Book Club Post

The Doctrine of High Magic: Chapter 15

With this post we continue a monthly chapter-by-chapter discussion of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by Eliphas Lévi, the book that launched the modern magical revival.  Here and in the months ahead we’re plunging into the white-hot fires of creation where modern magic was born. If you’re just joining us now, I recommend reading the earlier posts in this sequence first; you can find them here.  Either way, grab your tarot cards and hang on tight.

If you can read French, I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Lévi’s book in the original and follow along with that; it’s readily available for sale in Francophone countries, and can also be downloaded for free from Archive.org. If not, the English translation by me and Mark Mikituk is recommended; A.E. Waite’s translation, unhelpfully retitled Transcendental Magic, is second-rate at best—riddled with errors and burdened with Waite’s seething intellectual jealousy of Lévi—though you can use it after a fashion if it’s what you can get. Also recommended is a tarot deck using the French pattern:  the Knapp-Hall deck (unfortunately out of print at the moment), the Wirth deck (available in several versions), or any of the Marseilles decks are suitable.

Reading:

“Chapter 15: Black Magic” (Greer & Mikituk, pp. 139-141).

Commentary:

This is the shortest chapter in Lévi’s book.  It’s also one of the most important. In Lévi’s time as in ours, a great many people outside the occult community, and some people at least notionally inside it, couldn’t and can’t think of the subject of magic without cluttering  it up with lurid images of devil worship, unspeakable depravities, and the Black Mass. There are reasons for that rigor mortis of the imagination, of course, and it may be helpful to summarize these before we proceed to the single, precisely aimed point at the center of Lévi’s chapter.

Behind this whole confusion, of course, is the long and not especially dignified history of Christian propaganda on the subject of magic. I wish I could avoid this discussion, not least because I have plenty of Christian readers, but there it is: Christianity has a great many virtues, but by and large, its treatment of other spiritual traditions displays very few of them. For every Christian—and of course they do exist—who applies the logic of Jesus and does unto other faiths as they would have others do unto theirs, an embarrassingly large number lie shamelessly when it comes to the religions and magical practices of other people. It’s as though they think that the commandment about not bearing false witness against thy neighbor doesn’t apply if the neighbor in question belongs to a different faith or practices magic.

It’s really quite embarrassing. It’s also counterproductive, since these days anybody who wants to find out what alternative religions believe and what mages practice can do so, and the contrast between the facts thus revealed and the saliva-flecked rantings of denunciatory preachers has played a substantial role in encouraging people to leave the Christian mainstream. I know this from personal experience; twelve years heading a Druid organization brought me into contact with quite a large number of former Christians, and they talked to me tolerably often about why they left their churches. The dishonesty of clergypeople who insist that anyone who doesn’t belong to their church is a willing minion of Satan came up fairly often.

Not all of that insistence is driven by the same sort of logic that leads soap advertisements to say nasty things about Brand X. There’s also the astigmatism of thought that can result from any passionately held ideology.  That’s the second reason behind the attitude I’m critiquing:  true believers all too often lose the ability to grasp that other people really, truly do disagree with them.  That’s where you get the mindset portrayed and defended so ably by Joris-Karl Huysmans in his brilliant fin de siècle novel La-Bàs (Down There). It’s a typically French paradox that the greatest of all novels about Satanism was written by a devout Catholic, but it also bears on the point I want to discuss here.  Huysmans believed just as passionately in the existence and power of Satan as he did in the existence and power of the Christian God; he could imagine no other options, and his characters therefore dismiss all non-Satanist occultism as mere irrelevant dabbling. Real occultism, to Huysmans, has to be devil worship, because Christ and Satan are the only two categories that can fit in Huysman’s head.

J.-K. Huysmans. A great writer, but not without his biases.

La-Bàs is a great novel and I recommend it to interested readers, but as a portrayal of the French occult scene of its time it’s stunningly clueless. Looking back with well over a century of hindsight, it’s clear that the Parisian Satanists on which Huysmans lavished his prose were the mere irrelevant dabblers.  The people Huysmans dismissed out of hand—Lévi, Papus, Stanislaus de Guaita, Joséphin Péladan, and many more—were the ones who were doing genuinely creative work, who revived the magic of the ancient world and the Renaissance, and launched modern occultism on its way.

In Eliphas Lévi’s time, of course, information about magic was harder to come by than it is today. He was publishing in a place and at a time when most of the reading public was either Catholic, and believed that magic was devil worship, or atheist, and believed that magic was pointless irrational superstition. Many of the chapters we’ve already read focus on the second half of that equation, and challenge the atheist dismissal of magic. This chapter focuses on the Christian condemnation of magic, and it does so in a typically unexpected way.

Does the devil exist?  That’s the first question Lévi raises. What is the devil?  That’s the second. Our text notes that science, at least in Lévi’s time, didn’t claim to have an answer to the first question, while philosophy and religion were on opposite sides of that controversy. In Lévi’s time, philosophy hadn’t yet debased itself into the sort of intellectual onanism it has become in our day; European philosophy was a lively and controversial field that received a great deal of attention from the educated public. The existence of the devil was not an issue that any serious philosopher discussed, however. Satan’s nature and power was taken seriously in religious schools whose curriculum remained what it had been two centuries before, but outside that setting?  The skeptical, confident, iconoclastic philosophy of the day dismissed it out of hand.

Not so fast, said Lévi. Though his view concerning religious matters was far from orthodox, he took the traditions of the Christian church seriously, and he also studied the accounts of sorcery and demonolatry from the past and took those seriously as well. The rationalists of his time, like their descendants today, liked to insist that supernatural evil was as nonexistent as supernatural good. Lévi believed in both, but he made sense of them in terms of occult philosophy rather than the terms of Christian theology.

The devil, then, exists. What is the devil? Our text sums up Lévi’s view in a single carefully phrased sentence:  “The devil, in black magic, is the great magical agent used for purposes of evil by a perverse will.”

That statement is less transparent then it might seem. It doesn’t claim to define the devil in any general sense.  It speaks only of the manifestations of diabolic energy encountered in the practice of black magic.  Those manifestations, Lévi argues, are entirely real. They cannot be dismissed as empty legend or superstition.  Furthermore, they are just as destructive and self-destructive as the traditional lore claims

The source of these manifestations, our text goes on to argue, is the great magical agent. As we have seen before, this is the astral light, the life force emanated by the Sun, which is present everywhere and in all things, and can be shaped by will and imagination. It takes its character for good or ill from the will and the imagination that directs it.  To borrow a Biblical image much used in the Cabalistic sources Lévi studied, it is both Nachash, the serpent of the garden of Eden, and Nehushtan, the serpent of brass that Moses raised on a pole in the wilderness to cure the Israelites from the bite of serpents.   It is the medium of angelic and demonic forces, as well as everything between those two extremes.

The astral light is not a moral force. Like the forces of physics, it can heal and harm, create and destroy, bless and curse with equal facility.  Its effects depend on the character of the one who uses it. In our text, Lévi is mostly interested in discussing the influence of human beings on the astral light, but his definition of the devil very carefully avoids restricting his discussion of the wills that influence the astral light to the human—or for that matter to the physically incarnate. If a being capable of will directs the astral light in a way that moves in harmony with the cosmic pattern, the result is a blessing to those affected by it. It is just as possible, however, for a being capable of will to direct the astral light in conflict with the cosmic pattern, and the results in that case are evil.

There are established procedures for pursuing this latter path. Human society has never had a shortage of people too clueless to recognize that what goes around, comes around, and the law of supply and demand guarantees that the demand for manuals of corrupt and destructive magic has called forth a more than adequate supply. Huysmans’ novel La-Bàs, which I mentioned above, talks at quite some length about that end of magical practice, and does a very good job of setting out its essential absurdity and the self-defeating and self-destructive effects it has on those who practice it. With that aspect of Huysman’s analysis, Lévi would have agreed. He argues in our current chapter that evil magic is a bad idea, irrespective of whether it calls on the specific evil being that Christians think it does.

This same logic guides Lévi’s quarrel with Jules Eudes de Mirville, which shows up in various corners of our text. Eudes de Mirville was a popular author who wrote several books on the Spiritualist movement that was attracting public attention all through the Western world in Lévi’s day. A devout and wholly orthodox Catholic, Eudes de Mirville presented Spiritualism as devil worship pure and simple, comparing it with medieval and Renaissance traditions of witchcraft and sorcery.  Lévi agreed readily that there was a great deal of common ground between Spiritualism and these older traditions, and indeed that the force behind the remarkable phenomena exhibited by some Spiritualist mediums is the same force that was summoned and directed by the ritual workings of medieval grimoires. The one point on which they differ is the identity of that force.

This is also the point, or rather one of the points, of the metaphor with which Lévi ends the chapter. There’s a widespread tradition in Christian theology, known as nominalism, which puts the omnipotence of the divine will above all other considerations, insisting that a thing is good purely because God wills it, and not because it is good in itself. This is the arbitrariness that Lévi rejects here. The division of the world he draws elsewhere between what we can know, the subject of science, and what we cannot know, the subject of faith, implies that the cosmos is an ordered whole whether or not we understand its order.

The vagaries of the astral light under the control of disordered wills are part of the cosmos, but so is the harmonious unfolding of the astral light under the direction of wise and good wills, and the latter has the final say. The implications of that insight will be taken up in Lévi’s discussion in several chapters to come.

Notes for Study and Practice:

It’s quite possible to get a great deal out of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by the simple expedient of reading each chapter several times and thinking at length about the ideas and imagery that Lévi presents. For those who want to push things a little further, however, meditation is a classic tool for doing so.

The method of meditation I am teaching as we read Lévi is one that is implicit in his text, and was developed in various ways by later occultists following in his footsteps.  It is a simple and very safe method, suitable for complete beginners but not without benefits for more experienced practitioners.  It will take you five minutes a day.  Its requirements are a comfortable chair, your copy of Lévi’s book, and a tarot deck of one of the varieties discussed earlier.

For your work on this chapter, take Trump XV, “Le Diable.”  Your first task is to study it and get familiar with the imagery. Sit down, get out the card, and study it.  Spend five minutes doing this on the first day you devote to this practice.

Your second task is to associate a letter with it. Lévi gives you two options, the Hebrew letter ס (Samech) or the Latin letter P. As noted earlier, you should choose one alphabet and stick to it. The sound values aren’t of any importance here, nor is there a “right” choice. You’re assigning labels to a mental filing cabinet.  Most people can make the necessary association quite promptly, but spend a session exploring it. Sit down, get out the card, and study it.  Relate it to the letter in any way that comes to mind.

The third and fourth sessions are devoted to the titles Lévi gives for the card: Samael and Auxiliator. Sit down, get out the card, and study it. How does Samael, “venom of God,” one of the classic Hebrew names of the devil, relate to the imagery on the card and the letter you’ve chosen?  That’s one session.  How about Auxiliator, “helper”?  (Note how this contrasts with one of the titles of the previous card, Auxilium, “help.”)  The fifth session goes into whichever word you’ve chosen for this card. Approach these in the same way as the concepts you explored in earlier meditations.

Don’t worry about getting the wrong answer.  There are no wrong answers in meditation.  Your goal is to learn how to work with certain capacities of will and imagination most people never develop.  Stray thoughts, strange fancies, and whimsical notions do this as well as anything.

Sessions six through the end of the month are done exactly the same way, except that you take the concepts from the chapter. Sit down, get out the card, and study it. Then open the book to Chapter 15 of the Doctrine and find something in it that interests you.  Spend five minutes figuring out how it relates to the imagery on the card, the letter, and the three titles. Do the same thing with a different passage the next day, and the day after, and so on. If you run out of material for meditation in this chapter, you can certainly go back to the previous chapters and review what they have to say.

Don’t worry about where this is going. Unless you’ve already done this kind of practice, the goal won’t make any kind of sense to you. Just do the practice.  You’ll find, if you stick with it, that over time the card you’re working on takes on a curious quality I can only call conceptual three-dimensionality:  a depth is present that was not there before, a depth of meaning and ideation.  It can be very subtle or very loud, or anything in between. Don’t sense it?  Don’t worry.  Sit down, get out the card, and study it. Do the practice and see where it takes you.

We’ll be going on to “Chapter 16:  Enchantments,” on September 14, 2022. See you then!

92 Comments

  1. “The vagaries of the astral light under the control of disordered wills are part of the cosmos, but so is the harmonious unfolding of the astral light under the direction of wise and good wills, and the latter has the final say.

    Is that conclusion a matter of faith or an empirical fact? Meditation topic noted!

  2. Meditation question. Do I have to close my eyes or can I keep on focusing on the card? I find it virtually impossible to see any pictures in my mind. I guess I just can’t visualise. When I close my eyes all that happens is a sort of descriptive monologue. Many thanks.

  3. Dear JMG,

    If I may, how does one know if one’s will moves with the cosmos or against it? That seems to me hardly self-evident, at least on the face of it. For instance, many people seem to subscribe this or that ideology and pursue it as if the ideology were the movement of the cosmos, but then as Solzhenitsyn points out, ideologies that people treat as self-evidently in line with the cosmos often become tools for mass murder:

    “Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations….”

    Still, the question remains: how does one know the balance of the movement of one’s will? The terrible certainty of ideologues seems to me to cast a harsh light on the faith that a passionate commitment to any system of ideas ipso facto means that one has a wise and good will, since many of history’s ideologues had what appear to be perverse wills in the sense that they bring to bear what I think I can fairly describe as “perverse” and “evil.”

    That said, the ideologues appeared to have no clue of what they did, which makes me wonder how _can_ any of us know whether or not we move our will in ways that bring to bear blessings? The ideologues I have known have no hesitation in answering that question, but perhaps that lack of hesitation is itself evidence of a perverse will? I’m very curious your thoughts on this question of self-knowledge as it relates to the cosmic orientation of an individual’s will.

  4. “If a being capable of will directs the astral light in a way that moves in harmony with the cosmic pattern, the result is a blessing to those affected by it. It is just as possible, however, for a being capable of will to direct the astral light in conflict with the cosmic pattern, and the results in that case are evil.”

    This reminds me of The Cosmic Doctrine’s metaphor of ‘perverse’ forces and forms as the definition of evil, ‘perverse’ here meaning ‘pulled out of alignment’. This was a very helpful concept for me, as it implies that ultimately the cure for evil isn’t to destroy it or banish it away to some remote place, but to realign it with the cosmic pattern through conscious will.

    We all have crooked or tangled bits inside. By combing out those tangles through patient, persistent, attentive work, and by studying the cosmic pattern until we’ve internalized it in thought, will, and deed, we redeem our small corner of the universe and add to the goodness thereof.

  5. Goldenhawk, it’s an empirical fact. Unbalanced forces set up positive feedback loops that result in the destruction of the system; balanced forces set up negative feedback loops that preserve the system. The universe still exists after 13 billion years or so; ergo, it’s dominated by balanced forces.

    Miow, either way is fine. I meditate with open eyes.

    Violet, what you’re asking about is the long slow process of awakening into wisdom. The simple answer is that we can only know that gradually, through experience. The slightly less simple answer is that Oliver Cromwell’s famous outburst — “Gentlemen, by the bowels of Christ, conceive that you may be mistaken!” — is a useful touchstone. Oh, and divination helps, of course.

    Dylan, yes, exactly. That’s one way in which our individual spiritual practices further the healing of the world.

  6. @violet #3 re: the dangers of ideological justification

    Not JMG, of course, but if I might share one point of view that has helped me here. My own introduction to Solzhenitsyn was Jordan Peterson, and for understanding our own and others behaviors, he recommended a tool from the psychoanalysts (Freud, Adler, Jung, and associates/students). This tool is to look at the outcome of a behavior and ask yourself what it would mean if that was actually the outcome sought. Obviously this won’t always entirely explain why something happened, but as one avenue for investigation, it can provide some good insights. For example, if the inquisition is torturing people, maybe the inquisitors were, on some level, trying to find some way to torture folks, and doctrinal incorrectness seemed important enough to justify it.

    Where I try to apply this for self-examination is to look at behaviors that I might try to justify with the ends justifying the means and try to take seriously that maybe the ends are just an excuse for the means, especially whenever there might be a disconnect between how good I feel about doing something and how how I would feel about it absent the “good reason”.

    Take this reply for example: I tell myself that my reason for doing it is to share something interesting and hopefully helpful, and I hope that’s true. On the other hand, what are the means? I’m interjecting a response to a question that wasn’t directed at me. In a less public forum, I would feel awkward about doing that, and maybe I should here too. So, am I really trying to be helpful, or looking for an excuse to put forward my opinion in a public venue?

    In this case, I reasoned that the potential harm to others (putting up with me seeking some attention, if that’s what I’m doing) isn’t so bad, and that the potential help (sharing a way of looking at a very difficult question that might give some insight) was worth it.

    Sorry for going all meta there, and my apologies if I’ve misjudged,
    Jeff

  7. It seems to me that the obsession with grabbing up resources and wealth at the (deliberately) hidden expense of others is Satanic/evil because it is a flagrant denial of natural law, specifically the “every action causes an equal and opposite reaction” law captured and pinned down courtesy of Sir Isaac Newton.

    Wealth has to come from somewhere & money doesn’t grow on trees, so to take food out of other people’s mouths and pretend there are zero consequences inevitably earns the karma of having your own hard-earned wealth stolen away by the undeserving and greedy, if not in this lifetime, then in the future ones.

    No wonder Jesus was hard on the rich people of his time! I presume Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn are not among the Ecosophia readership LOL. Just an educated guess here: I think those two are not worshipping Jesus at all despite their protests to the contrary. I believe they’ll find out soon enough the kinds of forces they were in league with when it comes time to meet them in an intimate way without the burden of a material body.

  8. @ Dylan

    Re the tangled bits inside

    I had a similar moment of insight earlier this year. I was crocheting a rug and the yarn had gotten impossibly tangled, a real mess. I wanted to “get on with” the rug project, but took a deep breath, dove in, and spent a good amount of time working out the tangles. I wrote in my meditation journal that night: “Sometimes you have to spend time working out the knots in order to get your work done.” That helped reframe the “wasted” time spent untangling myself into something actually productive in terms of my path.

  9. John–

    What differentiates the “good” balanced forces you describe above from the “bad” (presumable balanced) Contending Forces of the primary qliphoth Taumiel?

  10. levi’s take on the devil as essentially a misguided *process* I love. Something that any of us can do, sometimes, and not at other times. Returning to Solzhenitsyn like @Violet #3, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.”

    @JMG thanks for reminding me that 1) the universe still exists ergo 2) forces of balance rule. That long game perspective is settling. Becoming diligent about every day having space for a ritual of protection, a divination and a meditation. Appreciate this online family to the nth degree. Thanks for hosting.

  11. Kimberly, good. That’s quite correct — “I get all the benefits and you carry all the costs” is an imbalanced and disordered attitude, and the fact that it’s become so common in our society is one of the reasons we’re running face first into history’s brick wall.

    David BTL, the Thaumiel aren’t balanced. That’s exactly it. They are incapable of balance, so they send whatever they contact spinning off into crazed imbalance. They need a third point in the middle to balance them.

    Random, yes, that’s what it is — the inverse Tetragrammaton. Daemon est Deus inversus — “the demon is the inverse of God.”

    AliceEm, you’re most welcome!

  12. Hmm…I suspect I might get a similar answer as did Violet, but this is a bit more specific… I am drawn to the sublime mysteries of Christianity, and suspect I’ve been a priest in a past life rather more than once, but… any suggestions as to how to avoid the murkier undercurrents of a religion? I feel the egregor of organized religion is more than tainted, and I wouldn’t want to associate, or be associated with, a lot of people who go under the sobriquet of ‘Christian’. I also wouldn’t want to do anything to energize an egregor that is frankly past its pull date. I seem to recall you’re saying the only way to deal with a tainted egregor is to stop doing its rituals and using its symbols. Hopefully I’m not misrepresenting what you said. Suggestions, anyone? Thanks as always for your time.

  13. I remember reading “La Bas” about 40 years ago and it went completely over my head. About all I remember about it is that I read it and that I read it on the recommendation of a well-read gent who hung out at a bookstore in Palo Alto; and who I later found out was a drug dealer. Later I tried reading “A Rebours” and gave up before I got very far. I wasn’t a naive reader….I’d read the full length “Moby-Dick” multiple times, but “La Bas” didn’t resonate for me at all. I wonder what I’d make of it if I tried to read it today.

  14. My grandmother was famous for reminding all of us of the power of our choices. It was always a good reminder, and even after her passing something I’m able to recall quite well. A good thing to in mind no doubt, as Levi here did an excellent job extolling the power of will, regardless of ones incarnation. On a human level, the card fantastically shows how following evil will chains you down, often making one stuck. It’s easy to compare with drug addiction, but I’m also thinking of our current society and this addiction to and faith in progress, despite plenty of examples recently of how that hubris is working out. We all can fall, but especially when feeling high and mighty. I appreciated the response to Violet, and was reminded that many of the virtues found in various spiritual practices are balancing points between two other contending forces. That must be a lonely road following a balanced path, although I am sure that too can be balanced.

    These Doctrine of High Magic posts are always very thought provoking. Thanks for guiding us on this journey.

  15. Dear JMG, thank you for the response! My most recent journaling and reflection has really forced me to confront how far I still have to go in awakening into wisdom, how little I know, and how tremulous and groggy my conscious awareness is, even at its most lucid. What you write tracks on to my experience, and it has been for me a very, very slow process.

    Dear Jeff, that seems like a helpful way of looking at it.

    Dear Alice, I love that quote!

  16. “In Lévi’s time, philosophy hadn’t yet debased itself into the sort of intellectual onanism it has become in our day…”

    I’m curious to know which wing(s) of contemporary philosophy you have in mind when you write this.The broad traditions of analytic and/or continental philosophy? Consciousness Studies à la Dennett, Chalmers, and Nagel? Distributive justice à la Rawls, Nozick, and Feinberg? Or are you simply nostalgic for the era of giants like Kant?

  17. Kmb, it’s not the religion as a whole that matters in terms of the condition of the egregor, it’s the specific church or tradition you’re considering working with. You can avoid a toxic egregor by avoiding the groups that have tainted spheres (look at their behavior to tell whether this is the case) and not copying its habits too closely. That’s what’s driving the Home Church movement these days — people getting together in living rooms to study the Bible and pray — and it’s also the force behind the rise of the independent sacramental movement in Christianity, which uses its own missals and breviaries so as to avoid the problems that affect certain specific Christian churches.

    Phutatorius, hmm! Well, your mileage may vary, of course.

    Prizm, a fine little meditation. Thank you.

    Violet, it’s just as slow for me. One step at a time!

    Bei, the thing that’s reduced philosophy to intellectual onanism is its professionalization as a branch of the academic industry. Both the continental and the analytic trends in contemporary philosophy could have useful things to say, and indeed both derive from movements that once did have useful things to say — but in philosophy as in other branches of knowledge, once it was reduced to the private preserve of professional academics, it turned into an endless point-scoring exercise in which competing with other philosophers and excluding outsiders were the main concerns. The era of giants like Kant was an era of giants because anybody could get a hearing in philosophical circles — many of the greatest figures of the era came from outside the universities, and that helped keep the current state of sterile academicism at bay.

  18. Satanism is a mockery of Christianity — maybe that’s where the whole fixation with witches kissing the devil’s butthole comes from, either that or it was the sexually repressed airing their fondest fantasies under the cover of “ooh she’s so bad for doing that”. Only a silly person would do business by kissing someone else’s anus; how utterly absurd, even if you are doing it solely in your imagination.

    It follows that demons and humans who comply readily with demonic forces would hate being mocked, because suddenly the tables are turned and they are the subject of ridicule… plus they are always walking into rakes they left on the ground. The savage sword of mockery can cut both ways!

  19. First just a couple of things – in your edition the chapter’s not called ‘Black Magic’ but ‘Sabbath of the Sorcerers’. I didn’t count the pages but it also felt like one of the longer chapters.

    There’s a recent British comedy that had the line “Some people go with the flow. Others scream abuse at the flow until it starts crying.” 🙂

    Is balance sometimes overrated? To illustrate, there was a boxer who was so unsteady on his feet, every time he threw a punch he nearly knocked himself over. His coaches didn’t use any stability exercises because he was also incredibly fast and they didn’t want to risk messing that up.

    Also does anyone have a good source for tarot card images since that page on Ask the Cards doesn’t work anymore?

  20. Correct me if I’m wrong, and maybe I missed it, but I’m wondering why you haven’t included a discussion of how the 12 Major Arcana of the Tarot are related to the 12 signs of the Zodiac, and how that might or might not influence the reading of a card. For instance, the Devil is associated with Scorpio. How might this reflect the reading of the card?

  21. Hello, everyone.

    The thing that has impressed me most in this chapter is what Lévi thinks makes a ritual of black magic work. The practicioner is committing horrendous practices, and they have to be truly shocking, as a way to reinforce his own commitment to an evil will.
    For example, someone who loves books, would burn a precious old manuscript, knowing the atrocity of this, while repeating to himself that he would some day (put your evil purpose here) of his enemy. Someone who loves children, would sacrifice a baby. Someone who values beauty would scar a pretty man or woman face.
    How can this practice not ruin your own personality? Just thinking about it gives chills.
    It is comparable to forcing a wrath attack on ourselves, or getting drunk, for finding the courage for doing things we are usually afraid of doing. Yes, you will find the courage, but in a completely uncontrolled way. So maybe the outcome isn’t what you expected either.

    Violet question is resonating now with me. I would love to know the answer too. I’m working now on pattern recognition, so I am biased to think that following the good path is following the patterns that naturally emerge from the universe, within and without (Thank you, Lords of Form). For knowing what these patterns are, we have to recognize them, and this takes several steps:
    – Being attentive. Here’s where journaling helps, forcing us to revisit what we have just witnessed (around and inside of us).
    – Several repetitions. Recognizing the pattern instinctively happens after we have found the same pattern over and over.
    – Seeking challenge. There’s a trivial pattern, day-night, that we all can recognize. If we stop here, then we know only a drop of water in a vast ocean. We need to know much more wish we sail safely.
    – Ok, I accept JMG suggestion of using divination too, so we have a second opinion.

  22. It’s interesting that religions which don’t have an Absolute Evil as Christianism, indeed they have demons in their mythologies. I mean for example Buddhism and Shintoism, if I’m not wrong. I mean, they believe in a (relativist) evil.
    ————————————————————————————————————
    On the worst side of Christianity: my parents and grandparents were told by catholic priests that Protestant people were “sons of Satan”. I suppose that catholic statues are for the more extreme protestants, “Satan worship”…

  23. John–

    Re Taumiel and balance

    So, for example, Taumiel may have the telluric and solar currents locked in opposition, but is evil (unbalanced) b/c it lacks the lunar current to balance them?

  24. @ Bei, JMG

    Re academia and philosophy

    There’s always a tension between the priesthood and the prophets.

  25. Hopkins wrote “The World is charged with the grandeur of God”, beginning a famous poem…I would say that the World is charged with God’s love…But that love energy can be perverted by our free will in all the ways chosen by our evil ruling class…That’s the Devil to me, which is the perversion of our gifts from God and use of them for evil and anti-human purposes….

  26. JMG, a minor correction: the title of the novel by Huysman is “Là-Bas”. And the discussion about black magic is quite appropriate because we have to deal with quite a bit of this kind of evil in the current cultural, political and medicinal mess.

  27. Kimberly, you’re quite correct. Thomas More phrased it best: “The devil, that proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked.”

    Yorkshire, er, no — you’re in the wrong half of the book. Check the page numbers. As for balance, don’t confuse balance with stagnation!

    Joshua, because we’re working with Eliphas Lévi’s text, and he doesn’t discuss that.

    Abraham, exactly. That’s one of the reasons why evil magic is so self-defeating.

    Chuaquin, every religious tradition teaches the reality of evil spirits. I suggest that this is because evil spirits exist, and a tradition that ignores that fact gets blindsided until it stops being so clueless.

    David, without the lunar current there is no balance, just lurchings back and forth — now the solar current in charge, now the telluric. That’s true of every unresolved binary. As for the priesthood and the prophets, yes, and it also becomes an unbalanced binary and lurches back and forth unless you’ve got a third element to balance it — an educated and interested lay public is one that works tolerably well.

    Pyrrhus, that makes sense.

    Booklover, you’re right, of course. I read French but I don’t write or speak it, and so the accents are something I routinely mess up.

  28. In response to the question of balanced forces, this quote from the Tao Te Ching comes to mind:

    Not-Dao soon ends.

  29. ” I suppose that catholic statues are for the more extreme protestants, “Satan worship”…”

    Idol worship. A route to instant damnation. I’ve heard that more than once. The statues may also qualify as “graven images”.

  30. JMG suggested we consider Auxiliator (helper) (Trump XV) with Auxilium (help) (Trump XIV).

    Samech (according to Chabad.org) means “to support”. Samech (letter 15) supports Nun (letter 14), one of Nun’s definitions being “one who has fallen”. Samech, the one who supports, can be seen as a helper. Nun (according to Chabad.org) represents humility. So perhaps Auxilium doesn’t mean “help” as in “giving help”, but rather (the humility) to request assistance (“Help!”).

  31. The Knapp-Hall card has all sorts of fun symbolism that I think relate to Theosophy. I have only done some superficial reading on Theosophy (so my interpretation might be way off), but this is what I see so far:

    YHVH is inverted on the blue shield. Blue for water/feminine/Sophia, who tried to create on her own and ended up being separated from the Divine Light and attracted to reflected light (therefore YHVH on the shield is reflected).

    The creature on the card could represent the Demiurge, who created the material world (represented by the cube). His horns have six (not seven) rays… he is separated from the Divine Light (the Sun). The downward pointing triangle on his forehead represents the third trinity of Spheres (Netzach/Hod/Yesod) (so he is the Vau?) or perhaps one of the triangles of the six-pointed star (so the Microprosopus?). He holds two false lights, a phallic candle and a yonic lamp.

    The card reminds me of The Chariot, but instead of being on a cube that moves (The Chariot), Le Diable is on a cube that doesn’t move. Because the cube doesn’t move, it is unbalanced (because everything is supposed to vibrate), perhaps a warning against dogma, or perhaps a reminder that you have to be willing to move and change in order to rise above the material.

    JMG, would you be willing to talk a little about the lore surrounding Lucifer? I don’t know if it was intended, but in the story of Lucifer (from the little bit of Theosophy that I read), he comes across as a rather sympathetic character. I do not know that much Christian lore, but that Lucifer rebelled against God (Jehovah?) and lost. But the Vau of the Greek pantheon (Zeus) rebelled against his father and won. (So is rebelling against your Father evil? Or only when you lose?) And the Morning Star was at one time referred to as Lucifer/Light Bringer, which doesn’t seem to fit with the idea of Lucifer being evil.

  32. John–

    Re unresolved binaries lurching back and forth

    This is why we in the US need a viable third political party! Levi explains it all 🙂

  33. Further kind of meditations on the topic of balance.. this morning I read over a stanza in the Havamal that my translation states “when we speak most fairly, then we think most falsely, that entraps the wise mind.”

    That related to a couple of things that have been on my mind recently. One, I’ve felt some kind of support around me recently, perhaps a higher being. It’s given me a level of confidence, which while good, always needs to be kept in check. So I appreciate this weeks post as a timely reminder, likely very worthwhile.

    Two, it related to how many people in power get caught up in their power, whether that be priests and other types of clergy, to managers and CEOs of companies. A lot of clergy easily fall into that trap that because they are clergy and have been trained, that they alone understand the Word of God and speak His truths. Likewise, managers and CEOs, having put in time and having been educated often fall into similar traps of thinking they alone know what is best.

    Concerning the latter group of people, I had an experience today which got me thinking. Our regional manager treated us to some BBQ, which was kind, and the food appreciated. However, that was both at our, the workers expense, at a time when the unions are three years and going on trying to negotiate contracts, and, the point that really struck me, that the district manager wasn’t able to provide this with their own money but instead from the money of some higher up. In times long past, a feast could be put on and provided for many by what seemed a relatively simple family while today all that wealth is in the hands of a few.

    The evils of these imbalances from both my personally experienced example, and the second relation I pointed at are being noticed by many.. the forces of the universe are helping to realign the situation in a variety of ways to become more balanced again. When I say a variety of ways, it truly is astounding how things are flowing, from the drastic weather events, to the economic and political alignments all aligning at the right time to help generate a massive upheaval of the way things are.

  34. Hey jmg

    Could you elaborate on the useful things that the “continental and analytic trends in contemporary philosophy” could say?

  35. @Darkest Yorkshire #20, I love this woman’s site for many different images of each tarot card. She often has Levi drawings too. Very focused on symbolism related to kundalini but regardless has a whole progression through time of each image. https://www.anne-marie.eu/en/tag/tarot-en/ Anne Marie tarot-en

  36. @RandomActsOfKarma, #32

    > So is rebelling against your Father evil? Or only when you lose?

    I also would like to hear our host’s take on the Prince of Lies, but to answer this very poignant question…

    1. Myths are stories that never happened, but that always are. 2. To know many stories is wisdom, to know no stories ignorance; but to know one story is doom. Please cut me some slack, I am quoting from memory.

    The point is, there are fathers (or other authority figures) who are wise, who know best, and to rebel against them is at least a mistake. On the other hand, we have genuinely tyrannical fathers that need to be opposed as a moral imperative. What will you do if you know only one myth? But a well learned man of the West will have known both stories, so he will be slow to raise his hand against his father (or his lord, or his king), may he not turn himself into Lucifer; but when it becomes clear that it is Kronos and not Yahwe his is contending with, he will rise and embody the courage of Zeus.

  37. “Do the evocations of goetia and demonomania give results? Yes, most certainly, incontestable results which are more terrible than those recounted in legends!”

    Somehow this paragraph got stuck in my head and I kept thinking about it. What are these results Levi is talking about? And then it hit me that, just as it got mentioned in this discussion several times, black magic is not necessarily about doing formal evocations… We’ve seen an overload of black magic practiced on a grand scale in the last few years and now… Well, this year in Europe, other than the grave that ruling classes are busy digging for themselves, with the droughts and other extreme weather events, it seems that Nature itself is playing hard towards making it one hell of a Winter for everyone there!

    Libra ingress for US looks pretty grim too but I have a feeling that Europe is going to be more of a blowback galore than US in the next year or so.

  38. Jake, Lao Tsu always says it best. (Pity he was born before memes.)

    Karma, thanks for both of these. As for the lore around Lucifer, it depends very much on which end of the occult tradition you study. None of the traditions I work with get into the “oh, he’s not so bad” schtick. The Rosicrucian tradition I work in sees him as the exemplar of one of the two kinds of evil in the cosmos, though they fill a necessary place in the order of things.

    David BTL, I ain’t arguing!

    Prizm, thanks for this. Yes, exactly; a lot of what counts for business as usual these days can be fairly described as black magic, and the inevitable blowback is building.

    J.L.Mc12, nope. That’s a long way off topic. If I ever do a blog post on the state of modern philosophy, though, I’ll discuss that.

    Ganesh, good. Keep in mind that Lévi lived midway between two grand orgies of European self-destruction, the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War; none of the current events would have surprised him for a moment. (Nor would it have startled anybody else in the occult scene he launched. The Sâr Péladan, for example, predicted that the Chinese would someday conquer France; I’m far from sure he was wrong…)

  39. @JMG

    Yeah, I guess it has happened many times before in history. I also guess that the mindset of progress is not quite out of my system – some of me still thinks that we should have learned something from the past calamities. It’s also a bit different experiencing events like this happening in slow motion around you compared to reading accounts from the past.

    What seriously creeps me out is just how many people are so comprehensively out of touch with reality that they don’t believe the things unfolding right in front of them… It does seem that gods are brewing something up and it’s going to be a kind of medicine that redefines the meaning of “bitter”.

    I don’t want to drag this discussion any further into any of the political mess that is happening right now. I am simply amazed at how fitting this chapter is to our current situation.

  40. Another great commentary JMG! Much food for meditation, for sure!
    @Kimberly Steele #7
    re: Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn — The Church of the Sub Genius describes “Many false Jesii arising” –To me, this is an amazingly useful concept! In my younger days, I was often blindsided by folks who claimed to represent Christ, but had nothing to do with him…There are lots of Jesus-impersonators out there.
    @Kimberly S #19
    Re: ‘witches kissing the goat’s butt-hole’ — Stanislas Gaita mentions this in his book “The Serpent of Genesis” (La Serpent de la Genese), so its definitely been in European folklore for a while.

    @Alice Em #11
    Stanislas Gaita is in agreement with Solzhenitsyn that there is evil in all of us, and cautions about the foolishness of thinking that evil spiritual beings, or even good spiritual beings do not exist. From page 51 of “La Serpent de la Genese”:

    “In the vulgar sense – familiar to all those which ‘Divine Science’ does not number among its adepts– The Serpent of Genesis symbolizes the Devil, the Spirit of Evil personified in Satan.

    –‘Satan? The Devil? The Evil One? Come now, it’s laughable! Has anyone seen him, this spectre made of smoke? Where does he exist, other than in the troubled imaginations of the mentally ill, or in the obscure kaleidoscope of feeble and frightened souls? Has he ever taken a form accessible to the senses of other people than those who profess to know? — No.
    ‘No more than God, his tyrannical antagonist. No more than God, his merciless tormentor, does Satan manifest his presence in the Universe…. The Devil Sir! Can you point out to me where he lives?’

    To the materialist who talks like this, nothing more is needed than this simple reply: — ‘He lives in you.'”

    Karl Jung likewise advises that all of us have a Shadow, a side that we deny and try to keep hidden. Maturity comes, per Jung, when we acknowledge the Shadow as a part of us. Commenting on this, Jordan Peterson says that a mature man is one who is aware of the power of his dark side and that he could do evil things–but has chosen not to.

  41. RandomActsOfKarma #32, maybe the cube does move and the imps just have to pull really hard. 🙂

  42. What do you think of the theory of the wetiko mind virus from books like Columbus and Other Cannibals?

  43. @CR Patino,

    Thank you very much for your comment. I like your idea of knowing many stories is wisdom, etc. I recognize that I don’t know many stories yet and definitely haven’t figured out how the ones I do know relate to one another. I appreciate the insight you shared, an interpretation that would lead to wisdom. Thank you!

  44. Hi John Michael,

    Hmm. It seems arrogant for anyone to suggest that they would even know what the will of God was, let alone claiming that this here thing over there is good because it was so willed. That line of thinking confuses me greatly, and I’d be curious as to your thoughts on the subject? I posit the alternative theory that our brains – at this stage – aren’t good enough to perceive such communications.

    Disordered wills is such a great way of describing people so inclined. It’s very suggestive and I hadn’t considered the matter of free will from that perspective. Hmm. Intriguing. You do so rattle and shake our brains! 🙂

    And is it my imagination or does Le Diable have a third eye? And why would such a thing carry two candles to light the way (as a bit of an amusing side note, I was going to add the words ‘to progress’, but then thought better of doing that)? And do people really give over their free will that easily?

    Cheers

    Chris

  45. Raised on the Internet, what are you supposed to do if you can’t disagree with a thing?

    I guess I’m stumped. It must mean I should ignore it.

    “even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”

    This is why you cannot end up in hell unless you actively and purposefully reject that last bridgehead, and not until the final judgment. That is, every possible chance, chance beyond chance to regain your humanity. But if you arduously choose to lose your humanity and become non-human, God as a gentleman will in the last grant your request. What should he have done in that case? Make you?

    “My grandmother was famous for reminding all of us of the power of our choices.”

    Satan’s Lore is in Enoch or Milton. It’s not terribly sympathetic to be Watchers, then screw up the formerly happy people on their formerly happy planet and create monsters and war. Zeus is also not a good character and may be some parallel of the fallen ones. Just to Greeks, “he is what he is” and exists. Or did at one point, anyway, perhaps before the flood.

  46. @ Chris #45
    “And do people really give over their free will that easily?” We here have stood by and witnessed, appalled, just how easily they do, for the last two years. Because of a respiratory virus.

  47. Ganesh, I’ve come to think that the inability to notice what’s happening right in front of your face is one of the major ways that karma functions. Yeah, there’s a bumper crop of it coming due.

    Yorkshire, I haven’t read the books in question so don’t have an opinion yet.

    Chris, good! My standard test for whether we’re capable of knowing the will of the Divine is to see whether saints and holy people agree on what it is. They’re the ones who would know, right? They can’t even agree on how many gods there are, much less anything else. Therefore I think it’s fair to say that at this stage of humanity’s spiritual evolution, we’re so far from having a clue about the Divine will that we don’t even have a clue about how to get a clue. As for free will — most of us have very little of that, since we’re not born with it — we have to develop it, bit by bit, and most people never get around to it.

    Jasper, funny. Now square that with the long list of theologians who insist, at great length, that you go to hell no matter how virtuous you are if you belong to the wrong religion.

  48. “Jasper, funny. Now square that with the long list of theologians who insist, at great length, that you go to hell no matter how virtuous you are if you belong to the wrong religion.”

    JMG and kommentariat: If that would be truth, hell must be overcrowded with people belonging to wrongs religions!

  49. Hello Mr Greer, a “third world” dweller here, it’s an unrelated question but do you think there will be a return to monarchy in India and a collapse of republic/democracy?

  50. I’ve had a number of synchronicities, and a dream, since Wednesday surrounding this chapter, and it’s explication, and the associated card of study.

    Now another, this attack on the author of “The Satanic Verses”, Salman Rushdie. I’ve never read Rushdie, so I don’t have much to say with regards to that, other, than just noting the title of his novel being in the headlines again.

    Of course, astral and etheric conditions are rather miserable these days, and the summer full moon only heightens the effect.

    Current events seem littered with malefic malfeasance.

    It’ll be time for another cold shower this evening!

    “Head down, hands busy, never mind the hungry ghosts.”

  51. Balance that’s not stagnation—dynamic balance—appears to be fractally intermixed with imbalance.

    Here’s an example: you have a forest ecosystem that’s dynamically balanced in all kinds of ways; between plants and animals, between herbivores and predators, between seasons of growth and decline, and so forth. Then along comes a wildfire, a positive feedback process (heat liberating more heat) that disregards those other balances and knocks them on their behinds. Balance gone, fire bad! But from a wider perspective, wildfires are vital to maintaining a larger-scale balance between mature forest (roughly, good habitat but doesn’t produce much food) and younger biomes (roughly, more productive). So a patchwork cycle of periodic fires and recoveries represents a different balance—until a change of climate or a volcano or an evolutionary innovation (beavers learning to build dams) manages to knock that balance on its behind. In the end, every balance (on every scale from the passage of molecules across a cell membrane to the birth and death of suns) exists by routinely disrupting the balance of something else, until it itself eventually gets disrupted by something else.

    (“You get to eat many times, but only get eaten once” fits right in here.)

    Another example: if a nation husbands its treasure, prioritizes its citizens’ contentment, and lives within its productive means in balance with its environment and in peace with its neighbors, it can easily be conquered by any neighboring nation that, by not doing those things, builds a bigger army instead. Like the forest, its balance is vulnerable to the positive feedback of an aggressor increasing via aggression, which itself is acting its role in the larger dynamic balance of rising and falling empires. But unlike in the forest fire, I see the outlines of the horns and barbed tail of the devil there, not in the people who play out their parts in the process, but in the situation itself, the apparent fact that sustainable living itself is, from that larger viewpoint, unsustainable. Should that not be infuriating? Balance gone, aggression and war bad!

    Yet consider this: in all the SF I’ve ever read, the surest sign one is about to encounter one of the bleakest dystopias imaginable is when a character declares: “We have no war here.” The catch could be mass mind control, totalitarian AI, institutionalized suicide, some kind of Morlock-Eloi arrangement, a ban on sex and/or love (more likely than not), or something else, but whatever it is, you know you’re not going to want to live there. These illustrate that you can’t have human nature and avoid the consequences of human nature; nor can some hypothetical altered nature seem more appealing to us humans than human nature.

    Is there some philosophical or theological phrase, in the style of “immanentize the eschaton,” meaning to attempt to draw a clear and scale-independent boundary between harmony and disharmony? “Delinate the devil” perhaps? So far, my experience is the better I seem to really perceive and understand the devil, the more difficult it is to separate him from the rest of the music.

  52. @Darkest Yorkshire #42,

    Your comment tickled me and I went to the Internet in search of a fun graphic to comment back with. (Surely Gary Larson had some comic with square wheels, right?) And one of the images I ended up getting was from The Ten Commandments (with Charlton Heston, the scene where the slaves are dragging the blocks to build the pyramids). Hmm. So what started off as a humor-finding mission ended up sparking a meditation. Not what I intended, but definitely worthwhile. Thanks for that. 🙂

  53. @Jasper #46,

    I agree that some versions of Lucifer definitely do not make him sympathetic, but a child who is considered misshapen by his own mother and hidden in a cloud, not knowing his mother or even that his mother exists, that engenders a little sympathy in me (though I admit I am probably anthropomorphizing too much).

    But there are many versions of Lucifer and the Demiurge. I am not familiar with Enoch, so I will read up on that and see what I learn.

    Regarding the Greek’s Demiurge, my understanding is that Plato regarded the Demiurge to be benevolent. I am not aware that Plato associated the Demiurge with a particular God in the Greek pantheon, but Plotinus identified the Demiurge as Zeus. Which Greeks thought Zeus “is what he is” or is “not a good character”?

  54. OT, but not much: Happy Birthday Helena Petrovna Blavatsky! Born 12 August (31 July Old Style), 1831.

  55. Hi John Michael,

    Ah, thanks for the confirmation of my thoughts. And also for the very useful standard test. 🙂 Makes an awful lot of sense. Another perspective arises from this line of thought: It is wiser perhaps to suggest that ‘we don’t know’.

    It’s hard not to notice with the card that the male and female so chained probably went seeking power and were then forced to do another’s will. A bit frightening really. I guess we can’t know why they are there, but then the dude is widely known for use of falsehoods – and that probably was the trap which snared them. An unpleasant ending where perhaps the energy gets drained. I have an odd hunch that the lie often told to me as a kid: You can do anything (which was patently untrue), performs a similar function.

    Hi Miow,

    It’s been a pretty crazy few years that’s for sure. But I’m leaning towards the perspective lately that it was: a craze. Societies do very strange things on the long slow way down. Of course the thing was real, but somehow we’d manage to get through far worse in earlier times and not shut everything down.

    Cheers

    Chris

  56. JMG (no 48) “My standard test for whether we’re capable of knowing the will of the Divine is to see whether saints and holy people agree on what it is.”

    They’re no saints or holy people if they deny “Bob.”

  57. RandomActsOfKarma (no. 44) “I don’t know many stories yet and definitely haven’t figured out how the ones I do know relate to one another.”

    Comic book fans have to worry about which ones are canonical.

  58. Greetings JMG,

    How do you use the Tarot to navigate the long descent, i.e. our current crisis and step down .

  59. Chuaquin, yep. That’s one of the many reasons I find that whole end of theological discourse so absurd. “God hates you because you won’t join my church!” Yeah, right…

    Ashegh, please repost this on one of my open posts — those go up the fourth Wednesday of every month. This comment thread is specific to the book club. Thanks!

    Justin, yeah, I just heard about that. Ouch.

    Walt, good. That’s classic systems theory: actual balance isn’t stagnation, it’s free movement around a center, kept in check by negative feedback. A forest or a nation has to be able to veer away from the midpoint in order to deal with environmental stressors: otherwise its balance is a temporary state. The more disruption a system can embrace and still return to the center, the more balanced it is in this broader sense — even if it’s rarely at the exact midpoint for long. As for dystopias, yes, exactly. I recall a character in a fantasy novel waxing enthusiastic about those imaginary ancient matriarchies: “No crime, no war — they must have had fabulous methods of social control!”

    Peter, thanks for this!

    Chris, hmm! That’s a fascinating point and one I’ll want to brood over, but I think you’re right — “you can do anything” is a lie used to trap the young.

    Patricia M, ha! Thank you.

    Bei, change that last word and you’ve got the standard template by which dogmatists erase conflicting evidence.

    Tony C, please repost this on one of my open posts — those go up the fourth Wednesday of every month. This comment thread is specific to the book club. Thanks!

  60. Meditating on this month’s Wirth deck tarot card: I notice the sign of Mercury more or less on the devil’s crotch. This sign does not seem to feature on any of the other widely used tarot decks for this card. Any thoughts, JMG / anyone?

  61. @David by the Lake We already have a 3rd political party or organization of voters – all the people registered independent/no affiliation. They just don’t have elected representation.

  62. Getting The Devil card in the daily three card reading practice is one of my favorite things. It usually indicates that I’ve tied myself to something, bound up my will, usually intentionally, and have the opportunity now to look at it. It being one of the ugliest cards of the deck, is no accident!

    A question about the all caps you used in the translation – was that in the original or did you add that emphasis?

    I’ve attended religious services in a variety of settings – the Vatican vespers service, the same service in Krakow Poland, Catholic services in Irish, Italian, and mixed ethnic groups, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, a synagogue in New York and another in Munich Germany, a Quaker meeting, Bahai meetings, and various evangelical start up churches. By far, the place that had the most spirit moving within it was the home church services we attended. The groups were never more than a dozen people, the music and readings were always what the group felt called to study after praying on it, and the setting was both reflective and joyful. But when you tell any traditional religious person of this experience and that you don’t need a building to commune with the Divine, it causes such shrieking and protesting that I avoid sharing anything about it. Unfortunately a lot of house churches push to build buildings which is what happened to ours.

    I don’t know if this is the place to mention it, but I’ve always appreciated your ability to not “should” all over people. Your expressions of disappointment are always addressed at the system or the thinking or the leadership responsible. This approach then acts as an invitation to examine the system, thinking, or leadership and seek improvements or at least not fall into the same trap. I don’t recall you ever taking a holier-than-thou approach and shaming people for how they feel or act, even when it’s something you wouldn’t chose to do. The not shaming creates space for a person to grow and change. And for those of us who grew up in abusive households with emotionally manipulative parents, its life-changing. Thank you.

  63. @Bei #59,

    What is confusing to me with comics now is that one character can have multiple canons (or least that is how it seems to me. So many Batmans. So many Robins. So many Spidermans.)

    With myths, I think each myth has a lesson to teach, so the same ‘event’ might be told several ways (so different canons?), each with a slightly different lesson. The best primer on this I’ve found (so far) is here: https://www.hellenicgods.org/mythology-in-hellenismos—mythologia. (Disclaimer: I don’t agree with everything on this site. The author doesn’t seem to approve of magic. But he has some good examples of how to interpret the Greek myths that have helped me in (slowly) interpreting the myths.) If anyone has other good sources of how to interpret symbolism in myths, please share. 🙂

    @JMG,

    I realized last night I forgot to thank you for your response. In Cosmic Doctrine, Fortune explained the difference between positive evil or negative evil and I see Trump XV as negative evil, inertia. Creation requires resistance; therefore, to have creation, we must have negative evil.

    @anyone who is still pondering Auxiliator and Auxililum,

    Another way of looking at it is “help” being a verb and “helper” being a noun. “Help” would be a force; the “helper” would be the receptacle.

  64. Walt F #52, on national development priorities, consider these most in-depth analyses of two computer games I think I’ve ever seen:

    Europa Universalis IV: https://acoup.blog/2021/04/30/collections-teaching-paradox-europa-univeralis-iv-part-i-state-of-play/ (four parts, all accessible from that page)

    Victoria II:
    https://acoup.blog/2021/08/13/collections-teaching-paradox-victoria-ii-part-i-mechanics-and-gears/
    https://acoup.blog/2021/08/20/collections-teaching-paradox-victoria-ii-part-ii-the-ruin-of-war/
    https://acoup.blog/2021/09/03/collections-teaching-paradox-victoria-ii-part-iii-worlds-fair/
    (three parts listed separately because they’re not properly linked together)

    Particularly note the concept of ‘playing tall’ – how to do the right thing and still win, even against rapacious neighbours. It’s considered the hardest way to play.

  65. If I make, regarding theology, my standard for judging any claim about god, god’s, or the nature of spiritual reality is simply this– If it walks like a dog, and it talks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.

    “Submit to my authority or be tortured” is a very common line in the mouth of human tyrants. It is thus far more likely to be the invention of a human tyrant, then to accurately characterize the Creator of the Universe.

    Similarly, “The fact that you disagree with me just proves how right I am” is a standard line in abusive relationships. It is thus far more likely to be the work of a would be abuser, such as a cult leader, then the truth about reality. (You see this one especially from a certain type of Buddhist, framed as “The fact that you disagree with me just shows that you haven’t lost your ego.”

    On the other hand, behaviors in a group which are very uncommon to human beings left to their own devices, such as true egalitarianism or open-hearted charity, suggest that the group in question is influenced by something more than human. Claims about gods or spiritual reality which do not serve to increase the power of tyrannical human beings are far more likely to be true than those that do.

    Very often, particular organizations, traditions, churches, or egregores, will include elements of both the human and the more than human. And so it is critical to learn discernment– and to bear in mind that to dismiss an entire group of people based on the sins or mistakes of some of them

  66. Miow, my guess is that it’s a polite way to say “hermaphrodite,” as the planet Mercury is ambisexual.

    Denis, the emphasis is in the original — we did our level best to make as exact a translation as possible. As for my avoidance of “should” language and the self-defeating posturing that goes with it, you’re most welcome; I also had to deal with some of that crap growing up, and one of the main reasons I walked away from the religious mainstream was the fixation on said crap so common there.

    Karma, you’re most welcome!

    Steve, you may indeed. I try not to dismiss entire groups of people — but I do think it’s appropriate to note when many people in a given tradition might want to consider cleaning up their act.

  67. JMG– That was about half coherent, because I’m using voice to text on a phone. (Because I hate typing on a phone.) I meant “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck”… And of course “If I make” should be “If I may”…

    The last point was directed as much at myself as at anyone, because I very regularly vacillate between an attachment to Christianity for its virtues and its spiritual practices– and for reasons of sentiment– and blind fury at the behavior of the institutional Church.

  68. I had a very difficult time when meditating on the path of Ayin. It seemed like a dead end on the way to Tiphareth. JMG, you wrote that to work toward Tiphareth from the Pillar of Severity will tend to awaken powers of control, binding and domination: the tools of sorcerer. Then to choose such a goal is to shut off the possibilities for further ascent on the Tree. I bring this up because it resonates with what Levi tells us.

    Levi says that the Devil is the great magical agent used for purposes of evil by a perverse will. So that means that the two people on the Knapp-Hall deck are trapped by their own thoughts and deeds. No wonder they can’t escape like they can on the Rider-Waite deck. They are trapped by the Devil because they have created what they are. The Devil is themselves. You cannot escape what you’ve created until you change yourself first.

    The Devil is on a cube like the Emperor. Is that the the 3 dimensional world? I think so.

    Random Acts of Karma, thank you for the insight with the two candles. it’s blatantly sexual, now that I see it.

    Since the path of Ayin is from Hod to Tiphareth, I think Mercury on the Devil’s crotch could also represent Hod.

  69. I’m puzzled. Sometime in the last little while, I heard for the first time of the concept of “Sin Eater”- Catholic (or I think it turns out also Aztec, perhaps other cultures) doers of a ritual taking-on-of another person’s sins for a fee to free their soul and keep it from getting trapped in purgatory or I suppose hell. Seems like this post is the most likely place I would have heard of such a thing but searching text of the last four posts on ecosophia all I find is “hEATER” and “thEATER” and “embarasSINg”– no ‘sin’ or ‘eater’ to be found. You seen I had decided to watch a movie tonight, a brain-resting tool for me sometimes, and I picked “The Order” which claimed only “ancient sect with supernatural ties” on its teaser and caught my attention. Turns out to be Heath Ledger leaving the priesthood to take on the job of the Sin Eater. So it comes up again within a week. Was someone here talking about this?

    I know @Jasper’s #46 was related:
    ““even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.” This is why you cannot end up in hell unless you actively and purposefully reject that last bridgehead, and not until the final judgment. That is, every possible chance, chance beyond chance to regain your humanity. But if you arduously choose to lose your humanity and become non-human, God as a gentleman will in the last grant your request. What should he have done in that case? Make you?”

    I feel like the Sin Eater concept only makes sense in a weird legalistic theological trap. Some Buddhists I like would say, (and I take this to apply to all forms of prayer tho they were focused on chanting their particular mantra in a way that was too much like the “other religions go to hell” mentality for my taste, but regardless, they would say) “You can’t sit and warm by a fire for someone else. You can’t eat for someone else.” But here comes this concept of the sin eater out of the astral light at me. It goes beyond “You can lead a horse to water” — it’s intercessional prayer I guess, of a sort. Honing my will to move myself more skillfully through the world, or even asking for help to create a sphere of protection around me, makes so much more sense to me than the idea that magic can allow one to successfully intercede or cause/invite intercession by a higher being in the life of another. Tho it made sense when folks from that same buddhist crew would say “if this person is giving you trouble, chant for their happiness; that is the way to resolve your situation well.” If I pray and understand and Dare and Keep silent, and then have a success, I can benefit or hurt others through my chain of causality. But while I can give someone a tea that will improve their immunity and circulation and reduce inflammation, I can’t give them Belief.

  70. One other note: On the card JMG picked for Le Diable on the post, the chained gang looks anxious and the devil looks calm. But check out this one, I’m guessing older:

    https://tarot-de-marseille-heritage.com/images/galerie/1709_pierre-madenie/15_le_diable.jpg

    The animalistic hermaphrodite devil here is kind of unhinged or wild-dangerous looking, and the animal-people … they look content. They look just fine with being trapped in the realm of the sensual senses, the sex and food. They are animals-antlers and bird feet and tails- which are chained because they don’t even know they are missing something, some divine unity… they don’t care to look for it. Food and sex are good enough for them, like animals in captivity done well, and I feel like their trapped energies are themselves a kind of food-sex for Le Diable above them.

  71. Meditating on the card, I’m struck by a phrase often said by you – “the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea.” Something that binds my thinking/spirituality is not going to be broken with approaching it an oppositional way. I’m still tied down!

    I look forward to these posts every month and the reprieve from The Current Things.

  72. Darkest Yorkshire #66, thank you for those links! I went to take a quick look and ended up reading all seven parts yesterday. The author’s analysis is of course far deeper and more informed than my earlier comment, but it points to the same basic issue. It makes sense that there are situational exceptions that allow a polity to “play tall” at least for a while (perhaps aided by naturally defensive terrain, being a client state or an indispensable buffer state, or some primarily defensive technological advantage) but I have to wonder if that can be maintained for long in conjunction with public well-being, and whether the techniques for doing so successfully in the game, already acknowledged to be challenging, actually apply to the real world. (And in this context, is this “the hardest way to play” because it’s difficult to execute correctly, or because even when executed correctly it usually doesn’t work?)

    The hypothesis in the final segment on Victoria II that industrialization has made warfare between comparable powers unprofitable even for the victor (with the game, as a well-designed simulation, plausibly suggesting this is the case in real life) is interesting. (Are we seeing this in Ukraine?) But if true, it raises the question of how the calculus might shift again as the Industrial Age winds down.

  73. “Fabulous methods of social control” indeed! If they weren’t similar to the ways North Korea achieves “no crime,” then maybe they were like the ones the “new science of the mind” were supposed to discover, for good or ill, around the 1950s-60s. On the good side, schooling would become fun and consistently effective, criminals would be rehabilitated, and neuroses and bad habits easily cured. But beware, enemy spies or totalitarian authorities would be able to put you in a little booth with flashing lights for a few hours, and you’d come out with completely different opinions. We’ve discussed this before, as the mostly-forgotten but implicit counterpart to flying cars, space colonies, and home nuclear reactors. Precarious environments where a terrorist, lunatic, or drunkard could kill everyone aren’t a problem if there are no terrorists, lunatics, or drunkards.

    What a strange arguing position we seem to be putting ourselves in here. “It’s not that I like crime or war, but…”

  74. Steve, I get that.

    Jon, it’s a tough path! Yes, exactly — the Path of the Devil is the path of abusing others for the sake of yourself, and the Path of Death (in the GD version of the Tree of Life) is the path of abusing yourself for the sake of others. Two bad ideas…

    Alice, I’ve heard of the concept, but I don’t recall it being discussed here. Thank you for two good meditations on the card!

    Denis, exactly. Exactly.

    Walt, I remember that set of claims very well! They turned out to be just as false as so much of the other rhetoric of progress. As for the strange position, I get that — crime and war might not be the worst alternative. Do you remember the world of Camazotz in L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, where all the children bounce their balls in exact rhythm with one another?

  75. I apologize in advance for doing a lot of my thinking/meditating out loud here; JMG if you’d rather I not, let me know and I’ll either condense it or hold back. Also please forgive me: I am not well versed in philosophical language and probably won’t convey this very eloquently, but I’ll try.

    It’s an interesting synchronicity that this week I was reading Manly P. Hall’s October 1937 Letter discussing the secret doctrine in the Bible, and came across this relevant passage, where he is discussing the role of Satan in the book of Job:

    “Satan is not a spirit of destruction. There is no essential evil in the universe. Our present form of the devil is merely derived from the Greek, nature god Pan. As Goethe says, Mephistopheles, or Satan, “is part of the power that still works for good while ever scheming ill.” Satan is really KARMA, but he is more than that. He is that temptation from which arises strength. When the Mysteries were celebrated in ancient Egypt, there was an evil spirit called Typhon or Set who brought about the death of the good Osiris. It is the red Set that has given us our concept of the devil, but Set was nothing but the material world, the ground of man’s temptation, and also the environment in which he gains immor­tality through self-discipline. Therefore, Set or Sa­tan, is the divine opportunity; the world into which we come in ignorance but from which we depart in wisdom. It is the obstacle that is ever building strength, it is that whole field of difficulty which, overcome, makes us master of our own life.”

    I’ve been comparing and contrasting this definition, the discussion JMG provides above, and various other conceptions of “the devil” in all it’s various philosophical and religions permutations, and one thing that stands out to me is the idea that evil is, in a fundamental sense, necessary and — I’m still pondering this, but… — a balancing extreme of “good” (in the sort of “excessive order” sense of the word, or whatever extreme you might associate with it). In other words, whatever is being symbolized by “evil” and “good” are both extremes, perhaps two ideals that create an empowering duality through which we find a dynamic balance in the ternary (leading to creation itself). One possible conclusion of this is that when “good” is done, “evil” springs into existence in equal quantity and opposition to balance it – and vice versa (extrapolating the Third Law of Motion vis-a-vis “as below, so above”). Another is that while the “quantities” if you will of these concepts are equal to each other, the ability of them to influence might differ – think of active versus passive, or effective versus ineffective. Effective “good” might be balanced by ineffective “evil”.

    But all of this gets a little academic if we keep using these nebulous terms like “good” and “evil” because we’re taught that these symbols are sort of opposites – and in the idea that they might be extreme endpoints you wouldn’t want pure “good” because that would be equally unstable, so I’m not sure I find this wording useful. I’m not sufficiently well versed in linguistic yoga, however, to explain my thoughts using other terms quite yet — I just want to point out that the idea of “good” in the sense of “harmonious, balanced, useful for creativity and beauty”, etc. is likely the ternary here, and that “evil” is a necessary counterpart to something else – stasis? excessive limitation? The Cabalistic notion that the pillar of Severity, on which limitation is most strongly symbolized, is sort of the “evil” side (or maybe that’s not the “Cabalistic” notion but a popular interpretation thereof – I am not exactly a scholar in these things, just trying to muddle my way through) throws me a bit for a loop because I don’t see limitation as necessarily good, bad, or other; it is a necessary component to balance ultimate freedom, as Lévi mentions repeatedly. “Evil” can be utter destructive Chaos, it can be neutral Chaos, it can be rigid Order, it can be destructive Order – in fact, in a sense it is anything that is contrary to harmonious, healthy, balanced existence – but even that balance is dynamic, not static. So, here I sort of agree with Steiner, BOTH ends of the extremeties between freedom and limitation, between mercy and severity, between creation and destruction have some aspect of “evil”, and the dynamic, fluid, yet carefully limited dance between those poles and flowing into another dimension out from them to form the ternary point, has a strong sense of “good”.

    So, all that to say that I’m not exactly any closer to a definition of “the devil”, “evil”, or for that matter “good”, but I think I feel a little more comfortable eschewing the common definitions of these terms and seeing them in a little broader light and with a more purposeful orientation. I’m sharing it not because I think it’s “true” but because this is a book club and contributing seems appropriate, and because I’m very much interested in whether or not there’s anything here that might prompt further clarity from someone else. There’s an immense amount to process and only so much meditation I can do in a day, let alone all the other things to meditate on!

  76. Hi John Michael,

    Since we’re discussing the red dude with the antlers, which I must add, don’t look particularly useful…

    I’ve been cogitating upon the lie ‘you can do anything’, and it’s possible that the blow back from this is feeding into the Great Resignation among other examples of ‘wigging-out’. It is possible that progress is dying and people may not have exactly noticed, but they’re feeling the effects. Dunno.

    The lie is a form of abuse, because if the outcomes don’t materialise, the person on the wrong end of the story gets the blame. And there are some who benefit from that – I doubt very much that they see themselves as evil, but I’ve got some bad news for them. 😉

    Cheers

    Chris

  77. @Fulvous Palpitating Grouse,

    Thank you for the Hall quote. That is going in my notes! I also will be meditating on your idea of “good being an extreme” and what we tend to think of is good is really the ternary that is the balance.

    In Cosmic Doctrine, one of the metaphors for good and evil was motion and inertia. The result of the friction between the two was creation. (Or, perhaps, rather than a ternary, it is a quaternary… a tetragrammaton. Good for Y, Evil for H, Creation for V, ___ for second H. Destruction? Death? Guess I have a meditation to do.)

    Your post also made me think of decomposition. Life is one extreme; death is another extreme. Without decomposition, death is an end-point for the resources. With decomposition, they can get recycled into life again. (And that makes me think of JMG’s idea that Gaia wanted us to use the fossil fuels, to get the carbon back in circulation among the living again.) More meditation required…

    Thank you for sharing your insights!

    @Jon Goddard,

    re: “You cannot escape what you’ve created until you change yourself first.” I really like this interpretation; it encourages people to take responsibility for themselves and not look for something external to blame.

    @ people who watch videos,

    Esoterica’s video for the week was on “Satanic Panic”. The episode doesn’t relate to Trump XV, but was interesting and seemed synchronous to the Levi chapter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgmPQGWn8pI

  78. @Fulvous Palpitating Grouse –

    What you’ve discovered is the distinction between Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil; Lawful Good and Chaotic Good. Excess order (think totalitarianism) begets Chaotic Evil (think France’s Reign of Terror). Which begets Excess Order (Lawful Good run rampant. Think Blue Laws etc.)

    Some people have tracked a 4-beat cycle her, to wit: in a Crisis Era (like this one) the supply of order is low and rising, and the demand for order is high. When the crisis ends and the Recovery begins, both the demand for order and the supply of order are high. (The Eisenhower administration and McCarthyism. Vespasian’s reign after a century of Julio-Claudian madness, but he exiled the Stoics and other philosophers as a disturbing element. Augustus’ reign, with plenty of examples.)

    After enough of that, the kids coming up find the culture and/or regime stifling, and stage revolts either major or minor. I give you the 1960s-70s, the rise of Europe’s Decadents in the 1880s, the Transcendentalists in the early 19th century…and we go from the neatly dressed, well-mannered Civil Rights protestors to Woodstock and the March on Washington, acid rock, and, you name it. The demand for order drops (at least among the young) and the supply drops rapidly.

    Then the young idealists mature – JMG’s King in Yellow has a good description thereof – and to the dismay of their elders, the daughters of the suffragists accept the vote and care more about making money and having fun than the do about the Cause. The hippies hear the siren call of Morning in America and end up with Greed is Good, and deregulation proceeds apace.

    I think you can write the rest of the story from here. And congratulations on tying it into today’s topic – I wouldn’t have made the connection.

  79. The chapter, post, and comments so far (thanks everyone!) have helped me understand a bit more the AD&D 2nd Edition character alignment system. 🙂

    In AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) you give an alignment to a character you create, a kind of orientation of your character’s ethical worldview. It runs along two axes: Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic, and Good, Neutral, Evil. So you might have a Lawful Good paladin, a Neutral Evil wizard, or a True Neutral bard, for example.

    To me it’s an example of pop culture has something obliquely to say about reality, not so much because the AD&D rulemakers have defined “good” and “evil” in a realistic way, but moreso because, as a person playing a character, you have to imagine a character behaving through the lens of a particular ethical stance.

    If I create an affirmation, or set out a conscious intention to do something, that intention is wrapped within, indeed it springs from, a worldview that is at best only partially clear to oneself, which is in turn only partially truly or falsely reflective of the underlying reality. That affirmation or the action of putting an intention into practice, through time, will affect my worldview, and if I’m not careful, it will effect it without being noticed.

    With enough affirmations and intentions designed to better oneself, if they don’t consider the effects of it on the whole in which they are a part of, doesn’t just change the world in they way they intend, it changes how they see that world, and soon enough I won’t notice that my actions have taken things away from others, or worse, I do notice it, but I think it’s right to do so and that a whole ethical stance be can be formed around it.

    The AD&D character alignment system makes me wonder if its creators thought there was a circular quality to it, like you could bend the axis of good and evil into a circle, with the extremes touching, where too much good becomes evil and vice versa. In practical terms this is maybe the person who, by doing something they think is good, causes suffering for others. I think we can all think of a few examples of this lately. 🙂 Or the person, acting purely out of self-interest, causes some good to happen to others as a consequence.

    Another angle from the AD&D system is that they have the middle position of the True Neutral alignment. The point of balance between the poles, which according to the D&D rules is that worldview where you change your behavior depending on what is out of balance, whether there is too much good or evil.

    Which implies fluidity, which then reminds me that Levi discussed in an earlier chapter the husks, which is what the word Qlippoth means. So maybe the “perverse will” which Levi talks about in this chapter means a will that acts within a worldview which has become so fixed and husk-like that it no longer moves or reacts to the real and unknowable greater world, i.e. the map has become fixed and is no longer close-ish to the territory.

    The astral light then reflects back to you what you believe and how you think, and if you behave “monstrously” (as a synonym for perverted) then this is why it can produce, to such a person, “monsters”. In any case, I think a few things are making sense to me even more from earlier chapters as well – things are solidifying, hopefully not in the husk-like sense.

  80. @Fulvous Palpitating Grouse:

    Coincidentally (?), just this morning before sitting down to go online, I wondered idly if the two creatures chained to Le Diable’s stone block could break the chains if they wanted to. Looking at the card, it seemed to me they could pull very hard together and possibly break away. But then a little voice in my head suggested that somehow, it was Necessary for them to be there. Your post sounded a note of affirmation along the same lines. Thanks!

    Also coincidentally(?), Paul Kingsnorth has posted a story about demonology today. It seems relevant to this week’s discussion:

    https://paulkingsnorth.substack.com/p/the-basilisk-revisited

  81. Camazotz made an impression on me early enough that it came to mind throughout my elementary school art classes (“next, everyone draw a round yellow sun in the top right corner”), among other times. But at that age I was pretty much Charles Wallace, minus the useful psychic powers, so I had good reason to take it as a warning as well.

    As an extreme of balance/imbalance, we can consider Camazotz a kind of evil singularity point. But much as I wouldn’t want to live like that, I rather depend on the cells of my heart “bouncing their balls” in exactly that kind of rhythm. And even the most chaos-minded pirate crew might have to work in the rhythm of the stomp-and-go chanty to raise the anchor. That’s why I describe balance and imbalance as fractal; you can find every form of them inside every other form.

    @Booklover #77, yup. That’s why I put “no crime” in scare-quotes. The point is, it would be even more creepy and frightening if there really was no crime at all there.

  82. @ Violet #3, okay, I am going to have a crack at this. How do we know we are in the flow of the Cosmos? I have learnt when I am NOT in the flow of the Cosmos, and that is when I want someone else to change. Idealogues ALWAYS want someone else to change, usually for their own good. Or they want society to change. They are convinced it is for the best in all possible worlds.
    So if you can find someone who sits quietly minding their own business and not concerned that other people are up to no good, well, that person MAY be in the flow of the Cosmos. At the very least they are likely more happy than the person who is always bothering about what their neighbour is up to. I think this is related to the Devil card. If I am chained to something and cannot or will not free myself, that thing is the Devil for me. It is my perverse will, and only evil will come from it. If I cannot let go of ‘helping others’ or ‘doing good in the world’ that is as much a chain and an addiction as anything classically evil, because I am not doing for others out of my own bounty, but out of my own howling lack, my shadow of emptiness.
    If we know the approximate locations of our own howling lacks or shadows of emptiness, or even know that we do have them, somewhere, and go hunting for them, then we are likely going to avoid being idealogues, and we can live with a comfortable sense that we are most probably making mistakes and are completely wrong every day of our lives.. and what a blessing that is..

  83. Walt F #74, I haven’t played any of the Paradox games so can’t comment on the gameplay. The last thing like that I played was Rome: Total War, which is a pure map-painting exercise.

    As to the inevitablility of inter-state conflict, you can go in the direction of Lenin with Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, where capital exhausts local profitable opportunities and needs new resources, new labour and new markets – so war is inevitable. But how a lot of Great Game shenannigans actually plays out looks more like tough guys escalating into a fight rather than cold-blooded calculation. Germany building battleships before WWI, for example. And now with things like China’s artificial islands, and both Russia and China in the Arctic – even with resource windfalls they might land – I can’t see the accounts balancing. Interestingly I read a theory that the Belt and Road initiative exists primarily because China has overbuilt its industrial capacity, and building things like high-speed rail lines is a way to bury the surplus.

  84. If you don’t mind me beating a dead horse a bit, I think one of the major issues in Christianity is a failure to understand the difference between the demonic and the daimonic. The later Platonists taught an understanding and respect for the daimonic beings as intermediary spirits deeply involved in the life of the material world– they aren’t gods and can’t be worshiped in the same way, but they are powers and are owed our respect. This is the true meaning of “giving the devil his due.” It’s clear that (for example) the Devil at the Crossroads of Southern folklore is quite a different being from the horrors encountered by exorcists in possession cases. One is an earthbound spirit, the other a Tartarean being. St Augustine was fully aware of the Platonic teachings about the daimons, and explicitly rejected them, seeing daimons as identical with the evil spirits of whom the Platonists and other pagans were also aware. Indeed, this is the meaning of his hysterical attitude toward sexuality– Eros, in the teachings of Plato, is a daimon, whose activity can elevate us toward the divine; but for Augustine erotic desire is not merely evil but the embodiment of original sin!

    I think a more helpful attitude toward the daimonic would liberate Christianity from many of its besetting difficulties. As you’ve pointed out more than once, what you resist, you strengthen. And so condemning the daimon Eros and constantly struggling against him just leads him to manifest in a deeply unbalanced way– symbolized in the tarot card under discussion by the two naked figures held in chains by the Devil, and in the world of our experience by abuses with which former Catholics are all too familiar. Giving Eros and the other daimons that govern material existence their due honor would allow their effects to manifest in a more balanced and proportionate manner.

  85. Grouse, you’re welcome to use this space for that — if I was fielding 300 comments a week on these book club posts, I might be a little less enthusiastic, but quite a few of those reading Lévi along with me post reflections and meditations like yours, and it seems to help everyone. Your point’s a good one; Rudolf Steiner tried to explore it via the idea that there are two opposed demonic forces in the world, the Ahrimanic force of unchecked cravings and the Luciferic force of spiritual pride and arrogance, but there are other ways to think through the same tangled issue.

    Chris, yes, I can see that — and it’s a very interesting insight. Insist that anyone can do anything and it’s then much easier to blame those who fail, especially if the failure was the fault of the system…

    Walt, I see Camazotz not as a singularity of evil but as what happens when you push one set of ideals too far. The opposite of that bad idea is of course another bad idea. I suspect, for what it’s worth, that all the cells in your heart don’t contract at exactly the same instant — that it’s a more nuanced, more fluid, more lifelike process, and hearts work as well as they do because they’re not mechanically exact.

    Steve, that’s a good point. Until the Reformation, European Christianity was open to that — CS Lewis in The Discarded Image talks about the substantial place that medieval theologians and philosophers left for faery et al. He didn’t mention that at the same time, most sexual sins were classed as venial sins — they didn’t work their way up the hierarchy to the Worst Sins Ever until, again, after the Reformation, as a glance at Dante’s Inferno shows promptly enough. Can the medieval insight be regained? Good question; I’ll have to leave it to the Christians to decide.

  86. That’s interesting about the medieval view of sexual sins. I just read today that when Martin Luther tacked his 95 statements to the church door, it was a defining moment in hindsight. At the time, people posted things to church doors all the time, and if you wanted to debate publicly, that is how you announced it. Luther started a long public debate fought in pamphlets, made possible due to the printing press. In a different time period, the whole debate would have been more private. But apparently a lot of people agreed with Luther about the direction the Christian church had gone at the time. The ability to pre-pay for future sin is something we should totally bring back – lol.

    Its fascinating to me that human organizations evolve, grow, and die, and are never static. I don’t think “return” is possible.

  87. Chris at Ferndale,

    Thank you for bringing up “you can do anything” as an evil. I was victim to that thinking, and have come to believe it was mainly an act of laziness. You can do anything, so I don’t have to lift a finger to help you find out what you’re really good at.

  88. Well, the unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. The next worst is pride, the sin of Lucifer. All the others seem to have been negotiable over the centuries.

  89. I use the Oswald-Wirth deck for the meditation work for each chapter.

    The Devil card is not pleasant to contemplate but last night my thoughts led me to contemplate “the devil that comes and we see him” as it relates to the Devil as the great magical agent used for purposes by a perverse will.

    My thought is to reword in this case to the plural: “….great magical agent used for purposes by perverse wills”. Reason is if we are in tune with the astral light we may be receiving impressions from various wills, perverse and otherwise and this would account for the bizarre image that appears on the pedestal (i.e. no one general theme of the devil, but wings, female breasts, goat head, scale thighs, hoofs, all influences from different wills).

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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