhi meditation, and the difference in objectives. She segues right into Buddhadasa's character types or classes of temperments, which are sort of eerily on point with this Meyers-Briggs discussion; “Buddhadasa believed that the meditator, before undertaking serious meditation, must understand his own nature and mode of interaction with his environment.” His classes were lustful, hateful, dull, faithful, intelligent, and speculative. The problem with those in a workshop or pre-employment screening context are apparent.

    I've also recently enjoyed “Scholar Warrior” by Deng Ming-Dao. It's fascinating to compare to the variety of practices JMG has laid out as part of well rounded western occult traditions. The concept of Wen Wu Quan Cai seems very familiar as well (go buy The Spirit and the Sword right now, you know you want to. Get Monsters too, it's well worth your time) but evidently there is the potential for serious blowouts in mixing sysytems. I admit I'm fascinated by the how and why. Steve, I'm hanging on your every word.

  67. JMG,

    I am in the process of learning the Ogham alphabet and its symbolism for use in divination, as part of Druidry. It doesn't feel right at all, unlike the Tarot, the symbolism of which I could easily relate to. I am assuming that as I learn to use it, it will resonate with me eventually, so am forging ahead.

    One of the stumbling blocks is that many of the trees and plants assigned to it are completely foreign to me. There is no reference point at all to these in my subconscious that I can tap into.

    However, I grew up on 230 acres of natural woods and farmland, rich with native trees and plants, located here in Eastern Ontario. Trees I've climbed, rested against, cut and burned for firewood, collected leaves from, carved, planted, walked under, made walking sticks with, revered and loved are embedded deep in my early years.

    I understand the need to take a system as is and learn it well, but it would work better if I could use what I already know viscerally. Is there any reason not to substitute the native plants I am familiar with for the ones that are foreign to me? Will this affect pathworking or other more advanced Druid work I do later?

    As an example, I've never seen heather, but red osier dogwood I've fought countless times to walk through, collected and made baskets with it (currently in use in my house), decorated with it, and ripped it out to plant other things. I know that if you bend a shoot over and pin it down, it will send out long shoots all the way up the bent one to try to establish a new leader. These are much longer than normal and usually unbranched shoots that are great for basket making. Heather may as well grow on the moon.

  68. Perhaps of interest: St. Cyprian of Antioch, sometimes called “the magician”, was commemorated in the Latin calendar on September 26th and is still in the Orthodox calendar on October 2nd.

  69. Last minute “Beyond Broomsticks” entry: “The Caretaker.”
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1TksWSNQ3dXkiCAXgkJPqaps9YYzeEjI8vO0cSt6f1q4/edit?usp=sharing

    On the subject at hand, I am a Buddhist with many years of practice in the Zen tradition. I came to the dharma after a passing glance at the Western Esoteric Tradition (aka “magic”) and now am coming round again.

    While my own practice still primarily revolves around “emptying” the mind I have begun to experiment with other forms of meditation, including “discursive” practices inside and outside of the Buddhist tradition. When asked, I explain to the curious that the English word meditation refers to a category of activities rather than a discrete activity itself, much like the English word “exercise.” All of the activities in the category involve the willful focusing of the mind for a specific purpose but are otherwise can be quite disparate. Some types of meditation bear as little resemblance to each other as kickboxing does to synchronized swimming. Both the latter mentioned activities qualify as “exercise” but their practitioners might not have much to talk about when they bump into each other at the gym.

  70. @Myriam: I was terrified of Ogham for years precisely because of the tree lore aspect (especially since there seems to be so little agreement across the various schools of Ogham as to which tree each fid actually represents). I decided that I just wasn't going to be able to get anything out of the Ogham (partly because the senior Druid in my grove is a Master Herbalist, and she always makes it sound like you have to be a botanist to even be able to start with the Ogham. What finally proved a breakthrough for me was breaking away from the idea that it was at its core a tree alphabet and working with them the way one might work with Runes, treating the kennings from the Scholar's Primer as meditation themes the way one might work with the Rune poems (that's also the approach Erynn Rowan Laurie takes with Weaving Word Wisdom, and that's a book I would highly recommend for studying Ogham, but you can find the kennings online for free in various places as well.) From there I started gradually easing my way into the tree lore once I already had a foundation in what each letter was about separate from the trees, which let me use meditation to trace aspects of the tree's biology, medical uses, and folklore back to my own understandings of the letters, then picking through other books of ogham and doing the same thing with other author's interpretations of the letters. There's a lot of meditative meat in that approach I've found. There have been a few areas where my pushed me in a slightly different direction than the system Greer puts forward in the Druid Magic Handbook. Namely I prefer the medieval ordering of the first aicme, since the first Aicme was the first I learned before I ever started seriously studying the Ogham and that's the order I learned it in, and the other being the ordering for the forfeda, because the Graves/Murray decision of not making Uilleann, which literally means “elbow” the hook like everybody else does messes with my head. From the basis of the word Oghams, the letter meanings, and so on, you'd then go to applying that to your local trees if that's what interests you and seeing what comes out of it. That's not something I've done, but here's a link to an article by our host about his own work translating the Ogham to fit the trees of the pacific Northwest that might be helpful as a guide to what that process looks like: http://aoda.org/Articles/A_Pacific_Northwest_Ogham.html.

  71. Hello Eric,

    Thank you for your long and thoughtful answer. If I may borrow one of your phrases, most of it messes with my head. It seems to me that a neat series of symbols was invented, primarily because they are easy to carve on sticks and stones, to be used as an alphabet. From there were piled on to each what seems to me to be really obscure connotations.

    We are to take it on faith that a vertical line with two perpendicular lines, for example, means protection, discernment and inner clarity if they point to the right, but power, protection and change for the better if they point to the left.

    I am left with the feeling that this is all completely arbitrary, and learning the system simply programs the mind for divination. Not that this is necessarily bad, because all symbols are arbitrary, though some are more suggestive visually than others.

    I am even willing to learn these as is, and if it gets me past the numb mind to where intuition flows freely, as I was starting to experience with the Tarot, then so be it. But if we can agree that there is nothing inherently oak-like when two perpendicular lines point to the left as opposed to rowan-like if they point to the right, I would feel better.

    Ok, grumbling rant is over, I will get back to my studies. I have ordered a copy of Weaving Word Wisdom. Thank you so much for the suggestion. It looks like it will be very helpful!

  72. HI JMG,
    I just found out why Mars is the consort of Venus despite her being a married lady. My huge, usually gentle, ram just broke out of his enclosure. He mangled a steel door bolt to do this. My husband had a little ewe lamb running around our yard(a fence jumper) and this drove Mars crazy. Very powerful battle and sexual lusts that boy! By the way, his name is Commodus.

    I have been studying discursive meditation for about a year and a half now. I knew I could focus on an image but not what to do then so I just focused on the words I was sent in my scrying bowl. That is working surprisingly well for me.

    Before I read this post, I tried to ask the spirit of my house how it would like to be seen. I asked if it would like to be seen as a flower, an animal or a tree. The answer surprised me. It wants to be seen as an old-fashioned straw bee hive.

    Later, I tried to do a meditation on that image and had a delightful experience of being inside the cozy hive. In the night, I awoke and decided to contemplate the image again. It came out all dark and I tried to move it back to the sunlit meadow. Then, I decided to see what the image wanted to show me. I went into the night hive and found it wonderfully peaceful and found out a small truth about myself.

    So, thank you for this teaching. You really are improving my life.
    Yours under the red cedar,
    Max Rogers

  73. You all are getting very interesting results fro your meditations. I changed the time if mine from late evening (missing too many due to other things) to “before lunch” an “After endurance walk.” Yesterday my walk led me to a University Area coffee house with a new, very rich pastry – in meditation I asked for guidance and got my new marching orders for destination walks. “Hyder Park.” Lots of scenery, no pastries.

    I think my spirit guide is a Scottish nanny, bless her.

  74. Peggy, got it and thank you! You're in the contest.

    WW, thank you! With reference to trouble mixing systems, I ended up with a condition that trad Chinese medicine calls “yang kidney qi depletion” as a result of mixing Western magic and some fairly high-end qigong. Not a pleasant thing: water retention, chills, lack of energy, etc. It didn't stop until I dropped not only qigong but the whole system of taijiquan and related practices, and even so it's taken its merry sweet time to heal.

    Paul, got it and you're in the contest.

    Myriam, it's certainly possible to relate Ogham to local plants, but you have to understand the symbolism of the Ogham fews first, so you get the connections right. The trees are actually less important than current Neopagan practice makes them seem — they were only one of many sets of alphabetically arranged symbolism, and the names of most of the fews aren't tree names — for example, Beith literally means “being,” and Tinne means a bar or ingot of iron.

    Brother G., thank you! I understand that devotions to St. Cyprian are still much practiced among Christian occultists, and I've seen novena candles and the like with his name and image in botanicas, alongside a good many other questionably canonical figures.

    Kevin, got it and you're in the contest. As for the differences between various forms of meditation, exactly.

    Myriam (if I may), okay, I see part of the problem. No, you don't need to take it on faith that one few symbolises this set of concepts while that few symbolizes another. The fews aren't symbols, they're signs — that is to say, arbitrary tallies that relate to a set of meanings that are ultimately numerical in nature. The ancient Celts counted by twenties the way we count by tens, and in Ireland, they created a set of twenty categories (with five additional ones tacked on to the end) as an anchor for meditation, memorization, and poetic symbolism. The categories, not the tally markers, are what's important, and if you study the symbols assigned to each category, you can catch the “flavor” of each of them and then use that in divination.

    Maxine, you're welcome and thank you! I have to admit it would never have occurred to me to name a ram Commodus — do you have a ewe named Messalina or Agrippina, by any chance? 😉

    Peggy, got it and that one's in, too.

    Patricia, funny. I trust you can enjoy the occasional pastry anyway!

  75. Thanks for another great post. It confirms a few things that I already suspected, including that bit about Jung. When I saw some of the pictures of his Red Book, I couldn't help but conclude that he must have been an accomplished occultist. I can make sense only of a fraction of what's in the pictures, but that's more than enough to tell that he must have known exactly what he was doing.

    There is another thing that may be called “meditation” that I've also found useful, and I think that's what Aleister Crowley referred to when he said “Neglect not the dawn meditation”. After you've woken up, especially if the evening before you've done some sort of magical activity, spend some time trying to go back to the content of your dreams and just let anything that bubbles up in connection to that come to the surface. On one of the early days of my interest in magic, this brought up the verses about the One Ring from the Lord of The Rings, you know, “one ring to rule them all, etc.” This led me to re-read the Lord of The Rings, and I think Tolkien must have been familiar with some druid magic and that knowledge informed his descriptions of wizards, though of course you're in a much better position than me to comment on the subject.

    I've been working a bit more on the planets. I had a holiday in Ireland recently, so I thought I should read some Yeats, since he's both a famous Irish poet and a well-known occultist. I chose to meditate on his famous poem “The Second Coming” because it's so famous. As I meditated, I realized that it's absolutely saturated with Saturn influence. It's kind of obvious, really, but the meditation brought it up so much more clearly. I think from now I'll be better at perceiving what sort of planetary influences are at work on something. Saturn may not have been the best planet to start with, but on the other hand, maybe there are also advantages to getting a good feel for it. What do you think?

    I know I promised to write a short story about magic and I haven't. The difficulty is that… well, at this point I feel rather inadequate. I've become more aware of what accomplished magicians can do, and I know I can't do anything half as good. And I worry that if I write a story, any competent magician will be able to tell pretty much where I'm at. And I'm not sure if I want to advertise my level of incompetence. Sure, everybody started by being an apprentice, but I'm not sure to what extent it's a good idea to jump up and down shouting: “Apprentice here! Have a go!”

  76. Hi JMG,
    My ewes are names Gaia, Septima, Lenticula (she has freckles), Concha and Octavia.

    Commodus, as far as I could make out, means the right one. I didn't name him after the Emperor Commudus but named him to be the right one. I had to choose between him and his brother, Fortunatus a few days after their miraculous birth. Their mother, Rosea Felicia had to have an emergency C section after many hours in labour so we all thought the lambs would be born dead. Commodus was pulled backwards from his mother's womb, kicking like a bronco. He was huge, a 17 lb lamb and his brother only a bit smaller.

    Messalina and Agrippina (the princesses)were both descended from Mark Anthony so what do you expect when you cross an Antonine with congenitally criminal Claudians?
    Great respect and affection from Max

  77. October 3rd, the commemoration of St. Dionysius the Aeropagite. Some might consider the writings ascribed to him an important source regarding theurgy and hierarchy of “inner planes”. As to the relationship between theurgy and magic, I'm sure there are various opinions.

  78. JMG you said, “Brother G., no, not at all. Pathworking is traveling in the imagination. Discursive meditation is how you learn from the images that you experience in pathworking. Confusing them is like confusing your mouth and your intestines.”

    Which led me to wonder if “rumination” might not be a word that could usefully distinguish discursive meditation from other forms of meditation?

  79. I did my first meditation today, but instead of the black bean my mind was fixed on the avocado seed I've been growing for the past year and is now a nice small tree. Combined that with reading The Mystical Cabala yesterday, and getting the Tree of Life burned into my brain since I finished the book, the seed was stubbornly placing itself on the ninth sphere, with the roots going into the tenth and the trunk going up into the sixth.

  80. JMG,

    OK then, with the focus on categories and not on the “sign”, if you will allow me, I'll try to unpack the flavour of one of them, Tinne, since you mentioned it.
    Tinne, bar of iron. Third of wheel, third of weapons (iron bar). Fires of coal (charcoal?) Image conveyed: medieval Celtic blacksmith, preparing for war. Sound value: “T”. Sounds like blacksmith pounding iron: T, T, T, (sound it out.) Colour: dark grey (metal). Animal: Torc (boar). Tool: Tal (adze) Both suggest blackmithing sounds though I'm sure there is more to them than that. Art is lathework. Tinne is Air of Fire (bellows and forge?)(Mind and will?)
    The meaning of the few is courage (fire?), conflict and opposition, again suggesting battle. I'm not sure what the other symbols mean or how they are related yet. And I am sure if I keep meditating on it, other interesting images will come up.

    On the farm where I grew up, my father and my brothers (two of which now own industrial machine shops with an array of metalworking tools, including lathes), prized the ironwood which grew there. They made handles for various hand tools out of it (on lathes). Ironwood has the densest, hardest wood of any native tree species. As a weapon, a “bar of iron”, an ironwood cudgel, this would suit very nicely.

    I also remember one brother in his teens made a forge using charcoal, and experimented pounding and shaping metal.

    This correspondence of Tinne with the tree I am familiar with, Ironwood, is personal to me, maybe, but would you say it could work with this category as I understand it? Or have I got the category “flavour” all wrong?

  81. Nicolas: in the latest issue of Sage Woman, which is devoted to trees, Diana Paxson has a home-designed sketch of Yggdrasil, showing the Nine Worlds and the homes of the gods – and does a brief compare-and-contrast to the Tree of Life. Some of that issue is pretty good. Note: heavy PNW/Ecotopia focus; it's out of Oregon west of the Cascades. Yes, trees and seeds and the Cabala do go well together. Or can.

  82. What do you make of having to drop the related practices and not just the quigong? It reminds me of an article Dr. Phil Maffetone wrote about what he called “the reverse tipping point.” It was about a guy who'd developed insulin resistance and got no results from significantly improving his diet, he had to totally eliminate some things before he saw his health turn around. I suppose it's really pretty Donella Meadows, a situation where correlation between actions and results is vague enough that it's hard to get the causal relationship?
    I see people developing systems all over the place, with perhaps a social element, a physical conditioning element, a combative element, and maybe some meditation and health analogues. I haven't heard of any high profile kundalini blowouts, but once in a while I see some Frith rant or whatever that makes me wonder if it might be an early indicator of an undesireable outcome. I think I'm hearing that picking an established system and working it through start to finish is the most proven way to develop the capacity to know when things are drifting off course before it gets to the “stop, drop, and roll” phase?

  83. Unfortunately I have a question for the group to deal with a possible dark magic working. My wife's sister is pregnant, from a poor excuse of a human, who threatened to pay for a working to make my sister-in-law miscarriage the baby if she proceeded with sending lawyers against him.

    What can I do to prevent the working from affecting her if that goes ahead with that.

  84. At JMG and Other Experienced Practitioners Here–

    I think that this has been covered before, but I can't find a good answer….

    There are a couple of younger members of my family that strongly resemble me in temperament, so I've been keeping my eye on them. Sure enough, one, my 8 year old niece, has begun to manifest some kind of psychic sensitivity.

    My brother texted to say that she stayed home from school today and he thought she was faking sick. But “Now her school is on lockdown because there is an armed gunman in the area, so I guess we're better off here.”

    I wrote back, “I would ask her if she had a premonition or a dream.”

    Sure enough, he says, “She woke up shrieking in the middle of the night. She said she saw a figure in the middle of the room. It hissed or screamed at her and vanished. Weirdest part is that she was absolutely sure she didn't see the man until after she opened her eyes.” “I woke up because someone came in my room. I don't remember what they said but they sounded like this (unintelligible hissing sound).”

    So, it looks like I was right.

    I made some suggestions– be aware that she is sensitive, don't encourage her to close, and get her some kind of protective talisman or icon. While my brother isn't religious, the family is culturally Catholic, so I suggested a St. Michael statue or rosary while mentioning that if he doesn't want church stuff, I can come up with an alternative. Unfortunately I made the mistake of replying to my brother in public (on a family group text.) He's already an atheist, which is fine, but the reaction of the rest of the family (“She's a VERY IMAGINATIVE child and had an EXCITING DAY the day before and so of COURSE she would have a CRAZY NIGHTMARE like that”) will probably only further close him down to my suggestions.

    In such cases, what would you (again, anyone with experience) do? I mean both in terms of getting around the resistance of the family and in terms of helping my niece to not suppress her natural gifts but to remain safe? Any suggestions of non-Catholic protective spirits that might (in statue form) make a nice Christmas present from her weirdo uncle, or anything else?

  85. @ Nicholas – try casting a mirror shell around her?

    If you want a very simple chant to go with that, try the old playground one of “I'm rubber, you're glue. Everything you throw at me, bounces back and sticks to you.”

    I'm sure your local Botanica can sell you something more effective.

    That guy sounds like a nasty little beast.

  86. Tell your atheist brother you're using a little psychology on her – giving her a lucky charm she will believe makes her safe. If she relates especially to any animal, fairy tale heroine or hero, or mass media figure (as many of us did at that age), an image of that might help. For me it would have been Wonder Woman; then later on, Mister Spock.

    Hope this helps,

    Pat

  87. @Patricia: I'm a neophyte of the magic world, and I just know enough to understand the size of my ignorance. Would you have by chance the ritual and how it can be performed on behalf of someone else?

  88. JMG

    sorry to hear you had to drop your tai chi. If you had trainec to instructor level and done 45 minutes per day it must have competed equally with your magic rituals for importance. Did you consider dropping magic instead and just going with tai chi and qi gong? With your writings and arch druid activities, committment to that was obviously higher, making asian sport merely a hobby in comparison. I hope you can take it back up or find a work around so that they do not interfere with one another. Yoga and tai chi seem compatible.

  89. Might I be so bold as to ask for advice related to tailoring a meditation/ritual practice to my (probably quirky) proclivities? I apologize for the length and hope it's not excessive but helps clarify what I'm looking for.

    (and this is directed, not only to JMG, who, I recognize, is out of town and generally busy, but to you kind folks in general who have far more experience than I)

    I LIKE the idea of a daily banishing ritual and relevant meditation and in spite of my up-to-this-point tendency to flub such a daily commitment would like to make an effort in that direction. Yes, my first attempt to change consciousness at will is going to be in the direction of maintaining a commitment to daily practice.

    I will be confronting limitations related to extremely unpredictable privacy and resistance to vocalizations due to the presence of a judgmental family member and just my own secretive nature. Thankfully, my husband (who is only sporadically home from overseas) is an active practitioner of a tradition that utilizes ritual, meditation, chanting, etc (with no fear of my judgmental dad, unlike me). But I'm less inclined to his tradition and because I don't know what “my” tradition is… I'm not very bold about stating that I have one or defending it. So I won't be staking territorial claims at this point and whatever I do, it's going to have to be quiet and private until I gain confidence and surety.

    How problematic is this?

    And that relates to practices themselves and trying to figure out which direction I should go. Heartened by David's request (and the reply it garnered), I thought about what I'm actually looking for. I realized what I'm really in need of is an ally. I am not drawn to any deities (and have no experience with them, though I wish that were otherwise, I think). And the thought of starting there intimidates me. I want connection to spirit of place, deeply. Relationship with elemental forces and other aspects of our world – but I am just NOT going to plug random deities into the Sphere of Protection. I figure at least if I find an ally, maybe he can guide me in a direction that allows for deities – so far flailing about on my own hasn't worked in that way. Prayer? To whom? Without being bonked over the head with a sign, I'm stuck in my very material-experience.

    And then I remembered a book I've been carrying around a while, had dabbled with, and set down (a few years ago). Has anyone here ever read/used Edward Steinbrecher's The Inner Guide Meditation? Now that I know who Israel Regardie and Gareth Knight are, the cover blurb and foreword carry some weight, so that's a plus. Basically the premise is a directed meditation (a la, what this post is talking about) utilizing active imagination to contact one's “inner guide” (a 'being' who is able to assist, at any rate, and is by definition helpful in accessing other realms and doing spiritual work). I've refreshed my memory of what the process entails and it meets my criteria above: you can do it silently and in writing plus it's not deity-devotional.

    According to the author, if you follow the instructions, you WILL find your guide and the guide is protective against the kinds of things a banishing protects against…

    Would the Sphere of Protection still be recommended?

    I think this is just a case of our fine host bringing us Spiritual Kindergarten, but I need remedial preschool before I can even get up to speed figuring out if I'm Druid/Norse/Irish/Shinto/xyz-inclined.

    Any thoughts or suggestions? I'd love to hear them.

  90. Greetings John,

    First thing i must say, wheter or not you've heared it a hundred times, is thanks for all your splendid work. You have a fanatic reader here in Catalonia.

    Having said that, i would like to make a couple of questions to you:

    1-Some years ago a book called “The art and practice of astral projection” came to me in a rather mysterious way. To be short; Is a safe book for a begginer to apply, and his author “Opphiel”(Edward Peach) to be trusted?

    1-Since my life is now changing for good, and i will be in a position to start studying magic regularly ¿ Do you think is wise to study magic if i am a father, with my little kids and wife living with my?

    Perhaps is a silly question, but you say once that Golden Dawn adepts had a troubled life. I'm not intending to follow the golden dawn methods, but you probably get the point. Dion Fortune say's also, in one of his Books something about complete dedication and abandonment of all, in order to really succeed.

    Many thanks,

    Guillem Mateo

  91. OK – Nicholas, if you are a total novice, I would suggest going to a practitioner you trust, or recommended by somebody you trust – curandera, root doctor, whatever, or even someone running the local occult books & supplies shop, ask for a candle for
    protection for a loved one” and take it frm there. And if you get a funny feeling about the person you're talking to, buy a cheap red candle and get out of there politely. That's the best I can do. I know what I do but have no idea how it works or how well it works.

    If you have a religion, try prayer. I used that in working for the healing of a friend's Methodist husband, who was not comfortable with the thought of magic – addressed Raphael for that. St. Michael for protection for you. You can get those candles even in the supermarket. With labels explaining them. Just do a circle-and-banishing and light the candle and pray.

    My simplest circle is “Sacred circle, I now seal you, and create this sacred space between the worlds. So note it be.” You can use “Amen”. All this while drawing a circle in the air, clockwise, starting in the east. and visualising a blue spherical force field around the area I'm working in. Does that help?

  92. Temporary reality,

    i sort of have your problem with random deities as well. I grew up catholic where saints and angels are also present but in yoga I use nonvocalized mantras to various figures. These are supposedly only effective if handed down by a guru in a lineage and not picked up from a book.

    Deus means god and is related to sanskrit deva, greek zeus, etc. I read agerman article which explained deities in india are aspects of god's personality,there really being ultimately a single god. I prayto'God' if I pray. I know that inindia one can use various gods for various purposes. Ganesha is when you need luck. I guessthis must be similar to angel michal for protection. Knowing a bit about astrology I can imagine them as godheads with different purposes and indeed in india and greece their names are gods, venus/aphrodite should be goddess for romantic problems.

    Also gods were earlier not just specialists but also localized. Athena was a warrior but also local to Athens. In india 33 million gods, for each village I presume, are supposed to be worshipped. IIRC in jyotish one can find one's god by finding ascendant ruling planet or similar and use mantra and yantra(mandala) for this god or planet. Weak planets in horoscope can be strengthened similarly. Since everyone has a different horoscope, noone would have same ritual and yours could change with circumstances just as with use of prayers to catholic saints or various greek deities, all being aspects of god's personality. Regional gods might be useful in europe and asia with research, ameroindian deities in north america. You could also use chakra work, like catholic prayers to sacred heart of jesus, to make yourself loving as in most religions god is said to be love in ultimate form. Balance of personality discrepancies through chakras would also work along visualing of mandalas for each chakras, saying seed mantra. So in this case geography, planets, external gods are unneccessary as your body is focus.

    So you see lots of various views, applications are possible, even ancestor worship, like an old widower talking to his dead wife.

  93. @Patricia: yes, I can work with that. I completed the training to perform the Sphere of Protection and a former co-worker who is also a white witch told me she felt the effects of my SoP a year ago. And now I'm currently performing the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram everyday.

  94. Temporary Reality,

    I'm by no means an adept, but I hope that a few words from a fellow beginner on what is working for me will be of assistance.

    JMG's book The Druid Magic Handbook gives instructions for the Sphere of Protection with an option to invoke each of the elements without deities. That's how I started it — because, like you, I didn't know which deities to choose and didn't want to pick at random — and it's how I usually still do it. I shut the door to to the room I'm working in and speak quietly, although my husband wouldn't care if he heard me. If we have guests in the house, I often leave a fan running for the duration (the bathroom fan makes quite a racket) to create white noise and drown out any murmurs that might be heard.

    In my case, it's not that I'm worried about judgment from my guests, but having (like you) been raised by a judgmental father I just don't have the patience for impertinent questions. And I do view asking a grown woman to defend her spiritual activities as impertinence. 🙂

    For me, the best way to connect with the spirits of a place is to get outdoors and pay attention. Not forcing anything, just looking around me. Watching the leaves change through their lifecycle. Noticing the austere beauty of bare branches in winter. Anticipating the groundhogs waking up in a nearby field. Taking a close look at the lichen on the old stone wall bordering our property. That kind of thing. If you're anything like me, you'll think it's not working at all and then you'll go on a trip someplace and realize you feel completely disoriented and disconnected. And that's when you'll realize you've made a connection where you live.

  95. Oddly enough, Maria, it worked totally backwards for me. I've lived in Albuquerque since 1968. Yet when my daughter was driving me to a family reunion in Durango over a year ago, something clicked the minute I was in the mountains with trees. As if I were finally home.

    And yet …. when a series of “which road to go down” meditations finally leads me back to a modest Albuquerque residential neighborhood (which one unspecified) one has to wonder.

  96. Maria, I don't happen to know what kind of meditation Crowley had in mind for dawn, but applying meditative techniques to your dreams is certainly an old and very useful practice. As for Tolkien, he was a very odd duck — a devout and highly traditional Roman Catholic whose imaginative life was riddled with secondhand occultism. I don't think he ever studied occult traditions directly (unlike Charles Williams and, to a much lesser extent, CS Lewis), but the pulp science fiction and fantasy he and Lewis loved to read was packed to the gills with occult teachings. I really need to do a post one of these days on Conan the Theosophist!

    With regard to Saturn, a lot depends on your self-assessment of your personality. If you feel ungrounded and flighty, for example, Saturn's a great place to start; if you tend to be stolid, stodgy, and pessimistic, on the other hand, it's probably best to start somewhere else, to avoid increasing the imbalance.

    Maxine, that's delightful! Thank you.

    Brother G., the Dionysian writings are primary source documents for nearly every school of Christian occultism I know of, and not just the theurgic kind.

    Scotlyn, sure, although I'd rather reclaim the original word. (I also can't help thinking of the Hobbit parody that renamed a certain geographical feature “Erbivor, the Ruminating Mountain.”)

    Nicolas, good. That'll certainly work, since the ninth sphere is the sphere of the life force, for which a seed makes an excellent symbol.

    Myriam, you haven't gotten it wrong at all. That's exactly the sort of chain of associations that meditating on a symbolic category should produce — and if you want to link ironwood with that, by all means.

    WW, exactly. One of the many benefits of working through an existing system is that you know what a working system is like, and so can use that as a yardstick against which to measure your own experiments. As for the need to drop the whole system, that's simply because any thoroughly worked out system of spiritual training is a unity, and every part feeds into every other part. It's not a matter of mix-and-match — not unless you already know what you're doing! As for high profile kundalini blowouts, frankly, my guess is that that's because most of the people who are doing the mix-and-match thing are dabblers, and don't put in the sustained effort needed to get results, for good or ill.

    Nicolas, start by getting your sister-in-law's permission — it's never a good idea to do magic for someone without their consent! Then, once each day, imagine her standing in the center of your working space, and do the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram around her imagined form. You can also, if she's willing, make her a simple protective amulet — a small bag of red cloth which contains salt and a small, sharp nail that you have bent at an angle. That will mess up a surprisingly large range of hostile workings, and in conjunction with the LBRP, should keep her good and safe.

    Steve, that's really touchy stuff, since as a child, she's both legally and energetically within her parents' sphere and not yours. I suppose you could find out what she likes in terms of fantasy imagery, get her something suitable, and invoke a protective deity into the image; still, be careful, and seek divination before doing anything.

    Ed, I did consider it, but magic fills spiritual needs that t'ai chi doesn't. One of the lessons of the Path is that you have to be prepared to give up things you care about.

  97. Temporaryreality, I'd say go ahead and try practicing the Sphere of Protection with the impersonal elements, doing it whenever you feel you can get five to ten minutes of privacy, and see what happens. If it's the right path for you, you'll figure that out within a couple of months, and then it'll be time to claim some space for your work.

    Guillem, you're welcome and thank you! I'm familiar with Ophiel's work, and know a number of people who've gotten good results from it, so I'd encourage you to give it a try. As for your second question, it's not silly at all. If you take up the practice of any kind of magic in a serious way, you're going to have to deal with any unfinished business in your life, because every kind of spiritual practice causes what Manly P. Hall called “karmic culmination” — basically, any problematic issue in your life that you've been trying not to deal with is going to pop up and make you deal with it. Once you've dealt with your unresolved problems, though, in my experience, magic makes life easier — and I know a lot of mages who are married and have children, and seem to be pretty happy about it all.

  98. @JMG – ooh, ouch! I just *assumed* Nicholas had consulted his sister-in-law about doing some sort of working for her. Sigh. Assume = ass + U + me…. I surely consulted Mike Lamb, via his wife, before even buying the appropriate candle. BTW, his tumors are receding, thanks to an infusion that strips the coating from the cancer cells and tells his T-cells “Come and get it! Dinner time!”

  99. Thanks, Ed – you've helped confirm that “randomly” choosing now would be foolish – it would neither be random (and based only on that which I have intellectual awareness of) nor as organic as I need it to be. If, after I learn the appropriate protection, *something* or *someone* wants to be known by me (or vice versa), then it'll happen by that kind of unfolding- or I risk feeling like I'm grocery shopping at the world market and that's NOT what I want.

    Maria, that is helpful, thank you. I have the DMH (but hadn't started yet). And yeah, you nailed it – it's not so much that the people around me are going to poke into my business (other than out of initial curiosity on my husband's part, probably. He still hopes I'll turn toward his tradition, and it may yet happen, but I haven't figured that out yet) – but even *that* seems horribly put-on-the-spot… it's just the way I emerged from my childhood, with a huge sense of otherness and like I'm a freak for all the unconventional-ness going on in my inner life. My dad's room is at the far end of our long house and his dementia is mild enough that he doesn't need supervision.

    JMG – will do. I'll make space and time and report back at a later date. I can definitely find/make privacy. Thank you.

  100. Before we get too late in the month; Since the core subject of this month’s discussion is meditation.- –

    It seems that back when ordinary churches still remembered and routinely taught discursive meditation (as our host has indicated) most western Christian practice always started with a thorough program in discursive meditation and only later perhaps eventually moved toward non-discursive practice (what is here described as “mind-emptying”). And traveling into those “dark nights” admittedly did frequently cause objections from those who could not understand. The useful distinction made some time back here regarding magic and mystic.

    Those spiritual traditions that include discursive meditation may well weather the coming storm and long decent better.

  101. Hi JMG.

    After reading your post in August, I started doing the Elemental Cross exercise, once or twice a day. I use the elements, saying “may all the powers of nature heal and protect me”.

    Since then (and with no other obvious changes in environment, food, etc. and no other energy practices), I have developed a terrible rash on my hands. Really terrible.

    Should I continue and expect it to resolve? Or should I stop now?

  102. Thanks for your very helpful essay, JMG, and for hosting such an amazing forum. Much appreciated!

    Re: Manly P Hall and “karmic culmination”: Would this be the same phenomenon my Reiki teacher cautioned me about? Her words were essentially “You will embark, willingly or otherwise, on a period of personal growth. It will not be comfortable. Deal.”

    It has indeed been a wild ride, but worth the trip. In a sense, I feel a bit like I'm on a tow rope. To where, I've no idea, but it feels benign, in a tough love sort of way.

  103. @JMG & Patricia: she told me about it since she knows I've been interested in the occult for many years and asked me what could be done to protect her. I thank both of you for the advices that will go to further my learning. My best friend is an exorcist and he had an alternative more suited to my sister-in-law's views (she's a former Jehovah's Witness).

    I'm going to add your ideas into my book of knowledge.

  104. Archdruid,

    I've split my time between different forms of meditation, during either different periods of the day or on different days. I find that discursive meditation causes me to become very anxious if I do it too many days in a row. I think that has something to do with my over exposure to the internet which has wired my brain to not think in a straight line for prolonged periods of time. The emptiness mediation is what I focus the majority of my time on, but I can say I've never actually experienced emptiness. My sphere of protection ritual, which I do twice a day as a way to invoke devas of night and day for balance, kinda doubles as a meditation since it requires fairly intense focus. I’m not sure whether that’s okay or not. I was wondering though, is there any specific length of time that a banishing ritual should be? I've never tried a banishing ritual before a meditation, and after reading some of the comments here I thought I might try it out.

    Regards,

    Varun

  105. Patricia, I certainly didn't mean it as a criticism, just a reminder to other readers to keep that point in mind!

    Brother G., at this point anything that helps people develop an inner life independent of the mass media and the mediated collective imagination is essential to survival. Which is to say, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Marie, no inconvenience at all. Got it, thank you, and you're in the contest.

    Yellopig, good question. That's not a reaction I've ever heard of before. If it doesn't resolve, your body is probably trying to tell you that you need to follow some other spiritual path.

    OtterGirl, yep, it's the same phenomenon. “Spiritual growth” is a very friendly and polite way to talk about being forced to confront everything in your life that doesn't actually work…

    Nicolas, glad to hear it.

    Varun, different people take different amounts of time to do rituals, but the Sphere of Protection in most cases runs five to ten minutes. More than that, unless you're an advanced practitioner, is probably too much.

  106. Hi, JMG. I am intrigued by your reply to Varun Bhaskar re: duration of the SOP. I have been doing it for over a year now, and find that it takes me ½ hour (including all 7 gates) going at a pace that feels natural. In doing so, I find that I can build intense multi-sensory images and really immerse myself in each element/spirit, so that at the end of the ritual, I feel that I am virtually radiating all these energies, but in a balanced way. It is the highlight of my day! I’ve tried reducing the time it takes, but the feeling I get is weak/diluted whenever I try to rush it. I don’t consider myself an “advanced” practitioner, but perhaps a decade of non-discursive (i.e., “eastern) meditation in my youth and several years of discursive meditation and scrying as part of my geomancy practice may make a difference (e.g., my respiration is very slow during SOP and on average my mind tends not to wander). Should I be concerned about taking so much time?

  107. Ron, if that's what works for you, by all means go ye forth and do that thing. No, it's not something to worry about; different people have different time scales, in and out of ritual.

    Myriam, glad to hear it.

  108. Ok, here is a thing… My meditation time, which I am still in the throes of steadying into a daily practice, is lately bringing up “stray” thoughts of a very particular character. That is to say, they do not seem to be random distractions easy to push away, but more like a knock on the door of my attention that need attending to…

    Here is how they manifest at present. I will suddenly find myself in the midst of a vivid memory of an event from my past, but as I experience it, I am struck with a sense of sorrow, or of guilt, or even embarrassment, as I witness myself indulge myself (sometimes in a material way, sometimes in a self-belief, or an emotion, or a sense of virtue) at the expense, sometimes the pain, of another.

    Taken singly, none of these are large hurts, and I have no doubt the other parties to them have weathered their pain or expense. In so much as we are still in contact, especially my husband and children, they appear to still love me and to have forgiven me. I am not so sure about the wider impacts of my self-indulgences on my part of the biosphere. In any case, these memories make me writhe in self-judgment and also induce a hearty desire to escape their import, while being so vivid that I cannot. I am finding them very difficult to process.

    If I were a Roman Catholic, I think I would very much appreciate a rite of confession, penance and absolution round about now. I am wondering if there is a Druid way to do something similar. Certainly, my sense of myself as a “good person” is undergoing a small death. (Possibly this is one of those things that are good but feel bad).

  109. yellopig,
    Read your soap labels, and avoid public restroom soap (yeah, this means packing a bar). About three years ago, with no other changes in life, my allergy to sodium lauryl sulfate/sodium lauryth sulfate worsened, and I suddenly developed eczema on my hands. This mid-life onset is apparently becoming more and more common and has to do with total exposure: my dermatologist claims there is no such allergy, but chat with folks where you buy organic products, and you'll find lots of people with the problem. (I have a history of problems with it in my mouth, as it's a common foaming agent, you may find it in both cake mixes and toothpaste. Skin had not previously been an issue. If you get canker sores, it may be the cause.) The general rule for avoidance is anything that has bubbles if you can't check the ingredients list! It seems reasonable to me to eliminate this known trouble-maker as well.

    In regards to the young lady with the nightmare, perhaps making a dream catcher would be a good choice. If you aren't familiar with them, they fall in the general class of folk-craft, and I strongly suspect folk-magic, and are supposed to trap bad dreams and hold them to melt in the sun, while good dreams go through the hole in the middle. I learned to make them from a lady who was a member of one of the local tribes, as most children around here do during summer camps, so I don't think there would be any provenance issues magically since they've chosen to use them in outreach. They work quite well for most folks, so you may like to classify that sort of thing as psychological or magical or a dollop of each, and if she's at all craft-inclined she will have fun making it, picking out feathers and beads and colors to use. Another option might be to encourage one of the older Catholic lady relatives to gift the young lady with an appropriate family heirloom saint icon.

  110. Where does walking a labyrinth, whether the Chartres cathedral or the sometimes overgrown one on the Allegany College of Maryland campus, fit in the taxonomy of meditation?

  111. Guthlac, where walking a labyrinth fits in the taxonomy depends on how your relate to the labyrinth. If you are just trying to following the labyrinth to the exclusion of all else with no intruding thoughts, it seems to me that would fall into the “mind cleaning/emptying” school that most Westerners think of when they think of meditation.
    Walking is one of the three postures of meditation sanctioned by the Buddha – the other two are sitting and reclining – and Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen master most popular in the west, emphasizes walking meditation in his teaching.

    However, if you there is a symbolism to the labyrinth that you are actively contemplating that would seem to me to be more discursive.

  112. @ JMG–

    A prominent occult blogger recently described doing a working to influence the result of the election.

    I guess it would be naive to imagine that this is the only magically-inclined person attempting to interfere in the democratic process in this way. And of course, as you've described elsewhere, campaign TV advertisements and the like can themselves be considered acts of magic. But it still seems very unethical to me. But I wanted your thoughts. Is it at the level of trying to influence the lottery, where the odds involved are too big, and the number of people trying the same thing too great, to matter very much? Or is it more at the level of influencing an individual against their will?

  113. @ BoysMom–

    Funny you should mention that. My mother tells me that my niece suffered from “night terrors” very badly when she was younger, but that the problem got better after they put a dream catcher in her room.

  114. JMG, something that I've had floating around in my awareness since you wrote about kegare last month is how discursive meditation was the first thing that came to mind. Particularly the 'cleansing breath' as it is described in your books. You talk about it as 'cleaning out stagnant Nwyfre' which seems rather similar to the concept of kegare. There are aspects of the SOP ritual which I have felt similarly about – during the banishing of the elements – but the cleansing breath has been the thing that most feels like 'clearing out the muck' to me. Would you say that the cleansing breath is in fact a form of kegare or am I confusing things here?

    And thank you, it is most helpful to think of meditation as 'self defense against non-sense'!

  115. Steve Thomas:

    The election is very big, he is very small. This reminds me of the report a number of months ago on this blog of someone who got pissed at the big oil companies and did a working against them. It seems to have affected his local gas station: there was water in the tanks, and they had to do something to clean it up.

    I'd guess a working to affect the election might have some effect at a local campaign organization or polling station, but not much else.

    As far as ethics is concerned: if there's a collective agreement for fair elections, he might get some magical pushback for attempting to violate it.

  116. Dear Scotlyn,

    I was once reading a spiritual book that brought up similar strong feelings of guilt and shame. Very difficult to go through. In the religion I was brought up in (Eastern Orthodoxy) they consider this a gift and call it compunction.

    I called up my son, who was I guess in his early 20s, and was crying on the phone about some of things that related to him. I told him I did not know how to forgive myself. He said you forgive yourself the same way you forgive others. I find it almost impossible. I can forgive others nearly anything.

    A change of heart is a kind of miracle. One reason you (people) deserve forgiveness is that once you have seen through your mistakes in a deep way it changes you. Not to say that it is a one time or easy event in which there is never the slightest repeat, but one's soul does and can change. Once a person no longer has the character that would commit certain acts of selfishness, whom can you be angry with? The one who did that act no longer exists.

  117. @BoysMom:
    Good advice, and I agree with your theory about the cumulative effects of toxins.

    Three years ago, I retired to my rural property, and now spend my days digging in the garden & reading, mostly, and working (slowly!) through the OBOD bardic course. I drive in to town maybe 2 or 3 times a month for supplies. (My grocery has a once-a-month senior discount day, and I generally always buy the same things.) So my exposure to new people and new environment variables is very limited (compared to when I was working).

    Here's my theory: my invocation mentioned “heal”, and Nwyfre took this opportunity/invitation to excrete some toxins that had been built up. I don't know why my hands seemed the most effective exit point, but there it is. My homeopathy teacher used to say that if you can get a deep internal problem to change and manifest as a skin condition, then you're making real progress, because it's now, literally, a “superficial” problem.

    I'm taking a break for a bit from the Elemental Cross. My thumbs are opposable again (for a while there, they were not, haha). I'll pick it up again in a month or so, and see what happens then.

  118. Thank you, Onething. “Compunction” is a good word. Actually an excellent word. And I have turned the focus of some of my meditations upon the memories, to explore them in detail. I am not so sure that “the one who did that act no longer exists” – the acts and the person who did them, feel like they are mine to claim, to own and to integrate. Both “with” myself and “with” others whose connection to me matters.

    I think you are right, though. We may give others leeway we do not grant ourselves.

    Anyway, thank you for a thoughtful response.

    Still working on it…

  119. There is one and only one magical working you can ethically do that will affect the outcome of the election. It is done with a dark pen and a ballot. And at the end, you get a little sticker to put on your jacket or backpack or “No Solicitors” sign: “I voted.”

  120. I have a few questions for anyone willing to answer about what I'm experiencing as I try to work through Learning Ritual Magic (I will eventually get past the Watcher at the Threshold!), but I've done pretty good this time! I'm on week three now, only missed a practice once, and I learned how to avoid making that mistake again from it!

    1: Is it a good idea to try again with the same system like I'm doing? I've tried a couple times before, but I feel a lot better about it this time. I've gotten more results, and I'm more willing to do practices, even when I really don't feel like doing them, but I'm curious about whether it's a good idea to keep trying with the same system or does it make more sense to try out a different one?

    2: What is the point of the Qabalistic Cross? I have no idea what I'm supposed to be getting out of it. I have the motions and imagery down, but I've yet to feel anything I can attribute to it, and would like to know what to look for.

    3: JMG mentioned “karmic culmination”, so I want to know if my experience with it is normal: I had some feelings I wanted to ignore, and I've been ignoring for years. I started doing the exercises and then found myself in a situation where I had no choice but to confront it. Later I realized it had been of my own making. Is that the normal form it takes?

    4: Finally, is it normal for the sentences you're supposed to think of over the course of your day to influence your day? I keep running into situations that match whatever sentence I'm thinking about for the day, and it's getting a little weird.

  121. I just realized, the next post is about to go up in a few days. Oops. I hope you don't mind if I ask the same questions on the next post as well, so that more people can see it and (hopefully) answer.

  122. @ Nicholas Costa: if JMG doesn't/didn't get back to you, I'm 99.999% certain he means a nail as used in carpentry. If you can find iron nails, by all means use those, but steel will do if you can't.

  123. Scotlyn, Jung called that the encounter with the Shadow. As you get past the habits of consciousness that prop up your self-image, one of the things that comes to mind early and often are the things you habitually screen out of consciousness, and in particular all those things about yourself that you don't like to admit are there. Right now they're surfacing in meditation because that's the time when your mind is least defended against them; gradually, you'll simply become aware of the whole pattern of yourself, some of which isn't what you want it to be — and it's when you've become aware of that, of course, that you can start making changes.

    Nicolas, sorry for the delay! You want an iron or steel nail.

    Patricia, I don't recommend practicing while ill. A bit of sniffles, okay, but if you really should be flat on your back, let it go for a day or two.

    Brother G., depends on the intent and the state of consciousness of the practitioner. It might simply be healthful exercise!

    Steve, all of the above. It's morally dubious, and it's also unlikely to succeed.

    Harvester, I think you may have garbled your terms a bit. Kegare is one of the two forms of impurity that Shinto practitioners perform misogi to get rid of. Yes, the Cleansing Breath is a simple form of misogi; the Sphere of Protection is a more extensive form; and kegare is one of the things that the Cleansing Breath helps get rid of.

    WB, please do repost — I'm in the middle of work on this month's post, and it'll be up Friday.

Comments are closed.