Book Club Post

The Ritual of High Magic: Chapter 6

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

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


“Chapter Six:  The Medium and the Mediator” (Greer & Mikituk, pp. 251-256).


The astral light or great magical agent, the subtle substance through which magic has its effects, has been the theme of more than one previous chapter in our text.  So far, however, the discussion has been mostly theoretical in nature.  In the present chapter Lévi makes the transition from theory to practice and explains how the astral light can be mastered and directed by the aspiring mage. He also explains why developing a strong, focused, and unhindered will is the central task of the aspiring mage—and these explanations, of course, are one and the same.

The astral light, that subtle and all-pervading presence that surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together (ahem), is a blind force. It takes up whatever patterns might happen to be held in consciousness—any consciousness—and it replicates those patterns in any other consciousness that might happen to be receptive to them. Your consciousness, dear reader, is constantly setting patterns in motion in the astral light, but so is the consciousness of every other being in the world, incarnate or discarnate. The cat on the sofa, the spider on the wall, the potted begonia on the windowsill, and the blue-green algae nestled down in crevices in the wall outside are also broadcasting the patterns in their consciousness into the astral light.

He’s radiating patterns into the astral light.

So, of course, is every other human being in the area.  Patterns in the astral light do seem to be subject to some equivalent of the inverse-square law, the rule that causes the heat from a fire (say) to decrease according to the square of the distance between you and the flames; all other things being equal, the mental vagaries of people close by you affect you more than do those of people on the other side of the world—but even so, if there’s more than about two people per square mile where you live, you’re going to be affected by their thoughts and feelings.

So there you are, sitting in your favorite chair and trying to meditate. The spider on the wall is drooling with gluttonous anticipation as it closes in on a tasty dust mite, the begonia is burbling to itself with pleasure as the sun splashes over its leaves, the blue-green algae are doing the same thing but with less subtlety and tact, and the cat on your sofa is in a storm of rage and resentment because your breakfast smelled better than hers. Meanwhile one of your neighbors is watching a soap opera, another is in the middle of a hangover after last night’s bender, a third is wishing she could murder her boss and is vividly imagining what she wants to do with his dismembered body, and a fourth is surfing pornographic sites online with one hand on the computer mouse and the other hand, well, let’s just ignore that for the moment, shall we?

All these activities are setting the astral light into motion. All of them are impinging on your mind as you sit there in your chair, trying to keep your mind focused on the theme of your meditation. That’s a very large part of the reason why meditation is hard work:  you aren’t just focusing your own thoughts, you’re pressing gently down on the fabric of the astral light and holding it smooth and still despite all its attempts to wiggle out from under the pressure, and despite all the disturbances that everyone and everything else is putting into it. Once you learn to master it, it becomes a vehicle for your intention and your intuition, and you become a mage.  In the words of the old recipe for rabbit stew, though, first you must catch your rabbit!

This may not help your meditation either.

It’s in this sense among others that the astral light is twofold, as Lévi explains. It is a good servant but a bad master; it is at once the cap of liberty on the head of the free person and the chain around the neck of the slave. If you submit to it, it will rule you, and in life and death it will drag you back down to the lowest common denominator of consciousness.  If you master it, it will exalt you, and enable you to attune yourself step by step to sources of power, wisdom, and beauty far beyond the human level.  The choice is yours, and it confronts you at every moment. No matter how far you fall, you can always turn upward again; no matter how high you rise, you can always slip and fall back down.

Here as elsewhere, however, habit reigns. If you make a sustained practice of acting instead of reacting, choosing your own path and following it instead of being the passive plaything of outside influences, doing this becomes steadily easier for you.  If all you can do to start with is make one part of your behavior subject to your will, even if it’s the smallest and silliest of things, that will begin the process. The astral light is a blind force; even a small and silly act of will gives you a little more capacity to will, and if you build on that and keep working, what started out small and silly will become a mighty and utterly serious force.

And that, my children, is the first great secret of magic:  any act of will performed for its own sake, if persevered in, becomes a portal to the mastery of the astral light.  This is what Lévi was talking about a few chapters back when he described the peasant woman spending a penny she needs for other things to buy a candle to burn at the shrine of a saint.  Intellectuals and sophisticates scoff at such a habit because it seems absurd. It is absurd; that’s precisely what gives it its power.  The fastest way to strengthen the will and attain the capacity to direct the astral light is to take up a practice that has no other benefit at all—one that also conflicts with the basic drives we share with cats, spiders, begonias, and blue-green algae, not to mention our neighbors—and persevere in that practice no matter what.

Yes, this is the core purpose of the basic magical practices I’ve been recommending all these years. Set aside half an hour a day, every day, to perform a basic ritual, practice discursive meditation, and cast and interpret a divination, and day by day you extract yourself from the grip of the astral light and become its master instead of its servant. Of course you can do the same thing with any other set of practices. If you’re a Christian in a sacramental church, like Lévi’s peasant woman, you’ve got no shortage of options; most other traditional religions are similarly well supplied with things to do for no earthly reason.  The magical practices I teach have important secondary effects, which are different from those of the religious practices just referenced—but of course the practices in one religion differ similarly from those of others, and even within one religion there are comparable differences. You will get different places and experience different things, for example, from saying a daily Rosary than you will from establishing a daily devotion to St. Michael the Archangel—though the basic benefits will be similar.

Lévi sums up this phase of his instruction neatly through the metaphor of Archimedes’ lever. The Greek geometer and inventor Archimedes, as some of my readers will remember, said that he would move the world if only someone provided him with a long enough lever and a place outside the world on which the lever could pivot.  Metaphorically, this is what the successful mage does. His lever is the astral light, which can move anything, but it can only have its full effect if it rests on a pivot outside the world of nature, which here includes human nature.  Lévi’s proposed pivot is the philosophy of magic, which subjects everything to reason (including reason itself) and recognizes the secret identity of all apparent opposites.

An ordinary working day for Archimedes.

One of the advantages that we have and Lévi did not is that occultists picked up his ideas the moment he put them into circulation and got to work elaborating and testing them. The result is a richer view of the magical cosmos than Lévi himself possessed.  One aspect of that more detailed vision is the concept of multiple states, conditions, or (as they are usually called) planes of being. From this later understanding, Lévi’s insight can be expressed even more clearly. You cannot exert conscious control over the forces of any plane while acting purely on that plane; you have to rise up and act on the plane above it, and from there, the twofold forces of the lower plane are at your disposal.

We all experience this every day in our own bodies. The oddly shaped structure of meat, gristle, blood and bone that gives us our purchase on the material plane has no power over that plane by itself. Activated by the life force, it becomes capable of changing the world of matter. Move up another plane, to the level that occultists call the astral plane, and the life force can be directed at will—anyone who has ever experienced sexual arousal in response to a mental image knows this from personal experience. The astral plane, in turn, can be shaped at will by those who can act on the mental plane, the plane of meanings, purposes, and values. Most human beings have at best a fingernail grip on the mental plane, which is why our thoughts and feelings run away with us so often; thoughts and feelings belong to the astral plane, and so cannot be directed at will from that plane, only from the one above it.

Yes, there is always the option of using artificial methods to exert force on a plane without going to the next plane up. You do this, dear reader, whenever you allow the dead weight of your own body rather than the living force of your muscles to push on something.  That application of the principle is harmless and useful enough, and among the methods of magic that rely on the same principle, some are equally harmless and useful—for example, breathing exercises as a way to direct the life force. Others are not. The habit of whipping oneself up into an emotional frenzy and directing the resulting energy into a magical working will get results, but it also tends to lock you into that emotional state; you become its servant rather than its master, and unpleasant consequences follow in due order.

This is why Lévi stresses that passion is a fatal weakness in the mage.  The word “passion” itself, as he points out, comes from the same Latin root as “passive.”  Competent mages are never passive.  When they are active, it is because they choose to act; when they are receptive, it is because they choose to receive, and when they refuse action and reception alike, and withdraw into themselves, that too is a matter of choice. This is not an easy state to attain, and once attained, it takes continued work to remain there.  Once achieved and maintained, though, it is the key to freedom and creative power.

This is why the most important work of magic any human being can perform is initiation—the process of becoming a mage, of achieving that state of inner balance, that freedom of the will and imagination that opens the door to the heights of magical attainment.  To the serious student of magic, every other practice is secondary to this, and most other magical workings are unnecessary except in a purely temporary sense; achieve that state of freedom, and most of the other things you are likely to want will fall into your hands all by themselves.

The Seal of Solomon: as above, so below.

There’s an old Jewish legend about King Solomon that traditional occultists like to repeat. The story goes that the young Solomon was offered a blessing by the god of Israel.  Name it, the divine voice said, and it’s yours. Do you want love, wealth, power, fame, long life? Solomon thought about it and asked for wisdom.  The god of Israel granted his wish, and told him that since he had wisdom, all those other good things would come his way as well. That story makes the same point Lévi makes in this chapter, and the parallel isn’t accidental: this is the sixth chapter, after all, and 6 is the number of the six-pointed star or, as it’s also called, the Seal of Solomon.

Notes for Study and Practice:

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

Along with the first half of our text, I introduced the standard method of meditation used in Western occultism:  discursive meditation, to give it its proper name, which involves training and directing the thinking mind rather than silencing it (as is the practice in so many other forms of meditation).  Readers who are just joining us can find detailed instructions in the earlier posts in this series. For those who have been following along, however, I suggest working with a somewhat more complex method, which Lévi himself mention in passing:  the combinatorial method introduced by Catalan mystic Ramon Lull in the Middle Ages, and adapted by Lévi and his successors for use with the tarot.

Take the first card of the deck, Trump 1, Le Bateleur (The Juggler or The Magician). While looking at it, review the three titles assigned to it:  Disciplina, Ain Soph, Kether, and look over your earlier meditations on this card to be sure you remember what each of these means. Now you are going to add each title of this card to Trump II, La Papesse (The High Priestess): Chokmah, Domus, Gnosis. Place Trump II next to Trump I and consider them. How does Disciplina, discipline, relate to Chokmah, wisdom?  How does Disciplina relate to Domus, house?  How does it relate to Gnosis?  These three relationships are fodder for one day’s meditation. For a second day, relate Ain Soph to the three titles of La Papesse. For a third day, relate Kether to each of these titles. Note down what you find in your journal.

Next, combine Le Bateleur with Trump III, L’Imperatrice (The Empress), in exactly the same way, setting the cards side by side. Meditate on the relationship of each of the Juggler’s titles to the three titles of the Empress,  three meditations in all.  Then combine the Juggler and the Emperor in exactly the same way. Then go on to the Juggler and the Pope, giving three days to each, and proceed from there. You’ll still be working through combinations of Le Bateleur when the next Lévi post goes up, but that’s fine; when you finish with Le Bateleur, you’ll be taking La Papesse and combining her with L’Imperatrice, L’Empereur, and so on, and thus moving through all 231 combinations the trumps make with one another.

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

We’ll be going on to Chapter 7, “The Septenary of Talismans,” on November 8, 2023. See you then!


  1. At this link is a list of all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared across the Ecosophia community. A printable version of the entire prayer list current as of 10/9 may be downloaded here. Please feel free to add any or all of the requests to your own prayers.

    If I missed anybody, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom a relevant person holds power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below or at the prayer list post.

    This week I would like to bring special attention to the following prayer requests.May KayeOh’s total knee replacement in her right leg, scheduled for October 16th, go smoothly and may she have a speedy recovery.

    May Kyle’s friend Amanda, who though in her early thirties is undergoing various difficult treatments for brain cancer, make a full recovery; and may her body and spirit heal with grace.

    May Jeff Huggin’s friends Dale and Tracy be blessed and healed; may Dale’s blood and spinal fluid infection clear up sufficiently to receive a heart valve replacement; may his medical procedures go smoothly and with success; and may Dale and Tracy successfully surmount these difficulties.

    May Erika’s partner James, who has just learned he has cancer all over inside him on his liver and lungs, be blessed, healed and protected.

    In the case of Princess Cutekitten and the large bank who is suing her, may justice be done, with harm to none.

    Lp9’s hometown, East Palestine, Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people, animals and all living beings in and around East Palestine, and to improve the natural environment there to the benefit of all.

    Guidelines for how long prayer requests stay on the list, how to word requests, how to be added to the weekly email list, how to improve the chances of your prayer being answered, and several other common questions and issues, are now to be found at the Ecosophia Prayer List FAQ.

    If there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

  2. Good post. I believe that story of Solomon is scriptural, by the by. Interesting distinction being made here between the pentagram and hexagram and their implications.

    Giordano Bruno’s brief texts on magic seem to be primarily directed toward arousing and manipulating the passions…as if he anticipated our modern advertising methods by some centuries. Perhaps interestingly, the Desert Fathers were insistent on using ascetic measures to still the passions (I believe they also associated it with “passing” phases, that is, purely temporal states) to then obtain a closer union with God. Seems like two sides of the same coin…perhaps not unrelated to the aforementioned symbols.


  3. In the example given of the meditator whose consciousness is affected by all of the varied flavors of the Astral Light around them, effects varying in magnitude in some fashion similar to the inverse square law. When multiple parties are focused in the same manner at the same time, this of course changes the calculus considerably. More so when spiritual forces above the human levels of influence choose to involve themselves in the matter. Not all of us are explicitly on a magician’s path, but the teachings of this post can still be of value. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some way to shift the Astral Light in helpful ways that helped us, like Solomon in the legend, to grow in wisdom in the ways befitting our own personal level, place, and time?

    Bearing this in mind, I’d like to announce…


    If we work at it, each of us surely has at least one thing about ourselves that we feel sure we can improve, but we haven’t managed it yet. Something that would improve our lives, that would improve us. I’d like to invite everyone reading this post to take a few moments of reflection to see if they can identify such a desired change in themselves. To those that can, I’d like to offer you the chance to take the plunge and attempt to make that change with some aid from the prayers of members of this community.

    There is only one price of admission: whatever you request, you must take concrete actions in the world to increase your chances or rates of success there, for the duration of however long your request stays on the list. Prayers can act as the wind in your sails, but they do little good if you don’t even raise your sails in the first place! Or worse, cast anchor and sit there… of even start rowing your boat in the opposite way…

    Besides that one requirement, normal Prayer List FAQ rules apply: requests can be pseudonymous; it’s nice to get regular updates from folks; and I hope people receiving prayers will consider praying for at least a few others on the prayer list in some semi-regular fashion, at least for as long as they are on the list. (None of these things are required, though I think it’s nice to do.)

    Blessings on all who will have them, and I hope some will join me in this endeavor! I’ll certainly be adding a prayer request along these lines of my own in the near future. Perhaps I’ll see you soon.

  4. Some time ago I had the temerity to ask, “What is magic FOR?” Today’s post answers my question (and more) with clarity and humor; thank you!

    Interestingly, I was reading Neil Theise’s, ‘Notes on Complexity’, last night before bed when a sentence jumped out at me: “Moment by moment we are unique emergent expressions of the Universe itself.”

    Just as Capra wrote in the ‘Tao of Physics’, the mystics, mages, shamans and sages have been exploring for eons in the realms that quantum mechanics and complexity theory are only recently discovering; two different paths to the same gate!

  5. Quin, thanks for this as always. (I had to clean up the formatting quite a bit, btw — not sure why, but this time all the line breaks got deleted.)

    Fra’ Lupo, that was certainly Ioan Couliano’s view — he compared Bruno’s methods explicitly to modern propaganda and advertising. I suspect that’s why Bruno’s career ended the messy way it did…

    Ken, I haven’t read Theise’s book, and may want to fix that. Certainly I noted the parallels between occult philosophy and systems theory back in the 1980s, when I studied the latter.

  6. There is a toggle switch that goes between transmit and receive that can also be set to radio silence.

    Of note, also, with regard to the benefit of churches and monastic communities. When they are operating in a clean, balanced way, the inner work of the priests/esses, monks and nuns ripples out into the community helping it to maintain “good vibrations”.

    The opposite is also true. I felt uneasy yesterday going into the afternoon. I thought it was probably because I’d spent too much of my attention reading the news about Israel and Gaza. I decided I would not look at it as in depth today (so far so good). I thought with all the tension in the air I don’t need to add to it with my own attention to it. Anyway, then in early evening last night, there was a two alarm fire a couple blocks away from me.

    I didn’t know what all the sirens were for until today when I looked it up. Toggling the switch can be very useful, as there are a good many vibrations that aren’t really all that helpful just now.

    Hope all are well.

  7. Hello JMG,
    You wrote “… binds the galaxy together (ahem) …”. Were you implying that the astral light may be responsible for the observations that some cosmologists attribute to the mysterious and otherwise undetectable Dark Matter?

  8. I am treading my way through Eros and Magic in the Renaissance; talk about heavy going! At every turn, I am reminded at how much my own scholarship falls short. Nevertheless, the book’s main revelation so far for me is the depth of magical literacy of the average medieval or Renaissance era person compared to the shallowness of today. To live in the modern day world is to feel divorced from the natural world, but the natural world never left. It has changed forms for awhile into carpeting, street lights, asphalt, and diesel trucks but it is still present and accounted for and more often than not open for conversation.
    Couliano said:
    “The Reformation leads to a total censorship of the imaginary, since phantasms are none other than idols conceived by the inner sense.
    As soon as God withdraws into his complete transcendence, every human attempt to examine his design runs into a ghastly silence. This “silence of God” is, in reality, silence of the world, silence of Nature.”
    The answer given by our own materialist era: “The better to fill empty brains with images of material doodads to buy, my dear!”
    What kind of awful group of human beings would want to take away the vibrant, complex, imaginary world and replace it with a simple yet remote, impossible to understand God? Yet quite a few people were totally on board with it, otherwise it would not have happened.

  9. Re: line breaks,

    This is the second time I’ve caused you this problem. Was it in both posts, or just one of them? The first was made in another editor and copy-pasted into my browser (Brave), while the second was written directly in the Ecosophia comment window. If both, then I suppose it might have to do with the fact that both included html code.

    (This is written on a mobile phone via Brave mobile, so if you can see the two line breaks I’ve entered, then no problems here.)

  10. Is the astral light the medium by which we communicate to the gods and the gods to us? To be specific, if I want to attract someone’s attention, I can speak to them or wave my arms, but in either case I am making use of waves (of sound or light); there has to be a medium through which the communication is effected. Does the astral light have that function, not only for the things mentioned above, but also for communication with the gods?

    (With this sentence I’m just testing out the hypothesis that putting two lines between paragraphs will allow one of them to succeed.)

  11. Justin, radio silence can be extremely useful!

    Robert, no, I was making a Star Wars joke. Sorry!

    Kimberly, I have the same reaction to the radical end of the Reformation. It got to the point that some Puritan preachers insisted that imagining anything at all — having an image in your mind, no matter what it was of — was the sin of idolatry, and you’d get the divine boot in the face forever for doing anything so heinous. Their hatred of imagination and creativity was astonishingly intense.

    Quin, only the first one had the problem. The second was just fine.

    Asdf, don’t be too sure of that. What the preview window shows is not what comes through — I didn’t edit your test at all.

  12. With my studies into the temple technology, which are currently are headed in the direction of radiesthesia, I have come to the conclusion that physical objects and shapes, as well as colours, influence the astral light as well, in perhaps the same way as the ‘dumb weight’ theory. The platonic solids have a particularly powerful effect, but all shapes and solids do to greater or lesser degrees. This may be the secret behind sacred geometry, art, and music – that architecture is frozen music, and as such, also a form of frozen ritual, a frozen ritual symphony of shapes and symbols that function independently of their human meaning.

    I understand that the astral light is present on all planes, however, I suspect this component is the middle/lower astral and etheric interface, which, for good reasons (that Protestant Prohibition discussed previously), isn’t much touched on by western systems.

  13. Hi John Michael,

    We’ve seen this card before, and every time it appears, I sort of feel bad for the young bloke as he’s pulled between the pillar and the post. But then, that’s what being young is all about, I guess. Incidentally, I wouldn’t trust a young cupid to shoot straight at the target, especially given the arrow head looks wonky. It might glance off the left shoulder of the young bloke and pierce the appealling, yet somehow strong willed looking young lady. If I may say so, she looks to me as if she has a cunning plan, and best you’re not involved! Seriously, is it just me, or does the image portray a certain indecision for a person standing upon the very precipice of change? Was a ternary option presented in the image? That’s what I want to know.

    Yes, that is all very true. And it was one of the reasons I was slightly nervous about mentioning my belief to you last week as to what will happen next over in the immediate geographical area near to the land of stuff. And your reply was not comforting. But what will be, will be.

    I must add that it also assists creating and maintaining an environment around you that is conducive with a persons goals in this regard. Did you ever get any feeling in your reading over the years as to the proportion of folks in monasteries who took up the great work, as to those who simply benefited from the environs, or those who were compelled to be there?

    Hmm. Passion. Hmm. I reckon that observation is the strength behind Sun Tzu’s maxim to: ‘do the unexpected’. That is most certainly directing a will towards an end. Always puts people off balance, and is very effective. At this moment, I’d forget about the bear, and the desert, and counter what the land of stuff is up to. Your lot aren’t smart enough to not react, and you see the passion expressed in the marshland, it’s their doing and their un-doing.



  14. Kimberly says: Couliano said: “The Reformation leads to a total censorship of the imaginary, since phantasms are one other than idols conceived by the inner sense.” I was reading a similar point made by Emil Stejnar (The Four Elements, p. 130): “One of the most significant victories that the shadowy powers have ever had over humanity was when their minions reformed the Catholic Church and, as in Islam, banned all images and representations of ‘God’ and the attendant spirits from the Protestant churches. … In doing so, they deprived many people of the possibility of gaining influence and power over them using imagery. … Soon thereafter came the spiritual eclipse of the ‘Enlightenment’. Since then, the inspired light of belief no longer opens up the spiritual expanses, and only that which is illuminated by the gross material light is believed”, which parallels Kimberly’s next point. Stejnar doesn’t explicitly state what these shadowy powers are, but again I ask, if these are consciousnesses other than our own which exist and have some influence over receptive minds (Kimberly’s “… quite a few people were totally on board with it, otherwise it would not have happened), is the medium of exchange here the Astral Light, or not? I’ll also note that iconoclasm was attempted but eventually failed in the Byzantine church, hence the plethora of icons in Orthodox churches today.

  15. “… I have the same reaction to the radical end of the Reformation. It got to the point that some Puritan preachers insisted that imagining anything at all — having an image in your mind, no matter what it was of — was the sin of idolatry, and you’d get the divine boot in the face forever for doing anything so heinous. Their hatred of imagination and creativity was astonishingly intense.”

    I think maybe Zen has a similar attitude toward the imagination.

    This chapter got me looking at the work of Eugene Sue, who was quite popular in France in the mid-1800s. Call it French yellow journalism. (Like the American, George Lippard, who invented the tale about the Liberty Bell.) Sue’s novel “The Wandering Jew” for example: a very long novel that originally appeared serialized, (like much of Dickens’ work at around the same time), back before TV serials. The Jew, in this case, appears to be the good guy of the novel and the villain is a Jesuit. The whole plot summary sort of reminds me of the Lemony Snickett series. I wonder why Levy drew attention to it.

  16. It’s interesting Bruno and Couliano came up a couple times this week; I just finished a pass through Eros and Magic in the Renaissance myself. I’m now studying Bruno’s De Vinculis in Genere in addition to Levi’s text. Both works are challenging and exciting in different ways.

  17. The theme of the reformation and Puritanism and it’s similarity to certain aspects of Islam was much discussed by Spengler. Every great culture goes through this purification process, and the three examples he used were Pythagoras, Mohammed and Cromwell.

    Each culture distills its metaphysical ideal into a more pure and pure form, and in the west this eventually become the lone individual will before God. It is a small step from there to get rid of God and simply be the lone will adrift in the universe (western atheists are often puritans or Calvinists in rational garb). It is a very powerful idea but also very lonely and brutal, and without the priest to offer contrition is extremely harsh. It is also the religion of the intellectual elite, similar to Islam where the religion of the elites and that of the common people was very different.

    The original gothic Catholic is the religion of the countryside, while the following Protestantism is the religion of the city.

  18. I see the astral pyramid as one of the commonest shapes. Astral pyramids pair with etheric pyramids (whose shape is inverse to them, complementing like yin and yang, female and male) to create energy relationships. Humans are always building astral and etheric pyramids often at the same time they are participating in them. We do this whether we like it or not. Anytime there is a hierarchy, whether official or ad hoc, it is an astral pyramid with a leader at the top and a base composed of everybody else. Astral pyramids are behind the world’s largest religions, governments, and corporations and also the smallest of families and social groups. As I said before, etheric pyramids have an inverse relationship to astral pyramids. Like puzzle pieces, the astral and the etheric are designed to fit each other and so are their pyramids. Etheric pyramids draw their power from the astral and focus their energy upon individuals. The best demonstration of this phenomena is nostalgia, which is the sensation that results when images from the astral have been collected and distilled into an overwhelming feeling or sensation within the individual mind. For the individual, nostalgia replicates the feeling of “being there” on the physical plane. These pyramids are always being built and torn down. Some of them are benevolent and some are extremely toxic. They have wills of their own. They have their own gravity, and the larger they grow, the “heavier” and more influential they become. One of the worst nightmares I have ever had (and I have had some doozies) was a dream about being tricked into attending a party so a group could suck me into its work camp. A labor camp is a classic astral pyramid that seeks to harness etheric plane power in order to brainwash its base with images of its apex or “Dear Leader”. North Korea comes to mind. Pyramids are always coming for us all the time, scouting recruits, hoping to vampirize on the etheric and brainwash from the astral. Woe be to the fool who doesn’t have any legit psychic self-defense strategies to fight it off — and that kind of foolishness afflicts most people these days, including staggering numbers of the so-called religious.
    Question, JMG and commentariat. Have you ever heard of anything similar to my hypotheses about astral and etheric pyramids before? Neither am I all that well read, nor do I have a fantastic memory for the books I have read, so I may be half-remembering something I read long ago.

  19. I’ve used Tarot cards to help solve complex problems. Not to find a solution but help evaluate the problem from Perspectives my Archimedes Tendencies may not have considered.
    Immovable Object, meet Irresistible Force. 500 more Horsepower aught to show it who is Boss.
    TY for Reading suggestions,
    Winter is a great time for reading here.
    Any opportunity to go hunting through old Bookstores is also Fun.

  20. @Peter Wilson (#14): Have you read Ficino? I suspect what you’re describing is similar to the sympathies and correspondences he describes as being “natural magic,” although in effect this is employing physical tokens that facilitate the movement and manifestation of planetary daimones.

    @Ari (#18): For my money, Bruno’s Vinculis is one of the great distillations of the art you can find. Would I practice anything it recommends, personally? Eh…

    More generally, the Desert Fathers also worked to cultivate dispassion so as to “rise above” images to direct contemplation of God, it seems, on a mental level, with the Nous (intellect). The Reformation’s violence to the imagination, on the other hand, perhaps gets a few folks to same results, but at what cost?

  21. Long time lurker. Predating this blog.
    But JMG just got name checked in my LinkedIn feed.
    Gobsmacked. Talk about lurking on the fringes 😄

  22. Speaking of maintaining balance and equilibrium, not getting caught up in passions, that seems very much an imperative now, what with all the talk of war. Clearly my practice much derived from this series, is having the desired effect, as I am unmoved by all the propaganda, which is currently very thick. It is reflected in my writing, as I work through every two weeks the process of the Octagon Society. And my latest post on The War, the most well received post in some time, caused quite a bump in subscribers.

    TSW. More of that. Thanks for you assistance in that.

  23. I see it more like a Bug Swirl with Pyramids of Heirarchy useful Tools to build things like our Electric Power Grid.
    I worked with 2 Nuclear Power Plants and another 190 Electric Power Grid facilities at the Top of a little get it done Busy Beaver Team to keep things running smoothly.
    I don’t see any self organizing means to manage complexity of modern Society.
    Hunter Gatherer Society doesn’t need Pyramids to go Deer Hunting and Fishing.
    Your Comment is excellent. I can see your Pyramids,, Islands in a swirl of Chaos.

  24. I see that you have highlighted The Lovers card, which of course was originally The Choice…Very interesting…In my experience with the Tarot, it often means both….Which reminds me of my one and only meeting with our local Apache shaman, who gave me an egg drop reading…We talked about things, and I mentioned that as a boy I had determined that any kind of mental attack would be met and thrown back on the. attacker…The Shaman said that was an excellent choice…

  25. Peter, interesting. I trust you’re going to publish your work on the temple tradition at some point.

    Chris, it does indeed mean that in some systems of tarot interpretation. As for the ruling caste we’re currently saddled with over here, well, yes, but fatal overcommitment founded on jawdropping hubris is the American way!

    Asdf, there are certainly entities other than human, if that’s what you’re asking.

    Phutatorius, I don’t see the same hostility in Zen, though they do tend to avoid iconography. As for why Lévi referenced Sue’s novel, that’s a fine theme for meditation…

    Ari, they are indeed.

    PumpkinScone, very true.

    Kimberly, I’ve seen some discussions of egregors and group minds that cover some of the same ground, but you’ve got a very helpful way of approaching it; you might consider writing about it at length.

    Michael, that’s a very effective way to apply any divination method. Are you familiar with the game theory interpretation of divination? Game theory shows that it’s a winning move to include some randomness in your strategies, since that keeps your opponent from being able to figure out your plans in advance; as you’ve pointed out here, it also helps keep you from getting stuck in a rut.

    Lung Gair, I just saw that! Quite startling.

    William, you’re welcome and thank you. The old teachings really do help, don’t they?

    Pyrrhus, that’s the card that goes with this chapter — there are 22 chapters in each of the halves of Lévi’s book, and he keyed the contents to the imagery.

  26. Hi John,
    since you mentioned meditation and I´m very much interested in practicing it which book of yours would you recommend on the topic, I know that you don´t have one solely focused on that, but out of all the book you have written which one would you say has the most extensive coverage of the practice? Also, I wanted to ask, what would you say are the differences between Circles of Power and Learning Ritual Magic for someone who wants to approach magic?

  27. Yes I will publish. I intend to get a paper on the radio physics side of it to you for your third book on it, and I’ll leave the paraphysical side for a future book myself, probably just a history or encyclopedia of the technology.

    The physical layer effects are of course sound, consistent with current physics, but it seems to go much, much deeper.

  28. @ Quin
    This might not sound humble enough, it is.
    Your timing is very opportune. And I would take you up on that offer.
    I have a difficult time ahead of me. The circumstances around me have tightened considerably and are putting me under a lot of stress, that is seriously threatening to break me. The path I am on, I have chosen myself and am responsible for it. But alone I will not make it.
    I have been setting up a magical working to help me, inspired by this very chapter with the purpose to better myself. And will be putting it into effect. Find strength trough endurance and character.
    But if I may send in a request:
    Marko from Styria, Austria; for blessing and strength to endure my path and to find the will to better myself.
    The next 4 months are going to be hard.

    Best regards, and thank you,

  29. “William, you’re welcome and thank you. The old teachings really do help, don’t they?”

    It is a little like taking on the pace of things long before modernity. It puts the madness of the time in context and drains it of a lot of it’s power. I’m really appreciating that, especially as global chaos intensifies.

  30. Isn’t it extraordinary how last week’s post and this week’s post together, book-ends and reminds us of how to deal with the madness that occurred in-between…JMG, did you foresee this and plan last week’s post for it? I know the book club post was scheduled but the timing of the magical combat post seems extremely fortuitous.
    On the topic of the astral light: I appreciate that to fully master *using/directing* it, takes many years of mastering magic. I’m about a year into this and that’s enough to know how much of a babe in the woods I am. I will keep on plodding on building the will and imagination etc. My immediate concern is to protect myself from what feels to me very alarming/negative/dark forces? currents? (the mot juste escapes me) in what I understand the astral to be. Can I ask you and fellow ecosophians for tips? I have long ago chucked my telly away, limit exposure to ‘news’, and in general follow your advice from a previous post to ‘back away slowly from the madman’. I also do the 3 basic magical practices every day. But a feeling of dread has been and continues to pervade. Any further advice?

  31. I’m struck by the difference of emphasis between Levi’s advice to absolutely master the fleshly passions (this is not his first time bringing up this point) and your attention in other writings to the fact that wholeness is the goal of the mage, and that sex and sexual desire have their rightful place.

    I see that these viewpoints are not actually in conflict, but what’s a novice to do while trying to tread the middle path? Sow a thought, reap an action, and so forth, so I suppose one has to be very, very careful how one even thinks about sex and sexual desires, let alone treating other people with courtesy and respect.

  32. @Miow, #32
    Not only you my friend. Something’s on the move that has not our best interest in mind.
    If it serves of consolation, I recall an I-Ching reading I got some time ago, back when I was using divination as a crutch to limp away from my own anxiety… I am (not quite) quoting from memory, but the hexagram said something along the lines of… “You are like a foal deer in the tall grass, afraid of the noises around. Remember that the very grass that does not let you see is keeping you hidden from the predators; and the noises you hear is your Mother, who never walks too far away”. My take was, to cultivate the basics and trust that I will handle whatever may come; and to put my trust in the Divine, whose help is never far away.
    Now that I think if this, It sounds a lot like last month post by JMG, about occultism being like a bunch of children going out camping. There are lots of noises out in the dark but what gets you, more often than not, is your own inattention to what you were doing in the first place.

  33. I think Schopenhauer might say that magic is the art of extracting or inserting individuality and uniqueness from “the will to live”

    The word magic, it seems, is symbolic of the process of consciously seeing and learning to live within both.
    Both the one and the two..
    As individual and will.

    So who’s the one that’s becoming conscious?
    Who’s the one between the individual and will who chooses or doesn’t choose?

  34. @Miow re: #32 – How to Deal with Darkness

    Do you have a relationship with any deities? Lately, I’ve been feeling a lot of stress, and my prayer practice (as distinct from my magical practice) has been especially helpful. The specific thing I’ve been turning to a lot lately is a renewed interest on stillness/listening. I light my candles, say my prayers, give some drink offerings, but then I say that I’m open to whatever the Gods might want to send me and spend a time (just a minute or two, usually, but longer if I need it and can spare it) just trying to still my mind and be receptive. Most of the time, the stillness is all I “get,” but often, that seems to be exactly what I need with so much chatter in the rest of my life.

    Hope this helps!

  35. Perhaps this is an ill-advised attempt to connect the dots between different systems.. but would the astral light be equivalent to ‘spirit below’ in the Dolmen Arch? It seems Levi is more focused on the domination of nature (as opposed to the more cooperative approach taken in DA) but there seem to be similarities.

  36. CR #34 of course! Our host’s excellent “Beyond Thaumatophobia” trilogy, in particular post #2 which I just read again. Thank you for reminding me of this and for your kind and comforting words. It is so good to know I am not alone. Now as to what JMG advises namely if I may paraphrase, to develop your occult chops or your relationship with the Divine, this of course resonates with Jeff #37’s advice (thank you very kindly too Jeff). Beginner that I am, I feel more confident learning magic (than kindling religion in my heart) because I am doing what Mr Greer always exhorts us to do: I have chosen one system of magic to learn and following the instructions to the very letter, and I am taking as long as it will take.
    Re. Gods, I am not sure at all. There are so many and benevolence is not guaranteed. What if I open myself to being played with like a cat plays with a mouse? Far as I can make out some gods make an idle sport of it. I don’t want to be the mouse that covers itself with catnip, so to speak. Pardon the silly metaphor, I am actually really serious. I will follow your example Jeff and see what I hear in the silence. And do some research. I guess ‘A World Full of Gods” just jumped to the top of my To Buy list. Thank you CR and Jeff and I would be honoured if you would accept my blessing.

  37. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks, and I had been wondering about whether the card could be interpreted that way. It screams change though.

    You already know, but they do say that hubris turns to nemesis. And they might be right!

    Pondering this months chapter, I began wondering whether it would be possible to have a civilisation where there is a larger percentage than present, who are able to exercise their wills? I’d read your discussion on the other blog, and thought that might be an interesting lens for a discussion upon your Retrotopia book? Dunno.



  38. @Kimberly Steele,

    I have been pondering your pyramids. Do you envision them as having triangular bases or square bases? Back in the first Chapter 6, JMG described how a binary can resolve into a unity or how a unity resolves into a binary. But your pyramids would be a unity resolving into a trinity (or a quaternary) and vice versa. It is an intriguing image.

  39. JMG,

    Levi says one of the symbols for the sovereign will is the woman who crushes the serpent’s head. This reminded me of the discussion of the woman with humid feet and the licky dragon (way back in Ch2). Levi also says that the natural medium is the serpent “always active”.

    When Levi says the serpent is “always active”, does he just mean active in the sense of always moving or active as opposed to passive/receptive? (Because the licky dragon had tongues of fire and fire seems active as opposed to passive…) Or is Astral Light *always* active, regardless which direction it is flowing?

  40. I read John Kehoe’s book ‘Mind Power’ in the 1990’s, in which he advocates various methods of manifesting desired results. He describes reality as consisting of a sea of basic ‘stuff’, being the essential matter of which the universe is constructed; a great web of inter-connectedness. As everything is essentially the same thing at it’s most basic level it is possible to use our thoughts to manifest something held as a conscious thought. His techniques were things like affirmations and visualisations. It sounds very similar to the astral light to me. Are you familiar with John Kehoe, and do you agree that his description underlying reality sounds like a description of the astral light?

  41. Marko,

    Thanks for taking my offer seriously! May blessings flow in support of your worthy efforts.


    I see, thanks. Ugh, I guess I’ll be typing in the weekly blurbs by hand here each week, then… Well, probably best just to think of it as a tiny dose of “shugyo”– a hardship voluntarily endured for the purposes of spiritual growth. 🙂

  42. @Quin (if I may),

    You can still compose in an external editor and paste in here. Just flick back through after you paste it, delete each paragraph break, and replace it with two strokes of the enter key. Should go much faster and have the same end result as typing it in by hand. It’s the act of entering the line break into the edit box here that causes the software to insert the paragraph break in HTML or not.

    @Kimberly, I saw your “pyramid” example as being made from two interlocking tetrahedra, like so:
    [JMG, if it’s ok with you can you put the image through? It’s a wooden interlocking tetrahedra puzzle.]

    I see it as a 3-D version of the Seal of Solomon, and it has a lot to offer for pondering! Thanks for your description of the pyramids – even if you intended them to have a square base in your imaginings!

    @JMG, thanks as always for this forum of rich and fertile discussion!

    I found Lévi’s injunction against pleasure to be a little confusing. On the one hand, isn’t it pleasurable, for those on the path of the mage, to conquer the will and totally [re-]create the self? He, in so many words, lays out that the point of doing that is to master the currents, get past the trap of attachment to the astral light, and (I assume, from what you’ve written) move on with the development of the self/soul. If that’s the case, then I suppose he is speaking of material, physical pleasure that must be renounced or at least relegated to background noise that is well under control. But is there something I’m missing? Is enjoying anything actually somehow counter to the mage’s path? Is he advocating for a life of pure and unadorned total asceticism? That seems a little “unbalanced” to me, which we were cautioned against previously. I can get “the pursuit of pleasure” being necessary to go beyond, but his words seem to indicate he’s saying quite explicitly “pleasure itself”. Clearly, mages have lovers, eat good food, enjoy the company of other mages, practice meaningful and beautiful ceremonies as part of their religion or spiritual path, and often enjoy or even play music. All of this is entirely pleasurable. Can you drop some hints, then, on a useful perspective on his statements in this regard?

    Also, thank you JMG for the discussion of recorders and baroque/renaissance music (Dowland, etc.) in “The Nyogtha Variations”. I’m finding the music from those periods to be inspiring, and I’ve decided to pursue learning the recorder and other whistles/flutes/pipes as a practice of will and an investigation into musical alchemy (as well as an expression of beauty and joy, and as hopefully a way of blessing others in kind). I’ll thank @pygmycory for this as well, as [her?] advice on the recorder has been likewise “instrumental” in helping me decide on this path. I don’t expect it to be easy, and since Quin has kindly put up the Autumn prayer special, I’ll accept any blessings and prayers anybody is willing to offer for a steadfast, clear will and that I find a way to follow in harmony with the gods and nature in this path, for blessings to all through my music. (@Quinn: the desired change here is to build my skills at music and train my will through the required discipline, as I feel that I have something to offer as a blessing in this regard, and I haven’t taken it very seriously until now.)

    — V.O.G

  43. @miow #39 re: Relationships with Deities

    Thanks very much for your blessings! I can understand some trepidation, but my own experience has been uniformly positive. I think one thing that can help is reaching out to God(s) in established traditions that are known to be positive spiritual forces. I believe JMG’s usual advice is “read a bunch of mythology, and see what resonates with you,” which is more or less what I did on accident before hearing that advice – I’ve just always really liked Germanic mythology. World Full of Gods is fantastic for removing any intellectual hangups about polytheism as an approach worth taking seriously, and is also helpful for pointing out that you can have a rich, meaningful religious relationship with “minor” beings like nymphs or the like. If you’re looking for a more hands-on “how to,” Kaye Boesme’s The Soul’s Inner Statues is very good and available free online here:

    Her own practice is mostly worship of the Greek Gods, and she approaches things with a Neoplatonist kind of view, but it’s presented to be generically useful to any polytheist, with very detail-by-detail advice, like “what do I actually do during my daily prayer?” or “what should I put on my altar?”

    Whatever you end up doing, good luck!

  44. Frank, the longest discussion of meditation in any of my books so far is in The Druidry Handbook, so that’s probably the one you want. As for the other two books, Learning Ritual Magic is the introductory volume and Circles of Power is more advanced — many people find it best to begin with the one and then go on to the other.

    Peter, delighted to hear it. At the moment I’m mostly wading through vast amounts of scholarly literature on Greek temple architecture and medieval Christian monasteries, but a third book will eventually take shape.

    William, I know the feeling!

    Miow, I did the magical combat post when I did because the 2024 presidential campaign is warming up, and it would be nice to see some competent practice during that! This one was scheduled — and no, I didn’t foresee the latest round of ugliness. In terms of magical protection, I’m sorry to say you’re doing what you can at this point. That feeling of dread isn’t something to ignore or chase away; it’s collective, and it’s important to attend to. I’m fairly sure that some very ugly events are on their way.

    Dylan, Lévi came from his own religious background and I come from mine; you’re going to see different views on sexuality when a Catholic and a Druid have a conversation! From my perspective, there’s nothing wrong with sexual pleasure — what becomes problematic is when you let it guide you, and think (as the saying has it) with the wrong head.

    Travis, good. A fine koan, in fact.

    Paul, not quite. The astral light is Lévi’s name for the One Life; the three modes of spirit, below, above, and within, are three expressions of the astral light.

    Chris, it’s an interesting speculation. I suppose it’s always possible that something of the sort could happen, but human beings learn how to use their wills one at a time, and it doesn’t seem to be something that can be taught very well, so I’m not at all sure how to arrange it.

    Random, I think the implication is that the astral light is always in motion, in both directions. It ‘s never stationary, never unchanging, but it receives constantly and acts constantly.

    ShadowRider, I’m not familiar with Kehoe, but the idea wasn’t unique to him — it’s standard in old-fashioned New Age writings from that period and a half century or so before it. Yes, he’s talking about the astral light; Lévi’s writings were very influential on the early New Age teachers.

    Quin, may I suggest a slightly less shugyo-esque alternative? Paste your intended comment into a Notepad program. Then copy it from the Notepad program and paste it into the comment window. Notepad doesn’t allow most kinds of formatting, so what you see is what you get. I’m typing this response in Notepad right now, for whatever that’s worth.

    V.O.G., Lévi’s writing from within a 19th century Catholic perspective. When he talks about pleasure, he means sensual pleasure. I’m delighted to hear that you enjoyed that bit in my tentacle fiction, and even more delighted that you took it as it was meant, as a suggestion! My blessings are on their way. Oh, and here’s the image:

  45. Hi John Michael,

    It is an interesting speculation, but would it be a workable society? Dunno. Probably not…

    Off topic alert (but it does relate to a recent essay of yours). I’m not entirely sure how much international news you get in your country, but yesterday a national referendum was held. Voting is compulsory for the adult population. Anywhoo, the referendum was given a resounding ‘no’ from the population. What interested me was the campaign was devoid of detail (even though it was intended to alter the constitution! Trust us with the details we were told.) and run purely based on emotional energy, like that’s enough. Also what is fascinating, is that the support appears to have only been given in wealthy inner city areas and the nations capital (which is it’s own territory and probably where the main benefits would accrue). Tell me that’s not interesting? Outside of those areas there was far less support, in fact nowhere out of those areas got a majority. In some ways the results reminded me of the shades of Brexit, and of course the 2016 election in your country. Beyond No, here’s what we know about the Voice results.

    The sad thing is that the concept was not a bad idea, it was just so badly promoted and with no details. Clearly the track record of the government is not great in this matter. I read some figure that apparently $4.3bn (that’s thousand millions) get spent in this area each year employing something like 1,400 people, and given the poor outcomes. It’s not good.

    Oh, and the two large islands across the Tasman Sea had an election and ousted the left leaning incumbents.

    We may be living that curse from the land of stuff about interesting times?



  46. I always loved the legend of Excalibur’s blade engraved with “Take me up” and, on the opposite side, “Cast me away”. To me, it summed up the power of the mind for adept mages and yogis. That is, the power of the will to engage or not engage, to attach strongly or practice non- attachment, to take action but not be attached to the fruits.

    The ability to choose wisely (in yoga, viveka khyati) is one of the major goals of mind training techniques too.

    Of course, the message of Excalibur, I think, also speaks to the ability, powered by will, to move the mind to commune with the denser, earthly planes as well as to transcend them.
    Thank you for another fine, fine read in this time of coarse, pervasive atmosphere.

  47. V.O.G., excellent! I will add your entry to the prayer list shortly. As a musician myself (I’m actually typing this comment between sets) I will be delighted to be able to send someone blessings on their own musical endeavors. (And thanks for your advice on comment entry.)

    Marko, apologies that I haven’t posted your prayer listing until now. It’s been busy. I’ll get on it right now.

    JMG, thanks, I’ll try that next week.

  48. V.O.G., on the subject of baroque recorder music, I have not read the Nyogtha Variations nor do I know what you’ve listened to so far, but if you haven’t come across it yet, I heartily recommend J.S. Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto #4, which heavily features a recorder duo. It’s a beautiful piece, and it one of the ones I became completely obsessed with as a budding young musician, listening to it over and over and being moved every time.

  49. @Jill C, I’m appreciating your comment.

    To riff on it a bit, if I may: Everything one thinks of as part of reality, is actually a mental tool for understanding and negotiating reality. As with all tools, mastery is not only in using it capably, but in understanding when to use it and when some other tool (including, sometimes, disengagement) is more suitable. If you can’t put it down, the tool has mastered you instead. (You’ve no doubt heard of “every problem looking like a nail” as a metaphor for unthinkingly misguided choices or, as our host sometimes puts it, knowing only one story; something our civilization is dying of.) Would we be better off if every book had Excalibur’s instructions printed on the front and back covers? But if that were taken too literally, libraries would become dangerous places to hang out in…

  50. From the chapter: … the doctrine of absolute reason and of the universal harmonies through the sympathy of opposites.

    From the post: … and recognizes the secret identity of all apparent opposites.

    This is either something obvious I have overlooked or way off base, but couldn’t that identity, the thing that resolves opposites, be the being itself that observes the binary? Such that binaries and ternaries are objects of perception, that picks these things out from the undifferentiated ‘ground’ of the world around?

    It seems silly to say this in one way, because binaries in nature are so readily found; the tides, seasons, peaks and valleys, and so on.

    Yet on the other hand, I was thinking on an example, with how the SOP uses different elemental oppositions than the classic model. The older elemental model has fire opposite to water, and air opposite earth, whereas the SOP has air opposite to water and fire opposite earth. These are ways of ordering the world, and with the example of the SOP, it is the person doing the ritual who is forming the habit of perceiving two elements as opposites.

    If the road up is the same as the road down, maybe it is so only because I identify something as a ‘road’ in the first place.

    But I still need to think on this, because maybe I’m making the mistake of playing with abstractions.

  51. I’m meditating on how Levi’s statement concerning breaking “free of the chains of the earth” relates to Dion Fortune’s cosmology.

    Levi said that the astral light “is actually the blind force that souls must conquer to break free of the chains of the Earth; because, if their will does not detach them from this fatal magnetism, they will be absorbed into the current by the force which produced them and will return to the central and eternal fire”.

    On the surface this seems almost opposite from Fortune’s fate for irredeemable souls, which is to eventually take a one way trip into the unmanifest vice returning to a central and eternal fire (both with same results, end of the soul). I believe where the two views are similar can be found in Chapter 31 of the Cosmic Doctrine in which one can choose to evolve on the right hand path (love / greater unity of the spirit) or the left hand path (simplification / hate / separateness). I’d argue the simplification or (described as “flawed image of perfection”) is the same as not breaking free of the chains of the earth.

    Reference: flawed image of perfection:

  52. @JMJ & those interested,

    Please let me know your opinion on how Dion Fortune understood and used astral imagery compared to Levi’s astral light.

    I can only go on the beginning of Fortune’s Magical Battle of Britain in which she describes work on building an astral temple. I’d say she viewed the astral as a tool whereas Levi states it is something to master or be mastered by. Similar to his view of the elementals except the struggle with the light is actually against the impressions carried by the light while the elementals have agency.

  53. Chris, yes, I heard about both the Australian referendum and the New Zealand election — but then I don’t follow US media. Quite the fascinating outcome in both cases, and not surprising in either case. Interesting times? Why, yes, and I’ll be talking about that in the upcoming post.

    Jill C, hmm! Thank you for this — I hadn’t thought of Excalibur in that context, and it makes a fine metaphor.

    Jbucks, good. Very good. Now keep going.

    Scotty, in both cases, it’s important to recognize that you’re dealing with metaphors, not with identities. When Burns wrote “My love is like a red, red rose” he didn’t mean that she had green skin and thorns below the neck! Treat these statements as symbols, and — you knew this was coming, right? — meditate on them.

  54. Thanks for the continuing high quality posts on this and other subjects, John.

    On a subject completely unrelated to today’s post (please delete if necessary, and I will save for a future monthly extra anything goes post), you had once posted a checklist (on the old blog) that originally circulated in the ’70s or so about practical ways to weatherize your home. I’ve not had an opportunity to take advantage of much of this advice until just the last month, when my family purchased a home. Do you still have that checklist floating around? I’m definitely anticipating my upcoming heating bills with trepidation…

  55. JMG,

    I laughed at the caption of the cat radiating astral vibes. I don’t understand why the flowerpot outside could be troubling to meditation.

    Is Levi’s astral light the same as described by Wallace Wattles? I’m curious if this passage from him is a paraphrase of the same point Levi was making, or something different. I hope this isn’t too long a quote. “The man who wishes to get rich” was the subject of this book, but Wattles said the same thing applies to health, happiness, love or any other desired vision. It looks like these New Thought ideas are a repackaging of Levi’s magic?

    “There is a thinking stuff from which all things are made, and which, in its original state, permeates, penetrates, and fills the interspaces of the universe. A thought in this substance produces the thing that is imaged by the thought. Man can form things in his thought, and by impressing his thought upon formless substance can cause the thing he thinks about to be created.

    In order to do this, man must pass from the competitive to the creative mind; otherwise he cannot be in harmony with the Formless Intelligence, which is always creative and never competitive in spirit. Man may come into full harmony with the Formless Substance by entertaining a lively and sincere gratitude for the blessings it bestows upon him. Gratitude unifies the mind of man with the intelligence of Substance, so that man’s thoughts are received by the Formless. Man can remain upon the creative plane only by uniting himself with the Formless Intelligence through a deep and continuous feeling of gratitude.

    Man must form a clear and definite mental image of the things he wishes to have, to do, or to become; and he must hold this mental image in his thoughts, while being deeply grateful to the Supreme that all his desires are granted to him. The man who wishes to get rich must spend his leisure hours in contemplating his Vision, and in earnest thanksgiving that the reality is being given to him. Too much stress cannot be laid on the importance of frequent contemplation of the mental image, coupled with unwavering faith and devout gratitude. This is the process by which the impression is given to the Formless, and the creative forces set in motion.”

  56. @JMG #56,

    Thank you.

    I’m not looking for contradictions between Levi and Fortune but find it worth the time to think about why they present different metaphors for the same thing. Thinking about this may give insight into their works. The astral light is central to Doctrine and Ritual but, at least in The Magical Battle of Britain it’s mentioned in passing as “ok, we’ve built our astral temple now”.

    There is no contradiction between the authors as, last night, I found in the Magical Battle of Britain the section “The Mediumship of Dion Fortune” in which she (or actually the voice of one of the Masters) states “In order to achieve such control you work firstly upon the emotions” and statements such as “polishing the rough block of temperament into the finished Ashlar of character is achieved by dwelling in meditation……,and by thought control”, then “Thus shall the soul to be freed from its shackles”. All of which aligns with Levi’s mastering the astral light or it masters you.

  57. @JMG, thanks, that clarifies what I was wondering about sufficiently. These discussion posts are really amazing, I get so much out of your commentary, and then another helping from the commentariat. It’s an incredible resource and I’m grateful to everyone who participates here. Your blessings and others’ prayers seem to already be having an effect as I’ve just found a (superb) recorder teacher in the area who will accept me as a student!

    @Quin, Thank you, and I’ll do my best to reciprocate the prayers! And I can definitely recommend JMG’s little pair of side-novels “The Shoggoth Concerto” and “The Nyogtha Variations” as being entirely enjoyable reads for at least this music-lover. I’ll look for BWV 1049, thank you for that!

    – V.O.G

  58. Brian, I’ll be posting a link to the source document for that in Wednesday’s post. Stay tuned!

    Christopher, plants are also conscious and also radiate influences into the astral light. As for Wattles, more or less, yes, though Wattles’ understanding of it is somewhat simplified.

    Scotty, good. That’s a direction worth following up, btw.

    V.O.G., I have the best commentariat on the internet. It really is that simple!

  59. Hi John Michael,

    Good to hear, although I expected no less. Always wise to seek nuance and different perspectives. Our media tends to avoid doing that, and in doing so, to me at least, they displayed just how frightened the elites are. Oh well.

    Thought you might be interested to read some of the err, messaging from the elites: Waleed Aly says Voice referendum was too ‘complicated’ for ‘less educated’ Australians to understand – after only the most elite suburbs voted Yes. The blokes message was more nuanced than the title of the article suggests, but still it appears to be a thoughtless statement.

    It’s a new low. But we could go lower, for sure.



  60. Thank you for your discussion of the importance of a daily magical practice in strengthening will. I finally get it. I’ve started a daily practice – a simple prayer – and already see how hard it is to be faithful to it.
    My Catholic family had long done daily practices – prayers, the Rosary, Mass – and I’ve seen their strong wills, but I didn’t understand the connection. I often disagree with how they exercise their will, but I admire their strength.
    I’ve studied Alcoholic Anonymous, trying to understand how belief in God is important, and now its clearer. Alcoholics suffer from a lack of will and are unable to say no to their vices. Daily religious practice strengthens will.
    When we started on the second Levi book about practice, you suggested a series of austerities to demonstrate that I was ready to be a mage. I knew they’d be impossible for me. As a recovering alcoholic, I really depend on my daily beer (down from several beers.) I understood then that I couldn’t become a mage. For some reason – habit? – I kept reading your posts.
    When I first became a pagan, I tried magic, but the objects that I consecrated in ritual seemed to get lost somewhere. I understood then that I shouldn’t continue using magic. I could trust myself to do receptive magic like oracles and astrology, but I was too unreliable to force my will on the world. I had a few experiences of the recoil from bungled magic, which really convinced me to give up.
    I’d hoped that I’d grown enough in twenty years to be ready for magic, but your suggested austerities showed that I wasn’t. I’ll have to start at the beginning, and hope I’m not too old to build my strength.

  61. While reading over the current chapter I’ve been ducking back to Chapter 4 to look over Levi’s Conjuration of the Four ritual.
    My first question is about the evolution of the ritual.
    There seems to be an important part of the story missing here: how did Mathers and Wescott take this hardware-laiden ritual and realize the (relatively minimalistic) LBRP + Cabalistic Cross out of it? And then, take something presented as a “panic button” and turn it into the core of ceremonial practice, effectively turning every other practice into adjuncts? That’s a real paradigm shift, and the longer I look at it the more impressive it becomes.

    My second question, is what to do with the ritual itself?
    In contemporary ceremonial practice, is this ritual considered a “hold-out weapon” if things go really wrong, or is it simply considered a practice rendered obsolete by further innovation?

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