The title certainly sounds impressive but, as I liked to remark thereafter, that and $3.50 would get you a cup of coffee. When I became AODA’s head in 2003, the order had fewer than a dozen members, no bank account, no public presence, and rituals and traditions that consisted of fading memories in a few elderly heads. It had managed to survive the long winter of pop Neopaganism, rather than ending up as a stack of rotting papers in a landfill somewhere as did so many other occult schools of the older kind, but that was all. The handful of surviving members made me Grand Archdruid because they thought I might be able to get AODA on its feet again; they were familiar with the books I’d published, and knew that I’d also helped revive a couple of nearly defunct fraternal lodges—and it didn’t hurt that I was the first person to express any significant interest in AODA for decades.
Since then, as the Grateful Dead used to sing, what a long, strange trip it’s been. With upwards of 900 new members, an adequate treasury, a regularly updated website, a publishing program with three books to its credit, and an annual journal gearing up for its third issue, it’s fair to say that things have changed a bit. At this point I’m pretty sure that AODA is about as well positioned as it can be to move forward into whatever the spiritual landscape of North America might become after the twilight of pop Neopaganism. Thus it’s as good a time as I can think of to hand in my resignation.
Yes, I’ve resigned as Grand Archdruid of AODA, effective today. I’m staying a member of the order, of course, with the slightly less fanciful title of archdruid emeritus, but the big chair and the funny hat are going to my sucessor, former Archdruid of the West Gordon Cooper. Why? Partly it’s because the order these days has no shortage of people who are at least as capable of guiding it as I am, and someone else ought to have the fun for a change. Partly it’s because I’m tolerably familiar with my own strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and my judgment is that the order will benefit more at this point in its history from another hand on the tiller.
Partly, though, it’s a personal matter. Much though I value AODA’s teachings and traditions, there are things I’d like to do in occultism that don’t really fit within its ambit. In particular, the system of magic I put in my 2013 book The Celtic Golden Dawn has become central to my personal practice, and the magical order I founded with minimal publicity that same year for students of the book, The Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn, has grown to respectable size and could use more of my time. I’ve also got major projects in the fields of astrology and sacred geometry that I want to pursue. (Mind you, there’s also the career as a writer of science fiction and fantasy that I’d hoped to start three decades ago, and which to my considerable surprise has finally begun to take off in earnest, but that’s another matter.)
That, in turn, leads to the theme I have in mind for the next few posts, which is the sheer scale and diversity of that gargantuan grab-bag of philosophies, teachings, and practices we call “occultism.”
Even experienced occultists tend to underestimate just how much territory that single word covers. In some ways, experienced occultists are more likely to do so than anyone else, since it’s a common bad habit of occult traditions to treat whatever double handful of philosophies, teachings, and practices their founders scooped out of the bag as the entire contents thereof. Half the squabbles between different schools of magic happen because school #1 has the letters EFGH and school #2 has the letters FGHI, both of them are convinced that what they’ve got is the whole alphabet, and the sparks start to fly when E and I get denounced by the groups that don’t have them as “fake letters.” (The other half are spawned by collisions between oversized egos, which are as common among occultists as elsewhere.)
When we talk about occultism, then, exactly what are we discussing?
One pitfall that needs to be avoided right at the start of any such inquiry is the mistaken notion that “occultism” is some kind of inherent quality that certain traditions, teachings, and practices have and others don’t. This label “occult” is rooted solely and squarely in history; it literally means “hidden” or “secret,” and refers to certain things that had to be hidden away and kept secret because, for rather too many centuries, those who were too public about them in the Western world faced an assortment of really ugly fates. Many of the things that belong to occultism counted as ordinary parts of mainstream religion or everyday life before Christianity and Islam split the corpse of the classical world between them, and still have the same comfortable status to this day in many cultures elsewhere in the world.
The occult, then, is what was rejected—primarily, what was rejected by Christian religious authorities in medieval and early modern Europe, and oddly enough is still rejected by secular scientific authorities who think they’ve cast every trace of Christianity’s heritage out of their minds. Other cultures have their own modes of rejected knowledge, and most of them also have teachings and practices like those that are part of western occultism. Especially in recent years, there’s been a lot of two-way traffic between western occultism and these other traditions, and we’ll talk about those in due time.
Occultism also has a complicated relationship with those things that have been rejected more recently by the secular scientific authorities just mentioned. Plenty of things belonging to the more recent body of rejected knowledge are of no interest to traditional Western occultism, and vice versa. On the other hand, the older and newer bodies of rejected knowledge have some interests in common, and since the beginning of the modern occult revival in the 1850s, there’s been a certain amount of two-way traffic across the resulting bridge, and we’ll talk about those, too, as we proceed.
The field is large enough, though, that we’re going to have to spread this discussion over a number of posts. This month, we’ll talk about traditional operative occultism—the basic toolkit that got handed down to occultists from the Renaissance and points further back. Next month, we’ll go on to some of the more recent additions to the operative toolkit, and after that, it’s on to the symbolic, contemplative, and philosophical side of occultism.
Let’s begin with the thing that most people think of first when someone mentions occultism: yes, that would be magic. The current magical toolkit includes things that were old hat when the temples of Egypt were still open for business, things that were brand spanking new (though backdated to those same temples of Egypt) a hundred years ago, and a lot in between. This month, we’ll limit the discussion to those branches of magic that were already in the tradition by the end of the Renaissance. A very rough taxonomy might run as follows:
Astrological magic. One of the core elements of traditional Western occultism is astrology, the science of the cycles of time. (Before my rationalist readers leap up to insist that I can’t apply their sacred word “science” to astrology, let me point out that the word means an organized body of knowledge, and was applied to astrology long before most modern sciences existed.) We’ll be talking more about astrology in a bit; the point that’s relevant here is that much of traditional Western magic uses astrological influences as the essential source of power for magical workings.
Natural magic. That’s the traditional label for magic that works with the inherent properties of natural materials. The lore of natural magic assigns certain effects to specific substances—this herb is for love spells, this gem protects against violence, and so on—and prescribes procedures for putting those substances to work. In traditional Western occultism, natural magic usually but not always drew on astrological theory, and very often on astrological practice as well.
Evocatory magic. Western occultism accepts the existence of a galaxy of intelligent beings who don’t have the same kind of physical bodies we do, but with whom contact and communication is possible. Christian fundamentalists, and some others, like to think that evocatory magic (or, more precisely, the kind of evocatory magic that deals with the creepier sort of disembodied beings) is the be-all and end-all of magic; they’re wrong, of course, though of course it makes good fodder for scare stories. Ways of working magic that focus on summoning spirits are a significant part of some occult traditions, though they’re strictly forbidden in others.
Invocatory magic. To evoke is to call forth, to invoke is to call in. Invocatory magic works by calling into oneself the power and influence of those beings we might as well call gods and goddesses. That can involve trance, but it can also be done in full consciousness. As you might expect, invocatory magic has generally had close ties to religion, which after all provides the standard human toolkit for dealing with deities; both Judeo-Christian and Pagan religious traditions have been drawn on for this end of the magical continuum.
Another major branch of traditional Western occultism is alchemy, which is again far more complex than most people realize: as complex, really, as modern experimental science. The parallels are actually quite close. Just as there’s a scientific method—more precisely, a set of methods that share a family resemblance—there’s an alchemical method; and just as you apply scientific method to different subjects and get different sciences, you apply the alchemical method to different subjects and get different alchemies. Here’s a sketch of the most common traditional approaches:
Spagyrics. The most popular form of alchemy since the second half or so of the Renaissance, spagyrics is the alchemy of plants, and works with herbs to produce substances that affect human health and consciousness. Its obvious practical dimension is the creation of natural medicines; its subtler but, in many ways, more important dimension is as a toolkit for the transformation of the alchemist.
Mineral and metallic alchemy. This is what most people think of when the word “alchemy” comes up. “Our gold is not the common gold,” the old alchemists said; a great deal of speculation surrounds what they were actually up to, but laboratory work with minerals and metallic ores certainly played a central part in it, and several different approaches are still known and practiced today.
Psychospiritual alchemy. This is the sort of thing Carl Jung worked with, though it goes considerably beyond the territory most of today’s Jungians have found it advisable to discuss, and it was a significant force in alchemical circles many centuries before Jung’s time. In this branch of the art the substance that’s transmuted is the mind and consciousness of the practitioner. Some versions of this work with explicit religious imagery and practices—there’s a rich tradition of Christian psychospiritual alchemy, for example—while others use less theologically charged symbols.
The third core element of traditional operative lore in Western occultism, and the source of a great deal of the traditional theory, is astrology, which we can define for working purposes as the study of the cycles of time, using the movements of Sun, Moon, and planets against the backdrop of the stars. In dealing with it, it’s worth recalling that the sort of thing you see in newspaper astrology columns has as much to do with real astrology as Mel Brooks’ movie Young Frankenstein has to do with real medical science. The major branches of astrological practice are these:
Natal astrology. This is the astrology of the birth chart, which takes a snapshot of celestial positions relative to the Earth at the moment of birth and uses that to assess the strengths, weaknesses, likely experiences, and probable challenges faced by the person born at that moment. This branch also includes progressions, which riff off the birth chart to show when in life various events shown in the birth chart are likely to manifest, and synastry, which relates two natal charts (for example, those of lovers) to trace out the strengths and stresses of the relationshipbetween the people in question.
Mundane astrology. Relatively neglected these days, this is the oldest branch of astrology, and uses celestial movements to gauge the potentials and challenges facing nations and communities. Like natal astrology, a mundane chart shows tendencies, not certainties; it functions like a weather prediction, which doesn’t tell you what people will be doing on any given day, but can give you useful guidance on what conditions will be like and may suggest to you that one day is better for a picnic than another!
Horary astrology. In astrological theory, nothing is actually random, and every moment contains a snapshot of everything happening at that place and time. Horary astrology uses this to answer questions. If you want to know where you left your wallet, you cast a chart for the place and time when the question occurs to you, and the chart gives you the answer. Improbable? Traditional astrologers do it all the time, with considerable success.
Electional astrology. If, as astrologers teach, each moment is good for some things and not so good for others, it makes sense to choose an appropriate moment to begin anything of importance. That’s the job of electional astrology. (The word “election” literally means “choosing”—a political election is how we choose our public officials.) Astrological magic is actually a subset of electional astrology, using a carefully chosen moment to create an object imbued with a particular combination of influences, which will radiate those influences thereafter.
Geomancy. This isn’t actually a form of astrology at all, but it evolved along with astrology, shares much of astrology’s theory, and functioned all through the Middle Ages and Renaissance as the poor man’s horoscope. Geomancy—the name, literally “earth divination,” is a deliberate contrast with the “sky divination” of astrology—uses various random or semirandom procedures to generate patterns of single and double dots, which are interpreted in much the same way an astrological chart is interpreted. It’s mostly used for the same purposes as horary astrology.
Magic, alchemy, and astrology-plus-geomancy: those are the three core modalities of traditional operative occultism in the West. That doesn’t mean that every occult tradition drew on all of them—quite the contrary. As a rule, an occult school that includes traditional operative occultism at all (and not all did) includes one or more approaches to magic, a single version of alchemy, and some astrology, and then a similar selection from the more recent forms of magical practice. Much more than that and you quite literally have more practical techniques than anybody can really master in a single lifetime—and it’s what you can master, not what you can skim over briefly and think you more or less understand, that matters in occult practice.
I suspect some of my readers will be surprised not to see certain things on this list. It has to be remembered, though, that before the magical revival of the nineteenth century, Tarot was just an Italian card game, theories of vital energy had found their way into Western magical practice only in a handful of traditions, the sort of alternative health care modalities found all through modern occultism weren’t alternative yet, and the whole kit and caboodle of lodges and initiation rituals was still mostly the property of Freemasons and members of other early fraternal orders—the occultists hadn’t yet gotten very far beyond saying “Whoa, this is cool!” and adapting Masonic ritual patterns to magical use. Even without those, the traditional toolkit gave students plenty to work with.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, still the most influential of the western world’s operative occult schools, is a case in point. Golden Dawn magic is invocatory magic that dabbles in evocation, astrology, and natural magic—if you’re a Golden Dawn mage, that is, you do magic by calling divine energies of various kinds into yourself, and everything else is secondary to that, though there’s admittedly a lot of “everything else.”. Alchemy got a small amount of dabbling in the original order, though alchemical symbolism was studied and some basic alchemical texts were on the recommended reading list, and some current Golden Dawn temples have taken things further. A basic grasp of natal and horary astrology, and just enough electional astrology to be able to choose good times for magical ceremonies, were also on the curriculum. All by itself, even without bringing in the post-Renaissance material, that’s enough to give you a good ten years of hard work if you actually want to master it all.
There’s nothing absolute about the selection made by the founders of the Golden Dawn; other occult traditions made their own choices, and there are plenty of modern occult schools that don’t use any elements of the classical triad—for example, none of these things are part of the core curriculum of AODA. As we’ll see next month, the options really are remarkably broad.
As an additional comment regarding the different magical practices available, if I remember correctly, Levi, who is of course big into the Tarot, classifies cartomancy as a form of geomancy, which kinda makes sense I guess? At some point he also mentions that different personalities are more amenable to different forms of magic. This is totally off the top of my head, but I do think he split people's different personalities into the four elements and that, if I am not mistaken, fire signs/fiery characters were supposed to be better at geomancy and earth signs at astrology ie sort of the opposite of their sign, if that makes sense.
Congratulations, Gordon! May your new chair and fancy hat serve others and you well!
And .. . a scholar's brief footnote on the word “invoke,” which is now indeed used to mean “call into” in English. Anciently, however, the word's Latin ancestor, “invocatio,” was just a part-by-part translation (a calque, for any other historical linguists out there) of Greek “epiklesis” — and that word does not mean “calling in,” but “calling down from on high.” It has most commonly been used in Greek, over the last two millenia, to refer to that precise point in the Orthodox Christian eucharistic liturgy when the priest calls down the Holy Spirit onto the eucharistic bread and wine, which Spirit transforms them in a mystery into the body and blood of Christ. It may seem like a subtle difference, but it may also be of some interest to historically minded occultists here.
(And for theologically minded Catholics here, the so-called “Words of Institution” do not bring about this transformation ex opere operato in Orthodox — and generally in Eastern Christian — eucharists, only in Western (Catholic) ones. Indeed, the Words of Institution have not always and everywhere been used in the Eastern Christian eucharistic rituals.)
An old and brilliant study of these matters, if now somewhat dated, is Gregory Dix's _The Shape of the Liturgy_ (1945). This book (IMHO) is essential background reading for any Western ceremonial magician.
Congratulations on your success with your Order. There is no feeling quite like that of being able to pass the torch to a qualified successor when you had started with nothing but a spark.
Great post and well wishes to you in your new projects! I never have been involved with AODA, however as you know I am involved with the DOGD and am much excited about the future of it. Happy Solstice and new year to you and your family.
First off, Happy Solstice! And I am sad to hear you stepping down; your writings here and at the ADR (which I found some time ago) were what convinced me to practice druidry, which I started in earnest this July. I plan on applying for membership in the AODA soon. You're moving on to other things though, and I for one can't wait for the golden dawn book.
Trying to practice here in populous NYC has its issues, however, and the only other druids I know are more the 'pop-Neopagan' type, so thank you for putting out the content you do. I can't help but feel overwhelmed, however, by the sheer amount of occult literature and types of occultism. I suppose that is par for the course when one is first entering into a whole new field, though.
Congratulations to you and the AODA on the succession of leadership. A wise choice and a happy event.
I wish Llewellyn would publish the HOGD papers as a two volume set. I have the fourth edition and it's a doorstop.
Congratulations on reaching this milestone! That's no small feat, taking an organization from the brink of extinction to a membership of 900+ with all the relevant trappings. I hope it's satisfying to be handing it off and freeing up the energy for other pursuits; it seems like it would be.
So we can use magick to
It helps me to have a basic outline to make sure I'm understanding things.
That is a significant life choice and I wish you all the best, and look forward to more of your research and writing. And a Happy Solstice to you.
I have recently been listening to interviews with Bruce Lee about his Jeet Kune Do martial arts style, and he was explaining that his technique is not some ancient art form; it is a new approach incorporating various philosophical concepts, dietary habits and martial arts techniques, well learned and creatively applied. He was explaining how he saw flaws in these various approaches as single units and how combined and refined, for him, they worked much better. He emphasised the central role of each individual person in adapting each individual technique to each individual situation. That there could be no “one way” always.
It reminded me of your regular reminders that modern druidry is not an ancient tradition. That you don't need to have an unbroken line of succession stretching to the Pharaohs for your tradition to be worthwhile. The test is functionality. And I dare say very few people would argue that Bruce Lee's fresh approach was less than functional. He put in the study, hard work and discipline to make it work, and was flexible and creative enough to enhance it.
There is a time to stay and a time to pass on the torch. Wisdom is knowing which is which.
Mark, Levi was right on the border between the classical and the modern magical traditions; my guess is that he classified Tarot as a form of geomancy because that was the only place to wedge it into the traditional taxonomy. We'll talk next month about how Tarot, the astral light, and Levi's other contributions fit into the evolution of modern magical practice.
Robert, thanks for the footnote! I wasn't aware of the connection between invocatio and epiklesis — most interesting.
BoysMom, thank you. Yes, it's a good feeling.
Dean, thank you — and a good many of the new projects I have in mind relate to DOGD, so stay tuned.
Daniel, thank you. I'm not leaving Druidry at all — just working a little more intensely with some branches of it outside AODA's corner of the forest.
Unknown Deborah, many thanks. The new edition is another hardback doorstop, though.
Laylah, it is indeed. Thank you.
Nano, nah, I haven't talked about purposes yet. We can practice magic by drawing power from natural substances, astrological influences, spiritual beings, and divine grace. We can practice alchemy with plants, minerals and metals, and our own minds and spirits. We can practice astrology concerning individuals, communities, questions, and opportunities. There's your outline!
Dau, Bruce Lee's philosophy applies to a lot more than martial arts, and yes, spirituality is one of the places it works very well indeed.
John, thank you.
I will follow this series of postings closely. I am still working on reading celtic order of golden dawn. Glad to hear astrology in all its forms is such a mainstay. I suppose, from your list, and my practice that I have been a magician of sorts for years and never knew it. We can't call you archdruid anymore. Archblogger perhaps.
@ JMG: congrats, and good that you remain archdruid emeritus – that spares renaming “The Archdruid Report”. (;
Happy Midwinter to all!
My respect for you has increased because it is the wise man that knows his time to move on. And it is an even wiser man that can read the tides and go with the flow and actually follow through on their gut feel / intuition. I see this new path for you is your true passion (as well as the fiction writing) and I applaud your choice. Well done.
Incidentally, in doing so, you escaped the curse of your generation. ;-)!
There is a place even for the (and I'm not writing about you or I here) elders if only they accept that place. Speaking of kangaroos… A very large, and possibly very old bull kangaroo calls this farm home. I call him Big Daddy, because he is a bull and he is huge for a forest kangaroo. Yet, he is also on his own which is very unusual for a forest kangaroo which are normally a herd animal. His most likely story was that a young bull kangaroo saw him off his mob – or perhaps he chose to leave peacefully, who knows? But here he is mostly safe and he can enjoy his final years in relative comfort – you'll often find him lounging around in the sun. May you and I do as well as time marches on its inevitable journey to somewhere else.
I suspect Beli would appreciate a more dramatic conclusion to your situation, but it is nice to see that cooler heads prevailed. Incidentally in spring, if you recall a warning for caution was given and shortly thereafter a massive bushfire took place just on the other side of the mountain. However, this summer, I feel positively pumped up for a massive confrontation of some sort. Honestly, I feel a bit jumpy after yesterday and didn't feel that way beforehand. Not sure what that means, but I guess time will tell. Beli is my favourite anyway – always welcome here. I do hope that Beli is welcome in your new order?
Season's greetings to all!
A very lucid account and useful categorisation of what consists the core of western occultism.
I am curious as to where you would put sacred geometry in the occult scene?
Was it part of the three core modalities of traditional operative occultism in the West?
Congratulations on the new steps, I'll continue to watch your new projects with great interest. One thing this week's post leaves me wondering about is which school of magic the sort of journey work and out of body traveling that's common in many modern traditions, including some streams of Druidry comes out of, is it a subset of psychospiritual alchemy, invocatory magic, or something that counts as a part of next month's post as being something that was adapted into Western traditions in the 20th century from non-western sources?
I'd like to add my congrats to the group's and express my gratitude for the many projects you have undertaken, several of which (this blog, TADR, among others) have contributed significantly to my developing ability to see the world more clearly and to better address my own spiritual path.
I find myself seeking to engage the divine (however one defines the concept) on a radically different level than the contemporary culture allows. As I've mentioned before, I am keeping to the judeo-christian tradition, but I want to encounter the mountain-god YHWH before he/she/it was domesticated by the temple cult of Jerusalem and its attendant priesthood, just as I want to hear the teachings of the wandering mendicant rabbi Yeshua bar Yosef before he was deified and transformed into the imperial propaganda-piece he is today.
Yet, I confess some fear and trepidation in approaching wild and untamed divinity. As a recovering scholastic, I am admittedly much more comfortable with a divinity logically defined and codified. This is just another form of domestication, however. I have to figure out how to deal with that fact and to reconcile my desire for engagement with my fear of the same…
John, Happy Solstice to you –
Too soon to reveal any details on your new project in astrology?
While I'm on the subject, can you reveal anything about your natal chart? I would imagine that you have a distinct emphasis on 3rd house/Gemini/merc, as well as 6th house/Virgo. I'd throw in 9th house/Sagittarius/Jup, with a dash of 8th house/Scorpio/Pluto, as well.
Some 12th house/Pisces/Nep emphasis?
Thank you, JMG, so much for The Celtic Golden Dawn. I bought it, and am beginning my journey with it. To me, Druidry feels like coming home. This blog has filled in a huge gap for me around magic in general. Blessing in all of your endeavors.
Dear Mr. Greer:
First of all, congratulations for your years of service as Grand Archdruid of AODA, and for beginning the next stage of your journey; best of luck and blessings on your future endeavors. Congratulations as well for the publication of your edition of The Golden Dawn, a tradition of Rosicrucianism I find truly fascinating, so I look forward to reading it in the future.
I found this month’s post on traditional operative esotericism quite interesting, and useful. Also, thank you very much for the explanation of traditional astrology; usually when I hear the “a” word my eyes glaze over due to mental connotations of commercialized rubbish.
Also, I cannot remember if I thanked you for your advice on Masonry’s relationship with esoteric studies in last month’s comment section. So, thank you again very much, I really appreciate it.
I look forward to future installments of your “Scope of Occultism” series.
Happy (belated) Alban Arthan, Yule, as well as Christmas to you.
The Archdruid Emeritus Report? That has a certain ring to it… 🙂
I realize that this is not really part of the ambit of this post, but as it is something that currently interests me, I wonder what are your thoughts on Onmyōdō practices in Japan? The focus on yin and yang energies, their manifestations in space (as lines or directions) and through arrangements of matter have their parallels in (at least more recent) Western practices such as ley lines and similar “Earth energy” systems as well*. It strikes me that there is some resemblance in general to astrological and geomantic forces, though of course the details vary somewhat**. Obviously, the tradition also deals with evocation, invocation, and the related practices of exorcism, along with several varieties of alchemy.
Secondly, how would you categorize the various memory systems? These range from poetry (perhaps the simplest memory aid), through categorical systems like the various oghams of Irish tradition and the correspondences attributed to various Hebrew characters, through to the Memory Palace, perhaps the queen of memory systems. Of course, all of these systems interact, with correspondences being used to assist in constructing Memory Palaces and for creating poetic imagery, poetry being used as an aid in constructing Memory Palaces, and so on.
*Certainly, there is some resemblance here to the system of directional winds found across Europe, though perhaps most fully developed in Ireland.
**Onmyōdō also incorporates imported Indian astrological methods, and so at times resembles Western magic more than a little! Surely it is no coincidence that the most recognizable symbol of Onmyōdō is a five-pointed star, albeit adapted to the Chinese five-element system and known as the Seal of Abe no Seimei (Seimei is the Solomonic figure in Japan, being perhaps the greatest Onmyōji who was enshrined after his death around the beginning of the 11th century).
With a new Grand Archdruid for AODA, what's happening with the Gnostic Celtic Church?
earth divination – would I Ching hexagrams be considered a form of such? Obviously not specifically an element of Renaissance.
Dom Gregory Dix as a reference for ceremonial magic. Now that's interesting, Robert.
Congratulations on passing the torch, and also on the fulfillment of the longtime dream of having a career writing sci fi/fantasy novels!
I came to the conclusion, while making 40 dozen Christmas cookies (using old-fashioned recipes, of course) that I'm probably an Outer Order kind of a gal. I've been reading Dion Fortune's The Training and Work of an Initiate, and I don't think I have the kind of single-minded devotion to the task that she says becoming an adept requires. Until you've mentioned it in your posts, I didn't know there was an option anywhere between perpetual beginner always skimming the surface and expert. I've seen enough of the danger of the former that I felt an awful pressure to become the latter. I feel like a weight has rolled off me.
I'm awaiting my first OBOD Ovate packet and looking over your list to see what interesting byways I might want to explore. Psychospiritual alchemy… hmmmm… 🙂
I heard mixing magic systems might cause problems, depending on which ones are chosen.
Is your old “Sacred Geometry Oracle” use compatible with the Celtic Golden Dawn?
From what I have read of him, I think Dom Gregory Dix would nod knowingly at my recommendation, smile and say, “But of course”; and then resume his contemplations.
The full history of ceremonial magic in (Western) Christendom is still poorly understood, even by experts. My dim and tentative thoughts on the matter view it as woven out of several strands during the first half-millenium or so of the common era. Late Antique Pagan Greek traditions of theurgy, exemplified by philosophers like Iamblichos of Chalkis and Sosipatra, were combined (1) with early Christian standard liturgical and ritual practices, probably by Christian clerics working in private, against the mandates of their religion, and later with (2) some early Jewish ritual practices with mystical and/or magical aims. If so, then there can be no full understanding of the history of Western ceremonial magic without a deep knowledge of the history of Christian and Jewish liturgy and ritual. These things were forever cross-pollinating one another. Hence my recommendation of Dom Gregory Dix's masterwork.
[And, to push things back much earlier, I am more than a little persuaded by the careful scholarship of Morton Smith (and a few others after him) that the historic Jesus (Joshua) was not understood by most of his contemporaries to be just another Jewish rabbi, or just an independent ethical teacher who happened to be Jewish, or just a Jewish revolutionary. Rather, he seems to have been understood by most of his contemporaries to be a practicing Jewish magician of considerable skill and knowledge, who knew how to exorcise demons, who could perform other powerful acts of magic, and who offered to his most trusted followers at least one effective theurgic ritual to attain mystic visions. If this is so, then the weaving together of these strands of theurgy and liturgy in Christendom may have begun with Jesus and/or his very earliest followers. But I will not insist on this point, nor on the related scholarly work on secret traditions in early Christianity from the pen of the Methodist Biblical scholar, Margaret Barker.]
About halfway through the first millenium of the common era, full-blown, detailed compendia of Christian liturgies and rituals began to be compiled. Over the following centuries they developed into such standard books as the Primer, the Book of Hours, the Breviary, the Missal and the Ritual. Richard Kieckhefer posits, I think rightly, the long existence of a clerical underground whose interests in rituals and their power extended to magic. It was clerics of this sort who probably compiled the first systematic Medieval grimoires, on analogy with the approved Catholic books of liturgy and ritual. (These renegade clerics also kept notebooks of random magical practices, some of which have survived in various libraries.)
Ed, au contraire, I'm still an archdruid; see immediately below.
Daelach, well, I didn't call it the Grand Archdruid Report, so I think the title can stay unchanged. 😉
Cherokee, of course — Beli is the deity corresponding to Ener, the fourth sphere of the Tree of Life in the druidical Cabala.
Karim, no, it's part of the body of symbolism and philosophy, which we'll be discussing in the third part of this sequence of posts.
Eric, out-of-body experiences certainly happened in ancient times, but methods for cultivating such experiences deliberately didn't become part of the corpus of western occult techniques until the early 20th century.
Buddha, fear gets a bad rap. The Biblical text that says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” always struck me as very good advice; if raw divinity doesn't scare you, you're probably not paying adequate attention. (Or too used to dealing with some conveniently domesticated substitute, which is of course quite common.)
Will, it's not so much a specific project as it is a course of serious study and practice, from which projects will no doubt unfold. Many years ago, when I was a young whippersnapper underfoot in occultism, I decided that astrology was a good thing to plan on studying seriously when I got to middle age. Here I am, and so I'm piling into old books on natal charts, progressions, etc. As for my own natal chart, you've got a range of hits and misses there! My Sun and Mercury are in Gemini, Moon and a couple of other important points in Leo; Jupiter in the 8th, according to the old medieval rules, is very favorable for magic.
Nightsoul, glad to hear it. Have you glanced at p. 353 yet? 😉
Christopher, it's not belated at all — magically speaking, the solstices and equinoxes are at full effect for 48 hours to either side of the moment the sun passes the relevant colure, so you're still well inside the window until 11-something PM tomorrow evening.
Tidlösa, funny. As I noted earlier, though, it wasn't the Grand Archdruid Report…
Faoladh, Onmyodo is a complete system of occult philosophy with its own elaborate and very effective traditions of practice. I wish much more of it was available in English; those elements I've had the chance to explore — in particular, the Nine Star Ki divination system — are both interesting and effective. (On the other hand, for all I know there may have been a flurry of publications on the subject since I last pursued the subject; if so, please point me in the right direction!)
As for the art of memory, that's not occult in any real sense — most literate people practiced it from the high Middle Ages through the end of the Renaissance; you could as well consider literacy to be occult. It's simply the fact that it dropped out of use outside occult circles that makes it look magical today. Mind you, it's well worth reviving!
Brother G., the GCC remains fully functioning. All four archdruids in AODA are consecrated bishops in the GCC lineage, so I'm wholly dispensible. As for the I Ching, that didn't begin to trickle into Western occultism until well after the end of the Renaissance, so doesn't fit into the classification sketched out here.
Maria, I'm increasingly convinced that the survival of the magical traditions at this point in history — now that Peak Neopaganism is past and the pop-Neopagan bubble is losing air nearly as fast as the fracking bubble — will be at least partly dependent on creating frameworks for people to study occultism without being expected to take up full-time ceremonial magic or the like. I have some ideas along those lines, which I'll be pondering further and then putting into action as things proceed.
Pseudorandom, I hope so — I still use the Sacred Geometry Oracle for routine divinations. I'm pleased to say, btw, that a much less ugly version of the deck, and an improved edition of the book, will be forthcoming from a small press next year, and the other elements of the complete system of which it's part will be following in due time.
So far, the most detailed practical information I've been able to find is all in Japanese, which is not a language I am fluent in at this time. Working on it. There are some good articles in English on shikigami (“servant-god”) practices by Carolyn Pang that can be found online.
Pang's Master's thesis, “Spirit Servant”, is here (pdf download link below the abstract): http://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/handle/10635/16830
Her “Uncovering 'Shikigami'” is here (if you have JSTOR): http://www.jstor.org/stable/41955532
or here if you don't have JSTOR access: https://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/4241
There is also a good, though unattributed, article in .doc format, titled “Onmyōdō”, here: http://forums.vsociety.net/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=1072.0;attach=2554
Obviously, the bibliographies in those articles are well worth looking at.
Congratulations on the completion of your service, my friend. I hope the new path you are on will be an enriching one, and I am sure your newly founded order will become a valuable contribution to the magical community.
I look forward to seeing how you will develop this current theme. I have a feeling we're in for quite a ride… 😉
With all the best holiday wishes,
“I'm increasingly convinced that the survival of the magical traditions at this point in history — now that Peak Neopaganism is past and the pop-Neopagan bubble is losing air nearly as fast as the fracking bubble — will be at least partly dependent on creating frameworks for people to study occultism without being expected to take up full-time ceremonial magic or the like.”
I know this is a bit more on topic with the last two months, but its something I've been curious about. In the world of “alternative spirituality” I'm noticing two distinct trends, one of which is the decline in the popular paganism of the varieties outlined in “Drawing Down the Moon.” The other is the rise of devotional polytheism as a religious movement that has been, especially in recent years, largely supplanting the older neopagan traditions in influence and fervor, and has been taking on a very different flavor from the paganism of the 20th century. It feels like they're one of the only groups right now that's actually growing, and although there are some who have no interest in magic, there are others that are beginning to develop their own magical techniques and dust off a grab back of eclectic techniques, adapting it to the symbols that are meaningful to them, and re-inventing them (although there are also some that prefer to avoid magic altogether), and in the cases of many that I know, incorporating spiritual technologies like animal sacrifice that are much more tuned to agricultural, non-industrial lifestyles. They're also by and large getting denounced by people within the older pop neo-pagan movements as a group of fanatics, and in many cases, though not all, choosing to break identification with the larger movement and form their own separate identity and their own communities. Do you see a movement like that as just another of the fault lines tearing neopaganism apart from within, or could it be a fledgeling movement where occult philosophy and Western magical technologies could begin to be studied, revived, and ultimately re-incorporated in new forms by people with an eye towards bringing more depth to the movement?
Thanks, John. I appreciate the point. That actually helps a lot in reframing the issue for me. From a slightly different angle, perhaps I should also be more willing to see (my) intellectualism as a form of hubris — the story of the Tower of Babel would be an appropriate symbol to bear in mind here.
Have you run across Helen Ingram's followup to Morton Smith's Jesus the Magician? Those are the only two I'm familiar with, except for Michael Teachings channeling that say essentially the same thing. If you could point me to other works, I'd appreciate it.
>>As for my own natal chart, you've got a range of hits and misses there! My Sun and Mercury are in Gemini, Moon and a couple of other important points in Leo; Jupiter in the 8th, according to the old medieval rules, is very favorable for magic.<< Heh! You know how sometimes in the wake of a revelation you just wanna scream, “Argh, I ALMOST said that!”? Well, umm ….. I ALMOST said you probably had a pronounced Leo/5th house in your natal ….. no, really, I did. It is, I have to say, a little hard to factor in a Leo emphasis without actually encountering the subject in person – Leo tends to project an almost physical, and certainly palpable, force-field, a great asset re leadership qualities – I might have gathered this from your revival of the AODA. In any event, check out the natal charts of politicians – virtually all of them have a distinct Leo/5th house emphasis. Lot of folks in the performance side of show biz as well. And I don't mean the correlation with politicians as an insult! We can always use our Leonine qualities for the good.
Well, this is very interesting and I can't say I'm surprised; I've been getting a “moving on” feeling from your writing for months, though couldn't pin down why.
I've heard and agree with the idea that part of being a good leader of a group or organization is planning for leaving at a propitious time–so good wishes for you. How appropriate that this change would be announced at the Solstice time.
It will be most interesting to continue to follow along with the new turnings this discussion is likely to take. I didn't know there are other forms of alchemy besides the mineral and hope you'll write more about that.
@ John Roth
Indeed, I have read Helen Ingram's website, and also her PhD dissertation (available online from the British Library). She and Robert Conner are the two who have done the most toward building on the foundation that Morton Smith laid so solidly. (Conner's four books are published by Mandrake of Oxford.) Others have made important contributions in various published articles, which Conner has done a good job of tracking.
I had not known that the Michael Teachings made similar claims about the historic Jesus. Very interesting! I shall have to take a look at them. I haven't ever done so.
Curiously, I went to school in Berkeley for a few years with the woman — then, of course, just a girl, as I was just a boy — who now writes under the pen-name of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and who also gave the Michael teachings to the world. Our houses were almost back-to-back on two parallel streets. But I did not get to know her well, and she left the Berkeley public school system in, IIRC, the 8th grade, for a private girls' school. She and I actually have a mutual friend (a man who once managed one of the Ripley's museums), who used to alternate with Yarbro in giving tarot readingsa at the California Magic Dinner Theater (in San Francisco). The readings were given inside a genuine ancient relic of 19th-century spiritualism, the Spirit Cabinet from which the famous Davenport Brothers practiced their spirit mediumship! (It's said to be in a private collection now.) What a small world!
I know this is not the appropriate question, but what is the goal of 'occultism', in all it's various forms? Power, control, etc… the perennial phantasm of the sociopath? Intellectual mastery of voluminous volumes? (A legitimate pleasure in itself, in my experience – let's call it 'mental masturbation' :). Or, achieving culturally-defined 'happiness and success' in one's current arc of life? Or spiritual progress, as in 'goodness, generosity, presence, helpfulness, here-now-ness, ('sainthood'?) etc'? I'm supposing that these somehow all meld, somehow or other… but…. I'm confused 🙂 I will doggedly follow you… with hope that the 'end result' is worth the trip 😉
Faoladh, many thanks for this! I trust you're aware that if your fluency in Japanese reaches the point at which you can do clear translations, a few volumes on Onmyodo would be very well received by the English-speaking occult public…
Sven, thank you. I'll do my best to keep it wild!
Eric, I have high hopes for the polytheist revival. It could still run off the rails or perish in a flurry of nasty internal politics, but if it avoids those, it could very well turn into a major new religious movement — and the fact that it's more or less my own instinctive religious outlook is lagniappe.
Buddha, you're most welcome.
Will, Gemini plus Leo very often looks like Sagittarius — more generally, a mutable-sign Sun in my experience very often makes strong placements in cardinal or fixed signs easy to mistake for the mutable sign of the same element. One of those tricky little things!
Adrian, I'll keep that in mind — a post or series of posts on alchemy might be entertaining.
Nancy, that's like asking what the goal of a Swiss army knife is. Occultism is a set of tools, processes, and philosophies that can be applied in many different ways for many different ends. You choose your tools and your pattern based on the goal you want to achieve — and only you can decide what that is. I'll talk more about that as we proceed.
Hopefully you had a Happy Solstice, but does this resignation from the exalted office mean that you will no longer write the Archdruid Report ? That would be a disappointment indeed.
My only experience with anything “magic” is tai-chi and that's only enough “magic” to confuse an opponent, so I rarely check this blog. I will miss your “weekly sermons” at the ADR, but I wish you well, and thank you for your writings there.
Thanks for the pointer to Robert Conner. I'll put in an order through my local occult bookstore presently. I'm not sure I can get a copy of Helen Ingram's PhD thesis from the British Library, although I've been lusting after it for a while – I'm not connected to academia in any way, and don't buy things on the internet.
There isn't all that much about Jesus as a magician in the Michael Teachings: there are a few early channelings in Messages from Michael that state flat out that he was an occult master and give a couple of details on some incidents. Most students of the MT are much more interested in the period from the Transfiguration through the crucifixion, resurrection and beyond when he was embodying the Infinite Soul – that's a whole different level of capability, and without knowing that it happened it's very easy to misinterpret the last month or so. Given that level of capability, it was very easy to fake dying and then simply walk out of the tomb, head for Galilee and wind up his teaching before his body burned out from the overload.
So you´re a Gemini with a Leonine dash? Hush, don´t say anything, since I´m not supposed to believe in astrology (I mean, we ALL know that there are 13 signs of the zodiac and that Pluto is Walt Disney´s dog, not a planet), but…yes, it does make a certain sense! 😉
Robert, thank you,
indeed, “But of course”.
That early Christian liturgical and personal practice and theory is of the same cloth as non-Christian theurgic practice is natural. The practitioners of both studied in the same schools, read many of the same texts, used the same vocabulary, after all. And why would that not continue? Myself, I find Barker more to the point than Smith. There may be a third option besides just another rabbi or just another practicing magician, or a fourth – since psilocybin is also often suggested as the third even in seminaries.
That said, if the prayers of Sts. Tryphon and Modestus still found in any modern Trebnik or Euchologion are not thaumaturgia, I misunderstand the classification (which is of course quite possible). Miracle or magic, how to tell the difference? As has been pointed out a time or three here, magic doesn't seem to be “testable” ex opere operato in the same way that mundane physical science is reputed to be. Still, useful tools.
More on the polytheist groups, please? I know about the Asatruar and the Hellenic Reconstructionists, but not much else.
You're welcome, John. And thank you for the further information on the Michael Teachings. The view that Jesus was an occult master or an adept is far more common in popular occultism than the view that he was a mage, and I'm not surprised to find it in the Michael eachings as well. Yarbro seems to be very well read in occultism and esotericism; no doubt the same was true of some of the other members of the circle that channeled Michael. (As I said, I never knew Yarbro well when we were children, but I do remember her as uncommonly intelligent, focused, and ambitious, even in elementary school. That was about 60 years ago …)
What I replied to you before, I forgot to mention also Pieter Craffert's book, _The Life of a Galilean Shaman_, which I have not yet found time to read as carefully as Smith's and Conner's works. He's at the University of Praetoria, IIRC.
I don't think you need an academic connection of any sort to download Helen Ingram's dissertation. Just go to the Brithis Library website, find the page for EThos = E-Theses Online Service, establish an account (free and easy), and download the whole thing. Her thesis is called _Dragging Down Heaven: Jesus as Magician and Manipulator of Spirits in the Gospels_. Let me know whether you are able to get it. If not, let me know and I'll see what I can do to help out.
Brother Guthlac, you are very welcome! It is always a pleasure to meet someone who so much as has heard of Dom Gregory Dix's works. And you are quite right about the Trebnik or Euchologion: theurgy and thaumaturgy abound in that book. St Tryphon's Prayer is a splendid example.
Since you know about such things, let me toss another idea into the drink we seem to be brewing here. As you surely know, Smith found and published a very, very interesting document purporting to be an 18th-century copy of a lost letter from the pen of Clement of Alexandria, quoting a very interesting passage which Clement (or whoever he was) thought came from the pen of Mark the Evangelist, though it is not in our currently available texts of Mark's Gospel. The passage tells about a private nocturnal meeting of Jesus with a young disciple, wearing only a linen cloth over his naked body, where Jesus taught him the Mystery of the Kingdom of God.
Many scholars think that the lost letter is actually a recent forgery, and even that Smith himself was the forger. I do not think, however, that it can have been forged by any Western scholar. If it is a forgery, the forger has to have been a Greek, on paleographic and linguistic grounds alone. However, that is a side issue here.
What is important is the question of whether there might be any trace of such a ritual surviving anywhere in later Christian practice. Western scholars who suspect a forgery can only point to the ordinary rite of baptism, and then it is not hard for them to argue that the letter seems to assume interpretations of baptism that are quite modern I think rather that one should look into the other ancient rites preserved in various Eastern Orthodox Euchologia. And when one looks, one finds. In them, among other things, one can read texts of a ritual for a monk's assuming the Angelic “Habit” or Schema (the highest degree of monastic initiation), which in many ways resembles a second baptism theologically, with its second and final remission of sins. And this ritual is actually said to confer on the newly initiated monk nothing less that “the Mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Could this be a late echo of whatever theurgic rite Jesus used with that young man, preserved somehow not in churches and cathedrals, but among solitary desert mystics and monks? This would remove so many scholarly difficulties …
I agree that Margaret Barker's works are more inspiring and suggestive than Smith's on this sort of question. I like her theory of secret “theurgcal” traditions of the First Temple, rejected and repressed by the authorities of the Second Temple, but preserved nonetheless in some (High) Priestly families — to which Jesus also belonged.
In one of Barker's earliest volumes there is even a coy footnote that shows she had read and understood one of the most interesting accounts by a modern ceremonial magician of his successful completion of a major theurgical ritual in the course of many months, and how this work permanently transformed him into quite another sort of person. The work that Barker cites is _The Sacred Magician_, by “Georges Chevalier” [William Bloom], who carried out the Abramelim Ritual through to its end. I think you might find it fascinating, if you haven't read it yet. There are two editions, and each has some important material that has been omitted from the other. If you can, read them side by side.
But enough; I do not want to hijack JMG's blog, hospitable as it is. I will write more in answer to your email soon.
Patricia Mathews: There is a reasonable introduction on Wikipedia, with links to more specific articles and external websites, as well as bibliographies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polytheistic_reconstructionism
@Patricia Mathews–There are Baltic polytheist reconstructionist organizations based in the Baltics. There are several Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) groups, some of them well established. There's at least one Religio Romana group. There are Hellenic reconstructionist groups both in Greece and in the English speaking world; the ones I have run across are small and locally based. There are Celtic reconstructionist groups, but if it's not your area of expertise, you need guidance to sort the reconstructionists from wiccanate and druidic Celtic-flavored Pagans. Some of the subgroups of ADR, the Druid organization founded by Isaac Bonewits, appear to this outsider to have reconstructionist intent. There are attempts to reconstruct Canaanite religion and pre-exilic Israelite religion. That's off the top of my head.
Of course the leaders of groups attempting to reconstruct a particular ethnic or national religion are likely to be aware of other organizations doing the same thing. What's changed in the past five years or so is that these groups have begun to recognize common interests with reconstructionists in general. They are holding conferences and writing position papers. The Wild Hunt blog gives some coverage to Reconstructionist activities and a keyword search over the past two or three years would probably turn up some useful links.
I know this is a huge issue, but (relating to Robert Mathiesen´s recent posting) I always wondered what the esoteric message of Jesus might have been. Today, it´s popular to claim that it was Gnostic, and then Gnosticism is reinterpreted as something similar to Neo-Advaita and/or New Age. But what if the esoteric message was something else entirely? Doesn´t Ignatius, who was anti-Gnostic, say in one of his letters that there are higher truths or stages of development he can´t communicate to his flock, since they wouldn´t bear it? Advanced mysticism of some sort? Some Orthodox (and, I think, “heretical”) mystics claim to have the ability to “translate” themselves already in this life. I never thought of monastic orders being esoteric – talk about hiding in plain sight! Presumbaly, hesychasm might have some esoteric significance.
Art, good heavens, no. I'm still an archdruid — archdruid emeritus counts! — and the weekly posts at the Other Blog will continue for the foreseeable future.
Tidlösa, I don't concern myself with “believing in” astrology. I simply use it, and get good results from it.
Patricia, I'll second the recommendations made by others. There are a lot of polytheist reconstructionist groups out there — pick a pantheon, any pantheon, and these days, somebody is worshipping its gods and goddesses.
Robert, don't worry about hijacking the blog. You're discussing material about which I know next to nothing — I read Smith, of course, and found his theory convincing, but that's about it; I don't think I'd recognize a Euchologion if one rode past me stark naked on a unicycle — and I'm always interested in new sources of lore.
Tidlösa, the facile equation of the Gnosis with New Age ideologies is among the more embarrassing habits of modern pop spirituality! For what it's worth, I don't think it's inappropriate to hypothesize that the esoteric message of Jesus may have been the fountainhead from which classical Gnosticism arose; Stevan Davies has suggested, and I think convincingly, that the Gospel of Thomas may be older than the synoptic Gospels, an account of Jesus' teachings from before the apocalyptic frenzy of the great revolt against Rome; and the overlap between the Gnosis and classical magic is clear to anybody who's ever compared the Nag Hammadi manuscripts to the Graeco-Egyptian magical papyri. But classical Gnosticism, even in its less radically dualistic modes, is a very, very far cry from today's pop mysticism.
Tidlosa (apologies for the missing umlaut) and JMG,
For what it is worth, in my attempt to construct my own (admittedly heretical) understanding of Yeshua bar Yosef, my “new testament” canon presently consists of the Gospel of Mark and the proto-gospel of Q (also, admittedly, a reconstruction), with the Epistle of James and the Gospel of Thomas under consideration.
“Recogize a Euchologion if one rode past me stark naked on a unicycle” == what a stunning image that calls to mind! I think it will stay with me forever! Thank you!
A Euchologion is a Greek word for a book containing the text (ta legomena), and often also the rubrics (ta dromena and ta deiknymena alike), of the many, many rites and rituals used in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The earliest well-preserved Euchologia were copied by hand around 900 CE, from lost older manuscripts.) Since these rituals change, usually in small, unnoticed ways, from time to time and across the vast territory of Eastern Christendom, no two Euchologia have quite the same contents. They are utterly fascinating volumes, full to the brim with thaumaturgy amnd theurgy recast as Christian “call-it-anything-but-magic” ritual. (Trebnik and Sluzhebnik are usual titles of Church Slavonic translations of the the two main parts of these Greek Euchologia. These translations go back to the second half of the 9th century.)
And thank you very much for your generous words, John MIchael. It takes a very wise man, indeed, not only to step down from his position as head of an occult order, but also to honestly say that he is “always interested in new sources of lore.” Deep respect! (But that respect was always there, ever since I first read your brilliant _Inside a Magical Lodge_.)
So perhaps Brother Guthlac and John Roth and I (and now Tidlösa) will continue our discussions here. (And I second our host's comment to Tidlösa on Gnosticism as utterly different from popular New Age ideologies.)
For now, let me just add a link to Margaret Barker's home page: http://www.margaretbarker.com
Many of her later books are essentially reworked collections of material that she first presented as lectures and articles, and a few of these articles can be read online on her website. Her article “The Secret Tradition”(1993) would be an excellent place to begin. It later became the opening chapter of her book, _The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy_ (2003).
Thanks for the pointer to Robert Craffert; I’ve added it to my shopping list. I’ll try to get ahold of Helen Ingram’s thesis shortly, although I have an aversion to registering anywhere I don’t have to.
The MT says that Jesus was a magician; he was, among other things, using illusions to produce phenomena during his exorcisms. CQY wasn’t a member of the original group; she came in later after it had mostly disbanded and bought the rights to the transcripts from “Jessica”. The original transcripts are available. They definitely started with some prior knowledge of various occult schools (Gurdjieff especially), but it doesn’t show up in the transcripts (The Legacy of Sarah Chambers).
I’m currently working through a class on Gnosticism. The basic root is in Plato, from the Timeaus, where he has Socrates break off talking about Atlantis and gives the floor to Timaeus to recount the origin of the world. This is the origin of the notion of a “craftsman god,” who is lower than the Creator (usually called the Good in Platonic thought) who created an imperfect world. The transition between that and the version presented in The Secret Book of John, with its revision of the Genesis myths, is murky to say the least. I’ve seen theories that it was originally a Jewish/Platonist mix from the first or second century BCE and then had a Christian overlay added later. Irenaus of Leon (180 ce) gives enough of Gnostic teaching to nail the Secret Book as one of their main texts.
I’ve also seen theories that the Gospel of Thomas may precede the canonical gospels. If we can trust Papias (one of the Church Fathers from the late 1st and early 2nd centuries), not always a good idea, there was originally a document that consisted of Jesus teaching sayings. This could be Q, which turns up in Matthew and Luke but which Mark seems to have unaccountably missed. The Q scholarship I’ve seen suggests that the earliest strata are from before the destruction of the Second Temple. Most GosT scholarship suggests that it is derived from Q with a lot of additional material.
“it’s what you can master, not what you can skim over briefly and think you more or less understand, that matters in occult practice.”
“enough to give you a good ten years of hard work if you actually want to master it all.” or at all
An Euchologion on a unicycle indeed ! Robert is in the position to give an informed and “scholarly” opinion and valuable information, so I will defer to him. To his comments concerning the bulk of such material I simply reference our host’s valuable comments above. Modern English editions easily run to four volumes, but tend to be rather pointless without a live human to explain and place this within the rest of the library and practice.
Robert, how would you compare the genre of an euchologion with a medieval grimoire?
Please forgive flippant Psilocybin – That perhaps would come under the classification above of spagyrics, together with the herbal concoction the nuns give one to apply to the soles of the feet in order to alieve the congestion of a chest cold.
And presumably the DOGD structure has a space for “founding archdruid”. If so, change and stay the same – developing a slightly new niche.
Buddha, that sounds like a good starting point. I have a personal fondness for the Gospel of John, but that's largely because the first chapter suggests a distinctly Druidical Christology in which the second person of the Trinity, “without whom was not any thing made that was made,” is the source and guiding principle of the whole of living nature, and thus the reason why all life depends on the sacrifice of other lives — “for all things have died that thou might live.” But that's just me.
Robert, I can't claim credit for it — “he wouldn't recognize x if it rode past him stark naked on a unicycle” was something my grandfather used to say. As far as recognizing the limits of my knowledge, though, anybody who claims to know all about all of occultism is either a liar or a fool. No human being in a single lifetime could possibly achieve that. I've got a tolerably good working knowledge of some of the main currents of modern Anglo-American occultism, and a smattering of knowledge about some other traditions, but there are whole galaxies of occultism and esoteric spirituality about which I know precisely nothing, or as close to nothing as makes no difference. The inner side of Orthodox Christianity falls into that latter category — one of many traditions I simply haven't had the chance to get to studying.
John, oh, I know; Davies' position is far from the mainstream. As I recall — it's been a while since I've read him — he argues that there were several “sayings gospels” in circulation between Jesus' crucifixion and the outbreak of the Jewish revolt in 66 CE, and Q and Thomas are the two we know anything about.
Brother G., so far the DOGD doesn't have a great deal of organizational structure — it's been a matter of me doing such teaching and mentoring as needs to be done, my wife Sara applying her admirable skills as an office manager to the very limited recordkeeping and business end of things, and everyone else studying and practicing the work. Down the road, though, there'll need to be some titles and offices, and when that happens “archdruid” may well see some use.
I'm not bothered by your reference to psilocybin, Brother Guthlac. It's just something I have no personal knowledge of. My wife and I were born just a couple of years too early to have known anyone who used drugs (even pot) during our undergraduate years, even at UC Berkeley. (Our much younger siblings, however …)
In fact, I had originally written a longer version of a recent post of mine here, in which I referenced the psychoactive ingredients of the incense and the High-Priestly anointing oil as prescribed in the Pentateuch: some of them are mild psychoactives alone, but potentiate one another in combination — or so a very experienced psychonaut of my acquaintance tells me. Short version: the Holy of Holies in the First Temple was perfectly designed to serve as a scrying chamber (or psychomanteion), with the mysterious gold object referred to as the Mercy Seat in the Authorized Version of 1611 (Kapporet in Hebrew) being the locus wherein or whereon or wherefrom the Divine would manifest to the properly prepared High Priest once a year. The same might be said, though it is less obvious, about the Tabernacle of Aaron that was in use before the First Temple was built.
The Greeks had similar apparition chambers, too; one near Ephyra on the river Acheron was excavated by Soterios Dakaris in the 20th century. Here anyone might use the chamber, and the locus of apparition appears to have been a huge bronze cauldron filled with some reflective liquid, into which the querent gazed downward from a raised platform. Preparation of the querent appears to have involved many days spent in the dark on a severely restricted diet (heavy on a mildly psychoactive bean), and the act of pouring out a jar of freshly shed blood from an animal sacrifice — the smell of which also has a strong effect on a psyche not habituated to it. Dakaris's own published pamphlets on the site are fascinating.
Nor does one really need to use psychoactive plants to get results in such a chamber. Raymond Moody (of near-death experience fame) constructed a working example a few decades back, which he used in therapeutic grief counseling to provide a bereaved person with one final opportunity to converse with the apparition of a lost loved one and say whatever had been left unsaid at the time of death. He reported a rather high level of success in facilitating such conversations, including a striking case or two where the apparition of the deceased came down out of the mirror and had physical contact the bereaved.
Tidlösa, perhaps Jesus' most powerful and significant work was not through any teaching that he may have given, but through the powerful, rare experiences he could enable his disciples to have. (That's a pretty common thing for us humans in general.) That's also the impression one can get from the Pauline Epistles (which are decades older than the Gospels and Acts), from the Revelation to John, and from the Gospel according to Mark: Jesus' teaching was the least part of what he did, and merely led his favored disciples into the unrecorded practices that were the important thing for him and his disciples. — Revelation is a very strange book, linguisticlly speaking. Its language is not the Greek of a native speaker, but the Greek of someone still thinking in some Semitic language (probably Aramaic, but just possibly Hebrew). It's a fluent Greek, in the same way that an immigrant from some other land who picked up English on the street and at the job can be fluent in his “broken English.” But it's not the writer's first language. In this, it contrasts sharply with the Greek of the Gospel and Epistles of John: that person had a native speaker's command of Greek. So … two different writers, each named John. — One could make a strong scholar's argument that Revelation is the very oldest book in the whole New Testament, and the book that takes us back most fully to the actual practices of the historic Jesus. This would be a *very* unpopular argument, of course: Revelation is also the most alien to us and out world of all the books in the New Testament.
For those interested in esoteric applications of Japanese Shingon, Stephen K. Hayes spent at least a few pages per book on ninjitsu discussing same. When Hayes started writing in “Black Belt” and similar magazines decades ago, one of the strong selling points of his ninjitsu was that it had an element theory through which to view and manipulate the local universe. Unlike anything in the West, which was entirely lacking in esoterics. Or so it was implied.
What is not usually remembered is that Aikido's O-Sensei Uyeshiba was up to his eyebrows in esoteric chant Shingon and amulet cult practice. Most of this was dropped quietly after WWII, but some of the older dojos in Japan or Hawaii have retained these materials and exercises.
After the whole bit with Uyeshiba not becoming the Nippon equivalent of the Dalai Lama for Manchuko didn't work out, much of Uyeshiba's history of travels in China (absorbing martial arts theory) was blurred out of existence in Aikido Ryu writings.
As fortune had it, Wyming Sun spent over a week with me this summer. Dr. Sun teaches Blue Dragon Feng Shui and the magical/mystical side of Yehoshua's Aramaic healing and divinatory work, which he shows to have parallels with practical, folk Daoist magic. He hadn't heard of Morton Smith's work, but agreed more or less with Smith's interpretation of Yehoshua as wonder-worker/rabbi.
This is the first I've heard that there may have been several lists of Jesus' sayings floating around after the Crucifixion, but now that you mention it, it doesn't surprise me a bit. The most diligent disciples would have memorized a core saying as a way of accessing a chunk of teaching; when one of them met up with someone who could write them down, they got written. That nicely accounts for why about a third of Thomas is identical with Q.
nwlorax: Yep. Hayes and other Bujinkan writers such as the late Glenn Morris do indeed touch on “esoteric”, magical practices in their works (though it seems to me that Morris tends to adopt Western folk magic practices more than Japanese ones).
Of course, one of the major teachers of Aikido in the US, Koichi Barrish-sensei, is also the Guji (“head priest”) at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. Japanese magical practices derived from Onmyōdō are thoroughly woven through Jinja (“shrine”) Shinto, such as the practice of making omamori (“amulets”).
Funny you should mention trying to find traditions that predate the installation of the warrior-god YHVH as the primary deity of the Hebrew people, now renamed Israel… I have recently set of on that same journey. The text says pretty plainly that the warrior god aspect replaced the previous aspect known as El Shaddai. Though often translated as “goid almighty,” the Hebrew letters shin-dalet-yud actual mean “breasts.” So the earliest manifestation of the divine was the female womb-nurturing presence of what you might call Israel's childhood. The new male levite priesthood replaced the old order of the priesthood of the firstborns, as it also admits in scripture. Statistically, about half of firstborns would be female would they not?
Prior to the advent of the bronze age, when weapons and subjugation became the norm, a more matriarchal power structure was in place perhaps. A more nurturing structure than the violent slave acquiring male only power structure imposed by the followers of YHVH. If you think about it, it was, per Exodus, El Shaddai who was operative when the world was created, who planted Gan Eden, who destroyed most of mankind when their natural DNA was corrupted from marrying higher order beings whose offspring became power-mongering violent conquerers… And it was El Shaddai who gave knowledge of the Torah to Adam by way of the Tree of Knowledge, who passed that knowledge down until the flood left the last antideluvian leader standing, Shem (per the geneologies) who was the king of Salem, the righteous and compassionate king after whom the Messiah will be modeled. But after Shem's death, during Jacob's lifetime, the warrior aspect took over. I can't get figure out why.
But the male priesthood has done their best to scour the methodology of El Shaddai worship and invocation from the official record, women have been completely cast out of leadership positions, and are even to this day not even allowed to participate in orthodox services at all. We don't even count in the daily prayers. Why did this happen? Can the original teaching and methods be recovered? Maybe not. And it's not just Judaism, of course. Jesus tried to restore the position of women as leaders, but his efforts were also stamped out but the male Roman priesthood. Kabbalah recognizes that balance has to be restored, but the male Rabbinate has never, and seemingly will never do so. So thats where I am now in my pondering. The next question is how to reach out to El Shaddai. If they know, the Rabbis are not telling.
My BA is in philosophy with minors in linguistics and judaic studies. For the past several years I have focused on economic philosophy. So I do love philosophy, but I have to agree that it doesn't give you much in the way of practical ritual skills. I can see how people came to think it was not particularly useful in an instant gratification culture lol.
Interesting. Yes, Revelation sounds like Daniel and supposedly like Enoch, as well.
Paul must have been a mystic, since he talks about being taken to the third heaven, hearing words which cannot or must not be revealed – esoteric message, right there. Also, his meeting with Christ on Damascus road.
What I wonder about is whether Gnosticism was the “true” esoteric message of Christianity, or whether there was another, since Ignatius the anti-Gnostic implies that he has a secret (mystic?) message he can´t reveal to his disciples. Of course, this ties in to the entire discussion about what Gnosticism actually is, probably a very complicated question! (Clement of Alexandria is claimed by both Gnostics and anti-Gnostics.)
Could the esoteric message be “theosis” in this life? Some Orthodox mystics supposedly have the ability to temporarily “translate” themselves, and I think the elusive Messalians in the desert claimed something similar (perhaps on a permanent basis). What make this interesting (and perhaps theologically problematic for mainline Christians?) are the implications for Jesus´ resurrection, if an advanced mystic can somehow “resurrect” himself, too. Was Jesus the unique son of God, or an advanced mystic-magician? The idea of acquiring an immortal body seems to exist in many different religious traditions around the world…
Are there any good books on these questions? Like our host, I know very little about the “inner” version of Eastern Orthodoxy, but what I have seen so far, suggests that its different from both Protestantism (with its fixation on a super-physical resurrection) and Gnosticism, or at least pop Gnosticism, which is usually taken to be super-spiritual. Eastern Orthodoxy seems more in line with Paul: the resurrection body is a body, not pure spirit, and yet a “heavenly” body, thus not simply a physical body that happens to be immune to death and disease.
OK, this was a bit disjointed but “there you go”.;-)
I'm thinking of the comments on Jesus 'real work' as distinct from Gospels, Pauline and later constructions.
Have you read Geza Vermes Christian Beginnings from Nazareth to Nicaea AD 30-325? Vermes was the first Professor of Jewish studies at Oxford and to quote from the cover: “one of the world’s greatest experts on the historical Jesus, Christian beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls”. He was a Catholic Priest who returned to his Jewish roots.
I read an admiring review of his book (“beautiful”) by a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The latter had nevertheless to take issue with Vermes interpretation of the Gospel according to John. Vermes, by the way, places the Book of Revelation as the “last writing of the Johannine corpus”, and stresses it must have been from a different hand from the Gospel, and writes that “Revelation, unlike the Gospel, is a typical Jewish apocalypse in which a belligerent Christ, wearing the warrior’s bloodstained robe, exterminates all the enemies of God before being transformed into the heavenly bridegroom.” He goes on: “It is impossible to identify the identity of the fourth evangelist. The date and place of the Johannine literature can only be surmised from circumstantial evidence”. He goes on to suggest however, that if the Synoptic Gospels are dated to the last 3 decades of the first century, to which they are commonly assigned, this would which indicate a somewhat later date for John’s Gospel. (The earliest ‘John’ papyrus fragments belong to the period AD 125 to 150.)
As I am not a scholar, Vermes has become for me a useful textbook, laying out the evidence and uncertainties. He makes a strong distinction between the historical Jesus (charismatic Jewish ‘wonder worker’ in a long history from Moses onward) and Jesus “reformulation of traditional Judaism in the framework of charismatic eschatology”, and the later Christ. Vermes declares: “Christocentricity does not stem from the historical Jesus.”
After Jesus, the early Jesus movement distinguished itself from mainstream Judaism by frequent faith healing and exorcism, prophecy, charismatic conduct and ecstatic phenomena; thus tangible signs of his continuing presence. Vermes suggests that such occurrences were ascribed to the Holy Spirit and were used as an instrument of publicity for the benefit of non-believers. I personally begin to get a feel for how Christianity was to evolve.
I take fairly seriously E.F Schumacher’s (A Guide for the Perplexed) rather austere Buddhist interpretation of ‘phenomena’. He inveighs against, I think, New Age stuff of his day thus: “total inability to distinguish between the spiritual and the occult. It seems that the real aim is to obtain new thrills, to master magic and miracles, thereby to enliven existential boredom. The advice of all people knowledgeable in these matters is not to seek occult experiences and not to pay any attention to them when they occur – and they almost inevitably will occur when any intensive inner work is undertaken. “
Schumacher is a bit of a paradox himself. He quotes as evidence (documentation and eye witness accounts, such that if these are not accepted as reliable, “then all evidence is unreliable and nobody can ever be believed” and etc.) the story of a Theresa Neumann (d.1962) who “lived 35 years without ingesting any food or liquid except the daily Eucharist”. Now I would sooner hope for perpetual motion as a potential fact. Hmmm …
Personally as I wrote here not long ago I have had strange enough experiences, though not so many recently. But recently I have come to realise that what I think and in particular utter now can cause harm to others, past and present, human and other, including those whom I hold very dear. I am still living with regret and hope for restitution.
very best – the year is turned
Why, Tidlösa, should the esoteric content of Christianity be a “message” rather than an
“experience”? I mean this only as a friendly question, not a challenge of any sort.
Is it a hallmark of our over-intelletualized religiou traditions to look for “messages” rather than “experiences” at the core of any authentic spirituality?
Human language — any human language! — is a relatively frail and flawed tool for getting at the heart of reality. It may be the best tool we have, and indeed it is “good enough for givernment work,” as the idiom goes, but it's really not all that good. Your own native language is a set of deeply worn ruts that your habitual, ureflecting thought travels in, and the map of these ruts is quite different from one language to the next — so that English ruts are different from, say, Russian ruts, and enormously different from the ruts of men and women whose native language is Navajo. Human habitual thought is not one thing across the whole range of huan cultures, and it takes an effort to bridge the gap. (The gap is always bridgeable; we are still all human. But it can take an enormous, exhausting effort to bridge it.)
Mystics have experiences that are not merely very, very hard to talk about, but sometimes even experiences that are literally impossible to talk about. This is an important difference. It is hard, sometimes very hard, to find words that do any kind of justice to many profound experiences. A majestic sunset, a sudden sense of wholeness and union with everything, a profound moment of love or of death that unites or separates you and your life-long beloved, and so forth.
Beyond these, however, they have other, rarer experiences that are so utterly unlike anything in ordinary life (even these hard-to-talk-about experiences that I just mentioned) that there are literally no words in any language to convy even a hint o any part or aspect of the experience. These experiences are truly unspeakable, or to use a technical term, ineffable. And they are real — maybe even more real than anything else one ever experiences in ordinary life. And they *do not mean* anything, anythign at all. They just have a deep impact on the entire course of teh rest of your life, working changes in you with glacial slowness — an impact deeper than anything else that has ever happened to you can have.
This, rather than any teaching in words, may well have been what Jesus passed on to his closest disciples, and they in turn to others, down through the first centuries of Christendom. Whether that specific transmission has survived from Jesus down to the present I am not sure. I am sure that it is not the only such transmission out there in the world, and also that new lines of transmission arise from time to time as people have such experiences and are even able to transmit them to others.
Does this even make sense to you? If not, I do not know how to make it clearer, and will have to give up on my pen, or keyboard.
Within the Christian tradition, I would recommend first of all Vladimir Lossky's _The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church_. He has discussed these matters more luminously than anyone else I have ever read.
@ Leah Gayle
I do recall reading about how the term for mountains in the name El Shaddai also referred to breasts (which makes sense, of course). Yes, the warrior aspect of the theology is yet another case in point. My personal thread of inquiry has been centered on the economic dimension of the Hebrew and Christian texts. (By way of background, while I majored in history in my undergrad before wandering into mathematics and applied math in grad school, I took a broad array of “electives,” including a smattering of philosophy, religion, and even linguistics…so I know what an unvoiced labio-dental fricative sounds like!)
My focus has been to see if I could uncover something of the economic directives and guidance in the texts which pre-dated the kingdom period when the power and wealth became concentrated in the hands of the economic elite (nominally, the king and his advisers). So, in the Hebrew texts, the early portions of the Torah plus the prophets speaking against royal power are of particular interest. Jesus/Yeshua, as I see him, was a prophet of that mode, speaking against the economic elite of his day (in Jerusalem, this would be the Temple powers) and teaching solidarity with the poor and the oppressed. While they are more conventional in their theology than I am, I have found the writings of Ched Meyers and Walter Breuggemann helpful in this regard.
But in the most raw of senses, there is a desire to encounter the divine in the wilderness, undomesticated by any temple or liturgy or theology — though as I mentioned in my original comment, this does come with some degree of “fear and trembling.”
@ Phil Harris
Thank you very much for the suggested text. I will make a point to hunt down a copy.
Apologies…”Ched Myers” not “Meyers”. Hit submit too quickly.
@Tidlosa–If by “translation” you mean visiting Heaven and returning without dying, that is part of Jewish tradition as well. I've never studied the Talmud, but I have read in English a recounting of an anecdote that's probably Midrash, about three rabbis who were colleagues and made visits to Heaven. The rabbis are named and I presume they are historical figures. The story goes on to say that one of the rabbis lost his sanity from the experience, one of them IIRC died shortly afterward, and one took no harm.
This looks to me like a teaching story about the dangers of attempting the kind of soul flight that was cultivated in late Classical theurgy, but another point that can be gathered from it is that these practices were not unusual among rabbis during the period when the Talmud was being collected, and they were not at all forbidden, only regarded as dangerous.
Nwlorax, I recall Hayes' books well! There was a time when those were the most accessible books on Japanese occultism in English — fortunately that's changed, though not as much as I'd like. Uyeshiba's connections to sectarian Shinto occultism are also becoming more public these days, which is good; as you might guess, I'm not in agreement with those people who want to see all the occultism scrubbed off various traditions in order to make them palatable to the masses!
John, there again, that was Stefan Davies' claim — but it certainly makes sense. I can well imagine, in the decades between the Crucifixion and the beginning of the Jewish revolt, little circles of Jesus' followers all over Judea and the neighboring provinces, each of which treasured its own fragmentary collection-from-memory of sayings of the Master with whatever commentary might have accrued to it; after the fall of Jerusalem, efforts to recover as much of that legacy as possible would be a likely spur for the writing of the Gospels.
Phil, I've read several of Vermes' books but not that one. As for “phenomena,” it really does vary from one Buddhist sect to another — mantrayana sects such as Shingon and Tendai, and at least some of the Vajrayana sects of Tibet, put some effort into the deliberate production of phenomena, for valid reasons: in the Mappo Age, the age of the decadence of the Dharma, discovering that this stuff actually works can be a source of faith in the Dharma, and eliciting such phenomena thus falls into the category of “skillful means.” Western magical orders routinely taught certain basic practices to complete beginners with the same end in view.
On the contrary, it makes excellent sense. In fact, more sense than many other descriptions of mystical experiences I´ve read, which I always thought sounded a bit “nihilistic” – the “don´t mean anything” part – yes, I´m a very intellectual guy, so to me everything must “mean” something. To me, Lossky´s book (which I´ve read) came across as a dry theological tract…
Which simply shows how difficult it is to communicate such things.
I highlighted this: “And they are real — maybe even more real than anything else one ever experiences in ordinary life. And they *do not mean* anything, anything at all. They just have a deep impact on the entire course of the rest of your life, working changes in you with glacial slowness — an impact deeper than anything else that has ever happened to you can have.”
Also this: “Why, Tidlösa, should the esoteric content of Christianity be a “message” rather than an “experience”? I mean this only as a friendly question, not a challenge of any sort. Is it a hallmark of our over-intellectualized religious traditions to look for “messages” rather than “experiences” at the core of any authentic spirituality?”.
Don´t want to sound overdramatic, but in a sense you just woke me up from my dogmatic slumber.
As for Orthodox Christianity, it´s interesting to note the strong emphasis it places on Jesus´ transfiguration on Mount Tabor, which can´t be a co-incidence. Also the emphasis on the resurrection, rather than the passion and the crucifixion – probably no co-incidence either. “The Kingdom of God is among you”, “The Kingdom of God is within you”…
If the last 18 months of this conversation around the Well, accounting for 18×6 pages of initial raw material by our host and lots of further material in the subsequent comments and discussions, were to be gathered and edited between the covers of a “prelude” it would be a very interesting and valuable volume. The mage is the man! If this month together with the promised January and February continuation is setting out a syllabus for the actual introductory survey to occult philosophy and practice, that could be down right exciting. Certainly the 11 chapters “suggested” here for section 1 of the tome will give us plenty to chew on and “train the mind” in the next year.
“And when the mages had departed an angel appeared to Joseph”, an evocative season.
“What are we to say of him who leaned on Jesus' breast, namely, John, who left one Gospel, though confessing that he could make so many that the world would not contain them? But he wrote also the Apocalypse, being commanded to be silent and not to write the voices of the seven thunders. [Revelation 10:4]”- Origen’s commentary of John (Book V para.3)
Phil – Here is the opinion of somebody close to the timeframe, a native speaker of the language, a competent textual critic if the Hexapla is any indication. And of course the language difference of the two texts entertains modern critics. Robert or JMG, what is the relationship of apocalyptic vision like Ezekiel, Daniel, Enoch and John to occult literature?
John Roth – I am imagining the effect if the “Gospel of Thomas” had become available in western Europe in the mid 9th century about the same time that Eriugena translated the angel lore of the Aeropagite – before constipated 17th and 18th century German protestant ‘scholars’ had yet invented Heilgeschichte, Formgeschicte, Bullgeschichte obsessions regarding who came first and prove-it-to-me-in-the-scripture. Naturally there was a lot of material that didn’t make it from oral transmission to written transmission to canonization. I don’t think protestant and ‘enlightenment’ wearold applied then or in the pre-Renaissance period that our host is looking at in this month’s consideration. The “message” might not be in the words, but in the experience.
I agree with Robert that Lossky is a reasonable place to start if one is interested in this general topic in an Eastern Christian milieu. Or the “Way of the Pilgrim” if one prefers a narrative style somewhat as JMG has slipped much into the Stars Reach and Retrotopia narratives. Neither are overtly magical.
The amalgamation of the great god El/El Shaddai into YHVH as though they had always been identical or co-identified is an interesting situation I ponder. Baal was a hated rival, apparently, but El was too old and powerful to be denigrated. But what annoys me about El Shaddai is that it was he who commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
I find human sacrifice horrifying, and that it continues to survive and fascinate as an idea that has wound its way into the core of Christian dogma saddens me.
The Eastern Orthodox Church never liked the book of Revelation and argued against its inclusion. It has no inclusion in the cycle of services throughout the year.
I've seen some convincing presentations that the revelation is a reworking of some of the prophecies of the Sybil of Cumaea, Herophile, who lived 500 or 600 BC. She was greatly revered, her works consulted by the Roman senate, and well known in earl Christian times.
If you read through her prophecy, the parallels are obvious.
Some snippets from google links:
Comparisons between the Sibyl's writing and the canonical Book of Revelation reveal that the first six verses in today's Revelation are fabricated justifications and the Sibyl's narratives began at verse number seven in the firs chapter (Revelation 1:7). The later additions were intermingled in various positions throughout her flowing prose and the restructured forgery is now official to Christianity.
Clearly, the original author of the Book of Revelation, the Cumaean Sibyl, was always the highly regarded clairvoyant of the Roman Catholic Church. Even today, she can be seen magnificently portrayed by Michelangelo in a prime central position among the great patriarchs of the Bible stories depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican itself.
A total of 278 verses of the Sibyl's predictions are also found in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah, indicating the high value placed upon her psychic forecasts by Old Testament authors.
You can find the text in this link, at the bottom past item 12:
I agree that Jesus/Yeshua had an economic agenda as part of his teachings in the vein of the classical period prophets. I also think he could be an early Karaite, the “sola scriptura” branch of Judaism. All of his teachings can be linked back to the plain sense of the Torah, whereas he disparaged the traditions and “work-arounds” that later became Talmudic Judaism. For example, the woman taken in adultery is often used as an example of his ignoring the Torah, but that's not the case. The Torah says that both the man and the woman should be tried and punished, but they didn't bring the man (presumably because he was one of them – how else would two witnesses conveniently see them?). Without bringing the man, the trial was invalid.
Another example, an economic one, is where he criticized certain men for dedicating their land to the priesthood instead of using the proceeds of the land to support their aged parents. Pandering to the priesthood got them political favors and social status, at the expense of their family well being. They worked out ways to avoid releasing people's debt every seven years, to avoid letting the land rest every seven years, and to avoid returning land to the rightful heirs every 50th year. So I am inclined to think the rules regarding releases of debt and jubilees for land must be original ancient commandments, but the later work arounds are not sanctioned. Ditto for usury. I can't believe the YHVH cult would work so hard to get around commandments they had written themselves.
When the prophets called for justice, caring for the poor, etc. They were not popular, and it seems to me they were more in service to El Shaddai than to the YHVH cult of the priesthood which helped devise the work arounds. Often in the text the priesthood is outright hostile to the prophets, which seems odd if they were on the same side. I realize most people would say the priests were sinning – but against whom? Ultimately, the YHVH cult won and the economic justice rules of the Torah dropped out of use, completely replaced, as it is to this day.
I speculate there was a struggle between the two camps, and the followers of El Shaddai lost, plain and simple. Then the winners write the books… Which doesn't help anyone today looking for ritual appropriate to use. Also, Prophecy has been interpreted in such a way as to mask the fact that a lot of them refer to the return of the bride, or shekinah, to the temple. When the prophets speak of turning swords into plowshares – sounds like the warrior god gets dethroned in the end. At which point the rules regarding economic justice get reinstated.
Even if you interpret prophecy allegorically, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that things are very wrong with the whole competition, conquering paradigm and that it will end. What replaces it is “every man under his fig tree,” that is, a peaceful agrarian life – a return to an economy that is not based on exploitation, hopefully.
Re the diminishing role of women, I have noted in my years of reading this and that, that the phenomenon seems to have been world wide in regions unconnected to one another. Everywhere you go there were powerful and important goddesses who were forgotten, diminished, or got behind their men. I visited Ammachi, the “hugging saint” in D.C. (she's Hindu) where she officiates like a priestess at her ceremonies and has both male and female helpers, but mostly female. In one of the little booklets about her they said that she answered criticism about this by saying that this was done in ancient times, and that she is merely reviving the old custom.
It makes me wonder about the possibility that there is more going on behind the scenes in this weird human drama we are in.
Onething, Robert, et al:
Wyming Sun noted that there are 140 preserved Aramaic sayings of Yehoshua available for study. I strongly suggest anyone interested in this material to seek out what he's got available. If I were a decade or two earlier, I'd add Aramaic to my list of working languages.
When I was in Jerusalem in 1979, I spent half a day looking for the Goddess shrine on/near the Wailing Wall described in Patai's book “The Hebrew Goddess”. Needless to say, the tour guides denied such a thing had ever existed.
An older, out of print gem by Andrew Greeley titled “The Mary Myth” discusses and parses the traditions of the veneration of Mary into four aspects. Fr. Greeley tap dances nicely around the heretical implications of this fine work by stating up front he neither refutes nor discusses Marianist theology in this book. 🙂
As a companion volume, the late John Bloefeld's “Kuan Yin: Boddhisatva of Compassion” is an excellent read. The crusty Zen Buddhist is sent on a very personal journey to discover Kuan Yin, aka Green Tara, et al. I won't spoil the surprises for anyone who hasn't read the book.
Vermes book Christian Beginnings was his last and as he says summarises 40 years work.
Thanks for thanks: I am pretty sure Vermes can help.
You raise an interesting point concerning the hand that wrote Revelation. It is a point I would like to have written to Vermes for his comment, but he died in 2013. Vermes devotes many pages to Origen and writes of him that he “was the most versatile, exciting and influential Church Father in the early centuries of Greek Christianity”. Vermes has earlier in the book spent a lot of time with Johannine Christianity, the literature and its authors. He did not spend much on Revelation; barely more than the quote I gave in my previous comment.
I suppose from my reading that Vermes' method is to take care to record the ‘changing Jesus’ in an historical line, using the documented changing portrayals and doctrinal developments. The words in the documents change with new meanings. He says of Origen’s contribution for example that “he is mixing Platonism with the Bible” – Origen also learned Hebrew and did not have to rely only on the old Greek translations of the Hebrew and could debate the original texts on a par with Jews. Vermes says Origen’s Hexapla is “still an essential source in biblical research nearly 18 centuries after Origen’s time (published in two huge tomes by Frederick Fields in Oxford in 1875).” BTW, Origen's prodigious writing energy at one stage was supported by a wealthy patron who provided more than seven shorthand assistant writers and at least as many copyists as well as girls trained in calligraphy. Nice!
I rather go with Robert’s point that the ‘real’ transmission from Jesus was direct – and ‘ineffable’. Such experience happens and is transmissible – it is instantly shared. The power of such a consistent experience with Jesus alive though is hard to imagine. The profound ethical context of his teaching, the ‘grounding’ of the experience, is what makes the difference in my view. They were never going to give that up – well, like, it is enough!
Even the Rabbis had a problem with the sacrifice of Isaac. They usually explain it as a test that Abraham actually failed. When he was younger he's was willing to attend with God, but this time he just shrugged his shoulders and let it go. Why, we'll never know, I guess. But you'll notice God never spoke to Abraham again after that.
Other Rabbis claim that Abraham did in fact kill Isaac, which was tactfully left out of the text to avoid giving anybody ideas. They claim Isaac was resurrected, and the story of the binding of Isaac is actually read every Rosh Hashanah in synagogue – the rheological significance being that is the expected date of the first general resurrection.
I doubt seriously the story is literal – the stories are mythologies, teaching universal truths which have been obfuscated and muddied over the years.
Re diminishing roles of women
In the near East, at least, it seems to have to do with the advent of cities and weapons. Cities had walls, and warriors to defend them. I have also seen theories that the early stories of the Bible are about nomadic vs stationary cultures – that is, the ones who adopted agriculture (and went on to invent cities) eventually conquered and absorbed the wandering clans of herdsman. In the story of Cain and Abel, El Shaddai favors the herdsman's offering. Some of that carries over to the YHVH cult, but they primarily relied on collecting tithes of grains and oil and fruit trees. Other than offering the first born animal and the pesach, if you didn't think you had sinned you never had to offer an animal. So the land controlling rich guys won out again. And of course the only way a woman could own property was if she has no living male relatives at all.
So yes, I have come to the conclusion there is way more going on here than is commonly understood. And I hope reconnecting with the feminine divine will help unravel some of it. But mostly for me it is just that I am totally sick of all the violence, all the exploitation, ask the greed and power mongering. Frankly, I am just not interested in the whole warrior god triumphing by killing millions of people thing anymore. Yes, women CAN be just as bad, but I think our modern culture which devalues and objectifies women just as much as ever is partly to blame.
Re: mutability and such in natal charts.. in general I find it easiest to sense what qualities someone is strong in, and what elements they are strong in. It is much more challenging to correctly sense what specific quality/element combinations (i.e. signs) are strongest. And when you then get to which planets/angles are emphasizing these qualities and elements? Hoo boy! All these complex and higher-order polynomial interactions are what make “Astrology” so difficult to test “Statistically.”
I just thought that the triumph of YHVH as the “one true god” was mostly because his jealous, violent, sadistic, etc. nature lets patriarchs justify pretty much anything they want to do…
Of course while I am being uncharitable and psychological, I can also suggest that polytheism is just animism + egocentrism, recasting all the animistic spirits as humans, or subjugating them to humanoid entities…
JMG – What I find interesting is Davies' recognition that Thomas is not gnostic, at least in the sense that Apocryphon of John or Pistus Sophia.
Forgive me. When Robert and I began with Dom Gregory and the Euchologia we were in territory ceremonial, which I suppose fits into ivocative and evocative practice with a bit of horary and electional mixed in. Where, in the taxonomy of the main post, are we as we dig around in the Gospel of Thomas end of the garden? Certainly pre-Renaissance, certainly obscure – although Thomas itself was not in circulation in the medieval period there was plenty of lesser literature.
Tidlösa: If you find Lossky dry and tedious, Kyriakos Makrides and Robert Ames have a lively tone in discovery of secret knowledge. Or dive into the original texts with the Gnostic Chapters of Evagrius Ponticus or Maximus the Confessor.
Yes, Phil, whether Secret Mark or Mt. Tabor Transfiguration or the initiation into the Great Schema, transmission must be experiential. I agree completely with Robert on that. As our host has reminded repeated, this is not a collecting of obscure facts but a training program.
@Patricia: As Greer said, there are multiple organizations springing up devoted to the revival of any polytheistic religion you can think of, and there's also a rising current of devotional polytheism within the pagan community itself. My ADF grove has a pretty strong devotional polytheist current, and there's a really strong group of devotional polytheists at the annual OBOD gathering I attend. And they're not all reconstructionists either. Probably the best summary of the movement I've come across appears in Morpheus Ravenna's “Book of the Great Queen” which, in addition to being embraced enthusiastically by the fast growing cultus of the particular deity the book is about, is also being taken as a model for how to approach gods within a devotional polytheist framework: “my approach to engaging with Gods is neither eclectic nor reconstructionist. In my own religious practice, I believe in delving as deeply into the historical record and ancient literature as possible. However, the paramount value in religious practice is lived religious experience and authentic relationship with the Gods. The study of the source cultures and histories of the gods makes that relationship possible – it is how we learn the cultural, symbolic, and theological language of a deity, so that we can enter into that lived relationship with them. In metaphorical terms, it's like dating someone from a different country: you need to have a shared language to have a shared relationship, but you can't conduct a relationship following a script or textbook.” A lot of people in the movement, while striving for authenticity to the symbolic language of their gods, though, also turn to other occult traditions, be it ritual magic, various forms of herb and stone lore and natural magic, and the types of energy healing, ecstatic trance, and out of body journeying that'll be discussed in next month's discussion of more modern occult methods, and adapting them in ways that fit within the cultural language of the gods they're following. As that happens, completely new magical practices are emerging in the process (one example in my own local community is a form of energy healing called run valdr that's started in the heathen community, became widely popular, and has since seeped into our ADF grove that combines reiki techniques with rune magic and some symbols that evolved out of practice and shared experience). You can see a cross section of the overall movement and the types of conversations that are taking place within it here http://polytheist.com/.
Re: sacrifice of Isaac
As I understand it, human sacrifice was a standard feature of a lot of cultures at that time and place. I usually explain that story as a rather pointed command: human sacrifice is over. Period. YHVH has said so. Period. I think anyone of that time and place would have interpreted it that way.
It makes a pretty good example of a story that's intended to teach a point, whether or not it actually happened that way.
I don't wish to be the cause of excessive cross-over from the other blog, but if you all will indulge my chain of thought:
I mentioned previously that Walter Breuggemann is one of the theologian-authors whom I have found helpful and I am presently reading _The Prophetic Imagination_ (2nd ed., 2001), wherein he discusses the tension between the prophetic voice (in the 'spokesperson for the divine' sense of the word) and what he refers to as “the royal consciousness.” This latter term refers to the king-temple complex which manages the domesticated divine-substitute and asserts order/control upon the cosmos (folks will no doubt see the parallel with the role of Man the Conqueror of Nature in our present civil religion of Progress, which John previously discussed). And this brings me to the concept of the empire-in-the-mind and the need to “decolonialize” our own awareness of the aspects of Empire (or “royal consciousness”) which are embedded therein.
It strikes me that the act of decolonialization of the mind (to remove the constructs of Empire from our awareness) can be seen as affecting “a change in consciousness in accordance with will” — which of course is John's definition of magic. So, a logical conclusion would be that (operative?) magical techniques would be an appropriate tool to accomplish that desired end.
Does that seem reasonable? And would anyone be able to suggest methods/techniques which would be appropriate for that particular task?
Can someone provide a clear definition of “devotional” polytheism, and what distinguishes it from “ordinary” polytheism?
Bill Pulliam: Let me start by pointing out my bias: I consider myself to be a devotional polytheist.
Basically, a devotional polytheist is a person who operates from the standpoint that the gods are real in some sense external to human existence, that the gods are multiple, and that the gods deserve devotion (or “worship”, for those who aren't infected by the idea that “worship” implies debasement of the worshiper). This is placed in contrast to (specifically) a group of “humanist pagans” who believe that the gods are archetypal parts of their unconscious selves, and who claim that this entitles them to claim the term “polytheist” despite their belief system's rejection of theism.
“Can someone provide a clear definition of “devotional” polytheism, and what distinguishes it from “ordinary” polytheism?”
I suspect it has more candles.
“Even the Rabbis had a problem with the sacrifice of Isaac. They usually explain it as a test that Abraham actually failed. When he was younger he's was willing to attend with God, but this time he just shrugged his shoulders and let it go. Why, we'll never know, I guess. But you'll notice God never spoke to Abraham again after that. “
In what way did he fail? What do you mean attend with God and this time he shrugged? Didn't God speak to him later at the Sodom and Gemorrah affair?
Which God didn't speak to him? It was commanded by El Shaddai, who isn't JHVH.
“As I understand it, human sacrifice was a standard feature of a lot of cultures at that time and place. I usually explain that story as a rather pointed command: human sacrifice is over. Period. YHVH has said so. Period. I think anyone of that time and place would have interpreted it that way.”
It's a common interpretation. Unless of course, as some Rabbis say, he really did sacrifice Isaac.
Well, you take a guy who lives in a culture that sacrifices its children, and you get him to go all the way to having his son tied up on the pyre, and then substitute an animal. Now, anyone who heard the voice of his or her god today to do that, would be considered psychotic. But things were so different then. Yet its the same people who say the above that excuse one or two of the worst genocidal wars of conquest in the Bible as being justified because those people committed human sacrifice. Such an unforgivable sin that instead of teaching the people better, they are simply annihilated, all the while most other people in the world who were doing that same thing are ignored. Abraham only refrained because he was stopped. And then sometimes the Hebrews also got into it, no doubt tempted by their lousy neighbors, but they are only barely scolded for it. Yes, human sacrifice is a terrible thing, which is why it is the culminating event, the beautiful means by which God can reconcile with humanity, because of a human sacrifice.
So, human sacrifice is so bad that God will exterminate the people who do it, except that it is the most beautiful thing ever, because through human sacrifice, committed by God himself, humanity can be forgiven.
God, of course, never actually forgave humanity in the sense of the real meaning of forgiveness of debt. He was paid. According to Billy Graham, “God demanded a death.”
Certainly. Devotional polytheism can be contrasted with other understandings of worldviews that include 'many gods' in that, well, it implies devotion to them, and a comprehension of them as free agents external to the human mind with whom we can nonetheless have relationship. It is different, therefore, from (say) archetypal polytheism, in which the gods are simply aspects of human consciousness (what JMG refers to in this post as psychospiritual alchemy), or animistic polytheism, which recognizes gods and spirits of place and natural phenomena (again, external and independent of the human mind), but not necessarily relatable. Of course, those three (and there are certainly others!) are in no way inherently contradictory, and devotional polytheists are generally perfectly capable of recognizing that the spirit of a mountainside might not care even a little bit for its worshiper or caretaker: reciprocity isn't essential, though it is useful, and in many cases can be cultivated to some degree with the least humanlike of spirits. The core of devotional polytheism is exactly what it sounds like though–devotion to, or honoring many gods, as opposed to simply acknowledging the existence of many gods, or being convinced that the many gods are really just a part of oneself.
@buddhabythelake – “It strikes me that the act of decolonialization of the mind (to remove the constructs of Empire from our awareness) can be seen as affecting “a change in consciousness in accordance with will” — which of course is John's definition of magic. So, a logical conclusion would be that (operative?) magical techniques would be an appropriate tool to accomplish that desired end.”
I heartily agree that operative magic can be an effective tool for de-colonizing the mind. There is a radio show called the Visionary Activist on KPFA in the bay area, hosted by a DC based astrologer who is also an adept of a Dion Fortune style training – Caroline Casey. It was in fact listening to her show (available as a podcast online) that introduced me to our hosts' work as she interviewed him a few times. One of her consistent endeavors is to advocate for the decolonization of the mind. On a subject that may be of interest to you, she also introduced me to the work of Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz who has worked on new translations of Jesus' work from the aramaic, which are profound and liberating. She likes to say: “If you suck the 'G' out of 'Kingdom', what you have is the 'Kindom' of heaven at hand”.
Like you I was raised a Christian, and I think that coming to terms with and reclaiming our minds from the Christian orthodoxy is an essential step in reclaiming our mental freedom from the Religion of Progress. After all, as our host has pointed out, the Progress mythos is little if not Christianity with its serial numbers filed off.
As to which specific techniques might apply to this effort? I think it depends on what works for you.
What I have done is to explore the places I inherited Christianity from on a deep level- Mormonism and its hermetic roots, but also (and probably more deeply due to many hours as a child engrossing myself while reading) the Chronicles of Narnia and Lewis' connections to esotericism. I also used characters from the Narnia series in learning the classical art of memory (as JMG describes in his article 'Ars Memorativa'), with the notion that using and revisiting these characters who were alive in my youth as my personal cosmology was coalescing, might empower me to access and reformulate my worldview with spiritual/mental freedom. I feel that this has been empowering and effective, but it is an ongoing process (both learning the art AND decolonizing).
I also engaged exploring the wildness of divinity, and the responsibility for my own spiritual well being (not unlike what you have described of your own process, though I have also been working with divinities of the Druid revival). Caroline Casey and others in the sustainability/bioneers movements frequently talk of needing to 'become indigenous' to the land. For me I felt I needed to explore my own 'indigenous' heritage (Celtic) before working with Native American ways.
Though difficult to maintain, I have found the daily practice of magical protection, discursive meditation, and the study of occult philosophy to be more than helpful. The philosophy part here is essential, and I am indebted to JMG for this understanding. To slay the dragon of materialism (colonization) you have to beat it at its own philosophical game. I am too much a beginner in any of Astrological, Natural, Invocatory, Evocatory magic or alchemy to comment on their utility in this regard.
That said, decolonizing the mind can at times put you at odds with making ends meet or functioning as parents, spouses, and children expect – which introduces its own sets of problems. As my housemate who inhabits our treehouse says, 'the real problem [with the colonized state of being] is that everybody keeps going to work'. So what is helpful can at times get obscured by other day-to-day problems. Best of luck to you.
@Buddyabythelake & Urban harvester: For me, learning exactly how, and why, religious ideology has been hijacked and tweaked to colonize our minds, and getting my nose rubbed in the rankness of the “royal consciousness” has gone a long way toward decolonialising.
What did it for me, finally, was reading Stephan Huller’s paper on how Irenaeus the church father used Christianity to brown-nose his boss the Roman Emperor Commodus. Irenaeus’s prosperity, and probably his very life, depended on making the cult into something that served the ego and the power of this ruler.
On another note: I want to thank JMG, Richard Matheisen, and Brother Guthlac, in particular, for letting me overhear their conversation.
Richard Matheisen’s response to Tidlösa in which he spoke of “experience” and how it may transform the experiencer came at a very timely moment for me. I don’t know a single person to whom I could speak face-to-face of such a thing, much less ask for good counsel about it. So, thanks, from the heart.
Such experiences certainly predisposed my mind to allowing itself to be de-colonialised, too!
faoladh & mac Morigna — thanks. Interesting that these are considered fundamental distinctions, as I frequently engage in all three of them (plus three others) before breakfast. I don't see these various approaches as distinct or incompatible. Indeed, since the divine is clearly incomprehensible to the human mind at fundamental levels, I find taking different ways of approaching it (within the same mind, at the same time) broadens and deepens the experience…
JMG – I've been reading The Archdruid Report for a few years now. Just recently stumbled upon your other works, specifically this blog. I have to say I'm not surprised in the least that you decided to pursue other projects near and dear to you. I look forward to reading more about them and seeing where life takes you. Wishing you all the best.
@Urban Harvester & @KKalbert
Thank you for the insights and suggestions. This is an fascinating path to be on, even though at times I feel as though I am attempting to build a plane in mid-flight. As I reread John's post and look over his taxonomy of methods, psychospiritual alchemy jumps out as a candidate for my particular application — though I suspect that one reason it caught my notice is that my rationalist mind sees it as being “safer” than many of the others in that it appears more mechanical/objective in nature and does not directly involve communing with powerful, undomesticated beings… I have a lot of work to do yet, apparently.
I found a copy of Vermes' text through interlibrary loan and it is en route 🙂
Thanks, everyone, for the deep and enlightening comments. I learned a lot. I was fortunate to have a minister in my 20's who had a PhD in mysticism studies or some such thing and he was on the forefront of a lot of the reclaiming of the historical Jesus. He did a series of classes on the subject and provided some aramaic translations.
Fascinating, but depressing as hell (for me), due to the yawning gap between what Christianity started out to be and what it became and what that has meant for so many over the past 2,000 years.
Brother G., I haven't yet taken a good look at the accumulated Galabes posts as book fodder, but that's mostly because I've been up to my eyeballs in other projects. No doubt much of this will eventually end up in book form.
Phil, so noted! I'll put it on the get-to list.
Bill, oh, granted. I've simply paid attention to which mistakes I tend to make more often than others.
Brother G., and of course a huge amount depends on the interpretation of that pesky term “Gnostic,” which — as Davies, iirc, also points out — has been used and abused in a galaxy of ways since it first found a foothold in ancient eastern Mediterranean pop culture.
Buddha, I have what will probably be an unwelcome take on the polarization between prophetic and priestly consciousness: I see them as equally necessary. The balance between force and form, to put things in a language familiar to occultists, is the basis of manifestation; if you have too much form, you petrify, but if you have too much force, you explode. Equally, trying to get rid of one side of such a binary inevitably means bringing it back in without noticing it; that's why so many efforts at the decolonization of the mind end up colonizing it with a different but equally rigid ideological stance. The approach that would be suggested by occult philosophy would be to turn to the Royal Secret of equilibrium — to recognize the strengths and the weaknesses of prophetic and priestly consciousness alike, to balance them, and to use either or both as the circumstances suggest.
But again, I know that that's an unwelcome stance these days.
Bill, the difference between devotional polytheism and the other kinds is essentially political in nature. I'm not sure if you follow the tempests in the online Neopagan teapot, but there's been an ongoing squabble between Neopagans who don't believe in the actual existence of deities (“humanist Pagans” et al.) and those who do, and a significant fraction of the latter party seems to have adopted the label “devotional polytheism” for what they do. I'm not sure the term would be used at all if Neopagan-flavored atheism hadn't become so popular of late.
Mr. B., thank you and welcome to the Well!
Janet, well, that's generally what happens when you bring human beings into the mix. The more an ideology (religious or otherwise) expects people to behave like angels, the more certain you can be that in practice, believers in that ideology will behave like devils instead.
I enjoy theological discussion and analysis. Like Bill Pulliam, I hold a variety of different theological viewpoints simultaneously.
One situation in which making theological distinctions is of practical use is in the design of religious rituals for groups. Established religions have accumulated off the shelf rituals for most occasions, but newish religions and schismatic cults have to develop new rituals, and it's harder than it might look to do that. Group ritual is among other things organized symbolic action. People participate in action together, or witness it, or have it done to them. Usually the ritual actions are accompanied by songs or statements explaining the reasons or meanings of the actions.
The person or group that designs or adapts the ritual has to adopt some theological view for the ritual to express; otherwise it won't be coherent and whatever effects it has on the participants or the greater world will work at cross purposes.
The people who participate in the ritual don't necessarily have to agree with or even grasp the organizing theological viewpoint of the ritual in order to get something out of it. They may have a variety of views from “I'm here because my mother-in-law insisted; I don't believe a word of this,” to rote participation to passionate engagement to a totally heretical interpretation of what's going on.
Far too often people make assumptions about someone else's beliefs just from being told what religion the person belongs to. Different sects of a religion will have different doctrines; some sects tolerate a variety of theological approaches within the sect; children may be given a simplified version of the official theology and adults a more nuanced version. People who count themselves as members or adherents may have their own ideas about divinity that are different from the sect's formal teachings, just as people who support a political party don't necessarily agree with its entire platform.
Plenty of people who sit in the pews of mainline Protestant denominations think Jesus was a great teacher but don't believe in his divinity. A recent Pew survey of Americans found a substantial minority of Evangelicals think that non-Christians who are good people will go to Heaven. There is at least one Jewish denomination in which an atheist may be ordained a rabbi. I'm an initiate of three witchcraft traditions, one which has rituals that express a henotheist theology and the others venerate a triad of divinities. My personal theological views incorporate those systems but from day to day my private observances are as likely to be animist or agnostic or directed to deities of other pantheons.
Bill Pulliam and JMG: Mr. Greer is correct. There would be no need for the qualifier “devotional” if the “humanist pagans” hadn't been attempting to appropriate the term “polytheist” and then dominate the conversation. Properly, many of us still think of ourselves as simply “polytheists”, no qualifier necessary, but in larger discussions where the waters have been muddied by people who seem, from our vantage point, to have actively malicious agendas to pursue in silencing our voices in the larger pagan/neopagan conversation (to the point that quite a number of polytheists have simply withdrawn in disgust from that conversation and no longer accept the description of “pagan” or “neopagan”; this is a stance that I have gone back and forth on myself), the term has uses currently. It will be dropped when this fad for atheism in religion ends, which I expect to happen before too much longer.
If you think that my use of “malicious” is ill-advised, see this short conversation that one polytheistic heathen had with a leading proponent of “humanist paganism”.
(Caveat lector, and please forgive the length of this qualifier: some people describe Joe Bloch, the author of the Jön Uppsal's Garden blog, as racist because he holds to a form of heathen religion called “folkish”, which is suspicious at best of people who follow religious forms that are not connected in some ill-defined way to their supposed ancestry. I disagree strongly with the folkish position, myself, but find this particular discussion important. I will point out, because I “met” – electronically – Mr. Bloch through other avenues unrelated to pagan/polytheist/heathen religion and did not discover his folkish belief until after I'd known him for some time, that as far as I am aware he is not opposed to other heathens avoiding the folkish position, and only holds that it is his and his group's right to associate with whom they wish.)
“But again, I know that's an unwlecome stance these days.”
For my part, not at all unwelcome. Actually, your suggestion has a certain Taoist balance to it which I find appealing.
The challenge, as I see it, is the what you describe is more a dynamic equilibrium than a static one. Static equilibria are so much easier to handle! They also tend to not be as relevant…
Thanks for the clarifications. I am utterly uninvolved in online neopaganism. I was an early adopter and an early abandoner of “social networking” etc. and I limit myself to a few carefully chosen arenas now. Sounds like I am missing little that I would care to hear. I have plenty to occupy my time in the real world, what with all the dead Vikings and dragon husbandry…
The S & G incident was a year before the birth of Isaac, well before the binding. Abraham failed because he didn't argue with god about what he was told, as he did earlier regarding S&G. Presumably it was El Shaddai who tested him and found him wanting, since the aspect of YHVH was not revealed until several hundred years later, during Moses' life. That of course presumed the stories are more or less in order, and actually happened historically, neither of which may be true. The question of what lesson we are supposed to take away from it is probably not a fixed thing. It may be that each successive generation had their own lessons to learn from the stories. For us it might be: don't sacrifice you family on the altar of your career…
Faoladh — thanks for the link. It reminds me of exactly why I quit participating in almost all online discussions of these topics many years ago. I think I only find this forum here fruitful because it is hosted and well-moderated with a light but judicious touch. The whole process of “I am going to dissect your word choices and rebutt them piece by piece, interjecting arguments you never intended to make” followed by “I am going to do the same thing to your rebuttal” until there are now 276 comments analysing the meaning of the word “is” with only about a paragraph's worth of actual insightful analyses buried amidst it all… naw.
Other than The Well of Galabes being the place where you stay away from the world's problems to do magical work, is there any other reason for the name? I don't remember seeing Arthurian legends in your works.
I have been told, myself not being fluent in the languages involved, that the Holy Spirit is referred to in feminine in the untranslated texts. I can't verify this, but perhaps some of you may find it intriguing or worth investigating further. The Trinity is an awkward concept to wrap a human brain around, after all, but it would make sense that one nicknamed The Comforter would be a more feminine side of God, at least inasmuch as gender makes sense in non-corporeal entities.
@Pseudorandom, read the first post on this blog, I believe the title was explained there.
JMG: Nancy, that's like asking what the goal of a Swiss army knife is. Occultism is a > set of tools, processes, and philosophies that can be applied in many different
> ways for many different ends. You choose your tools and your pattern based on the
> goal you want to achieve — and only you can decide what that is. I'll talk more
> about that as we proceed.
If the entire practice of magic were “merely” to help you formulate goals that were most suited to provide a happy retrospection in the hour of your eventual death, wouldn't that be about the best that you could hope for? To specify goals that were (with effort) achievable, and consistent with your fundamental values, what better change of consciousness by will would you want? To decide: what shall I do now, and in tomorrow's “now”, and next year's “now”…?
If you were to say “I want to use magic to put money in my pocket”, you'd be well along the way of any folk tale where the wisher gets what he asks for, “good and hard”, along with a lifetime of regrets.
Re: polytheism. If Mr. Ultra-rich Guy spends a mind-numbing amount of money to own Famous Dead Musician's favorite guitar, is he polytheistically honoring the animistic spirit that remains in the guitar? If I say that the keyboard of my 1947 Underwood Universal manual typewriter “calls me to type on it”, is this more than just a figure of speech? Is it grateful that I picked it out of a pile of trash waiting for the crusher and the dump, cleaned and oiled its mechanism, and researched its serial number to estimate its birthday?
I've finally had two seconds to scratch myself today (figuratively speaking of course) ;-)! Seriously, the extreme weather here has had me chasing my tail for months now and I was busy before that. People say they're busy, but I actually am busy. :-)! Much manure was moved today and the orchard appreciates it too.
So I popped over to check out the DOGD tonight and I must say that I'm truly pleased at just how many people you may have annoyed – the hissy fit page is certainly extensive and the retorts were genius! I'm sure you've had much practice?
Anyway, it certainly piqued my interest and now a copy of the book is slowly wending its way to the remote location all the way down here at the bottom of the world. I salute the fact that you are reaching for the point of creativity too – without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I'll have a read and a deep cogitate. I've always had the deep feeling that you are a dude worth knowing more deeply.
Seriously too, my blog is getting spammed – it is really annoying. 2,300 hits in the past day is a nuisance.
Humanist pagans… This is really getting ridiculous…
To pick up the thread we've had going the last couple of months, what has been on my mind is exactly what it is that seales the doom of a movement like, say, neopaganism once it finds its way into pop culture and gets embraced by the identity seeking masses. It struck me that what inevitably happens as a result is the degeneration toward the lowest common denominator of western industrial culture, which is the worship of the human ego, of itself by itself, as the one true god. The fact that not even occultism can escape the onslaught stands, if not anything else, as testimony to the frankly absurd amount of intellectual creativity that the legions of angry egos have always managed to muster in order to twist anything around to mean what they want it to mean.
Brother Guthlac wrote:
“Yes, Phil, whether Secret Mark or Mt. Tabor Transfiguration or the initiation into the Great Schema, transmission must be experiential. I agree completely with Robert on that. As our host has reminded repeated, this is not a collecting of obscure facts but a training program.”
You have given me pause for thought and reflection on the moral value of education and training, and on any distinction between training and education.
I am pretty sure that ‘training’, and experience during training (‘learning’), can enable useful magic and habits, and sometimes help with unlearning bad habits.
You sent me back to Aristotle, or at least Alasdair MacIntyre’s discussion centred on Aristotle: After Virtue. I quote: “To act virtuously is not, as Kant was later to think, to act against inclination; it is to act from inclination formed by the cultivation of the virtues. Moral education is an ‘education sentimentale’.”
I am not sure, however, that ‘insight’, or in its widest religious sense, ‘grace’, can be 'earned'. I see from the Wiki entry on ‘divine grace’ that major world religions have hesitated sometimes on this one! 😉 Some say it can be earned and another says it can be found by a properly addressed rosary of beads. But, whatever, we can proceed to character and judgment of circumstance, rather than dwell in a world of prohibitions and observances.
If one is fortunate (and Aristotle allows for gifted native character, but thinks it insufficient it seems) these gifts of experiential insight, typically perhaps ‘ineffable’, might be passed on from somebody else, by perhaps one’s mother for example, rather than needing to be found ‘de novo’?
FWIW my sense is that primary experience is just that, primary. I once, while waiting in a line for a teller/cashier with our small toddler on my arm, saw ‘indescribably’ the ‘goodness’ (for want of a better word) of a very ordinary woman at the head of the line. I wondered afterwards if this was the kind of primary experience that was at the root of the later philosophy of Plato.
Look after the dragons and the vikings will take care of themselves, eh?
@latheChuck–Why don't you ask your typewriter? And listen to the answer. Seriously. You could get somebody else to do a psychic reading, but then you would have to decide whether to believe it, which is an infinite regression.
@Phil Harris–I know even less about Aristotle's thought than about the Talmud, but the commentary you quote tallies nicely with what I am told is a Talmudic statement, that each human being is born with an inclination to good and an inclination to evil, and that in the average human being at birth the two are about equally strong.
It follows that teaching, example, formation of habits, opportunities to act, and societal rewards and punishments all will make a difference as to whether a person's actions will be mostly virtuous or the reverse.
JMG and buddhabythelake, “The approach that would be suggested by occult philosophy would be to turn to the Royal Secret of equilibrium” It looks like I need to revisit 'After Progress', this is an intriguing line of thought. Fritjof Capra in 'Web of Life', to explain dynamic equilibrium, used the metaphor of riding a bike – to balance one it must always be in motion, and it must be constantly balanced back and forth from side to side. (As opposed to static equilibrium such as in a well balanced and immobile building). To balance between the limitation and the feedback, the priestly and the prophetic, the colonized and the wild, the universal and the dissensus… Sometimes (I commute by bike on a daily basis) my hands go numb from resting too much on my handlebars – so I have been imagining that I am in a pushing hands spar with my bike, holding my body more upright with my core as I push on one side of the bars after the other in turn. It seems to be working, easing tension on my wrists, though I probably look funny riding down the street with flowing arms. But so be it, it also helps me to guard against the notion that by cycling I am necessarily collapsing, the wild organism still has to contend with this machine and its technological suite. (And it makes me want to learn your DOGD druid level neigung too).
@Urban Harvester, JMG, et alia–
This discussion and distinction between static and dynamic equilibria is a fascinating, if challenging one. As I noted in my journal recently, “A static equilibrium is a once-and-for-all solution, whereas a dynamic equilibrium is a constantly shifting set of states dependent on the current context and requiring constant awareness and balance. Guess which of these is easy and which is true?”
As I considered John's suggestion of the royal equilibrium and the concept that neither Order (priest/form) nor Chaos (prophet/force) are desirable in “pure” states (petrification or explosion, respectively), then the (dynamic) equilibrium between the two must consist of both Order-within-Chaos and Chaos-within-Order. This brings to mind the Yin-Yang of Taoism, where each principle force/form/nature contains within itself the seed of the other. Perhaps the shift of perception that is needed is to see Order/Form and Chaos/Force as complementary rather then oppositional.
Today”s (1/3/16) entry of The Wild Hunt blog is devoted to the 2016 Letter of the Year issued by a combined group of babalawos (oracular priests of Santeria/Lucumi, a religion originating in West Africa) in Cuba and Miami. The writer of the article concludes with some discussion of the spiritual importance of dynamic balance, which he compares to the movement of tides in shallow waters.
Unknown Deborah, agreed — theology is entertaining, if it's not taken too seriously. Since any human speculation about gods and goddesses is on a par with the speculations of dust mites about human beings, taking theology unseriously ought to be easy enough; it's just that so many people lose track of that.
Faoladh, thank you. No, I don't think “malicious” is too strong a word, either, but there's a crucial element to it that a lot of people in the devotional polytheist scene tend to miss. Humanist Paganism is one of the main routes by which, now that the Neopagan boom is coming to an end, a lot of erstwhile Pagans are backing away from their commitments en route to returning to the same systems of belief or unbelief they rejected so noisily not that long ago. A lot of the nastiness is a reflection of their own suppressed discomfort about this process.
(It's a source of wry amusement to me that I predicted all of this back in 2009, in a talk I gave at the last Pantheacon I ever attended. No, people weren't very happy with me, either.)
Buddha, exactly! To be specific, it's what Gyorgi Doczi, in The Power of Limits, called “dinergy” — the distinctive balance that emerges between a source of potentially disruptive energy and a source of potentially stagnating limitation. Think of a blade of grass in the wind: the limiting structure of the grass and the disruptive force of the wind work together to produce, among other things, beauty. Every religion walks that same line between prophet and priest, or (in other contexts) between shaman and tribal elder, though I grant that some do it more gracefully than others.
Pseudorandom, I haven't written much about Arthuriana yet, but that's because I've got a very large long-term project on that theme on the back burner. The working title is The Vision of Arthur. It's been an ongoing focus of study and thought for me since childhood.
BoysMom, in New Testament Greek and Biblical Hebrew, or so I've been taught, the words for “spirit” are feminine in gender, so you're not wrong.
LatheChuck, that presupposes that the human condition as it's experienced by the average person is fixed. As we'll see a bit later on in this series of posts, that presupposition is not accepted by occult philosophy. If, let's say, this state we call “human” is not a fixed and permanent reality but a station along a path or trajectory, and magic can be used to further advancement along that trajectory, the range of possibilities opens up to a considerable extent…
As for the typewriter, guitar, etc., that's animism, not polytheism — not that the two are mutually exclusive. Animism proposes that all things have souls. Polytheism proposes that the universe contains intelligent beings, disembodied or at least not embodied the way we are, that are vastly more intelligent and powerful than human beings, and who interact with human beings through the medium of religion. Monotheism, in turn, proposes that there is exactly one such being; most monotheist faiths go on to claim that this one being is not merely more intelligent than we are but omniscient, not just more powerful than we are but omnipotent, etc., but that's not strictly required by the definition, and not all monotheisms do that.
Cherokee, the Frequently Thrown Tantrums page has been enriched by some of the better tantrums flung at AODA over the years, as well as the ones the DOGD and I personally fielded; Sara and I sat down during the process of building the website and reminisced about the most colorfully blockheaded denunciations we'd experienced over the years, and that page was the result. It may turn out to be my single most important innovation in the field of occultism, as the DOGD has gotten next to no trolling since it went up, despite a steady stream of inquiries and membership applications. As for spamming, well, yes — welcome to the disservice and misinformation economy of the internet…
Sven, nah, it got ridiculous a very long time ago. You're dead on target, though, about the underlying motivation; I've long believed, for example, that the reason Richard Dawkins gets so bent out of shape about religion is that he can't bear the thought that anyone, anywhere might believe that there's a being in the cosmos more important than Richard Dawkins.
Harvester, I like the idea of bicycle tui-shou! The Druidical Hermetic internal art is well along the development curve at this point — much more to be done in terms of the basics, and applications are still a good long ways off, but so far the one guinea pig (me) is getting very good results from it.
Buddha, exactly. Exactly. The sort of Michael Moorcock cosmology that sees order and chaos at war is almost embarrassingly counterproductive; again, Doczi's concept of dinergy, the natural interplay of force and form, is far more useful. I should probably post about that down the road a bit.
Unknown Deborah, thanks for the link!
May I ask a favor from the assembled scholars and magi? I'm currently involved in a translation project — a new translation and edition of Eliphas Levi's Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie — and while Levi's Latin is well within my capacities, and most of his Hebrew is familiar to anybody with Golden Dawn training, there's one incantation in Greek (which Waite left out of his translation) and one chunk of Hebrew text that are beyond my scholarly capacities. Anyone who has the chops to help out will be acknowledged in the introduction — if you're up for it, please put through a comment marked “Not for Posting” with your email address, and I'll be in touch promptly. Many thanks!
“@Phil Harris–I know even less about Aristotle's thought than about the Talmud, but the commentary you quote tallies nicely with what I am told is a Talmudic statement, that each human being is born with an inclination to good and an inclination to evil, and that in the average human being at birth the two are about equally strong.”
Interesting. Geza Vermes writes that original sin (as St Augustine was later to call it) is “a Pauline creation with no biblical or post-biblical Jewish precedent”. In some of our cultural assumptions latterly, 'os' seems to have acquired a 'quasi-scientific' status as a fact about the human race (minus perhaps God's remedy via salvation). I still rather like the Christian idea though that one can ‘begin again’, however much evidence to the contrary. I think there is a grain of truth in there.
In general, when major religions have hesitated about human nature or at some point tried to back themselves out of a cul-de-sac, I feel it behoves me to follow suit,(;-)) especially when it comes to metaphysics, cosmologies, let alone theologies and rationalisations. Insight is a funny thing and one can make too much of it, even if one must use it. I'm probably not just thinking about Paul.
JMG, I missed your 2009 Pantheacon talk and was sorry afterward, because of favorable remarks I heard from people who attended it. Did you keep a copy of the talk? Is there anywhere I could read it or an article based upon it, apart from the bits in this blog?
The course of neopaganism as I've seen it in California does remind me a little of Puck's account of the course of the worship of Woden in England in Rudyard Kipling's book, Puck of Pook's Hill. In the final stage Puck describes, the priests of Woden burn hair as an offering and hit people with toy axes, who fall down and pretend to be dead, while the congregation shouts, “A sacrifice to Woden! A sacrifice to Woden!” I wonder what Kipling was thinking about when he wrote that passage.
BoysMom “Trinity is an awkward concept to wrap a human brain around” Of course Trinity is awkward. I think it is intended to be. Our host has repeatedly reminded us that the purpose is to “train the mind, not inform it”, the images are not descriptive but symbolic – and oops, I’m repeating my earlier comment to Phil.
As to feminine Spirit, yes, the semitic languages among others tend to use the same grammatical class (gender) for human females and for Spirit/breath/wind. And that certainly may be useful in addressing some bias in English. Or go to a language without grammatical gender where it is simply not indicated and the issue falls away. And when a language goes to five or more such classes, the issue of “gender” sort of explodes. Robert, where are you hiding?
Phil “not sure, however, that ‘insight’, or in its widest religious sense, ‘grace’, can be 'earned'.” As I was taught, it is all a gift, but one must open one’s hand (perhaps skillfully – mayhap for this reason the gods invented the swiss army knife) to receive the gift.
JMG “prophetic and priestly consciousness: I see them as equally necessary.” Indeed. Thank you.
@Phil Harris–Vermes states the obvious IMHO. There's no doctrine of Original Sin in Judaism. No Fall. No extraordinary problem in the relationship between the human race and the divine. A straightforward reading of the Garden of Eden episode in Genesis would be that the primal disobedience had lasting consequences for the human race: human beings have to work for a living, fear venomous snakes and deal with the outcomes of sex.
_The Power of Limits_ has been added to my list–thanks, John. These discussions by everyone here have been (and will no doubt continue to be) quite enlightening and very helpful.
JMG: If you're talking about the process I think you are, another route being taken, perhaps a more productive one, is a rapid increase of political awareness (or at least idealism) connected to pagan, heathen, and polytheist religion. Sites like Gods & Radicals and its associated publication, A Beautiful Resistance, mark the radical left, while any number of libertarians populate the more right-winged elements, with some of each variety even holding elected office in recent years. I confess that the anticapitalist kids almost dragged me back into political activism, until I realized that they were recapitulating the same mistakes that we made when I was younger, almost to the detail!
In any case, I tend toward the attitude that “humanist pagans” are perfectly welcome, but must remember that they are guests in the halls of the gods. Whether they consider themselves the guests of the gods or of those of us who revere them is something for their own conscience to consider.
“The S & G incident was a year before the birth of Isaac, well before the binding. Abraham failed because he didn't argue with god about what he was told, as he did earlier regarding S&G. Presumably it was El Shaddai who tested him and found him wanting, since the aspect of YHVH was not revealed until several hundred years later, during Moses' life. That of course presumed the stories are more or less in order, and actually happened historically, neither of which may be true.”
I wonder if you're aware of the linguistic researches that show the Bible (Pentateuch) was the work of 4 different sources, although two main ones? In one place it says that Yahweh was not known until Moses' time, but in another place it states that he was known to them from the beginning. In the King James version, where the original Hebrew used YHVH, it translates as LORD. In that bible, the God who spoke with Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah is LORD. So all of these stories woven together came from two different traditions and each tradition did not have all the same original stories.
But that is a very interesting idea, that the order to sacrifice Isaac was a temptation or test that he did not pass.
It's true that in Russian the word for soul or spirit is feminine, and in religious writings is referred to as “she”. Likewise though, an animal who name is feminine, such as a turtle, will be called she if one is spotted (although I can tell the gender of box turtles). However, in the Orthodox Church all three characters of the Trinity are regarded as male. I have long considered this a rather egregious demotion of the feminine, and I do mean women. If the godhead has 3 (!) persons, how can all of them be male, unless the feminine is a derivative and therefore nonfundamental aspect of reality? This cannot be.
A lot of people suspect the Holy Spirit as being the missing feminine, but I have rather another idea. I tend to think of it as male, (light, penetration, sudden illumination, warmth) but then again also as feminine, (love, purity, healing) and ultimately as containing aspects of both genders. Jesus of course was male in his human person, but as the Word of God through whom all “the ten thousand things” (Taoism), the manifest, was made manifest, I also think of that as male because it involves structure and design, the linear. Who then is the divine female? Why, God the “Father” is really the mother! Think about it.
The female is that which gives birth. Before birth (linear formation into order) is the chaos of what the Buddhists call “the void of pure potential.” That would be the divine Source, which outside of patriarchal bias would surely be considered the divine feminine. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
According to Tao Te Ching:
The Tao begot One,
One begot two,
Two begot three,
And three begot the ten thousand things.
When I think of a divine mother at the root of existence, something inside of me unwinds.
I have come to think that the lack of the divine mother has left our culture skewed and anxious. It doesn't work, it's out of balance.
I'm not sure if gender does or does not make sense for noncorporeal entities. I tend to think of the Trinity as not quite truly monotheism. I therefore think of them as the Divine Source, the Mind or Organizing Force of God, and the All-pervading and Everywhere Present spirit of God. Probably the ether.
” Or go to a language without grammatical gender where it is simply not indicated and the issue falls away. “
A language like English? It most certainly does not go away. In English, the female is subsumed under the male and it is most irritating. Everything in English is “he.” One never knows if one is included or not, since one often is not. I many times read spiritual advice such as “It is dangerous to even look into the face of a woman, for it can inspire lust.” Was I to put the book down, as not written for me? Should I just gloss over that part and assume he thinks a woman might be reading the rest of it? Did he forget that I exist? Should I just create an equal and opposite warning for myself? Why are there no specific warning for women's problems?
Something I find very delightful with Russians is how they will automatically assume that an animal is a she, rather than automatically calling it a he as we do. Although some animals, such as a bear, do have a masculine name and will be called he.
Incidentally, the Orthodox Church does not have original sin as a doctrine, at least not quite the same. They think all who are born will be sinners, but there is no inherited guilt.
Vermes needs to state the obvious if he is talking to Christians.
I like your blunt reading of Genesis: “… human beings have to work for a living, fear venomous snakes and deal with the outcomes of sex.”
The “work” bit is interesting. It is my contention that since before the beginning our ancestors needed to 'work’ very hard at being human. I am told we share with very few if any other mammals a 'default' breeding strategy called 'colonial monogamy'. This strategy can be seen more obviously in some species of birds. None of our primate relatives have this strategy, nor do they feed their young, other than suckle them. But being a derivative of primates, we must work hard at our specifically human social relations. Sexual dimorphism is reduced in the human but by no means absent, and there are baboon strategies it seems lurking in our inheritance. (I have nothing against baboons of course ;-))
There is a thesis that ‘Garden of Eden’ represents also a transition to hard agrarian work and to a sedentary inheritance with concomitant cultural changes in social relations and perhaps breeding strategies, compared with the long wandering of our actual beginning. And Pastoral nomads were themselves perhaps a secondary feature as they wandered between the sedentary. And sudden involuntary migration was a frequent and often violent change that overcame our sedentary worlds.
Sorry – I have wandered away from Eden.
JMG: Thanks for the comment. I see where I went wrong with this…
> If the entire practice of magic were “merely” to help you formulate goals that were > most suited to provide a happy retrospection in the hour of your eventual death,
> wouldn't that be about the best that you could hope for? To specify goals
> that were (with effort) achievable, and consistent with your fundamental values,
> what better change of consciousness by will would you want? To decide: what shall
> I do now, and in tomorrow's “now”, and next year's “now”…?
What I meant to say was “wouldn't that attain greater powers than most people expect, and be worthy of significant effort”, without violating conventional science (if that's an obstacle). There may, of course, be greater gifts available.
Please forgive me the imprecision. I had in mind various south Asian languages without the “he” or “she” option but only one gender-indeterminate third person singular pronoun. As “they” in English does not and cannot indicate gender.
Regarding sin, original or otherwise, not being precisely a matter of guilt, inherited or otherwise, as Augustine the not-quite-recovered Manichean lawyer saw things – yes that is my understanding also. There are other options than framing everything in terms of guilt. And more useful.
onething — the fact that we have gendered pronouns means that English IS a language with gramatical gender. In the third person we retain the germanic three-gendered system. Just like the subjunctive (would that it were not so) it is greatly reduced but still present. And since the third person pronouns are extremely common in everyday speech, indeed gramatical gender is still very prominent in English. It may even be worse, since we give the neutral gender to most inanimate objects (ships excepted) and only use masculine and feminine for living things, we lose the distinction between biological gender versus gramatical gender. Hence WE get confused about this matter (“what do you mean a table is female?”) whereas speakers of languages that have more pervasive gramatical gender do not. No Spanish speaker gets confused about the difference between a table's gender and a female baby's gender.
Thanks very much. It *is* possible to be Folkish and talk about other things than folkishness. 🙂
Unknown Deborah, it's scheduled for publication this year as part of an anthology of my talks from past Neopagan and occult events — the working title is A Magical Education and it'll be coming out from a new small occult press, Telluric Press. (They'll also be releasing the long-awaited, at least by me, second edition of The Sacred Geometry Oracle, with new and (thank heavens) attractive art.) I'll post here when both of those are out.
Brother G., you're welcome. It's a Druid habit — though of course not restricted to Druids — to look at binaries and see them as complementary rather than confrontational.
Buddha, glad to hear it. It's a deceptively simple book, but one that's had a very significant impact on my thought.
Faoladh, yes, it's the same process, though I'm far less sanguine about it than you appear to be. Politics is one of the places that religion goes to die; give these people another couple of years, and the Neopaganism will have trickled away completely, leaving political activism of one form or another.
LatheChuck, okay, gotcha — thanks for the clarification. Of course — even if you understand magic purely within the framework of contemporary scientific ideology, as a system of self-knowledge and self-mastery using emotionally charged symbols and ritual psychodrama to shape the way your brain processes your experience of the world, it's spectacularly powerful, and worth pursuing.
Joseph Bloch: Indeed! Please forgive me for laboring over that point, I have recently been taken to task for the “crime” of posting a link to one of your posts. Rest assured that it didn't affect my fondness for you and your thoughts (outside of folkishness!), but rather diminished my respect for the person in question. One of the problems I alluded to above in regard to the activist kids is the idea that we must all remain entirely ideologically pure. Ideological purity is, in my opinion, a weakness and not a strength.
JMG: If I sound sanguine about them, it is only because I see it as a repeating pattern that will swing the other way soon enough. One thing that has not happened in the thousands of years of recorded polytheist religions is that they have vanished entirely. Even in the West, where monotheist religions have eroded them, polytheism has maintained a hold, in no small way through the systems of occultism (see, e.g., Geosophia by Jake Stratton-Kent, which argues persuasively that the grimoires represent, in part*, a genuine survival of polytheist religious practices repurposed as magical ones).
*There is, of course, a large amount of other material incorporated into them, in a great syncretic synthesis.
A few stray remarks on gender, the Trinity and grammar.
Traditional Christian theology generally seems to distinguish between the soul and the spirit, following a throw-away remark by St Paul in his First Epistle to the Tessalonians, though the precise differences seem to be specified differently by various theologians. (There are theologians, however, who treat the two as synonyms.)
In Biblical Greek, the word for “soul” is _psyche_, and its grammatical gender is always feminine. The word for “spirit” is _pneuma_, and its grammatical gender is always neuter. The third Person of the Trinity is _to Agion Pneuma_ “the Holy Spirit,” and it is neuter in its grammatical gender.
In Church Slavonic (and in Russian) the word for soul is _dusha_, and its grammatical gender is feminine. The word for spirit, however, is _dukh_, and its grammatical gender is masculine, not neuter. The “Holy Spirit” is _Svyatyy Dukh_, also masculine in its grammatical gender. So Russians, guided by the grammar of their native language, may unreflectingly regard the Holy Spirit as male, like the other two Persons of the Trinity. This is a Russian (and Slavic) thing, not a Greek thing.
(The word _pneuma_ or _dukh_ also means “breath,” and can be used for “wind” as well.)
In languages where nouns have grammatical gender, the choice of a third-person pronoun generally reflects grammatical gender, not biology. Thus, in German a child of any sex is _das Kind_, and the grammatical gender of that word is neuter. So as a rule in German an unspecified child is “it,” not “he” or “she.” (An individual, named child will be referred to as “he” or “she” in line with its biological sex — which the unconscious grammar of the language assumes is just one or the other of only two possibilities.) In Russian, the pronoun for an animal is not invariably “she,” but depends ofn the grammatical gender of the word for that animal — though Russian uses paired terms for male and female animals of the same species a little more rigorously than English does. A male cat is _kot_, and the pronoun is masculine; a female cat is _koshka_, and the pronoun is feminine. In the case of cats, a cat of unknown gender is assumed to be a _koshka_, not a _kot_. A dog is usually a _sobaka_, whatever its sex, and it takes a feminine pronoun because the noun has feminine gender. (The specifically masculine and feminine words for male and female dogs have sexual connotations, and a polite speaker will avoid using them as a rule.)
English is weird and untypical in these respects, in that grammatical gender is a category on the way out — very slowly. It is only marked in personal pronouns and thus is easily confused with the actual sex (conceived as a binary) of the person or animal referred to.
JMG — “Politics is one of the places that religion goes to die” Then why isn't Jesus dead yet? Or Yahweh for that matter; he's been twisted for political ends for millenia yet he just keeps on and on and on…
It is good isn't it? I read that page and thought to myself: I think I've found an interesting place with interesting people, how do I get in there? I'll bet both yourself and Sara had fun putting that together too. I would have! :-)! It was a great idea.
I put a spell on trolls from day one on my blog and that seems to have kept them away. Unfortunately, it is ineffective against those dreaded hacker bots and spammer bots. Who would have thought that bots are indifferent to magic? I reckon I've got an effective spell against hackers which I may try, but the spammer bots are a different matter altogether.
Your book is still a few weeks away from delivery to this remote corner of the planet and I'm looking forward to reading it. Seriously! I'm a slow reader because I like to savour the meanings as well as the arrangements of the words themselves in order to get a feel for the author’s intent which is almost as interesting as the story / narrative itself to me. My wife taught me how to parse sentences when I was a wee young thing at University part time at night whilst also working full time. Something had to give and I received that gift instead and it was unexpected. I have a strong suspicion that such techniques are not taught as part of a normal educational curriculum.
I don't have a lot of free time for reading given all of the projects here calling for my attention (although I'm starting to see light at the end of the tunnel – maybe), but today over lunchtime I only just finished: Jason Heppenstall's delightful and very personal tale: The path to Odins lake. It was a very good read. Upon your suggestion, I now have a second hand copy of Nikolai Tolstoy's book the Search for Merlin as the next in line waiting to be savoured! I do hope that you don't mind me sharing the occasional thought and insight from that reading?
It is hard to believe that my thoughts of the future winter have already turned to actions and today I started refilling firewood into the sheds for winter. I respect and appreciate the trees gift to me and try to always plant more (and in greater diversity) than I fell. I must be ageing because things seem to be faster with each cycle of the sun.
Yeah, English needs an epicine (gender-neutral) pronoun. I've been using one in my private notes for several years, and it does make a slight but noticeable difference in how I view certain things.
I've made a private commitment that, if I ever create a blog and write in it, I'll use one. I'm also considering it for my story in the next Space Bats contest. Change happens when people get out there and make it happen.
JMG: In response to Faoladh, you said “Politics is one of the places that religion goes to die; give these people another couple of years, and the Neopaganism will have trickled away completely, leaving political activism of one form or another. “
After Faoladh's post, I looked back through some of the essays on the gods and radicals page he linked to, and found it filled with magical calls to arms, especially as it relates to political action, and as I was reading some of those, I was reminded a great deal of your Archdruid Report essay “Pluto's Republic” as well as part 1 and 2 of “Waiting for the Millenium”). In those essays, you explore the drawbacks of applying magic to political goals:
“Just as you can’t spread raspberry jam on toast without getting it on your fingers, though, you can’t spend your time creating words and images that appeal to the nonrational mind without your own nonrational mind being influenced by them, and the more compelling your thaumaturgy is, the more surely you will be caught by your own spell. Since political thaumaturgy requires you to weaken the reasoning mind and overwhelm the defenses of the self by pounding on simple, powerful nonrational drives, the impact of this work on the mind of the political thaumaturge is far from helpful.”
Could the boom and bust cycle of occult traditions collapsing into revitalization movements and political activist groups that you explored in the “twilight of neopaganism” essay be a manifestation of this particular magical effect, at least in some of the cases?
regarding the topic of my above question: if politics is death for religion, and politics and the occult can often cause its own array of problems, what do effective politically engaged magi get right that allows them to balance the two spheres? One of the prime examples that comes to my mind is John Dee, who was both an accomplished mage, and a political powerhouse who was a driving force behind the developments of the Elizabethan era. I think back to your first paragraph of your first essay here, where you said “It’s a common habit among mages to take a hand in the collective events of their time; still, the business of a mage is magic.” How does a successful politically engaged mage, and more particularly, the politically engaged magical group avoid falling into that trap?
Greetings to all in fascinating discussion:
Re: the relationship between religion and politics: James C. Scott, in his 2009 book The Art of Not Being Governed, he asks “When is politics not at some level, a theological debate about moral order?”
I’m thinking that the “separation of Church and State” has allowed politics to function as a religion while avoiding the burden of dealing with moral order.
I’m certainly not asserting that the rebels should always have their way. But someone needs to insist on having that discussion about moral order.
Dear Mr. Greer:
Apologies for the delayed response.
First off, I did not know that about the solstices and equinoxes and their 48 hour brackets, interesting.
Also, at risk of stirring a hornet’s nest, I find the conversation about magic and politics somewhat interesting. I won’t comment on it too much further because I’m out of my depth on the matter. With that said, being strongly influenced by those from the Inner Light tradition (i.e. Dion Fortune et al.) I always thought that if we were to learn the Mysteries it was “in order to serve” our communities, the Planetary Being, and the Divine Reality out of altruism (see Gareth Knight’s post: http://garethknight.blogspot.com/2012/07/in-order-to-serve.html). Golden Dawn magician Peregrin Wildoak also says some interesting things about magic and social change: https://magicoftheordinary.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/social-and-political-change-some-lessons-from-magic/ and https://magicoftheordinary.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/we-all-want-to-change-the-world/. (Note: having little to no esoteric experience whatsoever I probably don’t know what I’m talking about outside of secondhand accounts; so if I’m on the right track yet off the mark, or if I put my foot in my mouth, please correct me).
I also want to thank those involved in the comment section discussing the relationship between theurgy and liturgy in early Christianity and Eastern Orthodoxy. Having a vested interest in the depth spirituality of the Christian tradition this is highly informative to my adventure in teaching myself theology. Thank you.
I hope I wasn’t too much of an annoying gnat this time round. May the Boundless Mystery bless and protect you and your loved ones, now and unto the ages of ages.
Bill and Brother G,
Aha! I had heard that Chinese lacks a gender pronoun, but it seems quite strange to my imagination. Comparing Russian to English I assumed too much.
Indeed, it is amusing to hear in another language, “I'm looking for my book. Have you seen her?”
You say most traditional Christianity distinguishes between soul and spirit. I have almost never heard any meaningful presentation of that. Can you give some examples? What are the properties of each?
I'm thinking of your comment about politics killing religion in light of the book I picked up at a library sale and am currently reading, The Family, by Jeff Sharlet. It made a splash about 10 years ago. It documents a quiet trend in politics the past 80 years or so in which certain preachers courted power by pandering to the selfish instincts of the rich and making them feel OK about it. It would seem that the motives of the founders of this loose, ever-name-changing, semi-secret organization is a love of power. I can see it being rather compatible with the Ayn Rand admirers, or perhaps she's the go-to religion for those who can't stomach Christianity. Naturally, it's not a form of Christianity I would recognize as such. How does politics kill religion?
Bill, no one has heard from Yahweh in well over 2,000 years. I think he has lost interest in us.
That's wonderful. What is the gender neutral pronoun that you use? Perhaps I can help spread it.
I was rather expecting a little more blowback from my post about the Cumaean Sybil being the true author of Revelations, as well as perhaps a significant contributor to the Old Testament (that last being new to me as well).
Onething, people have conversations that are two-way with God the Father ALL the time. It's not the sort of thing one brings up in mixed company: one gets called schizo or worse, after all! (Just as one doesn't bring up magic in mixed company, actually, so that should hardly be surprising.)
If you read the account with Elijah, He still uses the still, small voice. You have to be listening, which is hard for most of us, and at least in my experience, and with all but one person I've had occasion to discuss the topic with, He's stayed personal, so there's little point in not being fairly private about it.
What do you think of an all male trinity? Do you think it is possible?
Onething, just to echo BoysMom, I had some discussions with Yahweh myself early on after my Light-on-the-Road-to-Yellowstone moment when my agnostic atheism suddenly vanished in a moment of awe. He and I tried to come to terms, but the fit was never right. When I discovered that there were in fact an infinity of beings in those endless realms, not just him, that was when it all suddenly came together for me. In spite of his purported jealosy, he seems to have actually left me in peace for my own explorations. Of course I never did swear any oaths of loyalty to him, so no promises were broken.
The “still, small voice” is to me perhaps the most insightful and revelatory moment in the entirety of the Abrahamic scriptures. Even the ancient semitic god of sky and war does not come to you booming like thunder from the clouds (at least not most of the time). Even he comes to you in a whisper, softer than the gentlest breeze. As do all of them, most of the time.
Onething, there seems to be a lot of theological speculation on that question, but no single answer seems to be widely accepted (so far as I can tell).
Yeah, we are all of us islands, trying to figure out reality with very poor eyesight.
How did you know it was Yahweh? And how did you discover that there were endless beings there?
And how did your moment of awe unfold?
I recently saw a comment on an Early Christianity blog aggregator I watch to the effect that Paul saw Sin as an actual entity – a god or demon or something similar, and that the baptism ritual was the way of protecting a person from the influence of that malign spirit. How accurate this comment was I can’t say, unfortunately. I’m not a Pauline scholar. It does fit, though, with the notion that Paul espoused a primitive form of Gnosticism.
This point of view sheds some light on a number of otherwise puzzling statements in the New Testament.
A Gnostic text, “First Thought in Three Forms,” or the “Trimorphic Protennoia,” ends with First Thought (the Barbelo) describing the baptism ritual, which was rather extended and which had a lot of pieces, ending with five seals.
On grammatical gender in English. There are two systems of grammatical gender in nouns, both having to do with occupations. For nouns derived from French, the suffixes -er and -ess mark male and female gender; for compound nouns derived from German, the second noun denotes both age and gender: washerwoman, goosegirl, messengerboy, mailman, etc. Both of these have been pretty much consigned to the trash heap by 2nd wave feminism, although the -ess suffix seems like it’s refusing to die in a few specific cases, priestess among them.
on “Politics is one of the places that religion goes to die”. Consider Unitarian-Universalism. My congregation, at least, is very active in “social justice” – for which, read politics. It’s also “theologically diverse,” for which read that it doesn’t really have a religion.
@onething re: gender neutral pronouns
I use ce, cim, cis, cimself as a generic gender neutral pronoun. It’s pronounced with a soft c, avoiding the s to avoid confusion with spanish si. This is not, by the way, a rejection of “singular they.” Singular they has been part of standard English since middle english: the first citation in Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage (2002) is from Chaucer. However, it’s only useful when the antecedent has a plural connotation and singular form.
There is a head nurse on each shift. Their duties are…. (singular they)
When the head nurse comes on shift, ce will…. (gender-neutral pronoun)
In the first sentence, the connotation is that there are multiple head nurses – one for each shift. In the second, we are specifying a single head nurse – the one who is about to come on shift.
I also use a second one: ze, zir, zis, zirself as a “genderqueer” pronoun. It’s anything but gender-neutral.
re: gender of the trinity
Since I take it that God, the creator of the universe, whether one or three persons, in ineffable, the concept of gender does not apply. It’s a projection of our need onto the divine.
“scheduled for publication this year as part of an anthology of my talks from past Neopagan and occult events — the working title is A Magical Education”
This is exciting as finding your pantheacon article of the same name in the last year or so was a watershed moment for me. In fact it has been a touchstone over the last year which I've also been revisiting now as I assess the year past and my upcoming resolutions. Thank you for that and looking forward to its publication!
Onething — How do I know? Isn't that one of the great theological questions? The answers are always belief, faith, personal experience and judgement, etc. No deity ever actually steps out of the sky in visible humanoid form and proclaims his or her name in a voice that all can hear, even those that did not drink the psychoactive potion. Those stories are myth and metaphor.
In this case the entity I felt I was interacting with was consistent with portrayals of the god of the New Testament in its “feel” and its “signs.” “Signs” of course are easily written off as coincidences, which is why many believers in all kinds of deities maintain that there is no such thing as a coincidence. Some of the “signs” appeared to clearly reinforce the sticking points between me and that deity, as if to say “Well, this IS me and you DO have to accept this part of me if we are going to have a relationship.”
As for the discovery that there are multitudes, that came about through study and reflection. The arguments that JMG makes in “World Full of Gods” are pretty much the same ones I came to, though he of course presents them far more clearly, logically, and with better organizatiion than anything I came up with.
As for the Light-On-The-Road-To-Yellowstone, nothing at all happened. I was crossing Wyoming in my little pickup truck on a backroad at dusk in a remote and desert, all alone, and it just happened. There was a presence around, within, everywhere, and I was not alone. It came at a time when I was actively seeking. This does not seem to be a terribly rare experience. You reach a point in your life where either (a) you finally become receptive or (b) it/they/whatever decides you are ready, and the “still, small voice” says “hello.” Which of course suddenly creates a whole new set of unknowns and questions…
Interestingly, after several years of exploring in the neopagan communities, I grew frustrated with what felt like a shallowness to the theology and experience within much of it. I remember sitting next to a Methodist minister on an airplane during this time, and discussion this with him, both why I had decided I could not be christian, and what I was not getting from neopaganism. And then, within just a few months, some new people came into my life. And the superficiality of experience in the polytheistic realms went away really fast…
@Bill Pulliam–As I understand it, YHVH accepts but does not demand worship from gentiles, so no problem.
maybe I am completely missing something very obvious here… but where would you place folk traditions of belief in elves, fairies, and other “local sprits of the place” ? I suppose they span across several… Anyway, thanks for a very ambitious post here !
Onething–I don't concern myself very much about the gender of the Trinity at all, really. If one isn't engaging in sexual reproduction, what purpose does gender serve? Possible? Certainly. Anything that is not impossible is possible. Much of what we know is taught by analogy: Now we see through a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face. Since we are trying to comprehend something beyond us, it only makes sense that we won't get it all right.
This is one of those intellectually interesting questions that has no effect on what I am supposed to do and be, so, while I enjoy the discussion, having a definitive answer one way or another would neither shake my faith nor change my actions. (This is not to claim I am a particularly good Christian: in fact, I am a pretty bad one. Just that I am stubborn.)
“JMG — “Politics is one of the places that religion goes to die” Then why isn't Jesus dead yet? Or Yahweh for that matter; he's been twisted for political ends for millenia yet he just keeps on and on and on…” Perhaps you're confusing the god with the religion? Someone has an experience of a being and tries to communicate that to other humans. As time passes the communication becomes codified, then ossified, then fades away, perhaps into politics. But the being remains, ready to communicate. This may be why some religions seem to have the ability to regenerate/resurrect themselves.
“If one isn't engaging in sexual reproduction, what purpose does gender serve? Possible? Certainly. Anything that is not impossible is possible.”
Well, just as an intellectual question of logic, I don't think it's possible. Our universe exists because of duality and the energy it creates. A fundamental duality is male/female. When I see the results of patriarchy, it is the marginalization of the female in the cosmos. From there, it is no surprise that the 3 members of the godhead are all male. And to my understanding, it means that the authors of that idea don't understand how the universe works and made a mistake.
Of course, as John Roth mentions, the divine is ineffable, and we need not delve into it that way at all. Yet that is not the path the theologians took.
onething, you wrote, “Our universe exists because of duality and the energy it creates. A fundamental duality is male/female.”
It seems fundamental to us because we are animals. When I was growing up, biology textbooks classified all life forms into three kingdoms: animal, plant and single celled organisms. Last time I checked, there were six kingdoms:, animals, plants, fungi, aerobic bacteria, anaerobic bacteria, and something else, maybe viruses. If the biology majors on this list are wincing at my descriptions, my point is simply that life forms which reproduce sexually constitute only two of the kingdoms. In sheer numbers and possibly in total mass, asexual life is the majority of life on this planet, and viruses and anaerobic bacteria are the oldest forms from which all else evolved.
Onething, BoysMom, Deborah Bender:
While a lot of theologians accept the notion that the Creator of the Universe is ineffable, that leaves them with nothing to talk about. However to be a theologian they need to talk about it. So you get a torrent of words about God, none of which mean anything more than a projection of that theologian's belief system.
From my point of view, as a long-time student of the Michael Teaching, they all make a rather consequential mistake: they combine the notion of the Creator of the Universe with the notion of That Which Incarnates; the MT calls it Essence, and it resides on the Astral Plane. I think this may be what I've heard called the Genius in Medieval and Renaissance magic, but I could be very wrong on that.
It is possible to talk sensibly about Essence, although in rather simplistic terms. To give an example: if someone else in the MT asked me for my “overleaves,” I'd say something like: “Sixth level Old Scholar with an Artisan Essence Twin, an Idealist in Observation mode and a goal of Growth, a wild card in the third Entity of the First Cadre, with a balanced Male-Female energy, a frequency of about 50% and a few etceteras. In that description, the terms Scholar, Artisan, Essence Twin, Entity, Cadre, Male-Female energy and Frequency describe the Essence, while Idealist, Observation and Growth describe facets of my incarnation.
In this, note that Essence has a Male-Female energy balance; it somewhat like the Yin-Yang of Taoism, and has little to do with gender as we see it on the physical plane. It's also not a polarity, but it does underlie some of the stereotypes about gender.
Hope this didn't get too far off topic.
Dear Mr. Greer,
Thank you so much for all you've done with your blogs and many books. I am currently preparing to begin my druid path using The Druidry Handbook and The Druid Magic Handbook and will be following the path solo. I really appreciate the way your books are organized in a step-wise fashion that eases the new practitioner onto the path with a solid grounding. No need to post this or reply to this as this is simply a way for me to express my gratitude.
Onething, inquired of Robert's comment regarding “Traditional Christian theology generally seems to distinguish between the soul and the spirit,”
Soul – Spirit *fools rush in*
As Robert points out, there is no consistent and precise use of terminology for the whole of Christian tradition. Sometimes it’s a two-fold body/soul pattern, sometimes body/soul/spirit, sometimes heart, sometimes person, hypostasis. Perhaps somewhat as JMG has pointed to in various “theories” of astrological influence, there are more than two ways to skin the cat – classify the planes.
In-so-far-as-I-understand, the tripartite body/soul/spirit nomenclature of the person goes back to at least Aristotle (with nous more likely than pneuma as the term translated “spirit”) and thus predates Christianity. Person, in some traditional Christian usage, would indicate the whole. Anything “manifest” has a body of some sort, establishing limits. Soul seems to have to do with life, and indeed “psyche” is often translated as “life” rather than “soul”. There may be distinguished vegetative soul, animal soul, and “logiki”/rational soul. IF soul and spirit are distinguished, as suggested by Hebrews 4:12, soul seems to be involved with sensory experience, emotions and ordinary discursive reasoning. Spirit would then point to consciousness, to that which transcends subject/object duality of sensory perception, permits intuition and direct experience. (There is that seldom used English word noetic in some editions of Webster.) Naturally, human spirit and Holy Spirit are usually seen as somehow related.
Robert, does this seem coherent? Please forgive the presumption; the world would not contain the books and websites that could be written.
I think you misunderstood me. What I'm saying is that the various dualities are necessary in order for our universe to function. Positive and negative electrical charge would probably be a main one. It runs our cells, our nerves and our heartbeat.
If we think there is a God who is in some way the creator, and if we think that mankind is to some extent a reflection of this God, as well as of the general pattern of reality, then if this God has 3 personalities and all of them are male, it necessarily means that women are derivative beings, and men fundamental beings.
But I smell a rat because it is the female who gives birth. And there is even parthenogenesis! Asexually producing species such as bacteria are called mother and daughter cells. But there is no such thing as a male without that the female first exists, for when there is one sex it is female and the male comes into being only in relation to the female. The definition of the male, then, is “he who is not a female.” It's interesting that boys are so often intensely aware of their need to not be a girl, while girls don't even think that way.
All this was realized by ancient people and women were honored accordingly. And how silly is it for men to become envious and usurp everything, including the role of the female! How manly is that? Merciful heavens, men are so incredible and wonderful, how did they become dissatisfied? There lacks balance.
It sounds like you are saying more or less that people confuse the creator with human-type souls or psyches?
I would recommend two books: Monsters by John Michael Greer and Daimonic Reality by Patrick Harpur.
onething, human beings are hardwired to see patterns. Humans also find that sorting things into groups according to some characteristic aids in thinking about them; such classification is necessary for communicating with other people. We can't completely avoid applying abstractions where they aren't a good fit. IMO, metaphysical systems constructed out of abstractions are only good insofar as we keep in mind that they are analogies or metaphors, and not the thing itself.
Duality has some importance in physics, but even the I Ching (Chinese Book of Changes) which models the whole world out of powers of two, incorporates a five element system for a richer description and more precise answers.
Your second and third paragraphs are good Dianic Wiccan theology, and the fourth paragraph is Dianic polemics. Yeah, the idea that women are defective men is strong and widespread. To get rid of internalized oppression, one celebrates and takes pride in what the dominant social group fears and belittles. Only, the theorists carry it too far. Shared social, historical and cultural experience is reified into Negritude, or the Celtic Soul, or Womanhood, or Queerness, or some other essentialist abstraction. Essentialism is not liberating. Some people cannot or will not fit into the categories that are offered to them.
Sex is mixed up with gender, which is a social category. Projecting human social categories on the cosmos is something people have been doing as far back as we can see; it's perhaps a function of our propensity to tell stories. If a person finds it easier to pray to, look up to, or find inspiration in a Divine Mother rather than a Divine Father or a Divine Androgyne or a Divine Serpent or the Limitless Light, I'm the last person to knock it; but this is a statement about our relationship with the cosmos and it is contingent.
Not quite: the confusion is who creates the human-type soul or psyche. The confusion is that Christianity combines the Creator of the Universe, who is ineffable, with the creator of each soul and spirit, which is on the astral plane (at least according to the MT), and is accessible to anyone who cares to work at it a bit, as generations of mystics can attest. It's that being (high self, oversoul, genius, etc.) that is perceived as infinitely loving, etc, but in reality it's not all-powerful and has no direct control over what's been called the 'scathing' of the physical plane. There are also (again according to the MT) about 2 billion of them.
The latter is, as I understand it, the object of a lot of religious and magical practice. It's that being that can tell you what it wants you to do, how well you're doing it, and make suggestions about things you might want to pay a bit more attention to. It's not going to make you do it – once created, it's your life to live.
Onething–I disagree that duality drives the universe, produced the universe, or anything of the sort. Plenty of things don't have duality. Light, being one of the most fundamental parts of the universe, has no corresponding 'dark wave', it stands alone, being either present or absent.
As far as patriarchy goes, and not being familiar with all the forms it can manifest in, I see it as being a trade-off made by women: protect me and my children and I'll give up certain civic rights and duties. I personally loose both some cognitive function and all creative function while pregnant, as well as a big chunk of physical function. In a pre-birth control and muscle powered world, the European Christendom variety of patriarchy is pretty much as good as it's gotten for having choices (mother or nun) and protecting your kids.
If my tone is sharp today, let me apologize here: I took a tumble yesterday and smashed my foot up black and blue, my temper doesn't do well with pain, and worse, I generally don't realize I'm being nasty until well after the fact.
@John Roth: Actually, Christianity recognizes the entities you are talking about. It's called our Guardian Angel. The version taught to children is rather simplistic, which is why I haven't thought about Guardian Angels for decades, but what you say makes perfect sense within the context of a Christian education. And thanks – your reminder has resolved an emotional paradox for me.
@BoysMom: The latest issue of New Scientist takes issue with the popular conception of “Mommy Brain” going south with pregnancy. What happens, according to them, is that a pregnant woman or new mother changes her focus and comes out of it more skilled and resilient than before, barring the sleep deprivation of tiny infant care. I've had 2 children and can't speak to that myself, having had other problems at the time (and that was well over 40 years ago), but you might want to check that out ans see if it fits your experience.
P.S. BoysMom – May your foot heal well and may you receive help in coping with it. I, too, get nasty with pain and don't realize it for a while.
It is true that many dualities are composed of only one actual thing. An example is hot and cold. There is no such entity as cold, there is merely the absence or presence of heat. On the other hand, they say that light is a particle and a wave. Then too, I am an advaitist, which means undivided or not-two. God is One. But to create the phenomenal world, duality is a good engine. I don't say that duality is the ultimate reality, just that it's how things generally work. We need duality for perception. If we dwelt in total light, (the divine darkness) we couldn't make distinctions without the contrast of light and shadow.
I agree with you that women and children are dependent upon men. I rather doubt women could survive without men's help, except perhaps in the tropics. I'm not sure about that tradeoff, though. I don't believe that men would stop wanting families if women had more authority. But at any rate, I've never been a proponent of a certain kind of feminism that denies any real differences between the genders. It's not based in reality (in my opinion) and therefore ends up being just another oppression to women. Rather, I'm interested in finding out what women really are. They are not men, nor are they defective men.
I'm sorry about your foot! I hurt myself rather badly a few months back, ran into a bolted in place two-by-four at my shin with full weight and momentum. Worst pain I've ever felt and I don't know how it sustained such an impact without breaking.
I found nothing at all nasty in anything you said.
It's just the way my mind works. In all things, I always ponder how it works, what is it composed of, how does it function.
But how did you see me using abstractions? My thinking seems very concrete. As to metaphors, they are not the thing in itself, but there are repeating patters to be found everywhere.
I do not say that 2 is the only important number! The general tendency for duality does not compete with the 5 elements.
“Your second and third paragraphs are good Dianic Wiccan theology, and the fourth paragraph is Dianic polemics. Yeah, the idea that women are defective men is strong and widespread. To get rid of internalized oppression, one celebrates and takes pride in what the dominant social group fears and belittles. Only, the theorists carry it too far. Shared social, historical and cultural experience is reified into Negritude, or the Celtic Soul, or Womanhood, or Queerness, or some other essentialist abstraction. Essentialism is not liberating. Some people cannot or will not fit into the categories that are offered to them. “
Here, it seems you've dismissed my rather concrete points and used some intellectualisms. I know nothing of Wiccan ideas or Dianic polemics. These are the kinds of thoughts I think about when I ponder reality; the thoughts are my own. Not at all am I engaging in taking a false pride to overcome internalized oppression. But to be sure, as you said, women have been called defective men, and I know that's out of balance and so I try to consider what might be so. Did it appear that I was trying to uplift women past their station? The way I see it, we are all captives, serving life. But females serve it directly through their offspring, and men (or males) serve it indirectly by serving the female. This is what I see in the natural world. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just how it works. I'm not sure what you mean by essentialism. I'm not versed in the lingo.
“Sex is mixed up with gender, which is a social category.”
Well, gender itself is not a social category, although human cultures add all sorts of ideas to it. I try to get past that. That's why I start with biology.
You've mentioned the Michael teachings before, and I did go and read a bit about it. I have suspected that beings on the astral or higher planes might have had a lot to do with creating/evolving the life forms, but the soul itself? In that case, who created them in the first place? 2 billion oversouls?
onething, essentialism and gender are both words that have a couple of dictionary definitions.
I used essentialism in the sense of “the view that categories of people, such as women and men, or heterosexuals and homosexuals, or members of ethnic groups, have intrinsically different and characteristic natures or dispositions.” The key word here is “intrinsic”. Essentialism elevates qualities or characteristics that grew out of a specific set of social-historical conditions into something immutable.
According to this way of thinking, if a person claims to be a member of group X but does not exhibit all the characteristics that members of that group are supposed to have, that person is vulnerable to being told they are not a real X. You may remember, when Barack Obama first launched his campaign to run for President, a number of well known African Americans did not welcome his run because they said Obama wasn't black enough. In the mid twentieth century, between the first and second waves of the feminist movement, men were very much in charge of telling women how to be women, and many women were criticized for failing to uphold gender norms as defined by men. Both members of the dominant group and the subordinate group engage in this kind of policing.
Which brings us to gender. According to the dictionary, one meaning of gender is equivalent to biological sex but it also means “the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones).” That is the usage which is most current right now, in part because a lot of people either are or consider themselves to be of indeterminate gender and wish to be recognized as such rather than being assigned a gender. But distinguishing gender as a term from sex is more broadly useful, for looking at any society which has defined sex roles, societal expectations about the behavior and capacities of individuals based solely on the kind of sexual equipment they were born with.
The rest of what we have been arguing over, I can't think of a concise way to pursue.
About who created the oversouls, etc. As I understand it, it's a hierarchical decomposition, and eventually leads to a reverse hierarchical remerging. In that sense, Michael is a merged being (an Entity) on the Causal plane consisting of 1050 Essences (oversouls, geniuses, Guardian Angels, etc.) each of which contributes several hundred human lifetimes. They will eventually merge further before returning to the Tao (the term we use instead of God, for many reasons). This view isn't particularly original, although Michael provides a lot of detail.
The evolution of life forms is outside of what Michael wants to teach; all I can say is that the Design (which is what we call the entire conglomerate that incarnates on this particular planet) has little to do with the actual evolution of humanity. The preconditions for incarnation existed first. I don't see any particular reason why various being can't have their thumbs in the process, but discussing that might tax JMG's patience with this digression past its limits.
Ah. “Essentialism”. The 'No True Scotsman' fallacy.
A propos of nothing precisely on topic, yet still of interest I think: for reasons I'll omit, I've recently become somewhat obsessed with watching flamenco videos online. In the course of reading up on the topic, I've discovered that in the tradition of this art, dancers and musicians are said to be inspired by something called the “duende.” In Spanish folklore this is a kind of goblin or elf; but in the dance it is more like a spirit. In a speech he once delivered on the topic (“Theory and Play of the Duende”), Gabriel Garcia Lorca said that an old master guitarist once told him that it surges up through the soles of the feet and into the performer. So there you have it: flamenco would appear to be a form of telluric magic. The gitanos, who developed the art, are said to be mystically inclined and, like Romany people everywhere, are known for magic. So it all kinda fits.
I suspect we're getting close to the Well's next post, but if anyone is still checking the comments thread on this post, I'd be interested to hear your recommendations for basic astrology reading. My teenager has expressed an interest and I'd love to be able to recommend a direction for her that isn't just the typical pop stuff one finds online without half trying. You Galabes & ADR commentors (and the host, himself) never fail to impress me with your suggestions and I like the direction(s) things go here.
Temporary, permit me to suggest:
Christopher Warnock's site references many traditional texts on astrology as practiced in times of yore, which is definitely not the typical pop stuff. JMG put me onto it a few years ago.
Bill, because politics is the place that religions go to die, not the place that gods go to die. If the term wasn't specific to Christianity and its offshoots, I could have said “churches” and made the point even more precise; when politics gets brought into a religious community, the gods pack up and leave by the side door.
Cherokee, no, I don't mind at all. It's a book that deserves more attention than it's generally gotten.
Eric, yes, I think the lure of politics is part of what drives the cycle, but more of it is the simple fact that new spiritual movements attract young people, who then age, and change the movements to appeal to older people — at which point they stop attracting young people, and the young people go somewhere else. As for your question about politically engaged magi, that'll take a comment of its own — but you might notice that Dee ended up falling between two chairs, as neither his magical nor his political activities kept him from poverty and irrelevance in his old age.
KKalbert, but why have it in a political setting? To my mind, politics is the art of the necessary, not of the ideal, and moral absolutes have no place in it. Put another way, it exists to enforce those agreements and compromises that are necessary to maintain civilized existence, simply because they're the necessary machinery of a complex society — not because they have some claim to standing as moral principles. Now of course there's also some hard questions that have to be faced about the entire concept of absolute moral principles — it's instructive, at least to me, that so important a text of moral philosophy as Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics manages to do entirely without the words “thou shalt not” — but that's another question for another day.
Christopher, the Dion Fortune lineage has its own distinctive take on the ethics of the mystery traditions — “I desire to know in order to serve” is by no means a universal — and equally, there are plenty of different ideas about the interface between magic and politics. No doubt Wildoak would disagree with my take just as extensively as he apparently disagrees with my editorial decisions on Regardie's The Golden Dawn!
Onething, how does politics kill religion? You've answered your own question — by pandering to the cravings of the privileged instead of maintaining an open channel of communication to the gods. Btw, the fact that you haven't heard from Yahweh recently doesn't mean that other people don't…
Harvester, glad to hear it! I've pretty much given up going to Neopagan events these days — the last half dozen or so I attended, it was painfully clear that what interested the other attendees and what interested me were sets with no overlap worth speaking of — and so I decided to package up the best of my talks in book form and get 'em out into circulation.
Jean-Vivien, this post is about operative techniques, not about beliefs, so I didn't mention those. Mages don't “believe in” magic, astrology, alchemy, et al. — they practice these things and accomplish things with them.
Ed, for a former archbishop of Canterbury, he writes a tolerably open-minded book review.
Joe, thank you and I do wish to respond, if you don't mind. Much of what makes this work a delight for me is hearing from people who've benefited from it.
Kevin, fascinating. I know absolutely nothing about flamenco, so this was wholly new to me.
Temporary, that's a challenge. I haven't read any introductory astrology books for years, so don't know what's out there!
Kevin, thanks for the link – Warnock's site is chock full of info… not certain if it's introductory enough, but I'll keep poking around.
Thanks, JMG, it was at least worth a shot.
I don't know of any newer basic astrology books but you might try one of Robert Hand's earlier books – Astrology Symbols.
“As for your question about politically engaged magi, that'll take a comment of its own — but you might notice that Dee ended up falling between two chairs, as neither his magical nor his political activities kept him from poverty and irrelevance in his old age. “
As I recall, a lot of that owed to him being by his friend and partner who stole everything he had including both his fortune, and his marriage, rather than him just flushing it away like a certain other, more modern celebrity occultist but it's still a good point. I definitely hope that the broader conversation comes up in some future month, since it's something that affects most of the readers here. You've spent the last decade over on the other blog pointing out the various sorts of political, economic, social, and environmental upheavals that will be setting the backdrop for the rest of all of our lives. And in times like these (especially as religious movements begin to give way to political movements), learning to fulfill our obligations to our communities, our nations, and our world without compromising our duties and relationships to our gods, ourselves, or our spirituality is a balance that will be both necessary and extremely difficult to achieve.
Ed – It seems that Rowan Williams is not unfamiliar with some forms of magic. No surprise really.
Thank you all for the well-wishes, fortunately, I seem to have managed bruising only and the injury has been only an inconvenience.
@ Sherril Bowman – thanks for the recommendation. New isn't a requirement – I'll be looking at used bookstores too and will keep an eye out for Hand's book. (That reads weirdly, an eye out for a hand… but whatever 🙂 )
I am glad you mentioned the “duende” in Flamenco. The word was rendered into English to me as “a smoky, passionate fire in the soul, expressed in movement and glance” when I lived in Rota, Spain in the late 1970's. The Carlos Saura movies are amazing set pieces that capture an awful lot of the power of this dance. In Rota, little girls would dance Flamenco on street corners in the summer, accompanied by drummers, singers and guitar players. Many historic traditions of dance have similar components. From my own experiences, I would hazard a guess that “duende” is akin to the power that stops feet from being burned in a long firewalk.
At least from where I sit, it seems that the NeoPagan movement is redefining itself as and edgy, almost Emo/Punk/Hard Mod movement that didn't really exist before the late 1990's. This repackaging is quite fascinating to those of us who have been around for more than a few decades.
Wonderful post. Thank you, JMG. You will be sadly missed – except your writings will of course be there – and it pays to observe the natural cycles of things, doesn't it?
Great comments, too.
@Kevin, I believe duende informs all the arts in their essence; certainly good poetry is fired by that. I find duende a really helpful idea to check in with authenticity of praxis (as a poet/writer myself, but also facilitator of others' creativity).
@temporaryreality (the Zen-ner in me likes that tag!): almost anything by Liz Greene is worth reading (she's a Jungian amongst other things). I particularly rate her book on Saturn and the Shadow.
a bit off topic maybe – to my mind a hacker and a bot are different.
So maybe as with working in a garden you´d need a different “magic tool” to ward off bots? Like warding off hawks from the chicken and keeping Varoa in check will need at least two different approaches.
In my mind hacker(s) might “answer” to other discouragement than bot-programms. Still that programm has been made by a hacker – so maybe there is a way to “ask” (“influence”?) bot-programming hackers to exclude your site from the programm/bot?
As you can see, I´ve not accomplished much in the field of magic, still it might be a useful idea for you?
Best wishes, Irmgard
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