Not the Monthly Post

On Occult Literature: A Diversion of Sorts

It so happens that last week’s post on reading books by dead people had a curious echo. In a forum I frequent where occultism is the subject of discussion, an earnest young person put up a plaintive post, asking why so much classic occult literature is so boring to read. As usual in such forums, the discussion that followed produced more heat than light, but two things became clear in the course of the conversation. The first was that most people who get an American public school education have no idea how to read something that isn’t written in a currently fashionable style of prose. The second was that most people who get an American public school education have no idea that there’s any point to making the attempt.

Fairly often, mind you, occult literature is harder to understand than most other kinds of literature. What’s more, this is often deliberate. The word “occult” literally means “hidden;” when an astronomer says that the planet Venus is occulted by the Moon, she means that the Moon moves between Earth and Venus and hides our closest neighbor among the planets from our view. In the Renaissance, with this in mind, the inheritors of a variety of ancient traditions of magic started using the term “occult philosophy” for their teachings; in the nineteenth century, the inheritors of the magical heritage of the Renaissance coined the term “occultism” to reflect the fact that there’s a lot more to that heritage than philosophical speculations.

You may be thinking, dear reader, that these turns of phrase make it sound as though the occult is hidden because somebody or other keeps it locked away somewhere. What’s more, occultists have gone out of their way to feed that notion, with stories of hidden vaults, eldritch tomes, and mystical initiations conferred in otherworldly settings. That’s partly because a lot of occultists have a regrettable sense of humor, but it’s also a deliberate distraction. With exceptions we’ll be discussing further on, the secrets of occultism aren’t secret because somebody chooses to hide them. They’re secret because you can’t understand them unless you’ve had certain experiences, and you won’t get those experiences unless you put in a lot of hard work.

Of course occultism isn’t the only thing of which this is true. Many years ago, for example, I took a series of university classes in botany, and those involved “keying out” plants to figure out which species they were. It’s a long and often tedious process, but you do it if you want to become a botanist, because when you’ve spent enough time at it, the structures and functions and  family relationships of plants stop being arbitrary categories and become flowing patterns of life moving across evolutionary time—and once that happens, entire realms of botanical science open up to you that were closed before.

Unquestionably, occultism has its own equivalent of keying out plants, a set of practices that you do every day if you’re serious about occultism. The details vary from one tradition to another, and often from one teacher to another, but if we’re talking about old-fashioned occultism, they usually center on meditation. This is the one thing I’ve ever done that’s more boring than keying out plants, and it’s even more rewarding, and most of occult philosophy—and a great deal more—is closed to you unless you’re willing to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and meditate for fifteen or twenty minutes a day.

Notably, though, botany is fortunate in that very few people tend to load wild fantasies of limitless power and equally wild terrors of limitless malevolence onto its practitioners. Occultists aren’t so lucky. For a very long time now, if you teach occultism in the Western world, you get to deal with one set of people who are convinced you can teach them how to fulfill all their grubbiest dreams, and another set of people who are convinced that you’re personally responsible for all the evil in the world. Just at the moment, witch burnings are out of fashion, and so the members of the second category are more a minor annoyance than anything else, but members of the first category are a constant irritation to teachers of occultism, because teaching people to fulfill their grubby dreams is not what occultism is about.

On the other hand, the difficulty here is that people who want to study occultism because they want you to show them how to fulfill their grubby dreams don’t necessarily announce this up front. One of the consequences of two thousand years of Christian moral preaching is that people in the Western world have gotten very, very good at tarting up grubby desires in virtuous drag. I’ve long since lost track of the number of people who’ve approached me claiming to want to become personal students of mine and study this or that branch of occultism for the most Simon-pure of reasons, and turned out to be interested in something much less pristine.

Those of my readers who think that the grubby human desires in question have any least trace of grandeur to them are, I’m afraid, doomed to disappointment. None of the people I’ve just mentioned have been out to take over the world, or become insanely rich, or spend eighteen hours a day having wild orgiastic sex, or anything else particularly colorful. What they want, rather, is either what little status they can get from being a personal student of a fairly well known occult writer, or what little status they can get by having some kind of modest rank (usually, it’s nothing more exotic than ordination to the priesthood) conferred on them by a fairly well known occult writer.

Is that all? Dreary as that doubtless seems, I’m sorry to say that it is. To be quite frank, I’d rather deal with a budding Lord Moldywarp, or whatever the fellow’s name was, than have to face one more bland little person whose deepest, darkest, most unspeakable desires can be satisfied by swaggering it in front of fifteen or twenty online friends. Yet with embarrassing predictability, that’s more often than not what shows up when people come bustling up to me asking to study magic as a personal student.  The effect is reliable enough that I’ve stopped accepting personal students at this point.

Certainly it’s occurred to me more than once, in the silent hours of the night, that maybe the problem is me. When the student is ready, a famous Zen parable has it, the teacher appears; presumably, that also works in reverse, and when the teacher is ready, the student appears—and in that case, what am I ready for, given what generally shows up? Then I remember that I’m far from the only occult teacher who’s had this problem. Aleister Crowley used to growl about the fact that requiring half an hour’s honest work out of a prospective student was enough to send most of them scuttling for the exits; Dion Fortune liked to remind her students tartly that if they bothered to work at occultism the way they worked to make a living, they might actually achieve something.

Exactly such sentiments motivated Crowley, Fortune, and a great many other writers of occult literature to pursue the strategy criticized by the commenter mentioned at the beginning of this essay: they went out of their way to make their books hard to read. Then as now, most people who decide to study with an occult teacher start out by reading some of that teacher’s books, and if the books make any kind of demand on the student, a significant number of the people whose sole interest in the occult consists of the desire to parade occult status symbols in front of fifteen or twenty friends will be sufficiently spooked to head for something less threatening.

There are, broadly speaking, two ways to go about making one’s books difficult to read. One of them is exemplified by Manly P. Hall, one of the great American occultists of the twentieth century, the man who took H.P. Blavatsky at her word and explored the points of contact between traditional Western occultism and esoteric Buddhism. It’s one thing to do this by dipping into books, as so many people have done recently. It’s quite another to do as Hall did: become phenomenally learned and initiated into several of the core traditions of Western occultism, then receive formal initiation and training in Shingon Buddhism—one of the two great Japanese esoteric schools—and then fuse the lot to create a very effective system of meditation and spiritual development.

His method can be found in his books, too, but you won’t find it all explained conveniently in one place. He broke up the discussion into various pieces, and squirreled some of the crucial points away in highly unlikely corners. Most of his writing was aimed at people who wouldn’t make use of his inner teachings if they’d stumbled over them; he turned out reams of fodder for the mass market, essays on the esoteric significance of headaches and upset stomachs, essays on the inner meaning of Christmas, essays introducing the basic ideas of philosophy to those who’d never had to grapple with an abstract thought. An astonishingly large number of Americans in the middle decades of the twentieth century learned the basic ideas of occult philosophy from Hall’s public work.

If you happen to read enough of his public work, it’s hard to miss the suspicion that Hall has more to tell than he’s willing to say outright. What’s more, he goes out of his way to give you that suspicion—sometimes to a degree that I scratch my head, wondering why more people haven’t caught on. His most famous work, the huge and lavishly illustrated tome The Secret Teachings of All Ages, has an entire chapter in it titled “The Cryptogram as a Factor in Symbolic Philosophy,” in which Hall goes on at quite some length explaining that occult books routinely have secret messages woven into them, and discussing the specific gimmicks that are used to put those secret messages into the text.

Secret messages do in fact exist in a great deal of occult writing. In point of fact, they exist in Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages, and any reader who applies the specific methods Hall discusses to his texts will make some interesting discoveries. (For that matter, I’ve inserted a secret message in this post, using one of the simplest methods Hall discusses.) No doubt there are plenty of people out there who read that bit of Hall’s text, grinned, and went to work with the tools of the cryptanalyst, but the vast majority of readers of occult literature these days seem to have missed Hall’s genial nods and winks entirely.

You find such nods and winks in a great deal of occult literature. When Christopher Warnock and I translated The Picatrix, the classic early medieval sorcerer’s manual, I laughed aloud when I got to Book III, Chapter Four, “Why the secrets of this science may not be understood except a little at a time.” It reads in full: “The ancient sages who have spoken of the occult sciences and magic in their books write them as obscurely as they could, so that no one would be able to gain any benefit from them, except by wisdom and continual study and practice in them. This chapter is placed here, as though by mistake, in order to make a modest demonstration of this.”

Occultism is full of such jeux d’esprit, deadpan humor deployed in the pursuit of an immensely serious purpose. Beyond such deliberate obscurities, which are used to keep this or that teaching out of the hands of the clueless or the unserious, there’s the further dimension of obscurity discussed earlier in this post: the way that certain branches of knowledge can only be understood by those willing to do the necessary work.

Unless you spend hours with a magnifying glass in your hand examining the innards of flowers so you can assign the plant they come from to its proper species, whole worlds of botany will remain permanently closed to you. Unless you spend hours with the seat of your pants on the seat of your meditation chair, considering the elaborate and deliberately puzzling imagery of the tarot, the enigmatic engravings of the alchemists, or the intricacies of the Tree of Life, whole worlds of occultism will be just as securely shut against you. No doubt some will consider that unfair, but the universe is not subject to our notions of fairness, you know.

Pondering the way that occult knowledge makes sense only to those who’ve done the necessary work, some of the most influential authors in nineteenth- and twentieth-century occult circles took things in a direction less playful than Hall’s, and set out to create books that have the same limitation hardwired into them. Two weeks from today, we’re going to start discussing one of those—Dion Fortune’s elegant little classic The Cosmic Doctrine—and those of my readers who are up for the necessary work will benefit in two ways.

At the beginning of Fortune’s book is a note of explanation too often neglected: “These images are not descriptive but symbolic, and are designed to train the mind, not to inform it.” I’d encourage my readers to reflect on that sentence for a while. The images being referenced here are presented in verbal form in the text; each reader is encouraged to imagine them as clearly as possible, and then think about certain things in relation to them.

Such exercises are in fact basic to the kind of meditation I’ve discussed earlier in this essay, and at much greater length in a variety of posts and books. Its technical name is discursive meditation, because it often takes the form of an inner discourse or imaginative discussion. If you read The Cosmic Doctrine the way that Fortune asks you to read it, you’re going to get a first-rate training in discursive meditation, starting with very simple images and concepts, and working from there to some extremely complex ones. The formalities of meditation—relaxing the body, using rhythmic breathing to steady the mind, and so on—are less important than the style of thought required, and that you can pick up from many sources, including a close study of The Cosmic Doctrine.

So that’s one of the benefits to be gained by the work ahead. The other is in some ways subtler. It’s not just books carefully designed for the purpose that train the mind instead of, or along with, informing it. All books do this. That’s the deeper implication of the spooky side of silent reading I’ve discussed in previous posts here. Whether or not they inform the mind, they train it, for good or ill. The sort of light reading so many of us engage in for relaxation—what I’ve called “popcorn reading”—is comfortable precisely because it leads our minds in familiar paths; the same thing, of course, is true of books we’ve read many times, so that the patterns of thought they contain have long since become part of our mental furniture.

A book you haven’t read before, one that has its own unique pattern of thoughts to communicate to you and isn’t simply a piece of popcorn reading meant to mirror your own normal thought processes back at you, is quite another matter. There’s usually a little resistance to the new thoughts, maybe a little hostility, maybe a little shudder of fear. A good novelist gets the reader past that by various enticements—an appealing character, an opening scene that catches the reader’s interest, any number of narrative hooks—which is of course one of the seductive qualities of fiction, and one of the reasons why people who want to remain comfortably settled in some approved style of thinking very often disdain or dislike fiction as a whole.

The Cosmic Doctrine, though, doesn’t use any of the clever narrative tricks of fiction. This isn’t because Fortune didn’t know them—she wrote quite a bit of fiction, some of which has become fairly well known in the occult scene, some of which remains quite obscure, and there’s reason to think she wrote a great deal of pulp fiction for magazines under pseudonyms that haven’t yet been traced back to her. Again, she had the same problem other occult teachers faced, then as now: the problem of filtering out potential students who weren’t worth the effort of training, because they weren’t willing to put out the corresponding effort to learn.

Examine the opening pages of The Cosmic Doctrine—not the introductions, but the start of the first chapter—and you can see the method Fortune used. She plunges straight into what she has to say, without apology, without transition. All of a sudden you’re dealing with the concept of the Unmanifest, which she defines in highly abstract terms and only then assigns to a visual image. It’s hard to escape the feeling that you’ve suddenly been pitchforked into unfamiliar terrain without benefit of map or compass. Nor should this feeling be ignored, because that’s exactly what Fortune is trying to do here.

She did that for two reasons. The first is the one discussed earlier, the desire to chase off would-be students who aren’t willing to put in the kind of mental work needed to understand what she had to say. The second is subtler. The patterns of thinking which are habitual in the modern industrial world are not useful to the aspiring occultist; a case could be made that they’re not useful to anyone but the political, commercial, and ideological authorities that have put so much effort into making them mandatory.

The best way to get someone to see the world in a different way is to toss them into the deep end of the pool all at once, with only the most minimal introduction. That’s what Fortune did. She wanted to communicate, to those students who were willing to make the effort, a set of mental skills that would be central to their spiritual lives thereafter; she also wanted to communicate to them certain patterns of thinking that would help them get past “the mind-forg’d manacles,” as Blake put it, of the industrial world’s approved modes of thought. Two weeks from today, as our monthly book club starts on the first chapter of The Cosmic Doctrine, we’ll discuss both the skills and the patterns of thought, and see what can be learned from them.

***************************

On a different subject—one that doesn’t lend itself so easily to secret messages!—I’m pleased to announce that the latest issue of Into the Ruins, the premier magazine of deindustrial science fiction, has just been released. If you’ve followed Into the Ruins, you know already that this issue is full of vivid stories exploring the kind of future we’re actually going to get, but this issue also has a livelier than usual letters to the editor column—that feature’s really taking off now. If you haven’t followed Into the Ruins—well, what are you waiting for? You can order copies here, and subscriptions here.

Finally, a reminder about the book club posts mentioned above may be in order. You’ll need a copy of Dion Fortune’s The Cosmic Doctrine in order to make any kind of sense of the posts that’ll feature here on the second Wednesday of each month; the edition I’ll focus on is the revised 1966 edition, which is out of print but available dirt cheap on the used book market. I’ll also be referencing the 2000 edition, which went back to the unrevised text; to my mind, it’s an inferior edition — the 1966 revisions were well made — but I’ve got both and will cite text from both.

143 Comments

  1. “Notably, though, botany is fortunate in that very few people tend to load wild fantasies of limitless power and equally wild terrors of limitless malevolence onto its practitioners.”

    Doggonnit. 😉 What do you mean, though, keying out plants is boring? Speak for yerself! 🙂

  2. Well I passed the first test. The second test is to decide if it’s worth the time to look for hidden messages that aren’t so simplistic.

  3. Dewey, well, whatever entertains you! 😉

    Synthase, nope, there’s just the one. It takes a lot more work to use the more complex methods of steganography, and I’ve got way too much on my plate to spare the time.

  4. I am looking forward to the discussion of the Cosmic Doctrine! Currently I am slogging my way through “The Tree of Life” by Israel Regardie. I think it is a slog, because I end every chapter thinking, “Wow, I need to go through that another 3-4 times before I think I will have a really good handle on all the ideas.” I’m about 80% done with the book now, and looking back I find it exciting to see all the links between the discussions on this blog and your other, and what I am learning in my daily studies. So the excitement is there in studying it, and that keeps me going, but it doesn’t come easily. The book is a slog, but a well rewarded slog. And it is nice to be challenged to think and ponder rather than just absorb a book.

  5. Likewise found it, but I’m curious how one might know what keys to look for to know what method might be applied in what occult works or if an explicitly coded (as opposed to symbolically obscured narrative) is even employed in a given text?

  6. Boulderlovincat, Regardie when he was young was an example of the other kind of occult author who’s hard to read — he wrote in a style that’s become very unfashionable these days. I think of The Tree of Life as his closest approach to H.P. Lovecraft! Despite which, of course, it’s a solid book worth close study.

    Mark L. (offlist), shhh! It’s a secret. 😉

    Robert, funny!

    David, that’s what makes it challenging. I’d recommend the chapter in Manly P. Hall’s book cited in the post as a good if very basic introduction to the way secret messages were hidden in occult books (Hall’s among them). Yes, there are also codes and ciphers involved — and depending on what the author had in mind, there may or may not be any explicit signal telling you what to look for.

  7. @Synthase. Shush, you. I’d have liked to give it a try on my own this evening.
    😉

  8. I got your hidden message because of my background in computing, now I have a billion or so of your blog posts to check against Hall’s algorithms. And only so much life. Sigh.

    Greer, this stuff is hard work. I am still struggling at the First Knowledge Lecture from The Celtic Golden Dawn. My recovering rationalist mindset is not helping a lot.

    I’m doing the practice in a room with low light, to ease visualization. I still make a lot of errors–I hope tomorrow I’m able to point at the center of the pentagrams before vibrating the names. The effort to keep a very poor imagery of the scene elements needed is consuming all my awareness. I guess that gets better with time.

    The meditation seems to be yielding poor results. I’m not very used to think with images, it is more like a chat with words. When I’m walking outside I often get overwhelmed by the environment and start walking like a robot, diving deep into my thoughts, or the lack of them.

    For example, from the “stone shadows during the year,” I got that knowledge can be a freezing force, in opposition to power. Also, that the triad can be manifest through not obvious ways (the shadows are a function of the orbit of the Sun). “As above, so below,” I consider now that many times the ternaries may be hidden in ways that are not obvious. And that there is also a permanent cycle of renewal that must be balanced by me.

    Other than that, I will see. But I get this strong feeling I am not doing this properly. I know, persevere.

    However, I should add that lately my dreams are getting more detailed, even after regular use of a dream journal.

  9. Greetings,

    I’m noticing now that I’ve for the first time been practicing slow reading and meditation with this text that along with the insights that are coming, a new bit of mental pushback is surfacing. All of a sudden part of me is worried that over the course of the discussions here, I’m not going to get it “fast enough” – “what if I end up spending -months- contemplating the concepts communicated in chapter one when everyone else has already moved on?” That kind of thing.

    Who the heck am I comparing myself to here? And why do I need to be worried about not “getting it” quickly, or “keeping up”? I don’t know, but part of me sure is throwing that stuff up.

    FWIW, the other somewhat less irritating conundrum appearing now is that I have a desire to switch the daily banishing to the SoP from the 3 Rays and pentagrams due to some things that have surfaced in meditation on that first chapter of The Cosmic Doctrine. I’ve been practicing the 3 Rays & pentagrams daily for about 7 months, and feel like I’m just now getting a little traction in that practice. It’s very tempting to switch it up, but I’m hesitant to do that.

    Thanks, as always!
    Bonnie

  10. PS – I feel fortunate that you’re teaching right here, RIGHT NOW! (and have been doing so online for some time) No need to pester you about becoming a personal student or any such thing. I already am!

    Bonnie

  11. Okay I didn’t have to read Manly P. Hall to pass that test, but thanks for another memorable article. And yes, meditation is about the most boring and transformative thing it is possible to do. No one would guess that by observing meditation in progress, so I guess that makes it very occult indeed.

  12. It seems that I sense the passage of time more keenly every day. My defeats and frustrations, of course, are more public than my successes.

    As for the purposes of study (whether magic, botany, or anything else), to clarify one’s true desires is a natural precondition to achieving them, and no mean feat in itself. In engineering failure analysis, there’s a method called “5 whys”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys) Did any of your erstwhile students get past one or two?

  13. Hooray, I got it! That was fun.

    If people are wondering whether a text contains a hidden message, it does seem to be an ancient tradition to hint about it in the plain. At least, this was the case with the texts that Leo Strauss examined.

    I am excited for the coming discussion and picked up a copy of The Cosmic Doctrine (the 2000 edition, unfortunately, but that was necessary for other reasons I won’t go into here). I would like to encourage others to join in the discussion with a real, print copy. As you recently mentioned on your Dreamwidth blog, pirating books can neutralize you against taking them seriously.

  14. I like “mental furniture” – “part of the mental furniture of an educated Englishman” I remember from the blurb on the back of an Eric Hobsbawm book.

  15. I’ve always wondered if this coding practice is used in classical texts of old cultures. I’ve had the same suspicion about Chinese classical texts (the only ones I can read in the original language). Aside from the content, there seemed to be something else at play that demands another level of mental consideration. For example, the level of assumed knowledge and references expects you to have read and understood all other references in order to comprehend the context of the book in front of your eyes. It’s as if the context of one book is part of an entire tapestry-context, with a demand to appreciate the nuances and dimensions of said tapestry-context, before going back to that singular book and go ah ha, that makes sense now. For example, reading the Art of War is seemingly straightforward by itself, right to the point you notice that military language, especially verbs, are also used in medical classics. While I first passed this by as nothing more than a use of metaphor, a deeper appreciation of verbs used in a miltary context lends nuanced considerations when applied to medicine. Dimensions and dynamics of function from medical texts are some the of most difficult to grasp. It didn’t make sense to me at first to further complicate it or avoid explaining it in a clearer manner. You turn away from it, rail at old fuddy duddies for having a good laugh at their inside joke on later generations. After the mental temper tantrum settles, maturity takes you out in the world to seek further understanding. I think this would be the ‘Dip’ that Seth Godin describes. There is a point, in the pursuit to understand, where I find you weigh up if the effort to understand means enough to you personally to struggle past the moat of instant gratification in order to reach that tower of understanding. On a social scale, I feel many wish to get to that tower, but are only willing to hang out on the shore of that moat and comment on how the tower looks. I think it a far different experience to jump into those challenge infested waters, and permit it to change and transform your way of thinking. I think there is always a deep fear of deep change. Is that Tower of Understanding really worth it in the end? That certainly seems like the question.

  16. Hello JMG,

    Regarding the Cosmic Doctrine – do you know if the HarperColllins and Aquarian editions of the book (published in the 70’s and 80’s) are the same revised edition as the 1966 Helios addition? They seem to be more available where I am looking than the Helios edition. My digging leads me to believe that they are the same, but I am not certain.

    Looking forward to our passage through the book.

    Joe

  17. Packshaud, I haven’t put any secret messages in any other posts, that I remember. 😉 Yes, this stuff is hard work! For what it’s worth, though, it sounds from your description as though you’re doing a fine job with the meditations.

    Bonnie, I’d encourage you to keep going with the method that you’ve learned. Most people who take up magical practice find themselves tempted to jump to something else after a while; trust me, three months later something else will appeal to you, and meanwhile you’ll have had to go back to square one and the more interesting dimensions of the work you can reach by persevering with one practice remain out of reach.

    Juan Pablo, It’s the r/occult forum on Reddit. I don’t post much there but I do read the posts daily.

    Liz, good! No question, in terms of occult secrets, the ones that unfold very slowly as you slog through daily meditation are the most hidden of all — and some of the most important.

    Lathechuck, good question. I think Sartre’s discussion of “bad faith” is relevant here. If any of them did the five whys with “why do I want to study magic?” each answer would covertly embrace its own opposite — thus their response to “why do I want to study magic?” would circle around the reason they don’t want to study magic, and so on.

    Avery, sure — either you hint about it in the text, or the text exists in a context in which the possibility of secret communication is understood.

    Matt, it’s a useful turn of phrase.

    Disciple, nah, it’s what you know that matters…

    Elisa, I can’t speak to classical Chinese texts, but a great many old texts from other sources are full of information that isn’t stated in so many words, and has to be extracted either by learning the trick from some more experienced person, or from a leap of insight. The entire literature of alchemy is a great example: much of it isn’t about what it seems to be about.

  18. Joe, I don’t know for certain about the HarperCollins edition, but the Aquarian edition is certainly the revised one. I’d tend to think that the HarperCollins is, too, because the revised edition was the only one generally available until 1995.

  19. I can’t believe that so many of your students are interested in showing off in such a minor way! I have a bit of that myself, though it wasn’t the main reason I got involved. When I realized it I made a rule I’ve kept since: I refuse mention that I’m a student of yours in any context where it’ll be traced back to me, since it would get in the way of the work. Thus, although I’m a regular here (as JMG can confirm by checking the email), I wrote the comment using a pseudonym.

    It seems odd to me that this is such a big factor in terms of getting involved in the occult. It seems utterly ridiculous that this would matter nearly this much to people. If that’s the deepest desire someone has, they must have a really empty life….

    Btw, have you been getting my emails? I’ve heard from someone else that they haven’t been, so I’m a little concerned they may have gone missing: otherwise, I know you’re busy and I’m willing to wait until you get the chance to respond.

  20. Right you are, and my apologies for not considering world domination schemes when I began the path to Free Loremaster and ordination in the GCC. What with all the Globalists running about it just seemed like too much competition. I decided instead to take the easy way out and try to learn how to do a little good in the world. 😉

  21. Hey mate,

    This post was somewhat eerily timed. Had a bunch of questions and you answered them all in this post. 🙂

    I think one of the issues I find with the Occult/Esoteric is that I have a love/hate relationship with the idea of hidden knowledge. I love the idea of life being more than the cookie-cutter mass marketed non-sense we see and that study requires work (if you enjoy it even the mundane can be fun!) , but hate the idea of self-imposed gate-keepers. I think many of us have had negative experiences with Church’s or, in my case, Dojo’s, where people who dress up and claim to have the ‘truth TM or THE WAY’, if only you submit/pay for their secret knowledge. Catholic church services completely in Latin comes to mind, ranking system in martial arts is another, but there are plenty others.

    Also, do we even need ‘hidden’ knowledge? Is it not enough to simply enjoy running in the woods, or watching birds circle though the sky? The sun coming over the hills? The list is endless.As a species we aren’t able to look after the air we breath and food we eat. Perhaps rather than looking for secrets we should get back to fundamentals? I don’t know the answer of course; I train in my chosen school of martial arts because I enjoy training and the idea of body mechanics with endless variation. The more you train, the more reveals itself maybe thats enough, although I do love looking at and trying to learn Kanji and read the esoteric writing of famous teachers, but bottom line, you got to grind the training. Looking forward to the book club. Reading the kindle version. cheers 🙂

  22. Hah – I’ll point out that this method of hiding a message is popular on 4chan, or at least a few years ago when I last spent time there it was. Usually the message is a joke.

  23. I found a copy of The Cosmic Doctrine on a site that has a variety of esoteric texts. it’s called the Millennium edition. The TOC lists two introductions, both of which are missing. The text is 30 chapters, each of which is an almost unreadable wall of text that has no trace of paragraphs.

    I’m going to order a real hardcopy soon, but meanwhile do you have any idea of which edition this is, or whether it’s simply too heavily corrupted to be useful for anything but filling the bit bucket?

  24. I remember when reading Jung for the first time having only the vaguest idea of what he was saying. (The archetype is an organ of the unconscious. Organ of the unconscious? Huh? What? You mean like a kidney or a liver? How does that make any sense?) I entered the “hermeneutic circle” directly, because the way I was trained in both college and graduate school was not to rely on secondary sources, but to read the primary sources. In time things became clearer. This is a bit different than deliberately obfuscating the topic, but it does speak to the effort it sometimes takes to learn something worth knowing. Also different, though not unrelated, is how Rudolf Steiner in his lectures will sometimes “drop bombs” on a topic other than the one he is lecturing on. At one point in one of his lectures on something else he refers to the macrocosm as “Lady”, and associates the Lady with wisdom, as opposed to reason, of which he was very fond, but which he says has its limits. The thought that immediately occurred to me was, “Mother Nature. He’s talking about Mother Nature!”. In another place, as an aside, he mentions how in a text on alchemy, translated by a competent chemist, the chemist was unable to make sense of one recipe. Steiner says, of course, because while in many cases the alchemists were talking about common elements, in some cases they were talking about processes in their own psyches. (This is not quite the terminology he uses.) In one offhand remark he summarizes an insight which drove much of the second half of Jung’s career. (I checked the dates, and Steiner said this well before Jung started delving into alchemy.) I suppose the only happy thing to say is that, despite the state of modern education, I have found people who put in the effort to do interesting things with traditional literatures, and on an even happier note, very few of these people are in the academy. I am fully convinced that as the academy declines, good scholarship will continue. It no longer needs the academy to support it, and in some disciplines, it is an impediment. This is not to ignore the good work coming out of the academy. Botany, mentioned, is one example.

  25. So, what about those of us who ARE willing to put in the work for limitless wealth and eighteen-hour orgies? Asking for a friend …

  26. i’ve not read much occult literature, but i have read about 12 metric tonnes of academic writing. as with your description of the occult literature, academic publications tend toward the unnecessarily complex, convoluted and ridiculously self-referential. this is not an accident or the result of poor training. it is quite intentional and intended to 1) mark the writer as a serious scholar and 2) make sure that no one from outside the discipline can possibly penetrate the prose. the same occurs in legal writing, another area in which i have wasted far too many hours i’ll never get back. decades of attempts to convince lawyers to write in simple declarative sentences with minimal jargon have failed spectacularly. such attempts are fighting a dominant cultural imperative.

    i suspect authors of the occult write as they do for similar reasons: It makes them appear to be serious/smart and excludes outsiders from understanding what they are about. i am quite sure occultists can write simply and clearly if they choose to do so. as einstein reportedly said, any scientist who can’t explain what (he/she/they/it ) are doing to a six year old is a fraud. but occultists will adopt this approach at about the same time as the economists do; sometime after the next ice age but before the sun goes nova. apparently, using complexity to signal serious purpose is a pervasive behavior across all disciplines.

  27. Archdruid,

    That bit about the grubby desires kinda surprised me. Every story I was raised with about magic always ended with the student who desired grand designs coming to a nasty end. These people had literal access to one of the great mystics of our era and all they wanted was a cheap status symbol? Does no one read history? Most of the great leaders of ancient times were tutored by great mystics, and not necessarily in magic. The foundation of magical training, the development of the mind and conscious will, were the foundation of that ancient genre Mirrors for Princes. Da frack is wrong with people? Where’s the ambition now days?!

    I giggled a bit. Glad to see I made the grade.

    Regards,

    Varun

  28. What a coincidence! About two weeks ago I stumbled upon a key for Trithemius’ Steganographia. Looks like I have to re-read the old books and take notes more often. 😉

  29. I went looking for the 1966 edition of the Cosmic Doctrine. It may have been dirt cheap, but there seems to have been an upsurge in demand recently, and I was only able to find a copy online in England for £52. I bought it regardless, setting me back in plans to collect the full set of works of JMG.
    Some months back I offered to host the 1st Annual Ecosophia Potluck on June 23rd in the house behind the Charles Dexter Ward Mansion in Providence. About 2 dozen people have already signed up. If you wish to join us, please sign up here. Several local residents have offered rooms, and I have a guest bedroom which I will offer to whomever signs up by the 16th, and comes from furthest away.
    Lastly, I enjoyed the discussions on Mystery Teachings to such an extent that I didn’t want them to end. I have decided to organize a class/seminar/discussion group at the First Unitarian Church of Providence (founded by, among others, Joseph Curwen, although records of his membership seem to have vanished). I will be announcing it in greater detail later in the summer.

  30. Hello JMG,

    I chuckled as I decoded the hidden message as soon as you mentioned it in the text. I guess I may not be hopeless.

    I would like to express my gratitude for the clear practical instructions which you provide in your books such as “Druid Magic Handbook”. I think your books are a great help to novice occultists like me and I’m looking forward to reading more of them and I actually like your succinct style or writing.

    Now excuse me, I will need to re-read my copy of “The Secret Teachings of All Ages” in light of this revelation, I never thought Manly Hall would hide a secret message there.

    I hope you meet your perfect student who will make you proud.

  31. Anonymous, yes, I’ve gotten your emails! I’ve been scrambling to finish two book projects and still keep my blog posts on schedule, so my email is way behind again. The thing you have to remember is that whenever occultism becomes fashionable, it attracts people for whom being fashionable is all that matters, and a teacher or a certificate becomes just another fashion statement.

    Disciple, funny. Thank you.

    SomeGuy13, a lot depends on what you want to do, and also what you enjoy. I like translating obscure Latin texts — to me, it’s like doing crossword puzzles — because I like the rush of discovery; I enjoy receiving initiation rituals, even when there isn’t much behind them, because you don’t know what you’re going to experience when they put the blindfold on you and lead you into the lodge room. To me, that’s all great fun. If that’s not a game you like to play, though, no problem — to each their own.

    Justin, funny! I wonder whether the chan brigade puts any time into Manly P. Hall — my occasional lurkings there have shown me a certain familiarity with older magical literature.

    John, that’s the 2000 unrevised edition. I’m not sure why it shows up as a wall of text — the hard copy has paragraphs.

    Squalembrato, that’s good news indeed. Thank you.

    Will, if I did, would I tell you?

    Kfish, at least that shows some ambition!

    Jaymoses, there are occultists who write clearly. I certainly try to! Yet I find that a lot of people have trouble understanding my books, and indeed any other books on the subject, because there are inherent difficulties in grasping unfamiliar ideas. Einstein may have been right about science, in other words, but there are plenty of other subjects where he’s quite simply wrong.

    Varun, it surprised me, too, until I got used to it. You’d think that people would go all giddy over grand fantasies of omnipotence, wouldn’t you? And yet the occult scene these days is full of bland little people who want to preen online, and that’s about it. Sheesh.

    Neetwizard, just remember that Trithemius was an old-fashioned occultist, and that means he didn’t reveal his secrets to just anyone! Plan on putting in some hard work to figure out what’s going on beyond the surface level.

    Peter, I just went on abebooks.com and found a bunch of copies for under US$20. I believe the copyright on Dion Fortune’s books has expired; if so, it might be worth seeing if some small press somewhere was willing to bring out a new inexpensive printing of the revised edition.

  32. Ailuromancer, have fun with Hall! As for the perfect student, I actually worked out the key to finding good students a while ago: teach indirectly through a magical order or correspondence course with a set curriculum. My current order, the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn (www.druidical-gd.org), has quite a decent crowd of hardworking students; the correspondence course I ran for some years, the Dolmen Arch, got its share of the same.

    Oh, and having a Frequently Thrown Tantrums page on your organizational website helps no end… 😉

  33. Sven (offlist), I’ve sent you two emails now, one from each of my accounts. If you haven’t gotten them, post something here and we’ll try to figure out what to do.

  34. Your membership page on the DOGD site still shows a Maryland P.O. Box.
    Is this the actual postal address now and forever, or did the True Druid claimants join forces and put a spell on your office staff?

  35. In the Vedic traditions the ground of all Being, the Self of all selves is the Unmanifest: It is the plenitude when manifest, and the Void of the Buddhist tradition when unmanifest.
    Just as sunlight streams past the Earth on all sides at night, and yet we experience the darkness of night, until an object such as a satellite or the moon reflects that light to us, so too the Unmanifest remains unmanifest until there is something to manifest it. Even so it also needs a medium (in this case tte insentient mind, a projection of the brain) to manifest its conscious aspect as awareness. In this sense, a flower is as black as the darkest of night except when light falls upon it.

  36. I was going to write you about this on MM but since you brought up the “the mind-forg’d manacles” this seemed like an appropriate place. There’s a practice in surfing called “snaking” where someone jumps ahead of others in the queue instead of waiting for their turn. It’s just an ugly but sometimes necessary element of participating in a sport that mostly happens in unregulated wilderness. A famous surfer recently defended the tactic by saying “I’m not out there trying to take turns. You’re not going to eat at the end of the day if you let someone else take your food.” The hidden premise of that statement is that other people’s food tastes better, which sets a horrible example for the kids. For me other people’s food has a bitter taste even when I’m technically justified to take it, which can put me at a big disadvantage depending on who else is involved. I try to avoid those situations, but sometimes confrontation is inevitable even though it taints the rest of the day with unpleasant feelings. Unfortunately it’s also a microcosm of a bigger picture that seems to be getting worse as people get more desperate. It makes me wonder how to conduct myself around those kinds of people when a real crisis hits and food stops being a metaphor for recreation. One of the main reasons I’m interested in training my mind is to feel more confident knowing that I can handle the stress of catabolic collapse especially when things take a sudden turn for the worse. I’ve improved a lot since starting CGD but progressing very slowly and still have a long way to go. You should do more cryptic stuff, btw. That was fun.

  37. At least occultists write books! If you want something obscure, try learning tailoring… There are two specialist occult bookstores in my city, but you can fit all of the in-print English-language literature on serious bespoke tailoring in a satchel with room to spare – and even then, it’s all written to supplement an apprenticeship, not to replace it, and so makes a lot of assumptions about what you already know or learn from other sources.

    As for boring practices, if you manage to lay your hands on one of the much-sought-after out-of-print tailoring texts that actually attempt to teach the basics, you’ll find that novices are recommended to begin learning hand sewing by spending 15 – 30 minutes a day with an unthreaded #9 between needle and a piece of worsted cloth, just going through the motion of making a stitch, paying careful attention to how you hold the needle and how you use the thimble. (The way you will instinctively do both is wrong.) After around a month of that, you can think about threading the needle and beginning to practice the basic forestitch…

  38. With humility in mind, maybe there is no worthy student left that knows less you than do.

    The future outrage emanating from that thought is palpable as I hit the post comment button.

  39. JMG, I am glad to know that you see yourself in the same league as Dion Fortune. But are all occult writers also occult practitioners? What about the responsibility of the teacher as initiator? Should all writers accept that responsibility when writing on subjects that might have “spiritual” consequences for the readers? Finally, can you say something more about the channelled occult texts, such as Crowley’s Book of the Law, or esoteric stuff like Alice Bailey’s, if you haven’t done so already? I don’t know how you keep up with the comments, and it is appreciated.

  40. Hi JMG ,
    I’m a long term student though we’ve never met or had any conversations along those lines. I kinda get the feeling the lecture hall is not made with hands. Thanks for all you have taught !
    Still remember the day i read Fortunes ‘ mystical qabalah’ in a comfy chair on a sunny farm verandah. Couldnt put it down until i had finished. Very powerful mage was Violet Firth ! , not unlike yourslf, and a very similar warmth and geniality
    Kind Regards

  41. Fascinating discussion!

    This sort of deliberate obscurity is also present in some older herb books. Here I’m thinking specifically of Nicholas Culpeper’s The English Family Physician. He has a large section on the theory, titled “An Astrologo-Physical Discourse of the Human Virtues in the Body of Man; both Principal and Administrating” after the materia medica, (without which the materia medica only makes about 2/3 the sense it does otherwise) and then gives an excellent account of the four humours/temperaments in what appears to be a in a totally random place (in the section concerning Distilled Waters)! This explains another third or so what goes before it.

    Furthermore he first discusses plants astrologically and then later has seperate discussions of the same plants into different anatomical parts. So he discusses Lemon Balm on page 16, says it is an herb of Jupiter under the sign of Cancer. He gives some excellent notes, but it isn’t until page 241 later that he notes, in the section concerning Leaves he notes (under Melissa rather than Balm) “…inwardly it is an excellent remedy for a cold and moist stomach, cheers the heart, refreshes the mind, takes away griefs, sorrow and care, instead of which is produces joy and mirth.” This sums up and clarifies his rather rambling and disjointed prior account.

    If that wasn’t enough, on page 247, in the section concerning Flowers, he organizes what he said before by writing that Balm flowers “cheer the heart and vital spirits, strengthen the stomach.” These 10 words sum up everything he wrote prior, and makes his usage for balm specific rather than general. Of course, he doesn’t provide his excellent section on “A Key to Galen’s Method of Physic” until very near the end, and until you’re read this the rest of his scheme makes little sense at all.

    Prior to this I had simply rolled my eyes and thought that Culpeper was writing his manuscript longhand and sort of fell into a weird organizational scheme for which I felt an affectionate annoyance for his overwhelming eccentricity. After reading your post I now wonder.

    Ironically while consulting my copy of this textbook I found another vitally important discussion squirreled away; where he defines more clearly the attributes of the vital, natural and animal spirits while discussing different forms of preparation! Immediately before this too he writes “Although I did what I could throughout this book to express myself in such a language as might be understood by all…” (!)

    Glancing at his discussion of metals and stones it would appear the Nicholas Culpeper is presenting not only an herbal, but indeed something of a textbook of Natural Magic! I’ve put dozens of hours into studying this book, reading it, rereading it, copying out relevant sections and recopying them. I see now that I could put many, many hours more into it. Personally I find this very exciting; it is wonderful to have a book that is worthy to be lavished with so much effort!

  42. So what is your take on kindle books, and second or greater editions for these decoding endeavors? In rebellion against my ego I’ve switched to almost exclusively digital books to conceal the giant library from would be impressed house guests namely the one I often see in the mirror. It seems that a biliteral cipher would easily be lost if the original typeset was not preserved.

    I’m also interested in learning how you approach various occult works in terms of reading levels. It would be foolish not to take seriously the works of brother Hall, but it would it be equally foolish to search for steganographic messages in Llewellyn wicca paperbacks of the late 90’s? Due to the ease and incentives by which modern authors publish in 300 pages what could be said in 30 -> its hard to gather whether some works should even be skimmed let alone decoded or meditated upon.

    I’ll admit that this kind of discriminating eye opens oneself to the blindness of arrogance, but when we literally find ourselves bombarded with more that can be read in a lifetime the dynamic changes a bit for even the serious student.

  43. Now I have to decide if it’s worth looking through your books for hidden messages…..

  44. Keying plants is exciting when you are confident you’re on the right track, and incredibly frustrating/disheartening when you sense you’ve gone off the rails. If the right parts (flower, fruit, etc.) are not there yet you may have to work forward and backward through a key using context to find your way. I work as a field biologist/botanist, and it always pays to keep an illustrated glossary close at hand!

    When my education veered towards botany in graduate school I was blessed with a group of excellent teachers and botanist friends to go on hikes with and get me started. It is remarkable how quickly one can learn common plants simply by looking closely and having some one there to tell you what it is. It should be no surprise that learning in such a way comes naturally to us since that is how we’ve passed down that sort of “eat this, that one stings, etc.” information for hundreds of thousands of years. I’m not sure an occult education would benefit in the same way though given how inwardly focused it is.

    Once you start trying to point out the difference between two nearly identical species by searching for glandular hairs on the filaments (stalk of the stamens) people lose interest, and you quickly figure who the real botanist are versus the wildlife biologists! It took me years to become moderately competent with difficult groups like grasses/sedges and there was a lot of frustration and self-doubt along the way.

    I do have a question for you, as someone who works with wild plants, I’ve naturally been curious to learn about herbal medicine. However, much like the occult, I have no idea where to start, what resources are reputable, and how to separate the effective uses from the quackery. I imagine that any would be occultist faces a similar dilemma and I’m wondering what you suggest?

    If you have any recommendations for starting with herbals I would greatly appreciate it!

  45. Way back in the 80’s when I worked a government satellite ground station, we send a April Fool’s message by teletype back to Engineering Project Office with outrageous story of controlling satellites for our primitive desktop calculators sending then into absolute panic for about 6 hours.. then a software engineer noticed that not only was the contents gibberish but the first letter of each line spelled out “AprilFools”..many read faces after that…

  46. Well I certainly consider you to be a personal teacher. Even if just anyone can get at your teaching at their whim too! Can’t tell you how much I appreciate it!

    I’ve gotten comfortable with the reincarnation paradigm over the last year or two, and you can imagine how that’s affected my worldview, all the way down to the use of throwaway expressions like “you only live once.” (Wait, I don’t believe that! I’m preparing myself for the next life, not milking this one for another thrill!) It has affected me in fundamental ways to say the least.

    Magic…I don’t know if I’m ready for yet. I have a lot of your books on the subject; I bought the “Cos Doc” and am looking forward to working through it with you; I WANT to want to practice magic. But I haven’t gotten there yet. I can’t seem to really get going on it. My life has BECOME quite magical, out in the backwoods at the lower end of Appalachia, after asking for louder signals about a year ago. They’ve gotten louder. And more interesting. I even saw a small creature recently, verified independently by my wife, that I had no mental model whatsoever available for slapping a label on it. THAT was an interesting experience.

    I know it’s out there. I know it’s real. I get snippets of the gravity involved. But maybe it’s just not for me this lifetime? Maybe I need to spend my time this round laying the groundwork for future magical study? I don’t want to force anything that it isn’t time for.

    Thank you as always, teacher.
    Tripp out.

  47. Thanks JMG. Just solved my first steganographic message. I was reading Ms Fortune ‘s first chapter on The Unmanifest. Sounds much like the Tao. As a Two Chi teacher, do you agree?

  48. Oh! A secret message…and I am not well equipped, being rather concrete minded. But what I can come up with so far is something about hiding things in plain sight. I recall a seen from one of the Carlos Castaneda books in which Carlos is to meet a sorceress, and she has chosen a local Catholic church for their meeting place. When he expresses some surprise at this, she says something to the effect that a Catholic church is one of the best possible places for sorcerers to hide.

    Another theme I note, although I don’t see any secret message is about how people have patterns of thought and world view, how limiting that is, mostly because they do not see it and therefore do not know that they do not know, which makes for very poor communication.

    Then, too, there is at the top of the page a strange phrase – “Not the monthly post.” Well, isn’t it the weekly post?

    Also most interesting food for thought is what you said about people who do not like fiction – but I am going to defend myself here and say that I have read and greatly benefited from much fine fiction, but my overriding desire is to know more and more and my personal style is to go straight to the meat. I do not think I am guilty of avoiding fiction to avoid having my mind opened. I have other ways of getting at that.

    Of course, there is much horrible fiction, like the reams of murder mystery and horror novels (Agatha Christie Sherlock Holmes being exempted).

    Certainly I see many ways in which fiction has its own tools for teaching and the best fiction to me are the ones that are a bridge between poetry and prose, like Lolita or Moby Dick.

  49. Wet Noodle–if I understand your question you seem to be anticipating a conflict between being whatever you regard as being a good person and obtaining necessary resources when things get really bad.I would suggest that the construction of a firm sense of honor was the approach used by previous societies in which resources would frequently be threatened.
    This boils down to “I would rather die than . . . ” Different societies draw the lines in different places for different classes and even for groups within those classes. But that is how rich powerful men were able to hand women and children into lifeboats or allow them access to the few windows in the Black Hole of Calcutta. They would have been ashamed to survive at the expense of people they had been trained to protect.

    Of course there is a difference in situations where no one will know what was done. Will you steal food if no one else will ever know? Those of us who are currently middle class in the Western world may never confront a situation in which we must choose between our survivor and that of another person or group, but it seems to me to be a good mental exercise. Most people automatically assume they would sacrifice themselves for close family, but under what circumstances do you give the last piece of bread to a stranger?

  50. Jeffrey, hmm! Thank you for catching that. We receive so few applications by mail that I suspect nobody noticed.

    Robin, good. That’s a solid start for a meditation on the first theme of Chapter 1.

    Noodle, okay; did you have a question to ask, or just an observation to make?

    Dunc, fascinating! Have you considered using print-on-demand technology to reprint some of those out-of-print (and presumably out-of-coyright) books on tailoring?

    Shadow, not at all; I considered that possibility seriously, and then figured out how to test it. Since I do get worthwhile students when it’s not a matter of personal teaching, but guiding people through an established curriculum, and since my instructional books on magic sell very well indeed, it’s clearly not a lack of people who can benefit from what I have to teach; it’s a matter of filtering out the flakes who just want status.

    Twin Ruler, then by all means read them.

    Y. Chireau, an occult writer who isn’t an occult practitioner is in the same category as a virgin writing a sex manual; the results may be comical but they won’t be useful. As for channeled material, I see that as a narrative pose. For a long time there, if you wanted your work to be taken seriously, it was pretty much de rigueur to foist it off on an otherworldly communicator, just as in antiquity you put the name of Hermes Trismegistus or the like on your work in order to pay attention to it. I’ll discuss this further in two weeks.

    Tableaux, thank you — it’s precisely the people who pick up my books and get to work on them, and learn from them, that I consider my real students.

    Violet, excellent! I’m sure Culpeper did that quite deliberately, to keep people from using his system until they’d studied his book thoroughly enough to find the hidden treasures in it. I’m curious, btw, whether you have an opinion about Graeme Tobyn’s Culpeper’s Medicine.

    RedRed, I can’t stand e-books, and I love the scent, the heft, and the whole sensual experience of reading a printed book, so I’m probably not the best person to ask about that. Unless the person who created the e-book recognized the presence of the steganographic message, though, it’s unlikely it will get through. As for choosing your books — well, I’d be amazed if anything from Llewellyn has a secret message in it, and I say this as a longtime Llewellyn author! It’s helpful, especially in the early stages of occult studies, to read very widely, including popcorn reading; after you’ve done that for a while, it’s not too hard to sort out what’s empty mental calories and what’s got some nutrients to offer, and then you can choose a really good book or three and buckle down to work, which is of course what counts.

    Will, decisions, decisions! 😉

    Botanist, I remember banging my head against the metaphorical wall of grass species, so you have my sympathy. I seriously considered a career in botany — I would have liked to have focused, opportunities permitting, on the ecology of the ancient plants of the Pacific Northwest forest floor — ferns, mosses, liverworts, et al. That turned out to be the road not taken, but I still feel wistful about it from time to time. As for herbalists, I’m very partial to the work of Matthew Wood; his books Vitalism and The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism are good introductions to his broader work.

    Jaznights, funny!

    Tripp, magic isn’t for everyone. I mean that with utter seriousness. For the vast majority of people, the ordinary practices of reverence toward spiritual realities (in or out of an established religion) are all that’s appropriate. Magic is for the few — and doing magic, by the way, doesn’t make them better or wiser or more important than anyone else. It’s one calling, a very demanding and difficult one; for those who are called to it, it’s life, and more than life — but don’t go there if you don’t feel ready for it.

    Mac, yes, but be careful of the label. The Tao you can talk about is not the real Tao, and the Unmanifest you can label (with the label “tao,” or any other label) is not quite the Unmanifest toward which Fortune is trying to point…

  51. Onething, au contraire, I got two copies of your post as well as the comment. Apparently the latest WordPress upgrade behaves differently when you hit the post-comment button. Glad to have given you food for thought!

  52. JMG
    I have been musing, brooding, even perhaps meditating. The choice of words can be accurate, helpful, or not; some understanding is not easy. Thus “beauty is difficult”; I quote a refrain in Ezra Pound Pisan Cantos. And point of view matters greatly. Pound elsewhere goes into “correct geography” as in Homer, the view of the shore from the sea.

    The phrase I have been turning over is “mess with my mind” as for example in “Don’t mess…” It is a commonplace of ordinary social life to have the unwanted experience of somebody or something messing with what passes or sticks inside our heads. Our public education can be, as you have suggested, one obvious source of ‘bad messing’ and you refer to the point of view derived from our “industrial world”. Even ‘text books’ and the ‘tick lists’ derived from them, which are at one or more remove from the source observations (and who knows for sure what the observations were), are indeed designed to ‘mess with our minds’.

    So Dion Fortune, who invented her name, wraps up her text book in technicality – it is all words of course – and it seems she makes it difficult. (While training us to share her understanding and rehearse her experience?) This seems in her case it could be a precaution against ‘messing with our minds’. Perhaps it is a courtesy (a moral precaution), as in ordinary life like a responsible adult’? I have yet to read the lady – the 1966 edition seems unobtainable in used books in the UK. But she seems to provide more than a lock against foolish apprentice or a defense against destructive intrusion?

    Ah, Botany! I found grasses very difficult, but as you suggest knowledge is an emergent property. I agree we must mix plodding science with the wealth of observation and our daily magic of recognition, even if the science of classification of relationship – species, family, et al, is in this case underpinned by somewhat arbitrary if useful assumption and proceeds via coded relationships with words. Smile.

    best
    Phil H

  53. @Botanist I second your request for a good book on herbals.

    My meditation practice has been improving lately as I have achieved maybe 3-4 times a week for the past few weeks. Clearly I need to be writing this down. My relationship with the tarot has deepened appreciably and I’ve had some beautiful experiences in nature. And the banishing ritual is now a daily thing and I can’t recommend it enough. It helps my inner development and protects me from outside danger. When you do a banishing ritual every day and tell people to step back, they do. Though I think it’s useful for everyone, I would like to recommend it especially to anyone traveling.

  54. JMG: I think there’s been some talk of using print-on-demand for some of those old tailoring texts, but the available scans are all pretty ropey, so it would take a lot of work for somebody to OCR them and clean up the illustrations to a usable point. They circulate in PDF or JPEG form like samizdat amongst the handful of people who are sufficiently interested in such things to hunt down the one or two places where like-minded people can be found.

  55. Oops forgot to ask the question. Training sounds like a great way of escaping the mind forg’d mannacles, but it’s a long road to transcendence. In the meantime do you have any advice for dealing with people who seem to enjoy or are at very least indifferent to the suffering of others? There are usually a range of options between blood spilling and turning the other cheek, but in the moment when the juices are pumping it’s very difficult to think of anything else.

  56. Hi fellow Botanist – For user-friendly introductions to practical herbalism, I suggest Rosemary Gladstar’s books and James Green’s Herbal Medicine Makers’ Handbook.

  57. Hi JMG,

    I’ve often wondered how it is possible for enigmatic texts and, even more so, symbols and archetypes to communicate their meaning through meditation. I wonder if, in addition to its presence on the physical plane, there is a depository of information connected to each word or symbol that also exists on a different plane. Every time someone meditates on it and is able to successfully link to those different planes or states of consciousness, they can then access that information. Come to think of it, I believe Dion Fortune described something along those lines when it comes to the Tree of Life. Since it has been in use for so long, and so many people have meditated on it, it has a large store of information attached to it on another plane. It takes a lot of practice, though, as you mentioned, to be able to actually concentrate during meditation and have one’s state of consciousness really change so this information can become available.

    As far as your secret message goes, decoding it seemed to happen in somewhat that way. I thought, “OK, where is the cipher?” and after some thought; it just seemed to appear in my mind. Granted, you chose a fairly straightforward one, and it may have just been the first thing that came to mind, but I’m sort of wondering if your idea of how you encoded your message wasn’t hanging around on a different plane, so to speak, just waiting for your readers to go and find it. I’m not sure if that’s really what you had in mind though – the methods you alluded to in the Hall book seemed to operate mainly on the physical plane, by way of particular gimmicks that presumably the reader would be made aware of?

    For me, that is one of the most interesting parts of reading – to have ideas arise in my mind that are not explicitly written in the text. Even though the writer is often long dead, the deeper meanings behind the ideas he or she put into the book seem to still be very much present, seemingly on a different plane, and can be accessed by anyone who reads them with concentration. I’m not sure if that works for popcorn reading; more for books with a particular kind of influence and intention behind them, quite relative to the personal power and state of consciousness of the author.

  58. Hello JMG,

    Yes, I’m going to stick with what I’ve been doing and while noting the effects of the readings in The Cosmic Doctrine, keep it in its “subjects for meditation” category and not pull it over into the active ritual category just yet. The careful reading does pull me in more deeply than I expected which is pretty exciting, but doesn’t mean I need to activate it with physical ritual.

    I also find it interesting that ritual is the only category of the three dailies that I am consistently tempted to veer on. I’m not tempted to explore other meditation styles or divination methods.

  59. Yes, sir. Thank you for the reminder on labels. I found where Ms Fortune wrote that if we know it, it is manifest, so if we know it it cannot be unmanifest. Seems that most of the reputable authorities make that distinction about IT or the Tao or the Source. It can only be pointed to or described by analogy, not “known.” I am looking forward to our exploration of the “Cosmic Doctrine ”

    Thank you, Sifu,

    Mac

  60. I started reading the Cosmic Doctrine a few weeks ago. I’ve found it amusing to spend time thinking about swirling motions, it is not like any other book I’ve read. I have to read each paragraph about 5 times before I’m sure I get it and often fall asleep. Ive read that knowledge is most deeply retained when you sleep immediately after, so hopefully that it puts me to sleep is helpful. The thing I don’t really get is when she is saying there are 2 rings moving at right angles, but then also refers to the right angle as the opposite direction. I think that should be a 180 degree angle?

  61. One more question – is the 1976 Aquarian edition of The Cosmic Doctrine the same version as the 1966 Helios edition you recommend?

    Many thanks,
    Bonnie

  62. Obscurantism is a hurdle, certainly, but there’s also such a thing as being too literal for anyone’s good. I can’t remember the author or title, but decades ago I encountered a book that declared the great hidden mystery of the esoteric tradition was–wait for it–the female genitalia. “The two pillars of the Temple are the legs of the woman upon the altar, and the veil of the Temple…” well, you get the gist. Somehow this failed to impress me with its profundity, and if I didn’t follow Dorothy Parker’s advice and throw it with great force, it was only because it was a library book.

  63. The harder encoding tricks enforce substantial toil, to have every text element accurately coded.

    Has essaying reasonable proficiency authoring steganographic sentences ever subtly influenced subjects being explained? If noetic games concealing occult meanings partly rebound, each hint excites, no doubt, enhanced discourse.

  64. Thank you for your teachings, we living students are out here! I found both Fortune and Steiner thanks to your bibliography in Mystery Teachings of the Living Earth! Much Love

  65. As I’m not familiar with that book I do not have an opinion on it! Reading the descriptions there seems like there is a lot that is really worthwhile in it.

    Something that I think is relevant to this discussion is the results of this sort of literature when it is intentionally made “easy”. Julia Graves wrote a book called The Language of Plants which goes through the Doctrine of Signatures from several traditions totally systematically. It contains a lot of very good information, but the predigested presentation honestly made my stomach turn. I read it once, got some highly useful information, and then sold it on the used book market. It seemed somewhat obscene to just give a mystical teaching to the reader as a streamlined and utilitarian system without the readers really needing to discern for themselves. The implications of the Doctrine of Signatures, as Dion Fortune points out in The Mystical Qabalah and Rudolf Steiner pointed out repeatedly, are extraordinarily profound, and to simply say “this stuff is useful and cool and more or less transparent to the human intellect,” I believe, cheapens the experience of the gradual unfolding of the understanding of connectedness on many levels. In this way, it reminds me somewhat of the corporate mindfulness practices that have been yanked from their contexts.

    With a sense of sadness, I am reminded of the parable of how the butterfly that is helped to leave the chrysalis won’t ever be able to fly, and inevitably dies shortly. The struggle for understanding appears to me as a crucial part of the process. Some things must be earned.

  66. There is horrible fiction, and then there is horrible fiction. In one of her murder mysteries, Agatha Christie ended her tale with the arrest, trial and conviction of the murderer on seemingly overwhelming evidence … except, if you had really been paying attention to all the very small fine details of her tale, the person who went to the gallows for the murder–protesting her(?) innocence–could not possibly have committed it. Talk about horrible fiction!

    (PS I no longer remember which of her many, many books this was. It was more than 50 years ago that I read it.)

  67. Now that I have read some posts here, I see that I completely misunderstood what you meant about a secret message.

    Nor have I any idea how to solve it. I tried a few things.

  68. WRT Dunc reprinting old, out of copyright tailoring text books. My husband and I do similar things with out of copyright Victorian and Edwardian material (William Palmer, vintage Sherlock Holmes fanfiction, flower dictionaries, etc). Create Space (Amazon’s print on demand service) is remarkably flexible, allowing you to put art on every page as long as it’s black and white. Thus, you can reproduce the diagrams. Create Space will allow you to do color but only if the entire book is in color and that gets stunningly expensive; that is, you can’t insert the occasional color image. It’s all or nothing.

    Create Space books come in sizes so you can produce a book as large as 8 and 1/2 by 11 inches. My husband, a former copy editor, does all the layout himself. It can be complex depending on how much imagery you need, but it’s not hard to learn, just picky and detail oriented. You don’t have to farm this work out.

    Your first step, after getting a copy of the book, is to find out if the book is out of copyright. Roughly, if the book was published prior to 1923, it’s out of copyright. If the author has been dead for more than 70 years, it’s probably out of copyright. There are some odd points in the law, thanks to Sonny Bono and the Disney corporation so to be sure check with a copyright attorney. Another reason things fall out of copyright is because there is no heir or literary estate to dispute your claim; a gray area to be sure. As with real estate, clear title is everything.

    Create Space is a terrific way to clean up old, public domain material and bring them back into the world on paper. You should do the best job possible: correcting typos, scrubbing images, cleaning up the manuscript in general so it looks great. There are people who optical scan a manuscript and print it, errors, fuzziness, and all.

    It’s work to do better but so worth while.

    I hope this helps! The more old, sewing and tailoring books are brought back, the better. Those skills are almost lost.

    Teresa from Hershey

  69. “I would have liked to have focused, opportunities permitting, on the ecology of the ancient plants of the Pacific Northwest forest floor — ferns, mosses, liverworts, et al. That turned out to be the road not taken, but I still feel wistful about it from time to time.”

    Wow, you´re obscure interests are even stranger than my own (one of mine is reading, ahem, your books!)

    😉

  70. Onething, don’t stress it. I was too tired yesterday evening to see it, but then it just jumped on me stright when I looked at it with clear eyes this morning. Also, read the assigned chapter of the Secret
    Teaching of All Ages and do the reverse elimination. Ask yourself what methods were definitely not used in this text? Then try the rest.

    JMG, this one exercise was funny, even if I must admit that cyphers are the only thing from mathematical realm that I don’t have knack for. Maybe it’s why I am drawn to Bardon’s initiations. It’s all work. Hard, sometimes maddeningly challenging, plodding slow work, but I feel I need it done.

    Also, it might be little over the line, but I do consider yourself your student and your writings are one of best things that influenced my life for the better in last five years. Thank you for all of it.

    Changeling

  71. Ok so I figured out in meditation today that I should be tree balancing my front instead of my back. Changing my perspective to see training as solving a Scooby Doo mystery rather than a boring “gym membership for the mind” got me way more mileage than usual. It’s a bit embarrassing to have it play out in a public forum, but if you think it will help someone else you can leave it up. Any advice on unfreezing in stressful situation is also greatly appreciated.

  72. Hey JMG

    do you have any thoughts on the work of existentialist and occult philosopher colin Wilson? Have you read anything by him? I’ve personally only read a few articles by or about him.

  73. John, thanks as always for the insightful, challenging, thought-provoking, and more importantly, effort-provoking posts. (I passed the test, by the way, fwtw.)

    Recently I’ve been reading a work by my own spiritual teacher, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, which is an introduction to the “occult” Vajrayana Buddhist practices of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. I regularly find that I’m bored reading the book (something I often experience on my first pass through Buddhist books). “Where is the magical stuff about the nature of mind?” I keep asking myself, “Why do these books all repeat the same old things about calm-abiding, awareness, the paramitas, etc. instead of giving me the esoteric goods?”

    And then I realize, hopefully with a chuckle, that the books repeat the same old things because I still barely have a clue about those same old things: the practice and experience of calm-abiding, awareness, etc. in my own life, even though I’ve been studying and practicing this stuff for decades. I laugh out loud, before I put the book down, put the seat of my pants on my zafu, and make yet another attempt to relax and familiarize myself with my mind. And so it goes.

    Keep up the excellent work, oh archdruid bodhisattva! Many sentient beings, including myself, appreciate your wisdom and compassion.

  74. One thing I’d like to add about difficult, work-demanding texts, though I’m sure it’s not new to people here…

    Sometimes there’s a hidden message that can be revealed and put into different words. But sometimes I think the purpose of the difficulty is to remind us that the world isn’t simple, and finding any conclusion would be false.

    Maybe the Book of Job is the prime example. I think it’s wrong to conclude we’ve found THE meaning of this. It’s a challenge, intended to puzzle and provoke.

    Much of Blake is this way, I think. The famous Tyger poem is all questions with no answers. The longer epics intentionally reverse and subvert what we think we’ve got. It’s good to find a message, and then good to find a different one.

    I know much less about occult writings. But I think our current assumption that all good writing is like a science text, with one clear message, and we can judge it by its clarity, is a bad idea.

  75. Hi John Michael,

    Good luck with your notable challenge. I’m impressed. I tried that one too, and all I got in return was radio silence. Time will sort that story, I guess. Sorry, I’m getting smashed with work and have more to say and will try and pop by again tomorrow when things aren’t quite so crazy. I have definitely done something very bad in a past life to have to work so hard in this one.

    PS: Blogger is starting to become a nuisance… You did warn me!

    Cheers

    Chris

  76. I thought I would be the first, but onething beat me to it. I don’t see the message either. I tried several techniques from Hall’s book, all to no avail. Now I kinda feel like that guy in Mallrats who just wants to see the sailboat. 🙁

  77. -please nevermind my question about the book editions – I see now that you already answered it!

    thanks!
    Bonnie

  78. Phil H., hmm! The thought that the traditional reserve of occult authors might also be a way of avoiding messing with the minds of those who haven’t chosen that experience isn’t one that I’d thought about, but it makes sense.

    Aron, delighted to hear it. Discursive meditation really is one of the jewels of the Western esoteric tradition; the more you do it, the richer it gets.

    Dunc, I know it’s a lot of work — I’ve scanned and OCR’d old correspondence courses in occultism — but if the knowledge is going to survive, somebody has to do it…

    Noodle, it really depends on the situation — on what resources you have, what you’re willing to do, and what you can get away with. I generally prefer to cut such people out of my life, even when that requires the disruption of family bonds, relocation, etc., but you may not be willing or able to do that.

    Stefania, have you by any chance read Rupert Sheldrake’s A New Science of Life? He argues — on the basis of considerable experimental evidence — that information is in fact stored in what he calls morphogenetic fields, which are nonmaterial but can affect matter and consciousness. So you may be on to something…

    Bonnie, interesting. Have you been tempted to try other rituals as well?

    Mac, Fortune’s good at that. So was Lao Tsu… 😉

    Radha, excellent! You’ll be getting plenty out of the book. No, it’s a 90 degree angle to start with — there’s a third rotation to enter into the picture, The opposition is figurative rather than literal.

    Bonnie, yes, indeed it is.

    Sister Crow, remember that a great deal of lowbrow occultism is written by, and sold to, young men whose idea of a hot date on a Friday night perforce consists of putting lipstick on their right hands. Under those circumstances, the sort of rhetoric you read is probably inevitable.

    Walt, with every level learned, due observances need expression.

    Nettlez, delighted to hear it.

    Violet, oh dear gods, yes. I ordered that book with quite a bit of excitement, and was profoundly disappointed by it — partly for the reasons you mention, and partly because it was such a dog’s breakfast of unrelated cultural traditions that any hope of grasping a set of underlying principles goes by the boards.

    Robert, hmm! That sounds almost existentialist.

    Onething, understood; it’s one of those odd things that some people see at a glance and others don’t see at all. I’ll post the means of solution Tuesday.

    Teresa, thanks for this.

    Tidlösa, I’ve got Uranus in the first house of my natal chart, which basically guarantees that the road not taken is my preferred route. The other branch of science I find utterly fascinating, though I lack the mathematical chops to even dream about researching it, is the physics of “near space’ — the zone where Earth’s atmosphere shades into outer space and belts of charged particles deflect radio transmissions.

    Changeling, thank you. The thing is, you — and a great many other people who’ve made good use of my books and other teaching resources — don’t go capering around calling yourself an Official Student of JMG; you just do the work and reap the rewards. That’s one of the things that keeps me writing.

    Noodle, a lot depends on why you freeze. if it has to do with the way your nervous system is wired, you may be out of luck; if it has to do with traumatic events in your childhood, journaling about that might be helpful.

    J.L.Mc12, I’d encourage you to read him and make up your own mind! The Occult was my introduction to his work, and it was worth reading.

    Jason, I wonder if the book also has multiple levels, and the boredom you’re feeling is something the author is going out of his way to produce, so that only those willing to put in the work will get to the meaty stuff…

    Eric, and that’s also an excellent point. Most occult texts are written for the purpose of instruction, and do have something specific to pass on — in that sense, they’ve got a fair amount in common with science books — but not all obscure works do that!

    Gkb, great oddities open doors…

    Chris, oh, I think we all must have misbehaved quite a bit! Especially those of us who have had to cope with Blogger…

    Jim, relax. It really is something some people see at a glance and others don’t. I’ll explain the trick on Tuesday.

    Bonnie, it probably bears repeating.

  79. This week’s column actually gave me to think about a question I’d never asked myself before – WHY do I want to go for my 3rd degree in Wicca? Well, it isn’t to become Lady Bigstuff, sour and self-important. I wouldn’t mind having a coven, but not to swank around being the Big Boss, no way. I am acquainted with a couple of the Lady Bigstuffs and do not like them. I also know several, especially up in the mountains, who are highly respected and are genuinely friendly and unassuming.

    The answer proved to be “To finish the job.” Well, reason enough, I think.

    And if I can help my friends with protection from bad bosses, house blessings, clearing ut bad vibes, and the like, that’s witch enough for me.

    Thanks for triggering a most useful discursion

  80. Archdruid,

    What does it say about our culture that a bit of preening is the most people seem to aspire to? Very weird.

    Anyway, I have my book on order and hopefully it will get here before sessions start.

    By the way I’m starting to have some serious success with the visualization practice you suggested. Haven’t moved to the complex stuff yet, but I’m starting to feel the weight and substance of the objects I visualize. This is pretty cool. Would it help if I used classic drawing methods to draw out some of the things I try to visualize?

    Regards,

    Varun

  81. I love your blog and respect your thinking, but personally think people’s brains work in different ways. Obtuse texts are not for everyone, nor is meditation, but that doesn’t mean simpletons can’t do magic. Simple people have been doing magic since the beginning of time.

    One problem with challenging works, I think, is they can ask a person to invest too much of their energy in a direction that might not be fruitful for them. Since *your* brain obviously occupies a large percentage of your body, you might not be able to relate, but those of us with smaller brains sometimes have to use our intellects more selectively. Otherwise, it can feel like another person’s thought patterns are overshadowing our own minds. Not to mention drying up our feelings and imaginations.

    I kind of think information is like food. Maybe you have a cow style stomach that allows you to break down info others would find indigestible? Maybe you think so much that you require meditation to connect with empty space?

  82. Ahh.. at last got it! I even was dreaming of it last night!

    JMG wrote: “what am I ready for, given what generally shows up? ”

    Please… do not forget the hundreds who show up in your electronic living room! In a way we are all your students!

    It is such a delight to read your essays and follow the ongoing comments from a really pleasant crowd of people actually!

  83. I have not quite finished my first read through of the current edition of The Cosmic Doctrine. I don’t get a lot of quiet time at the moment to read, so I’m going a bit too quick. Hopefully I’ll get at least an overview.

    Happily, my Helios/Aquarian edition arrived a couple of days ago. Begone, Crazy Apostrophe Man!

  84. Quote JMG:

    “[…] written by, and sold to, young men whose idea of a hot date on a Friday night perforce consists of putting lipstick on their right hands.”

    And then there is Austin Osman Spare…

  85. John–

    You seemed to indicate that there is a current fad with re to being “an official student of Big Name Occult Person” going on now. Out of curiosity (and if that is indeed the case), why would you think that would be so? I’d expect these disciplines would be *out* of favor, given their fairly direct challenge to fundamental assumptions of modern thinking.

  86. Speaking of Manly P. Hall & The Secret Teachings of All Ages — John what is your take on the authorship of Shakespeare? Hall was the first place where I encountered it. I later found the curious book “Francis the First, unacknowledged king of Great Britain and Ireland” by Arthur Bradford Cornwall. It claims that not only did Francis Bacon write the works attributed to Shakespeare, but that Bacon was also the son of Queen Elizabeth. It was interesting stuff –and the author tried to assert his point by extensive use of the Baconian cyphers. I’m not sure what I believe myself in this regard… just curious what your opinion is.

    Hall’s book “Lecture’s on Ancient Philosophy” was the one that had the most profound impact on me. Yet all the ones I’ve read by him have been memorable, including his biography of the Comte de Saint Germain.

  87. JMG
    You wrote:
    “Phil H., hmm! The thought that the traditional reserve of occult authors might also be a way of avoiding messing with the minds of those who haven’t chosen that experience isn’t one that I’d thought about, but it makes sense.”

    I did not consciously spot it earlier, but just now chasing up a used copy in the UK I came across this as part of an Amazon blurb:
    “Unpublished until 1949, and then only in a privately printed edition, Fortune and her followers considered the material too dangerous for general release.”

    It would be interesting to know more detail of their concerns, point of view…

    best
    Phil H

  88. Patricia, delighted to hear it. With that attitude I think you’ll make an excellent high priestess.

    Varun, one of the real problems with today’s industrial societies, especially but not only here in the US, is the extent to which it reduces people — even in their own eyes — to disposable, interchangeable parts. The hunger for distinction, for some way to stand out in the eyes of others, is a very real one, and since our culture and educational system discourages people from doing that in any way that matters, the kind of feeble craving for status that leads to the effect I’ve outlined is one of the obvious options.

    Julien, doubtless that’s true, but teachers of occultism have to make use of the tools they have on hand. Inevitably that means that some people who might benefit from occult teaching don’t get it — but the alternative, as I’ve noted, involves wasting a vast amount of time on people who won’t benefit from the teaching, and are just looking for status. That way lies burnout. My approach has been to avoid either Hall’s method or Fortune’s, and insert the formal structure of an order’s curriculum — and in the case of the DOGD, a deliberately snotty display of attitude! — between what I have to teach and those who might, or might not, benefit from the teachings. So far it seems to be working.

    Karim, trust me, I don’t forget my online readers at all! One of the good things about this end of my writing is that it’s attracted such a lively online community.

    Matt, “Crazy Apostrophe Man” should be a character in a Sixties-era, drug-soaked graphic novel, published by the same firm that brought out the adventures of Wonder Warthog…

    Sven, I don’t think it’s accidental that Spare is the doyen of so many young, avant-garde male occultists of the kind we’re discussing!

    James, glad to hear it.

    David, nah, it’s not a fad, it’s a small-scale continuing issue. I’m convinced that the same thing is behind the way that so much of politics in the US has degenerated into people claiming an emotional identity as followers of this or that politician — think “I’m With Her,” or the guy we had here a while back who kept insisting that I had to join him in singing hymns of praise to St. Bernie. The difference is simply that there are tens of millions of political fanboys and fangirls, while the number of occult fanboys (there seem to be very, very few fangirls in the scene) is many orders of magnitude smaller…

  89. Justin, the theory I find most plausible is that the works attributed to William Shakespeare weren’t written by one person. There’s simply too much variation, too wide a vocabulary — every writer has favorite word choices, but “Shakespeare” has divergences in word choice that look very much like multiple authorship. Having a bunch of people sit down together and create literary works was very common in those days, and it’s quite possible that the results went to the actor Will Shakespeare for revision, to make them fit the realities of the stage. He’d have made a useful front man for another reason; the public theater of that time had about the same social cachet that WWF wrestling has today — it was lowbrow entertainment, as contrasted to such highbrow events as court masques — and if some of Elizabeth’s aristocrats went slumming, “penning comedies for the common players,” having their names attached to the plays would have been a major social disadvantage, especially later on when Puritanism was on the upswing.

    John Michell wrote a fine survey of the controversies, titled Who Wrote Shakespeare?, which to my mind makes a very solid case for multiple authorship including the actor from Stratford-on-Avon. Still, I don’t think we’ll ever know.

    Phil, it would indeed!

  90. @John Michael Greer:
    Small text samples that allow us to identify both editions of The Cosmic Doctrine would be handy.

    Even online sellers should reply to requests on details, if we can tell them what they should look for.

    And another question: it seems that some modern reprints of Fortune’s book have explanatory drawings, is that right?

  91. @JMG:

    No argument there. The brothers of the 8th degree have a strong and lively presence in the scene…

  92. Hello JMG,

    During the course of starting and sticking with the 3 Rays and pentagrams ritual combo a few other “dailies” have presented themselves as alternatives that I’ve pretty much had to beat away with a stick.

    Early on the sense that I should return to practices I’d been doing for stretches of time sporadically but long-term exerted the most pull. The classic LBRP and then the Star Ruby/Sapphire combo. These were my first regular rituals. Then it was a couple of dailies that I wrote for studio, adapted from pentagram and hexagram rituals but with different names and imagery. After that, a similar pentagram ritual that I used during a period of active devotion to the Muses. Part of me really wants to retreat into the familiar and recap my history-thus-far of the last couple of decades or so, it seems.

    Then came a couple of months of wondering if I should really be doing the SoP instead, and following the course outlined in the DMH.

    I’ve done divinations about it and am consistently advised to continue as I am, so I’ll do that, as much as my fancy wants to take off in different directions.

    Oddly enough, the urge to shift the daily ritual presents itself as springing from a desire to lock into a curriculum and follow it, though the results of following such impulses to change leads to exactly the opposite.

    As much as I am tempted to try other ritual, I seem to be equally resistant to the notion of learning another divination system (tarot, and to a lesser extent skrying and Lenormand are my mainstays). My inner self throws the equivalent of a small tantrum when I even think about learning geomancy or Ogham!

    I’m experiencing no desire to do any other sort of meditation. Though its been the most difficult practice to include consistently, the only dodges to practice I’ve encountered so far are the boring old “I just don’t wanna do it right now” kind.

    Bottom line for me is that as a result of the consistent practice and with the guidance and insights I read here and elsewhere, I am experiencing and doing things I have never done or experienced before. The changes have been positive. It’s helping me tie up and release the seemingly interminable bits of old business I need to clean up before I move on.

    And for that you again have my many thanks!
    Bonnie

  93. JMG re: morphogenetic fields

    Well, I read something by Sheldrake a long time ago, but I’m not sure if it was that particular book. I do remember some interesting ideas, but the details are a bit fuzzy; something along the lines of how if enough people thought in a certain way, it would build up the morphogenetic field connected to those thoughts to such an extent that it would begin to have an influence on other people that didn’t initially think in that way. Possibly along the lines of how memes spread and paradigms shift. My comment was inspired more by the idea of the egregor, if anything. Although, with Sheldrake’s work in mind, the concept of an egregor seems very similar to the idea of morphic resonance – possibly the same phenomenon described with different words.

    I was also thinking about the idea of how someone with occult knowledge would have the ability to encode information into a text, or even a work of art (say, a painting by a master such as Leonardo da Vinci), and how that information would remain attached to the work and be available to anyone who had the key to unlock it. The key of course would be the ability to meditate on the work and access a state of consciousness or plane equivalent to that possessed by the work’s creator, where the information would be stored. I’m not really sure how the information would initially be encoded by the occultist; I think the ability would just develop naturally as a result of building up enough personal power through the work of initiation. I figure anyone who was able to do this would eventually wind up doing it deliberately to try to assist other people who are searching for occult knowledge, kind of like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Someone with eyes to see and ears to hear etc. would be aware that some books and symbols have that particular kind of occult influence stored up within them, and would go looking for such sources to build their own power further.

    Come to think of it, you could almost consider that as a particular kind of canon – a selection of texts (and other works of art, I suppose) that are known to occultists as having that type of influence – although that might be stretching your meaning of canon a bit too far.

  94. John -Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the Shakespeare controversy. A multiple authorship scenario does sound plausible, for the reasons you gave. I’ll have to check out John Michell’s books. I’ve enjoyed the other things I’ve read by him. I guess now isn’t the time to ask you about Ley Lines — I may have to drop in on Magic Monday for that.

  95. @ JMG

    re emotional identity

    Ah. When you explain it that way, it makes a lot of sense. I wonder to what extent the need for such external identification (as opposed to the cultivation of one’s own identity) is an attribute of our modern industrial (dehumanizing?) society and how much is common to all ages of human civilization (thinking of the historical brawls in ancient Rome among the fans of the various chariot-racing teams, for example). Probably both to some degree, I’d suspect.

  96. Ah, the travails of fame! Your problem reminds me of that of a certain famous singer; every time she had a date with a guy, he turned out to be an aspiring songwriter who wanted to lay his material on her. Most annoying!

    I see I’m going to have to give some serious thought to the degree of my involvement with magic. If I am absolutely honest with myself, I was hoping it would help me to achieve certain material goals which it is now apparent are not going to happen. I’ve put in a good deal of work, but have thus far stopped short of discursive meditation. It seems this is a spiritual path that I’m contemplating. How far do I want to take it? Do I *really* want to go through with the Abramelin operation? I have to mull this for a while.

    In the meantime I’ll put in an ILL request for the Cosmic Doctrine. I read a bit of it a few years ago; it seemed like pretty dense material, but I liked the fact that many of the concepts were ones I could visualize.

    Once we’ve covered it, I’ll be most put out if you don’t send me my very own Lord Moldiwarp cape and wand. I feel I am entitled to my chance to be the Moldy One.

  97. I don’t think this went through when I sent it yesterday. (I got a message that the server could not be found, followed by a frowning face icon.) So here’s another attempt:

    A puzzle for all to ponder,
    Cleverly causing wonder,
    “Ready or not?” for the charms
    Occultism gives the disarmed.
    Self-secret texts all around here,
    Too complex, no meaning appears.
    Into the night we will read,
    Chasing the hidden, the seed.

    With apologies in addition to tremendous appreciation for Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) from whom I learned this style many, many years ago. The name of this type of verse is embedded in the poem. I don’t know if it is also used to categorize prose, but it could provide a hint for those still searching for the hidden code in this week’s posting.

    Thanks to John Michael and all the participants in the weekly discussions. Quite an education I’ve received over the years while mostly lurking here.

    Yanocoches

  98. @Sister Crow: I got…a lot of that in my youth, whether from nonfiction occult books or the Dan Brown/MZB approach whereby every fictional character’s mind is blown by the “Cup-Shaped Thing=Sacred Feminine” realization, and the author clearly expects the reader to be likewise impressed, because aforesaid author assumes that their readers have never even glanced at an encyclopedia entry about Freud.

    (See also the song If It’s Longer Than It’s Wide, sung to If You’re Happy and You Know It.)

    In general: I’ve been reading Paths of Wisdom and doing the initial discursive meditation (or, well, was–the last two weeks have been ridiculous in about three ways, alas) and I’ve found that the combination is indeed really helpful. At the same time, I’ve been re-reading Lord of the Rings*, which is *highly* unfashionable prose, and yet I find that I always get something new out of it–whereas works from the nineties that try for that same level of detail and epicness are deadly boring.

    Seems like certain types of prose styles work best for certain subjects, maybe, and/or trying to imitate a particular style without the necessary insight of context and experience shows through. Doesn’t explain why I love both Austen and Tolkien but have a hard time with Hawthorne and Melville, but such is life.

    *This has led me to some interesting questions about JRRT and occult stuff, also: either there are a few notable correspondences or I’m being a total English Major about it.

  99. @Bonnie Henderson-Winnie

    I’ve long thought that (almost?) every human body has a very strong, unspoken desire to be left alone. It resents the conscious mind that inhabits it, and it will use almost any means that doesn’t take too much effort to distract its person from gaining any control over the course of its life and thoughts. Hence the constant internal distractions that people experience in situations like yours.

    One way to think about these distractions is to imagine, first of all, one of those very old-fashioned arcade video games, where you are sitting on a seat fixed in front of a video screen. On the screen you see a car driving down a road–your car. In your hands you have a steering wheel and maybe some other controls. As the game goes on, the car picks up more and more speed, the road gets more and more tricky to drive, and the demands the game places on your nervous system become greater and greater. When you can no longer meet those demands, your car will crash and burn on screen — which also makes the game somewhat addictive for many people.

    Now imagine, further, that this arcade game you are playing is actually mounted on the bed of a creaky old wooden farm wagon out in the country, which is being pulled down a meandering dirt road by a team of skittish horses. On the box sits a driver, unwashed and surly. He guides the horses as he sees fit. Also, he is not only very hard of hearing, but also has hardly any command of any spoken language.

    It is late in the afternoon. The horses are thinking about their barn and their feed-boxes. The driver, too, is thinking about his dinner and bed. The road they are on will take them straight to these things, if they ignore all the side roads and all the intriguing features of the landscape they are traveling through.

    You can keep on playing the arcade game indefinitely, even after the horses have been unhitched and stalled, the driver has gone in to his dinner and bed, and the wagon stands unmoving in the farmyard as the sun slowly sinks into the west. Or, well before that time, you can look up from the screen, try as hard as you can to communicate a little with the uncommunicative and unattractive driver, and thereby exert some measure of control over the course and destination of the farm wagon — and you have to manage all this without spooking the skittish horses too badly, since the dirt road runs near the edge of a high cliff (and there are other hazards, too) — for spooked horses will run away mindlessly and might well take the entire rig over the cliff or into some other danger.

    It’s a delicate and tricky thing to pull off. Something in your flesh and blood always senses the genuine dangers in that task you propose to face, and fears to let you attempt it. So your embodied self will seek to distract you from every attempt to gain any real control over the course and destination of the farm wagon you happen to be riding. One of its methods is to make the game on the screen even more fun and complex than it was before.

    That’s one way to look at what you’re experiencing. I hope it might help.

  100. I think you’ve caused a shortage of The Cosmic Doctrine on Alibris. I’ve just bought two copies only to later have them refunded because they were already sold. You must have some friends who wanted to sell their copies 😉

  101. Much respect, Mr. Greer.

    Long-time lurker, first time poster. You’ve led this French-Canadian technical translator to strange places, like Catton, Spengler and Toynbee, and I thank you deeply for that. Very interested in occult practice, just not enough discipline.

    At first, your hidden message was lost on me, but after Packshaud’s comment on his computing background, I somehow knew exactly where to look. Never thought a hacking background would help in reading occult texts…

  102. The point made above about writing on the occult being at times elusive for the sake of protecting those who are not ready for the topic makes a great deal of sense to me. For one, I have noticed psychological observations, themselves bearing some kinship to occult teachings, can be very powerful, and correspondingly dangerous; often I notice a pattern in a person that would be absolutely inappropriate to bring up to them point blank with out a very carefully selected setting. I don’t want to share any particular examples for sufficiently obvious reasons, but most of the cases that come to mind are situations where a very raw nerve is projecting a very dark shadow. There would be little benefit, and much impropriety, to state such an observation to a dear one in so many words, excluding very particular and hard to identify moments.

    From my experiences trying to learn ceremonial magic, ranging from the humbling to the humiliating, I have learned things about myself that absolutely could not have been told to me by any set of words or propositions. I had to walk in to magical practice proud as a peacock, and flounder, and flounder, and flounder, and eventually come to some very unwelcome observations of my own. Unwelcome though those observations are, namely the fickleness of my will as presently manifest, they are very helpful, and are offering some small aid to me in my life in general to take in the wisdom offered by humility.

    I took to ceremonial practice largely as an act of imitation, confident that I would take to it like a duck to water. So far it has been very difficult, and I am unsure if the investment of effort is well justified when there are more Earthly services I might focus myself upon. I intend to finish the CoGD ovate grade as a matter of stubbornness; but taking on the bardic grade seems to be a distant aspiration at most. I have scanned it, and find it fascinating from the position of a philosopher, but actually taking on that work load is a calling that hasn’t rung me yet.

    The fact of the matter is that I am at present far more called to focus on more basic pragmatic lessons of the world. Balancing the sustainability of my life, securing my place in my community, and keeping my plants alive. I understand the usefulness of occult training to those goals, but am finding a more lay life might be needful of the focus that has been borrowed by occult practice.

  103. Archdruid,

    Frank Herbert kinda explored that in the Dune series didn’t he? How once humans embraced machines, we eventually start to think like machines? Now your statement is less surprising than depressing. You know, any ideology that manages to give people back their humanity is going to become very powerful, very fast.

    Regards,

    Varun

  104. @isabelcooper:

    Reading MZB in your post, obviously Marion Zimmer Bradley, I think you should know the survivalist community calls the “collapse antagonists” this way. But for them this is an acronym for “Mutant Zombie Bikers,” a shorthand for the bad guys that appear in post-apocalyptic fiction works.

    I was looking for an opportunity to post something that appeared in my meditations. Your question, and the interesting synchronicity of myself telling about this acronym to my brother a couple of hours ago led me to write this wall of text.

    About authors and occult stuff, I think this is much more widespread than we imagine. One author where I noticed this is the late Isaac Asimov.

    Warning, here be spoilers. Go read the Asimov books if you did not so and come back in a couple of years when you are done. Now, with the disclaimer out of the way…

    Once upon a time, he wrote a story (later expanded into a novel) called Nightfall, about aliens–of course–who lived in a multiple star system where almost never there was night, except for a short period when an eclipse made Night Fall. Their historians observed that their old civilizations always collapsed during the eclipse, due to their horror of darkness, and then they setting everything on fire to have light, in addition to being driven mad by some unknown factor. In the story, the eclipse is coming soon and they are preparing to try to avoid the catastrophe. Fans of Lovecraft will find a full course meal here.

    Then maybe thinking his message on cyclical collapse was not clear enough, Asimov proceeded to write a huge series of stories called Foundation, about the collapse and rebirth of the Galactic Empire (clearly modeled on the older Roman one). In this “science fiction” opus by a respectable writer in the field, three solutions for this dark age were devised; the scientific “First Foundation;” the “Second Foundation” and their psychic powers (granted, parapsychology was just losing its popularity, and the media was late to catch up with this; in any case, psychic phenomena were more palatable to scientists back then); and finally Gaia, a planet where all living beings and matter were connected as a collective consciousness, and that would be a prototype for Galaxia, this concept expanded to the whole Milky Way.

    There was also a huge plan being carried by the foundations through a plot device called “psicohistory,” that in the story itself was shown as vulnerable to failure brought by unpredictable external factors (see: Mule).

    Then, a person who used intuition–which the author went somewhat out of his way to state clearly as not being a psychic power–was called to decide which course the Empire would follow. And so, Golan Trevize selected Gaia, and with this Galaxia, the collective consciousness concept expanded to the whole Milky Way.

    And this was when my older self recoiled in horror at the destruction of individuality–I read this as me–in favor of the “hivemind.” After finishing Foundation and Earth, it took me eons to touch anything Asimov again.

    Of course Gaia was modeled on Lovelock-Margulis hypothesis, but one would have a hard time trying to sell me the idea that there isn’t a strong mystic background in all this stuff.

    This text was too long to be composed in my cellphone without a draft. I considered using my computer, and after thinking about it a little, I decided to go back to the freedom of paper and pen, where I can just strike through what I don’t like or my errors, and mark and edit it in a way I always thought to be artificial and clumsy in a computer, a poor facsimile of the old fashioned style. I never liked to compose texts in a computer, even using them since the lower 1990s, and I never adapted to the at best necessary evil of cellphone typing. The cellphone is used to save the power a computer needs, and my temporary on-demand job requires a phone for me to be called by an instant messaging app. But enough cant-y excuses for today.

    Out of pure rage at some point in 2017 I bought a blank notebook without lines to reclaim my freedom, again in bold to draft my texts and notes and drawings as I seem fit.

  105. While I understand the reasons behind it, it seems like this sort of obfuscation and cryptography, while good fun for those of us who enjoy it, makes occult writings very vulnerable as they move through time, e.g. changing literary styles, things lost in translation, even changing cultural values, make it increasingly difficult for later generations to decipher the full content of texts. Of course I’m assuming that authors want their text to read thousands of years later, but perhaps they don’t, or perhaps they never considered it either way.

  106. Hi John Michael,

    Yes, blogger has only just proven to me that it can be painful. Ah, well there are remedies for such pains. Are you happy with the change to the new blog format? Blocking unpleasant URL’s sounds pretty good to me.

    Incidentally, I wasn’t able to congratulate you upon your honest self assessment in this weeks essay. Few people are able to take that hard a look at themselves.

    I’ll tell you a not so funny story about that – which I may have mentioned to you before. Not sure. Anyway, long ago, I encountered a person who was beyond difficult, and they would play all sorts of nasty social games, and they were also unfortunately my boss. It was a hard time for me, as whilst I had encountered really difficult people before I could usually keep them at arms length, but you know, I really liked keeping a roof over my head and food on the table and times were tough during that recession.

    After a year of being exposed to them, I walked away from the job. I’d had it with them as they were eating away at me from the insides.

    I’m not one for getting down in the mouth about such things – despite taking plenty of mental body blows over my life. The silver lining was that I set myself the task of peering into peoples motivations. As you say, they’re sometimes pretty grubby. I asked for help, and got help. Unfortunately, one must be careful with what one asks for, just in case they get it.

    The problem with seeing into other peoples motivations is that you get to see the world with their perspective and sometimes that is very ugly.

    A few years ago my wife was talking to me about a news article about a guy that chucked one of his three kids off a bridge to their death. Unasked for, I said that I bet he chucked the daughter off so as to hurt the wife and not the sons. And sure enough that was what he had done, although of course nobody discusses motivations. My wife looked at me rather thoughtfully after that comment – which is not good, and you know, I don’t want to know such peoples stories because they’re ugly. But there you go, be careful what you wish for.

    Anyway, it is quiet up here in the forest and distance is usually the best preventative. Mind you, there are benefits too and I smell trouble from a goodly distance away!

    You and I have spoken before about free will and for some reason my path is very narrow, and that is the path I have to walk – with good grace too. From what I can see other people would do well to learn some good grace. I’m impressed with the path that you walk.

    Cheers

    Chris

  107. @Varun,

    “How once humans embraced machines, we eventually start to think like machines?”

    To think like machines, and to leave thinking to machines. As Marshall McLuhan so pithily stated it: Every automation is an amputation.

  108. Regarding Sheldrake, morphogenetic fields (discussed above) and test-taking. I, too, have been quite good at taking multiple choice tests. If Sheldrake’s theory on morphogenetic fields is correct, then taking the same test that many others have already taken should get easier; for example, the multi-state Bar Exam (probably the most difficult multiple choice exam some of us will ever take). Conventional wisdom says if you find a question difficult, skip it and come back to it. Of course this gives your subconscious more time to chew on it, but it also gives the morphogenetic field for that particular exam to get a bit stronger. It’s good test-taking advice, regardless.

  109. Also, despite reading JMG’s post four times and seeing various hints that people have posted here, and being good at multiple choice exams, I have not found the secret message.

  110. Hi Robert Mathiesen,

    Thanks for the descriptive imagery- It is indeed a bit like that sometimes!

    Bonnie

  111. “Every automation is an amputation.”

    Sure, and writing was among the first, as ancient philisophers (Greek, Indo-Aryan, likely others) knew. I’ll take that happily, and human-level-or-better AIs, if they ever exist, may be our children and replacements.

  112. For Phutatorius:

    If you don’t get it.
    First read the words again.

    You will soon see an answer
    Only keep at it
    Until it becomes clear

    Do not give up
    Or bust your mouse
    Nor curse the monitor screen
    Try try again

    Getting it may be tough at first
    Easy once you see it and not so
    Tough as you thought.

    If this doesn’t help
    Try reading it again. Persistence will pay.

  113. 1. My previous comment got a little garbled toward the end, as I was running out of time and had to go with whatever wording came to mind. (There are noticeable differences in the quality of the results of such things, between spending an hour, and for instance, a week.) What I was trying to suggest was that the constraints imposed on the author by including some types of concealed message might have beneficial effects on the non-hidden portions of the work. Like the constraints of meter, rhyme, and alliteration when composing poetry, following a message-concealing schema can impel the author to consider word choices and phrasings that might not otherwise have come to mind. And considering different words and phrasings is only a hair’s breadth (or a hare’s breath) away from considering different metaphors, models, or understandings of the subject matter itself.

    2. My main introduction to coded messages as a literary and pedagogic device was from the book Gödel, Escher, Bach. It’s full of such constructions, especially in it’s “dialogues,” though most of them are either explicitly announced or strongly hinted at in the plaintext.

    3. Hidden meanings in occult literature contrast nicely with the pervasive phenomenon of hidden meaninglessness. That would be words (and stories, images, actions, etc.) that give the appearance of meaning but on close examination prove to have none, like one of those trick knots that unravels and disappears if you pull on the rope ends. That’s more the norm than the exception in political speech, but it’s also common enough in social discourse, where it’s often impolite to say nothing but quite acceptable to mean nothing. (I wish I’d understood that better earlier in life, instead of getting it backwards all the time.) And of course it’s a mainstay of marketing as well, exemplified by the classic, “Up to 30% off or more!”

  114. Ray- You said: The fact of the matter is that I am at present far more called to focus on more basic pragmatic lessons of the world. Balancing the sustainability of my life, securing my place in my community, and keeping my plants alive. I understand the usefulness of occult training to those goals, but am finding a more lay life might be needful of the focus that has been borrowed by occult practice.

    But D.T. Suzuki said: (1926)

    According to Seigen Ishin (Ch’ing-yüan Wei-hsin):

    “Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains and waters are not waters; but after this when he really attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters.”

    (D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series, 1926, London; New York: Published for the Buddhist Society, London by Rider, p. 24.)

    So, it sounds to me as though you may have passed through the stage of instruction. Is this focus not the magic for which you were looking?

  115. It might be interesting to examine just how complicated I was making the puzzle. I had taken especial interest in the paragraphs that mention grubby dreams, grubby desires, etc. because GRUB is a computer term and because it seemed unusual to use this word about six times whereas I’ve never known JMG to use it ever before. I thought I had checked for palindromes, diagonals, etc. without finding anything, but I remained hung up on the “grubby” paragraphs. Last night it came to me that I should check for the use of periods and hyphens in case Morse Code was in use, JMG being a HAM. Fortunately, I didn’t get around to that exercise in futility, but all-in-all, a classic case of over-complicating something simple.

  116. The advice to spend time on a thing is a good one. However, I have been finding time to be a limited resource.

    I have been learning to play banjo. When I started out, I was advised by someone who played guitar that regular practice was a requirement to develop the fingertip calluses necessary to fret the strings. I decided that this was doubly necessary for me, as I did not (and do not) consider myself to have any large natural talent for music. I was going to substitute persistence for talent.

    I expected that I would eventually hit some sort of wall where I reached my limit and I could no longer learn new concepts or music. It has been five years and that hasn’t happened yet. So, I persist. I continue to learn new things, and listening to music is now a new experience. I’m starting to hear and label chord changes in a way I didn’t previously.

    However, I only have so much time that isn’t already dedicated to paid employment or sleep!

    How do I determine the relative usefulness of cooking vs music vs exercise vs craft vs meditation? (Television has already fallen almost entirely off the list.)

  117. It’s interesting that people wanting to be your students aren’t willing to make an effort, as extremely hard training regimes hold quite an appeal in popular culture. TV Tropes calls it Training from Hell http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TrainingFromHell. You could crank up the demands much higher. I finished The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic today and where Levi says the Ancient Egyptian mystery schools seemed to be trying to kill the aspirant made me think maybe you should start suspending potential students over precipices. That might solve the problem. 😉

  118. I remember “Nightfall” by Asimov. I found the premise implausible, since surely anyone in an enclosed space without natural light experiences darkness, so I’m suprised that it would seem to have inevitably caused universal insanity and panic among the population of the planet. If you can suspend disbelief, it is an interesting concept.

    I was also indirectly reminded of another science fiction story I read once, which I can’t remember the title or author, but it was about the solar system being enclosed by a forcefield bubble or something similar by advanced aliens, to protect the galaxy from potential human agression.

    Greg Egan’s Quarantine has a similar plot device, but seem to remember that in the story I read, instead of just being surrounded by a force field, in this other story (not sure if it was a novel or a short story) the forcefield bubble was contracting such that the Earth was doomed, but not for about 200 years. I can’t remember the whole plot, but I think this had a number of consequences for human society in the intervening period, initially people had fewer children knowing the world was doomed, and the nations of the world had a plan for managed decline to run the population down towards zero at the destruction of the Earth, but as time passed, various forms of denialism and fatalism increased, and people with these views had more children and the Earth’s population started to rebound.

    Does anyone know the title and author of this?

  119. Passed the test! Absurdly simple…after staring at the article a couple hours to figure it out. Then I went and reread the Manly Hall chapter where he talked about bilateral ciphers, and was looking for two different fonts or something when I noticed it…

  120. For the science fiction story about an isolated planet: perhaps PKDs The Man Who Japed. Or Ian Banks Against a Dark Background

  121. I can attest to the use of esoteric/occult writing in philosophy. It took me a lot of hard work to see that the point of philosophical writing is not about philosophy. Much of the difficulty came from the enormous piles of philosophical writing I waded through by writers who did not know this. A helpful read (tip of hat to Avery!) is the first and title essay from Leo Strauss’ Persecution and the Art of Writing. Available here:

    http://www2.trincoll.edu/~kiener/RELG307_Pages%2022_94_PersArtWrit.pdf

    In general, esoteric writing is more common among ancient philosophers.

    As for what philosophy is really about, that is a bit ironic. You see, people who read philosophy (or study magic, presumably), really like the exoteric teaching and aren’t really interested in the esoteric teaching no matter how plainly stated or evinced.

    -redoak

  122. I’m hopeful that the 2000 issue of The Cosmic Doctrine will suffice for joining in on your next book club endeavor. I could not afford the $$$ for the 1966 edition. I look forward to your leadership in explication of this dense text. This is my second or third experience in this interesting topic and practice. I hope to continue to learn how to put my fanny into a chair and meditate and do the work needed. Hope springs eternal! Maybe this time it will be a deeper experience.

  123. redoak – The author of the essay on esoteric vs. exoteric writing draws a distinction between those who are wise enough to catch the hidden meaning, and those dumb enough to work as censors. I propose a third case: those who work as censors and are wise enough to catch the hidden meaning, but plausibly deny that they’ve caught it, on the off chance that someone else brings it to their attention. There’s no guarantee that a censor will be sufficiently diligent, regardless of intelligence, to bother reporting half-hidden meanings. (As a model, consider the audio technician in “The Lives of Others”; he’s working for the surveillance state, but ignoring the significance of what he hears.)

  124. JMG,
    Thanks for the correction about magic! Although it leaves me more confused than before I think. Maybe you could straighten me out before we call it a week?

    You said once, iirc, that we end up practicing magic for at least the last 3 lives of our material incarnation. I’ve also seen here that we should always have routine protections like the SoP, the pentagram rituals, and so forth at our command for their inevitable need. Am I misunderstanding what magic is? Are these protection rituals not in fact magic? Can one proceed to a non-material existence without ever practicing magic?

    Thanks again, and hope you, and all, are well.
    Tripp

  125. @tripp

    I know several people who are supposedly on their last lifetime. None of them practice formal magic in any sense I’d recognize. It’s quite possible that they do what I think of as “informal” magic – that is, they can recognize non-material beings and talk to them, recognize bad situations by the “vibe” and get out, and similar.

  126. Packshaud, as I’ve noted repeatedly, either edition will do; I recommend the revised one, but it’s not a big deal. The current Weiser edition has drawings, yes.

    Sven, true enough!

    Bonnie, interesting. I tend to a bit of a sucker for new divinatory systems, while having a stable ritual to do every day is a comfort zone for me. More evidence that the personal factor dominates in this work!

    Stefania, excellent! The curriculum of a serious occult school is exactly the kind of canon you’ve described: a set of texts and practices which, when pursued in a given order over time, produce fairly reliable effects.

    Justin, probably a good idea.

    David, we’ll actually be talking about some of the roots of that tomorrow.

    Kevin, nah, you have to provide your own Lord Moldywarp cape. It’s one of the basic requirements of evilly evil evilness. 😉

    Yanocoches, nicely done.

    August, it does indeed; I’ll be renewing it shortly.

    Prizm, hmm! I’ve just emailed a publisher I know about a reprint…

    Alethe, glad to hear it. As for self-discipline, that’s one of the reasons I encourage people to pursue occult training only if they can’t stay away. Love beats discipline three falls out of three.

    Ray, and that’s also appropriate, of course.

    Varun, I’m far from sure of that. It seems quite possible to me that people pursued the machine because they wanted to get out from under the burdens of being fully human.

    Sng, most occult authors are realistic enough to know that their books are probably going out of print forever fifteen minutes after they’re dead. A very few works, one or two out of thousands or tens of thousands, make their way into the permanent collection; the rest are headed for the dustbin. Thus most of us don’t worry about whether people will figure things out a thousand years from now; our concern is to test, and then train, people here and now.

    Chris, yeah, one of the problems with learning to understand human beings is that a lot of what you have to understand is pretty dismal. We are a very, very mixed bag!

    Phutatorius, that may well be part of it.

    Walt, hmm! That really hadn’t occurred to me, but I think you may well be right.

    Sylvia, I get that. I don’t spend anything like as much time playing my dulcimer as I’d like, due to the annoying fact that there are only 24 hours in a day. I don’t know of any generally applicable scheme for sorting out what to do with one’s time; the best I can do it fumble my way through, trying different amounts of this and that.

    Yorkshire, hmm. I’ll think about that.

    MawKernewek, I liked “Nightfall,” because it undercut Asimov’s entire rationalist-atheist project. In the story, the despised Cultists — his stand-in for religious people — were the only ones who understood that something very, very important was about to happen, and the scientists who dismissed the Cultists’ traditional lore because it was written in mythic language thereby missed the single most important fact about their world…

    Tolkienguy, funny. Thank you.

    Redoak, I’m gnawing on Sartre’s Being and Nothingness right now, so no argument there — he has a genius, doubtless picked up from Heidegger and Husserl, for stating simple if profound insights in fantastically obscure ways!

    Larry, yes, that’ll do. I’ll be citing texts in both editions.

    Tripp, magic is only one of many paths to Gwynfydd. Most people get there without practicing magic, though I suspect not many get there without some kind of spiritual practice, however informal and spontaneous. If you’re going to practice magic, you need to know one of those rituals; if magic isn’t your path, then the rules are different for you. Does that clarify things at all?

  127. Lathechuck, happy to discuss off line as this forum is about to be eclipsed by today’s post. My email is peter dot conklin at granite dot edu

  128. Hi Archdruid, Sorry off topic but, I wonder if you’ve heard that Mircrosoft have built a new server station that is submerged in the sea off the coast of the Orkney Islands (Scotland). This supposedly saves energy on the job of cooling the thing, and instead dumps all of that temperature pollution into the already temperature stressed ocean environment. When I heard about it on the news it seemed like the sort of thing that’s somewhat relevant to what you write about.

  129. JMG, and others, thank you for the herbalism recommendations, I’ll add those books to my list.

Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then some people would say the same thing about the traditions this blog is meant to discuss . Thank you for reading Ecosophia! -- JMG

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