The issue we’ve been discussing for the last several months—the conviction on the part of well-to-do Americans, and people of the industrial world’s privileged classes more generally, that the world really is obliged to do whatever they think they want it to do and be whatever they tell it to be—has another common reflection out here on the farther shores of American spirituality. Making sense of that reflection, however, is going to involve a long and rambling journey through some fairly strange territory.
To be a little more specific we’re going to talk about the muddled distinction in comtemporary occultism between the right-hand path and the left-hand path. If you’re familiar with the last century or so of chatter in occult circles, you know these terms, perhaps more thoroughly than you would like. If not—why, get ready for what I hope will be an interesting stroll along some of the odder byways of the history of ideas.
The terms “right-hand path” and “left-hand path” come originally from Hindu Tantric tradition, where they refer to two general strategies for achieving the state of expanded consciousness that’s called samadhi in Sanskrit and enlightenment in English. Asceticism of various kinds, including celibacy, vegetarianism, and abstention from intoxicants, are important elements of Hindu spiritual practice. Do you follow the rules of ascetic practice strictly as way to build the inner momentum that will bring you to enlightenment? That’s dakshinachara, literally “the right-hand path.” On the other hand—literally!—do you follow the rules of ascetic practice strictly in the early phases of your training, and then deliberately violate them in a ritual setting, using the shock of the experience to jolt your mind out of its ordinary modes of working, and achieve enlightenment that way? That’s vamachara, literally “the left-hand path.” They’re both well-recognized approaches to Tantra, and many gurus will assign one or the other to a student depending on individual needs and strengths.
That was the state of things in the late 18th century, when Britain conquered India and Western scholars accordingly started finding out something about the astonishingly rich spiritual and philosophical traditions of Indian culture. I’m not sure how many people these days realize what a profound shock that was at the time. Europeans raised on parochial notions of intellectual history that ran from Greece to Europe in a straight line, and equally parochial notions of religious history that ran in an equally linear fashion from Judea to Europe, gradually came face to face with traditions as richly developed and intellectually challenging as anything the West had to offer. What’s more, the traditions in question calmly ignored some of the most basic assumptions of Western religious thought—above all else, the weird obsession Western religions have about sex.
There’s a long strange history to that obsession, which we don’t really need to get into here. The point that’s relevant is that the vast majority of religions around the world treat sex as an ordinary part of life. It’s not shocking at all to a devout Hindu that the central focus of worship in a temple of Shiva is the lingam, the symbolic penis of the god, any more than it’s shocking to practitioners of Shinto when large wooden penises are paraded down the street at certain festivals as emblems of the virile power of the kami. In the Western world religious people talk freely of the hand of God, the heart of God, the face of God, and so on—but can you imagine a devout modern Christian talking about God’s penis as an emblem of his creative power?
(Please note the adjective: modern Christian. The Middle Ages were much less mealy-mouthed, and such utterances as “by God’s stones!” (i.e., testicles) were theologically unobjectionable in those days; they took the doctrine that Christ was fully God and fully man to its robust logical conclusion. That was a long time ago, however.)
It’s one of the pervasive bad habits of Western thought to insist that a spectrum can only consist of its two ends, and so a lot of effort in 19th- and early 20th-century Western pop culture went into claiming that the East was as obsessive about sexuality as the West—just obsessive in the other direction. (Read pulp fiction from that era that featured, ahem, “sinister Orientals” drooling over European women, and you can get some measure of the way that the unmentionable desires of the Western world got projected onto Asian cultures.) That ended up running into trouble as soon as Max Muller et al. got to work turning out the deservedly famous translation series Sacred Books of the East, since even a very little reading there made it clear that, for example, Hindu ideas of sexual abstinence as a religious discipline were every bit as strict as their Christian equivalents.
That discovery paved the way for the repurposing of the terms “left-hand path” and “right-hand path” in Western alternative spirituality. Pop-culture generalizations about Hindu religion in the late 19th century routinely divided it up into morally pure (that is, sexually abstinent) right-hand path teachings and morally depraved (that is, sexually permissive) left-hand path teachings. You’ll find plenty of this in pulp literature as well—there’s no shortage in the more lurid end of pulp, the so-called “spicies,” of good yogis who keep their dhotis on and bad yogis who don’t. Thus west of Alexandria, at least, “right-hand path” got turned into a mildly ornate way of saying “virtuous,” and “left-hand path” accordingly became the equivalent label for “wicked.”
(I should probably pause here for a moment to talk about the repurposing of words. A certain number of people insist that because the terms “left-hand path” and “right-hand path” meant something specific in Hindu Tantric tradition, that’s what the phrases mean forever. Given the cavalier way that both phrases have been manhandled over the years, that thinking is understandable but it doesn’t happen to be true. The word “black” used to be mean “white”—it’s a cognate of the French word blanc. The word “silly” used to mean “blessed;” it’s an even closer cognate of the German word selig. The meanings of words and phrases mutate over time, especially when they pass from one language to another, and the genetic fallacy—the notion that the origins of a thing define that thing forever—is just as fallacious here as elsewhere.)
So the phrases “left-hand path” and “right-hand path” found new meanings as they found their way into the West. By way of their adoption by Theosophy—which borrowed freely if not always accurately from Asian spiritual traditions in its attempt to reconstruct the primordial wisdom tradition of humanity—those terms became widely accepted into Western occultism. There they found immediate use, due to a curious social habit I’ve discussed before.
It so happens that back in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, alternative spirituality, or at least the pose of alternative spirituality, offered a valuable service for women who wanted to lead sexually active lives without fear of blackmail—a serious risk at a time when a woman’s social existence could be destroyed by mere rumors of sexual impropriety, while men faced no social penalties for the same behavior. It so happened that one of the few things a man could do in Victorian Britain or America that had the same kind of socially devastating impact on his reputation was to get involved in really deviant spirituality. That led to the invention of the sex cult—a swingers’ club dressed up as an occult secret society, in which participants of both sexes could indulge their sexual appetites in the serene confidence that attempts at blackmail faced the threat of mutually assured social destruction.
The distinction between the left-hand path and the right-hand path was tailor-made for this situation. Sex cults could let it be known in the proper circles that they followed the left-hand path, meaning that you could join them and get laid, while occult orders that weren’t in the sex cult business could proclaim themselves as followers of the right-hand path, meaning that you could join them and keep your trousers or panties on. Writers of pulp fiction who had connections with the occult scene played the game with verve; in Dion Fortune’s “Dr. Taverner” stories, for example, the London suburb of Chelsea was full of sinister Black Lodges practicing the left-hand path—and if you know anything about Chelsea’s reputation as a hotbed of avant-garde social and sexual mores during the early 20th century, you know she was chuckling as she wrote that.
After the Second World War, though, the sex cult business model fell apart as the pendulum of Western mores swung from the extreme of sexual repression to the opposite extreme of sexual excess. The handful of the old sex cults that survived did so mostly by retooling themselves as occult or neopagan societies, and stopped advertising themselves in swingers’ magazines. The old model of left-hand and right-hand paths no longer served its function, but in a fine example of intellectual recycling, the old division has been evolving anew to trace out a different distinction among magical paths.
There’s a fine irony in this latest revision, because a pair of terms that started their career by being borrowed from one end of Asian spirituality seem to be turning into synonyms for a useful division in a completely different end of Asian spirituality. In Japanese Buddhism, one of the major distinctions between denominations is marked out by the terms jiriki and tariki. Jiriki means “self-power,” and tariki “other-power.” Do you hope to attain enlightenment through your own efforts? That’s the hallmark of jiriki denominations such as Zen Buddhism. Do you hope to attain enlightenment through the merit accumulated by the buddhas and bodhisattvas? That’s the hallmark of tariki denominations such as Shin Buddhism.
Mutatis mutandis, and replacing the labels with the ones we’ve been discussing, that same distinction is increasingly used in modern occult circles to differentiate among the various forms of occultism currently on offer. Where does the power that makes magic happen come from? If you belong to a left-hand path tradition, it comes from the self, and everything outside the self is actually or potentially a passive object on which the self can act. If you belong to a right-hand path tradition, it comes from outside the self—from God or the gods, or some more or less abstract and impersonal equivalent—and the self is a vessel for the power that flows through it from beyond it, not a free agent in a passive cosmos.
Are there problems with that distinction? Sure, and we’ll get to some of them in a moment. The point I want to make first is that it has a definite validity. You can approach magic—the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, to use Dion Fortune’s sound definition—as a matter of awakening the inherent powers of the individual self and using those powers to shape the universe of your experience. You can also approach magic as a matter of opening the self to powers that lie entirely beyond it, and participating in the resulting flows of power in ways that can benefit you and others. What’s more, the techniques you use to work magic in one way differ significantly from the techniques you use to work magic in the other.
There’s a pleasant irony, at least to me, in the definitions of the right-hand path and the left-hand path as they’re evolving in occult circles these days: the results contradict older uses of the same terminology in amusing ways. For example, the New Age movement is emphatically a tradition of the left-hand path, since it focuses so intently on the idea that you create your own reality and the world is obliged to become whatever you tell it to be. Equally, the magic of the grimoires—those early modern pop-culture handbooks of magic, which give detailed instructions for summoning demons—belong to the right-hand path in the strictest of modern senses, since they assume that the mage has no power of his own; his power over evil spirits is purely a function of the ineffable Names of God he uses to browbeat them into submission, and it’s the evil spirits, in turn, who accomplish wonders for the mage, not any power the mage has himself.
The pleasures of irony aside, though, any model that treats the right-hand path and the left-hand path as the only two options available for operative mages obscures far more than it reveals. The most important issue here is that most of the world’s occult traditions fall into neither category. Down through the years, there have always been some occult traditions entirely centered on one or the other of these approaches—that focused solely on strengthening and wielding the magical powers of the self, on the one (left) hand, or on invoking and participating in the magical powers of the cosmos, on the other (right) hand. Yet most Western occult traditions embrace a third option which doesn’t fall into either of these two extremes.
Right now, before you read any further, stretch out your arms straight out to your sides. As you hold that posture, what’s between your right hand and your left hand? All the rest of you. That’s the third option.
For the sake of clarity, let’s give this alternative a name, and call it the middle path, “which turneth neither to the right hand nor to the left” but goes straight ahead to its goal. In less emblematic language, the middle path works with the powers of the self, the powers of the cosmos, and—crucially—with the intricate relationships and interpenetrations that unite them. Occultists who follow the middle path work on developing the sources of power and insight that exist within themselves, they cultivate relationships with sources of power outside the self, and they also learn how each of these can foster the other: how working with sources of power outside the self can enlarge and develop the self’s own powers, and how work with the self’s own powers can make it easier and more effective to work with the powers of the cosmos.
Is it more complicated to do things this way than to fixate on one or the other side of the line between the individual and the cosmos? You bet. There’s a corresponding benefit, though, which is that you can accomplish more. That’s especially an issue because of the odd habit we discussed last week—the tendency for people in many branches of popular occultism to fall victim to delusions of omnipotence, and lose track of the fact that the universe is under no obligation to do whatever you tell it to do. Thus there are a lot of people these days trying to do the magical equivalent of powering a city with a single AAA battery.
Mind you, that’s only one of the ways that magic can fail; the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will is anything but foolproof, and you can mess it up in any number of ways. Yet it’s crucial to realize that the individual human being simply isn’t that powerful, all things considered. Each of us has certain very real capacities to change things in and around ourselves, and those are worth developing and exploring—but there are other things for which our personal capacities are inadequate. Grasping that, and finding the path between the pillars—between the delusion of individual omnipotence on the left hand, and the equal and opposite delusion of individual powerlessness on the right—is a crucial lesson just now. Where it leads, and what might be done about the predicaments of a troubled age from that standpoint, will be a central theme of our discussions in the weeks and months ahead.
Three notes on unrelated subjects. First, I’m delighted to report that the fifth volume of my epic fantasy with tentacles, The Weird of Hali: Providence, is now available for sale in print and ebook editions. If you haven’t already preordered it, you can order a copy here.
Second, I’m equally delighted to report that the story contest for deindustrial romances fielded an abundance of good stories, and Love in the Ruins: An Anthology of Deindustrial Romance is good to go. As usual, I got more first-rate stories than I could use. I’ve selected the following stories and poems for the anthology; with one exception, as noted below, those of you whose stories and poems were not chosen should seriously consider submitting them to Into the Ruins, the quarterly magazine of deindustrial SF. Here’s the list.
“The Doctor and the Priestess” by Violet Cabra
“Working Together” by Daniel Cowan
“That Which Cannot Be” by David England
“Courting Songs” by Tam Hob
“Letters from the Ruins” by C.L. Hobb
“At the End of the Gravel Road” by Ben Johnson
“Shacked Up” by Justin Patrick Moore
“A Nuclear Tale” by Ron Mucklestone
“Forest Princess” by Al Sevcik
“Neighborhood Watch” by Marcus Tremain
“The Legend of Josette” by K.L. Cooke
“Come Home Ere Falls The Night” by Troy Jones III
“The Winged Promise” by Boulder Lovin’ Cat.
If your story or poem was selected, please email me if you’ve got my address, or put through a comment marked not for posting with your email if you don’t. You’ll have the chance to do final edits on your piece, and of course the publisher will need to know how to contact you to get you your contract and your royalty payments.
All this has shown me that there’s still ample interest in writing deindustrial fiction. I also fielded one story—“The Goddess of Immokalee” by Santiago de Choch—that, due to what I suspect was an honest mistake on the author’s part, didn’t follow the happily-ever-after theme I asked for. It’s a thumping good deindustrial-SF story, though, and its arrival tipped the balance in a direction I’d already been considering for some time now.
So, third: I am calling for stories for a new After Oil anthology. The title will be After Oil 5: Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology, and stories should be submitted by January 1, 2020, either by posting to a blog online or by email to me — contact me via a comment marked “Not For Posting” to arrange for this. (Santiago, your story is already in the contest, so don’t worry.) To be considered for the anthology, stories should deal with the role of technology from the industrial age in the myths, legends, magic, and religions of the deindustrial world. All the other rules of the After Oil series apply:
- Short stories should be between 2500 and 8500 words in length, though I’m willing to consider one or two novellas of up to 15,000 words;
- They should be entirely the work of their author or authors, and should not borrow characters or setting from someone else’s work;
- They should be in English, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation;
- They should be stories—narratives with a plot and characters—and not simply a guided tour of some corner of the future as the author imagines it;
- They should be set in our future, not in an alternate history or on some other planet;
- They should be works of realistic fiction or science fiction, not magical or supernatural fantasy—that is, the setting and story should follow the laws of nature as those are presently understood;
- They should take into account the reality of limits to growth, finite supplies of nonrenewable resources, and the other hard realities of our species’ current predicament;
- They should not include space travel—that’s been done to death in SF and deserves a rest;
- They should not rely on alien space bats to solve humanity’s problems—miraculous technological discoveries, the timely arrival of advanced alien civilizations, sudden lurches in consciousness that make everyone in the world start acting like characters in a bad utopian novel, or what have you.
So we’re good to go for a new anthology. There’s a deeper reason for this, too. We’ve still got a way to go before it begins hitting the headlines, but those of my readers who recall the prehistory of the peak oil movement right around the turn of the millennium may want to pay attention to the same signs we watched then. Depletion never sleeps, and the temporary glut of liquid fuels that papered over the reality of peak oil after the price spikes of 2008-2010 is beginning to run thin. Stay tuned for the return of peak oil…
It’s amazing how the terminology and metaphors anyone uses to think about things alter the way they can think about them. You use ecosystems as a comparison to civilisation and have got books worth of insight out of it. While reading The Ecotechnic Future an alternative that jumped to mind was civilisation as organism. I am aware of that idea’s dubious history of being used to justify hierarchis (as nobody wants their spleen getting ideas above its station).
But if civilisation is an organism, the word that comes first to mind is ‘overtrained’. The subject of overtrtaining is a complex one and the further you look into it, the more parallels you see. Usually athletes either develop sympathetic, parasympathetic, or central nervous system overtraining, depending on their sport and which part of themselves they have run into the ground. But some who try really hard manage to get all three at once. That may be an especially fitting description of modern society.
Taking the metaphor further though suggests a further reason for pessimism about the future of society. Even if you take the best possible scenario and the overtrained athlete manages to triumph and hold the trophy aloft, that’s not the end of it. They can stagger into the changing room and flop on the massage table while the physio works them over. There’ll be an assistant coach to drag them to safety when they pass out in the sauna. They will need months or even years of supervision by nutritionists and coaches to recover. But humanity won’t get a long rest and care from recovery experts. Even the best case scenario plunges humanity into the worst labour shortage in history, with a near-unending backlog of physically and mentally taxing work to be done.
In light of this, a related metaphor may be helpful. When you recently talked about putting seemingly negative emotional states to positive uses, I was reminded of a comparison I came up with a while ago (and this one is weird even for me). There is a type of turbine called a Wells turbine that is particularly useful for generating wave power. The mechanism spins the same way regardless of which direction air is flowing through it, so it can generate steady power regardless of whether the wave is going up or down. As an added bonus it also produces a really eerie moaning noise as it does it. That seems something worthy of emulation – the ability to generate power on both the up and the down (eerie moaning noise optional).
Yorkshire, thanks for this! As I’m not an athlete, and don’t get into sports, the idea of overtraining as a metaphor for our current predicament hadn’t occurred to me — but that makes sense. As for eerie moaning noises, I think we’ll get plenty of those… 😉
This is some good information. Because LaVeyan Satanism is very much of the Left Hand Path, like a lot of people, I thought that “Left Hand Path” was essentially a synonym for black magic. I’m not really surprised that it turns out to be a bit more complicated than that.
Running down the essay to the part where you talk about shifts in meaning, one of the common irritations that I’ve come across from “woke” types of late is to insist on the banning of phrases or words, i.e. “cotton-picking minute”, because have racist origins and therefore are inherently racist. (Cotton-picker being an obvious one.) It may once upon a time have been, but it certainly doesn’t have to be now, but, as you said before, ’tis the fashion for the liberal elites to show how they belong to the elite class by being picky about language, which also means they can kid themselves they are doing something morally righteous without doing anything practical at all to rectify some perceived injustice.
In the same way, I’ve watched several redefinitions of racism that keep morphing to ensure that, in the end, only white male heterosexuals can ever be truly racist or sexist and everyone else has a way to get off the hook.
Now to the point of your essay, a long time ago, I rejected both those magical ideas for much the same reason: I found they are too facile and both provide failure to achieve anything with an easy excuse. On the Right Hand, you can always blame the outside forces for not granting your wishes, so no matter whether one puts in any real effort or not, “I have no power and therefore whatever goes wrong it’s not my fault”. It occurs to me as I write this that this is exactly the same reasoning and excuse used by conspiracy theorists to rant and rail at the state of the world. On the Left Hand, the idea that all one has to do is wish hard enough and one’s internal power will manifest on the material plane means that when fails to manifest, it must be because one didn’t believe hard enough, or meditate long enough. But in any case it’s still not one own failure to actually achieve anything concrete by simply not putting in any material effort, because material effort (and with it the real possibility of failure) takes real work.
To coin a phrase, no bird takes flight on just one wing, and flying takes effort using both.
“Right now, before you read any further, stretch out your arms straight out to your sides. As you hold that posture, what’s between your right hand and your left hand? All the rest of you. That’s the third option.”
If this is true for magic, it is even more so for the body politic.
We need a right wing and a left wing to fly. We need a right hand and a left hand, and MORE IMPORTANTLY, a hale and hearty “rest of us” which both joins and separates our right and our left hand, to care, to hug and to hold.*
The Yeats poem with the following stanza talks about when that “rest of you” (or centre) cannot hold… then things fall apart.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
W B Yeats
The “best” which “lack all conviction” appears to describe this “rest of us” very well, while “the worst” who are “full of passionate intensity” are the increasingly unjoined and irrevocably separated right and left hands.
I know this is applicable to the state of health of our polity. I cannot presume to comment on whether the same applies to the state of our “occultity”, since its currents – apart from the hints glimpsed here and in the other ecosophia blog – are opaque to me.
* and of course there are plenty of people lacking a left or right hand, but in full enough possession of the hale and hearty “rest of them” to be able to care, hug and hold. Please consider the image as a metaphor, not as a statement of fact.
Esteemed and ever-challenging Archdruid, when I saw your title “The Path Between The Pillars” I immediately reflected on the artwork of the Pixie Smith Tarot deck. After reading your posting, I went and found what I thought was the relevant card, #II The High Priestess. Hmmm, not quite right. But reviewing ALL the cards, I found a much better match: #XVIII The Moon.
During my initial study of the Tarot, as recommended by you a while back to examine, reflect, and meditate on each card (I got through the major arcana but bailed partway through doing all the lesser), I had written on my reflection of The Moon: “XVIII – The Moon: Night-time emotions. Mysterious pillars (of thought? of reserve? of balance?) The sea and the land both affected. Disapproval from on high. Speaking up, even if fearfully. A long road to a distant land. Gravity. Invisible force at a distance. Tidal movements. (The LWB is very odd on this one too.)”
So when you mention a concept that is very dear to my heart, the Middle Path, and I reflect on what I wrote about XVIII The Moon, several things click into place for me. Your final paragraph is very powerful and moving for me. I’m still processing it all, but wanted to give my thanks to you for this essay and your ongoing works.
If I may, a quick reply to Matthias Gralle, from last week’s thread.
God may not throw dice* but people do. My quarrel is not with randomness per se, but with the attempt to do away with the gambler, the thrower of the dice.
There is, perhaps, a difference worth considering, between a wilful agent throwing some dice, and the dice randomly throwing themselves.
*although that assertion could certainly be debated.
I understand wiccanate witchcraft to be a middle pathway exactly as JMG defines it. This is an essential feature of wiccanate witchcraft as I understand it; if you veer too far to the left or the right, you are practicing something else.
FWIW, decades ago Aidan Kelly (cofounder of an influential American witchcraft tradition and something of a black sheep) declared that “Witchcraft is the Tantra of the West”.
So are there western traditions that reliably lead to Enlightenment? I’ve been following the Buddha’s Middle Path for a while now, and it may just be watcher at the threshold stuff, but I keep having the urge to dive into a Western occult tradition.
Would I be right in guessing your argument for the middle path in occultism is also basically your argument for Burkean conservatism?
The book Fire in the Minds of Men suggests that political movements need a physical place to coalesce around, like the shopping arcade that essentially became the headquaters of the French Revolution. In America the Latino movement largely grew out of the lowrider car clubs – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RAavisatXA (sorry, I don’t have a writtern source for this). I assume this remains true even for something that starts on the internet. If there was going to be a resurgent conservative movement, do you have any thoughts on what locations it could form around?
Now back to planning my canoe club’s rise to power. 🙂
Where can I find that information you mentioned on the return of depletion?
In the news around here it’s all either ‘we don’t need oil,we’ll all run everything on renewables and it will all be fine provided we put lots of money into it, a and because of climate change it is that or die’, or ‘oil prices are way too low and are doing horrid things to Alberta, therefore we need to put in more pipelines.’. I think they’re both missing critical parts of the picture (EROEI of wind and solar on the one hand, and the way oilsand interests are externalizing the costs to the entire rest of the planet, and BC specifically on the other), and would like to have information to point to if such information is available.
Speaking of climate change and oil, what do you make of the latest surge of climate change activism? I think it puts too much faith in our ability to shift technologies without major disruption, and there seems to be little awareness of the price we’re going to end up paying no matter what we do. Electric cars are good as far as they go, but will the supply of rare earth metals for batteries expand fast enough? And can we actually afford to build and run them on the scale they seem to think we’re going to. I tend to think a lot more people are going to go no-car. In cities, for most people, it is much more manageable than people think it is. And all the debt in western societies that keeps piling up… I just have this itch between my shoulderblades. It’s been there for the past decade or so, but it is really strong right now. I feel like I’m living inside a mirage that almost all of the people around me think is reality. Sorry for the whining,but this is one of the few places I can talk about this.
More as a reflection on the first half of your essay: I’ve always tried to be what I consider a philosophical and god-fearing hedonist. From Auden’s Lullaby:
Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s carnal ecstasy.
Also, if anyone wants to see my latest video it’s here
It’s a cover of End of the World – that song is weirdly resonating with me right now.
If I have understood well, ceremonial magic, hermeticism, druidry would all belong to the middle path then?
Are the occult pathways anything like American Politics and there are some Mages that proclaim themselves to be followers of the left hand path, but in practice more closely resemble those on the rightmost path, and their only real claim to be left of middle is their own self righteous shrieking?
Hi, JMG. My apologies — I am the author of “A Nuclear Tale”. Thanks for the good news!
Did I miss a volume? I have Weird of Hali 1, 2, and 3. If 5 is up for preorder, where do I get #4?
Does the “left-hand path” and “right hand path” division map to child-rearing as well? One version is that a single, strong, capable parent figure is all that is required, and the other is the “It takes a village”?
Interesting that both of these leave out the intellect, will, and temperament of the child.
(The wool socks are done, although they need to be blocked. Fingerless mittens in handspun wool are very close to being done, and there are some larger things that I think I can finish before it gets cold!)
And here I thought I was the only one in the world who was enjoying these ironies of meaning warped in the modern lens! LOL. There’s a wordy Wikipedia article on this dichotomy, but once again JMG serves up a nuanced discussion that ties the debate to larger issues in our society.
This essay provides additional ammunition to an ongoing critique of Western occulture that emerges from the Ecosophia blog as a whole, which I deeply appreciate.
A wider conversation about chirality in a physical, chemical and contemporary alchemical sense might be better broached when we return to the subject of Dion Fortune’s work. There’s something in the geometric principle itself that amino acids, sugars and enzymes require to drive the very organism/mechanism of life itself.
I’ve come to believe this is not mere metaphor but directly analogous to dimensions of action described by the Tantric masters, Magi and their Sufi successors. This is made more explicit when we compare helicity with the path taken by other concepts in mathematics with origins in India, across Persia and Mesopotamia to Judea and Greece, such as the abstract representation of number as a concept in script conveyed to us by the Arabs.
I’m often reminded of William Blake’s painting of Jacob’s ladder, where the angels are both ascending and descending the helical staircase. So let’s look at what’s happening on top of Pashupati’s head, Rudra or Shiva as Lord of the Animals, seated in the cross-legged position with swirling antlers growing out of his crown. It could be argued that a similar concept is being expressed whether we see this symbol on a seal in the Indus river valley ruins of Mohenjo Daro or raised in silver relief on the Gundestrup Cauldron, which emerged from the peat bogs of Denmark at the other end of antiquity and the Indo-European arc across Eurasia.
As for how essential this concept is to the Hermetic art, one need only regard the caduceus itself, Hermes’ own staff (something of a Shiva lingam, too) as illustrating both left- and right-spiraling serpents, who guard the Tree of Life in Judaic myth, if that’s not too much Hellenistic conflation to strain a syncretic view. Perhaps that’s a “middle pillar” we could draw upon to complete the essay’s image?
This fascinating subject makes me look forward to our solstice gathering all the more… In case more conversation material is needed, check out the latest report from Breakthroughonline.org.au as it provides plenty of science-fiction to inspire deep deindustrial phantasie!
From my outside perspective, it seems that Judaism is concerned at least as much with the act of eating as with sex. In a certain limited way, the vision of Peter at Joppa (Acts 10) is like the original meaning of the left-hand path you describe: an aversion to certain food, both moral and visceral, is suddenly inverted in a new religious experience. Of course, the consequences taken from this vision are then different than in the Hindu example. By the way, a Brazilian theologian known as Frei Betto used Peter’s vision at Joppa and his subsequent reaction to the gentile household filled with the holy spirit as model for changing the Church’s attitude to homosexuality.
PS: Scotlyn, I can live with that formulation, and it is in fact what I tried to express. A wilful agent (as felt by a wilful observer, not proved by experiments) throwing dice both in in ontogenesis and for reproduction because that seems more useful than trying to decide the outcome.
In this and the previous post, it occurred to me that there are a lot of situations where there can be only one desired outcome, and many competitors. How do you use magic to get someone to fall in love you? If the person was freely going to fall in love with you anyway, then it seems the most magic could do is remove any unwarranted obstacles—but what if those very obstacles, like a chick struggling to leave the egg–is part of the process. And if the person wasn’t going to freely fall in love with you, then you’re asking the universe to interfere with free will–and aside from the moral issue of doing that, what you’d get in the end is not love but love’s counterfeit. In an athletic contest for a gold medal, how would magic allow you to overcome your competitors–by making you faster than your training or preparation would merit? By somehow hobbling all the other competitors? Either way, you don’t achieve victory, only victory’s counterfeit. Better to intend, “May we all bring our best game to the contest, whether on the field of love, or the arena, that we may honor the game, and let the chips fall where they may. May the beloved find true love, may the medalist be able to truly say, ‘I beat the best version of my opponents.’ ” Being willing to do the discipline and suffer yourself into existence, to hope for victory, but to give the first place to honor–that is a left-hand path I could follow.
Okay, JMG. I remember your entry in the “New Encyclopiedia of the Occult” on the Temple of Set. You clearly identified it as a left hand path. There was also this; “The goal of the Setian path is the attainment of individual godhood, which is understood as eternal, isolated self-consciousness, separate from nature and the natural universe. It is interesting to note that this goal is fairly close to the concept of eternal damnation…..” In Letter 13, of “Meditations on the Tarot” the anonymous author devotes a couple of pages to Gurdjieff and it would appear the aims there are similar. Thus I now associate Gurdjieff’s “fourth way,” to which I was attracted for a couple of decades, with a left-hand path.
And, having abandoned the fourth way, I’m currently in a similar “rut” with Isaac who said up above, “I’ve been following the Buddha’s Middle Path for a while now, and it may just be watcher at the threshold stuff, but I keep having the urge to dive into a Western occult tradition.” Really, a guide for the perplexed is sorely needed.
Renaissance man –oh, I am just waiting for someone to reprove me for using “cotton picking minute.” What a golden opportunity it would present. You see, on a vacation in Arizona my father pointed out to us the fields in which he and his brothers had picked cotton on the long migration to California from Arkansas. How dare anyone assume that everyone who picked cotton was African-American! That would not have been true even during slavery as many small farmers did not own slaves and did work their own land and crops.
Mr. Nobody –some people do use Left Hand path as a synonym for black magic, which per Renaissance Man, will get you in trouble with those who see every negative use of the adjective ‘black’ as racist. Someone else, I don’t recall who, humorously defined Black Magic as any magic that actually works.
Matthew Gralle — food taboos can be a way to maintain a group’s isolation and prevent intermarriage. After all, it is hard to marry a girl if you can’t have dinner at her house or invite her or her relatives to dine with you. And since both sex and eating are sensual pleasures one gets sort of cross activity insults such as asking someone who has been cursing or talking salaciously “Do you eat with the same mouth you talk with?” or crossing even more boundaries “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
“I feel like I’m living inside a mirage…”
Good summary! I’ve felt that way for at least 30 years.
Mister N, LaVey — that is to say, Howard Stanton Levey, the brilliant put-on artist who reinvented himself as Satan’s publicity agent and got the entire US media industry to take his made-up biography and parodic devil religion at face value* — borrowed the term “left-hand path” from occult writings of the Theosophical era and used it as part of his performance. It was a typically clever move.
*Levey’s posturing got Jayne Mansfield to take off her clothes in his living room. Far stronger men have succumbed to feebler temptations.
Renaissance, two good clean shots straight in the bull’s-eye. Yes, exactly; the benefit of melting down over people using Bad Words is the same for social justice advocates as it was for Victorian moralists — talk is cheap, outrage is cheaper, and the competitive sport of finding ever more subtle microaggressions, nanoaggressions, picoaggressions, etc. makes a very easy substitute for actually changing anything. As for magic, the fine art of making excuses for failure is unfortunately widespread across the spectrum of occultism; we’ll see competent magic again when more mages admit to their failures, and then learn from them.
Scotlyn, I ain’t arguing.
Bryan, you’re welcome and thank you. I wondered if anyone would catch that reference!
Deborah, interesting. I’m glad to hear that.
Isaac, no spiritual path anywhere reliably leads to enlightenment, if by that you mean you’re guaranteed the experience of satori in this life; every spiritual path everywhere reliably leads to enlightenment, if by that you mean that eventually all souls will attain that state of awakening the Druid Revival traditions call gwynfydd, the luminous life. So if you’re satisfied with the Buddhist dharma, I’d encourage you to stick with that; if there are aspects of it that don’t work for you, why, there are many other options.
Yorkshire, not exactly. My argument for Burkean conservatism is that human beings are much less smart than they think they are, and so a flawed system that manages to provide basic social goods to most people is to be preferred to some intellectual’s grand plan that on paper, will work wonderfully for everyone — because in practice, that’s never what happens. (Marxism is of course the ultimate poster child for this: in theory, from each according to their abilities and to each according to their needs; in practice, gulags, secret police, and a higher death toll than any other ideology in the history of our species.) My argument for the middle path in magic is that while both the left hand and the right hand paths work in some situations, combining the two gives you a more flexible toolkit for a wider range of situations.
As for locations, I have no idea. I’m concentrating on trying to reinvent a middle ground, using the tools available to me — magic and the internet being among them…
Pygmycory, you have to correlate details from energy-related news sources, the same way we did back in the early days of peak oil. There isn’t a single good forum yet, filling the roles that Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum did back in the day. As for the current round of climate activism, they’re literally babbling nonsense. Everyone who’s done an honest job of crunching the numbers has shown that you can’t power a modern middle class existence on renewables, but try telling that to the current crop of climate activists…
Aron, “a philosophical and god-fearing hedonist” — I like that!
Karim, not entirely. There are people who practice ceremonial magic who do it from a left-hand perspective, and others who do it from a right-hand perspective; there are Hermeticists who follow both those perspectives, and some Druids who have a right-hand perspective. You can do any of the three as a middle path discipline, though.
Clay, it’s usually the other way around — people proclaim themselves to be followers of the right-hand path, humble servants of god or the gods or what have you, but it’s all about them and all the power they use seems to focus on their own egos.
Ron, thank you! I’ve updated the list; thank you for a good solid tale. ‘
Sylvia, you may have missed the announcement; volume 4, Dreamlands, is available here. As for childraising, hmm! That makes a lot of sense; thank you.
Jay, glad to hear there’s no irony deficiency in your diet. 😉
Matthias, interesting! Perhaps some of my Jewish readers can comment.
Greg, that’s one of the reasons why it’s a bad idea to do love magic focused on getting a specific person to love you. The most effective forms of love magic all focus on making you more lovable, so that you can attract the kind of person with whom you will be happy, and who will be happy being with you. Similarly, the most effective way to do spells for a competition is to focus on the intention of achieving your own best performance…
Phutatorius, that’s a tall order — the best I can offer is a guide to the handful of systems I know well enough to teach. But I’ll consider that.
In response to the “cotton-picking minute” discussion above-such expressions aren’t referring to black people, they’re referring to cotton pickers. Both my grandparents on my father’s side (I’m white) grew as tenet farmers in North Carolina and used to tell me all kinds of stories about having to pick cotton all day in the fall, and getting their hands messed up and stuff. A LOT of poor white people from the South made a living that way pre-WWII.
Somehow, urban Liberal culture has got this notion that southern history consists of white plantation owners lording over black slaves-full stop, end of sentence. It’s flat out wrong, as any good history of the South will tell you. (The one that comes to mind is Walter Edgar’s South Carolina: A History -it only covers one state but will give you some idea of the South’s historical experience. )
Ah, synchronicities. It’s no surprise that I would see this when I’m meditating and reflecting on the passages about the two pillars from the GD Neophyte ceremony. Although I initially saw GD magic as very much a “right hand path” when I started, my reflections of late have given me a wider perspective. The symbolism relating to the “two contending forces and one which unites them eternally” reminds me a lot of the druid ternary concepts. Lots of ideas for meditation. Thanks for the post!
JMG, this is off-topic, so put it through or not as you like, but I thought this would interest you: Multiple UFO sightings in China, Weibo explodes https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/XIkH1BUrw1Gaeht7bVoOGA
Thanks JMG , been studying Vampires a lot lately for a study of Gothic Literature, and Dracula is as you know Order of the Dragon, and a lot of the Left Hand Pathers identify with this Dragon. I guess if you shut out God(s) , and its just you, your desire and memory as omnipotent potentate, then Immortality becomes attractive as there aint nothing else.
The politics of race tends this way too, as any society that sees immortality as being achievable through the continuity of their tribe is bascally attempting the same thing. Same again with ideologies , all very interesting and great food for thought 👍
When i reflect on your words i am pleasantly surprised to see i am (roughly) attempting to follow a middle path of that Caduceus, perhaps in no small part due to your influence, so thanks.
Tolkienguy, thanks for this — that was my understanding also, but it’s good to hear it from someone whose family was there at the time. It strikes me that this insistence on identifying drudgery such as picking cotton as uniquely African-American, simultaneously erasing both the very large number of poor white people who did that and the significant number of African-Americans from 1865 on who were professionals and business owners, is — shall we use the word? — racist…
Rolf, excellent! When the Golden Dawn work is done as it should be — which doesn’t always happen, granted — it’s very much a system of the middle path.
Bogatyr, those were reported in Western media as tests of one of China’s latest (and very advanced) sea-launched rocket systems, and a comparison of the images to pictures of rocket launches make it clear that that’s exactly what they are. Thank you for this — another fine example of “UFOs” as cover for military testing…
Baton, you’re welcome and thank you. I admit I’ve never gotten the pop-culture fascination with vampires — do you romanticize blood-sucking leeches? — but your suggestion makes a great deal of sense.
@JMG: Hmm, well I guess I was under the impression that certain traditions and practices were more conducive to Awakening/Enlightenment than others. I also very much see that every person has their own set of tendencies, likes and dislikes, hangups and karma and that what works for one person won’t work for another. It also seems as though its impossible to know if a tradition works for you without getting relatively deep into it, and that there are aspects of any tradition that would not jive with any particular personality. I will probably continue with my practices but start feeling out other traditions a bit more. Thank you.
@Phutatorious: seems like we have been travelling in similar territory (I also tried out a tradition that was related to the temple of Set lol) but my take on Gurdjieff was that he was more like The Mind Illuminated style of Buddhism. Forging one “I” out of the many smaller “I”‘s is a lot like unification of mind, what “Samadhi” can be translated as. (Btw, in regards to JMG’s OP, seems to me that for Buddhists, “Samadhi” is a state of unification of mind that allows for the likelier possibility that Awakening/Enlightenment happens, and not Awakening itself.)
can you imagine a devout modern Christian talking about God’s penis as an emblem off his creative power?
There’s a science fiction book called The Sugar Festival, by Paul Park. Among its many oddities, it includes a Catholic church-like organization that dominates society. Its worship centers on a cynocephalic god with an erect phallus, and most of the liturgies describe sexual acts with said god.
It was a weird story, something like a blend of Mervyn Peake, Gene Wolfe and Philip K. Dick.
A history of ideas like this makes it easy for me to visualize various forces and entities moving under the surface of our world, with concepts following and mutating in their wake. We only convince ourselves that we’ve got a handle on the whole process.
So where exactly are you meant to go now if you just want some casual spiritual training and a whole lot of sex?
Baton + JMG,
I think what vampires romanticize is the attitude “Better to rule in hell…” A vampire is (or was until Twilight) already irredeemably damned, so they can do whatever they like without worrying about the fate of their soul. Add in the inability to go out during the day, and they largely get a pass on social respectability, too.
A big part of this is the increasingly-blatant sexualization of vampires that took place over the course of the past century. Arguably in the 19th century vampires had already become a kind of cautionary tale for young women about the dangers of becoming involved with charming, powerful men, but in the late 20th century they became an erotic fantasy in their own right: vampires could be young and beautiful forever, with no morals limiting their sexual expression.
I’ve been wondering lately whether vampires will ever make a comeback to pop-culture. We’ve obsessed over zombies for about a decade now. But now I wonder if the cultural changes over that time have made vampires obsolete.
As a left-handed person, I’m wondering if I should be offended by the sinister aspersions that have been heaped upon my in-born state of handedness. 😉 Yeah, I couldn’t resist.
In a post on TAR you talked about “theurgy” and “thaumaturgy” are the also like the right/left binary? or is theurgy more like a middle pillar? If so what would be the left hand or middle pillar (depending on where theurgy falls)? Or am I completely misunderstanding those concepts?
JMG, thank you for explaining the Left Hand versus Right Hand Path thing so elegantly and concisely. No definition of a term is perfect, but yours is the best I have seen by a long shot.
Your welcome i noticed that the 19 th century Gothic was heavy in reference to the Pre Raphaelite Art movement, and Nietzsche was beginning to riff heavily. This seemed to signal the Western shift from God to the will , desire, “out there”. Stoker and these guys were all rumoured to be Golden Dawn so they understood the metaphysics , no doubt. It piqued my interest when i saw that there are facilities springing up around the US where wealthy elites are storing their corpses inverted in cryogenic tanks , hoping to be re-animated ‘when’the tech becomes available. This seems to me to be the utmost foolish self idolatry of ‘out there’. LHP at its finest.
Both of my husband’s parents have stories of picking cotton as kids on their family farms in Depression-era Oklahoma. They moved out to California in the post-war period and “made good”, and were at first hesitant to talk about their early lives with me, I think because they worried about being seen as coming from “white trash”. After some encouragement to tell me and their grandkids all about it, we’ve been able to enter the stories into the family lore to be passed on- how Grandma would fill her bag just enough to make it soft and fluffy and then sneak off between the rows to take a nap on it, and how Poppy (still a very precise guy) used to pick his cotton so clean (of the prickly parts of the dried blossom) that his own Grampa would put those bags on top of the load when the buyer came to inspect the harvest, since cleaner cotton was worth more. We also get the stories of how Grandma’s dad used to go into town and pick up a truckload of black laborers to help with the harvest, and my kids don’t fail to notice Grandma’s efforts to self-censor, since she’s aware that the ways her family referred to those workers at the time are no longer considered appropriate. The stories are a great way for my kids to get to know their grandparents as people, who were once children like them, but who nonetheless grew up in a very different time and place. The best history lessons start at home, and I dearly hope my kids someday get to explain to a poke-nose about their use of one of our family favorite substitute swears, “cotton-pickin”.
–Heather in CA
Off topic, maybe not for posting. I will make a mental note to repost this on magic monday or open post if you don’t put it through.
I was late to join the Cosmic Doctrine Challenge and I’m working on Learning Ritual Magic and I’m wondering about extra meditations. I’m reading through the old threads on CosDocs and following MM and I’m hearing that these things take time, but I’m forced to wonder if there is a time/effort trade off. Specifically, if I feel that I’m getting the material and safe to move on, but have generated thoughts or ideas or questions that would benefit from some contemplative time should I slow down my progression or add in extra time, another bonus meditation later in the day?
Let’s assume, for the hypothetical cases, that I’m really getting it and have extra time to devout to it, or that I’m struggling with it and think that things are going well but actually I’m not getting it right. Or, add in your own cases from experience and give a range of advice.
Posting Anonymously Today
@JMG: You’re right that humans are not as smart as they often think, but that might be changing soon. With the advent of genetic engineering and cybernetic implants, it might be possible to create a new breed of human that’s inherently more intelligent than modern man. China has already started genetically engineering babies in the womb, and what they’ve done so far might just be the tip of the iceberg. And smarter people might be able to build better systems.
Do you think there’s any potential for success down that road? I’m not a neuroscientist myself, so I don’t know how much more intelligent an organic brain can be. Obviously there’s a physical limit, but I don’t see any reason to think we’ve already hit it.
A very timely post, touching on something I’m just beginning to work out the shape of – the practical balance between entering relationship with God(s), and magical practices meant to increase awareness of and strengthen my own powers. It’s surfaced as the subject of most meditations in this period between Beltane and the Summer Solstice.
It’s trickier and more subtle than veering to one method or the other, right or left. Some lesser parts of me tried to talk me into believing that because it’s not exclusively one or the other that it’s less real, that I’m just being wishy-washy but at heart I know that’s not the case (I’ve been -actually- wishy-washy on plenty of other occasions in life- so I do know the difference!). It just requires a more developed sense of proportion and more awareness of which modes of consciousness are being exercised at any given time. When and how long to be receptive and open to the greater powers, and when and how long to be focused on self-expansion, self-sovereignty, and expression. And when do both happen at the same time? At least that’s what I -think- right now. I’m only just putting a fingertip on how those two modes can work with one another.
When I pray, I ask Her/Them to help me develop this sense of proportion, and to learn how to be a better “friend” to them, for lack of a better term. When I do my magical work, I know that They are there, but that I have to push my own stone, and do my own work in this world- that’s my task and mine alone.
Losing the need to identify as right or left hand has been a milestone. Oddly enough, it hasn’t decreased my discipline, but improved it. It’s the broadest narrow path I’ve ever walked! And I’ve only just begun it. How exciting!
As always, thanks for all you do and have done.
Another question, Can Kabalah be practiced either of the 3 ways too? The three pillars of the tree of life seem to me to advocate a balanced middle path.
JMG, another interesting post. It’s an uphill battle for me to try to digest your observations and shoehorn them over how occult practices and what I would call “organized religion for the masses” interact. The idea of a middle path will useful in dealing with the extremes.
I’m not sure how it all shakes out, but the reality of the Long Descent and Joel Olsteen’s Prosperity Gospel certainly seem to be on a collision course. The concept of being “woke” won’t be limited to a person’s spiritual journey – it will also be coming to grips with the challenges of staying alive as the mainstream propaganda and lies crumble to dust.
And then there is ‘sinister’, and in Northern Ireland I hear that you can tread with either the right or the left foot.
Thus words: keys to ‘secrets’ and their ability to empower and/or subvert the imagination, whatever its embodiments, rites and habits? ‘Habits’? Now there is another interesting word. (bit of a smile)
Having been particularly exposed (without infection) to a noxious form of nationalism, radical -Left Basque, the observation about those who claim only to be humble servants of the gods – or of the nation/our people – being on a barley-disguised ego-trip rings very true indeed.
As an indication of how nasty it can get, the leader of the party, Arnaldo Otegi who projects a kind of Uncle Joe Stalin image, smiling friend of everyone, leader of his people to the shining uplands of independence, etc, recently warmly greeted the emergence of a character named Santi Potros from prison.
And who is Santi Potros? One of the very worst ETA murderers, guilty of the mass murder – by bombing – of women and children. And entirely unrepentant.
All ‘in the name of the people’, of course…..
Oculus sinister and oculus dexter mean left eye and right eye in Latin. Interesting how words meanings mutate combine and change.
Ah, drat, I had the deadline for that completely wrong in my head! (Day job plus the struggle to get sex scenes written *before* spending two weeks with my parents had pretty thoroughly consumed me for a while.) Oh well–still a good inspiration for future stories, and I’ll look forward to reading the collection!
This is really fascinating history, and makes a lot of sense! The concept of the third path also resonates, for me, with a lot of fairy tales and folk poems, where the third child or option or whathaveyou is the right one. Goldilocks is the most obvious example, of course, but there’s also the “road to fair Elfland” in Thomas the Rhymer (arguably not the best destination, but hey, depends on what you’re going for) which comes after the roads to Heaven and Hell, and so forth. It’s interesting that the third is always the youngest, or last to be named, in these stories.
In re: LaVey: My impression is that half of modern “left hand magic,” back to Crowley, was an extremely complicated way to get laid. I’ve said before, and still believe, that half these guys would’ve just started a metal band if the option was easier–and I wonder if the instance of new “Satanic”/”black magic”/etc groups has declined since the advent of singles bars and Tinder. 😛
Re: vampires: Having just read King’s Danse Macabre, where he talks about this to some extent, I think a lot of it is the way that Stoker wrote Dracula, which is all about putting the things Victorian society doesn’t talk about into a comfortable indirect and bad form (not unlike the slasher movies of the eighties, in some ways). Drac himself is handsome, in a distinguished-older-gent sort of way (and Lucy’s reaction to being bitten is fairly, er, ecstatic, though I’ll not quote King’s description itself), the brides are gorgeous immortal women with very red lips who “went on their knees,” the state of vampiric corruption in women inevitably gets tagged as “voluptuous” and so forth. This undoubtedly is half the reason the novel sold so well–horror is most effective when it hits societal pressure points, which sex back then (and Foreigners Seducing Our Pure Young Women in particular) definitely was, plus it had a certain amount of non-horror appeal–and likely had an influence there.
Now vampires for the most part have shifted over to romance as a genre (where there’s also a BDSM tie, due to Hypnotic Powers and Blood Bonds and whatnot) and the standard horror monster is the zombie, which has a lot of the same basic process as a vampire (I bite you and remove vital bits, and by doing so make you like I am) but is more direct and way less sexy. So far. 😛
A big hearty congratulations to all of you authors out there who got a piece into Love in the Ruins! Wish I’d gotten mine in on time…it was shaping up to be a sexy story. Maybe a 2nd volume at some point?
Since you brought up Marxism, there’s something I’ve been wondering. Marx is often criticised for saying the proletarian revolution was inevitable. On one hand that’s a fair comment and it’s a belief the left could have really done without. On the other hand, was that unique to Marx? As you’ve read lots of books from that era, was it just him or did others back then also claim that what they wanted to have happen was inevitable? If it’s the latter then the original point is at least as much a criticism of the rhetorical style of the time as it is of Marx.
> In the Western world religious people talk freely of the hand of God, the heart of God, the face of God, and so on—but can you imagine a devout modern Christian talking about God’s penis as an emblem of his creative power? (Please note the adjective: modern Christian. The Middle Ages were much less mealy-mouthed, and such utterances as “by God’s stones!” (i.e., testicles) were theologically unobjectionable in those days; they took the doctrine that Christ was fully God and fully man to its robust logical conclusion. That was a long time ago, however.)
Related to this, in the orthodox christian church there’s the well respected figure of Symeon (aka “The New Theologian”) who:
“speaks lovingly of the manner in which all the saint’s bodily members are transfigured in the light of Christ’s glory: fingers, eyes, face all become luminous. And as he makes his list we come to the end, even [his] penis becomes like Christ.
An extract from his hymn:
“We were made members of Christ, and Christ becomes our member.
And so thus you well know that both my finger and my penis are Christ.
Do you tremble or feel ashamed?
But God was not ashamed to become like you,
yet you are ashamed to become like him?”
Simeon was “the last of three saints canonized by the Eastern Orthodox church and given the title of “Theologian” (along with John the Apostle and Gregory of Nazianzus). “Theologian” was not applied to Symeon in the modern academic sense of theological study; the title was designed only to recognize someone who spoke from personal experience of the vision of God” [wikipedia]
I find it an irony that while Japanese Buddhism went on to talk about self-power and other-power, as far as I understand, there was no hard division between the two in China. Chan monks would still chant Amitabha’s name and Pure Land monks still meditated to develop samadhi. And of course in Japan itself, esoteric, magical schools like Shingon and Tendai still survived.
I remember reading some perennialists commenting that it was interesting how the “tariki” doctrine spread in Japan at roughly the same time Protestantism was spreading in Western Europe. I wonder if phenomena like the Axial Age, where similar trends in thought and religion spread in different areas without much direct contact, are more common in history than we know. For example, I find it striking that as Aquinas developed his quasi-realist interpretation of Aristotle in Italy, in Tibet, Tsongkhapa was also developing a quasi-realist interpretation of Buddhism which subsequently gained dominance in Tibet.
In Western magic, I even suppose even Renaissance era goetic rituals can be very much a middle path. There is probably a big difference in blowback and outcomes between a goetist who commands the demons to fulfill his lusts and someone who comes to goetia after theurgia in order to bind the demons.
I would like to ask you a question though, JMG. I’m not even a monotheist, but I’ve always felt that there was something off with the “spirit friendly” approach to goetia; the proponents usually claim that the demons are actually pagan gods that the Church unfairly maligned. But even as a polytheist, I feel like there are a wide range of deities available that have a better reputation. You are a polytheist, but I seem to remember you advising against this approach. Could you explain your stance on this?
JMG, I have to hand it to you for connecting the dots for me once again. I always suspected that the underlying structure of Western occultism had a Hindu connection, and you have clarified that quite well for me with this post. It makes total sense that the UK’s wheelings and dealings in India would result in some Hindu ideas making their way back to the Isles. Once again, you’ve shined a light on that which was “hidden in plain sight”.
Someday I’ll regale you with stories of my misadventures with occultism in our 2×4 state. There’s a LOT of it here.
“On the other hand—literally!—do you follow the rules of ascetic practice strictly in the early phases of your training, and then deliberately violate them in a ritual setting, using the shock of the experience to jolt your mind out of its ordinary modes of working, and achieve enlightenment that way? That’s vamachara, literally “the left-hand path.” They’re both well-recognized approaches to Tantra, and many gurus will assign one or the other to a student depending on individual needs and strengths.”
Well it must be true about Buddhism also, as the first thing that popped into my mind after reading the above paragraph was Chogyam Trungpa. He was known for his drinking, smoking, and sleeping around with students, behaviors of which I wouldn’t have associated with Buddhism. There was controversy over how, at a party where Trungpa and others had removed their clothing, a couple not wishing to participate was forcibly disrobed. He was popular with the university crowd at that time, poets and artists and such. I wonder if Trungpa had lived in the present day and carried on in such a way, would he be accepted or condemned by the “woke” elite?
I half expect to be called a racist because I don’t care for black jellybeans.
I’ll have to go and find some energy related news sources that are fairly decent, then. I was in highschool and wasn’t paying too much attention to energy the last time we were at this stage, so I can’t directly compare the zeitgeist.
I think the climate activists are at least partly terrified that if they admit that we might not be able to power everything, the rest of society will refuse to go along with changing anything. Given the increase in active climate denial and the likes of Alberta’s Jason Kenney or the USA’s Donald Trump, I can understand where they’re coming from, even if I don’t like it and don’t believe that we’re going to get off lightly on either the environmental damage, or the absolute requirement to use less. It isn’t just the energy use, it is the minerals, and the desertification, and the deforestation, and… anyway.
Off topic for this week-
I have been spending a lot of my time with problem eyes listening to history podcasts and audiobooks, trying to learn enough and understand things well enough that I can get a better sense of where things are headed. It is very interesting. I have also been playing ‘spot every dark age I can’. Which means I find myself having to try to decide just what constitues a dark age and what doesn’t. They aren’t all created equal, that’s for sure. Both Japan and China have gone through much less dark periods of disunity, population decrease and and the like, but I need numbers and detail to understand what is going on properly that I don’t have.
“A wilful agent (as felt by a wilful observer, not proved by experiments) throwing dice both in in ontogenesis and for reproduction because that seems more useful than trying to decide the outcome.”
I think the fundamental error that creeps in here, based on the premise of a maker/designer god, is that an act of will can predetermine an outcome.
That is an idea pertinent to cummings’ “world of made”, and the prime delusion of our time. It also presents a.theological difficulty – if there is free will, it can only be because this maker God decided to design it that way, but God could have easily designed it elsewise.
Whereas in a “world of born” such as the one I personally believe we live in, an agent’s will only determines the act they themselves will take, and can never pre-determine an outcome. This makes EVERY act of will a roll of the dice, as it were.
Outcomes arise from many acts, interacting, whether in concert, or in parallel, or at cross-purposes, or a jumble, and every outcome prompts further acts of will.
In a world of born, “generated” or “begotten” by a fecund God, free will needs no explaining. One gives birth to a child, but they carry themselves in the world and take their own steps. They are neither a tool, nor an extension of one’s self, and they are moved from within by a will of their own. To one’s eternal surprise!
Re Peter’s vision at Joppa, I think you are onto something.
JMG, I think maybe the modern vampire in pop-culture is a vehicle to act on control and submission fantasies. That would be very in-line with Faustian culture–treating people as puppets and resource (blood) sacks.
WRT ‘cotton-picking minute’
My first thought was there are easy substitutes:
Now just a corn de-tasseling minute!
Now just an apple-thinning minute!
Now just a cabbage worm picking minute!
They’re all tedious, sweaty, unending, hot detailed work that anyone sane tries to have someone else do at the first opportunity.
Just wait until everyone complaining about a phrase as being ‘bad’ has to do that manual labor to stay alive.
Thanks for another great post.
Teresa from Hershey
Another fine book that ought to dispel any idea of some universal white privilege is “White Trash. The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg. I’m about half through and highly recommend it. For much the same reason I also wholeheartedly recommend “Why We Left” by Joanna Brooks, which uses the words of American folk ballads as clues to what drove early English emigration to America (hint: it was most certainly not because they saw America as a land of opportunity). From the jacket blurb: “Brooks follows these songs back across the Atlantic to find histories of economic displacement, environmental destruction and social betrayal at the heart of the early Anglo-American migrant experience.” It’s a vastly different look at American history than anything I’d read before.
Isaac, different techniques do have different results…for different people. I find the various mind-emptying meditation techniques unproductive, while discursive meditation works very well for me; I know people of whom exactly the opposite is true. Equally, ceremonial magic is very effective for some of us and a bad idea for others. If I understand correctly, the Buddhist concept of “skillful means” is among other things a recognition of this. As for choosing a tradition, yeah, it’s always a matter of by guess and by gosh, mediated by personal preferences when it comes to the basic philosophy — for example, the Buddhist attitude toward pleasure has always seemed deeply wrong-headed to me, but I gather it makes sense to a lot of people.
Cliff, in a lot of religions divine sexuality is a perfectly respectable theme, and ithyphallic deities are far from rare, so that’s hardly a leap of the imagination!
WouldbeCultist, these days? I have no idea. It used to be that the less serious forms of Wicca were the go-to option for that, but apparently that’s less true at this point. There may be an economic niche waiting to be filled…
@Beekeeper in Vermont,
That sounds similar to “The Invention of Capitalism” which was an eye-opening book for me. It details the transition from feudalism to industrialism and it talks a lot about the specific strategies elites used to coerce people to work in factories (spoiler alert: nobody actually wanted to work in a factory, it was miserable, wages alone did not bring in the workers).
This reminded me of traditional Christian attitudes toward sexuality, particularly as found in Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Marriage is honored and large families are common (less common now, though your typical Latin Mass parish honors the old ways in that regard). However, nearly all the saints were either celibate their entire lives or embraced celibacy after renouncing their former sinful ways.
It seems to be a question of focus. Most people are called to the more earthly life of marriage and child-rearing. However, the community as a whole depends on certain men and women rejecting such earthly pursuits and comforts and devoting themselves wholly to God. We are supposed to admire these holy men and women, even if we ourselves are called to a different path.
I don’t much about how other religions pursue these two paths, but I thought it was noteworthy.
Beekeeper: I read that “history of white trash.” The author didn’t distinguish between working-class whites, those who were just desperately poor, and the badly behaved. Their ‘betters’ considered them all to be ‘white trash.’ So your proposed clueless reader might find out (shock! horror!) that some whites were indeed poor. But would be handed a ready-made epithet to dismiss them with.
I have not had time to read all the wonderful thoughts already posted – I usually get around to all of them by next Tuesday after a wednesday post, ha! So, forgive me if someone else has already said it – but when I saw left hand and right hand path, I thought it was about the Pillars of the Tree. I suspect that the newer redefined meanings fit very well on that glyph that way, uncoincidentally.
The past couple days I have been dealing with a particularly nasty personal bout of dealing with a wealthy person who believes the universe exists to provide for her wishes (with bonus not-quite-as-wealthy-overgrown-schoolgirl-posse) at my co-operative preschool, so I have been thinking a lot about the class dimensions of the “magical thinking” going on right now. We have lost our beloved teacher of several years because the abuse and demands of these type of families have just shattered her, and her family has put their foot down: she must quit for her health. Most bitterly ironically, now that their favourite teacher will be gone, they will be going too, and they demand their $100 non-refundable deposit back for next year’s registration (we have a new teacher and expanded program – so we should not return it, we have not breached our end of the contract – but that is not good enough, they demand the teacher they wanted). We will, however, be giving them their money back. Our non-profit, volunteer-run shoestring preschool run on 50 years of blood and sweat ever on the verge of bankruptcy, will give them their $100 back, to get presumably, very nice rearview mirror dice for their $150,000 Teslas.
In the way synchronicities work, with the thoughts that arise from thinking about this essay in light of the Qabala, and the clear direction from whatever talks to me when I divine, my three-card spread (according to my methods) for today was Currents in Me: inverted Hanged Man (powers of Creation down the Path of Mem) Outside Currents: inverted Wheel of Fortune (powers of Creation down the Path of Kaph), with the resolution: 2 of swords (which are Will, in my deck’s art). My personality is such that to see these entitled inadequacies of human beings get away with this boils my blood and I would tell the ringleader in my infamous cutting manner exactly what she is and and what she deserves this afternoon if I could… but I can’t, because as the new president I represent the preschool, and the risk of their petty revenge on the school is too great. Justice only about the Veil indeed. My ego set aside to serve my higher aim of protecting my community. My executive are good people, we’ll be okay in the end, after this hell of a rough patch. An individual human is not that strong, but the right idea and will behind a group of us, we can save this one good thing in the world.
If you are female I would try the OTO, if you are male try Wicca… both offer spiritual sexuality, but currently the Wiccan scene has females that outnumber males 10:1. The OTO has slightly more men than women (maybe 5:4?) Neither guarantees you will get laid, as far as I know, so expect to work at it, but your odds are probably better than in bars or online if you do have an interest in the religious teachings because you all start out with something major in common.
JMG, in your (as usual) fascinating essay you remark that “the vast majority of religions around the world treat sex as an ordinary part of life”.
If they do so, it only shows how unrealistic they are. It’s vastly unlikely, on theoretical grounds, that sex could have escaped the universal catastrophe that has distorted human nature. Christianity’s “weird obsession with sex”, as you call it, is a case of needs must.
Whether one ascribes it to a historical Fall, or (like I do) to some simultaneous blast-down-the-ages manifesting the price paid in eternity for the creation, it seems hard to deny that there is something fundamentally morally wrong with mankind. Even the act of eating isn’t fit for purpose, as you can tell from watching the huge wobbling stomachs parading along the promenade on Morecambe Bay where I live.
All right, a sort of “normality” can still exist, to a secondary degree – a precarious raft of jerrybuilt cultural equilibrium floating among the waves of disaster. So in that limited sense you could say sex is, or could be, an “ordinary part of life”.
But here’s where it all gets very complicated: some things which would be a bad sign in unfallen humanity, can be a good sign in fallen humanity, and vice versa (please adapt the myth and the terminology as you please, mutatis mutandis). For instance:
1) re a sense of sexual shame (which now seems on the way to extinction): it would be very out of place in Paradise, but in our present world it’s one of the tensions or discontents which keeps us human.
2) hypocrisy: renowned as “the tribute that vice pays to virtue”, it’s something one ought to rise above, but failing that, it’s something one ought not to sink below. These considerations apply because it’s no good trying to expect too much.
I have enough imagination and empathy to slip in and out of the mental world of those who (like one of my favourite authors, Jack Vance) are averse to Christian views and/or find them unattractive. But the very “weirdness” of Christianity is to me what makes it plausible. Not a universal blueprint for truth, it’s instead a rescue operation in emergency conditions, and, as such, uncomfortable.
WouldbeCultist, you might try this or similarly named festivals in other parts of the country:
In a slightly different vein of lightweightness,
here are some well established Pan-Pagan camping festivals that are rife with opportunities for what you are inquiring after. Two of the oldest and largest ones are
Starwood Festival (was in New York State, currently in Ohio)
and Pagan Spirit Gathering, also in Ohio
Try the Circle Sanctuary website if this link doesn’t work.
A smaller Pan-Pagan festival which (I think) has the advantage of being taking place on land owned by one of the organizations that runs it is
Magical Mountain Mysteries in the high desert of New Mexico, on Ardantane’s land .
Traveling to an unfamiliar place, being stimulated by unfamiliar sensory experiences, while being outdoors during most of your sleeping and waking hours, can have the effect of shifting consciousness, and some people do get insights or initiatory experiences in the midst of having a good time. Some fairly serious occultists and magical practitioners attend these gatherings, not necessarily the ones whose names are mentioned in the advertising, and you might hear some quality storytelling from one of them sitting around a campfire or having a smoke in the designated smoking area.
@wouldbecultist May I recommend the church of rock n roll? The creed is loose … just like the acolytes … live rock shows are a great place to meet people who are a little into magic and a lot into sex..
a few sources on the Peak Oil topic:
Gail Tverberg still writes on this and related issues on
Ron Patterson’s http://www.peakoilbarrel.com has the highly technical reports & analyses he used to post on TheOilDrum.
Easiest on the eyes are Chris Martenson’s several podcast interviews of Art Berman (www.ArtBerman.com)
The most recent was recorded 9 Jan 2019:
Jim Kunstler has also interviewed Art Berman for the Kunstlercast.
If you roam around Martenson’s Peak Prosperity podcasts you’ll find other writers on more narrow topics (“Saudi America” –Bethany Maclean, for example). His chat with Alice Friedemann, 20 Aug 2016, “When The Trucks Stop Running,” is sobering.
Hope this helps.
Slightly off topic, but regarding your last paragraph, where do you go for your peak oil news these days? Now that The Oil Drum is gone and Resilience.org has turned into an exercise in virtue signaling, is there anything left? The heyday of the ADR is gone. Frankly, I can’t believe the years have passed so quickly!
Also, here’s something I came across the other day. Apparently some parties in Cleveland, including Cleveland’s postal union, are pushing the idea of postal banking. Didn’t you advocate for this awhile back?
@ Robert Gibson
Forgive my ignorance, but I’m trying to understand your comment and need to ask what is the universal catastrophe that has distorted human nature?
James, all this reminds me of what I still think is the best summary yet penned of the Twilight series: “The heartwarming story of a girl on the brink of womanhood, forced to choose between bestiality and necrophilia.”
Candace, I’m also predominantly left-handed, so no doubt I should accuse myself of sinistrophobia or something! As for the division between theurgy and thaumaturgy, that’s not really an overlapping categorization — the left hand path doesn’t do theurgy, but the right hand and middle paths can do both theurgy (magical workings meant to attune the individual to divine realities) and thaumaturgy (magical workings meant to cause things to happen in the world of manifestation).
KImberly, you’re welcome and thank you.
Baton, yes, I heard of that! If I recall correctly, Larry Niven predicted that in SF stories many years ago, and in his tales the frozen remains were called “corpsicles.”
Heather, thank you for this! That’s a great bit of family history.
Anonymously, it really depends on your schedule and also on the pace at which your mind likes to absorb this sort of thing. I’d encourage you to try a variety of options and see which works best for you; in magic, one size emphatically does not fit all.
Libertine, that’s always struck me as a classic example of bad logic. We don’t actually know what intelligence is — ask a good cognitive psychologist about this — and therefore our attempts to create “increased intelligence” simply involve taking our ignorant notions of what higher intelligence might be and inflicting them on human subjects. I recall an old Gordon Dickson SF novel that talks about this. Imagine that a bunch of gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans got together to try to invent a human being. Would they be able to conceive of the leap of consciousness that made us human — or would they simply come up with a more efficient ape?
Bonnie, excellent. Yes, it’s more challenging, but the skills you develop by learning to assess the options and balance the two sides of the scale against each other are themselves well worth having…
Karim, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But I’ve met Cabalists who follow all three paths.
Drhooves, it’s very common in the twilight years of a civilization in decline for people to buy into intellectually dishonest feel-good nostrums like the prosperity gospel. I tend to think that the people who get into that are following some kind of obscure prompting to crash and burn as luridly as possible — because of course that’s usually what happens…
Phil H, yep. There’s a reason why “spell” means both “put a word together out of letters” and “a magical act.”
Xabier, I’ve met less successful members of the type, and yes, I had that in mind.
PhysicsDoc, true enough!
Isabel, yeah, I could just about see a fad for zombie sex taking off… :-/
Tripp, we’ll see how the first volume does.
Yorkshire, it was anything but unique to Marx. The 19th century was full of intellectuals who were convinced that they, personally, were the turning point of human history, and the inevitable adoption of their harebrained notions would lead everyone to Utopia. Marx is simply the last man standing.
Fkarian, thanks for this. Clearly I should amend my comment to say “modern Western Christian.”
Alvin, I suspect that it’s also something that happened in relatively young societies — Japan and western Europe are more or less coeval, with the Heian period in place of the Carolingian era, the sengoku jidai in place of the Middle Ages, and the rest of history in parallel; China played roughly the same role as Rome, or more precisely the role Rome would have played if it hadn’t fallen. As for your question about goetia, the mere fact that a spirit has been bad-mouthed by Christians does not mean that the spirit in question is good, or for that matter safe to be around; the old Pagan Neoplatonists, not to mention the Mesopotamian and Egyptian wizards from whom so much of their lore was inherited, knew about evil spirits and taught ways to get rid of them. I don’t practice goetia and I don’t recommend that others do so; there are many less problematic ways to achieve any magical goal you might have in mind.
Badger, I’ll look forward to it.
Joy Marie, Trungpa was a spectacle, no question. It was quite common for a while for very highly respected gurus to come to the US, settle down to teach, and then crash and burn spectacularly in a blaze of substance abuse, sexual shenanigans, and financial improprieties. America is a dangerous place to be a guru — the temptations are so readily available, and it costs so little at first, because you can be sure your students will cover for you…
Pygmycory, it’s a reasonable worry on their part, but the flip side is that their own unwillingness to make changes in their own lives guarantees that nobody else will take them seriously. As for dark ages, like most other things, they come in varying grades of intensity; you may have to work out some kind of rule of thumb to decide what’s a mild dark age and what’s a period of turmoil and decline that doesn’t quite count.
Packshaud, I could see that.
Christopher, and that’s certainly one way to handle things.
SaraDee, please accept my sympathy — that kind of thing is always harrowing. When you send them back their money, do it with the intention of letting go of all connection with them; that was something I learned from one of my teachers, and it works reliably, as a way to see to it that you never have to put up with their fetid presence again. (If you’ve already sent the checks, no problem — simply spend a few minutes concentrating on the idea that the refund releases all ties between you and them. I’ve done this for years in the various esoteric groups I’ve run, with good results.
Oh, and don’t think they will get away from this without consequences. There is always a bigger picture, and what goes around, comes around…
Robert, I think you’ve misunderstood what I’m suggesting. Spiritual teachings from around the world agree about the imperfect nature of life in the world we experience, whether that imperfection is the result of some fault or flaw in human beings, as you would say, or whether it’s inherent in the nature of manifest existence, as I would say. What sets Christianity apart from the vast majority of the world’s other religions is its tendency to insist that sexuality is more flawed than the rest of life. To say that most other religions don’t accept that isn’t to say that they think sex is flawless — only that they don’t see sex as uniquely flawed, but simply one more part of life, with its good and bad aspects.
Christianity shares with other prophetic religions such as Buddhism the belief that there’s something very, very wrong with human beings, for which it claims to provide a means of cure. Natural religions such as Druidry tend to see the limits, flaws, and foibles of human beings as simply what you’d expect in a universe that wasn’t created by an all-wise deity but, like Topsy, “just growed.” Is the difference important? You bet, but it wasn’t what I was trying to bring up here.
“They cultivate relationships with sources of power outside the self, and they also learn how each of these can foster the other: how working with sources of power outside the self can enlarge and develop the self’s own powers, and how work with the self’s own powers can make it easier and more effective to work with the powers of the cosmos.”
You can see it in everything, and it makes a virtue (if a sometimes comic one) of “intellectual recycling.” Especially the problems that are a refusal to consider alternatives, mainly because they optimize some polarizing metric. Then resisting re-calibration when factors change. At least until events swing out of paradigm. The flow of History seems as if it would make a better inoculate, but I notice the effect of alternates to established history. Or, a gripping tentacular fantasy.
I was thinking of that Clarke quote lately as well, but from the occult perspective. If you turn it around, any insufficiently understood human attribute is indistinguishable from magic? If I’m an occultist and I say mindreading is possible, I’m likely to often be dismissed. But if you’re a psychologist, you are cutting edge. For example, “In sum, participating in a conversation requires more than just good listening and speaking skills. It requires considerable mindreading ability, as well.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-apes/201505/why-your-closest-friends-can-finish-your-sentences.
I’ll attempt to “read” the occult deniers objections. They’ll say the article is just using hyperbolic clickbait, or say that science is a different (superior) technique. But, when I dig into the profiles of the occultists profiled on the other Ecosophia, I see that occultists were the click-bait artists of their day, both use hyperbole. And, are occultists and psychologists really talking about something so different that there is no common ground? As a fan of both, they seem different in one important way, the occultists are providing tools to use to get better at it.
I’m tempted to invoke Lewis Carroll, in a send-up of that first linked article, but then I would seem unobjective. 🙂
Back to the Pillars, “mindreading” would seem to be a technique that focuses on the self’s own powers, but I know there is a middle path there too. The Ogham should be called the Ent Oracle because trees don’t throw rocks! It will tell you when you’re wrong.
Also, I needed to add a third pole to last week’s Beer/Occultism fervor measure, I hope you don’t mind. On the Guild/Beer/Occult fervor measure, I hope I’ve graduated from the Apprentice Lite Beer to Craftsman Pale Ale, I’m probably only shooting for the Journeyman Porter, but I thank you for your guidance Master Stout.
HI Blue Sun,
There are a number of countries where minor banking tasks like getting a microloan are handled by the postal service. It seems to work out well.
@JMG: Ooh, yeah. I’ve heard of one or two, but it’s never caught on–I think the visceral elements of zombiedom get in the way of even the most determined romanticizer. (Aside from the smell, there’s the old joke about the leper and the prostitute…)
Eternal youth and beauty is a fairly decent draw, though.
Pygmycory and JMG – Regarding climate change, I just got a pitch from the American Humanist Association with nine suggestions for “action on climate change”. Here they are (slightly paraphrased): post on social media, write letters to editors, mobilize a local group, form a reading group, host an event, learn more, go to a demonstration, host a conversation, and [you guessed it] send us some money. What do all of these things have in common? None of them do anything about climate change!
You know, as soon as I saw that first item on the list, I knew what was coming, and what was not.
How hard would it be to come up with nine truly effective actions? Live near your work; eat only what you need; drink only what you need; let your home get cooler in the winter; let your home get warmer in the summer; take fewer, shorter, and cooler showers; grow food, not grass; vacation close to home; and support the education of girls (and they will have fewer, and healthier, children). Once these (and other true actions are accomplished “with one hand”, they may gain the standing to enlighten the rest of us “with the other hand”.
Just don’t use your left hand to eat, give money, or receive money and it’s all good. 😉
This has come up too often in this thread for me to refrain from posting this.
Re: “corpsicles” : for where that ends, more realistically human than some of Niven’s stuff: Bujold’s novel Cryoburn.
Petra, thanks for this.
Blue Sun, I keep an eye on a variety of news sources that occasionally have energy news (among other things). If somebody feels like starting a moderated aggregator site on energy news, that might be timely.
J8sun, a lot of that is a function of social boundaries. Psychologists are “in,” occultists are “out,” and so it doesn’t matter if they say the same things — the one is good and the other is baaaad. (Yes, that’s meant to look like a bleat from a sheep.) Deviance theory, a branch of sociological theory, has a lot to say about all this.
Isabel, just don’t read anything about actual vampire lore, then. They ain’t young and they ain’t pretty…
Lathechuck, now surprise me.
Varun, running water has its advantages. 😉
Patricia, oh, Niven’s science was always really sloppy. It didn’t surprise me at all when he had Earth rotating the wrong direction in the original edition of Ringworld..
Regarding the idea of China genetically engineering people to be more intelligent:
I’m probably being a curmudgeon, but it sounds like China is looking at the U.S. throwing itself face-first into a wood chipper, and deciding that it can beat us at that game, too.
@JMG: Oh, exactly! There’s probably a decent masters’ thesis in finding out when exactly the vampire stopped being a walking corpse, only a little less falling-apart than a zombie, and became a weirdly attractive sexual creature. There’s definitely some crossover with the succubus myths there, and maybe with certain legends of the fey (the need to invite them in, for instance), but when did the shift take place? Clearly before Stoker–Carmilla was 26 years earlier, and not just a sexy vampire but a sexy *lesbian* vampire, woo–and I’m tempted to blame the Victorians, as usual. Emphasize sex=scary and sinister enough, and scary and sinister start to mean sex.
“What sets Christianity apart from the vast majority of the world’s other religions is its tendency to insist that sexuality is more flawed than the rest of life.” It sometimes seems that way, for example when the term “immorality” is understood merely in a sexual sense.
On the other hand if you look at the scheme of Dante’s Purgatorio, of all sins the sexual are seen as the mildest, the most severe being sins of pride – i.e. hypertrophied ego.
That, according to legend, is what caused Lucifer’s rebellion, and all the subsequent bother. The rebellion didn’t spring from angelic philandering.
Replying to Ryan S: sorry I haven’t got a good answer to your question, because I don’t really know. I argue back from effect to cause. Call it a hunch, if you will (but one shared by many), that we humans weren’t meant to be how we are; that something went wrong; that there are deep remnants within us which nevertheless remind us of what we have lost (in Wordsworth’s phrase, “Fallings from us, vanishings”). Apologies for not being clearer!
Hi John Michael,
For the second time in a decade, the solar power system here that provides electricity for the house shut down earlier in the week due to low battery voltage. Fans of renewable energy systems – and I am one, but with a rather less ecstatic, and perhaps a whole lot more pragmatic approach based on experience – may be truly horrified to know that at 37.5’S latitude over winter sometimes the sun don’t shine much for days. And we gambled on seeing a bit more sun than actually materialised, and then bam (like pop goes the weasel) off goes the lights. Fun times…
On the other hand, like all crises it is a good opportunity to take stock, consider and do something about the matter.
I’m glad that you worked your way in this essay to a reasonable conclusion! Of course you mostly always do, but I was saying to myself in my mind in the early parts of the essay: “What about finding a middle path!!!” Of course I freely acknowledge your assistance in teaching me the importance of such thinking.
Anyway, my point is that a person can pick and choose whatever techniques work well for them. Talk of left and right paths – as you rightly point out – sound an awful lot like a proclamation for the well trod one true way! A very dull place to be for sure. Not to disparage folks who are happy with that though, as it might actually fit them really well. Such a well trod path is probably not for me though.
I can’t even commit to a smart phone. They seem like a waste of: time; personal energy; and resources, to me. I was in an ancient forest today. It was awesome. Maits Rest Rainforest Trail. I find such places invigorating, but I noticed some people experienced them through their phones. Honestly, people don’t seem to be able to enjoy the world through their senses these days. But then I don’t find it difficult to pick and choose what technology I burden myself with either…
Pygmycory, thanks for beating me to the question and Petra, thanks for the links! This lessens my nostalgia for the days when I used to frequent the Energy Bulletin, Oil Drum, and Archdruid Report!
Is there any relationship between right and left hand and middle path right, left and middle columns in the tree of life, and what about the notion that the right hand is giving and the left hand the desire to receive
@ JMG & Isabel: Mercy Brown “died” at 19, and her body was found unchanged after several months in the coffin. She was definitely slain by burning her heart. There are no accounts of her beauty, however.
On the cotton pickin’ discussion: no less an American Icon than Johnny Cash sang:
“I never picked cotton
But my mother did
And my brother did
And my sister did…”
I’m not sure if it’s literally true, but he grew up on a farm where his family grew cotton.
A lot of the latest group of climate change activists are teenagers who have limited control over their and their family’s carbon footprint, so I tend to give the youngsters at least a partial pass. I often didn’t have much luck trying to convince my parents that I had ethical problems with x and there we shouldn’t do it, after all. And expected kids to be able to see through our societies ideas to things like EROEI and complex ecosystem interactions is a very standard indeed.
The adults are another matter, though. They don’t get a pass. The thing is, some of them do walk their talk. I remember some prominent Albertans being interviewed about BC’s opposition to the pipeline insisting that we were all hypocrites who went to climate protests in SUVs, and were therefore hypocrites who should be ignored. All I could think was, ” I’ve never owned a vehicle. I go to protests by bus or walking, same as everything else.”
Archdruid I don’t know if anyone has asked about this binary; but can you speak to the difference between selfish magic and what Bailey called “white” magic more fully? It seems to me that magical manifestations, mockups, reality creations, etc can go disastrously wrong depending on how aligned and balanced they are in relation to the person who is doing the Work. Selfishness or self-less-ness – does it matter when it comes to best practices and magical outcomes?
Robert Gibson–your comment on Dante’s Purgatory reminds of an exercise I used to do when teaching Western Traditions. Students were confused by the ordering of sins in Dante’s Hell. So I would do two experiments. In one I would have the circles as Dante gave them and let the students put famous people that they knew in the appropriate circle.Then I would ask them to redraw the circles themselves. What did they think were the worst sins? I wish I had recorded the results. Child molesting was regarded as terrible. Murder also, of course, –I don’t recall the rest, but much that Dante saw as terrible was not on the student’s radar. This was mid 1990s at U. of Nevada, Reno. Fairly conservative students–despite Nevada’s racy reputation it has more cows than people in many areas and resulting country attitudes. Remember that for Dante the worst sin was treason: Satan is frozen at the center of Hell with three mouths chewing forever on Judas Iscariot for betraying Christ; and Brutus and Cassius, for killing Julius Caesar.
I had a colleague at UNR who was studying the literary vampire, but I don’t recall her name or know whether she ever published on the topic. But in reference to JMG’s comment on Twilight–there was another author, Linda Hamilton who wrote a cross of horror and hard-boiled in which her heroine was torn between suave vampire and sexy werewolf and (spoiler alert) ends up in bed with both of them. (kind of reminded me of the Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot threesome in Mists of Avalon)
The post-roman (or tardo-roman) art, and above all the first romanesque art in the north of Spain is full of scenes of sex in the small villages of Palencia, Burgos or Cantabria, you can see almost in each (very) small church = itifalic men, onanism, couples copulating, exhibitionist women, etc…Dozens of churches “full of sex” in the churches’ capitals; it is almost pornographic….
For example the church of San Pedro de Cervatos in Cantabria is called by the medievalists “the cathedral of the sexual art” for the dozens of sexual content display in the capitals.
If this was to “avoid lustfulness” as a capital sin, it seems to trigger the opposite when you look at them.
I think may be the peasant world in the spanish frontier (the territories called “Extrema-Dorii”) where the people were fighting at the same time the muslim armies but also their own aristocracy, there was really a “land of the free” and a “home of the braves”, and they include in all the representations they made, the world as they see it, of course full of sex.
In Spain, the prohibition of the representation of the naked body only was enforced in the XIX century (english influence?); before, even the churches were full of paintings of naked men and women; for example Maria Magdalena is almost always represented naked, as was the famous painting of the son of The Greco (Jorge Theotocopuli) in XVII century, or Adam and Eve, etc…
Of course if you go to Florence, you will see completely naked bodies all around in churchs, monasteries, castles, squares and palaces made mainly in the middle age, the renaissance and baroque.
I think the prosecution of the representation of the naked body (and the sexual content it is suppose to carry) is a late phenomenon, and it was not caused by christianism itself but for the “Crusade Against Life” that start in the XVII century, and I think was mainly a Reformation (puritan) trend that permeate all the world
PD: I do not why the spanish baroque in the times of Philip II and after is frequently represented as a kind of dark, sexual repressive and “puritan” society… have anybody see the nudes of Velazquez, Alonso Cano or Rubens (the favorite painter of king Philip IV), all subsidize by the spanish monarchy of those times?
…and of course the Sheela-na-gig is a common.figure in medieval churches of Ireland and Britain…https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheela_na_gig
World of born, before getting swallowed by the world of made?
I am beginning to think medieval Christianity is a whole order of different to the Christianity I was raised in…
*goes to look up some reading on the matter*
Cliff, pretty much, yeah. They’re still up to their eyeballs in a misguided sort of pseudomorphosis, trying to be better Westerners than the West, rather than doing the smart thing and going back to doing what they do better than anyone else, i.e., being Chinese. After they get their economic crash — and it’s going to be a doozy — I hope they have the common sense to ditch Marx and Adam Smith both, dust off the Confucian classics, and remember why it is that their civilization was the oldest continuously viable human civilization on the planet.
Isabel, it’s an interesting question. On the one hand you’ve got Victorian sexual mores, on the other hand you’ve got late and lurid Romanticism, and I suspect it was when the two of them got drunk one night and tumbled into bed that Carmilla and Dracula were conceived…
Robert, oh, granted. As I noted in my post, medieval Christianity was a very different kettle of fish when it came to the facts of (sexual) life. It would be very good if Christianity could find its way back to those earlier attitudes. Here in the US, at least, we’ve got way too many Christians who spend all of their time yelling about other people’s sexual behavior while themselves displaying a degree of spiritual pride that would make Beelzebub gulp in disbelief. I’m thinking here partly of all the folks who are serenely convinced that God can’t possibly condemn them to Hell for their sins because they know they’re among the saved, partly of the attitude usefully summed up as “God died on the Cross to give me the right to tell you what to do.”
Chris, thanks for the ongoing reality checks about solar power. As for people not being able to experience things through their senses, oh dear gods yes. The people who critique modern culture for its “sensualism” have completely missed the boat; no true sensualist — no one who actually cared about sensory experience — could stand the vile plastic tackiness of our sordid surroundings for a minute.
Ax, that sounds like a very good theme for a month or so of meditations. Have fun!
Peter, yes, that’s one of the famous Rhode Island vampires, wasn’t it? I still chuckle thinking of someone in a cape saying “Bleaaahh!” in a New England accent…
Pygmycory, I grant that the teenagers get the benefit of the doubt while they’re still living at home and have limited power over their circumstances. I’ve read that some of them are refusing to use air travel, too, so that’s a very large point in their favor. As for you, why, if you walk or take the bus to protest marches you deserve the credit that belongs to those who walk their talk.
Y. Chireau, that’s a major point and deserves a post of its own, which it will get in due time. The very short form is that yes, one of the great dividing lines in magic is whether or not you pay attention to the effect of your working on the greater cosmos; if all you care about is what you personally will get out of it, yeah, you can end up in a world of hurt. Back in the Renaissance, they had a great term for the kind of magic that ignores everything but the immediate cravings of the individual — cacomagic. We’ll talk about that and its relation to cacotechnology in the months ahead.
DFC, fascinating. If that was in Galicia I’d be less surprised — a lot of Celtic areas have erotic carvings in their old churches — the “sheela-na-gig” sculptures in Irish churches are somewhat famous along these lines. But I was unaware of the erotic art of Estremadura.
With regard to Felipe II and the unpuritan nature of his age, I suspect that’s largely a product of English Protestant influence — a lot of people in the English-speaking world find it impossible to imagine a harshly enforced religious orthodoxy that isn’t coupled (so to speak) with sexual repression. You’re quite right, of course, that the two don’t necessarily go together.
@ Baton and @ JMG and others, regarding cryonics and ‘coprpsicles’…
I knew all the stuff I read during my dealings with a cult of mad rationalists back in graduate school would come in handy some day! (Sorry, Weird of Hali fans, no ancient pedigree for this bunch I’m afraid.) Niven et al actually got their cryogenic freezing schtick for their stories from real-world groups, not the other way around!
It all started in 1962, when a physics professor who had a brush with death in the second world war wrote “The Prospect of Immortality”: a looooong book expounding in great detail how it was likely that everyone alive today could become immortal via freezing at death until the point that medical science had progressed to the point they could be revived. It’s as myth-of-progress man-conqueror-of-nature a text as you could ever hope for, though very very calm and collected rather than fiery (I find the bits talking about how easy it would be to resettle 40 billion unfrozen refugees-in-time accumulated over 300 years of technological progress particularly amusing though). He founded a whole slew of groups around the practice, some of which survive to this day. Indeed, his body was frozen upon his death in 2011 by the Cryonics Institute he started, as was the body of his wife upon her death, and the longest-cryopreserved body in existence today was frozen all the way back in 1967..
Interestingly, back in the sixties through the early eighties, the devotees of the various cryonics societies frequently did not take the notion of immortality through freezing as simple safety blanket. They put in actual work and effort. Lots of engineers participated, and actively did productive research and development on technologies and techniques to make the freezing process less horrifically damaging, and some biologists among them took up fairly legitimate animal research and learned fascinating, if not terribly useful in many normal medical contexts, things about the reaction of biology to cold temperatures and hypoxia in an attempt to advance the sciences they saw as needed for both good preservation and revival and increase the perceived odds of it working out.
But around the mid eighties, something changed, their R&D ground to a halt, and their practices have seemingly hardly changed since. Since then, it is more explicitly faith-based than a participatory activity, counting on The Future to save them rather than trying to help save themselves, and stating that it doesn’t matter how badly they are preserved because eventually even the most mangled tissue can be reverse-engineered into a functional mind. They pretty explicitly assume it’s uploading-into-a-computer in their future rather than medical science fixing their biology.
It’s a fascinating case study…
On vampires: the initial romanticizing of their image comes almost entirely from Irish writers like Stoker and Le Fanu (if you think ‘Dracula’ has a lot of sexual subtext, wait until you read ‘Carmilla’!) In Ireland the main life-leaching spirits are the fae, who often live in grave mounds, dress in the fashion of bygone eras, and include dead humans among their number, but who can nevertheless be alluring, and whom a human might willingly ‘feed’ in exchange for power, talent, favours, or a chance to join them after death. Emma Wilby’s ‘Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits’ is an excellent historical treatment of ‘vampiric’ spirits in the UK rather than Eastern Europe.
Lathechuck and JMG – Is the conduct of environmental activists an example application of this week’s topic? Environmentalism has long been divided between two disparate marginally effectual paths. They correspond at least metaphorically (and, I strongly suspect, on a deeper level than that) to the left-right dichotomy in magic we’re discussing. The left-hand path is understanding and accepting and acting upon personal environmental responsibility. (When distorted by delusions of omnipotence, that becomes the pipe-dream/nightmare of “decoupling” and ecomodernism.) The right-hand path is focused on invoking “higher” (political) powers through various rituals, as enumerated in the “action on climate change” pitch Lathechuck fielded. Back in Pennsylvania I got pretty deep along both those paths to help understand, not so much why they weren’t working as advertised (which was always pretty obvious), but what alternatives might be possible.
Only a few, you (JMG) among them, have pointed toward a middle path there, and that middle path is far from adequately mapped out right now, as I see it. The observation that environmentally destructive habits and appetites can make ones participation in certain political rituals ineffectual is very much a middle-path concept. But that doesn’t translate into, for instance, changing to a low carbon footprint being sufficient to suddenly make those same political rituals effective. That’s probably because, as I’m just beginning to figure out, they’re invoking the wrong powers using the wrong emotions for the wrong reasons.
@Lathechuck, Pygmycory, etc: re: climate change and behavior:
This turned up in my newsfeed this week:
Titled: “Believing in climate change, but not behaving sustainably: Evidence from a one-year longitudinal study”
It basically concludes that:
1) People who Believe In Climate Change are more likely to support government initiatives about it.
2) People who don’t Believe In Climate Change are more likely to engage in environmentally-friendly behaviors.
But we knew that, right? A shame the whole paper can’t be accessed there. I’d love to read it. I wonder if they controlled for wealth.
@Peter, JMG: True! And the TB thing–the blood connection, and how its victims conformed to Victorian standards of beauty–probably played into the sexification of vampires a fair bit.
New England vampires would absolutely drink their blood as a shot in Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. You get regulah*, black, and…red.
* Which is cream and two sugars: it’s one of the Boston shibboleths.
I entirely agree with your comments on enhanced intelligence which you made in response to Libertine. I would also like to suggest that we could do with a bit more heart. With this we could be vigorous in doing the things we need to do and also use our empathy to imagine the results of our own actions and their effects on others now and in the future.
Completely OT: but – how long does it take for a cat’s spirit to pass?
@ Robert Gibson
Thank you for your reply. I was wondering if you were referring to a philosophical or religious idea such eating from the tree of knowledge, or some specific historical event. When I read things from the ancient Greeks and Romans, I’m always struck by how little human nature seems to have changed over the past few millennia. Going further back, I have no idea.
Cliff: Silicon Valley has had an informal breeding program of the very intelligent (geeks marrying geeks) for decades. I remember an article from some time back saying that their autism statistics were much higher than elsewhere. Not, mind you, that this is always a bad thing! But, China, beware….
Longtime reader, first time commenting. I’ve been working on catching up on WOG and all the comments before joining the conversation, but I couldn’t resist adding this tidbit which you may find amusing, and apologies if this has been pointed out on this or ADR before.
Another phrase meaning it’s opposite that has had me shaking my head over the years is “Stay the course,” popularized by the first President Bush, in an epic rendition of the Emperor’s New Clothes, it soon became the fashionable way of saying “Stay on course,” To stay a course, however, is the same as staying an execution: it means to stop the current course and redirect it- which is what engineers sometimes have to do when building canals, dams and such. So when Bush said it, I heartily agreed with his words, but completely disagreed with his meaning.
Thanks for your blogs and books! Invaluable game-changers for this old-school solitary eclectic.
This seems relevant to current topics. Even mentions Mr. Hughes. There’s also another piece within the Dreher piece on the same topic.
And soap, don’t forget about soap!
Also, talk about syncronicity. The article I’m working on about Machine Imitation? I talk about Cacotechnology in there, but I did not know the word until now. I will refrain from using the word in the article because I don’t fully understand its meaning. However, I’m nearly done and hope to share it with all of you by next open post week!
Archdruid and Cliff,
I too have noticed that the Chinese embraced all the worst parts about western culture. It really feels like colonization hit the Chinese psyche a lot harder than it hit my own people. They were the middle kingdom, a term that projected their place in the world. Until the modern era India never really had a conception of self in relation to the world. We were simply the people of the vedas, and our cultural focus was the pursuit of Moksha.
The recent shift of the balance of power in India is significant because the new elite are entrenched in vedic cultural norms (with interesting influences from western or faustian culture), but are trying to figure out what that means in relation to the world. At some point I feel it would be worthwhile sharing the discussions that are happening within Indian culture. My last few attempts have been less than polite, as the last person who tried to engage me can attest.
We’re a society possessed by the wendigo spirit, why wouldn’t we want to look young forever?
Happy Birthday! (according to your profile on the other blog)
Lathechuck said: “Regarding climate change, I just got a pitch from the American Humanist Association with nine suggestions for “action on climate change”. Here they are (slightly paraphrased): post on social media, write letters to editors, mobilize a local group, form a reading group, host an event, learn more, go to a demonstration, host a conversation, and [you guessed it] send us some money. What do all of these things have in common? None of them do anything about climate change!”
This describes to a tee the Unitarian Church I used to attend. Only I would also add “form a committee”, as it seems to be a requirement for a church to have at least 12-15 committees for every 100 people on the membership rolls.
Peter Van Erp and JMG: I have just looked up the tale of Mercy Brown. Goodness, I didn’t even know there had been a New England vampire panic! They really need to teach the more interesting facts of American history in schools; I’m sure the students would pay attention more!
And since the term “cotton-picking” has been brought up, and videos shared, I’ll share a video in the spirit of that discussion.
JMG, I think you’ll find this article from The American Conservative interesting. The author, Rod Dreher, writes from the perspective of Orthodox Christianity, but it’s a thoughtful, balanced piece: When The Religious Left Is Occult https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/religious-left-is-occult-pat-robertson-is-right/
It’s written as a response to a piece in The American Interest by religious journalist Tara Isabelle Burton: The Rise of Progressive Occultism (linked to in Dreher’s post).
We have one of the extremely luscious, giant, nudes painted by Titian for Phillip of Spain here in the University museum, the Fitzwilliam, ‘The Rape of Lucretia’.
It’s rather fun to stand just where Phillip and his courtiers once ogled it,and then trot downstairs to commune with the fine bust of Marcus Aurelius in the Classical department.
When people lament the ‘sensualism’ of contemporary culture, they are actually referring to their own sex-obsession and hang-ups. No overt public sexuality in the past? Just look at the fashions of the Renaissance and pre-Victorian era: it’s all either on full display or hinted at unsubtly, ie cod-pieces!
Nothing is more of an affront to anyone with eyes to see than lazy Modernist architecture (the best can be very beautiful of course, but that’s not we get in all the new developments): I cycled through the part of town where all the physicists and internet start-ups have their research buildings the other day, and I felt that suicide would be a good option if one had to see that sort of thing every day. And therein dwell the makers of our world, god bless them.
It’s not a new problem, though. As Renoir wrote: ‘People have eyes, hands and feet, and don’t want to use them.’
Hi John Michael,
Thanks! And your comment reminded me of a day a few years back that I spent attending a birthday function for a friend that was held in a shopping mall. I rarely spend time in such places, because they disturb my senses in some unknown way. All the same, I was looking around at all of the people with a sense of bewilderment. They honestly seemed to be enjoying themselves, so I can’t really tell whether people have become acclimatised to such environments – and then what does it mean for them? Honestly, it is a bit of mystery to me. I assume that you do not spend time at such places?
Looks like you are gearing us up for a wonderful adventure, JMG – I can hardly wait! I found your discussion of how the definitions/concepts of “right hand path” and “left hand path” have deviated from their Tantric origins (which I am familiar) to current western occultism (which I am not familiar) most enlightening. It reminds me of the sayings of the first truly wise person that I met: “one can transcend the human level either by expanding oneself to the point of becoming divine or by reducing oneself to nothingness in which case all that is left is the divine.”
The whole idea of the “path between the pillars” reminds me of the two big things that appeal to me so much from reading your works: geomancy (i.e., the concept of “soul”/anima mundi) and Druidry (the Moon path and the solar and telluric currents). I suppose that each of us are naturally disposed somewhere on the “left” (internal source of power) vs. “right” (external source of power) spectrum. Being a mystic, I am naturally drawn to the “right” side of the spectrum, yet I believe that within each of us is a god in “seed” form and that it is by attuning myself to the “external” divine source that the “seed” within me will sprout and grow.
More and more these days, I see the toxic turn that so many spiritual, occult and religious paths have taken and believe that in order to avoid either pitfall of the “right” or “left” paths, one must walk the “razor’s edge” described in my favourite Upanishad – the Katha Upanishad (3:14). I look forward to the light you can shed on this most important spiritual/occult topic!
Regarding the story contests, I sympathize with Santiago de Choch, whose story didn’t meet the happily-ever-after requirement. I didn’t submit my own deindustrial romance story for the same reason. I thought I could pull off a kind of Pocahontas-like happy-ending twist, but not only did the characters refuse that twist (“this already is a happy ending, by our reckoning, thank you very much”) but so did the whole mythic impetus behind the story, if that makes any sense.
It doesn’t fit the theme of the new contest either. (In fact, it might not fit anywhere, ever. I was trying to illustrate the point, discussed in these comment threads, that the new North American culture(s) will almost certainly include aspects that our own culture would see as highly objectionable. I tried to be somewhat “realistic” about those, with an eye toward precedents in other cultures, human nature, and long-term societal continuity, but to be open to outrageous ideas within those constraints. When I presented the results in the form of a romance… well, it turns out to coincide significantly with one of the more extreme corners of present-day Internet fetish fiction. Where was it the elements of new cultures are expected to “bubble up from,” again?)
In any case, back to the writing desk for something new.
The 2nd time you’ve emptied your batteries?? That was a fairly regular occurence for us. Of course, we had a very small system (400W) and didn’t ask much of it. Five years without any electricity made us unusually flexible!
After a year or so, and a few failed attempts at adding in a refrigerator, we decided that refrigeration was one of those technological thresholds one has to be committed to crossing when living off-grid. If you use a refrigerator or freezer you really CAN’T run dry. If not, well…
No biggie. We got oil lamps.
I’m glad Ron M. mentioned the “razor’s edge” as that was what occurred to me on my initial read through of your post. The middle path,while it may be quite broad, is also the razor’s edge. What a delightful paradox!
I also enjoyed your comment to SaraDee regarding ‘what comes around goes around’. It reminds me of a silent blessing that often occurs to me in similar situations: may the gods reward you with everything you so richly deserve!
Dear Varun, I have always had a profound, if ill informed, respect for India. The very notion of a country of approximately the same size as the USA, or so I thought, in which at least 5 or 6 different religions flourished and dozens of languages were spoken, and which had a continuous history going back to Mohenjo Daro, , which managed to be a non-aligned democracy seemed little short of miraculous to me. I would be very interested in learning of the discussions which are happening within Indian culture. now; perhaps you might want to attempt a blog on the subject? Are you aware of, and do you recommend the books written by V S Naipul about India? I do know that the Naipul brothers grew up in an émigré neighborhood in Trinidad. In many ways the conduct of Hindu, Sikh, and Jain migrants to North America has been exemplary, not demanding exemption from the laws of the host country, nor insisting on special recognition of their customs and holidays which they seem to manage to observe within their own homes and neighborhoods.
Dear Bogatyr, Dreher and other conservatives do have some good ideas from time to time; they do at least bother to do some interesting reading which is more than I can say for the left, but I do wish they would grow up and get real about feminism, the real movement, not the post Steinem perversions. Naturally, for the likes of Roberts–he had good ideas about what we now call sustainability, BTW–and Dreher “women leaving their husbands” has nothing, nothing to do with the conduct of those husbands.
When you feel ready please do share your thoughts on how the cultural conversations are trending in India. I for one would be fascinated to hear more. You could always fill your own blog with the subject I’m quite sure.
Have you heard of the sci-hub initiative to make all scientific papers freely available for everyone?
thanks for the info, I am now working my way through it.
I should add that there are sometimes a few useful pieces on Resilience.org, even if most of the articles there are unrelated, and too frequently fluff.
IIRC, that’s widely considered to be a pirate site. Not that the behavior of, for example, Elsevier and the Nature group is any better. As far as I’m concerned, they’re simply parasites on the academic and scientific enterprise.
It’s frequently possible to find a legitimate preprint (prior to editing and peer review) on Arxiv or one of its clones, and sometimes at the researcher’s web site.
Walt F, don’t give up on finding a place to publish your romance.
I wish I could remember something specific about one paperback anthology of fantasy fiction I read twenty or thirty years ago, like the title or the editor or the author of one of the stories. This makes it hopeless for you to track it down. But I’ll describe it anyway. The stories combined vampiric and S/M romantic themes, and furthermore most of the protagonists were either lesbians or some lesbians and some non-lesbian but feminist women (I don’t remember for sure). Every one of these stories was well written and entertaining to read. Many of them took very familiar tropes, like an ancient castle with a decaying court in it, and did something original with it. That particular story sticks in my mind not only because of some vivid imagery about what the interior of the castle looked and felt like to its denizens, but because the plot, in spare language, follows a tragic love story with S/M elements between a human woman and an intelligent animal of an imaginary species, a sort of dragon/eagle. These two fly off together and form a relationship despite having no shared language and communicating entirely by touch and vocal signals. The winged being is rejected by its own kind, and they have no place in the world or way to carry on a life. Yet this does not destroy their love or separate them. It is one of the saddest and most beautifully written stories I have ever read.
@Patricia Mathews: That’s very interesting about autism in Silicon Valley. It seems like the sort of thing I would want to add into a story, and then hold off on because it feels too mean or too blatant.
And if there’s anything to this informal breeding program, it’s providing an excellent example of more intelligence producing worse results.
@Varun: You probably have a better sense of what’s going on in China than I do. I’ll read things like the rumors about genetic engineering, or a story about China investigating artificial pollinators for their massive greenhouses. I don’t know how far to trust stories like this, but if they’re true, I can’t help but feel that China is taking up the worst elements of Western culture, just as you said.
Rita Rippetoe – interesting about those students re-ordering Dante’s Hell! I mentioned the Purgatorio instead because its layout is based on the Seven Deadly Sins, with Pride the worst, followed in decreasing order of seriousness by Envy, Anger, Sloth (the middle one, between the malicious three and the self-indulgent three), Avarice, Gluttony and Lust.
The Inferno on the other hand is more classical and Aristotelian (so I’m told – I haven’t read Aristotle), with evils classified (in order of increasing severity) under the categories of Incontinence, Violence and Fraud (the latter including the traitors at the very bottom).
The place is full of surprises, e.g. the Usurers right next to the Sodomites (the latter doing violence to nature, the former doing violence to “art” as in artifice). Also the inarticulate Giants just next to the Traitors – the idea being, as Dorothy Sayers suggested, that when all other evils have had their effect, there remains some basic life-force, which is the last thing to go when you enter the frozen, spooky ice-plain at the very bottom, the Traitors’ realm.
I apologize if all this has veered somewhat off-topic, JMG. I haven’t forgotten your main point about the left and right hand paths in occultism, which was all new information for me.
Yesterday, I was out picking aluminium cans my dad had left after years of drinking soda. So far I’ve collected three bags, and there’s a good four more left. The entire I was packing them I was reminded of the women in China who would fight over the plastic bottles folks would leave empty while playing basketball. At the time, it was entertainment. Now, I feel some of the delusion of omnipotence which was guiding my thinking at the time.
As I picked, I also was thinking about this weeks post. I was reminded a lot of Norse mythology. Muspielheim and Niflheim are the opposite ends of the universe. Between them lay Ginnugagap. Western mythology most definitely had a lot of emphasis on the ground between the pillars. That land between is full of wisdom, but I wonder.. there must be some wisdom in encouraging groups to go left or right just so that the average person doesn’t feel wrong in taking the middle road.
While not exactly an accurate parallel, the environmental thought also seems to fall victim to this sort of dichotomous world image: you either cancel yourself out in a purist attempt to be perfect (and what constitutes ‘perfect’ is often a rigid list of acceptable actions and non-actions), or you are a dirty spoiled pig who doesn’t care about the planet — there doesn’t appear to be much room in-between, where I inevitably find myself. It is hard for me because as someone who considers nature his main source of identity (way above culture), I’ve never felt comfortable in any organized environmental circles, mainly because of the rigidity of mind of so many of their members.
I’d like to touch a bit on some of the musings of both persons above. 🙂
On Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way.
According to both Shri Rohit Arya and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev – Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way is Karma Yoga. There are 4 primary ways in the Tantric traditions taught in India and Far East Asia that humans use to attain to the ultimate. If a person primarily uses their intellect (Buddhi in Sanskrit) that is known as Jnana Yoga. If a person primarily uses their emotion it’s known as Bakti Yoga. If a person uses action in the world (using one’s everyday job, hobbies, sports or charity work etc) as their primary method its known as Karma yoga. If a person uses their own body/breath/thought energies (it takes energy to move, breath, think) its known as Kriya Yoga (Qi Gong/Nei Gong in Chinese). Kriya Yoga is 3rd Way to Karma Yoga’s Fourth Way.
[One example: JMG’s preference for discursive meditation is a well known Jnana Yoga technique in all of the Dharma religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikism,etc. In Buddhism discursive meditation (at least in my Buddhist books) is sometimes called Manjushri’s Sword of Wisdom that Cuts Through Delusion. Manjushri is the Dharma Prince in Buddhism who represents Infinite-Profound-Wisdom.]
According to Nithyananda there are two statements one can use to begin seeing life as it actually is (rather than through the filter of an ordinary person’s opinions, emotions, perceptions, etc). He explained Buddha’s teaching better than most actual Buddhist’s do in my opinion.
1. You can either take up Buddha’s Life is Suffering. Or you can take up Nithyananda’s Life is Bliss. But interpreting either statement as Life (includes) Suffering. Or Life (includes) Bliss – is wrong. That’s what people hear and interpret – but both are incorrect.
Neither one of these latter two perceptions/beliefs will begin the process of seeing life as it actually is. The reason is to go to one or the other extreme edge cognition (*all* suffering or *all* bliss) so one **quits experiencing life as a series of ups and downs**. That makes you experience unsteadiness within your own being and even if you don’t have 100% control over external events the one thing you (ideally everyone) should begin the process of learning how to do is how to set up your own inner energies/emotions/thoughts/actions as unchained from whatever life throws at you. The goal of either cognition (all life is suffering or all life is bliss) is to create a joyful-wisdom-beyond-the-physical inner space that can take whatever the world throws at you and you have the self-proven capability to turn it into your own well-being. Mind you, you may not be able to change the actual event but you should begin the training to at least gain 100% control of your own being. If you gain control over yourself you gain large capabilities to design your life the way you want. Plus it becomes *very experientially obvious* every day that you are neither your body / mind / emotions / energies. Someone who lives with that experience every day is on the path to the Infinite.
Sadhguru went so far to say that if a person can maintain this unchained space for even 24 hours one’s IQ jumps on average by 100 points. He also gave the example of Jesus in a different speech (same speech referenced other Avatars as well). “What matters is that even when people nailed him to the cross he did not lose his quality. ‘Forgive them, they know not what they’re doing.” – For that – people bow down to him.”
@Chris at Fernglade,
My regular job for the past few years has been providing direct care for (usually older) developmentally disabled people (usually men) in group homes. It’s legally mandatory for providers to arrange for our people to spend as much time as possible “in the community.” The well-intentioned officials who wrote those rules may have had images in mind of ambling around in some storybook town center, chatting with the Mayor and the Fire Chief outside the bakery on their way to the barber shop. But in suburban reality, with mobility issues, traffic safety issues, and health issues that limit the range of weather conditions we can spend time outdoors in, it means spending a lot of time in shopping malls. (Those who like to bowl, we can take to a bowling alley. Those who like movies enough to sit quietly and watch one, we can take to a cinema. But we take them to malls whether they like to shop or not.)
So after decades of passively avoiding the places (since the chain bookstores closed, there’s hardly anything for sale in a typical shopping mall I would want, even if it were all being given away free), circumstances have made me a part-time professional (as in, I’m paid to do it, in a way) mall goer.
Disregarding the people who come to malls to actually buy something they need at some specific store that happens to be there, what I see as the main reason people hang out at malls is to be seen with the people they’re with. This goes along with checking out the other people there and who they’re with. Social media is undercutting that activity, though. Most of those same people at malls are now looking at their phones instead. (I wonder whether that, as much or more than changes in retail business, is why many malls are failing.) The second largest reason for people who spend time at malls is to be able to walk around, for considerable distances if they wish, in conversational company if they wish, without being subject to any discomforts or risks from weather, uneven footing, street crossings, bugs, dogs, or whatever.
You’re right, though, that there’s something disturbing about their atmosphere. I feel it but can adjust to it, as with noise or a bad smell, with the help of a “shielding” visualization I’ve used since childhood.
One of the residents I cared for back in PA felt it too. He likes to walk, and is most comfortable walking outdoors, at a rapid and steady pace without pauses for rest. At the time I was the only staffer willing to walk those distances with him, so we had many pleasant times. When weather doesn’t permit that, he’s happy enough walking indoors, such as endless laps inside a warehouse club or other large store. But in a mall, despite more room and more variety, he’ll steadily get more uneasy until he has to leave. He’s nonverbal so I couldn’t ask him why, but I figure he’s sensing the same things we are.
This is tangential to the main topic, but relates to Chinese copying the worst aspects of Western Civilization. Young Asian musicians have been doing very well in the classical music competitions, and are sort of “taking over” the important seats in western orchestras. It’s quite a phenomena, the apparent shift of talent from Europe and America to Asia. The Russians also tend to do well. I hardly consider “classical” or more accurately “european concert hall music” to be the worst aspect of western culture; but rather some of the best. We could argue about the western fixation upon equal temperament tuning and its limitations, I suppose, but that’s for a different discussion board.
On the subject of increasing human intelligence, I’d suggest making sure every pregnant woman and child has adequate nutrition. Malnutrition has been shown to decrease IQ significantly. Doing this wouldn’t increase the very top end of human intelligence, but it would bring up the average.
It also doesn’t come with the unknown side effects and the ethical problems inherent with genetic engineering and the like.
Thank you, JMG, I will do that. And Jim W., I use that “blessing” all the time, myself! 😉
Prizm: the theme of “Between Fire and Ice” runs throughout the Eddas, as if it were as unquestioned a reality as ….. as Icelandic geography? Which should really lead people to think in terms of the Middle Way. And note: the realm of humans is defined exactly that way: Midgard. Middle Earth.” Nice insight! One doesn’t equate the Norse with moderation, but the sense of being caught between two opposing forces, both lethal, is certainly there.
Bravo, pygmycory! Duh! Mouth hangs open. How simple (and effective, as opposed to ‘efficient’) can you get? And (#2) get the lead out of the water students drink…. geez. Pity it’s too simple (and too “socialistic”?) to interest those who like making fancy plans better than seriously fixing problems. And make it easy and inexpensive for their mothers to become educated.
Tony, a fascinating case study indeed! Thanks for this.
Aquari, many thanks for this.
Walt, excellent! Yes, exactly — and much of the rest of a political middle path depends on renewing those things that exist in the very broad space between the individual and the largest institutions of mass society.
Methylethyl, I hope it comes out from behind the paywall. The point that people who don’t “believe in climate change” tend to be more likely to adopt environmentally friendly behaviors is one of the key facts of the situation, and needs to be talked about.
Isabel, duly noted. By the way, is it just me, or does Dunkin Donuts really have the worst doughnuts in existence?
JillN, true, but the heart can also be overdeveloped at the expense of other aspects of the self. (The Romantic movement has some good examples of this.) The goal of self-development in the Western occult tradition is the balanced improvement of the whole self in all its individual uniqueness, and that’s always struck me as a good idea.
Patricia, good question. It should be more or less comparable to a human’s, I don’t happen to know.
Jera, you’re welcome and thank you.
Your Kittenship, fascinating; thank you for this. As usual, the cultural mainstream starts to notice a fad when it’s already beginning to fade out — and I notice also that neither Dreher nor the article he cites seem to have caught the immense political and cultural implications of the shift of pop-culture Neopaganism from seeking acceptance to deliberately courting rejection. More on this in an upcoming post! Still, he’s raising some important issues.
Varun, definitely soap too. Did you know that was a Celtic (probably Gaulish) invention? The Latin word “sapo,” from which most Western languages get their word for soap, is a Celtic loanword. Says the well-scrubbed Druid… 😉
Dan, thank you.
Joy Marie, it must have taken immense effort to make American history textbooks so boring. A magical history of the United States is something I’ve considered writing — everything from Colonial alchemists and New England’s vampires straight through all the other bits of magical history nobody talks about.
Bogatyr, thanks for this. I’m pleased to see Dreher taking this as seriously as, being a Christian, he should — but as I noted to Her Kittenship above, I think he and his source have both missed the implications of the huge shift toward self-marginalization on the part of pop-culture Neopaganism. Wind is changing…
Xabier, we don’t have any Titians in the main art museum here in Providence, but there are some suitably luscious nudes, and a bust of the Emperor Hadrian to provide a similar contrast!
Chris, I’ve loathed malls since I was a little child. Not sure what it is, but even in the holiday season when they’re tricked out in faux-festive decor, they’ve always had roughly the vibe of a well-stocked morgue.
Ron, the way of the mage and the way of the mystic are different, no question, but there’s not merely room but a necessity for both — and for the way of the householder, the ordinary person in the world, between them. Yes, I’ll be talking about this in much more detail as we proceed.
Walt, I hope you’ll consider submitting your story to Into the Ruins or MYTHIC Magazine — two venues that are enthusiastic about good deindustrial SF.
Jim, that “blessing” can be an extraordinarily powerful spell — and in the right situation, a terrifyingly effective curse. The one risk of blowback is that you have to be ready to accept what you deserve…
a) If you are ever so moved to write it, I would love to read your magical history of the United States.
b) I read Dreher’s article. It seems to me that he and many others in our society associate the words “occult” and “occultism” exclusively with something bad and evil. Even the woman who wrote the long article he cited seems to conflate “occult” with the general, easy-to-mock and dismiss category of the New Age and does not explain that “the occult” includes many substantial and historically-rich practices and perspectives.
You seem to not be troubled by the fact that so many mainstream folks have such a narrow and skewed view of the “occult” and continue to use the word.
I am impressed by this, and am wondering how and why you don’t care much about these misperceptions. I have a pretty public job, and admit that I fear people judging me harshly for my interest in the occult (what to me are the wonderful Hermetic traditions and what to them apparently is trafficking with something evilly evil).
Nastarana, my biggest problem with writing about India is how deeply tangled my own emotions are with the place. Perhaps untangling the complexities of the country for interested readers would also be a good way for me to untangle my own emotions. Also, I’m sorry to say I am unfamiliar with the works of Mr. Naipul, it looks really interesting though. I’ll put it on my reading list.
Morfran, I’ll need to give that some serious thought.
Cliff, I can’t claim any expertise about the place, but it really feels like China is bitterly resentful of the “century of humiliation.” I think it was Sadhguru that said it was important to understand the suffering of the colonial era, but unwise to become trapped in the bitterness of the memory. The Chinese drive to embrace the perceived power of the west, namely technology, and out compete their former captors doesn’t seem to be checked by anything. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Chinese are far ahead of the rest of the world in exploring dangerous technologies like nano-tech, bio-engineering, and etc…I also don’t think it’s going to turn out very well for them in the long run.
Taoist and Confucian thought put a lot of work into considering the consequences of ones actions, I just don’t see similar thinking emerging from the CCP. Their only thought of consequence seems to be returning to their place as the middle kingdom, and preventing a repeat of their subjugation by foreigners.
Archdruid, I was unaware of that, TIL!
@JMG: Definitely not just you. I wouldn’t say it too loudly in Boston, but both Honey Dew and Krispy Kreme have them soundly beaten where chains are concerned, and any good single place outdoes them by far. The butternuts and powdered sugar donuts are decent, but anything with glaze–and I like a glazed donut–leaves a weird taste in my mouth. (Apparently each franchise stopped making its own daily sometime in the 80s/90s, which might explain some of it.) The coffee is also vile–I’m not a coffee person, but I drink it when it’s the hot beverage going, or when I really need the caffeine, and there are some variants that are semi-pleasantly nutty. DD has a gross, bitter aftertaste, no matter what you add to it.
I will grant, however, that the frozen hot chocolate is addictively tasty, like a cup full of Fudgesicles.
Also, on the mystic/mage/householder thing: I messed around a while back trying to match various ways of dealing with the occult up with the four Tarot suits. Cups seemed very Mystic, and Wands very Mage, and I thought that Swords could be Scholar (more abstract theory than any kind of practice) with Pentacles a natural choice for Layman, maybe with a bit of folk magic involved. Thoughts?
For the reader who was interested in goetic magic might I recommend looking up the blog “Head for the Red” headforred.blogspot.com by Rufus Opus. Look back through the archives to the entries for Jan 2009 – Dec. 2010. Rufus is pretty doggone honest about his errors in judgement and his rethinking of magical practice as a result of experience. Read the earlier entries too, to see how enthusiastic he had been about goetic practice. As I understand it, he is no longer selling the material he had created during this period because to do so would violate oaths he has since taken. I admire that he has left this material up. A lesser man would have erased all evidence of what might be seen as stupid actions. In regard to goetic spirits he kind of went from This Stuff Works to This shale will frack you up. It is also interesting to see, in his earlier posts, his reconciliation of NeoPlatonic magical world view and work as a magician with his Christianity.
On another front, JMG has kindly given permission for a bit of BSP (blatant self promotion) I am currently posting various book reviews on ritaer.dreamwidth.org. Opinion pieces may appear as well. Comments welcome. The most recent is of High Magick by Damian Echols, one of the West Memphis Three. His work has been mentioned on here before, I think.
Thanks for your words of caution. The intensity of this blessing/curse can be very real indeed and I wholeheartedly agree that all we must be prepared to accept our fate unconditionally…very humbling and often very difficult.
JMG, glad you found the link useful. I do find it reassuring that a conservative Christian of some influence such as Dreher (who, I just learned, is a friend of a friend) is willing to accept that non-Christians may be be legitimately interacting with the spirit world. We need to see more engagement with that kind of Christian, imho, in preparation for the testing times to come.
In which context: it may be true that pop culture neo-paganism may be in decline but, as you’ve pointed out several times, Druidry has deeper roots and has a better chance of enduring. That being the case, it would seem that this time of climate change, extinctions, etc etc would be the moment for Druidry to stand up, seek to emerge as a moral force, and guide people to a more spiritual, more satisfying, and more *human* way of life, eschewing the materialism that has led us into the danger we now face. I don’t know how it is with AODA, but certainly there are discussions about this happening within OBOD, with some frustration that it isn’t happening. Of course, a large part of that is self-inflicted since first we would need to agree on what we believe beyond the baseline “Trees: I haz teh fuzzy feelings”.
Nevertheless, if Druidry is to seek to become higher-profile, it’s quite clear that one of the first obstacles to be faced will be the frightened Christians accusing Druids of devil-worship. We’re going to need to be forming alliances with people like Dreher, and distinguishing ourselves from the pop-culture “rejectionists”. Also, to drag this back on-topic, we’re going to be able to explain things like the left-hand and right-hand paths, and what they really mean, so thanks again for the kind of posts you’re writing!
OT: Mr. Spot, 1999- June 6, 2019, at the hands of the very by my word. He might have survived being shipped by air to Florida, but would then be confined to a tiny apartment with no way to get a breath of fresh air or run around as he so loved to do. He was easily upset by change, even the disappearance of the futon his cat food mat was in front of. . He was crouching under furniture, showing signs of confusion, and tottering around even if he did have four legs. He cried for no visible reason, but wanted to remain on my lap a lot. He’d had a medical crisis earlier that kept him in the cat hospital for 5 days on an IV, and a mild case of kidney disease, for which he refused to eat the prescribed food. Only the high calorie emergency food would do, and he was putting away a can a day.
He was a sweet and loving kitty, gentle and very affectionate. We’d been together a long time, and just the two of us for a few years. He died in my arms and is buried in he back yard, wrapped in the T-shirt I’d worn the night before, and I’ll plant a yellow rose bush on his grave.
The blessings of Mother Cat on his gentle spirit.
HI Patricia Mathews,
I understand how you feel. I’ve been mourning a good dog and a good cat for 50 years.
My condolences, Patricia Matthews.
May Bast bless him in his way, and you in yours.
@isabelcooper – back in the day I matched them up with the classic 4 temperaments: Swords are the rational, cups the idealist, pentacles the guardian, and rods the – I don’t like their terminology, so I say the adventurer.
On the theme of the modern pop-occult “left hand path” and its inherent weakness, I just chanced upon a review of a book called “Happy” by a stage magician/mentalist named Derren Brown who praises the Stoics and Schopenhauer and craps all over Byrne’s ‘The Secret’.
More here: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190605-a-mentalists-guide-to-being-happy?utm_source=pocket-newtab
Looks like I’ve found a kindred spirit, JMG!
“I read Dreher’s article. It seems to me that he and many others in our society associate the words “occult” and “occultism” exclusively with something bad and evil. Even the woman who wrote the long article he cited seems to conflate “occult” with the general, easy-to-mock and dismiss category of the New Age and does not explain that “the occult” includes many substantial and historically-rich practices and perspectives.”
“Nevertheless, if Druidry is to seek to become higher-profile, it’s quite clear that one of the first obstacles to be faced will be the frightened Christians accusing Druids of devil-worship. We’re going to need to be forming alliances with people like Dreher, and distinguishing ourselves from the pop-culture “rejectionists”.”
Speaking as a doctrinaire Christian who takes the classical practices of worship of the Christian faith seriously, I am afraid that, in the end, there is an intrinsic incompatibility at stake here. To repeat a point I made earlier, the Old Testament is unequivocal and quite specific in its condemnation of many occult practices. Astrology, soothsaying, divination, and attempting contact with the dead via seances are all examples of occult practices that are specifically and unequivocally condemned.
The underlying principle here is that it is expressly forbidden to worshippers of the One True God to attempt to make any sort of contact or compact with other preternatural spirits. If such contact is successfully made, it is essentially to be taken for granted that the spirits in question are evil, as good spirits/angels conform themselves to God’s law, and do not make themselves so available to intercourse with human beings.
It is, moreover, regarded as exceedingly dangerous psychologically, spiritually, and even physically to allow oneself to become subject to the influence of such spirits, as they are understood to be malevolent, deceitful, and cunning in a way that makes it child’s play for them to deal with merely human intelligence for their own purposes.
The entirety of this sensibility was taken up wholesale into all of the historically important forms of Christian orthodoxy, and thus this sensibility is a bedrock principle of orthodox Christian belief.
No doubt there were the kinds of movements and sub-currents throughout Christian history that JMG has cited, which sought to circumvent these divinely imposed strictures, and to orchestrate a syncretism between Christian orthodoxy and occult beliefs and practices. However, from an orthodox Christian standpoint, all such movements have, and will continue to be, regarded as dangerous forms of deviance from the true Christian faith, and from the pure worship of the One True God.
i was recently at a party with a friend who is a devout Catholic, and I brought up Dion Fortune’s definition of magic. He agreed that the Consecration of the Host is an act of magic, and I think that we were both far more comfortable with the idea of magic than the others in the room.
I find that I have a lot in common with the strongest adherents of both Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism. We all acknowledge that we are not the supreme expression of life in the Universe, although our understanding of what lies beyond differs a lot. That does not mean I have a lot in common with the hierarchy of the church institutions, however. 😉
@Deborah Bender and JMG, thanks! I’ll find a place for the story. It might end up under a pseudonym, so I’ll post a comment here if it sees print.
Regarding environmental middle paths, I look forward to conversations about that. What I learned about the space between the individual and the largest institutions is that it’s not enough for an effort to be local in scope or outlook, if it’s still tied in to larger-scale political systems that can nullify it with a tail flick. Of course, those larger political systems have been working tirelessly for centuries to tie as much to themselves as possible. (Relevant to that, you might recall my preferred definition of “subversive,” which has nothing to do with attacking or harming anything, and instead describes the building of alternative structures and resources that are independent of existing systems of control.)
@Darkest Yorkshire “If there was going to be a resurgent conservative movement, do you have any thoughts on what locations it could form around?”
Not a direct answer to your question. But there are some fascist Odin/Germanic traditionalist groups developing currently around gyms and weightlifting. They have now moved on to purchasing land. See Operation Werewolf and Wolves of Vinland. There is also an associated group Wandervogel which is more on the hiking/outdoors end.
Thanks for the response. Of course, Dreher takes much the same position, and he does explicitly re-state his Orthodox position in his article.
However, it seems that he his willing to accept that Daoists, and Hindus, for example have a legitimate spiritual practice. Would you accept this as well?
Dreher – not in this article per se, but in his overall position as a writer and blogger – is essentially arguing that Christians need to get their own house in order, and focus on living a Christian life in their own families, forming resilient Christian communities (he’s a former Catholic who moved to Orthodoxy because he could no longer accept Catholicism’s ongoing tolerance of, and covering-up for, abusive priests). So, his Christianity is small-scale.
I can live with that kind of Christian. Christians who are trying to be better people themselves; who are trying to live a Christian life in their own lives. Dreher and his ilk, and perhaps yourself, may feel that Buddhists and Hindus and Daoists and Druids are misguided, but as long as you can accept that we are sincerely trying to live a good life, and seek the divine, in an honest manner, I don’t care if you think we’re wrong (just as I think you are wrong). If we assume goodwill, we can live together.
My problem is that there are too many Christians and post-Christians who think that since they believe we are wrong, the problems of their lives and of society can be attributed to us. The pop-culture Satanists and ant-everything neo-pagans are just playing into the hands of people like that, so perhaps the sooner that wave rolls abck out to sea the better.
So when I sat that Druids need to be seeking out Christians like Dreher, I don’t mean that it’s because they think we are right in some way; I think it’s because they have sufficient humility and sincerity to focus on their own beams rather than our motes, and accept the same in reverse, and we can live and work together productively.
@Varun: “I think it was Sadhguru that said it was important to understand the suffering of the colonial era, but unwise to become trapped in the bitterness of the memory.”
I feel like that’s a good description of the task of dealing with trauma in general. I’m pretty sure that’s a lot of what the Native Americans have been dealing with for more than a century.
So is it your feeling that Indian culture has been better able to grapple with the legacy of colonization?
Having read Dreher’s article and others at the American Conservative, and engaged in many “conversations” with the current crop of “rejectionist” neo-pagans, I am reminded of a quote from Michelet: “Where do we find evil? Always at the end of a pointed finger.”
Interesting. I never felt humans “fell from grace”, instead I think humans don’t live the way they are supposed to, and that many of the collective neuroses of our society come from failings of our built environment.
I was reading Walter Benjamin’s “On The Concept of History,” and the following thesis stuck out to me. I thought you might appreciate it.
My wing is ready for flight,
I would like to turn back.
If I stayed timeless time,
I would have little luck.
Mein Flügel ist zum Schwung bereit,
ich kehrte gern zurück,
denn blieb ich auch lebendige Zeit,
ich hätte wenig Glück.
‘Gruss vom Angelus’
A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”
> A magical history of the United States is something I’ve considered writing — everything from Colonial alchemists and New England’s vampires straight through all the other bits of magical history nobody talks about.
Oh, gods, yes! This would be amazing!
Apparently interest in astrology and the occult is on the rise:
The Johnny Cash biopic, “Walk the Line,” shows the long bags the Cash family used to pick their cotton. Perhaps the term “sharecroppers” is appropriate here. Johnny’s older brother has a line “Dad needs a good day out of us tomorrow.” Small time farmers in southern states used family members to pick cotton, strip tobacco, after slavery was abolished.
“The underlying principle here is that it is expressly forbidden to worshipers of the One True God to attempt to make any sort of contact or compact with other preternatural spirits.” Here I must respectfully disagree. I consider myself to be a reasonably devout and orthodox Roman Catholic. As such, I have a patron saint and a guardian angel. I worship in a church named after (and presumably under the protection of) yet another saint. Veneration of Jesus’ mother is widespread. At every Sunday Mass every congregation in my diocese prays to St. Michael for the purpose of asking him to root out sexual abuse and its toleration in our Church. Now, making a compact with spirits who reject or have rebelled against the Christian God is indeed expressly forbidden, but that leaves a multitude of beings other than us mortals in the crowd around the One.
My husband is Romanian Orthodox Christian, a branch of the Eastern Orthodox church.
He told me the practice of magic among deeply religious members of that community is quite common. In fact, a dear family friend did a folk ritual to repel the evil eye from our baby, which was very kind of her.
These types of practices occur in most of the Latin/Roman countries. I think these churches are “historically important” and I think the folk practices of the people in those churches are just as important as the doctrines of the churches themselves.
There are ways to reconcile even the broadest of ideological gaps, and the first step is tolerance. I am Pagan and have dear friends and family members from most branches of Christianity, and we somehow manage to love eachother dearly and to recognize we are all good people even when we disagree.
And incidentally, if you study the history of occultism, you find that the bedrock of modern occultism was laid by the medieval monks who were developing ways to interact with angelic forces in order to further their spiritual development. The issue is not as cut-and-dried as you think.
Nevertheless, if you don’t feel comfortable with a spiritual practice then you don’t have to do it. The world is full of so many beautiful spiritual practices, it would be a shame for anyone to waste their time on a spiritual practice that disagrees with them. You might benefit from a visit to some non Christian churches, not to participate, but to observe, to see that there is a whole world of worship out there and it’s incredibly beautiful.
@CJS, thank you for that! I didn’t know that half of the lyrics of one of my favorite Laurie Anderson tracks (“The Dream Before,” on the album Strange Angels) are from the Walter Benjamin quote you posted, almost word for word. (Here’s the song on YouTube; the relevant portion starts at 1:44)
Jacques, I’m definitely considering the history. As for “occult,” one of the most powerful bits of rhetorical jujutsu around involves taking a term that’s been used as a putdown and embracing it in a positive sense. The word “black” used to be an insult when used for people of African ancestry — you said “colored” to be polite — until a new generation of African-American writers and political activists embraced the term and made use of the shock value. “Gay” had a similar history. I propose to do that with “occult” — and that’s not the first time that’s been done; the 19th-century occult revival did it too.
Isabel, I made the mistake of trying one of their doughnuts. It was a gutbomb composed of equal parts sugar, lard, and some kind of flour that tasted like plaster of Paris. My entire digestive tract told me that it would really, seriously hurt me if I ever did that again. As for the tarot suits, I’d assign Cups to mysticism, Wands to ceremonial magic, Swords to goetic magic and also to exorcism — the two are closely related historically — and Pentacles to natural magic.
Jim, approach it that way and you’ll probably be okay.
Bogatyr, the accelerating decline of pop-culture Neopaganism offers an immense opportunity for Druids, Heathens, and old-fashioned occultists. These posts on magic are among other things a response to that.
Patricia M, please accept my condolences. This has got to be a very painful time for you, and I hope you can spare some time to take care of yourself.
Ron, hmm! I’ll see if the local library system has a copy.
Nestorian, the authorities who insist that good Christians must never practice magic are the identical authorities who insist that your own Nestorian beliefs are a damnable heresy that good Christians must never believe. Thus you’re picking and choosing — accepting the consensus of the hierarchy when it agrees with what you believe and rejecting it when you disagree with it. If you can do that, it’s just as reasonable for another Christian to agree with the authorities about Nestorianism and reject its claims about Christian magic.
Peter, I’ve had exactly the same experience talking with Catholic and Orthodox Christians — we speak a similar language, and say a good many of the same things.
Walt, I’ll look forward to that.
Jera, nicely put. Thank you.
CJS, and thanks for this also!
Erichs, we’ll see — but it would certainly be fun.
DT, the interesting thing is that sales of books and other products dealing with such things has been declining since around 2007. I suspect the NYT has finally noticed a trend when it’s already nearly over…
You have shared a good info pillers. I am not really surprised that it turns out to be a bit more complicated than that.
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