The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #23

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #23


A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per column. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.


(Alchemy) Mythical creatures which are symbols of elemental fire. In alchemy, a dragon in flames is a symbol of calcination. Several dragons fighting are symbolic of putrefaction. Flying dragons represent the volatile principle, while wingless dragons correspond to the fixed principle. A dragon biting its own tale is synonymous with Ouroboros and implies a fundamental unity of all things.


(Qabalah) Hebrew A legendary being of clay given life by magic.

Messianic awareness

(Qabalah) Hebrew Christ or Tiphareth Consciousness. A new sort of solar awareness which will enable all people to function from a level of collective unconscious, thereby creating effortless harmony.


(Philosophy) The branch of philosophy that studies the arrangement of reality. Central questions in metaphysics include: Can we act freely? What is it for something to exist? How are causes related to their effects? What is time? What is space? How is change possible?

Philosopher’s Stone

(Alchemy) A material believed to have the ability of transmuting base metal into gold. See elixir.


(Yoga) Sanskrit. The solar element in the kundalini, said to reside at the right side of the spine. It has heating qualities and is manipulated by breathing through the right nostril.


(Qabalah) Hebrew “Divine Presence.” The presence of God in matter. Synonymous with the Thelemic concept of Hadit. The bride of Melek, who was separated from her husband by the sin in the Garden of Eden. She is exiled in Malkuth.


(Logic) Skepticism is the claim that knowledge is either impossible or very difficult to obtain. Global skepticism is skepticism about all branches of knowledge. There are also several forms of local skepticism, which involve skepticism about one or more areas of knowledge, e.g., local skepticism about the external world may lead to solipsism.


(Ecclesiastic) A small mark, stain or scar. A birthmark. In the good ol’ days, a permanent brand usually burned into criminals to forever identify them with their crime. (An example would be the mark of Caine) In medicine, any visual indication of disease or abnormality. In psychology, a spot on the skin that bleeds as a symptom of hysteria. In biology, the receptive apex of the pistil of a flower, on which pollen is deposited at pollination. A stigma is most commonly known for its religious connotations. In Christianity, stigmata are sores or wounds corresponding in position to the wounds Jesus suffered at the crucifixion. In Thelemic circles, stigmata are the involuntary twitching and drooling which occur when winning internet flame wars from the safety of one’s computer.


A Chinese school of mysticism and magick that provided much of the foundation for medieval and renaissance ideas of alchemy. Taoism is hard to pin down, precisely for the reason that it is such a rich tradition, containing elements of shamanism, sexual magic, ceremony, divination, astrology and alchemy. There are striking similarities between Taoist occultism and certain elements of the Qabalah. The structure of the Yi King, for example, is derived from two lines known as Yin and Yang. These lines are combined into four double combinations of eight lines, and then into eight “trigram” combinations (24 lines) and from there to 64 “hexagram” combinations (384 lines). 2+8+24+384=418.


(Qabalah) Hebrew An angelic, virtuous person. An adept.

Vale of Tears

(Qabalah) A reference to Assiah, the World of Action. The concept is based on the idea that the soul is hesitant to descend from Yetzirah into Assiah.


(Alchemy) A transitional point or marker in alchemy, suggesting the place between the Black and White phases. A term used by Alexandrian alchemists to illustrate variations of the Fermentation process. Same as Yellow Phase.

Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at and his websites at and Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #22

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #22


A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per issue. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.

Adam Kadmon

(Qabalah) The primordial Atziluthic Man. A predecessor to the Adam of Genesis. He is the first of four likenesses of God to manifest. Adam Kadmon possesses everything that is needed to achieve divine reflection. He is the observer and the observed and possesses a will, intellect, emotion, and capacity for action. He represents the fifth and highest World, providing the makings for the lower four.


(Philosophy) A branch of philosophy that concerns itself with beauty and art. Some of the central questions in aesthetics include: What is art? What sorts of things possess aesthetic significance? Is the aesthetic experience rational or emotional? What is the relationship between an artist, his work and his critics?


(Logic) Opposite of necessary. Something is contingent if the outcome could have been different. A contingent truth is a proposition which, though true, might have been false, e.g., Gerald rides a motorcycle.


(Alchemy) The Eagle represents the element of air and alchemical volatilization. When an eagle is shown devouring a lion, this indicates volatilization of a fixed component by a volatile component.

Golden Dawn

(Magical Order) Originally founded in England in 1887 by S. L. Macgregor Mathers, Wynn Westcott, and William Woodman, the Golden Dawn is the most influential magical order of our time. When the order broke up in 1903, many of the students tried to keep the tradition alive, working its Hermetic, Qabalistic magick within their own orders. In fact, the Golden Dawn has influenced just about every existing magical organization today and is widely known thanks to the work of Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, Dion Fortune, and others.


(Alchemy) The result of the union between Aphrodite and Hermes: Hermaphroditus. In alchemy, a human possessing both male and female qualities, which represents Sulfur and Mercury after their conjunction. Another symbol for the union of opposites.


An unproved explanation.


(Alchemy) A term to describe the leftover scum, froth, or ashes of a metallic operation.

Mahaseh Bereshith

(Qabalah) Hebrew Literally, the Work of Creation. The act of employing Qabalistic theory and Hebrew letters with magick to emulate the act of creation as it appears encoded in the book of Genesis. According to medieval literature, tangible physical forms can be created from nothingness.

Sephirah, pl. Sephiroth

(Qabalah) Hebrew One of the ten stages of development of manifestation illustrated by the “fruit” on the Tree of Life. The sephiroth are vessels containing divine qualities and powers that are related to the creation of the universe and God Him/Her/Itself.

©2008-2013 Gerald del Campo. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at and his websites at and Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.

Faith & Healing in Paganism – Postmodern World, Pagan Theology, Pt. III

Faith & Healing in Paganism - Postmodern World, Pagan Theology, Pt. III

Author’s note: This is part three in a three-part series on some of the challenges of a modern pagan theology. You can also read Part One and Part Two.

Part III: The Postmodern Experience

While there are religions that are traditionally monist or henotheist, these two views of godhood can be expanded to describe what have become common approaches to nominally “monotheistic” religion in the West. This isn’t the strict monism and henotheism which is referenced by Tylor (see previous post), but rather a more open view of what is meant by these terms.

Traditional theology and personal theology of a religious adherent are not always the same. If an adherent of Christianity were to ascribe to the saying “there are many paths up the mountain, but we all see the same moon from the summit,” then there is something fundamentally monist and therefore not purely monotheistic about the belief.

Field of Meaning

These four ideas, monotheism, henotheism, monism, and polytheism, do not exist on a linear continuum, but rather on a plane, a field of meaning (see Figure 1). Both henotheism and monism have certain attributes in common with monotheism or polytheism. Both monotheism and henotheism predicate that there is one correct was for the believer to worship, but disagrees about the nature (and number) of deity. Monotheism and monism agree that there is only one deity, but disagree about whether there is a singularly correct way to worship. These relationships are, of course, inverted with polytheism.

Figure 1
Figure 1

As a population, the daily experiences of people who live in modern Western culture are different from those who have lived at any other time in history. For the most part, we all have what has historically been an “urban” experience: Every day we interact with people who believe differently from the way we do. Not only do we see them on the streets, but they are our co-workers, our spouses and partners, and they are, in a very real sense, participants in the same culture.

Modern Urbanity

This experience of meeting, and working, with others who have fundamentally different beliefs, has always been part of the life of those who lived in major cities. However, until the Industrial Revolution and the migration of populations away from subsistence farming, it was not the general rule. This heterogeneity of large populations leads to “urbanity,” a true lack of naïveté, in our interactions with the world.

As a though-exercise, compare our lives to the population a century-and-a-half ago, just as the Industrial Revolution was beginning in the United States. Travel, while not unheard of, was much rarer. The industrial base was just beginning its shift away from agricultural production. Most importantly, people commonly made effort to reduce the diversity in their lives. Mixed-religion marriages were rare, and mixed-“race”1 marriages rarer still.2

The world was not less diverse two centuries ago. Arguably, it was more diverse, with a greater number of languages and distinct ethnicities. However, while diversity in the world (and even in America) was great, the expected diversity in people’s everyday experiences was quite low.3 Class, ethnic and racial separation were expressed both geographically and culturally. Much of the population lived in smaller communities, which often had a limited cultural and social makeup.

Looking to the Past

A yearning to recapture the “simplicity” of the past, along with a desire to maintain the power-relationships of those times, is a current subtext, if not theme, that shapes modern political debate. Among some social groups, there is a desire for less diversity, with such expressions as a desire for all Americans to learn English, or be of the same religion. This might be an attempt to regain the advantages of the pre-modern experience (less cognitive dissonance created by diversity) without the associated loss of other advantages of the modern and postmodern world (e.g., access to education, healthcare, and such).

We humans, as social creatures, have the desire to be surrounded by others who believe as we do; this might well be part of human nature.4 But this longing can easily, and sometimes dangerously, translate into a need to suppress or remove difference as a whole.5 When this need lines up with other goals, the synergy can create social momentums that grow beyond both the expectations and aims of the original ideas. For example, a desire to honor the sacred somehow managed to become the many Christian crusades and Muslim Jihads in the Middle East.

It would be incorrect, however, to attribute these “holy wars” to wholly religious motivations. Pure religious motivation is as much a myth as the purely “rational” man: it removes the humanity of the actors and reduces an actual human experience to a fable or morality play. Life is not a fiction, and is seemingly infinitely more complex. Looking closely, we can find how the confluence of religion, political aspirations, and economic trends led to these conflicts.

Perhaps not so strangely, there is a contrast here between strict monotheism and urbanity. Urbanity necessitates the ability to deal with difference within our daily lives, and to live with the cognitive dissonance that comes from being consistently exposed to systems so complex that our minds have no hope of grasping the variables in any but the most intuitive way.

This is, ironically, the opposite of how urbanity and monotheism interacted during the Late Roman Empire, when pagan6 polytheists were associated with the periphery of the empire and Christian monotheists were associated with the urban elite. Now, I would argue, a more monist or henotheist approach is associated with the “liberal” urban elite. Unlike Rome, with an economy based on imported slave labor and a government budget paid with the tribute of conquered nations, Western cultural elites in general are not bent on genocide or military domination.

Accepting Difference

In this postmodern world of multiculturalism and accepted difference, people find themselves exposed to incredibly high levels of cognitive dissonance for extended periods of time. This exposure chips away at clung-to beliefs that are grounded in any but the most fundamental experiences. Beliefs that are tied to our identities are, and indeed must be, defended most vigorously.

As denizens of the Information Age, we constantly defend religious aspects of identity from being worn away. Every day brings exposure to a world more potent than we can comprehend, let alone withstand. To this end, people can choose either to mentally shift themselves away from the exposure, or to change the way they comprehend these religious differences so that the “inherent conflicts” between their beliefs and others are no longer quite as inherent. In other words, we either run away from difference, or learn to accept it.

With the knowledge that others, around the world, find deep and meaningful experiences through other religions, we have little choice but to either be atheist/agnostics, refusing to see anything deeper connecting religious experiences, or monists, believing that there is something that ties these experiences together. The alternative is to fall into the “I am right, you are wrong…and probably evil” approach that characterized the early Christian Church (and was to some extent responsible for its amazing success).

Neopaganism, having a gestation that began no earlier than the 1850s, reflects these modern and postmodern experiences. Neopaganism does not simply skirt the edges of monism and polytheism, but embraces them. At the same time, it generally neither proselytizes nor ties itself too tightly to any particular dogma.

Whether Neopagan religions are monist or polytheist, they spiritually reflect the makeup of the modern experience just as much as the monotheism of Christianity reflected the Age of Empires, from the Romans to the British. We live in a world of complexity and competing voices, in many ways wealthier than anything past, but certainly lacking a sense of stability.

Beyond Evolution

Beyond E. B. Tylor’s “ultimate” evolutionary step is a worldview where we can see all of his “stages” as descriptions of the same world, and know that all of them are happening at once. The world in which we live is beyond our individual efforts to categorize; the world is the world itself; it is beyond complete comprehension, and more complex than any model we make.

As communication increases, and the vastness of the world has become clearer, “pagans” are not some culturally isolated throwbacks who live in the wilderness. They are instead people who live out on the forefront of this wider world. The modern Neopagan movement—especially Wicca, which often embraces monism—attempts to reconcile the larger, postmodern world with a spiritual vision of unity.


  1. While “race” is the traditional term, I mark it here to point out that it is cultural. “Races” are cultural constructs which have often been replaced with “ethnicity” in modern academic writing. This represents work toward removing the a priori assumptions of what a “race” is.
  2. Mixed-“race” marriages were, in some places in the US, illegal until 1967.
  3. Ironically, and perhaps importantly, the current nostalgia for a more homogeneous “America” evinced by some political groups in the United States is based around a desire for a world that never existed. This longing is for an experience of the world in which we are able to shield ourselves from the cognitive dissonance caused by exposure to true diversity.
  4. I am not suggesting that the desire to be exclusively surrounded by people whom we identify as similar is part of human nature, or that this desire cannot be moderated and mediated by other influences.
  5. This need does not only come with religion, but with atheism, political beliefs, race and ethnicity to name just a few arenas where it displays itself.
  6. For reference see almost any of the myriad online discussions of the origin of the word pagan, from paganus — Latin for “country dweller.” In English, this word is perhaps most viscerally translated with the cultural baggage of urban views of “rednecks.”
  7. © 2013 Christopher Drysdale.
    Edited by Sheta Kaey.

    Faith and Healing in Paganism – Postmodern World, Pagan Theology: Pt II

    Faith and Healing in Paganism - Postmodern World, Pagan Theology: Pt II

    Author’s note: This is part two in a three-part series on some of the challenges of a modern pagan theology. Part one can be found here.

    Part II: Culture, the Mind, and Social Evolutionary Theory

    It is a common critique of Christianity that when we look at the way many people live in the West, it tends to be placed in a separate “mental basket”1 from the rest of life. Religion ends up being something relegated to one day of the week, or paid attention only in certain contexts. Where religion and secular life might intersect, they are often held apart. For example, the general idealism of Christianity often does not inform business decisions—and if it did, Christian businessmen would go out of business.

    Orthodoctic religions, especially those that claim to have the one universal truth and entertain attempts at orthodoxy,2 can, for some followers, function mentally and cognitively as a unifying set of beliefs. They create a consistent way of seeing the world. They are not just a lens through which to see the world; they can also act as filters through which experience is sifted. At the level of the subconscious, each experience is quickly assigned relative value and accepted, ignored, or rejected. So far, that is not very different from what any other belief system does.

    What, then, sets religion apart from any other belief system? Orthodoctic religions3 provide an alternate value system that acts in balancing opposition to other aspects of a culture to create meaning and order. This is neither good nor bad in and of itself. While some followers might cleave to these beliefs and try to follow them slavishly, on the whole, there is a balance between the religious beliefs and secular beliefs.

    In a culture that secularly promotes sex, like Western culture, the religious beliefs (take, for example, Christianity) stringently work against that, claiming that sex for pleasure is anathema. An integrated, spiritual “middle path” exists somewhere between the two. By balancing out secular drives with religious ones, these orthodoctic religions can provide access to experiences of the numinous and thus a broader understanding of and appreciation for reality.

    Orthopractic religions (like Wicca), by contrast, attempt to integrate the religious and secular drives. By holding sexuality as sacred, they avoid the secular drive for pure pleasure at the cost of spirituality.

    The Mental Shift to Monotheism

    But let’s jump back a couple of hundred years ago to the time when sending Christian missionaries around the world was not just a religious imperative, but colonial government policy. The Christianity that was promulgated during the colonial period was often a more idealized form than that which was actually practiced in Europe. The standards to which local populations were held often were different from those of the European versions. The evangelized version of Christianity was interlaced with beliefs extending from Western culture about appropriate dress, race and ethnicity, and even hygiene. More, it was often intertwined with local political power and the backing of colonial powers.

    This raises the question of why people would choose to be monotheist, and more than that, compete to be more monotheistic. Why is calling a Christian anything other than a “monotheist” generally considered a grave insult? There are cultural meanings associated with monotheism that make it a point of contention, or a point of pride. Edging “down the scale” toward polytheism implies some sort of devolution. For that scale, we can thank, among others, the famous Edward Burnett Tylor (2 October 1832 – 2 January 1917 — first publication in 1856).

    Social Evolutionary Theory

    E. B. Tylor relates to anthropology as Sigmund Freud relates to modern psychology in three significant ways. First, both are credited with heavy influence on the early theory of their respective fields. Second, their names are well-known outside the field. Third, while the theories in their fields have advanced by at least a century, the public images of both fields are intertwined with these out-of-date, but culturally palatable, theories.

    As discussed extensively in the writings of E. B. Tylor on cultural evolution, Western culture places a value on monotheism as “more advanced” than polytheism. Tylor created the following Social Evolution scale:

    Figure 1:

    Animism → Polytheism → Henotheism → Monotheism → Science

    In Tylor’s theory, the original religion was animism, the belief that all things have a spirit. This was followed by polytheism, graduated to henotheism, which was followed by monotheism, and finally would be replaced by science. While this idea has since been abandoned by the social sciences, it is still prevalent in some parts of Western culture. For instance, we can see it the announcements of Stephen Hawking that God does not exist can find their genesis in this early social theory. While many scientists, both in the past and present, are religious men who not only “manage” to reconcile science and religion but function comfortably in both without conflict, Tylor is an early and important link between science and atheism.4

    Yet E. B. Tylor was not writing in a vacuum. Monotheism has been part of the package of “Westernization” since the beginning of the colonial era, which arguably began in 1492 with the voyages of Christopher Columbus.5 We gloss over the process of religious transformation, by and large, when we say that local religions were replaced by Christianity. The conversion required that the populations first change how they thought about religion, in many cases introducing the idea of religion as something not contiguous with ethnicity.


    Neopaganism terribly upsets this evolutionary scale. Why, we might ask, would people who are part of Western culture take up “old” ideas like polytheism? Several answers come to mind:

    1. Neopaganism describes people’s spiritual experiences.

    This is the most basic of arguments: Neopagans find their religions to be experientially true. We are practitioners because it works for us. We are somehow suited to immanent and orthopractic religions, and Neopaganism fits the bill.

    1. Neopaganism is pretty cool about other people’s religions.

    The Information Age (that’s the one we’re in, at the moment, right?) exposes us to more and more varied belief systems. Simply opening a news webpage will bring us in contact with people who believe differently, and just as fervently as we do. Neopaganism is open to other ways of approaching “truth,” It is, in this sense, more descriptive of the postmodern world in which we find ourselves. All of these religions out there do exist, and do give meaning to people’s lives, and do have spiritual components. If we are to do something other than argue, if we are to get down to the serious business of spiritual experience, then a system of practice that admits the value of these other paths can serve us well.

    1. In a world that is constantly and rapidly changing, Neopaganism is fluid enough to provide a spiritual “base.”

    Since Neopaganism, by and large, derives its value and meaning from practice, rather than belief, it is suited to an ever-changing world. For example, a little less than a hundred years ago, people believed that there was an Iron Age belief system that had been passed down, hidden, from generation to generation. When this origin story of Wicca was shown not to be true, it did not cast doubt, as Wicca’s foundation and strength is not its ancient roots, but rather its strength of practice.


    1. These “mental baskets” are best addressed, currently, by cognitive science. Cognitive science is the study of how the mind organizes information.

    According to R. D’Andrade, (1995 The Development of Cognitive Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), the categories are arranged into schema and their arrangement shapes how people think about things. Schema both guide thought and are shaped by the purposes for which we use the words. As an off-topic example, a schema might be “color” and categories under it may include red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet and many, many others. A sub-schema would be “primary colors” with red, blue, and yellow, and another would be “secondary colors” with purple, green, and orange.

    Culture and experience both play a role in the development and interpretation of schema. For instance, visual artists need and have a much larger and more descriptive color vocabulary. Members of an entirely separate culture would have not only different vocabulary, but possibly very different associations for the colors. In Western culture, red is often used to symbolize “danger,” but in another culture it might mean “life.”

    For a similar but alternative view from an occult perspective, see Patrick Dunn’s Postmodern Magick.

    2. Orthodoxy, or “correct belief,” is used here in contrast to orthopraxy or “correct action.”

    3. This refers specifically to religions that follow the model of being a separate part of culture, often differentiated (though not completely separated) from other important aspects of life such as livelihood.

    4. It is simply personal bias, and stated in full awareness that everyone has different opinions, but physicists are no more qualified to discuss religion than anthropologists or theologians are qualified to discuss physics. That is to say that some are and some aren’t, and those qualifications are completely independent of their skill with, and status in, the realm of physics and physical sciences in general.

    5. Please note, however, that the experience of the Reconquista, the battle to reconquer Spain and place it under Christian rule, informed the culture of those who came to the New World. This war lasted from the beginning of the 8th century, was mostly complete in the middle of the 13th century, but was truly completed with the defeat of the Kingdom of Granada. It was at the celebration of this victory that Christopher Columbus approached Queen Isabella and asked her to fund his expedition.

    © 2013 by Christopher Drysdale.
    Edited by Sheta Kaey.

    Faith and Healing in Paganism: Postmodern World, Pagan Theology: Pt. I

    Faith and Healing in Paganism: Postmodern World, Pagan Theology: Pt. I

    Author’s note: This is part one in a three-part series on some of the challenges of a modern pagan theology.

    Part I: Monotheism and Polytheism, Monism and Henotheism

    Neopagan religions are often described as fundamentally “polytheistic” — worshiping many gods. This lay classification usually assumes that there are only two options, with the other being “monotheistic.”

    In Western culture, when something is labeled “polytheistic,” what is really meant is “more polytheistic than the monotheism of an ‘ideal’ Christianity.” A more accurate description of the way these two terms are commonly used would be “like Christianity” and “other.” Any religion that does not match an “ideal” Christianity1 is, perforce, considered “more” polytheistic.

    By examining a little of the complexity of the ideas behind these two terms, and by looking at a pair of alternatives, we can hope to expand our understanding of these basic ideas of theology, and thereby improve our ability to think about and discuss them. Additionally, by looking at the connotations associated with the terms “monotheism” and “polytheism,” I hope to illuminate some underlying cultural assumptions and provide context to understand what prompts these words’ misuse.

    As I have written elsewhere in my column, Western culture, to a large extent, describes religion based on the influence of Western Christianity, that religion’s history, and the schools of thought that have come from its own scholarship and its influence on wider scholarship.2 In much of the discussion of Christianity through the past millennium-and-a-half, a theological decision has been repeatedly made to promote a strict monotheism: a belief that there is only one God, and only one correct way to follow the dictates of that deity. At various times in history, those who have disagreed even slightly have been subject to a range of religious and non-religious sanctions ranging from social disapproval to excommunication, forced conversion, and execution.

    In the past century-and-a-half, there has been a massive global and cultural upheaval, of which globalization is only the most recent phase. The Industrial Revolution’s shift of population to cities created widespread access to secular education. Late colonialism and post-colonialism has modified the relationships between ethnic groups and social polities. The modern era has increased access to travel, and the postmodern era has given us widespread, near-instant communication.

    Throughout this period of change, there has been a growing, though hardly overwhelming, trend toward a more “open” spiritual worldview. It has led to a belief that is common enough to be worth discussing: “There are many paths up the mountain, but we all see the same moon from the summit3.” This saying, in addition to being catchy and sounding quite wise, promotes two theologies that are neither monotheism nor polytheism: henotheism and monism.

    Working Definitions

    The first task is to determine working definitions of monotheism, henotheism, monism, and polytheism, which describe four different views of the nature of deity or deities. While truly defining these terms is beyond the scope of this series, for the purpose of discussion, I would like to quickly gloss them.

    Monotheism is the belief in one deity as the only deity. Lesser spiritual beings, such as angels, may be part of the belief system, but are subordinate to the one true “God.” Monotheism is held up as a cultural value in the West, which is traditionally Christian, as well as in areas strong in Islam. As part of Christian and Islamic evangelism, this belief has been spread to other parts of the world. Monotheism has cultural associations with modernity, and it has been argued that the unified structures of authority found in kingdoms and states are commonly reflected in the theology of adopted monotheistic religions.

    Henotheism is the exclusive worship of one deity, though it admits that other deities exist. It is similar to monotheism in that the members of a group, usually what we would now call an ethnic group, worship only one deity. Yet it is different because it admits other deities, although their worship is forbidden within the group. One famous example of this is early Judaism, where members are exhorted not to worship other deities. Such worship was considered not appropriate for members of the community.

    Monism, like henotheism, trends between monotheism and polytheism. Monist theology recognizes only one deity, though it allows that different groups, or even individual worshipers, may worship that same deity in a variety of ways. It often sees a variety of names for such a deity, as well as ways of worship. The variation in both name and ritual obligation may make these religions, to monotheists, appear to be separate. To a monist, this variation does not change the underlying truths that each of the religions strives to express. Unitarian Universalists generally fall into this group, as do some Wiccans.

    Polytheism recognizes multiple deities as distinct. Some traditionally polytheistic religions show aspects of monism: There can be recognition within the theology of some polytheistic traditions that multiple deities are actually “faces” of the same deity. This is true of Vedic traditions (modern Hinduism is one descendant) as well as many, but not all, varieties of Wicca. Other traditions, however, notably many modern Heathenism, adhere to a strict, “hard” polytheism, recognizing multiple deities as completely distinct entities.

    The Western Cultural Value of Monotheism

    Many modern monotheists in Western culture are probably, in the strictest sense, actually henotheists or monists. Any Christian who believes that other religions are fine for other groups would be closer to henotheism. Any Christian who believes that other religions are trying to say the same thing in a different way is actually a monist.

    This label would not mean much were it not for the cultural and social-political weight associated with being monotheistic. Polytheism, for many Westerners in general and Christians in specific, is a slur-word invoking primitive man, bloody sacrifices, and painted bodies.

    These divisions are not merely something of the past. Some Protestant Christian sects claim that Catholics are not Christian because they are not monotheist. The veneration of Catholic saints is seen from that outside perspective as something akin to polytheism. By the same token, the Protestant Christian worship of God as a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is sometimes claimed to be proof that they are not monotheists (usually by Muslims, as it turns out).

    I will leave it to the varying Christian denominations, and monotheists in general, to work out their own internal political struggles. I mention all this to set the scene for Neopaganism as it comes into its own. Neopaganism is arising in a cultural landscape where there have historically been wars and persecutions over what seem to be comparatively minor points of doctrine regarding how our culture counts deities. At the same time, this shift illuminates why modern monism is an important development, and why some members of monotheistic religions react so badly to it.

    So Why Do We Care?

    Understanding these terms is important, and not just for informing our own pagan thoughts about the nature of deity, our theologies. Neopaganism, by its very existence, challenges historically important connections between monotheism, social legitimacy, modernization, and power.

    In the next installment, I will examine and address some of the links between these ideas, and talk about how the West is trapped in the myth of social evolution.


    1. This discussion is intended to be neither an attack on Christianity nor on Western culture.
    2. At its most abstract, the form of higher education in use today came from the monasteries of Europe. The evidence of this is shown in the use of ecclesiastical robes as formal dress for ceremonial occasions, such as graduation. The links, however, are much deeper.
      At one time, it was common for all students attending universities to be legally considered members of the clergy and therefore under church law. Because of the way legal questions were administered, without these protections, students from outside a city would have lacked citizenship and therefore had no legal protections at all.
      Even today, the relationship of a graduate student to his or her primary academic advisor has much in common with the older mentoring and apprenticeship models of instruction. Such relationships are far deeper than simply teacher/student, and the lineages of ideas are often traced back through the generations of students.
    3. As far as I have been able to find an origin for this, it is a traditional Japanese saying, likely associated with Zen Buddhism. Typical Asian models of religion have a tendency not to be exclusive; one might participate in two or more religions without social critique or personal internal conflict.
    4. Notably, in this vision of the “other,” there is also a distinct lack of cell phones, modern medicine, and hygiene.

    ©2013 by Christopher Drysdale.
    Edited by Sheta Kaey.

    The Study of Magic: Hermeticism and Gnosticism – the Spinoffs of Neoplatonism

    November 7, 2010 by  
    Filed under columns

    The Study of Magic: Hermeticism and Gnosticism - the Spinoffs of Neoplatonism

    Neoplatonic philosophy, as already explained, is pervasive in the study of magic. But much of it came in through the back door: either through the Qabala or through its philosophical spinoffs. The third century CE was a fertile time in mystical philosophy. Christianity, the suddenly popular mystery religion, had begun to displace the classical mysteries of Greece and Rome and fulfill the role these mysteries had previously played: as an avenue of personal religious experience amid a rather sterile state religion.

    Two other new religious movements also gained footholds during late antiquity: Gnosticism and Hermeticism. Even though they were not in themselves inherently Christian, both of them interacted with Christianity in a syncretic and eclectic way, borrowing and modifying without necessarily understanding the system from which they were borrowing.

    A full account of gnosticism would be difficult to cover in so few pages, and to be honest I’m not even remotely qualified. Essentially, however, what all gnostic sects had in common, even those who were not particularly Christian, was the idea that true knowledge came not through reason but through direct revelation. This view of knowledge was particularly striking in light of the intellectual tradition of ancient Greece and Rome. Reason, always, was the measure of truth: direct revelation rarely had the sanction of traditional philosophy. Yet the seeds of this approach are in Plato, and grow strong in the formulation of Neoplatonism.

    Similarly, the Gnostics accepted the doctrine of emanation from Neoplatonism, although they identify the creator of the universe, the demiurge, as an evil figure rather than a good one, and therefore regard matter as degraded. This naturally led to the practice of asceticism, the ritual denial of the needs of the body. One reason there are few gnostics, in fact, is that many sects denied the holiness of sex and held reproduction itself to be a sin.

    Gnosticism also held little room for magical practice. If your purpose was to deny matter, why interact with it at all? Unlike the view of Iamblichus, that matter could be used as a source of symbolic tokens to act as step stools to the divine, the gnostics saw matter as irredeemably degraded. The only way to be free of its degradation was to be free of matter.

    Hermeticism borrowed a lot more from Neoplatonism, despite the assertions otherwise by some scholars. The Hermetic doctrine is laid out in a series of hermetic writings, mostly dialogues, compiled as the Corpus Hermeticum. To say “the Hermetic doctrine” is a bit inaccurate, as these dialogues outline doctrines, some of them contradictory. In some, matter is treated as degraded, as in gnosticism; in others, matter is holy.

    Unlike Gnosticism, as well, we have the “practical Hermetica,” a series of writings, among which include some of the passages in the Greek Magical Papyri, for practical magical aims as well as the more spiritual theurgic aims of the so-called Philosophical Hermetica. From these, we can see what appear to be Hermetic rituals, but might bare some resemblance to the rituals espoused by Iamblichus. These include the manipulation of material objects and the recitation of holy names and objects.

    These three streams — Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, and Hermeticism — converged in the Renaissance to form the western occult approach often called “Hermetic.” This approach concerned itself with three great fields of magic: Alchemy, the study of the magic of material objects; Astrology, the study of the magic of celestial objects; and Theurgy, the study of the magic of divine objects. These three divisions also reflect a threefold view of the universe: the divine, the celestial, and the material. God, who is featureless and without any quality but goodness, is reflected by a divine intelligence or nous. This nous, the demiurge or craftsman of the cosmos, gives order to the universe. Different Hermetic tracts provide slightly different cosmologies, but they always describe a chain of being from incorruptible perfect idealism to matter, whether regarded as evil or merely transient.

    Philosophically speaking, this amalgamation of the various streams that led to modern occultism lacks any sort of overarching system. Overall, the result of this amalgamation wasn’t so much consciously constructed as cobbled together. Yet this result does resemble a system: we can clearly say what is and is not western occultism, at least in some terms. For one thing, western traditional occultism describes a chain of being. It recognizes the importance of consciousness, and regards consciousness as a universal law. It also reflects an ethical system, in which the cultivation of virtue is concurrent with the cultivation of magical power.

    The grimoires that arose from late renaissance and early enlightenment experimentation with magic emphasize this ethical system. The Arbatel of Magic, a 16th century grimoire, consists chiefly of moral aphorisms, which do not look out of place in the light of the Hermetica or Neoplatonic writing. It is clear that moral virtue is connected to magical virtue, in the sense of power. Similarly, the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin describes magic as a side-effect of the theurgic work of attaining knowledge and conversation of a holy guardian angel. Even the Goetia, a very practical work of demonic magic, is not without its moral exhortations.

    With a cosmology, a system of ethics, and a theology all its own, it’s clear that the western mystery tradition arising from the confluence of Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, and Hermeticism is itself a religion. Of course, the magicians cleaving to these systems wished to connect it to their own religions, usually some variety of Christianity. But it differs from Christian theology in significant ways. Although there is talk of salvation and the son of God in the Hermetica, there is little talk of original sin, no indication that humans must be saved or will burn forever. Moreover, there are occasional references to transmigration of souls in Neoplatonic philosophy and western mysticism. It’s clear that western Hermeticism is, or at least can be regarded as, a separate and distinct religion.

    Yet it is not a dogmatic religion, but a religion of personal gnosis. This feature is one reason that the Hermetic dialogues do not always agree on fine matters of cosmology. Even Iamblichus seems to privilege personal experience over reason. This element of personal gnosis is also the feature that allows the diverse manifestations of western magic. Some of the better grimoires, for example, appear to be notebooks designed for students or the practitioner himself. This is one reason the grimoires often differ in details.

    Similarly, it is a religion with no central authority, no clergy, and no particular sacraments. It is a religion, therefore, not of orthodoxy but orthopraxy, but practice is defined by the practitioner himself or herself. Even the issue of whether or not it is a monotheistic or polytheistic religion is left, to some extent, to the practitioner. While there are Hermetic texts that argue for monotheism, they argue for a nonpersonal monotheistic god with multiple personal gods acting as intermediaries.

    In this light, the practice of western magic represents a religious tradition existing concurrent with, and sometimes parallel to, the practice of more orthodox Christianity. Just as Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, and Hermeticism arose in response to sterile state religions in the second century, so western magical traditions arose as one option among several for personal experience of religious truth in the face of standard state doctrines.

    Just as Hoodoo, which I discussed in my last column, arose from a desire of an oppressed people to gain some power over their environment, so did western traditional magic arise as a reaction to an oppressive ontology. In that light it seems to have a place, even a respectable one, in the face of the contemporary monolithic epistemology of material reductionism. Perhaps we are undergoing a similar magical revival now as a reaction to materialism and as a desire for a personal way not only to control one’s environment but also to open an avenue upward to the divine.

    This might be one of the most valuable things magic can offer the world: an experiential, non-dogmatic religion that can syncretize with nearly any other religion. One needn’t necessarily even believe in the efficacy of practical magic (although I do) to espouse this religion, as theurgy is about the internal states of the magician and his or her relationship to the divine.

    And if magic is a kind of religion, it helps explain the universally pervasive religious elements in most traditions of magic. Even those newer traditions, such as Chaos Magic, that try to divorce magic from religion often find a god in their bed in the morning anyway. I have even known chaos magicians, pragmatic view of belief aside, who exalt chaos itself to the status of a deity. The Neoplatonic, Hermetic, and Gnostic roots of magic are found even in these new, supposedly hyperrational, and atheistic views of magic.

    ©2010 Patrick Dunn.
    Edited by Sheta Kaey.

    Patrick Dunn has written two books on the occult, Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age and Magic Power Language Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics. He lives near Chicago, where he teaches and writes. You can find his blog here.

    Faith and Healing in Paganism – Anatomy of the Spirit

    August 2, 2010 by  
    Filed under columns

    Faith and Healing in Paganism - Anatomy of the Spirit

    It might seem strange to discuss something as nebulous as “spirit” with such a formal word as “anatomy.” But rest assured that the word is appropriate and necessary. I use the word spirit here to refer to spirits as parts of living beings, in both therapeutic and everyday contexts.

    Usually, on a daily basis, people tend to act as if the mind and body are separate and mostly unrelated, and the spirit is non-existent. And on a daily basis and in the daily world we function effectively and if not happily, complacently, as if the mind/ body/ spirit split is perfectly natural. But it does not have to be “natural.” In fact, I suspect that the expression of the “naturalness” of this arbitrary distance between the spiritual and the everyday is predicated not so much on the nature of the spirit, as on the feeling of distance and longing of the myth-tellers of our culture.

    When I was young and just beginning to study and read, I found a passage in Michael Harner’s Way of the Shaman1 that I took to heart. Harner wrote that it was expected that someone who was competent in the world of the spirits would be competent in the everyday world as well. Admittedly, the two worlds are not so separate, but there would have been no point in explaining that to my nineteen-year-old self. The lesson, however, remains the same.

    The actual interrelationship between the mind, body, and spirit can be best understood by recognizing that the boundaries between them are imposed. Imposed by what, or whom? Imposed by the weight of culture and humanity’s aggregate experience, these boundaries seem as real as anything. They are artifacts of culture, as real as language, or education, or money, or status. Such boundaries are not something to be cast aside lightly. They are not something without meaning, power, and purpose. At the same time, they can be mutable and permeable, although we often treat them as if they are not.

    One of the buzzwords of a liberal arts education is the word “hegemony.” This is an individual’s participation in his or her own subjugation under a system that works against his or her best interests. I bring it up here only because a similar relationship exists between a person’s mind and self. It is through our own constant efforts that both the body and spirit are subjugated, silenced, and held hostage.

    For many people, especially as they age, the spirit — long ignored and fed only in dribs and drabs — atrophies and hardens, drawing its power not from the realm of the spirit, but from the body and the mind. Insofar as they have “spiritual” relationships, these tend to be based on group membership, relationships, and friendships. Family, church, workplace, home, a favorite sports team or television show, become sources of spiritual connection. Through these groups, our own neglected spirit comes together with the neglected spirits of others.

    We participate in groups that share our spiritual power; we feed the egregores that define them and are also defined by them. But it is rare that there is any true source beyond the dim flames of spirit huddled together for comfort and warmth.

    One of the greatest sources of spiritual connection available to us in our culture is relationships. Think about the rush of a budding romance; the first flush that lifts us up is the assuaging of our spiritual hunger. That is the spiritual side that draws us to a new partner. Within our culture there are few options to slake that thirst. Is it no wonder that so many of our stories focus on these moments? Truly, that is the meaning of soul-mate, and why, despite our best efforts and intentions, we burn out these relationships so quickly.

    Most of the options that we can find in Western culture to counteract this effect are based on an opposing assumption: that the spirit is greater than either the mind or the body. People who find sources of spiritual sustenance outside of themselves and other people are often considered on the “fringe”: Charismatic Christians, New Age healers of varied stripes, as well as people who study magic can all fall into this category.

    Charismatic Christians certainly gain from being able to offer a person access to the realm of the spirit, and hold that the spirit is greater than the world. They might, indeed, be the classic example of this method, though they are not the only one. New Age healers, as a group, often match this exact same approach. People who study magic — whether members of Western Mystery Traditions, Wiccans, or out-and-out neo-shamans — certainly can fall into this category.

    Whatever the source of spiritual reawakening, a spiritually starved person will latch onto any source of spirit like a hungry baby to a swollen teat, or a drowning man to a raft . . . or another drowning person. Selfishness, fear, panic, and the struggle to draw a breath long denied come together in the newly “awakened” person. This can become the monomania of a new convert, the foolishness of a fresh love, the addiction of coming closer to the divine.

    The interrelationship between the mind, body, and spirit is, in fact, predicated on the lack of actual boundaries between these parts of ourselves. Recognizing that mind, body, and spirit are not just interconnected, but of one whole, is not only more accurate, but also allows us to not be beholden to the tripartite model. Instead, we can use such models to interact with these parts of self. “Of one whole” here means interrelated, not undifferentiated. This is an important distinction. Just as we would not walk on our noses, we should not treat our spirits as our bodies, nor our bodies as our spirits. Each “part” of ourselves should be honored for what it is, and respected as such.

    In our culture, when mind, body, and spirit do interact, it is usually the mind connecting directly with either the spirit or the body. The culturally common division of the physical from the spiritual prevents us from even examining the possibilities of a more complicated interrelationship.

    When the spirit interacts directly with the body, it is an experience we label to instinct. That instinct is not biological, not inborn, but rather is a trainable and useful faculty. I imagine that referring to the spirit as “trainable” might offend some people, but I strongly believe, based on experience, that it is through the disciplining of our spirits that allows us to grow as people. And while a linear model (Fig. 1):

    Figure 1
    The body is mastered by the mind, which is mastered
    by the spirit, which is mastered by God.

    may be a legitimate model, a model that better fits my experience is one in which the mind, body, and spirit all directly relate to one another, and none is preeminent, or of greater value (Fig. 2).

    Figure 2

    The addition of the interrelationships among the three aspects in Figure 2 bears some discussion. The “self” here is neither illusory nor otherwise an aspect of the mind. Instead it arises in the commonalities of all the aspects of the greater self. Yet this model also gives a place to aspects of a person that were wholly ignored in the traditional model. Most specifically, I am referring to a deeper understanding of what are often called “psychosomatic” effects — effects that resemble illness but do not stem from physical causes. By Western models, these effects are “in the mind” but the relationship between the two aspects, if shifted away from the linear model, makes it clear that the effect could originate in the mind or the body, or perhaps even in the spirit.

    The place where the mind and the spirit meet is what we commonly call the “chakras.” They are of the spirit but they are also the root of much of what we experience as the everyday mind. Emotions, thoughts, and our connections with others all reside in this place where the mind and the spirit meet.

    At the same time, there is a place in the self, as many martial artists and professional athletes in general can attest, where the normal mind does not reach, and where (however it is described) the spirit and the body take action without the intervention of thought. This is the level of instinct, but it can be (and often is) far more than that.

    The first step to train the spirit is to bring it into balance with the mind and body, neither ruling nor neglected. As that is done, the second step is strengthening the spirit and increasing its flexibility. There are a number of ways to do this: one fairly famous example would be the daily performance of a ritual such as the LBRP2 or any number of similar traditions3. The training of the spirit is no different from the training of any other human faculty only in the details.

    This article has come a long way to say that the human spirit is neither an unimportant part of the self to be disregarded, nor the central part to be put on a pedestal or put in charge, but truly an integral part to be trained, cared for, honored, and respected. Further, the mind is not the central part of the self, but only maintains that position by subordinating the body and distancing the spirit.

    ©2010 by Christopher Drysdale.
    Edited by Sheta Kaey.


    1. Way of the Shaman (2nd Ed.), Michael Harner, 1990
    2. Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in High Magick, Donald Michael Kraig, 1988
    3. Chosen by the Spirits: Following Your Shamanic Calling, Sarangerel, 2001

    The Study of Magic: The Universality of Platonism: Two Universal Laws

    May 3, 2010 by  
    Filed under columns

    The Study of Magic: The Universality of Platonism: Two Universal Laws

    All magical practices, western or eastern, from tribal incantations to dudes drawing magic circles in their mom’s basement, every jot, tittle, and trickle of magic boils down finally to two fundamental laws: similarity and contagion. Cognitive scientists now regard these as “faulty thinking,” and from a strictly materialist perspective they are. But seen through our lens of Neoplatonism, we can see just how rational these two ways of viewing the world can be.

    The first law of magic, the law of similarity, says that any two objects that share characteristics are, in some sense, connected. One of the implications of the law of similarity is the doctrine of signatures, which says in short that any object announces its inner nature by its outward appearance. Crudely, and rather ineffectively, we can imagine that ugly people are immoral. But it’s really much more subtle than that.

    From a Neoplatonic perspective, an object’s outward characteristics are symbolic of the ideal form from which it springs. These characteristics include shape, color, taste, smell, and feel. In other words, an object announces to our physical senses its nonphysical characteristics. A ruby therefore, being red, takes on characteristics of all those things we regard metaphorically as “red.” A thorn, being sharp, represents all acts of penetration and aggression. Asafoetida, being smelly, represents repulsion and banishing and Indian food.

    Actions, too, can be categorized by the law of similarity. If I walk around clockwise in a circle, I become the sun which also seems to “walk” clockwise around the earth. If I eat a piece of the body of Christ, I become his disciple because I share in the same last supper. In fact, all ritual actions evoke a metaphoric (but not unreal) similarity to archetypal or Ideal events. Knocking in a pattern of ! !! !!! !!!! doesn’t just make noise: it creates the universe. On the world of physical interaction, it’s noise, soundwaves, with no meaning (because, after all, on the purely physical world nothing can mean anything: you need a mind to mean). But in the world of Ideals, I have climbed the ladder a bit and reenacted the tetractys, a symbolic description of how the four elements produce all of creation.

    We can sum up similarity in two phrases: like proceeds from like, and as above, so below. These statements are both two ways of saying the same thing. Imagine that we have an Ideal Form existing in the world of forms. Call it A. From it are produced two like things: a, and alpha. We can see the relationship of a to alpha, and so we can say that both of them must be connected, having both proceeded from the same like thing. Therefore, we can say, that the A in the world of forms is “like” the a and the alpha in the world of matter. This “like” is the hinge of a simile, and the principle of metaphor governs the relationship of objects to their ideal forms.

    Similarly, we can have an idea — “solar,” let’s say. From this ideal Form proceeds a number of material things: the body we call the sun, certain round and golden flowers, emotions in our bodies that make us feel warm and powerful, and a shining golden-red stone. By similarity, I can use one thing to affect all others. If I want success, that event that causes a warm and powerful feeling, perhaps I could carry that particular stone, make a tisane of that flower. Or I use various mathematical relationships and abstract images regarded as solar, and inscribe a hexagon on paper or in my mind. Or I could mix the approaches, and use both the worlds of matter and the world of mind to climb the ladder back to the original Form, and from it to descend again into reality. If I wish to go from a to alpha, I can climb back up to A and then back down again.

    The law of contagion, simply put, says that once together, always together. A hair from my head is me, no matter how far it is removed. In the world of Forms distance doesn’t matter, nor do the boundaries we draw around ourselves. We are now what we have ever been, and anything touched by me is, in some sense, me. Dirt from my footprint, for example, contains my identity: it is where I have trod, where I have been, and therefore where I am.

    So to affect me, one needs some part of me. It could be as simple as my name, but it could also be some physical object I have touched. Ideally, it is some combination of physical things and abstract ideas.

    Frazer, who first codified these laws (see my December column), does not speak highly of magic. He regards it, with a fervor only a late 19th century rational man could, as abominable superstition and failed science. But leaving aside his vitriolic assessment, these laws have been found to be nearly universal. No matter where you go, among which people, they will regard objects once together as always together. A somewhat famous experiment involved gathering a group of subjects, unwrapping a brand new flyswatter, sterilizing it before the group, then stirring a pot of tea with it. No one would drink the tea, not because it was physically contaminated but because it was emotionally contaminated. A similar experiment involved used clothing, some of which was announced to have belonged to a murderer. Despite the clothing being identical in all other regards, no one wished to wear a murderer’s shirt.

    Perhaps these laws are universal because, as some suggest, all people are inherently irrational. Or perhaps they are universal because they are, in fact, laws governing reality. Will those who drink from the tea stirred with a sterilized flyswatter become ill? No, probably not. But they will become contaminated, and they will know it, in the world of Forms.

    We can see how these laws play out in two diverse systems of magic, which reveal themselves to be stems of the same root. You can’t get much more diverse than the traditional Renaissance ceremonial magician and the Hoodoo root doctor. The ceremonial magician creates a careful working table inscribed with the appropriate symbols. The Hoodoo doctor rubs some oil on a John the Conqueror root and puts it in a red flannel bag. The ceremonial magician offers a prayer to Venus while wearing green robes; the Hoodoo doctor adds a pair of natural magnets, carefully selected to lock together, into the bag. The renaissance magician draws an image on a piece of paper consistent with the planetary positions, and carries it with her; the Hoodoo doctor “dresses” his bag with special oil, with an evocative and catchpenny name like “Come to Me” or “Bend Over” (or, my personal all-time favorite, “Follow Me Boy,” although this particular imaginary Hoodoo doctor don’t swing that way).

    It seems they’re both doing very different things. But in reality, although their outward actions are the same, in the world of Forms what they do is identical, and will, all things being equal, have identical effects.

    Now, keeping in mind that I’m no Hoodoo root doctor, let me start by analyzing the easier of the two for me: the Renaissance magician. The table is the universe: the symbols inscribed thereon share, through similarity, the qualities of the elements and planets. Thus, when the Renaissance magician sets something on this table, she sets it in the world of manifestation. For her, green, the color of new plant life in the Spring, is the color of Venus, the planet of fecund fertility. Again, the two things are united by similarity. Finally, the seal itself borrows a traditional image that shares, in metaphoric images, the qualities of the particular stellar configuration. In an elegant bit of contagion, the planetary configuration at the time of the working is deemed to be “fixed” by the talisman. By making such a thing during a time symbolically propitious for love, the Renaissance magician has created a sort of astrological bubble of contagion that will always be “together” with that stellar configuration.

    With some help from Catherine Yrenwode’s website, Lucky Mojo, let’s look at our Hoodoo doctor. First, John the Conqueror is a brown, bulbous root from the plant Ipomoea jalapa. When dried, it very much resembles a testicle. By similarity, therefore, it represents sexual passion. It also gains some of its power through contagion. John the Conqueror was, according to legend, an African prince who, captured into slavery, maintained his inner freedom and spirit by tricking his masters. When he returned to Africa, he left the root behind so that other oppressed people could call upon his wit and cleverness in his absence. The root, therefore, shares by contagion with overcoming and conquering through wits rather than main strength. The lodestones or natural magnets, obviously, sport a signature of attraction. And the oils used for anointing are derived from more or less traditional recipes, all of which can be similarly analyzed.

    But wait: one magician uses green to attract love, while another uses red. That should surely betray an underlying inconsistency in magical practices that must point out a crack in the whole edifice. After all, if science worked this way, we’d be unable to build a bridge. If e were 2.7 to one group of people, and 1.8 to another, we’d soon see nature collapse in confusion.

    But what we find here is not an inconsistency. It’s important to remember that the signature of physical things is a reflection of the perfect form. Some forms reflect very clearly: e is 2.718 in Spain and in France and in New York City. But other forms reflect faintly, and are seen through human eyes. In Cabalistic magic, red is anger and energy and violence; in Hoodoo, red is love and sex. In Cabalistic magic, green is love and nature and growth; in Hoodoo, green is money. How can we account for these differences and still claim that both systems work, and are in fact ultimately the same Form of magic?

    First, remember that Hoodoo is American magic. It began under a certain social situation — and let’s not be coy. It began because of slavery. European Americans took people from Africa, brought them to a continent with different flora and fauna, and took away their languages, their traditions, and their families. I think it’s difficult for a lot of people to understand the underlying trauma of this: not just a trauma to individuals but a trauma to culture itself. And not just Black American culture. Americans of every race find themselves in a culture shaped, sometimes for evil and sometimes, strangely, for good, by this trauma. While I loathe racism, I wouldn’t want to give up rock and roll, for example. And my ancestors were still digging potatoes in Ireland when slavery ended, yet I am shaped by this history because I am an American.

    The spiritual technicians of various groups and subgroups might find themselves mixed together in conditions as traumatic as these. Africa is linguistically rich; even if you speak a relatively common language like Hausa, there’s no guarantee that the slave you share your quarters with speaks the same language. You must learn to communicate in the same creole you use to talk to the white people who claim to own you. Furthermore, your spiritual technologies were based largely on the power of ancestors, but you were in a land where the very soil was different. Moreover, the cult objects of your people were all gone, and while you remembered the songs and chants you couldn’t teach them to others because they didn’t have the language.

    What you did, then, was simple: you made do. You found herbs and fauna and reanalyzed their signatures. You took the spiritual system imposed on you and used it to replace your cult objects, your store of ancestors. And you looked again at your traditional color symbolism. Since you lived in an agricultural environment, you knew that the fecundity of the land remained the source of prosperity. But in this new place, they traded the green of the land for green paper, a ritual that you recognized. It was simple symbolism: and so green could remain prosperity.

    Seen in this light, the green = money equation of Hoodoo isn’t terribly different from the green = love symbolism of Renaissance magic. Both begin with contagion: the green of nature becomes green in general. For the Renaissance magician, this fecund green is love; but for the Hoodoo doctor, it’s money. But it’s still, ultimately, derived from the same contagion.

    Similarly, red symbolizes love in Hoodoo. But consider what love was in this place. Even if you found love, and your master let you love, you could lose your love in a moment. To love was an act of reckless courage, and it ended in blood: either the blood of childbirth or the blood of death and separation. To the Renaissance magician, blood was the result of violence. Even the blood of childbirth occurred behind a door, in the presence of midwives, and not on the dirt floor of a hut. But to both, the redness of the blood, by contagion, became red itself.

    Both systems, then, grow out of the same set of laws, and even borrow the meaning of their colors, often, from the same things. Of course, slavery did not last forever. Once free, Black Americans found themselves on another kind of precipice. Again, clinging with fingertips over the abyss of poverty, in a land of prosperity, magic changed in reaction to the circumstances. But the underlying principles of all true magic remain the same.

    How many Renaissance magicians knew about Neoplatonism? All of them, presumably. But among Hoodoo doctors, or English cunning folk, or Pennsylvanian hexmeisters, or Native American medicine men, how many knew of the philosophy of Plotinus and Iamblichus? The answer almost certainly is “a few.” Black American magicians, for example, were voracious for reading material, once literacy became legal among them (and probably before). But not all. Yet they discovered, by trial and error, the same principles that govern all other systems of magic. We find, when we probe the surface of nature, that under her robes lies the shining light of Forms, no matter our color, our language, or the outward forms of our practices.

    ©2010 by Patrick Dunn.
    Edited by Sheta Kaey.

    Patrick Dunn has written two books on the occult, Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age and Magic Power Language Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics. He lives near Chicago, where he teaches and writes. You can find his blog here.

    Faith and Healing in Paganism – Premiere

    Faith and Healing in Paganism - Premiere

    This is the first in a series of articles in my column “Faith and Healing in Paganism.” I must say that I am eager to see where the discussion will go, and I hope you can share some of my excitement along the way.

    The focus of this column will be on healing. The advantage of this focus is that it allows for articles on healing, pagan and comparative religious experiences, and cross-cultural perspectives on many pagan and magical practices. My specific approach as a healer is usually embodiment, or the experience of a person being inside their body, rather than being “in their head.” I am looking forward, in future posts, to writing on aspects of healing that seem to be problematic, but because of the larger debates going on, it is probably important to start with “faith” as a topic.

    I feel some trepidation using the word “faith” in a pagan context. Certainly, I am unwilling to use it unexamined and undefined. That, then, will be the purpose of this first column: to look at the meaning of faith as a basic human experience of the numinous, and to look at what other meanings have been added to it, so that they can be stripped away, allowing the flowering of something that is more wholly pagan. In discussing faith in a pagan context, it will be critical to cut the core idea away from many of its associations and, in the long run, pagans will need to redefine “faith” to match pagan cosmology and theology.

    Faith does not mean what we think it means.

    An examination of the meaning of faith is, I believe, timely. In the news media, in current books and magazines, and on the internet, there are ongoing discussions of the meaning and importance of faith. The many authors all have different meanings for the word. Some imply belief alone, some mean unquestioning belief in a religious context, and others hold it to be an irrational belief in a system opposed to humanist rationality. While these may all agree with one another on some points, none of them reach to the core of the idea, or more accurately, the core of the experience of faith.

    Faith is associated with the dominant monotheistic religions, as well as with “blind” belief. Just this week, as I was writing, Newsweek (February 22, 2010 edition) had two discussions about religion: one about Moderate Islam, and the other about the debates around teaching religion at Harvard. The cultural pitfalls that surround discussing religion and faith, the social dangers of disagreeing with someone else’s protestations of faith, and the general humanist vs. religious aspects of faith are all apparent parts of the cultural landscape. In short, everyone is talking about faith.

    “Faith” is a dirty word in some circles, even, or especially, pagan circles. Yet at the same time, a religion free of “faith” would be a hollow thing. I believe that pagans should come to their own understanding of what faith is, recognizing the differences and similarities of their experiences to those of other religions. Faith is what happens to the human mind when it is confronted with spiritual presences that are vastly greater than us. For pagans, however, that is not some distant, solitary God. In my experience, there is an immanence to our spirituality, the awareness of the spirit in all things. This “spirit” is not somehow separate and directing, but interwoven and integral with the world. For pagans, such experience is not tied to removal from the world we live in, but rather it ties us more closely to this world. The clear experience of the “numinous other” does not have to happen only in some distant Heaven, but is just as valid as we stand here on the Earth.

    Faith has come to mean many things, mostly as a result of our cultural exposure to Western Christianity. What has happened is that the simple, unclouded experience we could call faith has been redefined and informed by two thousand years of tradition based on different underlying assumptions of the universe — ones that, as pagans, we categorically reject. Perhaps the most important of these is the belief that the world of the spirit is remote, and somehow greater in power than the world in which we live. To hold the earth as sacred disrupts this separation; to hold the earth as inherently and simultaneously physical and spiritual is to begin to recognize that these divisions are not “outside” of us but “inside.” At the same time, as members of our culture, these are mental associations that we often unthinkingly accept. They are simply part of the way our culture and language are “shaped.”

    For example, I would like to critique the idea that faith and belief are synonymous. This suggestion is not true, at least not as I am going to define faith below. Faith is a spiritual experience which can lead to belief, but it is not the same thing. Culturally, faith has come to mean “unquestioning belief.” Let’s look at the simple sentence, “I have faith in Sarah.” What does this generally mean? Well, if I read it, I would say that it means that the speaker has an unquestioning belief about Sarah. It probably does not mean that the speaker has had (or is having) a spiritual experience based on Sarah. This is a co-opting of the word “faith” for much more mundane reasons. It is this understanding of faith that I wish to escape. It might be easier, with all the associations that come with the word, to turn our backs on it, avoid it, and dodge the debate. That would mean that we have taken the easy way out. Instead, I suggest that we embrace the term, taking our place in the great intellectual and religious wrestling match that is going on around us. Some might argue that the specific word “faith” is not important. However, in the end, I cannot use a different term because faith is the best term for the experience I am discussing.

    Faith is personal and spiritual.

    What I would like to do now is momentarily step aside from the above debate and talk about what “faith” means, not so much as a word, but as an experience. Behind the many uses of the word, I would argue, there is a simple experience of the Divine. Faith begins in the moment that one travels the road from “I believe in higher powers” to “I have direct experience of higher powers.” That is what faith, as a word, means here. This is not about blind belief, but about beliefs that seem blind from the outside because the person who carries them has based them on experiences that are personal and cannot truly be shared. Faith is about experiences that are beyond words.

    Faith is a spiritual experience. The ideas attached to that experience, and used to interpret it, are actually a mental filter between the numinous and the everyday mind. Religion, in the context of numinous experience, is not so much a set of beliefs as an interpretive construct for understanding that which is purely spiritual — or perhaps more accurately, outside of everyday experience. Traditionally, in Western culture, religion tries to codify, interpret, and pass down to future generations these valued experiences. What the culture is less good at, in my opinion, is accepting that these beliefs are interpretations of something that was intensely personal and contextual. The words, and not the spirit behind them, are recognized as sacred. It is in this way that faith and belief have become entangled.

    Faith is a key part of human religious experience.

    What is faith, then? If it is not a set of blind, non-rational beliefs that we pass from generation to generation, then what? Faith, as I mean it here, is directly analogous to the Christian “state of grace,” the direct communication with something (usually represented as a god-figure) that informs and directs our experiences in the world. That sounds pretty heady, doesn’t it? Well, it is. This is not an experience that belongs alone to the Christian Charismatics, or the Sufis of Islam. It is a basic experience that belongs to all people. The religions themselves, the sets of beliefs that we share, are ways that we use to find meaning and relate these experiences in words. Faith, itself, goes beyond words. Faith does not belong to the part of the human mind that uses words.

    Years ago, when I was being social with friends, a woman turned to me and asked, “Do you believe in witchcraft?” I looked back at her and responded, “Do you believe in rocks?” “But rocks exist!” “Yes, exactly.” My point then, as now, is that only ideas and beliefs can be analyzed for truth value, and that once we have experienced something, it is not a matter of belief. Moments of faith, therefore, are transformative. They realign our perceptions of the world. To wax metaphorical, belief alone can do no more than sow the fields of faith. That is not to say that belief is without merit itself, but it does mean that belief is not faith. Belief, however, does allow us to interpret and ascribe meaning to our experiences of the other.

    With our hands, we reach out and touch rocks, and we know that they exist. Certainly, we can argue the implications of the idea of “exist,” and say that the meaning of “exist” that we use in our culture is probably horribly wrong, but we have no doubt that they exist. We can say that they do not exist outside of our own minds, and while that might be true, we can nonetheless pick them up, admire them, or make houses from them. By placing existence in our minds, we have simply changed the value of the word “exist.”

    With our spirits, we can reach out and touch the numinous. With our spirits, we can look around us and see the effects of that spirit within the world. This is not something that is solely the purview of certain religions, but is instead something that is a part of all humans. Insofar as we are in touch with our own spirits, we are aware of the spirits of others. This recognition of the spirits of others is called “compassion.” This compassion is in fact a key aspect of healing work. It is important in Christian and Muslim faith healing, it is important in such modalities as Reiki, and is important in the practices of Buddhism. I am suggesting that these religions are all pointing to the same experience: the awareness, by means of our own spirits, of the existence of the spirits of others. But, let me throw in a word of caution. Compassion is not simply “being nice.” Compassion is not a weakness. And compassion is a virtue, but not the only one.

    Like compassion, faith is an opening of a part of the human spirit to the outside. As a healer, I would argue that the opening to faith is a valuable part of being a healthy human. Faith is as much a part of us as “instinct” or “being grounded” (a term which I will argue in a later column has two separate meanings, depending on context). Of course, while we might like to be paragons of virtue, the purpose of virtue is to have something for which to strive, not berate ourselves and others for not living up to our beliefs.

    Pagans will need to redefine faith to match pagan cosmology and theology.

    For faith to be a useful thing for pagans, we must reexamine the foundational ideas out of which all other notions grow. These foundations will be different from those of the monotheistic religions of the world, but not unrelated. Faith should be a part of pagan religion, as should belief, but it need not be the sole foundation.

    For this, we must remove from the term a belief that faith alone is the cornerstone of religion. With all this talk of faith, it would be very easy to slip into a position that it is the core of religion. But for pagan religious experience, it is important to relegate faith to a place where it is balanced with other aspects. Faith can be a guide, but reason, compassion, and grounded experience of both our culture and the world at large must be balanced as well. Faith offers one kind of truth, but that truth should be recognized for its value without being placed on an untouchable pedestal. The beliefs that come from faith must be recognized as personal and contextual. The experiences can be powerful, but it is sheer hubris to believe that they are more “true” or more “valuable” than other kinds of knowledge.

    Pagan faith lends itself to being integrated into the wider, global world, without leaving us helpless to act in it. Pagan religions are, by their nature and creed, more accepting of a wider world in which there is a polyvocalism, rather than a single voice of Truth. For this, we must focus on living in the world as it is, not as we believe it should be.

    ©2010 by Christopher Drysdale.
    Edited by Sheta Kaey.

    The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #21

    The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #21


    A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per issue. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.


    (Gnostic) Someone who claims that they do not know or are unable to know whether God exists.


    (Philosophy) Actions performed for the sake of others are altruistic. Altruism is the hypothesis that morality involves acting for the sake of others.




    (Magick, divination) Literally, “clear seeing,” also known as skrying or scrying. The astral art of acquiring visions, images and other information. The actual technique used is very similar to Astral Projection. Clairvoyance has been taught by numerous magical orders in order to investigate the archetypal nature of magical symbols, or to view real-life locations. It was extensively used in England during WWII to spy on the Nazis and again in Russia during The Cold War to spy on the U.S.


    (Philosophy) An epistemological view which maintains that there are two kinds of knowledge or beliefs: basic beliefs, which are obvious or self-justifying, and non-basic beliefs, which are justified by basic beliefs. The basic beliefs explain why the justification of knowledge does not involve an Infinite Regress.

    Hatha Yoga

    (Yoga) Sanskrit. Gives mastery over the breath, and leads to the control of the physical body and vitality.


    (Alchemy) The third and final stage of alchemical transformation. Because it is marked by the purpling or reddening of the material during the Coagulation operation, it is also known as the “Purple Phase.”


    A ray, star, digit of time, radiance, essence, perfume. The vital psychosomatic essence which is manifest as a result of Maithuna (linking, joining, as in Tantra), these are considered to be 16 in number, 8 manifesting from the female and 8 from the male. The Tantric “glow” of the Kala will be different according to the digit in time where, when, and with whom the Tantra is worked.


    (Philosophy) The branch of philosophy that deals with the formal properties of arguments and the philosophical problems associated with them. Central questions in logic include: What is a good argument? How can we determine if an argument is good or not? What are paradoxes? Can they be resolved? How can we talk meaningfully about objects that don’t exist, such as God or fairies?


    (Ecclesiastic) A plate, usually of gold or silver that is used to hold the host during the Mass. Also called a “patina.”

    ©2008-2013 Gerald del Campo. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

    Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at and his websites at and Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.

    Next Page »

49 queries. 1.654 seconds