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.
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.
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.
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 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.
- 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.
- Mixed-”race” marriages were, in some places in the US, illegal until 1967.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- This discussion is intended to be neither an attack on Christianity nor on Western culture.
- 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.
- 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.
- Notably, in this vision of the “other,” there is also a distinct lack of cell phones, modern medicine, and hygiene.
- Ironically, this stands for “Come As You Are”.
- And there are plenty of phenomena in nature which do not reproduce—stones may fragment, but they are not properly reproducing.
- I asked my partner whether there were any Lovecraftian deity-forms that were known to reproduce asexually, since I couldn’t think of any amoeba gods, and the Elder Gods were about my best shot for having among their ranks some amorphous being of about deity status that split itself off every so often. While there wasn’t an exact match, I for one welcome our new Shoggoth gods and their unspeakable eldritch powers of regeneration.
- Egalitarianism — each member is treated equally, valued and respected.
- Consensus — each decision is made through the process of consensus.
- Leadership roles are temporary and frequently rotated.
- Groups are fully autonomous (they answer only to themselves).
- Sensitive to the formation of egregores.
- Authority and power is vested in the group, not any individual.
© 2013 Christopher Drysdale.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
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.
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.
©2013 by Christopher Drysdale.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
I didn’t get to go to PantheaCon last year, for the first time in the past few years; however, I did get to hear from friends about their experiences throughout the weekend as they blogged and tweeted. And so it was that I heard about the CAYA1 Coven’s Lilith ritual and the kerfuffle surrounding it. In a nutshell, the description didn’t make it clear that the ritual was meant only for women, and according to the ritual organizers, only cisgender (as opposed to transgender) women. Several people, both men and trans women, were turned away at the door with much hurt and confusion.
I’ve been watching the discussion since then, though it seems to have died down with not much in the way of a resolution. There’s been a lot of talk about what criteria are required for someone to be considered a man or a woman, whether it has to do with the genetics or the genitals or with self-identity. And there’s been debate over whether woman-only space should be allowed when it only allows cisgender women, and whether transgender women are spiritually women or men according to Dianic standards.
This, of course, brings up the issue of the sex and gender of the deities. Most Dianics only view the Divine as female, or if there is a male deity, he is considered lesser than the Goddess. In a broader context, there has always been discussion in the pagan community, at least as long as I’ve been in it (since the mid-1990s) about what constitutes the bailiwicks of male and female deities, as well as gender and sex roles among neopagans themselves.
One of the most frustrating arguments, as far as I’m concerned, is the assertion that the female/male split is “natural,” and since many forms of paganisms are nature-based, the deities ought therefore to reflect “true nature.” We make the gods in our own image. Our religions are anthropocentric. This isn’t surprising. Spirituality is a form of meaning-making, and we find meaning in that which we can relate to. So our deities are largely humanoid, and mostly sexually dimorphic (being either male or female).
But is this really what’s most natural? If we take a survey of individual living beings, from the tiniest protists to the great blue whale, thee sexually dimorphic beings are actually outnumbered by those that reproduce hermaphroditically (like the earthworm) or asexually (amoebas). Because almost all of these beings are either invertebrate animals which barely get a mention in totemism and animal magic, or plants which are often seen only as spell components, they’re not given nearly as much consideration. And they resemble us a lot less than cattle, wolves, eagles, or any of a number of charismatic megafauna that are often venerated by pagans of various sorts.
Yet there are more living beings on Earth that are not sexually dimorphic than those that are. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that the “most natural” manifestation of the Divine wouldn’t be male or female, but a being that reproduces by splitting itself in two? Furthermore, this sort of splitting is reflected in our very own cells’ mitosis/cytokinesis and meiosis (the two forms of cellular division). So we even have the template for that crucial form of reproduction within our bodies on a microscopic scale.
If we’re going to insist that the deities of nature must reflect common qualities in nature, then we need to keep in mind that we human beings are not necessarily the center of that universe, as much as we might like to pretend otherwise. From an evolutionary standpoint, while we might have wrought a lot of change on this world with our big brains, advanced vocal apparati, and opposable thumbs, these remain the adaptations we developed through generations of natural selection, the process by which all beings have become what they are today — and will become through future generations. Which means that we’re really not that special — certainly not special enough to impose our particular brand of reproduction on the Divine as a whole.2
Conversely, those big brains of ours help us to move past the less desirable elements of our instinctual heritage. While we may have an instinctual response to a stimulus that involves violence, for example, if violence is not the appropriate response we can override the instinct with reason and free will, again using the unique properties of our brains. In the same way, whereas we can look at our physical bodies, how the individual’s genitalia may be formed, the chromosomes in the DNA, and so forth, we are also capable of transcending a strict sex/gender corollary. This may be something as simple as rejecting tertiary sex characteristics “traditionally” associated with male and female primary and secondary sex characteristics, and instead embracing whatever proportion of feminine and/or masculine properties one likes. However, it may also be identifying fully as one sex while possessing the genetic material of the other. And this isn’t even taking intersex people, those born with genitalia that are not strictly male or female (and sometimes divergent chromosomes as well), into account.
This is all to say that just because historically people have generally seen the Divine as male or female doesn’t mean that this is the automatic most natural way, especially when one purports to follow a nature spirituality. If you’re going to worship nature manifest in archetypal beings, and especially if you’re going to feel compelled to impose your dogma on others, then be consistent about it. And if you continue in your inconsistencies, then be prepared to defend your chauvinism.3
Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.
It is sadly true that in many pagan and magical communities, individuals who have much to gain from working together are spending too much time and energy in pointless arguments, paranoia and hostility. We’ve all seen it — the “witch wars,” the malicious gossip, the fragmentation of communities over issues both great and small. Writing about the disconnections we encounter, as I did in the last issue, can seem like nothing more than complaints and accusations, but it’s necessary to look at our communities and groups with discernment, and to be honest about what we find there.
I feel this is doubly important now, because of the fractious and divisive tone the over-culture has adopted. You see it everywhere — from political discourse to mundane interactions. Media portrays a country divided, with the rhetoric running hot, violent and hyperbolic. Casual violence — in word and gesture if not outright blows — seems to be in the air we breathe. There are many reasons for this, but the illusion of separateness is at the heart of this phenomenon. Only by refusing to view other beings as worthy of respect, forbearance and compassion are we able to do and say the hateful, hurtful things that have replaced common civility in public discourse. I’ve done this myself, and I know it was my inability to trust, my unwillingness to see others as more than obstacles in my way, that was at the heart of my hatefulness.
Lately I found myself becoming enraged at the terrible traffic in my neighborhood, and “talking smack” about mutual friends with a colleague, for no reason at all. The negative emotional charge behind my reactions to both these events was shocking to me, and caused me to look further. My feelings of powerlessness and incompetence were at the base. Disconnected from my own sense of power and worth, it was an easy task to disconnect the very real humans in front of me from their own right to courtesy. Lacking respect for myself, it was easy to deny it to everyone else.
Alienation is the primary mental state of our culture, and the mechanisms that should be acting to bring us together are instead fostering the alienation and isolation, the outright paranoia of the other. “We” (i.e. “us”) are not “them,” and you can’t trust them. This wariness may be a logical precaution, but as magicians, we have to see look more closely at this message. Fostering this illusion of separation and hostility is in the interests of the dominator culture for various reasons — it distracts us from important things with red herrings; it discourages the building of alliances and coalitions; it reduces public discourse to the most infantile of bickering. All of this distracts us from the most pressing matters that demand our attention. We as magicians must be able to peer through this illusion of separation to see things as they are, connected in a web of interdependence so subtle and grand that we can only perceive tiny portions of it.
Connection is the natural state of life, not isolation. Predator and prey, seed and sower, flower and pollinator — it’s all about relationships and connections, give and take, a delicate balance that demands participation from all beings.
Of Wolves and Willows
I heard a report on NPR years ago that brought home to me the vast webs of connection that all Earth’s species share. In a move that is still controversial, wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park. Years later, biologists assessed the wolves’ impact on the terrain.
What they discovered surprised them. Creek beds that had been dry for years were suddenly full of water and wildlife. With wolves absent from the area, the elk had come out of the high country to graze in the low-lying willow stands along creek beds. Thus stripped of cover, the creeks would dry up. But with the wolves back in the landscape, the elk retreated back to the hills, and the willows were able to reestablish themselves, bringing along mink, otter, frogs, amphibians and songbirds. No one could have anticipated that reintroducing apex predators back into their former food chain would reestablish songbirds and crayfish as well, but it was true. We removed the wolves from the landscape long ago to serve human needs, and there were negative consequences we had in no way anticipated.
If those connections are rampant in the natural world, why do we think they don’t apply to us humans, and to human interactions and endeavors? The over-culture wants us to believe they don’t. Case in point: Many years ago I attended a lecture by Robert Bly, poet and a founder of the Men’s movement, and Deborah Tannen, linguistician and feminist scholar. The media hyped this event as the “battle of the sexes” and a “shouting match” between two polarized opponents. It was nothing of the kind. It was a lively discussion about gender, sex and power, where the tone stayed respectful and amiable, even when they disagreed. Bly and Tannen were able to discuss sensitive topics without degenerating into name-calling or antagonism, and were able to find more common ground than not. But that illusion of separation was what local media chose to focus on — men and women have different agendas, therefore they cannot be on the same side. Since they disagree on some things, they must disagree on all things, and what’s more, they must also be determined to destroy the other’s credibility. The over-culture sees anger and antagonism as logically following any kind of difference — if people aren’t the same, they must be in direct competition. This assumption that everyone is in an adversarial relationship has had a negative impact on all of us. This philosophical stance informs our thinking, if even on the most subtle level. It is our responsibility to look for a higher truth, and to find ways of coming together.
Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis
This is the promise of the Aeon. If we live in polarized times, with the discursive pendulum swinging wildly from one extreme to another, we as magicians have a responsibility to find that new middle ground that is informed by both the wisdom and follies of the past while creating something better. With clear-eyed discernment and openhearted compassion, we see through the illusions of separation, and resolve them in our own psyches. It is our responsibility to look beyond mere surfaces and to not fall prey to the prejudices and hatreds socialized into us. Each conscious soul must part the Veil of this illusion themselves, in order to fully integrate this lesson. The illusion of separation exists as a test to us and a challenge to our imaginations, to see if we can transcend our pain and powerlessness, to create something better. After all, we are divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.
How do we get past this illusion of separation? Through engagement with the “real world,” the mundane, our dharma. For the next month, try to discover those connections in your life that are rendered invisible. Where does your tap water come from? Where does your garbage go? Where does your food come from? How well do you know your neighbors, your town? You might be surprised at the answers. You might also find new ways of connecting with the world, with other people, new ways of creating a better, more conscious life. And wouldn’t that be powerful act of magick?
©2010 by Leni Hester.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Forgotten over the years
Pushed to the back of minds weighed down with mundane concerns
He waits in solitude for the day
When someone may remember, and keep him company
A chill wind blows from the north
Reminding one who lives along the shore
Of someone she held dear in time long past
Yet the thought is more a whisper than a shout
He feels the pain of being a promise broken
Yet still he abides behind the veil
A soul immortal cannot die
But can be buried by the wretchedness of anguish borne alone
He looks down upon the sea below his vantage point
And longs to be free of his boundless solitude
He extends his arms, and falling forward from the height, joins the sea birds in their flight
Twisting, wheeling, unafraid
The soul immortal cannot die
He touches surf and is drawn beneath the waves
The sun reflects off the surface of the water,
Revealing a dark, familiar shape below
Along another shore in a world far away
A woman feels a pang within her breast
She is weary and wishes she could sleep forever
And walk the shores of an eternal dream
Something lies beneath the surface of her memories
A treasure that she lost long ago
Someone who understood the unflagging sorrow
A breath inhaled and exhaled, lost forever
She will reach beyond the veil this night
And take the hand of the one who waits
Forgotten to the conscious mind that buries dreams beneath stacks of unpaid bills
Burdened by joys thrust aside in favor of unending toil
Some things cannot be explained away by logic
Tested away by science, prayed away by dogmatic religion
She has labored long and hard for futile gain
Happiness has waited long enough
Tonight she shall sail away to join the one who waits beneath the waves
To dwell on shadowed shores where the blinding light of the orthodoxy never reaches
She is weary of a world wherein to survive she must forget what she holds most dear
Tonight is her last night among the striving masses
Tonight at last he rises from the sea
To dwell forever in the shadows of a land
Created by the dark dreams of souls misunderstood
Never again shall he abide alone
For at last he has someone to dream with
Rose LeMort is a clairvoyant and fiction author. Her first published work will be a revision of the 2007 novel, Eternal Death I: Lost Beneath the Surface, which was originally penned by Lily Strange. The revised novel is due out by the end of this year. Rose works in tandem with her spirit companion, Kai Rikard. For more information, visit Rose’s website or her Facebook page.
©2010 by Rose LeMort.
She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man knows. . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no man escaped her, or her Furies.
— Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the County of Lancaster, 1613
See us gathered here, three women stood at Richard Baldwin’s gate. I bide with my daughter, Liza of the squint-eye, and with my granddaughter, Alizon, just fifteen and dazzling as the noontide sun, so bright that she lights up the murk of my dim sight. Demdike, folk call me, after the dammed stream near my dwelling place where the farmers wash their sheep before shearing. When I was younger and stronger, I used to help with the sheepwash. Wasn’t afraid of the fiercest rams. I’d always had a way of gentling creatures by speaking to them low and soft. Though I’m old now, crabbed and near-blind, my memory is long as a midsummer’s day and with my inner eye, I see clear.
We three wait till Baldwin catches glimpse of us and out he storms. Through the clouded caul that age has cast over my eyes, I catch his form. Thin as a brittle dead stalk, he is, his face pinched, and he’s clad in the dour black weeds of a Puritan. Fancies himself a godly man, does our Dick Baldwin. A loud crack strikes the earth — it’s a horsewhip he carries. My daughter fair leaps as he lashes it against the drought-hard dirt.
“Whores and witches,” he rails, shrill enough to set the crows to flight. “Get out of my ground.”
Slashes of air hit my face as he brandishes his whip, seeking to strike fear into us, but it’s his terror I taste as I let go of Alizon’s guiding hand and step forward, firm and square on my rag-bundled feet. We’ve only come to claim what is ours by right.
“Whores and witches,” he taunts again, yelling with such bile that his spit sprays me. “I will burn the one of you and hang the other.”
He speaks to Liza and me, ignoring young Alizon, for he doesn’t trust himself to even look at this girl whose beauty and sore hunger would be enough to make him sink to his knobbly knees.
I take another step forward, forcing him to back away. The man’s a-fright that I’ll so much as breathe on him. “I care not for you,” I tell him. “Hang yourself.”
Our Master Baldwin will play the righteous churchman, but what I know of him would besmirch his good name forevermore. He can spout his psalms till he’s hoarse, but heaven’s gates will never open to him. I know this and he knows I know this, and for my knowing, he fears and hates me. Beneath his black clothes beats an even blacker heart. Hired my Liza to card wool, did Baldwin, and then refused to pay her. What’s more, our Liza has done much dearer things for him than carding. Puritan or no, he’s taken his pleasure of her and, lost and grieving her poor murdered husband, ten years dead, our Liza was soft enough to let him. Fool girl.
“Enough of this,” I say. “Liza carded your wool. Where’s her payment? We’re poor, hungry folk. Would you let us starve for your meanness?”
I speak in a low, warning tone, not unlike the growl of a dog before it bites. Man like him should know better than to cross the likes of me. Throughout Pendle Forest I’m known as a cunning woman and she who has the power to bless may also curse.
Our Mr. Baldwin blames me because his daughter Ellen is too poorly to rise from her bed. The girl was a pale, consumptive thing from the day she was born, never hale in all her nine years. Once he called on me to heal her. Mopped her brow, I did. Brewed her feverfew and lungwort, but still she ailed and shivered. Tried my best with her, but some who are sick cannot be mended. Yet Baldwin thinks I bewitched the lass out of malice. Why would I seek to harm a hair on the poor girl’s head when his other daughter, the one he won’t name or even look at, is my own youngest granddaughter, seven-year-old Jennet?
“Richard.” My Liza makes bold to step toward him. She stretches out a beseeching hand. “Have a heart. For our Jennet’s sake. We’ve nothing more to eat in the house.”
But he twists away from her in cold dread and still won’t pay her for her honest work, won’t grant us so much as a penny. So what can I do but promise that I’ll pray for him till he comes to be of a better mind? Soft under my breath, masked from his Puritan ears, I murmur the Latin refrains of the old religion. How my whispered words make him pale and quake — does he believe they will strike him dead? Off to his house he scarpers. Behind his bolted door he’ll cower till we’re well gone.
“Come, Gran.” Alizon takes my arm to lead me home. Can’t make my way round without her in this dark ebb of my years. But with my inner eye I see Tibb sat there on the drystone wall. Sun breaks through the clouds to golden-wash his guilesome face. Dick Baldwin would call him a devil, or even the Devil, but I know better. Tibb, his beautiful form invisible to all but me.
“Now I don’t generally stand by woe-working,” says my Tibb, stretching out his long legs. “But if you forespoke Master Baldwin, who could blame you, after all the ill he’s done to you and yours?” He cracks a smile. “Is revenge what you want?”
“No, Tibb. Only justice.” I speak with my inner voice that none but Tibb can hear. If Baldwin fell ill and died, what would happen to his lawful daughter, Ellen? Her mother’s long dead. Another poor lass to live off the alms of the parish. No, I’ll not have that burden on my soul.
“Justice!” Tibb laughs, then shakes his head. “Off the likes of Dick Baldwin? Oh, you do set your sights high.”
Tibb’s laughter makes the years melt away, drawing me back to the old days, when I could see far with my own two eyes and walk on my own two legs, with none to guide me.
By daylight gate I first saw him, the boy climbing out of the stone pit in Goldshaw. The sinking sun set his fair hair alight. Slender, he was, and so young and beautiful. Pure, too. No meanness on him. No spite or evil. I knew straight off that he wouldn’t spit at me for being a barefoot beggar woman. Wouldn’t curse at me or try to shove me into the ditch. There was something in his eyes — a gentleness, a knowing. When he looked at me, my hurting knees turned to butter. When he smiled, I melted to my core, my heart bumping and thumping till I fair fainted away. What would a lad like that want with a fifty-year-old widow like me?
The month of May, it was, but cold of an evening. His coat was half black, half brown. I thought to myself that he must be poor like me, left to stitch his clothes together from mismatched rags. He reached out his hand, as though making to greet an old friend.
“Elizabeth,” he said. “My own Bess.” The names by which I was known when a girl with a slender waist and strong legs and rippling chestnut hair. How did he know my true name? Even then I was known to most as Demdike. The boy smiled wide with clean white teeth, none of them missing, and his eyes had a devilish spark in them, as though I were still that young woman with skin like new milk.
“Well, well,” said I, for I was never one to stay silent for long. “You know my name, so you do. What’s yours then?”
“Tibb,” he said.
“Your family name.” I nodded to myself, though I knew of no Tibbs living anywhere in Pendle Forest. “But what of your Christian name?” After all, I thought, he knew me by mine, God only knew how.
He lifted his face to the red-glowing sky and laughed as the last of the sun sank behind Pendle Hill. Then I heard a noise behind me: the startled squawk of a pheasant taking flight. When I turned to face the boy again, he had vanished away. I looked up and down the lane, finding him nowhere. Couldn’t even trace his footprints in the muddy track. Did my mind fail me? Had that boy been real at all? This was when I grew afraid and went cold all over, as though frost had settled upon my skin.
First off, I told no one of Tibb. Who would have believed me when I could scarcely believe it myself? I’d no wish to make myself an even bigger laughingstock than I already was.
Ned Southerns, my husband, such as he was, had passed on just after our squint-eyed Liza was born, nineteen years ago. He blamed me for our daughter’s deformity because he thought I’d too much contact with beasts whilst I was carrying her. In my married years, I raised fine hens, even kept a nanny goat. There was another child, Christopher, three years older than Liza and not of my husband, but far and away from being the only bastard in Pendle Forest. The gentry and the yeomen bred as many ill-begotten babes as us poor folk, only they did a better job of covering it up. Liza, Kit, and I made our home in a crumbling old watchtower near the edge of Pendle Forest. More ancient than Adam, our tower was: too draughty for storing silage, but it did for us. Malkin Tower, it was called, and, as you’ll know, Malkin can mean either hare or slattern. What better place for me and my brood?
Still folk whispered that it seemed a curious thing indeed that one such as I should live in a tower built of stout stone with a firehouse boasting a proper hearth at its foot when many a poor widow made do with a one-room hovel with no hearth at all but only a fire pit in the bare earthen floor. In truth, my poor dead mother got the tower given her for her natural life — towers named after slatterns were meant to hide guilty secrets.
When my mam was young and comely, she’d served the Nowell family at Read Hall. Head ostler’s daughter, so she was, and she’d prospects and a modest dowry besides. But what did she do but catch the eye of Master Nowell’s son, then a lad of seventeen years? The Nowells were not an old family, as gentry went, nor half as grand as the Shuttleworths of Gawthorpe Hall or the de Lacys of Clitheroe. The Nowells’ fortunes had risen along with the sway of the new religion. Back when Old King Henry’s troops came to sack Whalley Abbey, the Nowells sent their men to help topple the ancient stone walls. King rewarded their loyalty by granting the Nowells a goodly portion of the abbey’s lands. One of Old Man Nowells’ sons went to faraway Cambridgeshire to make his name as a Puritan divine, or so I’d been told. Far and wide, the Nowells let it be known that they were godly folk. But even the pious are prey to youthful folly.
My mam, before her fall from grace, had been an upright girl, so the young Master Roger could hardly discard her as easy as he would some tavern maid. And that was why Mam was given Malkin Tower for the rest of her life on the condition that she never trouble the Nowells of Read Hall. Far enough from Read, it was, for them not to be bothered by the sight of her, but it was close enough to for them to keep watch of her, should she seek to blacken their good name. My mam and I were never respectable — respect costs money and we hadn’t two pennies to rub together. We’d Malkin Tower to live in but no scrap of land for grazing sheep. Most we could manage was a garden plot in the stony soil. By and by, I think the Nowells had fair forgotten us. When my mam passed on, bless her eternal soul, the tower was in such poor repair they didn’t seem to want it back. So I stayed on, for where else had I to go? It seemed they preferred to have no dealings with me and that it shamed them less to allow me to carry on here like a squatter, not paying a farthings’s rent.
My natural father died some years back, happy and fat and rich. His eldest son, my own half-brother, also named Roger, had become the new master of Read Hall, part of it built from the very stones his grandfather’s servants carted away from the ruined abbey. Younger than me, was my half-brother, by some twenty years. Rarely did our paths cross, for the Nowells went to church in Whalley with the other fine folk, never in the New Church in Goldshaw with the yeomen and lesser gentry. But once, of a market day in Colne, I clapped eyes on Roger Nowell. Impossible to miss him, the way he was sat like some conquering knight upon his great Shire horse, blue-black and gleaming, with red ribbons twisted in its mane. That was some years ago, when my half-brother’s face was yet smooth and unlined. A handsome man, he was, with a firm chin just like mine. I looked straight at him to see if he would recognise his own blood kin. But his sharp blue eyes passed over me as though I was nowt but a heap of dung.
Over the years he’d become a mighty man: Magistrate and Justice of the Peace. We in Pendle Forest were careful not to cross him or give him cause for offence. On account of my being a poor widow, he granted me a begging license. Did it through Constable without speaking a word to me. And so I was left to wander the tracks of Pendle Forest and wheedle, full humble, for food and honest work.
But gone were the days when Christian folk felt beholden to give alms to the poor. When I was a tiny girl, the monks of Whalley Abbey fed and clothed the needy. So did the rich folk, for their souls would languish a fair long time in purgatory if they were stingy to us. In the old days, the poor were respected — our prayers were dearer to God than those of the wealthy. Many a well-to-do man on his deathbed would give out food and alms to the lowliest of the parish, so my mam had told me, if they would only pray for his immortal soul. At his funeral, the poor were given doles of bread and soul cakes.
The reformers said that purgatory was heresy: it was either heaven for the Elect or hell for everyone else, so what need did the rich have to bribe the poor to pray for them? We humble folk were no longer seen as blessed of the Lord but as a right nuisance. When I went begging for a mere bowl of blue milk or a handful of oats to make water porridge, the Hargreaves and the Bannisters and the Mittons narrowed their eyes and said my hard lot was God’s punishment for my sin of bearing a bastard child. Mean as stones, they were. Little did they know. Liza, my lawful-begotten child, was deformed because her father, my husband, gave me no pleasure to speak of, whilst Kit, my bastard, borne of passion and desire, was as tall and beautiful and perfect in form as any larch tree. Ah, but the Puritans would only see what they wanted to see. Most so-called charity they doled out was to give me half a loaf of old bread in exchange for a day laundering soiled clouts.
But I’d even forgive them for that if they hadn’t robbed my life of its solace and joy. In the old days, we’d a saint for every purpose: Margaret for help in childbirth, Anne for protection in storms, Anthony to ward against fire, George to heal horses and protect them from witchcraft. Old King Henry forbade us to light candles before the saints but at least he let us keep their altars. In the old days, no one forced us to go to church either, even for Easter communion. The chapel nave belonged to us, the ordinary people, and it was the second home we all shared. Dividing the nave from the chancel with the high altar was the carved oak roodscreen which framed the priest as he sang out the mass. We didn’t stand solemn and dour during the holy service, either, but wandered about the nave, from one saint’s altar to the next, gazing at the pictures and statues, till the priest rang the bell, then held up the Host for all to see, the plain wafer transformed in a glorious miracle into the body and blood of Christ. Just laying eyes upon the Host was enough to ward a person from witchcraft, plague, and sudden death.
When I was twelve, they finished building the New Church of St. Mary’s in Goldshaw to replace the old crumbling chapel of ease where I’d been christened. Bishop from Chester came to consecrate it just in time for All Souls’ when we rang the bells the whole night through to give comfort to our dead.
Back then we still had our holidays. Christmas lasted twelve days and nights with mummers and guizers in animal masks, dancing by torchlight. The Lord of Misrule, some low born man, lorded it over the gentry to make poor folk laugh. The Towneleys of Carr Hall used to invite all their neighbours, rich and poor alike, to join their festivities. Upon Palm Sunday everyone in the parish gathered for the processions round the fields to make them fertile. After dark, the young folk would go out to bless the land in their own private fashion. Everyone knew what went on, but none stood in our way. If a lass and her young man had to rush to the altar afterward, nobody thought the worse of them for it. I went along with the other girls, arm in arm with my best friend Anne Whittle, both of us wearing green garlands and singing. Cherry-lipped Anne loved to have her sport with the boys, but mindful of my own mother’s fate, I did nowt but kiss and dance and flirt in those days. Only went astray much later in life, when I was a married woman and sore unsatisfied, seeking my pleasures elsewhere.
In my youth, upon May morning, we arose before dawn to gather hawthorn and woodruff. We’d dance round the Maypole and drink elderflower wine till the very sky reeled. At Midsummer’s, upon the eve of the feast of John the Baptist, we carried birch boughs into the church till our chapel looked like a woodland grove. Bonfires blazed the whole night through. Some folk burned fires of bone, not wood, so that the stench might drive away evil wights from the growing crops. Most of us gathered round the wake fire of sweet apple wood where we danced all night, collapsing upon the grass at sunrise. At Lammas the reapers crowned the Harvest Queen and one year, by Our Lady, it was me, a lass of fifteen, crowned in roses and barley, the lads begging me for a kiss.
Old King Henry was dead by then and we lived in hope that the old ways would live again. Crowned in roses, I led the procession of maidens on the Feast of the Assumption, each of us bearing flowers and fruits to lay upon the altar of the Queen of Heaven. Only weeks later, Edward the Boy King sent his men to smash every statue in our church, even that of the Blessed Mother herself, whilst we clutched ourselves, full aghast. They tore down the crucifix over the high altar and burned it as though it was some heathen idol. They destroyed our roodscreen, outlawed our processions, and forbade us to deck the church with greenery upon Midsummer or to bring red roses and poppies to the altar on Corpus Christi. They set fire to our Maypole, forbade us to pray for the dead or celebrate the saints’ feast days.
Six years on, weakling Edward wasted away and his sister Mary Tudor promised to bring back the old religion. For the five years of her reign we had our holidays again, our processions, our mass with swirling incense and the sea of candles lit for the saints. The Towneleys, the Nutters, and the Shuttleworths paid for the new roodscreen, the new statues, altar cloths and vestments. We had our Maypole and rang the church bells for our ancestors on All Souls’ Night. But our joys soured when the news came of the heretics Mary burned alive, near three hundred of them, their only hope to end their agony being the sachets of gunpowder concealed beneath their clothes. Our Catholic queen was nowt but a tyrant. Before long Mary herself died, despised by her own husband, so the story went.
With Queen Elizabeth came the new religion once more to replace the old. The Queen’s agents stormed in to hack apart our brand new roodscreen. But they could not demolish the statues or the crucifix this time round, for the Towneleys, Shuttleworths, and Nutters had divided the holy images between them and taken them into hiding, in secret chapels inside their great houses. In those early days, some said Elizabeth’s reign couldn’t last long. Anne Boleyn’s bastard, she was, and it seemed half of England wanted her dead. On top of that, she refused to marry and produce an heir of her own religion. Yet the Queen’s religion had endured.
In truth, the old ways died that day Elizabeth’s agents sacked our church. For the past twenty-odd years, there had been no dancing of a Sunday, no Sunday ales like we used to have when we made merry within the very nave of the church. Though the Sabbath was the only day of leisure we had, Curate refused to let us have any pleasure of it. No football, dice-playing or card-playing. Magistrate Roger Nowell, my own half-brother, forbade the Robin Hood plays and summer games, for he said they led to drunkenness and wantonness amongst the lower orders. Few weeks back, the piper of Clitheroe was arrested for playing late one Sunday afternoon.
Curate preached that only the Elect would go to heaven and I was canny enough to know that didn’t include me. So if I was damned anyway, why should I suffer to obey their every command? Mind you, I went to church of a Sunday. It was that, or suffer Church Warden’s whip and fine. But I’d left off trying to hold myself to the straight and narrow. Perhaps I’d have fared no better even if the old church had survived, for hadn’t I been an adulteress? Yet still my heart was rooted, full stubborn, in that lost world of chanting, processions, and revels that had bound us together, rich and poor, saint and sinner. My soul’s home was not with this harsh new God, but instead I sought the solace of the Queen of Heaven and whispered the Salve Regina in secret. I swore to cling to the forbidden prayers till my dying day.
I am getting ahead of myself. Back to the story: that evening, after Tibb first appeared to me, I hared off in the long spring twilight, heading home to Malkin Tower. Wasn’t safe to be about after dark. Folk talked of boggarts haunting the night, not that I was ignorant enough to believe every outlandish tale, but I was shaken to the bone from seeing the boy who disappeared into nowhere. The moon, nearly full, shone in the violet sky and the first stars glimmered when, at last, I reached my door.
Our Malkin Tower was an odd place. Tower itself had two rooms, one below and one above, and each room had narrow slits for windows from the days, hundreds of years ago, when guardsmen were sat there with their bows and arrows, on the look-out for raiders and poachers. But, as the tower had no chimney or hearth, we spent most of our time in the firehouse, a ramshackle room built on to the foot of the tower. And it was into the firehouse I stumbled that night. My daughter Liza, sat close by the single rush light, gave a cry when she saw me.
“So late coming home, Mam! Did a devil cross your path?”
In the wavering light, my girl looked more frightful than the devil she spoke of, though she couldn’t help it, God bless her. Her left eye stood lower in her face than the other, and while her right eye looked up, her left eye looked down. The sight of her was enough to put folk off their food. Couldn’t hire herself out as a kitchen maid because the housewives of Pendle feared our Liza would spoil their milk and curdle their butter. Looking the way she did, it would take a miracle for her to get regular work, let alone a husband. Most she could hope for was a day’s pittance for carding wool or weeding some housewife’s garden.
Ignoring her talk of the devil, I unpacked the clump of old bread, the gleanings of the day’s begging, and Liza sliced it into pieces thin as communion wafer.
Liza, myself, my son Kit, and Kit’s wife, also Elizabeth, though we called her Elsie, gathered for our supper. Kit hired himself out as a day labourer, but at this time of year, there was little work to be had. Lambing season had just passed. Shearing wouldn’t come till high summer. Best he could do was ask for work at the slate pits and hope to earn enough to keep us in oatmeal and barley flour. Kit’s wife, Elsie, was heavy with child. Most work she could get was a day’s mending or spinning.
When we were sat together at the table, my Liza went green in the face at the taste of the old bread and could barely get a mouthful of the stuff down before she bolted out the door to be sick. Out of old habit, not even thinking, I crossed myself. I looked to Kit, who looked to his wife, who shook her head in sadness. Elsie would deliver her firstborn within the month and now it appeared that Liza was with child, as well. First I wondered who the father could be. Then I asked myself how we would feed two little babes when we were hard-pressed to do for ourselves? We were silent, the lot of us, Elsie doling out the buttermilk she had off the Bulcocks in exchange for a day’s spinning. Our Kit gave his wife half of his own share of bread — wasn’t she eating for two?
Then I found I couldn’t finish my own bread, so I passed it to Kit before hauling myself out the door to look for Liza. By the cold moonlight I found my poor squint-eyed broomstick of a girl bent over the gatepost, crying fit to die. Taking Liza in my arms, I held her and rubbed her hair. I begged her to tell me who the father was, but she refused.
“It will be right,” I told her. “Not the first time an unwed girl fell pregnant. We’ll make do somehow.” What else could I say? I’d no business browbeating her for doing the same as I’d done with Kit’s father, twenty-two years ago.
After leading my Liza back inside, we made for our beds. I climbed to the upper tower. Room was so cold and draughty that everyone else preferred sleeping below, but of a crystal-clear evening I loved nothing better than to lie upon my pallet and gaze at the moon and stars through the narrow windows. Cold wind didn’t bother me much. I was born with thick skin, would have died ages ago if I’d been a more delicate sort. Yet that night the starry heavens gave me little comfort. I laid myself down and tried to ignore the hammer of worry in my head. Church Warden and Constable were sure to make a stink about Liza. Another bastard child to live off the charity of the parish. They’d fine her at the very least. She’d be lucky if she escaped the pillory. Sleepless, I huddled there whilst the wind whistled through the thatch.
When I finally closed my eyes, I saw Tibb, his face in its golden glory. Looked like one of the angels I remembered seeing in our church before the reformers stripped the place bare. Out of the dark crush of night came his voice, sweet as a lover’s, gentle as Kit’s father was in the days when he called me his beauty, his heart’s joy. Tibb’s lips were at my ear.
“If I could,” he told me, “if you let me, I’d ease your burdens, my Bess. No use fretting about Liza. She’ll lose the child within a fortnight and none but you and yours will know she fell pregnant in the first place.”
My throat was dry and sore. Couldn’t even think straight.
“You’re afraid of me,” he said. “But you shouldn’t be. I mean you no harm.”
“You’re not real,” I whispered. “I’m just dreaming you.”
“I’m as real as the ache in your heart,” he whispered back. “You were meant to be more than a common beggar, our Bess. You could be a blesser. Next time, you see a sick cow, bless it. Say three Ave Marias and sprinkle some water on the beast. Folk will pay you for such things. Folk will hold you in regard and you won’t have to grovel for the scraps off their table.”
What nonsense, I thought. Church warden would have me whipped and fined for saying the Ave Maria — and that was but mild chastisement. Catholics were still hanged in these parts, their priests drawn and quartered. I told myself that there was no such boy called Tibb — it was just my empty stomach talking. I rolled over, pulling the tattered blanket to my ears.
He wouldn’t give over. “It runs in your blood. You’ve inherited the gift from your mam’s father.”
I shook my head no. “My grandfather was an ostler. An honest man.”
“He was a horse-charmer, if you remember well.”
Tibb’s voice summoned the memories. I was sat on Grand-Dad’s knee and he jostled me so that I could pretend I was riding a bouncy pony and all the while he chanted the Charm to St. George to ward horses from witchcraft. Enforce we us with all our might to love St. George, Our Lady’s Knight. Grand-Dad died when I was seven, but he’d taught my mam all his herbcraft for healing beast and folk alike, which she, in turn, had taught me, though Mam herself had no dealings in charms.
What a marvel. Grand-Dad working his blessings in the stables at Read Hall, beneath the Nowells’ very noses. He must have served them well, kept their nags healthy and sound, so that instead of reporting him for sorcery they became his protectors. Perhaps that, indeed, was why the Nowells had given Malkin Tower to Mam — it did no good at all to vex a cunning man by treating his daughter ill.
Still the knowing made the sweat run cold down my back. To think that I carried this inside me. I could not say a word, only pray that Tibb would vanish again and leave me in peace.
“My own Bess, do I need to give you a sign or two? You’ll see what I’ve said of Liza will come to pass. Now I’ll give you more knowledge of the future. Before the moon is new again, Elsie will bear a son.”
In spite of myself, I laughed. “Any fool can see she’s carrying a boy from the way she’s bearing so high and wide. I don’t need a slip of a lad like you telling me about wenches bearing babies.”
My mocking didn’t put Tibb off. He only coaxed me all the more. “They’ll name the lad Christopher after his father and you’ll see your Kit’s father in the little lad’s face, my Bess. You’ll feel so tender that the years of bitterness will melt away.”
Tears came to my eyes when I remembered my lover who had given me such pleasure before he bolted off, never to show his face again, leaving me to bear my shame and endure an angry husband fit to flay me alive and the gossips wagging their tongues and pointing. My husband refused to give the baby his name, so that was why my Kit was named Christopher Holgate, not Southerns. As punishment for my sin, I was made to stand a full day in the pillory in Colne marketplace.
“That’s not all I can tell you of your future,” said Tibb, nestling close, his breath warming my face. “In time, your Liza will marry an honest man who will love her in spite of her squint.”
“Fortune-telling’s a sin,” I squeaked. In this Curate and the priests of the old religion had always been of one mind. A dangerous thing, it was, to push back the veil and look into the future, for unless such knowledge came from a prophecy delivered by God, it came from the other place, the evil place, the Devil. Diviners and those who consulted them would be punished in hell by having their heads twisted backward for their unholy curiosity.
Still Tibb carried on in a voice I couldn’t block out. “Liza will give you three grandchildren.”
How seductive he was. If only I could trust him and believe that my Liza would be blessed by the love of a good man, a happy family.
“Her first-born daughter will be your joy,” Tibb told me. “You’ll love her till you forget yourself, my Bess. A pretty impudent lass with skin like cream. A beauty such as you were at her age. She’ll be your very likeness and you’ll teach her the things that I’ll teach you.” His voice sang with his promise.
“What else can you tell me?” I asked, my heart in my mouth.
Opening my eyes, I dared myself to look him in the face, but I only saw the stars shining in the window slits.
©2010 by Mary Sharratt.
In the recent case of Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission, the United States Supreme Court narrowly ruled the First Amendment protection for freedom of speech extends to organizations and corporations who wish to fund political advertisements. By way of disclaimer, I deeply disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision upon this controversial point, and by the conclusion of this essay I’m sure the attentive reader should be able to tease out my reasons for opposing the supposed (emphasis on “supposed”) expansion of First Amendment rights. Still, my main interest here concerns the occult implications of this decision, and especially how our culture views certain egregores, or group-empowered spirits.
First, let’s review how we arrived here. United States law has long regarded corporations as “persons” for purposes of whether someone can bring suit against a corporation. The limited liability corporation constitutes an entity distinct from its investors, complete with its own assets and liabilities. Consequently, individual shareholders cannot be individually held liable for the actions of the corporation. The United States government, along with most contemporary capitalist nations, allows this arrangement of convenience ultimately because it fosters economic growth. After all, investors are more likely to pour money into joint enterprises if their potential losses remain a known quantity.
Now here’s the rub: For the better part of our history, the personhood of the corporation has constituted a legal fiction — a convenient fiction, indeed, and yet fiction nonetheless. Corporations can and often do function as interested parties in tort actions, though otherwise their powers and limitations are quite different from those of living and breathing human beings. Corporations aren’t bound by the biological limitations and emotional ties which govern human choices. And generally speaking, individual human beings possess neither the financial resources nor the sheer wherewithal necessary to maintain nuclear power plants, or to distribute life-saving pharmaceuticals, or to manufacture the complex and deadly weapons of modern warfare. Human beings are people. Corporations play by an entirely different collection of rules. By this line of reasoning, the fact that corporations can be held liable for their actions, without thereby jeopardizing the assets of individual shareholders, constitutes the necessary – if deeply uneasy – compromise between the public good and the capitalist impulse. And yet. . .
By quite another line of reasoning, one widely supported across occult circles, corporations really are people. To understand why this is so, we must consider the nature of spirits and thoughtforms, and especially the class of thoughtforms known as egregores. In its simplest incarnation, an egregore constitutes a spirit supported by collective belief. Every mask which Deity wears, every goddess and god of antiquity and modernity, may be considered an egregore. Hecate Trevia is an egregore. Lilith of Eden is an egregore, as is Jesus of Nazareth. Still, egregores aren’t limited to traditional theological and mythological incarnations. Any idea, any collective entity around which people gather in belief, can adopt the mantle of egregore. Democracy is an egregore, as is Marxism. Santa Claus is an egregore. And tellingly, corporate entities — like Exxon-Mobil and McDonald’s — constitute egregores.
In his modern fantasy classic American Gods, author Neil Gaiman presents a world where the incarnate spirits of antiquity, beings like Woden and Ostara, find themselves besieged by the personified idols of modernity, things like Television and Media. In the surreal realm Gaiman creates, the various gods — both ancient and contemporary — really are people, with hopes and fears and dreams all their own. Still, setting aside those not-insignificant sects who believe in reincarnated savior or teacher figures, our “real world” religions generally adopt comparatively abstract — or at the very least more distant — conceptions of Deity. In any event, our “real world” typically doesn’t manifest things like energy conglomerates and restaurant franchises as flesh and blood human beings.
This restriction, however, doesn’t make the underlying spirits any less real, and it doesn’t make them any less influential. You may freely inquire of any parent steeped in the holiday traditions of the West whether the fact Santa Claus lacks material existence diminishes his influence over the Yuletide season, and find but few who would deny the power behind the idea of Santa Claus. And I can nearly guarantee you those few who ostensibly doubt the power of Santa Claus are much too busy with their Christmas shopping to give your inquiry a genuinely reflective answer!
An egregore who embodies human generosity and childlike wonder might not be such a bad thing, yet there exist other egregores — especially corporate spirits — whose agency is seldom bound by things like human morality and compassion. Absent government regulation, many — if not most — corporations would sacrifice both human health and our shared environment upon the bloodstained altar of Mammon. (For some deliciously dark humor along this vein, I refer the reader to the opening sequence of the 1999 movie Fight Club, wherein Edward Norton’s character explains to his fellow airline passenger how auto manufacturers decide whether to recall vehicles with known safety flaws: “Take the number of vehicles in the field ‘A’, multiply by the probable rate of failure ‘B’, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement ‘C’. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.” And for which auto manufacturer does he work? “A major one.”) To give these dangerous thoughtforms not only some voice, but indeed the capacity to drown out competing points of view upon the airwaves, seems at best reckless beyond all imagination.
I’m sure some readers will disagree with my admittedly negative portrayal of the corporate world. Well and good — We can agree to disagree, and moving forward we can debate such points as we please. Speaking for myself, I identify with Locke’s philosophy enough to regard freedom of speech as an essentially natural right, so barring immediate threats against human life — the proverbial “shouting fire” inside a crowded theatre — I’m loath to restrict free speech upon the basis of possible outcomes. If we hold with natural rights, then however we might choose to characterize the moral capacity of the corporation, we must nevertheless confront the a priori question of whether or not the corporation is “person” enough to merit First Amendment protections. If we should answer in the affirmative, logical consistency demands we extend freedom of speech to corporate egregores. If we should answer in the negative, intellectual honesty demands we give an account why.
Like “real people” made of flesh and blood, corporations exhibit an instinct for self-preservation. Likewise, corporations make choices and exhibit agency, often with greater range than any individual human being could practice. Unless we arbitrarily limit our definition of personhood to animate beings who display literal breath and pulse, then corporate egregores demonstrate relevant signs of personhood. Still, these signs are nothing more or less than other egregores and spirits possess. The mythological figures of antiquity, by inspiring their followers, everyday exert real changes across our shared cultural space. Such otherwise powerful godforms are partially bound from exerting too direct an influence upon the political course of the United States, insofar as the institutional mechanisms cannot rally behind individual candidates for office without thereby jeopardizing the tax-exempt status enjoyed by churches. And there exist other egregores who are much too “unofficial” — and often too far removed from the notion of money — to really flood the airwaves with their unique messages.
I should point out there are numerous lobbyist groups which also function as egregores, for whom money becomes merely the means towards an end. Groups like Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association focus upon public policy, rather than profit margins, and consequently — ironically — their coffers generally can’t compete with the largest among the corporate interests. (Notably, given the substance of the case at hand, the Supreme Court could have restricted the scope of Citizens United decision to non-profit groups only. Inexplicably, the Court opted for the broader interpretation.) These non-profit groups, as well, may now spend as they please to help or harm individual campaigns, as they see fit, because — according to the Court’s decision — these organizations enjoy the same First Amendment protections which other “people” enjoy.
Did you catch that? Corporations are now people. Egregores — or at least those egregores with institutional avatars registered with the Internal Revenue Service — are now people. Now I consider myself an ardent supporter of First Amendment rights. And I’m an occultist who maintains regular discourse with certain denizens of the astral realms, which only makes sense when I acknowledge such spirits as persons. Why am I less than thrilled?
Earlier I observed if corporations are people, then logical consistency demands we extend First Amendment protections to such beings. And it’s true the First Amendment merely guarantees freedom of speech, and not particular platforms or podiums from which we might wish to speak. Herein the problem follows: Exceptionally deep coffers make for exceptionally high podiums. More to the point, they make for exceptionally loud megaphones. I’ve remarked before that the free marketplace of ideas allows truth to bubble up and falsity to sink under its own weight. I stand by this fundamental assertion, yet all around our little planet money buys airtime, and lots of money buys lots of airtime. We may question — and I do — whether a world in which corporate interests can and mostly likely will run wall-to-wall political advertisements constitutes a free marketplace of ideas. Natural rights come with the important caveat the rights of one being end where the rights of another begin. The First Amendment is no different. I genuinely fear by unleashing the loudest megaphones, we are thereby silencing both flesh and blood human beings and the egregores who don’t serve Mammon. A plutocracy which pays mere lip service unto the free marketplace of ideas isn’t really free at all.
Looking back, I’m not entirely sure my article has maintained the political neutrality for which I had hoped. And yet mayhap as an example, my reasoning herein might inspire others to measure their own cultural views by the standard of their chosen paths. Our magical paradigms — reflectively held — must continue to apply when we leave the unseen realms. And sometimes, as with the Citizens United decision, those unseen realms come crashing into our material existence. Are spirits people? Are egregores? If we answer yes, then what rights and duties might such spirits thereby inherit? I’ve expressed my feelings upon the subject; your mileage may vary. I would challenge you, my dear readers, to reflect upon how your magical paradigms shape your cultural perspectives. By introspection we grow as Magicians and as people — whether flesh and blood or otherwise.
©2010 by Grey Glamer.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
To the Goose, and the outcast dead of Cross Bones Graveyard, and to John Crow, the caretaker.931
To all the girls I ever loved before, and to Chris de Burgh.
To the Lady in Red, and to the Lady in Scarlet.
We both read the Bible day and night,
But thou readest black and I read white
— William Blake
It is I who am the wife; it is I who am the virgin.
It is I who am pregnant; it is I who am the midwife.
It is I who am the one that comforts pains of travail.
It is my husband who bore me; and it is I who am his mother.
And it is he who is my father and my lord.
It is he who is my force;
What he desires, he says with reason.
I am in the process of becoming; yet I have borne a man as lord.932
— On the Origin of the World (late third century)
On Halloween 2006, I forwent my usual ritual of dressing up in rubber shorts and a gasmask codpiece and attended a belated wake for the medieval dead of Cross Bones. It was a fluffy affair, full of dyed-in-the-woolly armpit pagans, but it was certainly necromantic enough for an old romantic like me, and the dead were as lively as ever.
But this story begins with a comic book two weeks before. Alan Moore’s stunning Promethea series was blowing my mind with every installment, and then I came to The Wine of Her Fornications. The issue in this issue, and the paradox central to Uncle Al’s cosmology, is that the Virgin Mary and the Whore of Babylon are one and the same. Whilst this had always appealed to my sense of aesthetics, I couldn’t get my head around the concept, but neither was it something I could forget, because in Thelema this secret is tightly bound up with the apocalypse.
Who can say when a story begins? This one winds back at least two more years, to a night promoting streetwear at a Japanese nightclub. I was inspired that night, ranting tirelessly about hemp and graffiti and London, and the B-boys were interested, but I was more interested in women. I was very horny indeed, but there were very few ladies out. This was the curse of working for an uber-trendy drum n’ bass brand in a country without much of a scene; it was so cutting-edge that the clubbers were nearly all boys in puffer jackets with vinyl fixations.
So the horn rose, ascended into my throat, and splashed out all over the club in ecstatic praise of the goddess hemp, the fabric, the fuel, the ecologistics, the medicine, the buzz, and a whole lot more. I left in the morning, alone of course, and boarded a train bound for Kyoto and my deeply lonely abode, a large, dilapidated, two-storey house. It had no furniture, three naked light bulbs, and no decoration at all. The rent was very cheap, however, because the house was awaiting renovation, as were my housemate and I, both of us getting over our respective wives. He took me in when she threw me out for the sixth time, and we spent the time drinking heavily, making misogynistic jokes, and playing computer games in the room with the communal light bulb. Those were the days! A cold winter of discontent with a poisonous caterpillar plague in the garden, the slow throb of loneliness disturbed only by drunken bicycle injuries and suicide notes from the ex.
Figuring that I was unlikely to attract any women in this pitiful state, I had started practicing Taoist seed retention, and three weeks in, my nuts were about to explode. The train was not leaving for another half an hour, and I was literally squirming in my seat. Something had to give, and that something was my attitude towards prostitution. This was one of the few sexual taboos I had left intact, and I would sit quietly contemptuous when my expat friends reminisced about their sordid trips to Bangkok. No one was going to bust me at six in the morning, so I jumped off the train and hit the smutty streets of Minami-Hankyu.
Getting laid in the red light district is not as easy as one might imagine. Although prostitution is perfectly legal in Japan, most establishments are closed to foreigners, and it took me half an hour of polite Japanese refusals from scantily clad women before I found a welcome with Ai-chan, who was friendly and had nice teeth. Unfortunately another ugly foreigner found her shortly after I did, and was not cultured enough to wait quietly in the waiting room. He poked his bald head into our tacky love-nest and asked if he could watch in appalling Japanese. Ai-chan shouted “NO!” in English, and pulled the covers over us, an harlot genuinely abashed. She asked me if he was a friend of mine. I shouted “NO!” in English, and sank into the bed in horror, painfully aware of why most knocking shops are closed to foreign barbarians.
Ai-chan quickly regained her composure, asked him to wait, and fleeced me blind. She also left me hooked on hookers, and there begins a whorey story, because the brothel door is difficult to shut once opened. It lasted about six months, until I witnessed the deeply unreverend Nemu running at full speed through the streets of Kuala Lumpur in a frenzied and ultimately futile search for an open brothel. I was unsatisfied by two other prostitutes that night, but the ladies of the night melted away as the sun came up, and the Reverend Neverend give up his quest frustrated.
Back in England a winter later, I had regained my composure, though not, of course, the mojo of a Western man in Japan. The whore was on my mind again, and this time I decided to approach her with a little more ceremony. A friend and I were conducting a healing ayahuasca session with a third friend, who had just had an operation for cervical cancer, and it seemed appropriate to invite BABALON, the Thelemic goddess of the cosmic uterus. Her tarot card Lust went on the altar, a naked temptress straddling the beast with seven heads, reins tight in her hand and head thrown back in exquisite abandon. In the ceremony I was too busy concentrating on playing the music to think about her, or even look at the card. The beast was reined for the session, we held it together, and two years on, news from her cervix is good.
The following day I awoke with a burning desire to know a particular whore in a Biblical sense. I began chasing women through the pages of The New Testament, The Golden Bough and The Greek Myths with the one track mind of a depraved divorcee chasing hookers through the streets of Southeast Asia. It soon became clear that there was something about Mary, the name shared by all the significant women in The New Testament, but five days later I had a party to get to, so I toweled down my sweaty palms and went to the Cross Bones bash.
The party was held in SE One club, on the site of a Roman temple to Isis, and featured bawdy medieval drinking songs and sordid verse from the lips of London sex-workers. I had to bully Seth into coming; though he is usually up for a spot of necromancy, his plan was to curl up at home under a duvet, listening to Goth music and weeping over his ex-girlfriend.
My girlfriend refused to come, asking why I was so into dead people. (I told her they usually had fewer hang-ups than the living.) Seth had a great time, despite himself. I regretted his company only once, during the group tantric exercise, squeezing our neighbour’s hands in time with our perineal muscles and pelvic floors. He was my first tarot teacher and a dedicated Thelemite, so we had occasion to nod knowingly at each other whenever the poetry wound round to the Whore of Babylon, or when the divine harlots sung choruses of the “a-poca-poca-poca-lypse”. Widdershins around the altar, where I had left my Lust card, and incantations to the goddess and to he of hoof and horn. A masked priestess gave each of us a word on a leaf-shaped card. Mine was ‘Strength’, the name for Lust in traditional tarot decks. This was the card that had set the ball rolling in the first place, the energy of the lion that sets all balls rolling.
John was curb-crawling the shadier streets of the astral in his acid-fueled pimpmobile when he first met his muse, the Goose, a seventeenth century prostitute with an ear for verse. The Revelation of my mate John (otherwise known as The Book of the Goose) begins as she sets the scene:
For tonight in Hell they are tolling the bell
For the Whore that lay at the Tabard.
And well we know how the carrion crow
Doth feast in our Cross Bones graveyard.933
“Cross Bones” struck him as a fitting poetic name for an outcast’s graveyard, but later John discovered that it really was the name of an unconsecrated burial ground, where bodies unwelcome in Southwark Cathedral cemetery were interred. Outcasts included the Winchester Geese, prostitutes licensed by the Bishop of Winchester since 1161. They rested in peace until the mid 1990s, when London Underground began developing the derelict site, and digging up skeletons. John received his first message in November 1996, since which time he and his chaotic confederates have made a Discordian shrine of this urban wasteland, conducting monthly rituals to honour the dead.
The hookers and their John led a procession of pagans, ayahuasqueros and other Halloween fiends from the club to Cross Bones, singing songs of gin and syphilis. We remembered the dead by reading their names, which had been given out on ribbons. I had one for a baby girl, and another for a man from the workhouse who shared a name with the founder of my school. I met some lovely randoms, and ended up fried at a dirty tekno party in Stoke Newington, in my reverend’s robe and my gasmask at last. A nearly divine London harlot gave me a kiss, then turned and left me pining, remembering the SM temptress I once married, whose face glowed scarlet with anger, the lion’s mistress who had turned me out and inside-out, who fleeced me of everything worth anything, and left me empty.
On the bus home I did some automatic writing, producing a page of filth (see Appendix Automatic 1). It was the wrong bus so I had to walk for miles. I ended up in A & E, on E, pondering the A (it is indeed an A, not a Y, but best not ask too many whys of hoes; it always adds up the way the lady says). I wasn’t sick, just a little dizzy from the MDMAganism, but it was freezing outside and I needed somewhere to catch the flood of words. BABALON’s limitless lovejuice was drowning me in pungent poetry (see Appendix Automatic 2).
As Noah’s flood subsided, the dry island of consciousness rose out of the waters of chaos, and everything that had been remembered stepped off the Ark. Noah’s family multiplied, and “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.”934 They voiced the same idea with the same tongue, to build a tower to the heavens:
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven935
The first project of the first New World Order was a noble goal, but soon the structure became more beloved than the builders. The Talmud relates how even pregnant women were forced to build, and the sick were cursed for their uselessness. As the Tower of Babel grew, it took ever more effort to raise masonry to the top. Builders wept for a falling brick, but not for a falling man.936
What was the Tower of Babel? There was a seventy-meter ziggurat in Babylon called Etemanaki, the End Platform of Heaven and Earth, but bricks were not all that were baked in Babylon. Babylonians also baked clay tablets pressed with one of the earliest alphabetic scripts, setting treaties and tax agreements beyond argument, fixing regulations and codifying correct conduct. The ziggurat is dust today, but Hammurabi’s law code survives, four millennia after it was made, carved into an ancient obelisk in the Louvre.937 Its shadow falls over the entire planet.
Marked tablets formed the foundation of our law codes, built up ever since by kings and presidents. When one truth is inflicted on all, the structure become more important than the builders; Milgram’s nightmare begins, and people start dropping from the scaffolding. “The Truth” is lethal, but whilst the letter of the law is fixed, interpretation is a different matter. Tongues become confused, and the project is derailed. Man is saved from his fixations as “Truth” is fractured into a multitude of languages.
The Bible relates the word Babel to the Hebrew balal (to confuse). It is derived from the Akkadian bab ili (the gate of god),938 and this ba-ba-baby talk is also the root of the English “babble.” In a world of confused babblers at the gates of infinity, names are changed to protect the intransient, and meaning streams into seventy currents of consciousness. Matthew turns on a new tap with a redefinition in the first chapter of The New Testament:
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.939
The prophet referred to is Isaiah, translated in the KJV as follows:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin [sic] shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.940
But what about this virgin? Mark and John never mention a virgin. The Greek word in Matthew is parthenos, which does indeed mean “virgin,” but the Hebrew in Isaiah is almah, which simply means “young woman.” This is not an ambiguous Hebrew word; it is a mistranslation. Wherever almah is found in The Old Testament, the KJV renders it “virgin” (or “maid,” meaning virgin), but it makes for some silly scripture. In Proverbs, for example, the Hebrew clearly refers to a little bump and grind, but in the KJV:
There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid [sic].941
There is nothing wonderful about the way of a man with a virgin; it makes no sense. Another time it makes a nonsense of The Song of Solomon:
There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins [sic] without number. My dove, my undefiled is but one.942
What are all these virgins doing in a harem? If they are virgins, how can there only be one who is not defiled? This wouldn’t fool a rabbi. In translated Jewish Bibles, these virgins are all young women, because to a Jew, altering the word of God is high blasphemy. To anyone with a sense of aesthetics, it is a crime against poetry, surely.
Whilst virginity is exalted in Christianity, there is none of this in The Old Testament. When Jephthah, a hero born of a whore, has to sacrifice his only child to fulfill a promise to the Lord, his dutiful daughter insists that he honour his word, and she does not complain about her death. She asks only “let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity.”943 Presumably there were plenty of shepherd boys willing to take the sting out of her sentence. Virginity is a curse in Judaism, not a virtue. Sex is a duty, every day for men of independent means, once a week for scholars and ass-drivers.944 Two weeks without nookie was already reasonable grounds for divorce,945 and you can leave the hole in the sheet for the Puritans. In Jewish law, lovers must be completely naked, so nothing can come between them.946
The Israelites were neither prudish nor moralistic about sex. Judah went a-whoring, and he fathered a great tribe.947 In The Talmud, Eleazar ben Dordia “did not leave out any harlot in the world without coming to her.”948 At the end of his life, after a revelation which began when the classiest whore in the world farted during coitus, God calls him “Rabbi,” and tells him he is “destined for the life of the world to come”! So why the mistranslation? Did an honest mistake change the nature of the religion? What about later clerics, who reconstructed the hymens of various Old Testament young women to fit in with the evangelist’s fetish? Once is a mistake, as my dad likes to say, twice is stupid, but three times is on purpose. True for a night’s whoring, certainly, and for translating scripture as well. This virgin is here to stay. Did Matthew have a thing for virgins, or was there a particular virgin on his mind?
Virgin mothers were worshiped all over the pagan world, from the Amazon to Babylon. Was it Isis or Ishtar or Astarte remembered in Matthew, or was this almah Al-Mah, the Persian virgin goddess of the moon? One of the earliest virgin mothers was from Sumer, one of the oldest settled civilisations, where some of the oldest surviving text was laid down. Her name was Inanna, and her habits are not what one might expect from a maid. Ancient poems relate how she went scantily clad into town wearing “the pearls of a prostitute”, to play drinking games and “snatch a man from the tavern.”949 “She praised herself, full of delight at her. . . remarkable genitals,”950 but she was always a virgin, regardless of what she got up to. Like the moon, and like a woman, she always returns to her pristine state, ready to bear again.
Inanna was goddess of many things, including shepherds,951 carpenters,952 love, sex, and temple lovers.953 Her priestesses kept a sacred institution, a ritual dramatisation of the value of sexual love, and even respectable married laywomen would make love to strangers who approached in the darkness and left a coin. This is called “sacred prostitution” in modern terminology, but the term is deceptive, because of what prostitution means to us. Back in the day, these women were devout temple attendants performing a vital service for the community, a role that is still necessary today, but performed with less ceremony in scummy hotels and backstreets. The sacred harlot, the Har of Babylon, is remembered as the Whore of Babylon. She was one of many virgin mothers who bore solar heroes on the winter solstice as Virgo popped over the horizon, saviours destined to be murdered. Whilst the mythology survives in part, his mother’s nature has been forgotten. But is The New Testament betrayed by a smudge of scarlet lipstick?
In The Second Book of Kings, Ashtoreth is the abomination of the Zidonians, This is Astarte, who was called Asat in Egypt (whom we know as Isis), mother of the saviour Horus. Like early Christian images of the virgin and child, Egyptian representations depicted Horus suckling at his mother’s breast, though Mary’s breast was covered up as Christianity became increasingly prudish.
Asat was protectress of the dying god Azar (Osiris), and she was addressed as Meri in Egyptian, meaning beloved.954 In The New Testament all the Marys, with the exception of the virgin, are helpers or protectresses. Mary Magdalene accompanies Jesus to his death and to his tomb,955 where she watches over him, and is the first to meet him after his resurrection.956 The Mary in Romans “bestowed much labour on us,”957 and another from Acts hides St. Peter when he is on the run.958
Another Mary is a helpful soul who spends much of her time weeping over her brother Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. Lazarus is the only character besides Christ resurrected in The Bible. In Egyptian mythology, Asat wept over her brother Azar until he was resurrected. Azar’s name Latinised becomes Azarus, and with an honorary “El” (like El Shaddai), the name becomes a familiar El Azarus, or Lazarus. Mary, sister of Lazarus, spends a year’s wages on ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet,959 an extremely significant act which makes Jesus the Messiah (literally, “anointed one”). Two verses later, the Messiah is betrayed as Azar was betrayed, setting the scene for his execution and resurrection.960 Asat’s sister Nephytys also took part in Azar’s resurrection. She was also titled Meri, and hence both sisters together were called by the plural Merti.961 This is very close to Marta (Martha in English), the name of Lazarus’ other sister.962
There is something else about Mary, something both exalted and shameful. The anointer is named in Matthew, Mark, and John, but in Luke she is unnamed, and she is not connected to Lazarus. It is also in Luke that she does more than just anoint his feet. She showers him with kisses, and gives his feet some serious attention.963 We learn “what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner”,964 and the people pass judgement upon her, but “her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.”965
Luke brings the holy harlot back into the story in this pivotal role as Messiah maker, at a time when she was falling out of favour in the Roman world. The geographer Strabo wrote in 23 A.D. that sacred prostitution continued at the Temple of Aphrodite in Corinth, but he called it “wholly shameful.”966 Whether he actually visited is unknown, but it shows that the idea was still in currency, and frowned upon in his time. Perhaps this is why the other canonical Gospels, which give the anointer the honourable name Mary, do not allude to her harlotry. Mary Magdalene is one of those who “ministered unto him of their substance.”967 She had her demons, but she was no slapper. All the other Marys are spotless, but the unnamed Messiah maker in Luke was “a sinner.”
It was no simple task merging the exalted feminine of the old pagan world with the paternalistic mores of the Hebrews and the Roman Empire, and the explosive success of early Christianity is a testament to the ingenuity of its authors.968 Inevitably, however, and tragically, Christianity was institutionalised and sanitised as it grew. Any ambiguity about the anointer was ironed out by Pope Gregory in 591, who ruled that the sinner’s sin was sexual, and that Mary Magdalene, Mary sister of Lazarus, and the unnamed sinner, were one and the same hussy.969 The beloved nurturer was dragged from the foot of the cross of the King to the grimy streets of King’s Cross. The work of her priestesses became the shame of prostitution, and there begins a tale of misogyny and the repression of female sexuality, which continues to impoverish both women and men of Christendom today. Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ lover in The Gospel of Philip, but such scandalous stories were purged from the Biblical canon. The only woman worthy of devotion was the Virgin, who most certainly does not put out, not for love nor money.
Within a few centuries, aging celibate church fathers were decrying the perils of sex. St. Ambrose exalted virginity in lengthy prose, and St. Jerome went as far as to write that even martyrdom could barely cleanse a woman of the stain of marriage. St. Augustine argued how both impotency and unwanted erections reveal that sex turns the body against the will. (St. Augustine, who was a genuinely compassionate and forward thinking man, lamented that we have more control over our farts than our willies, evidenced by the fact that many can produce melodies at will from their bottoms.970) Christianity quickly become a dreadfully frigid faith most unlike its Jewish and pagan roots.
Goddesses worth their salt, however, are not in the habit of being dominated by stuffy old clerics, at least not for long; the holy whore went underground. Asat’s sacred geese were sacrificed well into the Common Era, all the way from North Africa to South Londinium. Goosey-goosey gander waddled across the continents and the millennia, upstairs, downstairs and in the master’s chamber, and all the way to Medieval England, where the Old English term for prostitute was “goose.”971 The Winchester Geese lived in the Liberty of the Clink and were buried in Cross Bones graveyard, where they rested in disgrace until London Underground disturbed their sleep.
Asat may have been forgotten, but her rites continue to this day at Easter. The name “Easter” derives from Astarte, and the festival was a heathen fertility rite. It is mentioned only once in The Bible: the evil King Herod attends Easter as Peter languishes in his dungeon awaiting execution.972 Hot cross buns were offered to pagan gods 1500 years before Christ. The Easter pig is eaten for the boar that killed Ishtar’s lover Tammuz, whose rites are called “abominations” in Ezekiel,973 and he is still mourned today with forty days of lent. There are no bunnies in The Bible. The Easter bunny hopping about delighting Christian children is a celebration of the defining characteristic of a rabbit, which is sex, and the eggs he distributes are, of course, fertility symbols.
It is obvious when you think about it, but thinking is exactly what church fathers sought to prevent, with threats of excommunication, such as the papal decree of 431:
If any one refuses to confess that the Emmanuel is in truth God, and that the holy Virgin is Mother of God, for she gave birth after a fleshly manner to the Word of God made flesh; let him be anathema.974
Like Inanna, Mary is always a virgin, and is remembered as such in the Greek Orthodox liturgy, where every mention of her name is prefixed with the words “always virgin.” Unlike Inanna, however, her virginity was protected by a new magick, which suppressed thought with fear. Mary’s virginity was far too questionable to be questioned. Catholic dogmas concerning Mary multiplied, and soon Catholics were also terrified into accepting that the immaculate conception was a unique event, and that Mary was a virgin until death, at which point her entire body, including her immaculate hymen, ascended into heaven.975 The Pope was still issuing threats in 1950:
If anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.976
The pagan origins of Christianity have always upset purists. Jehovah’s Witnesses valiantly attempted to chase the heathen from their midst, ditching crosses, candles, Easter and Christmas, retaining little more than a Godfearing frown. For the Witnesses, the party comes at the end of time. They give eschatology a bad name, as far as I am concerned; I like to think that my group is the complete opposite of theirs. Wherever Christians gather there is the danger of Christian fascism, and sadly Daime is no exception, but for the most part we love pagan wisdom, and we shout “Viva!” for all the beings of the Celestial Court to close our ceremonies. Whereas the Witnesses dream of a past age of purity, our party is a post-modern mash-up in a free house, where all are welcome, and we sing so loud that the gods start to boogie. . .
The virgin mother has been with us for at least 6,000 years; by now we should be grown up enough to learn the truth about where her baby comes from. The Virgin Mary is the goddess of the new moon, but the cycle continues. The goddess of the full moon is the divine temptress, the nurturer for whom all nature swells into readiness, whether lemons or lingams. Mary Magdalene carries a clue in her name, the root of which is gadol, meaning both “large” and “grow” in Hebrew. She accepts all comers into her double-D cup of compassion. The goddess of the full moon accepts us because she knows us and the depravity of our desires. She knows we are all the same with our trousers down. She has seen it all before, she forgives and keeps giving. It is time for us to reciprocate, to love her as she was loved in ancient times.
Greeks and Indians sculpted sexy women for their temples. Inca effigies have enormous knockers. Women are sexy! They are nurturing, and comforting, and divine, but Christendom got stuck with a virgin fixation. The sacred harlot became a demon, as do all deities under the force of repression. Her fleshy desires became a disgrace, but her rites continue in alleyways, valued in rocks of crack. The goddess has been defiled and her divine name made vulgar. In India she was Kunti, who summoned gods with a secret mantra and bore their children. In Rome she was Cunina, protectress of babies. Derivatives of the sacred C-word were titles for goddesses, priestesses and wise-women, including, perhaps, our own “Queen,” but the word is our dirtiest, so offensive that well-raised American girls cry if you say it with enough malice. Our hang-ups about the word, the organ, and the woman surrounding it are abstractions built upon a confused mess of neuroses. Why does a healthy appetite make a slut of a woman and a stud of a man? Dogs aren’t offended by cunts, nor by the word “cunt.” What exactly are we scared of?
The feminine shifts between absolutes, indistinct in the moonlight, moving in and out of balance, swelling up and shrinking down, and always returning to the source. The mother is confusing and contradictory, one thing and then the other, and this constant wave is the wellspring of life. The Law of the Lord is laid down with a word, and the wave collapses into one particle, going one way. Its potential is fixed, later to be falsified. The masculine limits, but the cosmic cervix is limitless. Code gestates quietly until it tumbles fully formed and perfect into the world as a symphony, a cosmology, or a baby. But with the mystery of infinity comes the terror of the black hole. She drives men to poetry and to murder, and all for nothing. The feminine is a great gaping 0, pungent, potent, and dripping with blood.
The Hebrews never discovered zero, and neither did the Greeks. It was imported from India in the thirteenth century, but even then few understood it. It is more irrational than the irrational numbers the Greeks discovered, more invisible than negative numbers. It is an affront to Aristotle, neither one thing nor the other, neither negative nor positive, so how can it be anything? And yet it is not the same as nothing. “Zero children” is not the same as “an empty playground.” Zero is the assertion of nilness. It is empty potential, and that is something quite different.
Our master is a sun god, an “I” drawn across the sky, following his will(y) on his missions, penetrating territories, parching seas, illuminating and casting into darkness as he dies at the end of the day. The world fractures along the edge of sense defined. Stuck here in the rational mind, it is only the constant confusion of words and definitions that allows for reinterpretation and regeneration. Creative writing redefines the boundaries. Matthew’s ingenious slight of hand brought the virgin mother into the narrative, and some influential patriarchs thought it best to keep mum. YHVH, for all his dynamism, is not an easy father to get along with, Elohim is too dimensionless to deal with, and Jesus on the cross has his own concerns to worry about. The goddess, however, is ready to receive you without judgement.
Pagans exalted all three phases of the moon and of womanhood. Persephone, Diana and Brigit of the new moon are perfectly pure and full of potential, virgins associated with birth and the birthing bed. Selene, Luna and Ceres are full moon goddesses, nurturers, protectors, and lovers, with soft curves to cradle our confused heads. Her rite is marriage and her sacred place the nuptial bed. After a period of plump fecundity the moon shrinks into the crone, whose names are Kali, Hecate and Nephytys, a wise old woman with a pickled face and a head full of craft. She sees through your charm and has a herb for every illness, if you have the humility to ask. The crone presides over death and the deathbed; she guides the dead to the underworld, and converses with the spirits of their world.
The waning moon suffered a similar fate to the full moon. Her honorifics “crone,” “hag,” and “witch” became insults. Her craft was pushed underground. She was denied in the ninth century, and drowned and hanged from the fourteenth century. The fire of persecution began to roar in the sixteenth century, with the Spanish Inquisition adding fuel on one side and Luther fanning the flames on the other.977 It burned well into the eighteenth century, as the Age of Reason was constructed, and even today the hag continues to suffer. Old women crumbling alone in nursing homes are no less victims of this ugly prejudice than was Helen Duncan, the medium described in “São Miguel in Stockwell’.
The Biblical Marys appear in order of the phases of the moon. The Virgin Mary is present at the beginning and leaves after a few chapters. Mary the nurturer appears in various guises, pushing the story in the middle, and the crone arrives at the end as Mary, mother of James, attending Jesus’ death, following the body to the grave,978 979 sitting over the sepulchre,980 and bringing spices to anoint the corpse.981 Along with Mary Magdalene, she is the first to learn of the resurrection.982
Matthew was not the first Gospel written, but it is the first read. It appears to be a close copy of Mark with added pagan bits, such as the star of Bethlehem and the virgin birth. It is the most mystical of the canonical Gospels, the only one that mentions dreams, but there were Christian scriptures far more mysterious. All sorts were mixing in the Hellenistic crucible, including Egyptians, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Africans, and Oriental kings wandering through, following stars, carrying strange spices. Different traditions explored the story in various directions for 200 years, leaving as many as fifty contradictory Gospels reflecting a broad spectrum of belief. The Gospel of Thomas appears to be older than the canonical Gospels, and it is laden with mystical code and paradox, where the end is the beginning, where giving money to the poor harms the spirit (which makes sense in the welfare state). In The Gospel of Judas, written within decades of the canonical gospels, Jesus tells his most beloved disciple “you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothed me.”983
For many Gnostics, the Virgin Birth was the mystery of the feminine Holy Spirit giving birth to the cosmos, without anything fertilising it. The Gospel of Philip lampoons the orthodox position:
Some said, “Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.” They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?984
As Christianity became more mainstream, the lunatic fringe became a sensible side parting. The messy mop of Christianity was trimmed to make it as neat as possible, and as easy to control. Gnostic sects were stamped out, texts were declared heretical, and those that were not hidden were torched. Irineus of Lyons, a converted pagan with a political agenda, and the man who developed the idea of original sin, selected which Gospels entered The Bible. He censored most stories alluding to a nonmaterial level of reality. He cut The Acts of John, where Jesus’ steps leave no footprints,985 and The Apocalypse of Peter, where Peter goes into a trance and sees “a new light greater than the light of day.”986 In the official canon, doubting Thomas touches the resurrected Jesus, keeping the story in the material world, whereas in most Gnostic stories his hand passes through. The least mystical of all Gospels is Luke, which takes place entirely in the physical world, and it is here that the anointing woman is unnamed and sinful.
For most Gnostics, the resurrection was not fleshy but spiritual; the spirit of Jesus returns in dreams, trance, and intuition. The creed, however, made resurrection “in the flesh” a dogma to be affirmed weekly, questioned on pain of eternal damnation. This nasty piece of Roman politics was incorporated into the church liturgy, despite having no basis whatsoever in The Bible, nor in paganism. The Gospel of Philip encourages Christians to follow the Holy Spirit rather than such articles of faith. The mistrust of words in this banned gospel is almost Taoist, as is the monistic philosophy expounded.
As with censorship in the Churche of Scyense (see Chapter 3), the censorship of Gnosticism was a political exercise, and many of the same issues arose, including the existence of invisible powers and questions of authority. It is almost impossible to control a group of enthusiasts who take instructions not from appointed authorities, but directly from invisible entities in dreams or visions. In The Gospel of Mary, Jesus appears to his favourite disciple in a vision and tells her to “not lay down any rules beyond what I appointed you, and do not give a law like the lawgiver lest you be constrained by it.”987 This is not conducive to the ambitions of an empire. Tertullian insisted that a Church meeting was only valid with a bishop (poimen in Greek, meaning “shepherd”), and the bishop of Antioch explained how separation from one’s bishop meant separation “not only from the church, but from God himself.”988
For Gnostics, it was not the “dry canal”989 of a bishop that validated a church but the Holy Spirit, which was invisible but instantly recognisable. Adam was the psyche, or thinker, and Eve was the pneuma, or spirit, the connection to the invisible world. Some churches left the ceremony in the hands of the Holy Spirit, choosing the prayer leader by lot,990 or waiting in silence until someone was moved to speak, as do modern Quakers. The Holy Spirit, personified as the lovely Sophia, makes Adam’s snake rise and opens his eyes. Her ecstasies bring intimate knowledge, or gnosis, to the Gnostic, and she gave out far too much authority. Trance, miraculous healing and communication with spirits were everyday events in the Hellenistic world, and in one church, the initiation ceremony concluded with the words “Behold, Grace has come upon you; open your mouth, and prophesy.”991
In the early years of Christianity, the feminine was in the ascendant. Many churches ditched the Jewish custom of segregating the sexes during prayer, and in some churches women were uttering prophecies and even leading ceremonies. Church fathers, however, banned the worship of Mary,*992 and Tertullian preferred “the devil’s gateway” in her traditional role:
Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on your sex lives on in this age; the guilt, necessarily, lives on too.993
Tertullian filled his free moments fantasising about and gloating over the eternal torment awaiting scholars, poets, playwrights, philosophers and dancers among others,994 but whilst his spiteful imagination was rich, his theology was poor. He knew he was on shaky ground when he wrote that the resurrection of the flesh “must be believed, because it is absurd.”995 By the end of his life he had disavowed most of his early anti-Gnostic polemic, but his immature convictions became a central part of Church doctrine. The Holy Spirit was bound and gagged, the passage of the moon was arrested at the first stage, leaving us with a third of a goddess and an irrational fear of the irrational, a culture where feminine wisdom was removed from the discussion. Christians, with nothing better to believe in, fell into line behind their shepherds as a flock of docile sheep, and occasionally a gang of battering rams. But the lusty lion eats sheep for breakfast.
Gnostics questioned authority all the way from bishops up to YHVH Himself. He was Yao, the demiurge, a limited and ignorant being, master of a world where a perfectly innocent man is tortured and executed.996 He punishes Adam in envy997 and floods the world out of spite.998 He demands you “serve him in fear and slavery all the days of your life.” These ideas were quite common once; they are heretical today because of the political acumen of early church fathers.
There is a middle way between angry rejection of YHVH and capitulation to Him. This Lord is a part of us, and a condition of our world, to be accepted and observed. Whilst conditions can be overcome, He and His bishops have dominated us for millennia, and recently His Gospel of one true truth has been taken over by scientists and lawmakers who, like He, are convinced they know it all. YHVH censors BABALON’s narrative and filters out rays of infinity, but time is on her side. She flows on, a babbling brook, whilst he scribbles along, a bloody long book. YHVH thrust his way from A to Y, rubbing his way around the world, but all this friction is coming to a sticky end. BABALON keeps coming, a multiple, perpetual orgasm, pagan love juice streaming sweet scents of infinity, whereas His sense is finite. She swells, bears, shrivels, and reverts to her immaculate state. BABALON is mother of all and mistress of forms. Poetry tumbles from her void, lubricated with the intoxicating potion of liquid intelligence. She is the ever-changing moon, and He is an oldskool hardcore tune, remixed until the end of time.
The world begins with Mama. First comes Ma, Mama, Mum, Ima (Hebrew), Mae (Portuguese), and Mary, Mama’s mammaries, massive and milky and mine, for meeeeee! Baby-talk begins as cries and voiced exhalations, usually maaas, uums, aaams, maaams and mums. Nana and Inanna are mindlessly uttered, the names of the Yoruba and Sumerian mother goddesses. Maa can mean “measure” in Sanskrit, marking out the matrix and making the world. Mmmm describes pleasure. It is the sweet sound of sex, as the cosmic cervix draws us in, and makes everyone moan. “Tell me about your mother,” says the shrink, but he already knows. Mmmm may also be all the noise a dying man can make. Mother Mary is with us at the birth bed, the nuptial bed, and the deathbed, with a different face at each.
Outside of these sacred beds, however, some sense is required of us. Ma is where a baby finds her voice, but ba is the first word, an easy plosive phoneme somewhere between the immensity of ma and the point of pah, between utterance and eloquence. Ma-ma-ma comes endlessly and mindlessly from a baby’s mouth. Once we get to pah and fah, father, papa, pater (Latin) and pitara (Sanskrit), we know who we’re talking about, but thoughts begin with a bah. The Bible begins “in the beginning” with “Bereshit,” not the first but the second Hebrew letter, and it is forbidden to inquire into the breath of aleph before the beth.999 Now we’re talkin’, but listen to the sense we’re making. We’re babies talking boobies and baba. Baba is slang for “poo” in Japanese, whilst ba is the root of aunty, and Baa-san means granny. In Gujarati mother is ba, and in Greek it is buha; it is feminine, but over in Yoruba lands, baba is father, and in Hebrew father is abba. Ab is a masculine root in Hebrew, and macho man Abraham was the root of the tribe, beginning with the breath of aleph followed by beth. Ba crosses the border, as yet undecided what it wants to mean. This is where BABALON babbles and bubbles, forming sense and nonsense at the edge of the cosmic cervix, before “who’s yer dada?” becomes a question. Phonemes frame coded chaos, and the world is cut into shape. Mama/Papa is the first division, and some of the first words learned, soon followed by other dualities: on/off, hot/cold, up/down, and so on. Now spend the rest of your life trying to get over that one. . .
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,”1000 but when the divine word is uttered, the aeon crumbles. It is the beginning and the end, the Alpha, the Omega, and the mega-Om, the opening of the cosmic joke and its rib-splitting punch line. The word which contains all words is the set that contains all sets. (Georg Cantor, a pioneer of number theory, began the first of many extended stays in the nuthouse after postulating and trying to get his head around the infinite set.) All other words are limited, bound at both ends. BABALON will be bound, and you can bend her any way you wish, but whatever kinky position you have in mind, she ends up on top. Entering her mysteries at the point of ecstasy, sense fails as blinding blackness descends. The magician penetrates the unconscious void, his wand firm amidst the undulations. From here he can direct his will where he will, and shape magick worlds with magick words.
The goddess’ cycle generates a stable world, but this world doesn’t go anywhere. YHVH breaks through the wave, devastating intervention causing permanent transformation. His name changed over the rises and falls of empires, but His story has been roughly the same, ever since stories have been pressed into clay, ever since Gilgamesh spurned the goddess of love to trek to the end of the earth in a futile quest for immortality. YHVH’s earthly representatives wrote the law on a monolith raised over Babylon. His lawyers started the oldest argument and are still holding freedom hostage. He is Yaldabaoth, “child of chaos,” order arising from the noise of the void. He is the phallus, erect with desire, and He makes the goddess writhe when He respects her infinity over His limits. But when He offers her the rank shabbiness of Mr. Loverman, He degrades her, and sickness follows.
In the beginning was the Word, which split into a confusion of tongues and perspectives to interpret our beautiful universe. Under the homogenising force of Christianity, most of the world was united, but for this to happen the moon had to be fixed and the tides held back. The Western psyche has finally grown up enough to enjoy Sophia’s many tongues in his ear, and just in the nick of time. Nukes, gung-ho bioengineering, rampant materialism and fundamentalist fools threaten our survival, but meanwhile new technologies force us into a global system, a net that stretches rather than a tower that falls. It grows by forming links rather than by pressing down on old foundations. It brings us together whilst maintaining our space. We are a few clicks, not bricks, away from New Jerusalem, and a few ticks away from complete annihilation. Sit back and enjoy the grand-finale. The goddess is returning, and she’s still a virgin, but this time she’s in fishnets.
It is time to remember her, succulent and delicious, and to give her the love she deserves. The virgin planet is long since fucked, rubbed raw by the jealous god manhandling her and intellectual rapists forcing themselves upon her, siring bastards. She can’t help us anymore; she is not present at the resurrection. It is time to get a curvier goddess with “remarkable genitals” back on top where she belongs. She is eying you across the cosmic dance floor, waiting for you to come over to her side. Her pheromones permeate the air with significance and the magick of the everyday. Feel her rhythms, and your step gets funkier. Caress her curves and your clumsy desires are transformed. Her dark eyes bewitch, and she invites your embrace. Kiss her and the void is at the tip of your tongue, for she is aching with fertility. She lives for loving touches in the right places, but only a serious pervert goes looking for the G-spot with an endoscope.
The divine harlot teases us to give up our currency of exchange, the meaning we make of the world. She lures us across the abyss into wordless silence. She strips us of our material attachments and draws us up into the universal current, one small step for a man, one giant leap for a tin-canned mind. The beast that sends a respectable reverend running wild through the streets of Kuala Lumpur can be yoked and redirected towards the infinite. Hold tight the reins, for the clear light outshines the red light. The whore and the virgin are one, a mirror reflecting what you offer, an empty page dreaming of stories, a quiet space aching for song. Touched by the wand, she erupts in a fountain of words, ever-changing, redefining and recreating. Approach as you will, and receive what you deserve. Let her fleece you of everything you own, let her take you into her chamber on her terms, and she will open your eyes to the universe: Yin-yang, thank-you Ma’am! Offer her arguments and rationalisations, however, and she might tear out your balls.
However illogical and wrong it is, for her it is right, even if the neighbours are complaining, even if the last bus is leaving, even if the world is ending. . . The goddess is a mega-babe, but occasionally something dreadful comes tearing out of the void. We are due for a tremendous whack of PMT. There will be hot flushes, violent mood-swings, broken crockery and rivers of blood as the womb is cleared to make way for the birth of the New Aeon. A small-minded man deserts his beloved at a time like this, but a wise man keeps his head down, sweeping up what she smashes up, strong but silent at the eye of the storm, bringing her cups of tea as they pass through this difficult period together.
“Strength” was not the only card Uncle Al renamed. He also changed the final card from “The World” to “The Universe,” expanding horizons for the New Aeon. As the sun prepares to change its ways to save our souls and cool off Mother Earth, the awakened are breaking through the scales of this dimension into the astral, and into galactic consciousness. Kepler’s intuition about the harmonies in the solar system has been proved true with modern measurements.1001 The sizes, speeds and positions of the planets are governed by mathematical constants and laws, and related to our musical scale. The math is too complex to go into here, but the reason that the moon is exactly the right size to obscure the sun during an eclipse is because of the exquisite order governing the sizes and positions of the heavenly bodies. . .
The solar system is swimming in harmonic relationships, but macro-organisation stretches even beyond it into the apparent chaos of the galaxy. Magnetic fields have recently been discovered acting across galaxies, coherent domains over distances hitherto unimagined by physicists.1002 Sirius, the star of BABALON, is the brightest star in the sky, and almost the same size as our sun, but not quite. The ratio is an intriguing 1:1.053, a harmonic constant precise to three decimal places, putting the stars into resonance. The same ratio is said to be coded into the sizes of the pyramids, and other astronomical harmonics are coded into Stone Henge and Mayan monuments.1003
Oh my goodness gracious goddess, things are getting Sirius! Here at the end, the reverend reveals himself, with whores and heresies from East Asia to Outer Space, my goodness graceless godless me! Listen carefully, you sons of virgins and sons of whores, you daughters of purity and sin, listen to the ba-ba-bits and bobs broadcast on Radio BABALON. There is sense amongst the nonsense, order amidst the chaos, and meaning in the madness. All this crazy maths is a bit far-fetched for my pulpit, to be honest, but call it what you like, Starseed transmissions or amphibious extraterrestrials, there is something about Sirius that attracts the attention of the skyward bound. I could go on about Sirius at length, others have, at great length, but Nemu’s End has an impending and very final deadline, and I don’t have time to sift the chod from the chaff. I prefer to dream. And you are invited.
Perhaps Uncle Al’s greatest service to humanity was to get together with Auntie Frieda and redesign the tarot deck. Tarot is all about revelation. A deck of cards is a random number generator par excellence. The cut pulls code from the chaos of the shuffle, throwing out a story of numbers and elements, princes and players to reveal the themes beneath the surface. Each of the twenty-two tarot trumps represents one of the twenty-two chapters of Revelation, and trumps are named after the trumpets the angels blow in this intriguing book.
There is one final trump Uncle Al renamed, the second last, the penultimate step on “The Fool”’s journey towards “The Universe” and understanding of the whole. It was called “The Final Judgment” in traditional decks, but he called it “The Aeon,” because. . .
. . . shhhhhhhhhh. . .
Perhaps we should keep quiet about that.
931-938 — Not supplied by author.
939 — Matthew 1: 20-23
940 — Isaiah 7:14 (KJV)
941 — Proverbs 30:19 (Jewish Publication Society Bible)
942 — Song of Solomon 6:8-9
943 — Judges 11
944 — Tractate Ketubot 62b
945 — Ketubot 5:6
946 — ibid 48a
947 — Genesis 38:15
948 — Tractate Abodah Zarah 17
949 — A Hymn to Inanna as Ninegala — The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, lines 109-115
950 — Hymn to Inanna, Segment A
951 — ibid, Segment I
952 — ibid, Segment D
953 — ibid, Segment I.
954 — An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary: With an Index of English Words, King List, and Geographical List
with Indexes, List of Hieroglyphic Characters, Coptic and Semitic Alphabets etc. by Ernest Alfred Wallis; Budge (New York, 1978) p. 310
955 — Matthew 27:61
956 — John 20:14
957 — Romans 16:6
958 — Acts 12:12
959 — John 11:2, 12:3
960 — Mark 14:10
961 — The Egyptian Book of the Dead – The Chapter of Breathing the Air and of Having Power over Water in
962 — John 11:1
963 — Luke 7:45
964 — ibid 7:37-47
965 — ibid 7:47
966 — Geography by Strabo 8.6.20
967 — Luke 8:2
968 — The Wisdom of the Egyptians by Brian Brown,  p. 283
969 — The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages by Katherine
Ludwig; Jansen (Princeton, 2000) pp. 34-38
970 — Saint Augustine by Garry Wills (Guernsey, 1999) pp. 130-139
971 — Shakespeare’s Sexual Language by Gordon Williams (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006) p.143
972 — Acts 12:4
973 — Ezekiel 8:14
974 — Third Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius
975 — Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth, Geoffrey William Bromiley, Thomas Forsyth; Torrance (Continuum
International Publishing Group, 1961) p. 141
976 — Munificentissimus Deus by Pope Pius XII (November 1950) article 45
977 — Witchcraft Persecutions in Bavaria: Popular Magic, Religious Zealotry and Reason of State in Early
Modern Europe bu Wolfgang Behringer, J. C. Grayson, David Lederer (J. C. Grayson, David Lederer
trans.) (Cambridge, 1997) p. 66
978 — Matthew 27:56
979 — Mark 15:40, 47
980 — Matthew 27:61
981 — Mark 16:1
982 — Matthew 28:5
983 — The Gospel of Judas, Published by the National Geographic Society, 2006 &
The Gospel according to Bart by David V. Borett in The Fortean Times 221, April 2007
984 — The Gospel of Philip (Wesley W. Isenberg trans)
985 — Acts of John, verse 93
986 — The Apocalypse of Peter (James Brashler and Roger A. Bullard trans.)
987 — The Gospel of Mary 4: 38
988 — Pagels p. 105
989 — The Apocalypse of Peter (Brashler, J & Bullard. R. A. trans.)
990 — Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, (Penguin 1986) p. 60
991 — Libros Quinque Adversus Haereses by Irineus 1.13.5
992 — Hislop pp. 19-20
993 — On the Apparel of Women – Tertullian, Book I. (Rev. S. Thelwall trans.)
994 — De Spectaculis – Tertullian
995 — Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, (Penguin 1986) p. 53
996 — The Apocalypse of Adam (George W. MacRae trans.)
997 — The Testimony of Truth
998. Hypostasis of the Archons
999 — Genesis Rabbah 1:10
1000 — John 1:1
1001 — Kepler by Max Casper (C. Doris Hellman trans.) (London, 1959) pp. 264-290
1002 — Precocious Galaxy’s Magnetic Field is Bizarrely Strong – New Scientist webstite 1st October, 2008
1003 — The Sirius Mystery by Robert Temple, 3rd edition
©2010 by The Reverend Nemu
Edited by Sheta Kaey
The Reverend Nemu first started thinking about the apocalypse whilst baiting the Jehovah’s Witnesses who appeared at his door. Since then he has written a fat book on the removal of the veil, studying it from various perspectives, including as a neurological process which can occur for an individual at any time, and a collective cultural cataclysm which happens occasionally in history.
He really is a reverend, albeit an irreverent one, and is available for weddings, christenings and funerals.
To begin, I must offer an unqualified spoiler alert. During the course of this article, I’ll be examining the complex and fascinating intersection between tribalism and mysticism, employing for reference points James Cameron’s 2009 movie Avatar, and the 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic Dune. If you’ve missed either of these movies, please remedy this deficiency immediately, for cultural literacy’s sake if nothing else. I’ll endeavor to make this article accessible for everyone, including those who have missed one or both movies, so by the same token, don’t blame me when I ruin the movie for you. You have been warned. Additionally, I should make clear from the outset my intention isn’t to judge whether these movies are “good” — or even entertaining — in any traditional sense. I shall leave proper film criticism to those more educated in the nuances of the medium, or at least those with a somewhat more interesting point of view than my own. I’m much more interested in teasing out the lessons we might derive from science fiction about our own role as scholars and practitioners of the occult.
Regarding the inspiration for this article, I must thank the editor for her recent post regarding the movie Avatar. I had the pleasure of watching James Cameron’s beautifully rendered epic with several friends the weekend before Yule. If you haven’t seen this movie — Yes, the computer animation and the special effects are nothing short of amazing. Yes, the overall story arc proves exceptionally clichéd in places. I’ll stop short of calling it colonialist fetish porn, although other reviewers have leveled exactly this charge. (More of this anon.) Still, Avatar raises some meaningful questions about what being mystical means in relation with the rest of society.
In broad outline, the story arc of Avatar closely resembles that of the science fiction classic Dune. In Avatar, soldier-turned-mercenary Jake Sully finds himself on Pandora, an alien world largely inimical to human life; there the forces of human civilization are busily mining unobtanium, a rare mineral which is fantastically valuable back on Earth. Compare this premise with that of Frank Herbert’s Dune, wherein the young noble Paul Atreides moves to the desert planet Arrakis; Arrakis is a desolate and hostile world notable for being the only source of the spice melange, a mind-altering substance critical for interstellar travel and thus the continuance of civilization. Pandora is populated by the Na’vi, a supposedly primitive people who we learn are actually very much in touch with the rhythms of their world. Upon Dune, we have the Fremen, a deeply spiritual people whose survival skills are nearly as strong as their tenacious belief in prophecy and fate. Jake Sully finds himself among the Na’vi, and he learns not only the skills necessary to thrive within Pandora’s lush biosphere, but also an appreciation for the interconnected web of life upon Pandora. Paul Atreides, cast into the unforgiving wilderness during a coup by a rival noble house, becomes part of Fremen culture and learns the ways of desert survival. Both figures are eventually accepted by their respective adopted cultures. (Interestingly, in each case the protagonist must ride some dangerous beast in order to be recognized fully as an adult!) When human mercenaries arrive to drive off the Na’vi, Jake Sully successfully unites the various tribes of the Na’vi in a heroic campaign against the technologically superior humans. Paul Atreides, taking up the heavy mantle of messiah-figure, becomes leader of the scattered communities of Fremen in order to lay low the rival houses which conspired to bring down his family.
The patterns here mirror each other to no small degree. For our purposes, though, I should like to focus our attention upon the two spiritual cultures at work here — the Na’vi and the Fremen. Looking through critical eyes, we may find a surprisingly jarring contrast. While both peoples are undoubtedly spiritual, and — crucially here — connected with the rhythms of their respective worlds, the real-world analogues are very, very different. In the sky-hued and iridescent countenance of the Na’vi, we see reflected the shamans of Africa, South America, the Pacific Rim. In the wind-scoured and burning gaze of the Fremen, we observe nothing so much as the Islamic militant. By the artist’s design, we find ourselves inspired by the serene pantheism of the Na’vi. Conversely, we most often shudder when confronted with the naked, apocalyptic fanaticism of the Fremen. Whether these portrayals are even-handed or accurate, we will leave for another day. What matters here is this: Both the Na’vi and the Fremen are spiritual cultures which exist largely outside of the broader universes they inhabit.
This quality of apartness echoes the notes sounded by two authors here on Rending the Veil. In the Yule issue, Patrick Dunn observes that in the practice of magic there exists an element of separation, which “amounts to a cutting off not just of society but of the physical world.” (More on the second author — the insightful Ian Vincent — momentarily.) Dunn characterizes this process as “a turning inward” into the world of ideas. This inward focus is crucially important both for the Na’vi and for the Fremen, because both cultures are really defined by their inherent inwardness. When confronted with outsiders, both cultures act with some mixture of caution and hostility, attenuated for the specific encounter. When confronted by the beliefs and practices of outsiders, both the Na’vi and the Fremen instinctively close ranks and look inward, towards their own respective teachings.
In an article appearing in the March 1992 issue of Atlantic Monthly, noted political theorist Benjamin Barber described a cultural conflict he termed “Jihad versus McWorld” — in short, the conflict between the forces of tribalism and the forces of universalism. Jihad — speaking strictly in the context of Barber’s article — is the tendency to identify narrowly with one’s cultural, ethnic, or religious community. Jihad, in its extreme manifestation, is parochial tribalism taken to an extreme, coupled with suspicion or even outright hostility towards other cultural identities, whether tribal or universal. Jihad seeks to cut off the broader world, sequestering itself to prevent contamination by the external world. McWorld, on the other hand, is the homogenizing impulse which suggests all people are essentially equal, together with an essential disdain for the unique aspects of local and tribal identities. The universalizing paradigm of McWorld — at its worst — suggests all people are consumers within a world driven by culturally neutral economic forces.
Neither paradigm possesses an exclusive claim upon the moral high ground. While Benjamin Barber’s characterization of Jihad speaks of parochialism and even xenophobia, the impulse towards tribalism also preserves myths, traditions, and cultural artifacts, elements which resonate with older elements of our cultural and biological makeup. Left unchecked, McWorld reduces everyone to consumer trends and dollar signs. Still, the notion we all share an essentially universal identity as people grounds — morally and politically — the notion of universal human rights. We should also take note these two tendencies — the one narrowing our identity, the other broadening it — exist inside every single individual and across every single culture. Because these tendencies — considered philosophically — prove more ambiguous morally than Barber’s political focus, I will employ the terms “tribalism” and “universalism” throughout the rest of this article.
The respective worldviews of the Na’vi and the Fremen are strongly tribal in tone. Both cultures demonstrate elements of siege mentality, more or less justifiably, given the deleterious outcomes of each people’s interactions with the broader universe around them. The Na’vi find their very survival threatened by the arrival of humans, especially when the corporate authorities leading the occupation decides a Na’vi community must move to make way for the company’s mining operations. The Na’vi, however, perceive a broader threat to their way of life. Their fear finds expression in their ambiguous response to the school opened by Dr. Grace Augustine. According to the movie’s backstory, the Na’vi close the school because of its association with the occupation force; still, the tribe demonstrates an obvious and mutually held respect for Dr. Augustine.
Coupled with this tribalism we find a strong spiritual element. The Na’vi demonstrate a profound appreciation for the interconnected web of life around them, which translates into an essentially pantheistic worldview. The Fremen, on the other hand, embrace both fatalistic reverence for the wilderness and zealous devotion to prophecy. The broader universe crafted by Frank Herbert does include other religious expressions, notably the influential sisterhood of witches called the Bene Gesserit; still, the Bene Gesserit are only one player within a much larger complex of institutions. However important they may be for the story of Paul Atreides, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood cannot shape the worldview of the Galactic Empire to the degree the spiritual voices of the Fremen single-handedly define the culture of Arrakis. Indeed, tribalism and religion generally support one another. Spiritual traditions become an identity around which a tribe can find both root and shelter, and the resulting tribe then protects and perpetuates the dogma of the religion.
It’s not surprising that the universal tendency cannot so easily sustain this level of religious fervor. (Quite ironically, Western forms of mysticism — properly understood — exhibit an ineffable quality which precludes, and indeed transcends, the particular; sadly, this impulse seldom permits any real alliance between the broader universal impulse and the community of believers. Oh, and allow me to belatedly wish everyone here “Happy Holidays!” — See what I mean? ) Spiritual pursuits — including mysticism and magic — most often prove intensely idiosyncratic and deeply personal, and what is idiosyncratic and personal forever remains the enemy of homogenous community. The beings and phenomena of the astral realms — however the believer conceives them — become so many impersonal forces of nature of psychology, when cast beneath the relentlessly materialistic gaze of universalism. Tribalism, on the other hand, celebrates the personal myths and traditions which resonate with our primal selves most profoundly. Whether right or wrong, the tribal believer encounters Deity and the spirit world in ways more intuitive — more relevant — than the universal impulse allows.
The charge has been leveled that the story of Avatar amounts to cultural chauvinism, since the story shows an outsider who “out-natives” the natives, surpassing the wildest expectations of the tribal culture, in order to bring the disparate tribes together against their common foe. The damaging subtext, according to this deconstruction, belittles native culture by suggesting the natives could not themselves engage in such daring and heroic efforts in their own defense. We might well make the same inquiry of Dune, an endeavor further complicated by the fact the Fremen are notably guided by the prophecies of Dr. Kynes, another outsider who identifies with — and becomes part of — the religious conversation of the Fremen.
Before we can consider this train of thought, we must return briefly to “Jihad versus McWorld”. Barber himself suggests — in no uncertain terms — that McWorld is heavily favored within the broader culture wars. McWorld has the distinct advantage of looking past every possible division between diverse peoples as something essentially superficial. People are people are people, and when people who would otherwise belong to distinct cultural groups share this belief, then the universal tendency can bring to bear the full weight of the community during its battles with tribalism. A movement which embraces tribal thinking, on the other hand, devalues not only the broad, universal impulse which would homogenize the world, but also the surrounding tribal movements which fail to correspond with that movement’s identity or worldview. McWorld doesn’t need to divide and conquer; Jihad conveniently divides itself.
Herein we observe what I believe is the real reason why basically tribal peoples unite under someone like Jake Sully or Paul Atreides in the stories of science fiction. Their allegiance has little to do with the outsider’s physical or mental prowess, though both individuals are certainly remarkable and talented individuals. Neither the Na’vi nor the Fremen can be considered guilty of any misplaced reverence for the technological superiority of the outside cultures. No, the real strength of both Jake Sully and Paul Atreides lies in their cultural background. Both Jake Sully and Paul Atreides come from cultures which celebrate coming together for some common cause, and both are charismatic enough to communicate the benefits of intertribal cooperation to otherwise disparate tribes. The universal impulse which they champion isn’t superior morally to the tribal mindset. Jake Sully goes to war with the culturally arrogant and environmentally reckless corporate outfit he abandons, yet here we observe nothing so much as moral self-correction emerging from within the homogenizing force of McWorld. While Avatar shows clearly defined lines of good and evil, with Jake Sully representing the “good” aspects of universalism, and the corporation representing the “worse” elements, Dune adopts a more nuanced approach. Paul Atreides is clearly the embodiment of universal impulse among the Fremen, yet Paul frequently works from motives of vengeance and wrath, and his overall character remains morally ambiguous at best.
The defining element here isn’t the “advanced” culture’s psychological or moral superiority — Jake Sully and Paul Atreides are both uniquely talented individuals, yet this fact alone does not enable them to rally the disparate tribes and communities under one banner. No, the real conflict here is between the universal impulse and the tribal impulse, and here both Jake Sully and Paul Atreides claim their decisive advantage, since they emerge from universal cultures. (Of course, pragmatic advantage does not equate with moral worth, yet this is another discussion for another day.) In both science fiction stories, tribal peoples must adopt a more life-affirming version of the universalizing impulse which empowers their enemies, and Jake and Paul give them the tools to effect precisely this change.
What’s the takeaway for us as witches and magicians? Generally speaking, we are not the Na’vi, and we are not the Fremen. In the battle for the collective soul of our world, we are born into the universal impulse which suffuses the whole of Western culture. Every time we endorse universal human rights — every single time we look past someone’s skin color or sexual orientation — we affirm the universal impulse. Every single time we suggest in matters of religion there are many roads ascending the same mountain, we affirm the universal impulse. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are life-affirming elements within universalism; any time we can tease those out, we add something important towards the health and sanity of our world. Our culture celebrates the universal impulse. We perceive in Jake Sully and in Paul Atreides noble protagonists who speak towards the most life-affirming incarnations of this mindset.
The practice of magic constitutes the crafting of paradigms. The doctrines of chaos magic make this aspect explicit, yet most introspective forms of contemporary magic embrace this notion to one degree or another. Even if the paradigm in question is nothing more than simple acceptance of some spirit world, the magician embraces a worldview apart from the cultural default of scientific materialism. And herein we see the “otherness” of the magician. Earlier within this article, I referenced Patrick Dunn’s treatment of the magician as something apart from the rest of the world. This impulse is tribal in tone. Equally tribal in aspect is the turning inward of the magician. I ran with the notion of inwardness as something defining about tribal societies, yet what this treatment misses (and what I believe Dunn catches) is this: The turning inward practiced by the magician is personal introspection; the magician remains ever the tribe of one. Choices about magical paradigm are made by the individual magician.
This idiosyncratic practice, this personal interpretation of our shared world, runs counter to the overall thrust of the universal impulse. And herein we discover the fundamental tension for those who practice magic within the Western tradition. We are children of the universal impulse which defines our shared culture, and yet we rail against (or subtly subvert) the homogenizing aspects of this same force. We are, to borrow an expression from Ian Vincent’s article in the Samhain issue of Rending the Veil, the “Tribe of the Strange.” We are those who step out of line, who dance with the unique beats of our own hearts. And it’s damnably difficult to step outside what the mainstream considers normal, without feeling a profound tension with this homogenizing force.
Friedrich Nietzsche, with his characteristic wryness, once proposed this tension conspires to prevent the emergence of genuinely great souls across humanity. The common people, bound together by simple and mutually held conceptual ground, are able to communicate with one another easily, facilitating their collective survival efforts. The great mind, upon the other hand, not only thinks “outside the box” of common thought, but also along unique lines distinct from other great minds. Unable to communicate either with the common people or with one another, they struggle in isolation to survive and reproduce. Now we might take issue with the notion that greatness contains some genetic component — Again witness the universal impulse at work! — and in fairness to Nietzsche, I think there’s some tongue in cheek which a surface reading of his work too frequently misses. Still, our own endeavor to preserve our individual uniqueness becomes doubly difficult, since nearly the whole of Western civilization remains indelibly universal in character. We are not the Na’vi, and we are not the Fremen. Simply phrased, we are not an inherently tribal people.
Nevertheless, the line separating the universal impulse and the tribal impulse, much like Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s famous line between good and evil, passes through every human heart. We might favor one mindset or another — we might be born into one world or another — yet the opposing viewpoint remains within us, always there in potential. This latent potential is what gives Jake Sully the capacity to understand, however imperfectly, the pantheistic and animistic worldview of the Na’vi. Likewise, the nascent tribal impulse within Paul Atreides makes possible his tempestuous and fateful connection with the devout Fremen.
As the inheritors of Western culture, we are universal within our thinking. People are people are people, and there are many roads ascending the same mountain. This universal tendency is what inspires virtual homes like Rending the Veil, wherein we find many authors and readers, with many distinct viewpoints, coming together with the common cause of learning from one another. As witches and magicians, as members of the Tribe of the Strange, though, we are tribal within our thinking. We nurture and develop paradigms which oppose or subvert the homogenizing and materialistic tendencies of universalism. And while we may find meaningful spiritual traditions and covens which share broad elements of our individual magical paradigms, our paradigms remain forever individual and unique, for the paths of the mystic and the magician remain forever inward ones. The challenge here becomes one of balance and integration. Taken to their respective extremes, tribalism devalues everyone and everything outside the narrow definition of the tribe, while universalism devalues everything which renders the individual unique and special. How can we champion the life-affirming elements contained in these two impulses, without falling prey to those perilous extremes?
The complete answer — should there be such — rests outside the scope of my article. I can only propose what might be the path towards an answer, since the real solution occurs within genuine introspection and open-minded dialogue. We are the Tribe of the Strange, and we must learn how to embrace both our strangeness and our latent tribal impulse. By our strangeness, I mean those unique paradigms and practices which make us witches and magicians. Our strangeness transcends any particular affiliation; by the very nature of our craft, our personal introspection transcends even spiritual tradition or coven. Still, this strangeness makes all the more urgent our collective efforts to communicate with one another as one singular tribe. We might not — cannot, really — agree upon every issue, and we must be okay with such differences. We must develop a common dialogue, however, should we wish to resist as one tribe the homogenizing elements of universalism which would deny our spiritual birthright. And we develop this common dialogue via the universal impulse which we inherit from our broader culture, just like Jake Sully, and just like Paul Atreides. Science fiction teaches us how to tease out the life-affirming aspects within our cultural makeup, without falling prey to xenophobia or to homogenization. Let’s continue the dialogue of our strange little tribe, here and elsewhere, embracing both our own unique greatness and mutual respect for one another.
©2010 by Grey Glamer.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Ever since the advent of Masonry, individual occultists have sought to unify and organize themselves into a collective to facilitate group ceremony, study and collaboration, often using the Masonic lodge as a model. A Masonic lodge has temporary leadership roles, and Masonic brothers are considered to be equal no matter what their social status, degree or role. Perhaps this is why many founding fathers of western democracies were members of Masonic groups. Masonic lore seems to perpetuate the ideal that all men are created equal, despite the fact that initiates and cowans (outsiders) are treated differently. Yet a spirit of egalitarianism pervades Masonic organizations even to this day. This is especially true in the more basic Blue Lodge, which promotes only three initiatory degrees and a rotating hierarchy.
Grand lodges and larger aggregated organizations forewent this spirit of equality and produced a hierarchy of individuals vested with various degrees of authority and power. The Societas Rosecruciana In Anglia and the Golden Dawn were based on this later kind of organization, and other groups, such as the O.T.O., invested certain individuals with authority to ensure that the local bodies as well as the grand lodge had trusted individuals to maintain continuity and stability. Many of today’s occult groups modeled their organizational structure loosely on the model of the Masonic blue lodge or grand lodge. Others have deviated quite remarkably from the Masonic belief in the equality of all members. However, Masonic lodges have shown themselves to be capable of extreme longevity, withstanding change and still operating long after the deaths of the original founders. Fraternity and equality arguably play an important part in the endurance of these groups.
In the various religious groups of Wicca and Neopaganism, there is a trend in which a grove or coven is headed by an autocratic leader or small group of elites ruling a larger group of novices, often with no checks on their authority and little accountability. I have personally experienced the abuses that can occur within Wiccan covens, but the fault is to be found wherever groups invest their leaders with near dictatorial powers. This is true whether or not these individuals have the qualities and experience to be good leaders. If leaders are gifted and skilled at leading, then a benign aristocracy is formed; otherwise, the worst kind of cult of personality and autocracy can develop. The fact that ritual magick and godhead assumptions can be practiced in such groups makes the effects of bad leadership even more damaging.
This is probably why many ritual magicians prefer to work alone and retain their autonomy despite the benefits of belonging to a group. Many magicians started out belonging to a group or organization, but seldom do they stay for more than a few years. Being alone and completely isolated is not a good idea, either. Regardless of the religious or spiritual background of magicians, they tend to branch out, discovering that performing magick for its own sake is more rewarding than belonging to a cult or creed.
The choice to work magick within a group is often made because all magicians need peer review, objective viewpoints, and solidarity, which are critically important to one’s spiritual growth. There is nothing more stultifying and potentially dangerous than the practice of complex and intense ritual magick in complete isolation. While working magick alone is at times necessary, a magical practitioner should have recourse to a peer group of other magicians to balance the intensely subjective nature of ritual work. Having a group of experienced and knowledgeable friends to judge one’s work is very important. In fact, it’s probably the only way that a ritual magician can maintain balance and objectivity. A peer group keeps individuals honest with themselves and helps them to understand their spiritual and magical processes in an objective manner.
Since ritual magicians are not common, such a peer group will be small and intimate. It may not even be centrally located in one’s own community. Because of Facebook, MySpace, blogs, email and Yahoo! groups and chat rooms, the social network of a ritual magician may be entirely virtual. Yet it’s important for a practicing ritual magician to have friends and fellow magicians his or her physical neighborhood so that he or she may periodically meet them and have intimate conversations about personal, spiritual and magical topics. I maintain that a virtual community, although helpful, can never replace real social contact between individuals. Much more is communicated through phone conversations and face to face to meetings than could be written in blogs, chat rooms or email. These same close friends will share common ideas, swap books, look over rituals together, examine excerpts of each others’ magical journals, and perhaps even perform rituals and ceremonies together. When a loose confederation of ritual magicians starts working magick together, then group organization will naturally develop.
Rituals magicians, like many occultists, aren’t known for their social skills, diplomacy or empathetic abilities. They are usually absorbed in their own practices and perspectives, and they generally despise authority figures within their own discipline. They don’t like being ordered around or told what to do. They are independently minded and probably even a bit anarchistic, eschewing any kind of formal group dynamic. This is my question and the central theme of this article: How do you get a group of ritual magicians to function as a creative, sharing, objective and harmonious organization? The answer to this question is to use what is known as a “Star Group” model.
What is a Star Group, one might ponder, and how does it differ from other kinds of groups? First, a Star Group is an autonomous, egalitarian collective where each member is an equal and respected partner, functioning as an integral facet of the whole group. A Star Group is particularly sensitive to the phenomenon of the egregore, also known as the group mind. The leadership roles in a Star Group are temporary and carry little or no real power or authority. The true authority is vested in the group itself and all decisions are determined by a process of consensus.
I define consensus as a mutual agreement in which, for any given decision, a majority of the members of the group are for it and no one is against it. Abstention does not count as a negative vote unless there is not a majority who are for it. An objection from any one of the members of the group will force that decision to be either shelved or altogether abandoned. This kind of rule-by-consensus ensures that a majority will not override the objections of even the humblest member. All individuals are heard and decisions have the backing of nearly everyone. The person who presents the idea or direction to the group has the responsibility to sell it to everyone so that no one finds fault or objects to it. Getting a small group of ritual magicians to agree nearly unanimously to a given plan of action is no small matter, but it can be done. In fact, it must be done so that everyone feels that they have been intimately involved in the decision making process. When the group makes such a decision by consensus, the outcome is guaranteed to be satisfactory to all of the members. Leaders are essentially facilitators with all of the responsibility and none of the authority. Thus no one person can abrogate the power of the group and the equality of everyone is fully protected.
I can almost sense the eye-rolling from my readers after proposing this kind of group. The first objection is that such an organization will not be able to accomplish anything substantive if there isn’t someone who makes the final decision and acts as an overseer. Hierarchical groups seem to be more efficient, goal directed and practical. Anything done by committee is guaranteed to be mediocre at best, and terribly disjointed and chaotic at the worst. It often ends up representing the untutored whims and creative hubris of the least capable in the group. I have seen rituals constructed by committees and I would agree that they are usually ineffective. Yet a Star Group is deliberately small. The execution of consensus agreements incorporates the best abilities of the most able members.
What does that mean? It means that a Star Group is not driven by ego gratification, since everyone is a respected and valued member. Each has a role and a part to play. In such a situation, the group will vest an individual with certain tasks that they are best equipped to accomplish, incorporating other members to aid and assist them as required. People work together and cooperate jointly to produce the best product that they can. A Star Group is an egalitarian team with objectives and goals, and they work together with the powerful commitment of having unanimously agreed to do a given task.
Suppose a Star Group decides to perform elaborate theatrical rituals that require props and even sets. One person who is a gifted artist may produce the sets; another who is a writer would write the script; another who is a musician would assemble the music; an electrician would provide the lighting; yet another might be a costume maker and would design and sew the costumes. One individual might be chosen to act as the director, to direct the others to take on various parts in the ceremonial play. None of these individuals would act alone, since all of their contributions would be screened and examined by the whole group. Everyone would contribute materials, time, labor and money. The net result would be the combined efforts of gifted individuals working together as a group. The quality of such an effort would be far greater than what one of the members could do alone.
Would there be disagreements and sometimes heated discussions? Certainly, since disagreements and occasional arguments would be part of the dynamic. However, the overall objectives and goals of the group would have been set up early in its formation, and the members would be motivated to work out their differences in a peaceful and cooperative manner to get the work done. It might take longer to complete a project, but the level of group satisfaction and the quality of the work would be pleasing to everyone.
Contrast this same effort as applied to a hierarchical group. If the leader is smart and knows how to motivate people, sensing their needs, strengths and weaknesses, then the assignment of roles may show a high degree of wisdom. It may also show a high degree of favoritism and cronyism, since those who are favored by the leader would get the best roles. It would be guaranteed to be done in less time, but it probably would not be satisfying to the whole group unless the leader used good judgment to correctly and accurately call the shots.
If the leader is an autocrat, then the outcome of any project may be just as disorganized, poorly contrived and executed as it would have been done by a committee. In such a situation, the hard labor would be delegated to the least favorable members and the best jobs reserved for the favorite members. A skilled seamstress may be completely overlooked because the leader’s girlfriend wants the job. Similarly, a gifted writer may be forced to do carpentry work because the leader either doesn’t know about her skill or purposefully ignores it to favor someone else. Often the leaders reserve the best parts for themselves. When the overall project fails to be fully satisfying, he blames the least favored members for failing to do their jobs. Other members who know what is really going on will resent the leader’s biased authority and either leave the group or eventually force a confrontation. A hierarchical group may have to contend with a leader’s ego inflation, unethical conduct, exploitation of other members, favoritism, despotism, incompetence and outrageous behavior.
Of course, not all hierarchical groups are dysfunctional and certainly large groups can’t function without a hierarchy. Large groups use bylaws and formal procedures to ensure that leaders are accountable, so despots or incompetents can be removed from their positions of authority. However, we are talking about small groups with less than twelve members. In such a group the temptation to acquire and hold power over others is just too great. Magicians don’t have much stomach or tolerance for such blatant examples of hubris and ego inflation, but with a Star Group, there is an alternative capable of accomplishing goals and tasks with everyone fully engaged. This is much more satisfying than what might occur with permanent authority figures.
The qualities of a Star Group can be summarized by the following points:
An example of the bylaws used to organize and run Star Groups in the magical Order of the Gnostic Star can be found at this web address. (PDF; right-click and “Save target as”)
©2010 by Frater Barrabbas.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Frater Barrabbas is a writer and practitioner of Witchcraft and Ritual Magick. He has published two books — Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick, and the two volumes of a trilogy, entitled Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick — Volume 1: Foundation — Volume 2: Grimoire. The third volume in this series, Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick — Greater Key will be published soon. You can contact him at this email address and visit his website.